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Showing posts from May, 2009

Half Term Thoughts

Well, here's hoping that the AS on Friday went well, and that paper 2 next week is a further success. There's certainly no shortage of material on parliament to think about, and it is well worth accessing some of the recent news stories to consider again what sort of ideas have been put forward about parliamentary reform. The expenses scandal has turned the ire of a nation on its MPs, but the long-term fall-out will surely be focused on the reform of an institution which needs to provide more stringent accountability to the executive.

One personal insight into the difficulties faced by MPs comes from Andrew MacKay's meeting in his constituency of Bracknell last night. A Lib Dem blogger was there, and provides an account of a difficult meeting for Mr. MacKay, as well as a link to the BBC news video that shows MacKay being heckled by a constituent on camera. Meanwhile, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams comments interestingly on the damage to our democracy of a humil…

The Fall-Out, Part 1

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With Westminster in an enjoyable turmoil, discussing what it most enjoys - its own affairs - there is still the hanging question of how on earth will the elections go. Not, of course, the distinctly pointless elections for the European Parliament, which will allow everyone to vote for a minority party without worrying about the consequences. No, the world of Westminster is worried about what might happen at the next General Election.

First, they might face challenges from celebrity independents, although if they remain of the calibre of Esther Rantzen most MPs will not need to worry. Roy Hattersley, an old Labour dinosaur, launched a broadside against celebrity candidates in his 'Times' column today. In fact, there was a section there which is ideal for AS students. Pointing out that Independent MPs are not able to achieve anything beyond the ousting of an MP, he defends the party system - Decisions are only made or changed when significant numbers of MPs come together in…

The Meaninglessness of Esther.....and Martin Bell

While I try and recover some dignity from having penned phrases this morning which declared that yes, absolutely, Michael Martin would stay on as Speaker and anyone who said otherwise could shove it, I thought I would at least refer people to an excellent article on the 'First Post' website, about why Esther Rantzen is hardly the solution to the problems of political corruption. Since, along the way, the article's author, Peter Briffa, has a pop at the saintly Martin Bell, it is well worth a read.

Speaker to Resign?

Paul Waugh on the Evening Standard blog, and the BBC, are reporting an imminent statement that Michael Martin is about to announce he will stand down. Hmph. Just as I'd bothered to go and defend him staying in my previous, very ill-timed post! Bloody man.

Coming Up Later for AS Level Students.....

Parties, the expenses crisis and Democracy. And how should you use the current events in exam answers?

Sympathy for the Speaker

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I'm beginning to have a bit of an about-turn as regards Michael Martin, the embattled Commons Speaker. True, he is pretty abysmal at his job, and always has been. His tenure in that high office has suffered from comparison with his distingished predecessors - not just the legendary Betty Boothroyd, but Bernard Weatherill and George Thomas before her, all stamped an indelible authority on the House of Commons, across all party benches. Martin has never really been much more than an over-promoted Labour stooge.

Andy yet......one can't keep being subject to the relentless attacks of press pundits and commentators, and the cyclical motion of a small group of media-pleasing MPs in front of the cameras, without starting to think that there may be something more to Martin. It is something of an achievement in the modern, 24-hr news age, for a politician to be able to resist the onward march of calls for his resignation. Yesterday morning, few commentators and journalists were in …

Speaker Doesn't Resign Shock

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No-one who has watched Speaker Martin over the years can be terribly surprised that he has confounded the political chattering classes by not actually resigning today. Unless forced out, this is not a man who is going to go of his own volition, and the ability to actually force him out is very difficult. Even Douglas Carswell's motion of no confidence turns out to be the wrong sort of motion, although Martin, a man who has spent the last 9 years as Speaker, presiding over Commons procedure, still needed to check that little detail with a clerk.

The First Post's Mole has a concise report of this afternoon's chaos. And while you're at the First Post, you might care to glance at Quentin Letts' diverting article about the importance of public speaking, and the shame that our leaders do not seem able to do it!

AS Revision Notice

I will add a link to the sidebar for ease of reference, but AS students might wish to know that that they can now access the exam materials from January 09, including the question paper, mark scheme and examiners' report, by going to the relevant SGS Politics web-page here.

These are well worth looking through, although they are only Unit 1 materials. Note especially the Examiners' 'General Comments' on the January sitting, where they note:

The questions on pressure groups arose as the most popular, but at the same time this was an area where underperformance and lack of attention to detail cost many candidates dearly. The question on political parties now showing an emphasis on ideas and policies saw a more focused approach and candidates performed relatively well, though as noted here there are still areas to develop.

It is worth emphasising the pressure group point about lack of attention to detail costing candidates dearly - so it may be worth checking the 'Polit…

The Speaker's Flaws

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"If the Speaker and his advisers had not fought in the courts, [MPs] would not now be reading their expense details in public."

So says Nick Robinson on this morning's 'Today' programme, in what is possibly the most damning comment yet made about the Speaker's inadequacy and culpability. Had he not been so determined to act as a shop steward; had he the ability and foresight to head off this issue, it is possible that the Commons could have avoided one of the worst times in its recent history. Had he been such a Speaker, of course, he would also have been able to initiate a proper reform of the expenses issue without waiting for a media witch-hunt to initiate it for him. The Speaker, and successive Commons Leaders, are responsible for the conduct of the Commons. Whilst it is true that party leaders have shown no good judgement or foresight in this matter, it is reasonable to suggest that their sights have been busily fixed elsewhere in the body politic. N…

Never Mind Expenses, What About The Main Job?

Amidst the plethora of Sunday comment - uniformly damning - about the current state of parliament, Henry Porter in the Observer looks convincingly at the need for wider parliamentary reform, to enable the wretched place to actually do its primary job a little better.

In the current session, Parliament will spend 143 days in recess. MPs took 24 days holiday at Christmas, 10 days in February, 17 at Easter and now they have the prospect of 10 days at Whitsun plus a summer break of 82 days. Not bad for basic pay and allowances of £180,000 a year.Set against this is the time allowed by the insufferable leader of the house, Harriet Harman, for the debate of yet another criminal justice bill - the Policing and Crime Bill 2008-09. The Lib Dem MP Evan Harris pointed out at the Manifesto Club last week that the bill has been given just six-and-a-half hours for debate. During that time, MPs will be expected to scrutinise measures that will create a new offence of paying for sex, modify the law on…

The Circus Rolls On

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I am starting to wonder how long this story can keep running. The Telegraph are certainly squeezing every last penny from the presumably rather costly information they have bought about MPs' expenses. And they've now secured a couple of scalps - nicely balanced too, with one Labour (Elliot Morley suspended by Brown) and one Conservative, Andrew MacKay (told to resign as an aide by Cameron). MacKay may have further problems, though, as grassroots Tory members overwhelmingly voted in an online Conservative Home poll for his de-selection as an MP. It would not be surprising if some of the worst offenders didn't face a backlash in their constituencies, either from their own grassroots members desperate to de-select the albatross now occupying their seat, or later from the voters who will choose to vote for an opponent to register their disgust. That's if they all remember this a year from now, mind you.

The cheque-book waving isn't necessarily a good thing either, …

Public Pressure or Media Witch Hunt?

David Cameron certainly appeared to have stolen a march on Gordon Brown yesterday. With his firm grasp of what is now expected, and a very public instruction to his shadow cabinet to pay back their most glaring expense abuses, Cameron looked and sounded like a prime minister. The actual PM was left playing catch-up, with a series of tortured interviews at the end of the day which were then challenged by political correspondents (Brown announced all party agreement on a solution which is still under discussion on the relevant Commons committee). When Nick Robinson kept pressing him about whether he was not in fact merely apeing the Tory leader's ideas, Brown became increasingly frustrated, and was unable to make a response that didn't simply sound petulant.

Nevertheless, as the saga continues, and MPs now start to fall over themselves to pay back ever spiralling sums of ill-gotten expenses, the question could justly arise as to how far this is a good, democratic response to t…

Tebbit Thuggery

Norman Tebbit was known as the Chingford Skinhead back in the days of his Tory prominence, as a result of his rather knee-jerk form of political engagement. He was back at it today, in an interview on the BBC 'Today' programme, where he was virtually urging voters to consider other parties than the Tories. Nick Robinson, commenting on this, said that Tebbit was almost going so far as to tell voters to vote UKIP. Robinson gave a very prescient commentary on the expenses scandal, worth listening to here - his comment is towards the end of the 10 minute segment.

Meanwhile, today's Telegraph revelations do rather reinforce the old class distinctions of Tory and Labour. Where their Labour colleagues claim for bath plugs and carrier bags, the Tories are busy claiming for their horse manure and moat cleaning. But it's the Speaker who's under fire today, as Tory MP Douglas Carswell continues to gather support for his motion of No Confidence. Without support from party leade…

Is the Speaker Now Vulnerable?

Andrew Rawnsley on Politics Home reports that the view of Westminster insiders suggests Hazel Blears and Barbara Follett face the most serious questioning for their expenses follies. Can't believe Margaret Moran is not on that list, but that may be because she is simply not important enough. In fact, though, the man towards whom attention is now focusing after a frankly disastrous performance in the Commons today is the ever inarticulate Speaker, Michael Martin. He gave a firm slap down to Labour's Kate Hoey for daring to suggest that calling the police in to deal with the leak of members' expenses might be, erm, a waste of time and money?

Hoey was right, and Martin, once you understood his garbled but undeniably angry response, couldn't have given a clearer indication that he is unsuited to holding the job of umpire of the Commons. His judgement is flawed, he himself is well up on the expenses gravy train, and there is no chance that he is going to be able to lead the …

AS Revision Sessions

There are not that many available times where students are not sitting AS-level exams, but I propose to run the following sessions for those who want them:

Thursday May 14th.: 1.30 - 2.30pm - Democracy and Referendums
Monday May 18th.: 4pm - 5pm - Elections and Electoral Systems, followed by 5pm - 6pm Pressure Groups (but please note that timings for these sessions may slip a little.)

The format will be to review the content, with examples, and then consider sample questions and answers. Given time constraints (1 hour for each session) the aim will be to consider key points and facts to illuminate the topic as a whole, rather than comprehensive coverage.

If there is demand for a session on parties, I will fix a time with students who contact me direct, or leave a note on this blog.

History sessions are posted on the history blog.

Students are of course more than welcome to fix a time to see me with revision essays or other aspects of the course they may wish to go through. Please ema…

Revision Classes

I will publish a timetable of AS revision classes this evening.

Defending Gordon

Gordon Brown's sister-in-law has written a revealing article in the Guardian today, putting their side of the PM's Cleaning Expenses Story. A useful reminder of the often distorted nature of media stories. Not that, in this instance, it excuses a range of other MPs' abuses which seem rather less justifiable, but I also note that both Michael Gove and Andrew Lansley have provided explanations for their shift in primary residence, both related to family circumstances rather than the desire to make a quick buck. I have, on this blog, been as fulsome as any in criticising a venal and money-grubbing culture at Westminster, but am also happy to accept that there may be proper explanations for some. Which makes it all the more extraordinary that too few 'honest' MPs are prepared to admit that too many of their colleagues have demeaned the calling of political public service in the way that they have.

Futile Fox

I almost thought David Cameron had started to nail the issue of MPs expenses yesterday. He seemed, at any rate, to understand the need for the 'S' word. Then, this morning, on BBC Breakfast, his Defence Spokesman, Liam Fox - presumably being wheeled out because his expenses are ok - ruined it all, with a pathetic, rambling performance in which he was no better than the bleating Blears yesterday. The system is what's wrong. It must be changed. That was Fox's futile mantra. Has he really no ability to understand how deep this runs? He had a golden opportunity to develop Cameron's line, and show that he too was made of leadership fibre - and he fell flat on his face.

Contempt and Loathing

It is possible that we haven't seen such a wide-scale level of loathing towards the elected members of the House of Commons for several generations. Matthew D'Ancona, in his Telegraph piece, references Lewis Namier's great work - but he was exposing the hypocrisy and place seeking of George III's MPs!

There really isn't anywhere for an MP to turn today. The comments of over 400 people on Nick Robinson's blog are almost uniformly hostile. The Observer's Andrew Rawnsley and Nick Cohen are scathing, while the attempted defence of the wretchedly venal Luton MP, Margaret Moran - who must wish her career had remained in deserved obscurity - are published for all to mock on the Times' blog by Sam Coates. Could we really be witnessing the beginnings of a whole-sale political clear-out? Or will we just all forget this ever happened and return the same amoral, tax-dodging, money-grabbing shirkers to parliament next time?

Better Pick a Pocket.....

Saw this youtube gem on the Guido Fawkes site:

A Contaminated Moral Environment

There was nothing more pathetic this morning than watching Hazel Blears bleat on about how "the system is wrong" and "must be changed". Confronted by her own gerrymandering of the Commons expenses system, she was falling over herself to tell us that she understood that the public hated all of this, and that what we need is a committee of ordinary people to look at it all. She, of course, has done nothing wrong. It is the system that is so utterly wrong.

What utter bilge. Systems are inanimate. They are theoretical constructs. They do not operate themselves. They have no means to do so, being essentially written frameworks. There is nothing 'wrong' with the system. It offers, perfectly reasonably, an opportunity for deserving MPs to ensure that hey are not out of pocket in the conduct of their not inconsiderable duties. What is profoundly, glaringly, fantastically wrong, is the venal-mindedness of a number of MPs who have sought to deliberately abuse the '…

Leadership Challenge?

With Election Meltdown Time approaching, we will be hearing more and more of a possible leadership challenge in the ruling party. The Spectator's Matthew D'Ancona is leading his magazine with just such a story tomorrow. But leadership challenges are the stuff of fervid, speculative journalism in turbulent times - unless Brown himself decides he's had enough, I really cannot see what would be a near suicidal leadership battle breaking out in the Labour Party. Any putative leader would much rather wait now until after the general election, when they don't have to carry the can for the result. Gordon Brown still has one last duty to perform for his party, I suspect.

Incidentally, just as interesting in D'Ancona's blog piece is his explanation of why he didn't bother to approach Charles Clarke about the rumours of Clarke's possible candidacy for the leadership.

Sense of Humour Failure

Oh dear! Gordon Brown definitely didn't see anything amusing in Tory MP Stephen Crabb's question at PMQs today, asking what he was going to do about reports that a senior Whitehall figure was bullying underlings and throwing mobile phones around. Even Speaker Martin appeared to join in the levity that greeted the question, but the remarkably sour-faced PM gave a quick response and sat down - all too aware, perhaps, of the identity of the 'senior Whitehall figure'.

How the Telegraph Did Brown's Dirty Work - Again!

Harriet Harman found herself having to deny that she had any leadership ambitions following a front page splash by the Daily Telegraph on Monday, claiming she was ready to stand. The net result of her protestations of loyalty do at least mean that she has firmly ruled herself out of any leadership bid at all. Now, who could this possibly benefit? Well, it's certainly likely that one G. Brown will be quite happy to have quashed at least one potential nuisance, and how grateful he must be to the only newspaper to bother with a story that seems to have itself been firmly founded on the imagination of its writer.

The journalist who so effectively cooked Harman's goose, and carried out a Brown rescue operation, was none other than the Telegraph's political editor Andrew Porter. Porter has been under scrutiny - as has pretty much the whole Telegraph team - for his closeness to the disgraced former Brown hatchet man Damian McBride. Porter, a political leftie, was one of McBri…

Campbell and Izzard at the Nottingham Roadshow

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Away from the Westminster hothouse, with its ever increasing circles of expenses fraud, its 62 seat majority government struggling to win a Commons vote, and its rapturous remembrance of the Thatcherite victory 30 years ago, the politics roadshow across the country still goes on. Last week, Alastair Campbell and Eddie Izzard joined forces with Nottingham's prospective Labour candidate at Nottingham University, and rather fortunately a former SGS politics student was there to capture the essence. His report of an interesting university meeting featuring a comic force, a spent force and would-be force, follows:

Last Tuesday night I attended a ‘University of Nottingham Labour Students’ event that managed to draw probably the largest crowd of students and professors to a political event that Nottingham University has ever seen. Packing out the Coates Auditorium, the audience (many, like myself , whom I doubt were Labour supporters) came to see the comedian Eddie Izzard host a discuss…

Something Rotten in the Heart of Whitehall?

Left-wing journalist Nick Cohen has long had the New Labour project in his sights (see "Pretty Straight Guys", his searing indictment of Blair's government), but the recent series of shenanigans from the Brown camp has sent him into overdrive. In an article in "Standpoint", entitled "Fear and Filth at Brown's Number 10", Cohen reveals from his own experiences some of the tactics used by Gordon Brown and his associates to intimidate and manipulate their opponents. Resurrecting Robert Harris's comparison of Brown and former US president Nixon, he concludes in this rather stark manner:

For all that I understand the difficulties of my colleagues in Westminster, it remains an indictment of them that until this scandal broke, 99 per cent of the public had never heard of McBride. A full-scale government propaganda operation was under way in plain view of reporters. Partly out of self-interest, but also out of fear of the consequences, most decided t…