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"?

The retreat of liberalism goes on

As communism seemingly disappeared from view at the end of the 1980s, in a sudden and unexpected blow-out, there was plenty of triumphal...