Thursday, December 27, 2007

Political Perils

Political dynasties don't always have it very good, and global politics can be a dangerous world. Just minutes after I penned what now looks like a rather bland list of British political concerns, what may be the last, violent political act of 2007 took place in Rawalpindi, as former Pakistan PM Benazir Bhutto was shot and bombed to death. She follows her ex-PM father to the grave (executed by former military dictator General Zia), and her two brothers, both of whom met violent deaths.

Her death shatters the Pakistan political landscape yet again, but was not wholly unexpected - her return to her country in October was, after all, accompanied by a would-be assassination. Neither was she the most glorious or heroic of leaders - her two terms of office were mired in corruption scandals, although some, at least, of the eventual charges were probably politically motivated, as conversations between the unsavoury associates of Nawaz Sharif (another former PM) and a judge later revealed. But Bhutto did at least stick her head above the parapet; she did seek to engage in democratic politics in her turbulent country; and her death robs that nation of one of its political stars. A state of emergency - again - can't be far off.

Another Year....

After the familial joys of Christmas, with its excess food and traditional Dr. Who Christmas Special, we can expect a rash of 'Reviews of 2007' to fill those annoying blanks on the television schedules and on newspaper pages. A few commentators (Anatole Kaletsky in the Times for example) judge themselves to be so suitably mage-like that they are prepared to offer unwanted advice to Gordon Brown about how he should tackle 2008.

Well, we do at least wait to see if Gordon Brown can enter the recovery position next year. The two recent articles listed in the column opposite think not, Blairite commentator John Rentoul in particular suggesting that anyone who thinks Brown will recover is living in a parallel universe. But, of course, the pressure isn't just on Brown. David Cameron needs to show whether or not he can project the substance needed to be seen as a genuine alternative in government, while the Liberals' Nick Clegg, having won his leadership election without having made much public impact, needs to show us that he is not just another politician in the Blair, Cameron mould, but a man who can define the difficult way forward for a Lib Dem party that could well sink beneath the weight of the Tory revival.

And what of the policies for 2008? ID Cards remain a discredited part of the government's agenda; Northern Rock asked questions of the economy that have yet to be answered; the Tories today claim that too many teachers are fleeing the profession (no, sorry, but I refuse - I'm staying, so bad luck) while Ed Balls needs to make good on his stalinist central plan for schools; Gordon Brown needs to resolve his uneasy relationship with Europe; the Defence department, fighting wars on several fronts, needs to work out whether it can continue to be led by a part-time minister; and politicians of all parties, of course, have to deal with the quandry of where they get their next dollar.

2007 was, as ever, fascinating; a change of prime minister, the extraordinary transformation of Gordon Brown's fortunes, a change in the Liberal leadership, the continuing fall-out from Iraq. 2008 is shaping up to be no less so, but then, that's politics!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Does Piers Morgan want to be Brown's Alastair Campbell?

A brief musing, but one brought on by Piers Morgan going well beyond the call of duty in his valiant defence of Gordon Brown on this evening's Question Time. Morgan was at times more effective than the hapless government representative, the ever cheerful Hazel Blears. While everyone else is painting Gordon Brown's week in - once again - rather pessimistic terms, there was Piers telling us we'd got it all wrong, Gordon Brown was bestriding the world stage and doing everything right. And at times, if you suspended belief, you could almost find him convincing.

If Morgan is going after the job of Brown's spinner-in-chief, then the precedent is good - after all, Campbell, too, was a former Mirror journalist with a keen understanding of tabloid ways. So, Piers Morgan for Director of Communications? Watch this space.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Jacqui Smith's Woes

This government is in a rather extraordinary position at the moment. By any measure, a nation's external and internal defence forces (the armed forces and the police) are a crucial part of the state system. Most governments expend considerable effort to keep them onside. Unusually, Gordon Brown's government seems to be going in the opposite direction.

Defence Secretary Des Browne has long been mocked as a part-timer (he is also Secretary of State for Scotland) who is unable to defend the armed forces against cuts that lead to the issuing of inadequate supplies and materiel. Gordon Brown himself was the target of a no holds barred attack by some five former Defence Chiefs for his apparent antagonism towards the forces during his time as Chancellor (although he's happy enough tp use them for a photo-shoot in Afghanistan and Iraq every so often).

Now, on the home front, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has unprecedentedly been the subject of an overwhelming vote of no confidence by the Police Federation. They want her to go, and while she's in this tenuous position she is also having to defend the increasingly indefensible government demand for an increase on the already draconian 28 days detention policy. While she is focused on these key macro areas, the police continue to be buried under bureaucracy, and the murders of teenagers in London continues apace.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Good, the Bad and the Slightly Dull.....

...and that was just the morning sessions. The annual L6th. Politics Conference provided students with a chance, as ever, to hear some political 'big names' enlighten us with their thoughts, or at any rate engage in some slightly less illuminating Q and A sessions. The Big Three were the first speakers - worthy but rather empty Oliver Letwin, passionate but flawed Tony Benn, and the simply obnoxious George Galloway, a man who would make Narcissus seem a model of self-deprecating modesty. The afternoon brought Theresa May (not heard by this author) and the all-round entertainment guru Lembit Opik. He played the harmonica. Sort of a substitute for real political thought.

More on the speeches later....