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Showing posts from February, 2009

Conservatism Defined - by a 13 Year Old

Any of you ideologies students struggling with your understanding of the different ideologies, and desperately wondering what to put in your next essay, might find a book called "Define Conservatism" helpful. What you will probably find very unhelpful, however, is the knowledge that its author, Jonathan Krohn, is just 13 years old. So taken with the teenage politics prodigy is the American conservative movement that they had him address their conference the other day. The video is below, and I leave you to draw your own conclusions about young Mr. Krohn and his precocious political talent!

Ivan Cameron's Commons Memorial

We discussed the issue of the suspension of Prime Minister's Questions this week in the lesson, and further to that here is Matthew Parris' considered view on the matter - that in this instance the Commons probably went too far.

Open Government - RIP

As Home Secretary ten years ago Jack Straw helped bring a strengthened Freedom of Information Act onto the statute books.
As Foreign Secretary five years ago Jack Straw was a key player in the Cabinet discussions that led to Britain declaring war on Iraq, with the resulting thousands of deaths and injuries, to say nothing of the impact on Britain's internal security.
As Justice Secretary today, Jack Straw has used, for the first time, a clause in the Freedom of Information Act that allows him to veto the early release of minutes which would show the nature of the Cabinet discussions that took us reluctantly, and in the face of huge public anger, to war.

But it's ok, because we have an Opposition to bring the government to account. so it was good to hear shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve.........fully support Straw's decision to veto publication of the Cabinet minutes.

MPs and ministers are meant to be the servants of the people. They are not meant to be the secretive d…

Parties United, Voters Alienated, over Royal Mail

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The Royal Mail is an iconic service. It is bound up with the country's heritage, and it offers a flat rate service for posting letters and parcels across the diverse geographical expanse of these islands. And it runs the only truly national network of rural businesses in the country - the humble post office.

Margaret Thatcher balked at privatising so valuable a national service. Not from some sort of rare altruism and sensitivity towards a much loved brand, but because she wasn't prepared to take on the inevitable battle. But then, in those days, she faced an Opposition in parliament that actually, well, opposed. New Labour has no such worries. Every time they come up with an unpopular policy which they can't get past their own MPs, it seems they can depend on the good old Tories to do the job for them. Want a war with a Middle Eastern state - ask the Tories. Got an unpopular education bill to pass? Ask the Tories. And, yes, want to privatise a popular, much valued…

Rogue Elements

The rogue elements that unfortunately burst their way into the normally calm and considered waters of this blog will not be appearing again. Increased blog security, including logging off when leaving the computer unattended, are now being implemented. Nonsense about President Overlords being made from strictly limited politics students will be heard no more.

Cameron - Ready for Power?

Two articles from the Sunday papers concerning the readiness of David Cameron and the Conservatives to take power are worth reading. Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer and Michael Portillo in the Sunday Times both fire warning shots across the Tory leader's bows, asking just how ready Cameron really is for government.

And are we in a new era of open government with last week's publication of civil service junkets? Er, apparently not, according to Private Eye.

Mullin's Diaries and Prescott's Response

Unlike many political memoirists, former Labour minister Chris Mullin has a bit of talent in the literary and dramatic direction, having authored both books and a tv series. His latest epistolary foray is to publish his 'secret' diaries from his time as a junior Minister. And he's chosen that well known cheerleader for New Labour, the Daily Mail, as his vehicle of first publication.

Mullin is pretty scathing about many of his colleagues, although his description of Mandelson as someone who can't bear not being the centre of attention can hardly count as an extraordinary revelation. He describes John Prescott's department as the 'Department of Folding Deckchairs', and likens Prescott's leadership of it as being like the court of Boris Yeltsin in Russia. But it is Prescott who comes up trumps. Showing grace and humour in his increasingly unmissable blog, Prescott both recalls Mullin as an excellent minister, and then recalls an occasion when the junio…

Does the BBC Now Love Thatcher?

The normally sound First Post has a rather over-egged story on their pages at the moment. Considering both the forthcoming docu-drama on Thatcher's fall from power this Thursday (an obvious must for politics students and general viewers alike) and the release of some rather old memos, FP have decided that the BBC, once considered so hostile to Thatcher, is actually having a little love-in with her. Unfortunately, the text of the documents doesn't really bear this out. Yes, they are almost all very complimentary about the future Iron Lady. But they do seem to date from the 1950s to the 1970s, and the comments are generally anodyne ones about Thatcher's feminine appearance! Hardly the stuff of political love-ins! And, of course, a verdict on just how sympathetic the drama is going to be has to wait until Thursday.

Mind you, Conservative blogger Iain Dale is thoroughly excited by this BBC collection of Thatcher archival material. For those unreconstructed anti-Thatcheri…

Updates

The morale of Labour MPs is at its lowest level for five months, according to Politics Home, which at least means that for some reason they even unhappier back in October.

How did Harriet Harman get smeared with undermining her leader, asks Jackie Ashley in the Guardian. It's how the lobby works, she says....just don't believe it too much.

Obama's election has seen conservatives in America renew their attack on the New Deal, says this piece in the Boston Globe.

In this latest crisis of capitalism, just how radical can we expect today's students to be, asks Mark Steel in the Independent.

Those Tough Select Committee Chairmen

Select Committees are one of our guarantees of government accountability. They are intended to bring a fearless independence to their close scrutiny of government activities. good to hear Keith Vaz, then, the ubiquitous Home Affairs Select Committee chairman trot out the government manra that "I am sure Jacqui Smith has done nothing wrong." This on top of his wonderful Newsnight performance last week where he defended the Home Office's ban on Dutch MP Gert Wildeer, but admitted he hadn't actually watched the man's film. And why would he need to, when the Home Office has already told him what to think.

Then there's tough guy John McFall. He was enjoying his bullying of the bankers last week - always good to go in hard against the really difficult targets. But have we heard much criticism of his friend Gordon Brown's handling of the crisis, or of the 'light regulatory touch' that is now considered such a key reason for the bankers' over-rea…

Jacqui Smith's Expenses

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One might be tempted to be bored by the Jacqui Smith 'second home' affair and ask why the fuss. After all, it is surely her woeful, underwhelming performance in the high office to which she was too prematurely promoted that is the real issue we should be concerned with. However, the expenses story is rightly on our radars too, since it exemplifies the problem we still have with MPs taking liberties with their taxpayer-funded expenses to line their own pockets.

MPs are public servants. They serve at the pleasure of the public, and are there essentially to look after our interests. This idea of MP - and minister - as servant is rapidly lost in the insular world of the Westminster village, where MPs - and some journalists - can quickly come to believe in their own importnace, and forget the purpose of there presence in an elected chamber. When an MP of Jacqui Smith's seniority deems it appropriate to claim money for a 'second home' which is palpably her first, an…

Tawdry Decline

But, after a political lifetime seeking the job, Mr Brown arrived without a strategy or a project for his premiership.

So says Philip Stephens in an article in yesterday's Financial Times, discussing the decline of Gordon Brown's premiership, and the parallels with the John Major's fin de siecle of the Tory years. The recession may be playing its part in Mr. Brown's difficulties, but there is also the unavoidable sense of decay and hubris afflicting this government, says Stephens.

Brown At Bay

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One of the more worthwhile innovations of the Blair years was the creation of the parliamentary Liaison Committee, that group of MPs who chair select committees meeting together to question the Prime Minister. Whether it yields anything more than the weekly PMQs in front of all MPs is a moot point, although it is meant to allow for greater depth of question and answer. Brown, of course, has the habit of retreating into mind-numbing detail, as the Spectator's Fraser Nelson reports, but the keen observer can still glean something about the PM from these encounters, as the Times' Ann Treneman shows.

Regrets? He has One.

I don't know why Professor Ian Smith should now regret the comments about Diplomas that he made, but apparently he does. Yet his original comments, though scathing, were not unfair. He said the Diplomas were 'schizophrenic' (they are certainly that, with their woeful mix of vocational and academic modules) and that the government should concentrate on getting GCSE's and A-levels right (shouldn't they just - these are the exams taken by the vast majority of England's students).

Professor Smith is the government's science education adviser, and his initial comments suggest a perfectly clear assessment of the government's abysmal attempts to mess around yet again with the exam system. The government sees the Diplomas as the jewel in the crown of their vision for secondary education qualifications. Most other people see them as an appallingly incoherent and inadequate attempt to get round the fact that exams are still too academically selective. The tak…

Frost/Nixon

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I was wondering how it was going to be possible to make a two hour film about a series of television interviews, especially when the interviews in question were conducted by as bland an interviewer as David Frost, one of the first celebrities to have achieved that status simply by dint of being on television. But then, the interviews were with the most controversial of recent American presidents, and were a seminal broadcast back in 1976. With America still reeling from the Watergate affair that finished off the paranoid 37th. president, the Frost interviews were the first opportunity for Nixon to put his side of the story. At the same time, Frost needed a coup to regain his recently lost US market. Developed from the stage play which also starred Michael Sheen and Frank Langella as the two protagonists, the film turned out to be remarkably gripping.

Although perhaps not quite the "electric piece of cinema" advertised on the billboards, there is no doubt that the film managed…

Hillary Clinton's Non-Role

Will Hillary Clinton actually have anything to do as Secretary of State? That is the question posed in this article from The Hill. Obama has been very keen to have a 'Team of Rivals' in his administration, and Clinton must have thought she'd won a particularly important victory when appointed Secretary of State. But as the Obama Administration settles in, has she been outmanouevred? Several other key administration insider seem to have marked foreign affairs out as their own patch, including Vice-President Joe Biden, and UN Ambassador Susan Rice. Perhaps Hillary should have stayed in the Senate after all.

The Select Committee and the Bankers

How good, really, was the Select Committee in its interrogation of the four bankers yesterday? If there is a time for such committees to show their worth, then it is surely now. And yet, the consensus seems to be that, with one or two exceptions, the MPs didn't really inflict much damage on the self-abasing bankers. The Times leader here comments on the need for this committee system to be singularly beefed up by a parliament in desperate need to show that it can still do this scrutinising business. Meanwhile, Ann Treneman's sketch of a witch burning that didn't burn any witches is here.

Taking Liberties

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Historical memory has the marvellous ability to turn sordid, squalid, self-interested events into glamorous icons of human endeavour. The power of historical myth is often greater than the actuality, and nowhere is this more the case than with the Magna Carta. Or, in fact, with the whole of the British Library's very worthy 'Taking Liberties' exhibition.

Our well meaning, socialist guide brought us to Magna Carta with a sort of breathless awe. Here was the start of the English liberties we take so much for granted. Some fine quotes from the charter were hung prominently above the exhibit itself, as if to reassure us that this is where it all began. And yet, really, it didn't. Magna Carta was a straightforward bit of political haggling. The barons were fed up with paying for King John's pretty disastrous wars, and not much enamoured of the king himself. Cue military strife, which the barons win, and the drawing up of a document to guarantee baronial rights a…

Nick Robinson Live

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I was obviously delighted that the BBC's political editor found time to come and address a large sixth form meeting here yesterday, and it looks as if he didn't miss any scoops while undertaking this charitable venture.

Much that he said is worth further thought - he's always been an original and stimulating political thinker and observer - but I was impressed by the enthusiasm he feels for the political world, and his belief that we are indeed in exciting times. He ranged well beyond his British politics brief in assessing a world situation that is changing both the relationships of nations and the balance of power within them. How will China react internally to these precarious times? Do we look at Israel and simply say there is no solution? Has Russia lost the bounce she had earlier under Putin now that she's feeling her vulnerability?

Nick Robinson's survey of British politics is always worthwhile, and he updates his blog regularly with insights gleaned durin…

Balls

This is no time for a government minster to be speaking the truth. Ed Balls, one of the PM's closest acolytes, has foolishly given an insight into his real thoughts about the current economic situation. It is, he says, the most serious global recession for over 100 years. Downing Street has moved into action to explain that he didn't really mean that at all, but, as Nick Robinson points out, actually he really did. He just didn't mean to say it out loud.

Sunday Update

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith appears to have been claiming expenses worth £116,000 on a second home that is actually her main home. The Mail on Sunday, not the most obviously impartial observers, have the story. Even with reservations, however, it is hard to see how Ms. Smith can emerge with much credit from this issue.

David Cameron talks education in a Daily Telegraph interview, and says that he would like his children to be educated in the state sector. However, he remains positive about his own Eton education.

In the third of the Bourne films trilogy, CIA officer Pamela Landy turns to helping Jason Bourne, explaining that she is appalled by the CIA black operations activity that created Bourne - "this isn't what I signed up for" she says. A point Tony Blair might have been interested in taking on board, according to the Observer's Andrew Rawnsley, who claims that Blair's refusal to challenge Bush on the issue of torture is one of his greatest moral failings:

Democracy Speaks - Unhelpfully

Israel's elections next Tuesday will be closely watched by the new Obama administration. The last thing they will want is a firebrand government determined to up the ante of Middle-Eastern tensions by calling for more all-out war against the Palestinians. Which is why Avigdor Lieberman must be causing a few headaches for the new foreign policy team. He's the Russian born West Bank emigre who leads a right-wing party ("Israel our Home") that manages to out-tough the notoriously tough talking Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and it looks as if he might just sweep to a powerful electoral position next week. Such is Israel's current temperature that Lieberman, who called for the execution of any member of the Knesset (Israel's Parliament) who spoke to Hamas, is riding a wave of positive public opinion. Despite launching the recent Gaza offensive, the governing Kadima and Labour coalition's leading figures seem to have failed to capitalise on the Israeli…

Are the Media Willing Dupes, or Something Worse?

On Wednesday the Sun newspaper carried a report about a British colonel passing military secrets - being civilian casualty figures - to a woman he met in Afghanistan. The article - the product of two journalists' efforts, the paper's Chief Reporter and its Defence Editor - implied a relationship between the colonel and the woman he met. It is an interesting way of seeking to blacken both the motives of the officer involved, and the morals of the woman to whom he passed the information. The article also spends much time on the 'anger' of the Americans and the sensitive nature of the information passed on.

In fact, the woman in question, one Rachel Reid, is a worker for Human Rights Watch in Afghanistan, who met he Colonel only twice. She writes a fascinating piece for the Guardian today, defending her actions, and asking why the Sun - and its informant for their article, the Ministry of Defence - should have sought to drag her reputation through the mud, concocting f…

A Tory Safe Seat in Pennine Country

David Curry MP may not be a household name, but he has been a distinguished and significant Tory representative in the Commons for many years. Unlike many colleagues, he has decided, a the age of 64, to stand down gracefully at the next election from his seat of Skipton and Ripon - set in beautiful Yorkshire pennine country. Curry was a consistent Tory left-winger; a sterling member of the Tory Reform Group and supporter of Ken Clarke, he was respected by many on the right despite his 'wet' economic views and pro-European approach. Michael Howard briefly made him one of his 'super spokesman' in his trimmed down shadow cabinet, while he also served as a minister under Margaret Thatcher. Curry's farewell notice is enthusiastic about current leader David Cameron, and it will be interesting now to see which way his constituency goes in choosing his successor. Whether local or national is of less importance than whether the new candidate - and putative MP - represe…

Friday Update

The Tories' Education spokesman, Michael Gove, is giving a speech today outlining his party's education agenda. More pay for able teachers, and the ability to confiscate ipods and mobile phones are amongst the ingredients reported in the Times and the Guardian. Thought we already had the power to confiscate ipods and mobiles actually.....

Tony Blair's old political magic is still standing him in good stead. Despite his previous closeness to George Bush, he has still managed to be the first British leader to meet Barack Obama, who showered him with praise in Washington at a prayer breakfast yesterday. Gordon Brown must be gnashing his teeth at his old foe's success - yet again.

Our fundamental freedoms are under threat from the extent of the surveillance conducted in Britain today, according to a House of Lords report published today. After the furore of the Four Labour Lords a Charging, it is useful to be reminded of what the upper house contributes to the political…

The Media and the Weather

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Let's face it, everyone was delighted with yesterday's unexpected day off. So much so, that many are continuing it today. The glorious media, of course, needed to find a sensational angle, a depressing analysis, and so naturally have latched on to that old favourite of how Britain isn't ready for anything. The worst snow for eighteen years, and good old GB inc couldn't cope. John Humphreys on the 'Today' programme was busy berating Transport for London's Peter Hendy by referencing eighteen years ago and saying "Presumably then we did cope - what's gone wrong?". Actually, we didn't cope any better then than now, but that didn't stop Humphreys moving to his even more fatuous next point - that if we kept going during the Blitz how come a bit of snow has stopped us. Er, because we want it to John, that's why.
Buses and trains are busy running again today, but with only a 30 to 40% take-up apparently. Most schools are still shut. And why…

Tuesday Update

Are the BNP a left-wing or right-wing party? A little debate on some blog sites has been provoked from an initial post by Iain Dale. A further contribution by someone called Longrider supports the contention that the BNP are left-wing authoritarians (just get past the first sentence where he refers to odd people called Chicken Yoghurt and Flying Rodent - that's the blogging world for you!).

See what China's visiting prime minister thinks of the financial crisis. Good communist that he is, he considers greedy bosses and their large salaries to be the cause.

Is Gordon Brown's "British Jobs for British Workers" phrase an echo of earlier European socialist attempts to ally with the forces of nationalism? It may be a bit of a stretch to see Gordo as another Mussolini, but Dominic Lawson in the Independent looks again at the problems of getting domestic workers to see solidarity with foreign workers, as the strikes at the Lindsay fuel refining plant over just this is…

Britain + Snow = Closedown

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There is a bit of a sense of togetherness amongst Britons battling against what they fondly imagine to be extreme weather. I came across some of this as I trudged through the suburbs' quietened roads into school this morning. For the hardy/foolish few who tried to drive, there was never a shortage of willing car pushers, while cheery "good mornings" and resigned comments about the weather were made by people who would normally pass in determined silence. Whether or not a well predicted snow shower is good cause for much of Britain to enter closure status is another matter of course, but at least Gordon Brown has got one reason to be positive - the snow may just deter today's Free Tibet protestors as the Chinese premier continues his programme of visits.