Saturday, February 28, 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!

Friday, February 27, 2009

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.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

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 despots of old. They hold their jobs at the pleasure of the people. Problem is, the people don't care in sufficient numbers to make the MPs and ministers fully aware of this fact. No wonder a truly pathetic opposition is so willing to endorse an utterly bankrupt government. The pigs and the humans of parliamentary politics really do resemble each other - even more so as, in addition to flaunting their contempt for the electorate, they take it in turns to stand accused of fraud on the taxpayer. Last week Jacqui Smith had to face accusations of her misuse of the second home allowance. This evening, the Tories' Caroline Spelman faces the criticism of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner for misusing parliamentary allowances to pay her nanny. It's good to see that the government can flush some £1.3tn down the banking toilet, while its minions can seize what's left in the public kitty for their own enrichment.

Parties United, Voters Alienated, over Royal Mail

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 public service - here come the Tories again. Mandelson may be alienating up to 140 of his own MPs (not that he needs to actually talk to them, or even see them from his perch in the Lords), but Ken Clarke has waded into the debate today to promise his support for the part-privatisation plan.

The Royal Mail suffers from strictures on its services that do not apply to the 22 other licensed postal services in this country. But, of course, the Royal Mail is the only one that is obliged to deliver anywhere in the country for the same fee. No wonder it is so favoured by the majority of the public, and no wonder there is a deep suspicion of a privatisation which, critics say, will only aienate the profitable parts of the Royal Mail to foreign owners, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the tab for the unprofitable bits.

Even Tory supporters seem to hate the idea. On the Conservative Home site, underneath the story about Ken Clarke's lifeline to Peter Mandelson, a raft of comments indicate a persistent suspicion of the plans, and a growling criticism of the role being played by the Tories. Bizarrely, even the Liberals seem to be lining up behind the privatisation plans. And the British voter? Forget it. Who ever thought MPs were there to serve his interests?

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.

Monday, February 23, 2009

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 junior minister was mistaken for a tramp at the entrance to his own ministry.

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-Thatcherites, you might take joy and comfort in the Panorama report about her evil removal of free school milk from the mouths of innocent children.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

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-reach? Not a bit of it. After all, that would involve criticising the government, and heaven knows what would happen if select committees started thinking they could do that all of the time.

There is, of course, one select committee that consistently gives the government a hard time - the Public Accounts Committee. And that happens to be chaired by an Opposition MP. Time for this practice to be extended, perhaps?

Jacqui Smith's Expenses

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, and in so doing defrauds the very taxpayers she is meant to be serving, then we know there is something wretched in the Westminster body politic. So the requirement by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner to explain herself is entirely appropriate. Not that it was speedy. It has taken some three complaints to get John Lyons to investigate - not exactly a resounding defence of the taxpayer's interests from that quarter either.

Simon Heffer can be caricatured as one of the right-wing's grumpy old men, but he's pretty well on the mark about Smith with his article here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

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

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 take-up of these wretched qualifications is far lower than hoped, and the universities are keen to ignore them altogether. So why Professor Smith's regret? One can only assume that his brief moment of clarity and coherence has come to the attention of his Children's Department bosses and that huge pressure has now been brought to bear to get him to suggest that actually, the Diplomas are a really good idea. After all, the reputation of a government and its wacky advisers depends on them.

Frost/Nixon

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 to sustain a level of tension about the outcome of the interviews that I would not have thought possible. These were more than interviews. They were a battle between two utterly different men seeking to regain their reputations - to get back their place in the sun, as Nixon puts it to Frost in one scene. The pacing and political tension of the film owed much to the gradual realisation by Frost that he was being out-manouevred by the ever wily Nixon, and that the vast sums of money he had sunk into this come-back project were looking as lost as the proverbial sheep. And Frost's own apparent lack of political conviction merely adds to his error, as his US researchers hold to an anti-Nixon passion that he simply doesn't get. As the interviews unfold , and Frost fails to get in a killer blow, the whole project looks doomed to disaster, while Nixon appears ready to triumph.

It is certainly a skill of the film-makers that they have made this potentially mundane material so gripping. The portrayals of Nixon (Langella) and Frost (Sheen) in particular were brilliant. Sheen seems to be cornering the market on superficial, insubstantial figures with broad smiles and camera ready expressions, having played Tony Blair a couple of times, and he had Frost down to a T. A man whose whole existence was focused around television exposure, regardless of quality or purpose. Langella, meanwhile, captured the complex, paranoid, brooding Nixon superbly. Never was Enoch Powell's dictum that all political careers end in failure clearer than when Langella's Nixon, having finally been bested by Frost's questions on Watergate, just looked away from the camera, his eyes full of the knowledge of his failure.

Nixon has long fascinated me, ever since I read his dramatic memoirs as a sixth former. I have often wondered why, for all his failings, I wanted to keep rooting for him. Watching the film, I realised that it was simply the traditional sense of sympathy for the underdog. For that was actually what Nixon always was, and he knew it - knew it so clearly, and with such ferocious passion, that the knowledge ultimately destroyed him.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

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.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

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

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 against the king. Not much liberty granting there. Actually, though, the Charter attains its magnificent symbolic power thanks to the unheralded efforts of the clerks who actually drew it up (King John and the barons not being terribly literate fellows). It was they who inserted a load of odd little rights that history has since discovered and assumed to be the basis of a great struggle for liberty. The King didn't notice. He never read it.

Then there's the picture that begins the exhibition, and round which we spent so much time pondering. It shows, pretty clearly, lots of police violence. Because that's how liberty's achieved, right? Challenging, often at physical cost, the thuggish forces of the oppressive ruling power. Er, no, not entirely. There were a few struggles in Britain, but they were relatively small scale, and many liberties came as a result of hard graft in parliament. And anyway, the picture is of a dispute in Ireland, so quite how it is meant to represent the typical British struggle for freedom us a little obscure. The Irish had more grievances against the English than you could count grains of sand on the shore of Bournemouth beach.

So it's a well meaning exhibition, and shows some fascinating documents, but in perpetuating the myth that the struggle for liberty is a titanic struggle of the altruistic many against the oppressive few, it's a little wide of the mark. The struggle for liberty has usually been because of the inexorable logic of self-interest. The barons wanting a share of power. The industrial middle classes wanting the vote to go with their wealth. And women gaining the vote because of their war work, not because of the suffragette agitation. Pragmatism rather than romanticism seems to have won through after all.

And by way of light relief, the visit to the War and Medicine exhibition was suitably clinical.

Nick Robinson Live

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 during his daily life at the heart of the Westminster village, but he also raised the interesting question of bias in reporting. Here he is, this former young Tory activist, needing to be the face of an impartial public broadcaster - does he achieve this? While one or two questions asked about the broader issue of BBC bias, no-one challenged him on his own position. Perhaps everyone was too polite; perhaps we think he has achieved a non-partisan approach. Interestingly, as he admitted afterwards, not everyone accepts that he is non-partisan - for a former Tory, the most regular accusation that gets flinged at him on his blog is that he is a Labour stooge!

Robinson was engaging and responsive, and I was impressed not long after he left when I wandered into one of the sixth form classrooms and saw students gathered round the interactive whiteboard, eagerly watching one of his earlier reports. Excellent, I thought, having heard him speak about his job they're now getting to grips with the raw material of his reportage. What better accolade can there be for a successful speech. Until I realised, they weren't listening to the actual content - they were waiting to see the policeman cross the screen behind him, the subject of one of his opening anecdotes! Serious politics is an uphill task after all.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

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, February 08, 2009

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:
As for Tony Blair, he did underestimate how wrong it was. He was never quite appalled enough about torture to remonstrate publicly with his ally in the White House as the Bush administration betrayed the west's best values and the very causes of human rights and the rule of law that they were supposed to be fighting for in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There is something about Shami Chakrabarti, the boss of Liberty, that makes me squeal with irritation and start clawing at my throat whenever I hear her speak. So says Rod Liddle, in a Sunday Times article that many politics students might be instinctively in sympathy with.

Matthew D'Ancona in the Sunday Telegraph writes about the scorn and ridicule being heaped on Gordon Brown - to say nothing of being upstaged by Tony Blair this week.

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 public's desire for strong action. By ending the offensive relatively quickly, Defence Minister Ehud Barak (Labour) has weakened his position.

This is an interesting conundrum for the West. While we salute the seeming triumph of a nascent democracy in Iraq, it is worth remembering that the people's voice is rarely exercised in favour of moderation. Not only could Netanyahu and Lieberman be in an unholy alliance come next Tuesday, but their theocratic near neighbour Iran could well re-elect well known Israel hater Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president as well. Democracy may be the 'least worst' system of government as Churchill suggested, but combined with the bitter historical memories of different peoples it is never easily conducive to good diplomacy.

Friday, February 06, 2009

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 false allegations about her. She says,

"Living in Afghanistan, where democracy, a free media, freedom of information and freedom of expression are still a faraway dream, I have developed a deep appreciation of the freedoms I grew up believing I had in Britain. I expect better from my own government and from the British media that I used to be a part of."

It is an eye-opener of a story. A reminder, again, that too much of what appears in our newspapers - and on our television screens - is merely a partial truth, and sometimes even worse, a deliberately manufactured innuendo. For reporters, the best of whom spend huge amounts of time sifting through sources and searching for stories to illuminate the world we live in, the behaviour of the Sun's willing dupes is surely utterly reprehensible, an action that degrades what is in essence a genuinely noble calling. For the rest of us, we realise that truth comes at a premium, and that we should always have our eyes wide open. And if you think this is a one-off example of poor reporting, or perhaps deliberate bias, then go to Nick Davies' website, Flat Earth News, for more comprehensive coverage of both deliberate and accidental media distortion.

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 - represents a reversion to a more right-wing, euro-phobic character, or maintains the progressive Toryism of Curry himself. I suspect Cameron would be better off if it was the latter; the temper of the Tory Party today leads me to believe it will, however, be the former. Such a choice will continue to raise the spectre of a reforming leadership seeking to govern an unreformed party.

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 debate, with more independence than is found in the Commons.

Grammar Schools and the 11+ remain a controversial issue in Northern Ireland, with the Sinn Fein Education Minister having to resurrect the exam it tried to abolish, according to a report in the Guardian.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Media and the Weather

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? Because we don't want to look the gift horse of another day off in the mouth. It makes a nice change to se everyone out and enjoying the snow on a work day. Normally the media is full of "aren't we an over-stressed nation, working too hard" type stories, urging us to take a leaf out of the Italians' commendably laid back book. When that suddenly happens, our gloriously inconsistent media reverts to its "we're never as prepared for a crisis as the Europeans" line, although that didn't stop last night's news reports veering wildly between both the "nation in grip of collapse" and "nation enjoys the snow" lines.

And where would the BBC and Sky be without the snow? Suddenly they found a use for all those regional reporters in the north and east. Wonderfully, they could fill their schedules with cheap domestic reportage instead of the expensive foreign kind. An average of 20 minutes was spent by the Beeb in its top of the hour news bulletins on the weather alone. A God-send, truly.

We already know we shouldn't believe anything we read in the newspapers. We should also steer well clear of taking TV analysis as gospel as well - but then we did know that, didn't we?
[Teachers wander away from their empty school, disappointed that pupils prefer snow to lessons]

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 issue continue.

It may be a little risky to defend the House of Lords at the moment, but Rachel Sylvester in the Times today tries just that, and is rather convincing.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Britain + Snow = Closedown

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.