Showing posts from January, 2007

The CCF - the Best Educational Opportunity Around!

It's not always that I read the comments of a Labour MP and warmly support them, but the MP for Mitcham and Mordern, Siobhain McDonagh, is clearly a woman of high intellectual calibre and strong moral worth. The reason for such an endorsement? Her speech in an adjournment debate which was positive and enthusiastic about the role of Combined Cadet Force units. She started thus:
I am delighted to have been given this opportunity to promote the good work of the armed forces, and to raise the subject of the need to increase the number of schools involved with the cadets.
Later, we get this:
Traditionally, cadet forces have offered many attractions for young people, including the chance to try hill climbing, abseiling and other outdoor sports. Cadet forces have also given them opportunities to learn about subjects such as aviation and engineering, which cannot be offered by mainstream schools. They have given young people a strong sense of belonging to a community, and they have helped t…

The Prime Ministerial Farewell

The knowledge that Tony Blair is leaving office - and the pretty certain knowledge that his immediate successor will be Gordon Brown - is a near unique occurrence in British political history. We are not normally in the position of both knowing when a prime minister will leave office, or who his successor will be. This is more akin to the American system which has transition arrangements in place. Andrew Rawnsley, in the 'Observer' today, has an excellent piece on this consitutional anomaly, and its impact, entitled 'Blair's Long Goodbye'. Have a read.

Church Thoughts

Looks as if I wasn't far off when I suggested John Reid might hear a few jibes about the government if he came to church this morning. In my own church, prayers about the government's legislative agenda beat ones about the homeless, and for our missionaries abroad, into first place this morning. Meanwhile, the preacher, in an excellent sermon on Luke 12, managed to use the recent troubles at No. 10 to illustrate a point made in verse 2 of that chapter. Luke quotes Jesus saying that, "Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known." Clear references to the problems of a cover-up, should that be the intention of the No. 10 spin doctors over cash for honours.
Oh, and I was delighted to discover that Julius Caesar is buried in my church. Honest. I rested my coffee cup on his not unimpressive tomb only this morning.

John Reid and the Politics of Humility

Actually, John Reid knows nothing about the politics of humility which is why he is having such a chronic time now. Being Home Secretary has never been an easy job - Kenneth Clarke described it as the graveyard of political careers (not very accurately, since his own went on to flourish further until he fell at the hurdle of the party leadership) - but plenty of Home Secretaries have been given more forbearance than 'Dr.' Reid. One thinks of the Tory gents, William Whitelaw and Douglas Hurd, who repeatedly fell foul of their own party's hang 'em high tendency, but who managed to preserve their dignity - and that of their office - in the process. Even Jack Straw, more recently, is looking distinctly more impressive alongside his successors than he has any right to.

It is the arrogant, bullying Home Sec. who comes a cropper, and Reid is arguably the most arrogant and bullying of them all. After all, you can't come in to the office, describe it as 'not fit for purp…


The Catholic desire for an opt-out from the gay adoption legislation continues to provide headaches for Tony Blair, and raw fodder for those interested in the nature of liberty in this liberal nation. It was the first question on 'Question Time' this evening and drew an eclectic number of responses from both panel and audience. Comments about it are appearing on a variety of political blogs.

I am interested, though, in the pickle the Christian churches are finding themselves in, by allowing homosexuality to become such a defining issue for them. Jesus had nothing specific to say on the subject of homosexuality. He did make clear how impossible it is for anyone to consistently uphold God's law in their own strength (You only have to look at a woman lustfully to be effectively committing adultery, for example). He was clear in the absolute importance of upholding God's commandments, but doing so with no hint of arrogance. He showed friendship, love and compassion to…

Whips at Work

Despite our contention that MPs are growing more assertive, and more capable of bringing the government to book, most of the time the executive steamroller still manages to win through. As a result of a procedural manouevre by government whips, rebel Labour MPs who had wanted to force a vote on tonight's Iraq debate were unable to do so. Given the heat Blair had for not speaking in the debate at all it was a somewhat pyrrhic triumph, but a sign that his whips' office is not completely at sea!

Police Priorities

A couple of items spotted this evening are the sort of thing that make me start to feel like a Daily Mail reader - angry and frustrated at a society with its institutional functions seriously out of kilter. The oddness of police priorities has long seemed more than just an irritant to the law abiding citizen, so how about these fascinating posts. The first, from online paper 'First Post', is by the pseudonymous PC David Copperfield. The second is in the form of a letter from the managing director of a brewery company, and found its way onto Iain Dale's blog. Read them, and you'll find no comment necessary.

Freedom of Religion in a Liberal Society?

Not for the first time, the government is headed for a clash with organised Christianity, in the form of the Catholic Church primarily, but well supported by Anglicanism's most senior figures. The issue is over new legislation that would force catholic adoption agencies to accept same sex couples as adoptive parents. This is legislation intended to iron out discrimination against gay couples.

There will not be wanting people to condemn the churches once more as 'anti-gay', and asking why churches should be exempt from legislation aimed at stamping out discrimination. The problem, of course, is that such this legislation directly interferes with the church's rights to live according to its religious belief system, and to insist that its institutions and agencies do the same.

Tony Blair is apparently keen to accommodate the churches' objections, as is his Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly. But they have been hoist here by their own petard. Mr. Blair's government has…

Why oh Why......?

Well, well. Just have a read of this tirade against the BBC.

"The BBC, which glories in being open-minded is, in fact, a closed thought-system, operating a kind of Orwellian newspeak.
"This, I would argue, is perverting political discourse, and disenfranchising countless millions, who don't subscribe to the BBC's world view,"

and there's this on the Tories and their leader:"Today's Tories are obsessed by the BBC. They saw what its attack dogs did to Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard.
"Cameron's cuddly blend of eco-politics and work/life balance, his embrace of Polly Toynbee, a columnist who loathes everything Conservatism stands for, but is a totemic figure to the BBC, his sidelining of Thatcherism and his banishing of all talk of lower taxes, lower immigration and euroscepticism are all part of the Tories' blood sacrifice to the BBC god."
Who could it be, taking up this righteous crusade against the BBC and its miserable, eco-friendly Ca…

Does Tony Blair Hate the Commons?

Tony Blair's hate-hate relationship with the House of Commons has surfaced again in this news story claiming that he has decided not to attend the debate being held in that chamber about the Iraq war on Wednesday, preferring instead the company of business leaders. Mr. Blair has an engagement to speak at the CBI Conference already in his diary.

Suggestions that Mr. Blair dislikes the Commons are legion, and his Commons attendance record as PM is one of the worst of any holder of that office. Since coming to power he has preferred to do business away from the troublesome chamber, becoming accused of adopting a presidential style that is unsuited to his actual constitutional role. When he moved the Chief Whip's office out of No. 12 Downing Street, replacing it with the office of his Director of Communications, it was seen as a sign by some commentators of his desire to push the management of the Commons as far off his radar as possible. The famous occasion of his government's…
Marine Rescue

Extraordinary footage of the Marines' rescue bid in Afghanistan. They may not be well served by their government, but they certainly do their job!

Cameron and Cannabis

Last week David Cameron sought to resume the mantle of Margaret Thatcher, particularly in the area of social conservatism. It wasn’t a great move, designed to shore up the Tory grassroots who are getting nervous at the possibility of mainstream middle class voters who don’t share their prejudices actually voting for them. This week, however, he is back on form, saying that he is ‘relaxed’ about the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes if a benefit can be shown. The Lady would be turning! If she were in her grave. Which, happily, she isn’t.

Home Office Split, and an Aide’s Arrest

The doctrine of ministerial responsibility has been mentioned several times before on these pages, along with the caveat that it is more a theory than a practice in modern times. One of the suggested reasons why ministers have shown little inclination to resign has been the charitable one that the modern government department is simply too huge for them to realistically take the fall for everything that goes on within them. The modern minister, indeed, is becoming quite adept at expressing surprise and bemusement when confronted with a departmental error that clearly took place while the minister was engaged on much more important, and wholly different, business.

Nowhere is this problem clearer than in the problem-hit Home Office. John Reid may have entered his brief bullishly, conveying implicit criticism of his predecessors and suggesting that he was the man to sort things out. Even he, however, buffeted by recent storms of what the Home Office doesn’t know, has bowed to the inevitab…

Gordon in India; Cameron on England

If Gordon Brown looks a little put out in India, it may not entirely be down to the Big Brother furore. Tony Blair today let it be known that he fully intended to serve as PM until the end of June - thus ruining Gordon's chances of attending the G8 and EU summits as a new PM, and extending the Labour Party's agony!

David Cameron, meanwhile, has waded into the English nationalism debate by supporting the idea of banning Scottish and Welsh MPs from voting on purely English matters, but stopping short of calling for an English parliament. Cameron's compromise idea is unworkable - imagine the legislative chaos of a Labour government that draws its majority from its Scottish MPs, but is in a minority in England, thus losing its votes on all of its English bills. What do we do then - have an alternating premiership depending on whether it is British or english matters being discussed?

Foul Celebrity

I have to acknowledge that the 'Guardian' is the only newspaper with any sort of perspective today (or tomorrow - Thursday). It is the only paper, apparently, not to put the Big Brother story on its front page, focusing instead on the possibility of a vast hike in university tuition fees. I have written briefly about the BB stuff on the myspace blog, but suffice it to observe here that it appears to have had an impact on Gordon Brown's visit to India, as well as being raised in an interview with David Cameron (he simply advised peope to switch off, which struck me as one of the more sensible comments). I loathe the programme and the majority of its banal, egoistic participants, but it has, I suppose, exposed the reality of casual working class white racism in a very public way today. I wonder if, as a society, we are mature enough to deal with that?

The Trial of Tony Blair

It was a genius programme. ‘The Trial of Tony Blair’ came closer to illustrating the true nature of the Blair legacy than acres of newsprint. Starring Robert Lindsay as the increasingly tormented premier (perhaps a little artistic licence there, in the suggestion of Blair’s personal torment), the programme imagined a post-resignation Blair facing a possible war crimes tribunal. Lindsay brilliantly conveyed a man shorn of the trappings of power, but still subject to the delusion of importance. There was poignancy in the depiction of Blair striding around his huge new office, in the company of just two aides, his phone obstinately refusing to ring, and his only task the dictation of his self-justificatory memoirs.

There were some fine touches too. Who could not take grim satisfaction at the idea of Blair, arriving at a police station to be charged, and being confronted with the humiliating procedure of his own police laws as he submitted to a mouth swab for DNA samples? Or of a neglected…

Is Cameron Ready for Change?

We do have some trouble identifying precisely what David Cameron is for, it is true. Whether you're an AS student getting to grips with the bare essentials of party policies, or an A2 student struggling to work out just what Conservatism in the UK Today is all about, David Cameron doesn't seem to be helping you. He's kept his policies deliberately vague, and been strong on what sometimes seems like contradictory rhetoric. He has, however, been supremely successful in repositioning the Tory Party and persuading voters that it is no longer the incaring prehistoric beast it once was.

But could all this be about to change? Have the jibes about being policy lite, or acting like a crypto-Blair, got to Cameron? An article he has written for the Daily Telegraph suggests that, at the very least, he is trying to pitch for the Conservative grassroots support. He firmly rejects the idea of being 'Tory Blair', suggesting that he is the real heir to Margaret Thatcher. He also ide…

Nationalism Article

For the U6th, here is the link to the article on nationalism on the BBC News website. A useful overview, although not, inevitably, hugely in depth given the limitations of space. That nationalism is one of the most significant political ideologies of the past century and a half seems in little doubt. Whether we see at as a broadly positive or negative development is, of course, more controversial.

Brown and Ford, and a libertarian warning.

Courtesy of Guido Fawkes comes a reference to this gem from the Times' Hugo Rifkind:

At the funeral of President Ford yesterday this country was represented by Sir David Manning, the British Ambassador to the US. Strange that Gordon Brown, for example, couldn’t be persuaded to attend the funeral of this former head of government who stepped in unelected to replace a disgraced predecessor, served a mere two years and was then booted from office at the ballot box. Whatever could have put him off?
On a separate note, Fawkes also quotes a press release today from the Libertarian Alliance which comments on the sometimes bizarre way that freedom is upheld in New Labour Britain. The Alliance's Director, Sean Gabb, says:"We note with some amusement that in Tony Blair's New Britain, a man may sodomise a schoolboy in a public lavatory, and the police must look the other way; but if he gives the boy a cigarette afterwards, he will soon be committing a criminal act."The press …

More Liberal Misery

To be fair, I am trying to keep the gloating tone out of my voice, but there are a couple of stories today that are hardly great news for the much put upon plucky little Liberal Party. First off, Menzies ('Ming') Campbell has been forced once again to proclaim the strength of his leadership. He has said he is setting no time limits to his tenure as leader (a reference to his age, at 65 the oldest of the party leaders) and has added, in ringing tones,

"I will lead the party through this parliament, through the next general election and beyond, and no-one should be in any doubt about that."

The Tory blogger Iain Dale comments that such a statement reminded him of the dying days of Iain Duncan Smith's leadership:

Does it not remind you of the time in 2003 when Iain Duncan Smith bounded out of Central Office to tell the waiting media: "I'm in charge"?It was at that point that we all knew he was not. And so it goes for Ming.

Campbell was giving his intervie…

MPs' Film Choice

Sky Movies have just published a poll of MPs' film choices, and the favourite film amongst our representatives is the blac and white war weepie, 'Casablanca'. I have to say it is one of the few things they seem to be getting right - Casablanca is an outstanding film, and still worth watching if you've never seen it - and, indeed, if you have. I'm not sure what it says about Tory MP's generally, though, that one of their favourite films is 'Carry On Up the Khyber'. Hmmm.

Grammars Are Best!

David Willetts, the Conservative Education spokesman, insists that the new, modernised Tories will not even look at the possibility of bringing back academic selection. The current 164 grammar schools are safe, but no more, he says. In this, he is on the same wavelength as the present government and the majority of received political wisdom.

For those of us who believe the grammar school is the best way of radically improving the English education system, then, the poll produced by the Centre for Policy Studies provides welcome support. It suggests that 73% of people think that a selective system is the best one available for academically able students, and would also help weaker children. The key thing about the grammar school system, of course, was that it provided the best opportunity for educational and social mobility, yet is now confined to a few middle class areas. It is odd that parties which claim to be looking for ways to improve opportunities for the most deprived youngsters…