Thursday, December 28, 2006

So.....No Change After Christmas

Christmas has come and gone and left barely a trace of its spiritual impact upon our politicians who have been anxious to get back to normal. Tony Blair is off to the home of yet another celeb for his Christmas holiday (Robin Gibb, ex-Bee Gee this time), while his party chairman, the diminutive motorcycling enthusiast Hazel Blears, has joined a protest against the government of which she is a member.

Now we know that the idea of individual ministerial responsibility lost any basis in reality some years ago, but there was hope that the collective responsibility ideal - all members of the government support the decisions of government, or else resign in order to oppose them - might have continued to have force. Apparenrtly not. Ms. Blears has been demonstrating against the closure of a local hospital A and E department. Very noble, and very local. And very un-collective. And it wouldn't, I suppose, have anything to do with the fact that her seat disappears under new boundary arrangements, and she is in a tough battle to win re-selection in the one seat still left that is due to select a candidate shortly? Never mind collective security....just stick to what plays well locally!

Have a good new year, and I wil start blogging again in earnest on our return. Meanwhile, I'll just go and catch up on all those 'Lembit Opik is a twat' articles that seemed to festoon the holiday press!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Lembit: An Apology

I may have occasionally given the impression over the course of the past couple of weeks that I thought Lembit Opik was a lightweight politician of no fixed principles, whose support for successive candidates in Liberal leadership elections was like sounding a death knell, and whose conviction, expressed at a recent conference, that Liberals were flawed but moral was simply laughable.

Clearly, in the light of revelations about his adultery with a Cheeky Girl whilst engaged to a Weather Girl, I owe you and him an apology..........for having been right.

What a twit!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Like Spooks? Here come ‘Rogue Spooks’!

The BBC’s spy drama Spooks is commonly considered to be excellent – right up there with top American series like 24, but inevitably a little lower than West Wing. Well the BBC is keen to maintain the Spooks audience reach and attach it to BBC 3, so it is commissioning a spin-off series, ‘Rogue Spooks’. According to BBC Online,

'Rogue Spooks', the drama's working title, will follow young MI5 recruits who "follow a different rule book".

Can’t wait, although it would be nice to think the BBC could commission completely new drama as well. I have an idea for a series that follows the political career of a dynamic school teacher, clearly headed for the top but for the actions of a few disenchanted voters in the West Midlands. It’s got real potential I think.

Ministerial Responsibility

The doctrine of ministerial responsibility states that ministers are ultimately responsible for the actions of their departments, even if they themselves are not directly involved. It is a doctrine that has been battered out of recognition in recent years – it is rare to find ministers resigning as a result of ministerial decision making, never mind that of anyone more junior. It may just, however, be re-emerging in a different form.

Geoff Hoon was the Defence Secretary who helped take us in to the Iraq war. He was also the minister responsible for all aspects of the armed forces, including their equipping. The British army, notoriously, was thoroughly ill-equipped when it was sent out on yet another dangerous foreign mission by this government. Now, Hoon may be called to give evidence at the inquest into the death of British tank commander Sgt. Steve Roberts. Roberts was killed shortly after being asked to give up his body armour because of shortages. Hoon apparently took eight weeks to authorize the issuing of body armour. The coronor in charge of the inquest has hinted that he may call Mr. Hoon to give evidence.

This is, of course, a long way from the traditional acceptance of ministerial responsibility, where the course of action should be for ministers to accept responsibility while still in office, and either resign or do something to improve matters. Hoon has a particularly wretched record, including his role in the David Kelly affair, but it would be satisfying, if ultimately unproductive, to see him squirming on the inquest stand as he tries to explain away at least one aspect of his incompetent performance as Defence Secretary.

Girls Aloud to Spread the Word

Tony Blair may now be feeling the firm hand of the law on his sweaty collar, the Stevens Report may be telling us what everyone except Mohammed Al-Fayed has always known about the Diana Crash, but the big news today is in fact the foray into politics by the ladies' popular music combo Girls Aloud!

They've told politicians to stop 'trying to be cool'; Ms. Cole has said she doesn't fancy David Cameron (he said he fancied her the most when asked in a recent interview); and they have exclusively revealed they once met Gordon Brown.....but it might, on reflection, have been John Reid, they're not sure.

They are anti-war, pro-grammar school and pro-high taxation. And they think politicians should stick to trying to run the country while bands like, well, themselves, go into schools to spread the word. That way, politics need never be boring. As band member Nicola Roberts said, watching politicians can be dull - "It's boring. No 18-year-old wants to watch Gordon Brown doing his whole speech - turn it over!" Whereas listening to the masterminds behind that complex musical composition 'Love Machine' talk politics will enlighten us all. Genius.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Daly Planet [sigh!]

Mr. Daly is a regular poster of comments on these pages, so it is good to see that he has finally decided the comment box is too small for all he has to say, and has established his own blog. With a parody blog having been established almost instantaneously, Mr. Daly is learning the truth of the fact that those who stick their heads above the parapet are immediately susceptible to the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism - and Mr. Daly doesn't just stick his head above the parapet, he veritably strolls along its battlements. Ah well, we need opinion and argument, far better than apathetic acknowledgement that nothing will change, so good luck to him. His blog is listed in the links at the side.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Does Cameron Need Policies?

Have just finished watching a Newsnight interview where some right-wing loon called Jon Gaunt, who presents a radio show and writes for, erm, the Sun, has been given plenty of air time to attack a Cameroonie about the Tories' lack of policies. Paxman, having earlier demolished the Labour minister Phil Woolas, was particularly ineffective in this exchange, but so too was the Cameroonie - MP Ed Vaizey. Gaunt ranted on for a while about the lack of clear policies coming from Cameron, but in fact it turned out that what he really meant was the lack of good old fashioned right-wing moral and social fascism that served the Conservatives so well in the last two elections.

Surprisingly, Vaizey took him at face value - allowing him to confuse his right-wing urges for some principled stand about having actual policies. Instead, Vaizey should have taken him to task for sheer humbug. The absence of policies charge is wearing thin. Cameron is staking out a range of positions but, sensibly for an opposition leader, refusing to elaborate the policy detail without considerable debate. Ths was David Willett's point a couple of weeks ago. Having spent a year identifying the key problems, it seems appropriate to spend time developing rigorous and well thought through policies rather than a series of quick knee jerk reactions.

The Gaunt-Vaizey interchange came about because of a Newsnight report that Cameron has failed to shift the public image of the Conservative Party very significantly, and that he may now be relying too much on the bogey figure of Gordon Brown to help him out. BBC Online's Nick Assinder reaches much the same conclusion in his report here. Whatever the truth of the latter charge, it is certainly the case that, for all his advances, Cameron cannot afford complacency one year on as leader. But then, in all fairness, he never looked as if he would.

Gordon's Snap Election?

One of the controversial powers of a prime minister is the ability to call an election whenever they want. We may think we're electing five year parliaments, but not if the premier of the day prefers to go earlier. The usual reason for this - as exercised by Thatcher and Blair - is to assure a victory while polls are high, instead of waiting for the unpredictability of another year.

There is another reason, and it's being discussed at the moment. All three parties are preparing for a possible snap election as early as next year on the grounds that Gordon Brown, if elected as new Labour leader, might want to capitalise on the novelty and not wait for disillusionment to set in. He would also be keen to get his own mandate.

It's an odd call this, as on the one hand it seems the very essence of democracy that a leader elected by a party should then seek a wider mandate. Our parliamentary system, however, doesn't operate like this. We don't elect prime minsisters, we elect representatives for a period of five years. We do not ask for, and certainly don't get, a guarantee that the party will keep the same leader for the 5 year duration; we do ask that representatives continue to exercise their judgement about the laws they pass, and stick to the broad manifesto they offered at the general election. A change of leader doesn't necessarily mean a change of political direction. Perhaps we also ask that they don't subject us to an abuse of their power to call elections when it suits them?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fraudulence and Insight

I hope to put a longer piece here about today's conference in time, but for the moment a few quick summary thoughts.
1. The brains are in the media rather than parliament - the most interesting analyses came from Andrew Neil and Matthew D'Ancona (despte D'Ancona's initial shakiness when confronted with an audience of young people!), while the parliamentary representatives, Opik and Johnson, were weak and superficial.
2. Boris Johnson is no longer funny. His routine today was tragic - no other word for it. This man has forsaken any interest in a serious political career because he is obsessed by his own celebrity, and that requires him to do the bumbling Boris act more or less continuously!
3. Lembit Opik is still a crowd pleaser. He showed this weakness at Bristol, where he and I were on opposite sides of a freedom of speech issue (he as union president, me as vice-chairman of the Tories) - he hasn't changed.
4. Good old tub thumping politics is a joy - the Respect chap was great; a typical argumentative socialist, and the crowning triumph of his session was the mutual abuse between him and Simon O'Donnell's new friend. A brilliant session - politics in the raw. Take note, Monday debaters!
5. Crowds are as fickle as ever - they booed and cheered Mr. Respect within the space of a minute. "For he is an honourable man" - just read your Mark Anthony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar Act 3 Scene 2; a masterclass in crowd manipulation.
6. Shami Chakrabarti is really worthy, over intense and actualy rather dull. And I don't think freedom is as doomed as she is suggesting.
7. Some lecturers can be funny; others use sex as a way of getting self-conscious teenagers to laugh along with them. You decide about Philip Cowley! That said, his session was extremely valuable, and you can read his basic thesis in the current 'Politics Review' Vol.16 No. 2, p.20. Also check out his website, Revolts - linked at the right of this blog. And his sex graph was all wrong.....
8. Simon O'Donnell is prepared to put his money where his mouth his - one of the most loquacious of the politics set at least had the courage to go and ask a couple of questions in fromt of 2,000 people. His first question went well and got the wretched Opik to describe his friend Mark Oaten as having 'exotic' taste; the second question was ceded to someone bigger than him.

More thoughts to follow, especially on Gordon Brown, the phantom presence at today's conference - but after the weekend.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


With nearly everyone accepting the arguments of climate change, and the green agenda being taken up by every and any politician like there's no tomorrow - which, I guess, there isn't really, if they're right! - it is refreshing to hear a leading politician lambast the 'green alarmists'. If only for a change of tune. And yes, he's really an ex-politician, since we're talking about Nigel Lawson, the good lord who was once Margaret Thatcher's reforming Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Early in November, in a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies, Lawson attacked many of the green scientists as 'eco-fundamentalists', said warmer climates would in any case be good for some countries and that we can surely all cope with a little bit of rising ocean level. He's weighed in again this evening, in an interview on the web channel 18, describing the Stern Report as 'fraudulent', and a new 'dodgy dossier' for Blair to wield in our faces.

It's certainly a different view. Previous criticisms of the Stern Report complained that it was the only report to make the cataclysm of climate change sound positively boring. And it is not, perhaps, surprising that any report endorsed by Blair would now be seen in a negative light - weapons of mass destruction in Iraq anyone? That said, it would be bad news for a liberal democracy if the debate on climate change was all one way, so we should welcome Lord Lawson's comments for that reason alone. On the whole, I think it is getting hotter...but I'm no scientist.

Good, Bad or Indifferent....Which is Cameron?

The consensus view amongst the commentators - who, of course, bear little if any relation to, you know, actual people who vote - is that Cameron has worked wonders in changing the image of the Tory Party, but has of course got nowhere with policy. You can almost hear the snigger. Image is easy - especially with a highly paid PR man, who just happens to be an old Eton mate, at your side (step forward Steve Hilton). But policy....well, that's a whole new ball game.

In fact, it isn't true that Mr. Cameron has been entirely policy lite. He couldn't change the image of the Tory party without dealing with its recent ideological heritage, much of which he has felt compelled to dump. BBC Online's Nick Assinder admitted as much in his article:

" So he is for the environment, bicycles, windmills and internet blogs. He supports the NHS, the poorest in society, minorities of all sorts and even misunderstood hoodies.
He is not any longer for tax cuts before public spending, "privatisation" of the health service, or offering vouchers for education, for example.
And he is a liberal, not neo-Conservative who may look as much to the Guardian's Polly Toynbee for advice on welfare as to Winston Churchill."

Although to be fair on that last point, Cameron did distance himself from la Toynbee in his Sunday Telegraph interview at the weekend. He's just interested in her one interesting metaphor, he suggested.

The real problem for the Tory leader lies in the polls. After an initial surge when he first became leader, his poll ratings have been frustratingly static. He has yet, it seems, to make a big impression on the public in terms of their determination to vote for him. I suspect the polls tell only part of the story. It has been enough so far for Cameron not, at any rate, to be hated, and to change the impression everyone has of Tories. Armed with the clear, 'gritty' policies he says he will have (see this BBC article) and put him up against the dour Scot, and he starts to look much more electable. And it may be anecdotal, but I'm losing count of the number of apolitical acquaintances who say they will probably vote Tory next time....after three elections at the shrine of Mr. Blair!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Iain Dale's Diary: Quotes of the Day

Iain Dale's Diary: Quotes of the Day

Iain Dale's is another of the plethora of Tory/right-wing blogs out there (I really must start reading a few of the leftie ones); he has cobbled together a number of entertaining quotes here though. Click on the link and see whether any are wall-worthy - we need some more!

Cameron Watch - more revealing interviews

As David Cameron approaches his first anniversary as leader, his interview quotient is increasing, and we can expect lots of "Cameron - A Year On" analyses from overpaid political hacks desperate to fill their columns. The Conservative Home website carries lengthy comment on a couple of recent profiles (from the Telegraph today, and the Guardian yesterday) which are worth reading here. That particular website is very tuned in to Conservative opinion, and does not give a particularly favourable overview of Cameron's performance. Read it and see.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Mail at its Worst

Still like the Daily Mail? A brief comment about one of their stories is on the myspace blog.

Pressure Group Presentations

Thanks for the pressure group presentations....although I'm not sure we should be extending that to Martyn for his crackly and frankly incoherent mobile phone intervention. When he's been with us a little longer he'll work out how we do things...

Meanwhile, the Red Squirrels were fascinating, and a suitably bizarre obscure group without which no pressure group presentation would be complete; Greenpeace always offers plenty of food for thought as one of the most influential international pressure groups of our times, although I would have welcomed more discussion of their varied tactics, especially the antics of the Rainbow Warrior; CND were a huge influence in the 80s, although largely a failure, and whilst I have my doubts about the overall quality of the presentation, I would like to thank that group for drawing our attention to the extraordinary delusionary quote from CND's current chairman about the contemporary influence of communism; and finally, what can I say about the typically controversial choice of Outrage as the concluding example, enthusiastically presented by our very own liberal tribune, with that heartwarming picture on the screen for the question time! Well done all!

Quick Updates

A few quick updates before venturing to put on some longer pieces. The stories worth investigating further are that Lords Reform will not, apparently, include removing hereditary or Life peers, so one wonders what, precisely will be the point of the reform. Different arcane procedures for debates, perhaps, maybe to give red squirrel defenders more time to outline their case?! Education, Education, Education is back as the PM's favourite mantra, this time with his announcement that A-levels will be made harder (by, erm introducing an A* grade - and that worked so well for GCSE) but we can do the International Baccalaureate instead if we want. And a Tory MP is urging Mr. Blair to apologise for Henry VIII's treatment of his wives....hmmm, suspect the whole apology thing might be being mocked there! However, since it's been started, I would be fascinated to hear of other apologies people think could be made! I certainly think Blair should apologise to all of us on behalf of Edward I for making a martyr of William Wallace and inflicting Mel Gibson as Braveheart on us all!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Tosser Within

Another bit of triangulation from the Tories. 'The Tosser Within' campaign launched by the Conservatives has received considerable publicity, so judge its effectivenes for yourselves - the hilarious video is here, on a website called 'Sort-It'! Hmmm. The political parties themselves, of course, know all about debt; sadly, the rest of us can't follow their example by calling on the services of a few preposterously wealthy benefactors to solve the problem.

The Devolution Dilemma

Every major speaker at this week's Scottish Labour Conference (yes it does exist), has made strong attacks on the Scottish National Party. John Reid, this morning, adopted his best tone of patronising outrage when he laid into the SNP, while Gordon Brown and the rising star Douglas Alexander (yet, I agree, to achieve worldwide name recognition) have also stuck the boot in.

Why? Well, apart from the fact that it is, I suppose, customary to attack one's opponents, all of these very Scottish ministers have got the wind up because of the latest twists in the devolution debate. As the parties ready themselves for the Scottish and Welsh elections next May, the SNP has led the calls to take devolution one step further, to outright independence. What must be worrying the Labour high command even more is the fact that, according to at least one news poll this morning, while 52% of Scots want independence, 58% of English respondents supported the idea. No fools they, as they look to be delivered from the whinging sassenachs and, even better, freed from the tax burden of supporting Scotland. The problem for Labour, the party of devolution, is that they may have unwittingly lit the long fuse that leads to break-up of the UK's present political state, which, by the by, would also force their many Scottish representatives at Westminster to concentrate on the much less glamorous world of the Scottish Parliament. Dear oh dear! As Labour heads towards a British General Election under the leadership of a Scot and his many Scots advisers, do they think they are staring into the black hole of so many bright Labour careers?

Where is Cameron Going?

It's been a busy week, as ever, for David Cameron. While one of his policy 'wonks', and an MP to boot, raises the prospect of Polly Toynbee as the new Tory pin up girl - thus sending dozens of Tory majors into heart attack mode - he himself has been visiting Darfur, out-Blairing Blair (on his own foreign visit to Afghanistan) in the compassion stakes and getting more front page pictures.

Where is he going? What is his strategy? We still see little sign of concrete policy, but we see lots of imagery and hear tantalising little sound bites that keep indicating a genuine sea-change in the position of the modern Conservative party. Well, the Sunday Times today carries an interesting 'Focus' report on the new Tory Boy. It concludes that Cameron is carrying out 'triangulation' - a deliberate attempt to be counter-intuitive in order to challenge preconceptions about the Conservatives - and it parallels his journey with the one that Blair took prior to the 1997 election. Just as Blair radically challenged existing notions of the Labour Party by cosying up to the City and hanging around with celebrities, so Cameron has identified the same need for the Tories.

The slowness of the policy groups, meanwhile, may indicate that he is anxious to emerge with policies that will both link up with his triangulation stategy and that will withstand serious scrutiny. One Tory front-bencher last week outlined how, after a year of careful thought and analysis, he had indentified a key social problem. Asked for the solution, he said it would probably require another year.

The lesson from Blair's own highly successful triangulation strategy is that there is a danger of promoting style over substance, and becoming uber dependent on shallow image fixes; perhaps the much criticised slow gestation of actual Tory policy indicates that they don't intend to follow the Blair strategy to the letter. One can only hope.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tories Look To Toynbee

Polly Toynbee is the Guardian's Social Affairs commentator. This means she reports and comments on that most left-wing of topics - social affairs - for that most liberal of papers, the Guardian. Extraordinary, then, to hear the Tories' policy chief, Greg Barker, hail her as a model for Tory thought. Ms. Toynbee has for long been the bugbear of bugbears for Tories - a left-wing harpie of the worst kind. Now they're asked to love her and embrace her ideas. What on earth is going on?

You can read the BBC story here, but in essence this is yet another move by the refashioned Tory Party to rediscover its One Nation credentials, and that is always a dramatic shock when it has spent so long hunkering down in right-wing fantasy land. Disraeli was doubtless no less shocking to many Tory contemporaries when he advocated a dramatic extension of the franchise, and radical social measures, to ultimate electoral advantage. Or Macmillan, embracing the consensus of the welfare state and becoming one of post-war Britain's most popular Prime Ministers. Cameron seems to know exactly what he's doing, and who'd have thought Norman Lamont's undistinguished adviser would have been the man to have challenged the Tories' most cherished shibboleths?

Talking of Tory shibboleths, I did hear his education spokesman tear up pretty well every pet Tory idea on education the other night, including a robust rejection of any widespread return to selective education, and the rubbishing of a favourite neo-liberal idea, education vouchers. There are more surprises yet for the Tory Party I think!

Thatcher's Downfall

November 22nd. is the anniversary of the fall of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, one of the most dramatic political events of modern times. Relive the events, and in particular the extraordinary speech by Sir Geoffrey Howe in the Commons, in this video on the Youtube site. Anyone who doubts the significance of parliament will see here its seminal importance as the arena in which the most formidable British leader since Churchill met her doom. Thatcher never recovered from the Howe speech, or the loss of confidence and credibility that it engendered amongst her parliamentary colleagues. Its immediate consequence was a leadership challenge from Michael Heseltine, which ultimately resulted in Thatcher's forced resignation; "treachery, with a smile on its face".

Website Updated

The recent power point presentations are now on the website. Go to the AS Update page.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Lords Reform

The Chairman of the Joint Committee looking into Lords reform has spoken out against the idea of a hybrid second chamber. Lords reform featured in the Queen's Speech - not for the first time - and Commons Leader Jack Straw is said to favour a 50% elected second chamber, and 50% appointed. Lord Cunningham, chairman of the reform committee, says he sees no value in such a halfway house. Either stay with a wholly appointed Lords, or go for a wholly elected one. Straw's solution is the worst of both possible worlds.

But then of course it would be. Jack Straw is the man who, as Foreign Secretary, sleep-walked us into the war against Iraq. Now he's back, applying similarly ill thought through ideas to the parliamentary reform agenda. The man has no idea what he wants from a second chamber, except some vague idea that perhaps it should have a democratic element. The bankruptcy of his thought process is well pointed up by Cunningham; if you want democracy, then go for it without hesitation. If, on the other hand, you think there is value in maintaining a House of Lords that has consistently acted as a useful bulwark against hasty Commons thinking, then keep it the way it is. But for goodness sake - 50/50? Who are you trying to fool?!

Website Updates

Aftab has rightly taken me to task for failing to update the geocities website with the recent presentations. Geocities is unfortunately not accessible in school, and I have to date neglected to email the presentation files so that I can update it at home. This will change - an update by mid-week is on the way! In the meantime, update your knowledge by visiting the tutor2u website, with its vast array of presentations, blog updates etc.

More Results from Tory Primaries

The 'open primary' is producing some interesting results for the Tory Party, in particular this evening, the result in the Essex seat of Witham has been to effectively deselect sitting MP (and only elected in 2005) James Brokenshire in favour of Priti Patel, a right-wing Asian who boosts, in one go, the Tories' ethnic and female quota. That might seem to be a good thing, although Patel brings her own baggage with her; as a former Referendum Party activist she is a stark reminder that perhaps the Tory Party grassroots have no intention of deserting the eurosceptic and right-wing bunker in which they sheltered from electoral victory for so long!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Tory Primaries

BBC News went to one of the new 'open primaries' being held by the Tory Party to select some of their candidates in winnable seats. The idea of the open primary is that anyone can come along and vote for the next Tory candidate, thus giving them a wider base of support than if they had just been chosen by the party gerontocracy. An earlier primary in Battersea produced a win for the excellent Jane Ellison, a forthright One Nation Tory who can expect to be much more in tune with the new Tory mood than her many detractors (she was vilified on the right-wing Guido Fawkes blog).

The BBC, meanwhile, went along to Watford to watch a similar event. Television images, of course, are misleading, but I have to say that experiment sounds as if it should be politically exciting, I didn't see much evidence of that in the Watford case. Hardly a huge meeting, attendees looking as if they might be pretty well the party membership and not much more, and a rather uninspiring bunch of candidates. A bloke in glasses won.

Watford notwithstanding, it is an interesting idea. The parties have declining memberships and need to do something to rejuvenate political interest. It is debatable how many non-party members are really interested in attending candidate selection meetings, and the evidence thus far suggests not many.

By the way, Hazel Blears, Labour's diminutive chairman, is desperately touting for members by telling people on the party website that membership brings the glorious chance of voting for the next prime minister - a vote which, on present form, will be held on the Stalinist principle of having just one candidate. She couldn't be more interested in rounding up support for the deputy leadership election could she - in which she might just be a possible contender???

Knacker's Calling, Friedman Isn't

A couple of major stories for very different reasons appear to have broken this evening. John Yates of the Met has indicated that the investigation into cash for honours is reaching a significant stage, with his claim that "significant and valuable material" has been obtained. Blair apparently has his defence ready!

Also today, the death of New Right economics guru Milton Friedman has been announced, so plenty of retrospective material for the A2 students to pore over can be expected in the next few days.

Finally, French politics is calling - tonight the socialist party decides whether to nominate Segolene Royal as their first woman candidate for president. She's popular, and could win the presidency, but is considered to be very shallow on policy. Didn't do Blair any harm!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Newsnight Weather Reports - Paxman resists

Paxman doesn't reserve his arsenal of sarcasm for politicians. He famously hated having to give out weather forescasts which, briefly, were put in place of the business forecast at the end of Newsnight. Here, courtesy again of Have I Got News For You, was his response to producers who thought the weather was a good thing to end the programme with...
Michael Howard on Newsnight

Well, after today's showing of Paxman at his insufferable best, here's the infamous Howard interview, but as shown on Have I Got News For You, back in the days when they had the same host each week.

Blair's Last Opening

There were 29 new Bills unveiled in the Queen's Speech today, thus showing that whatever else he's lost (his job, his credibility, his war with Iraq, his war with Gordon Brown) Tony Blair hasn't lost his appetite for legislating. David Cameron criticised the new agenda - and Tony Blair's last Queen's Speech, for pandering to the 'politics of fear' but that rather misses the point. Tony Blair's entire administration has been about fear. Fear of the evil Tories, fear of the truth, fear of terrorists, fear of his own backbenchers..... If he can't cater to the politics of fear, then what can he do? I suppose there is one fear left...the fear of life after Number 10. What on earth does a former Prime Minister do? Margaret Thatcher has spent the years since being ousted going slowly madder and madder, pondering too much on treachery ('with a smile on its face') and casting her long, spectral shadow over all of her successors bar the present one. John Major, after a disastrous innings himself, went to watch the cricket at Lord's, joined the boards of companies influenced by his friend George Bush (Snr.) and is now the richest former PM around. Perhaps, after all, there is a good reason to stay on as GWB's best friend....

As for the ceremony itself, it creaked of archaism and anachronism, and yet it still manages to raise the level of humdrum, adversarial politics to a slightly different plane for a while. The Opening of Parliament might almost convince us that there is a grandeur to politics, until of course we get to the raw emotion of the Commons exchanges. It is here that the Leader of the Opposition has the job of rubbishing the policies he has only just heard. Many Opposition leaders prove unequal to the task, and today, apparently, David Cameron faced a particularly feisty Tony Blair. Blair spent much time, perhaps conscious of the thinness of his legislative agenda, conjuring up the image of his successor as a prize fighter demolishing David Cameron. Nick Assinder's account of the exchange on the BBC site has Cameron effectively mullahed, but both Brown and Reid convinced they are the ones being referred to by Blair as his successor. Well, maybe only a little bit in Reid's case - we all know he prefers office to challenging and losing leadership elections.

More on the Tony Blair's last law making initiatives later, when I've had time to absorb them in all their glory.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Are all bad laws European?

ID Cards seem like a bad idea overall, and they haven't been imposed on us by Europe. Quite apart from the civil liberties issue, which should concern all liberals of whatever hue, this government has a rotten record on introducing ICT into any of its departments. The BBC reports today that the civil servant charged with introducing this dreadful policy has been saying how important it is that we have ID cards in order to safeguard civil liberties. I did wonder about his truly Orwellian logic, but gave up the ghost on his defence when I reached this comment - that 'the general public supports the scheme and are frustrated that it is taking so long"!! Oh yeah, we're all out there begging for ID cards and an increase in government control. Anyone want to join the next march asking for the suspension of individual liberties?

How much was your peergae?

The DHB's concluding question to his lordship on Monday generated a few laughs, but hinted at the wider and certainly serious issue of peerages for sale. Guido Fawkes follows this story regularly on his blog with some glee, but there is no doubt that while Labour looks thoroughly tarnished, neither the Tories nor the Liberals come out of it particularly well either. What's more, it is grist to the mill of those who would oppose a nominated second chamber, which is a tragedy, given the many positive virtues of having a House of Lords that is not, on the whole, in hock to the government or the short term campaigns of the tabloid press.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Eurosceptic Speaks!

My apologies for the rather long gap between posts - unforgivable, apparently, in the really committed blogging community! However, the day on which we have a bona fide eurosceptic personality (google him if you don't believe me - he has some modest fame!) visit and speak to us seems a good opportunity to update.

Lord Pearson gave a perfectly sound eurosceptic case. Europe binds us with plentiful, not always necessary, laws and takes loads of our money. It's been the mantra of the euroscpetic for years. Sadly, though, it was ultimately communicated with too little dynamism and a voice projection that desperately needed a microphone. I was a little surprised, since at lunch (the good lord himself, HM, GG, Stembridge, Manville and me) he had proved to be quite enthusiastic, and certainly argumentative when I suggested one or two challenges to his position. Ultimately, though, his case was unexciting and mundane, and unlikely to enthuse L6th formers to become prophets for euroscepticism, or even to think greatly about it.

The questions asked were good ones, and I fear his responses were a little inadequate. His case on Europe is essentially the self-interested one that says there is no easily quantifiable benefit to Britain in being a member. The case for Europe - implicit in some of the questions - is that in the global community Britain operates better as part of a larger unit than as the political and economic minnow she would otherwise be. Many of the European laws Pearson decries would have been passed by British governments anyway, whilst the redistribution of national income that he so hates is justified partly on the same pragmatic grounds that the Americans pursued the Marshall Plan - we need a healthy southern and eastern Europe to maintain our trading buoyancy.

I am not convinced, either, that 'no jobs depend on our membership of the EU', which was his response to Sam Young's question. It is inconceivable that our economy would be unaffected by something as significant as our withdrawal from one of the world's largest trading blocs. And the EU offers a much stronger regulatory defence against capitalist predators like Rupert Murdoch than Britain on her own ever could - especially given the craven attitude of successive British leaders to the Murdoch empire. However, Pearson was a fluent, informed and well practised protagonist for the eurosceptic cause, and it was certainly useful and interesting to hear him.

Ultimately then, a controversial but ultimately unsatisfying speech I think, rescued for me by intelligent sixth form questioning and the look of utter distaste that registered on Conor's face throughout the entire proceedings. Oh, and a thankyou to Tom Marshall for his irreverent, satirical last question - "How much did you pay for your peerage" indeed!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Comment Moderation

There are some good, useful and vigorous comments on these posts, and I hope they will continue. Anonymous handles or pseusdonyms are all fine, but I hope we can avoid outright malicious impersonation. I have turned the comment moderation on for the time being to preserve the integrity of the comments.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Policeman's Lot is Not a Happy One...

....not, at any rate, if you happen to be a copper in modern day, Blairite Britain. I have added a link to the blog of one PC 'David Copperfield', an ordinary policeman in a pretty average town, so he says, whose regular updates should fill us with horror. It was his article in the Mail (here) that first brought him to my attention, and no, don't ignore it just because of where it's been published. He has now published a book of his journal entries, and you don't have to be a fascist right-winger to think that, on the whole, we'd prefer policeman to be out there, sort of catching criminals, rather than updating paperwork on the latest ludicrous targets.

Cameron Criticised

David Cameron's decision to support the SNP/Plaid Cymru motion calling for an immediate inquiry into the Iraq war has drawn criticism from one of his own senior MPs. Quentin Davies, a former Defence spokesman, has outlined the view that any inquiry should only be held after the war, and that to have decided to join the call for one now was irresponsible and folly of the first order. Daves is a thoughtful and independent minded Tory MP whose views can hardly be disregarded lightly, especially since on this subject he echoes a reasonably widely held view amongst Tories.

On Iraq, however, Cameron is faced with a difficult position. The Tories supported this war, and can't easily simply call for withdrawal. In trying to formulate a coherent stand on the war, they are hamstrung by their failure to take a more strategic view at the time (not surprisingly, Ken Clarke was one of the minority of Tory MPs who opposed the war at the time, thus showing again that he had a much clearer long-term view of political issues than many of his associates). They are also caught by their desire to remain friendly with America, which is surely a foreign policy position whose time is up. A genuinely reforming Tory leader, which Cameron seeks to be and shows, on some fronts, that he is, would seriously question the blind allegiance successive Tory and Labour leaders have shown to America, and start to wake up to a new world order. Our puppy-like devotion to the American cause - not shared by the majority of British voters - has rarely brought us any dividends at all, and seems motivated primarily by the desire of Prime Ministers to walk tall on the world stage. From the time Roosevelt made us pay through the nose for the support he offered in World War 2, through Eisenhower's betrayal of Eden over Suez and Reagan's ambiguous attitude over the Falklands, to Blair's comprehensive failure to have been able to influence any strand of US foreign policy despite his utter commitment to them, the US has shown that it has no regard for the so-called 'special relationship'. It's about time British leaders dropped it too, and there is no reason why an internationalist Tory leader couldn't, with integrity, do so. After all, it was a Tory Prime Minister who, during his brief term, understood the realities of Britain's European position and divorced himself from America to align with Europe. His name was Edward Heath.

The Coronation of King Gordon

Well, well. It looks increasingly as if Gordon Brown will become Labour leader - and thus Prime Minister - simply by the mere process of existing! Peter Hain, the oleaginous Labour front-bencher who is one of several pygmies to have declared for the Labour deputy leadership race, and who fancies himself as a born-again Brownite, is the most recent Labour figure to have suggested that there will be no contest (BBC News story here). Hain tries to have it both ways, by announcing that he would, of course, much rather there was a contest (as, he says, would his chum 'Gordon'), but then lambasts the Blairites for trying, in his words, to 'contrive' a contest. Hmmm. A typical New Labour fix!

I'm not sure that it is necessarily a bad thing that there will be no contest. Conventional wisdom has it that there should be a battle of ideas, etc etc, but that is surely for the General Election, when the public can actually get involved. One expects, on the whole, a change of leadership for a party in government to represent a degree of continuity, and Brown's leadership - for all the personality differecnes - will certainly do that. The real issue for Labour - and this was the same issue for the Tories when they crowned Michael Howard - is why they have so few significant figures at the top of their party who could make any realistic claim to the leadership.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Humble Correction

Hmmm. Well I hate to suggest that I may have written in haste, but on re-reading the exchange at PMQ's just before the Speaker interrupted David Cameron, I am bound to admit that Cameron does not appear to have mentioned the Labour Party in his question, thus rendering the Speaker Martin's rebuke somewhat redundant. I suspect Martin was seeking to correct Cameron for what he thought he was going to say, rather than what he actually did say, which is a rather careless, and hasty, mistake for someone as august as the Speaker to make. There are numerous suggestions going round that Martin was abandoning his neutrality to act as a Labour partisan, but I don't think this fits the bill at all. Anyway, you can make up your own minds by looking at the exchange yourselves - or reading it. And my main point still stands - Cameron needs to buck up his ideas about how he uses PMQ's and what it says about him to the country.

Parliamentary Pugilism

Today's scenes in the House of Commons at Prime Minister's Question Time seem to have been rowdier than normal. David Cameron is normally pretty assured in these exchanges - must be that Eton training, giving him a slight edge over the equally expensive Fettes training received by Blair - but today he fell foul of the Speaker, Glaswegian Michael Martin (who came up from a very different background to the two pugilists he was refereeing). As Cameron asked Blair who he would like to see as leader of the Labour Party, Speaker Martin intervened, ruling the question out of order, as it was about the internal politics of the Labour Party - cue outrage from the assembled Tories, with Cameron himself nonplussed and almost willing to challenge the Speaker further. Only an excess of Speakers' latitude over Cameron's slightly re-phrased question (this time he asked who Blair would like to see as the next Prime Minister) saved the Leader of the Opposition from being thrown out for contempt.

All very entertaining of course, and if you get the chance go to the BBC site and watch the exchange in full - the Speaker's ruling, by the way, seems eminently sensible (the link is here). It does, however, do no credit at all to Cameron, the man who said he would do away with Punch and Judy politics, that he engages in this sort of trivia. At a time when there are serious questions being asked about the war in Iraq, with soldiers risking their lives in a war of ambiguous origin, and being asked to fight with often sub-standard equipment; at a time when the global issue of climate change needs urgent and creative attention from world leaders; at a time when the public services of Britain remain hampered and inadequate under reams of iniquitous red tape - does the man who would be Prime Minister really have nothing more useful to ask at his privileged weekly questioning of the Prime Minister than "who would you like to be your successor"?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Revolt That Never Was

In the end, it was a bit of a damp squib. For all the talk of nervous whips applying thumbscrews to Labour MPs and ministers being called back from foreign parts, a mere 12 Labour MPs in the end rebelled against the government in today's debate on the Iraq War - nothing in comparison to previous rebellions which have seen the government defeated a couple of times. Called by the SNP and Plaid Cymru, and reluctantly supported by the Tories, the Commons motion was proposing an inquiry into how we went to war in Iraq. The Conservatives actually favour waiting for such an inquiry until after the war, whilst Labour naturally favour not having one at all.

Or at least they did.

Although the government won the debate today, Defence Secretary Des Browne appears to have promised an inquiry after all, in comments made to television broadcasters. As ever, the government's message is confused and subject to late changes, and heaven forbid they should provide either consistency or clarity.

As far as lessons about Commons behaviour go, it was always a no-brainer for Labour MPs not to walk into the same lobbies as the opposition parties on an opposition debate. However, it is a sign of how fractious this parliament is - and in particular its all important Labour MPs - that the expectation of government defeats is so regular.
And we do at least know that an inquiry is in the offing - even after leaving office, Blair is likely to be haunted by its findings.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Holiday Time and No Blogging!

It's half term. I'm still recovering from CCF camp - and reading the wrong lesson at the wedding of two very good friends! - and then I'm away again. So, no blogging until my return. There may be a brief CCF update on the myspace site though. Don't hold your breath, and see you after half term!

Monday, October 16, 2006

My Space

I have added some new entries to the Myspace blog. Just if you're interested...

A Crime A Day...So much for freedom!

Well we've been covering liberalism and its implications in the U6 ideology lessons, and there have been no less vigorous debates about the nature of a free society in allegedly liberal Britain than in the L6 set as well. In its classical form, liberalism is about the freedom of the individual and assumes that freedom to be an absence from any external constraints (a view later characterised by Isaiah Berlin as negative freedom). The modern liberal, of course, has trouble with this, for he wants to promote freedom by promoting the 'potential' of the individual, and on the assumption that such potential usually requires a lift, he comes up with the notion of government intervention via such forms as the welfare state (positive freedom). Now no-one would dispute that these are noble notions, but the modern liberal problem remains that the more you increase the power of the state the more you compromise the freedom of the individual. The two exist as opposite forces to each other. The debate that has been exercising us recently has been the extent to which modern government is so keen to legislate our every activity that it has ceased to have any regard whatsoever for the concept of negative freedom.

This is not a debate confined to the walls of the politics classroom. It came up as I was dining last night with one of my politics mentors (and former student!!) and his wife. He mentioned, in between frequent growls about the amount of money the government takes off him in tax, a recent Independent story which suggested that such was the present government's taste for legislation, that it has effectively created a new offence for virtually every day it has been in power. A crime a day thanks to New Labour. So, cheers Tony, we are all 3,000 times more likely to be criminals than when you first came to office!

It is refreshing to note that the founder of this alarming statistic about the impingement on our individual freedoms is a Liberal MP, Mr. Nick Clegg (and frequently touted possible future leader). For a brief summary of the article, which ends with the fascinating news that the government have created, amongst their 3,000 new offences, one that makes it illegal to 'create a nuclear explosion' (and thanks for that - we all feel a whole lot safer now), click here. Unfortunately, one freedom you do not have is the freedom to read the whole article for free - such is the Indie's cash strapped status that you need to buy the full article for a quid. But you can get the broad picture, and that's bad enough.

So, a liberal society? Depends on how free one needs to be I guess.
CWF 30th Anniversary Thatcher Dinner

Enjoy this. The Thatcherite pressure group Conservative Way Forward's tribute video to The Maggie! Great memories, distinctly cheesy patriotic music, and a fabulous cameo from the failed socialist revolutionary Arthur Scargill, who can be heard calling for the take-over of the media! Watch and (a) enjoy, or (b) get infuriated [Conor!].

Friday, October 13, 2006

Politics Conference with Boris, George Galloway et al

Just to let everyone know that the conference I mentioned at the end of the lesson is definitely on - we have permission to go!!

Co-sponsored by the Spectator and Philip Allan Updates, the conference is on December 7th. and features Boris Johnson and George Galloway, Matthew D'Ancona (editor of the Spectator), Andrew Neill, George Osborne (Cameron's mate and shadow Chancellor if you didn't know!) and Liberal MP Lembit Opik.

We need to book fast, so as many as possible please bring cheques in on Monday. Make them out to 'Sutton Grammar School', £15.

Self Censored

A great pity in many ways, but half-assed MP Sion Simon has now deleted the video of his cringe-inducing piece of 'satire' aping Webcameron. So no more can we upload that well thought out comment "Want to sleep with my wife? Come on down, then. Want my kids? No problem". We'll just have to laugh at the memory. Apparently, though, Simon gave a self-destroying interview on Sky News which has been posted here.

NB The MP who actually posted the video on YouTube, Tom Watson, has apologised 'unreservedly'!

Another NB Watson and Simon were the ring-leaders in the Brownite attempt to get Blair to resign before party conference. And we wonder why it failed? With friends like these, Brown needs to be very worried!

Sporting Glory

I see 'Sporting Glory' managed to sow a bit more dissension yesterday, although to be fair, the more controversial it is the more readable it is. Nonetheless, is it fair to blame Mr. Blunt for the late night socialising habits of his First XI players? And was Mr. Waller unfairly being made a scapegoat? And I noticed at least one match report being sold completely separately to the main paper! Oh, and as for Mr. Daly's protestations that the editors are a united team, I couldn't help hearing one of his co-editors claim that he did all of the work. Hmmmm. Just like a normal media operation really!!!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Video To Regret

I doubt many people had heard of Sion Simon until today, for all that he's a former journalist (he was the tame New Labourite who used to write for the Spectator and the Telegraph) and now a Labour MP. Perhaps his main claim to fame until recently was his blind obedience to the cult of Blair, until he realised it was coming to an end and almost indecently switched his allegiance to Gordon Brown. Secretly, however, Sion Simon is a comedian. A satirist of the highest calibre. A guy with a humorous cutting edge that'll have you dripping with laughter.

Or maybe not.

Maybe he's just the most embarrassing person to inhabit Labour's parliamentary party at the moment, for Sion has hit the news with his truly appalling attempt to take off David Cameron's 'webcameron'. Simon's toe-curling bit of 'comedy' has been posted on youtube for all to, erm, enjoy. And since everyone found out, he's been spending lots of time explaining why this is a genuinely funny satire. David Brent could hardly have dreamt this one up!

Webcameron down with the kids

Sion Simon 'making a twat of himself'.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Media Wars

A new media venture began tonight - ironically on the day that Google announced its takeover of another unexpected but huge internet success, the Youtube site. The new venture is a web-based tv channel - 18 Doughty Street - which broadcasts politics shows each evening only on the web. The avowed aim of the Doughty Street founders is to challenge old media. Two of the leading spirits behind the venture - Tim Montgomerie and Iain Dale - are both prominent Conservative bloggers (their sites are linked at the side) who believe that the blogosphere is increasingly able to challenge the 'established' media agenda.

It is too early to see whether the Doughty Street channel will succeed on the founders' own terms - i.e. effectively challenge the dominance of mainstream media as our principal source of news and analysis. Their programmes, on tonight's evidence, are chatty (well, it's talk tv after all), and are very much an audio-visual version of the presenters' blogs, but with more time to fill by the chatting! It is certainly too early to be predicting the demise of mainstream media. Where millions watch terrestrial news channels or read the main print media, mere thousands log into the most popular blogs, whilst fewer than hundreds will frequent the vast majority of others. The current influence of the socalled blogosphere has been in the way it has persuaded mainstream media to latch onto some of its stories (for example, the John Prescott scandals originated on the blogs). On the whole, stories don't have credibility until they have been broadcast or written up in the mainstream media. Even the founders of 18 Doughty Street have been keen enough, in their various blogs, to trumpet their appearances on programmes such as 'Newsnight', 'Today' and'Channel 4 News', suggesting they know only too well where the news agenda is set.

Nevertheless, the web does represent an unregulated source of free speech and opinion. I am increasingly fond of online magazine The First Post, whose edition today carries the provocative story of a terror plot in Blackburn that was unreported because it didn't involve Muslim terrorists. Their contention, that the main media conspires to promote attitudes that fit a particular world-view which is not necessarily accurate, carries some force. (Their report is here).

Even very localised media can have its problems. SGS has its own monopolistic publication - Sporting Glory - whose editors, it seems, are not always as one; this writer witnessed an alarming display of disunity between prima donna editors only this evening. Can the school's much loved paper survive??!! And is it loved because it is alone??

The BBC catches up...

After the news had been heavily trailed on the internet yesterday, it was good to see the BBC finally catch up with the story that John Reid may well have thrown in the towel when it comes to challenging an apparently unbeatable Gordon Brown. Even Nick Assinder's conclusion (his story on BBC News is here) follows one of the Westminster blogs by suggesting it is now John Hutton's turn to raise the Blairite flag against Brown. In fact, it looks less and less likely that such a thing will happen. And especially once parliament resumes, and Brown starts to exert his undoubted dominance over a cowed parlaimentary party, it does look as if we may be headed for a coronation. There is little in policy terms to divide potential Blairite candidates from Brown, so it boils down to personality, and one of the givens about Brown's personality is that he (a) bears grudges and (b) is ferocious in hounding opponents. Want to stay in government, with a nice salary and ministerial car? Then don't challenge Gordon. And sadly, that's what many seem to be believing.

There is the interesting question of who, in fact, would have the political weight to challenge the Chancellor. Too often, the cabinets of powerful premiers contain ministers who are pygmies - aside from Alan Johnson (possibly over-rated), John Hutton (little known outside Westminster) and John Reid (given up already), who actually is there? An entertaining parlour game for political anoraks.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Reid - No Challenge to Brown

According to online magazine the First Post, John Reid has privately assured Gordon Brown that he will not challenge him for the Labour leadership. Reid seems to have worked out that he simply would not have the support - which is probably true as most of those who want him to run seem to be Tory commentators trying to stir up dissension - and that the best way of staying in his post for more than one more year is to make peace with the next almost-certain leader.

In the same article, the First Post notes that Brown used the weekend's Cheltenham book Festival to talk ideas and humanity. He also apparently ruled out bringing in a written constitution. Both Brown and Cameron, interestingly, have both been flying flags about constitutional change, to the effect that they want to strengthen parliament and limit the powers of the executive. But then, politicians who aren't Prime Minister are often interested in that sort of change - until they reach the highest office themselves and somehow leave their reforming instincts at the door. It was Lord Hailsham who, in opposition, made disparaging comments about living under an 'elective dictatorship'. Safely back in office, as Margaret Thatcher's Lord Chancellor, we didn't hear much more from his reforming lordship on that issue!

Cameron at 40 Cameron's hit the big 40 then. It is extraordinarily irritating to see these slightly younger people - Cameron, Abramovich - achieving rather more than you!! Cameron would have been in the year below me at school and I would duly have looked down on him and sneered in a patronising way (a habit I have of course long grown out of!). Now he's leader of the Tories and the possible next but one Prime Minister. It is, however, worth reading this article from the BBC news site which suggests that we can interpret Cameron's political vision - if that's not too grand a word - by looking at the concerns of your average 40 year old. Quite amusing. If you like that sort of thing. And are 40. And have kids.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Murder, Mayhem and the Mob - Rome's political lessons.

When we discuss the exercise of democracy, we tend to look back to the example of Athens, but to look at the exercise of politics by the demos in a more rumbustuous fashion, and in due tension with ideas of government by an elite on behalf of the people, we could do worse than look at the example of the Roman Republic. I was struck again by the nature of the extraordinary political system that was the Republic when I saw tonight's episode of the BBC's 'Ancient Rome'. It was following the career of rabble rouser and Tribune of the People Tiberius Gracchus, who campaigned for land reform on behalf of the plebs, but whose campaign exposed the huge divisions in Roman society and threatened the republic itself with civil war. Gracchus drew his power from the mob - and his position, Tribune of the People, had been specifically designed to placate the plebs by offering them a magistracy that would look after them. But no matter how noble the aims, the mob can easily be turned, and in the case of Gracchus, who fought hard on their behalf, they were readily convinced of his kingly ambitions. The senate - an elected body of the wealthy - themselves sought to spread rumours about their enemy, and ultimately led the charge that resulted in his murder.

The Republic was a vibrant political system, with all sorts of checks and balances, as well as a deep seated fear of both mob rule, and individual power. The most senior magistrates elected were the Consuls, of whom there were two, and who were elected for a year only. It was said that the worst charge you could lay against a politician in the Roman Republic was that he wanted to be king! There has been a resurgence of interest in ancient Rome, but if you want a superb and frankly gripping read that both educates and entertains, you could do no better than Tom Holland's 'Republic'; Robert Harris, meanwhile, has novelised the career of one of the Republic's last great figures, the orator, and sometime consul, Cicero, in 'Imperium'.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Conference Thoughts Part 2 - Labour and Conservative

Much ink has, of course, already been spilt about the Labour Conference. In the event, given all of the tension and the intense speculation surrounding Blair’s likely departure date, it was, for those of hoping for a real political splat, a bit of a damp squib! Gordon Brown confirmed that he will never be a particularly inspiring leader, for all his undoubted worthiness and political weight; John Prescott mangled the English language one more time and produced the startling revelation that, no, he would not be deputy leader in a year’s time – so thanks for clearing that up John; and Tony Blair did indeed put on a bravura performance in his last conference speech as leader, hamming up the emotion, choking on his own studied sincerity, and getting them all leaping in the aisles. Can’t really see Gordon ever doing that, but every time we feel a little disillusioned with the Iron Chancellor’s lack of emotion let’s just pause for a moment, and remember that if he had been Prime Minister over Blair, then we would have at least been spared all that “People’s Princess” crap.

And, just finished, of course, we had the new look Tories. Nice new logo – green oak tree to remind us of environmentalism and England – and a fresh, bright web log for the leader – the Webcameron – with its reminder of Dave’s informal, regular, Eton guy’s style in his no-mortgage Notting Hill pad! Apart from Boris Johnson, the Tories’ licensed jester, and a bit of transatlantic glamour from John McCain, it is true that no-one was allowed to say anything of interest at the Tory conference, and they all duly complied. One policy issue capable of generating division emerged – the tax issue – but was confined to the sidelines. Cameron did, however, make a considered speech which, while lacking some of Blair’s genuinely brilliant audience connection, sought to set out a clear direction for the Tories and show that hey are back in the serious business of winning over public support. He also gave us a further glimpse into his ideology with a short passage on foreign affairs. Whilst affirming that he is not anti-American (like that one’s a surprise!), he said this:

“I'm not a neo-conservative. I'm a liberal Conservative. Liberal - because I believe in spreading freedom and democracy, and supporting humanitarian intervention. That is why we cannot stand by and watch further genocide in Darfur. But Conservative - because I also recognise the complexities of human nature, and will always be sceptical of grand schemes to remake the world. We need more patience, more humility in the way we engage with the world”

Cameron’s definitely getting there. He’s already taken the Tories to a feelgood point which has seemed beyond them for well over a decade, and his gradualist approach to developing policy seems to be the right one. After all, why give hostages to fortune now, with two or three years still to go before a likely election – the tax furore was a small indication of how damaging that could be. Set out a direction, establish some values, reconnect with the voting public – those are the wise aims of an Opposition Leader, and for all his gimics, Cameron has got his eye focused on that.

So there it is. A potentially historic, but actually rather tame, conference season. Gone, for now at any rate, are the days when Labour conferences would see the comrades tear each other apart over issues of extreme policy, the Liberals would pass motions that made the Greens look mainstream, and the Tories would be vigorously stabbing each other in the back at various fringe meetings. Dull, isn’t it?

Conference Thoughts Part 1

The Conference season normally provides the first real taste of politics in action each school year. As the parties gather at their respective venues for their annual bout of soul-searching and exhibitionism, we get the chance to analyse their policies and their leaders, not to mention take the temperature of the parties themselves and try to find out once more just what makes them tick. And this year they were, in a way, historic conferences. Two of the parties had their new leaders addressing them for the first time, and one had their old leader addressing them for the last time, so what conclusions might we draw this year?

Well, the Liberals started us off with Ming’s big chance to shine and, er, he didn’t. Having been under fire virtually since his election as leader for being hesitant, unexciting and unsure of himself, this was his chance to regain some mastery. After all, he may not be very good at dominating the House of Commons, but at least he should be able to dominate his own Liberal supporters at their own conference. Alas, no. In his first appearance, an awkward looking simulation of a rather cut price chat show, Sir Ming sat with Guardian journalist Michael White to answer questions that White would have been ashamed to put forward in any other context. This is when he came up with his classic line that the Liberals, under his leadership, were on the way up, not least because of their fantastic by-election victory in Bromley and Chislehurst. Which, woe, was of course a not very fantastic Tory victory! But worse was to follow when ex-leader, and on the road to being reformed alcoholic, Charlie Kennedy appeared to the party faithful. He really did inspire them. For all his faults, Chat Show Charlie showed how it should be done, with genuine enthusiasm greeting his appearance on stage. He even managed to snub Sir Ming by not shaking hands with him – obviously still harbouring a few grievances about the Merciless One’s role in his own removal as leader.

At least Ming did achieve some success in turning Liberal policy around – he removed the commitment to higher direct taxes that has been a mainstay of Liberal campaigns for years – and made it more like that of the other two parties. A real achievement, that!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Battersea Tories - A political footnote

Last week the Battersea Conservatives held an 'open primary' to select their next parliamentary candidate. This is a novel idea - for British politics at any rate - in which anyone who is a registered voter can come along to the hustings and vote for their preferred candidate. The idea being, of course, to ensure a candidate with wider appeal than just to the local Tory activists. It is open to manipulation by those who hate you, I suppose, but the Battersea Tories largely prevented this by offering a slate of four candidates, any of whom would be a decent choice. The eventual candidate chosen, Jane Ellison, had plenty of experience as a campaigner, and a political position on the centre left of the party (yes, she's a former TRG activist!). This may well have explained her victory in the open primary, and ensure a decent chance of ousting the sitting Labour MP, Martin Linton, sitting on a majority of just 153!

The right-wing tendency hated the whole process, and particularly hated Ellison - just read some of the comments on the neo-liberal Fawkes blog to see that - but in the end the voice of the Battersea people - or at any rate those who could be bothered to turn out - won out! The point about Ellison is that she is a good campaigner and hard working candidate, who doesn't give any quarter to those she disagrees with, especially in her own party. And she is a graduate of the old, factional Tory student and youth politics of the late 80's and 90's, so made many enemies by simply not worshipping at the altar of Thatcherism.

The primary idea is a far more interesting concept than some of the those being hawked around the Tory Party at the moment, and could, I suspect, encourage a much better participation than the 'webcameron', as well as producing a more rounded selection of candidates. This can only benefit Cameron's modernisation process, and give him the parliamentary support next session that he will so clearly need if he is to remain secure. Tony Blair's situation shows - as did Margaret Thatcher's, and Iain Duncan Smith's - that whatever the nods in the direction of greater party democracy, it is still the voice of the MPs that matters most. Lose your parliamentary party, and you lose your position. And in the media driven political world today, that is something that is too often forgotten.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

What If.....?

The last member of the old U6 politics set is about to head off to uni. This would, of course, be Pierpaolo Barrett – as a future luminary of Oxford (along with Peter Wright) he only needs to be there for about 10 weeks a year. How that place gets its reputation I don’t know. Nevertheless, we met up, chatted politics, and tried to predict the future, which is where these thoughts come from.

Everyone says how foolish it is to try and predict political developments, and then goes right on ahead to do precisely that. Why? Because it sheds some light on our current political plight. So here are some of the futurist options for the British political scene.

Scenario 1: ‘Dave’ Cameron wins the next election by a small majority over a Gordon Brown led Labour party. Brown, as predicted, failed to connect with the British – and especially English – public, thus enjoying his triumph as PM for only a short time, and the Liberal Democrats, as ever, failed to make any further headway – even losing a number of seats to the eco-friendly Tories. But what happens next? Cameron comes under increasing pressure from his right-wing tendency to lower taxes, whilst having to confront the economic chaos of massive over-spending left by Brown. As the economy crashes, and the Tory party is riven in ideological warfare again between modernisers and Nazis – sorry, traditionalists – a new Labour leader, David Milliband, is elected to take the reigns of a party that remains firmly modernist. Inevitably, he wins the subsequent General Election.

This, by the way, is a bit of a replay of the option that used to haunt Tory minds – what if they had lost the 1992 election to Neil Kinnock, thus bequeathing to him the economic hazards of the subsequent five years, whilst remaining united under a new leader – perhaps Heseltine – and ready to take power again in 1997?

Scenario 2: Dave loses the election, but has sufficiently increased the Tory vote to keep his party behind him; he stays as leader, and continues to drive forward the modernisation process. The old Tory dinosaurs keep dying out. In the meantime, the Labour government under Gordon Brown puts more and more distance between itself, under its aloof leader, and the public, while the economy unravels fast. More sleaze reports tarnish its reputation until, in the subsequent election, they lose massively to Cameron’s Tories. And this time, they are not in a position to quickly regroup – all their brightest minds are tainted by association with an increasingly unpopular, ineffective and sleazy government. The Tories are ready for a long period in office.

This scenario, of course, replays the disaster of the Major years for Labour.

There is a third scenario, which is a hung parliament, in which Ming’s Liberals would almost certainly chum up with Labour, despite the attractions to some of the Liberal ‘Orange Book’ authors of the new conservatism.

Of course this is all speculation, and history rarely repeats itself so neatly. But it does perhaps remind us that politics is such an unpredictable – and extraordinary – activity, that even a victory may not be the best option for David Cameron at the next election. There are subtle undercurrents circulating!

New Tories....New Gimics

As Labour ups and leaves Manchester, a pretty successful conference behind it, a rumbustuous future still ahead, the Conervative Cameroonies are on their way to Bournemouth. Just to give them a bit of extra momentum, most papers and news organisations today are weighing in with the fact that Cameron's lead in the polls has slipped drastically and that it is because people don't know what he stands for. Which is unfair because he clearly stands for getting in to power, and doing nice things for the environment. However, this week is an important time for Cameron, especially as the man he models himself on - Tony Blair - did so triumphantly, if rather hollowly, at his own conference.
The Tories have got some big hitters, none bigger than American Senator John McCain; Labour had past president Bill Clinton, the Tories have got possible future president McCain - now there's a nice irony. They have also apparently got a lot of new gizmos and interactivity - just to counter those rumours that they are all style over substance! And there's no more brilliant example of the Tories' cringe-making move into the internet age than the new 'webcameron'!! Go on, steel yourselves, and have a look at it here. I love the studied informality of that video, where 'call me Dave' keeps getting interrupted by his kids calling out. Because you see, Dave's a regular guy, not really au fait with all this technology otherwise he'd have told his kids to piss off while Daddy records an important message! But, hey, we love our leaders to be normal, on the job fathers. Isn't that why Tony Blair used to greet the press with a huge mug of tea empblazoned with the word "Dad"?! Poor, stiff old Gordon hasn't got a chance in the new world of touchy feely politicians - he really does look as if he'd prefer to talk about politics rather than his inner self. Think I'm beginning to warm to the guy!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

In the Beginning...

Welcome to the world of the blogosphere. I mean, anyone who's anyone nowadays - and lots of people who aren't - have a blog!

This may be a better way of updating on current news stories for the sgs politics set than trying to change the website all of the time! And I have a couple of months to road-test it before anyone is going to read it.

So - really - welcome to the sgs politics blog!! By Mr. Marshall. With occasional comments from languid students if they can be bothered and if they have the knowledge!