Wednesday, April 30, 2008

By their Speeches shall ye know them....

A colleague has passed me a recent article by Matthew Parris in the 'Spectator' which is worth reading (online here). Parris uses the texts of two speeches from presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama to muse on the state of US and British politics - or, more accurately, politicians. Both McCain and Obama, in their different ways, provide depth, intelligence, elegance and an awareness of the complex ambiguity of politics to make their persuasive arguments and, says Parris, they come out at the end of the process as manifestly admirable men. When did you last hear a British politician, he asks, give a speech that suggested he was more than an interminable political cipher reading drivel set out for him by a spinmeister?

Obama, incidentally, has been defending his friendship with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, but I must confess as I hear Wright's comments and his clarifications I find that they are informed by a passionate and perfectly credible worldview of America and its problems. If Obama has been listening to this man, and been influenced by him, he goes up in my estimation.

Monday, April 28, 2008

London's Crazy Choice

Well at least the good old metropolis has thrown up a colourful election battle. We complain all the time about colourless politicans, and when we're not doing that we pretend that personality has no place in politics, which is, to use a Boris-ism, utter rot. So, in a sense, London is delivering! Ken, Boris, and Sutton Grammar's most prominent old boy, all adding colour to the capital's politics. And the winner of this election can boast the second biggest personal electoral mandate in western Europe, second only to the president of France.

But who would be best?

'Ken' has had two terms and, in fairness, some solid achievements. While he is damaged goods as a Labour candidate (didn't we really prefer the idea of an Independent?), he has introduced the congestion charge, and provided strong central leadership. He's also become too cosy in his sinecure, too inclined to believe his own not inexpensive propaganda, too dependent on a circle of cronies getting their noses into the trough, and if elections are about one thing they are surely about reminding politicians of who their ultimate paymasters are. Livingstone gives little sense that he understands the leasehold nature of his post, and has offered few fresh ideas in this, his third election race.

Then there's 'Boris'. Crazy name, crazy guy. The Conservatives had difficulty getting a credible candidate for this key race - a sign of the real paucity of Conservative talent, incidentally - and in the end settled for Boris because, if nothing else (and many would argue that there is nothing else), he's well known and colourful. Now, thanks in part to the supersonic slide in Gordon Brown's fortunes, Boris is in with a chance of victory. But he remains a bumbler, his much vaunted intellect consistently fails to show itself, and he has trouble detailing serious political solutions to London's problems, or convincing us of his managerial experience. However, the experience issue is a misnomer. Politicians need vision and clarity of purpose - they can get minions to do the admin drudgery of their jobs. Tony Blair had no managerial experience before becoming prime minister. Livingstone had none before he first became London leader (in his earlier, more disastrous incarnation as GLC leader). Experience is not Johnson's problem - clarity of vision is, and here I think he gets half marks. He has effectively identified the crime issue and offers big proposals to deal with it. As the incumbent, Livingstone is certainly less credible when it comes to new ideas - after all, he's had eight years to show us his mettle.

Finally, there's Paddick. Humourless and a bit shrill (he gave an awful performance on 'Question Time' last week - as if he had misinterpreted the advice to show confidence and charisma and adopted a rather boorish habit of hectoring instead), he has got what should be an excellent cv in his former police experience. That he is a better candidate than the Liberals' last performer, Susan Kramer, is certainly the case. Nonetheless, he lacks personal charisma and doesn't make up for it in radical, eye-catching policy ideas. He seems doomed, as ever, to the fate of all Liberal banner wielders, that of being a footnote in election history.

I'm not a great believer in third terms. The Americans rightly forbid them for their presidents and many of their state office holders (including the mayoralty of New York, to Giuliani's disgust), and the experience of the two recent prime ministers who have gone on into third terms has not been encouraging. So, through gritted teeth, I will give Boris my vote. But he'll get the second preference - the Christian chap's getting my first!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Harman's PMQ's Debut

A little bit of humble pie is in order I think. Having been very negative about Ms. Harman in an earlier post, and having perhaps given the impression that I thought she was a talentless, humourless apparatchik, I have to concede that she appears to have put in a pretty good performance at Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon, standing in for the absent Gordon Brown. Facing the Tories' most effective despatch box performer, William Hague, she managed to emerge with credit, showed good humour, and responded effectively to some of Hague's barbs, especially on fashion, where he sought to make merry out of her wearing a stab-proof vest when touring her constitutency. Parliamentary competence, having mde Vince Cable's reputation, may yet improve Ms. Harman's. The BBC report is here.