Friday, June 26, 2009
And since it's nearly July, whatever happens in the world this week, I'm on CCF camp, so no blogging. Disappointing, yes?
Watching some of the old pop videos, there's certainly no doubting the talent that was Michael Jackson in his youthful prime. But what a wretched, freakish waste of a man he became. His three kids all artificially brought into being, the youngest of an unknown female donor. Strange, white, tortured skin and odd face staring out under his lanky fringe. A compulsive addiction to spending. The old Jackson of musical genius seems to have long gone.Now, of course, we get the celebrity memories. The most ridiculous so far has been Uri Geller being interviewed by the BBC, making a big deal about being too upset to carry on and hanging up, then coming back after the death was confirmed, then going through the routine of being too upset again, having to go.
And, finally, he wasn't old. He tried to arrest his ageing, but he was even so only 50. I think we are shocked by his death. It is unexpected. And it is the stuff of modern, internet news. Even Iran's bid for freedom has to take a back seat now - now that really is an ironic respite for the mullahs.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
"Today we are witnessing the results of a failed revolution, where egalitarians abolished grammar schools to level opportunity in our society, and accidentally destroyed the chances of the very people they were trying to help... They punished the bright poor kids who were held back. They handicapped the intellectual capacity of the country. And out of this catastrophe there was only one winning group. Do you know who they were? Yes, the public schools. Who teach just 7 per cent of the population."
Go David! Defender of liberty, proponent of grammar schools - he's rapidly becoming my favourite politician!
The Telegraph's Benedict Brogan considers the Cameron purge - at least in part the result of the efforts of Brogan's own paper - here.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
John Bercow has re-introduced the country to the idea of an articulate Speaker, and I have little doubt that he will seek to exercise the Speaker's role as an independent upholder of the House of Commons against the overweening power of the executive. There has been much mealy-mouthed comment from too many Tories today. Stupidest comment of the day must go to the whining Nadine Dorries, who described the Speaker's election as "an act of vindictiveness". More encouragingly, the Tory MP Douglas Carswell, who has already proved himself to be a doughty defender of Commons freedom against the executive, said that he had voted for John Bercow as his second preference, after his first choice, Richard Shepard, was knocked out.
Although much of this morning's commentary centres around Bercow's unpopularity with the Conservative benches, the fact is we now have a young, intelligent, reform-minded Speaker. The Commons got it right after all.
Monday, June 15, 2009
The candidates are not, to the outside eye, greatly inspiring, but perhaps that's not the point. I just hope they don't go for the dreadful Margaret Becket. Look carefully through the record of her speeches over the past decade or so and you will see not a mention of commitment to Commons reform. She's been a minister, not a backbencher, for much of that time, and even had a brief period as Labour leader. Her recent performance on the BBC's Question Time saw her heckled for attempting to defend her use of a grace and favour house while claiming for a second home, and there is the distinct whiff of her going for this job because she didn't get the government promotion she wanted in the reshuffle. There is unlikely to be a worse candidate.
Good possibilities would be Ann Widdecombe, committed to being a interim Speaker until the next election, when a new Commons can focus on a more long-term choice. Widdecombe could be more effective in ten months than mot of the other candidates would be in ten years. Alternatively, the thoughtful, and hugely knowledgeable on parliamentary matters, John Bercow. Bercow has one further thing in his favour - most of the existing Tory MPs apparently can't stand him.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Monday, June 08, 2009
But the BNP have gained their seats on a 6.5% share of one of the lowest votes - around a third of the population - ever cast. It is no surprise to realise that, in a couple of areas of the UK, a small minority of people believe in, and will vote for, racist solutions to a perceived failure on the part of the mainstream parties to deal with some of the UK's manifest problems. This is not a breakthrough. It is not a radical change of heart on the part of British voters. It does not portend a nasty, right-wing shift in the body politic (just look at the vigour with which the Tories and UKIP have both been attacking the BNP). What it does do is expose the frailty of a voting system which magnifies marginal discontent to a ridiculous degree, and it illuminates the general divorce of the public from the political classes, as evinced in their mass failure to turn out and vote. It might also offer an insight into just how seriously most Britons take the European Parliament.
We should never not take the ravings of a party based on hate seriously. We should not be complacent about the way in which such a party can seriously affect the society in which it operates. But the European elections have told us nothing new about the BNP. They have, on the other hand, told us a great deal about the health of both the national body politic, and its European counterpart.
Incidentally, two articles worth reading are on Conservative Home. Its editor, Tim Montgomerie, publishes this short attack on the Labour Party's role in the rise of the BNP, whilst former Tory Reform Group chairman Phil Pedley announces his conversion to the euro-sceptic cause. Pedley used to be a veritable missionary for greater European integration, so his change of heart makes for interesting reading. Also of great interest, the odds on upcoming UK elections are posted here.
Sunday, June 07, 2009
Compare this with Jeremy Paxman last week, in his masterly disection of William Hague's Euro policies. Hague is an undoubted professional, and a highly intelligent man, but he was unable to effectively counter Paxman's clear, relentless line of attack about what the Tories would do about the Lisbon Treaty. Two interviewers, two completely different classes. Not long ago the BBC were given the chance to interview Dimitri Medvedev, Russia's puppet president. Unsurprisingly, one of the Kremlin's conditions for allowing the interview to go ahead was that they should choose the interviewer. They chose Marr.
Friday, June 05, 2009
There are many political reasons why Gordon Brown is able to hold on to his office despite the undoubted ferment over the past few weeks. The power of incumbency, his dominance of the upper echelons of the party, the lack of a clear successor, the openness required by Labour rules to unseat a leader, the desire of Labour MPs to avoid a general election, the need for Labour not to have a second 'unelected' prime minister in one term - all these have played their part. But that most significant, and unpredictable, element of politics, the role of individual personalities, has also been crucial. Nick Robinson outlines "the three extraordinary personal decisions" of Alan Johnson, David Miliband and John Hutton, which have each contributed to Gordon Brown's security in his job.
It is one of the things that makes both politics and history so fascinating - the unpredictable role of the individual.
But the reshuffle is still in the making. What isn't is the continued sickness of the House of Commons. Although it is becoming common to read of MPs standing down at the next election, one whose farewell statement is worth reading is Tory MP Paul Goodman. He has not been fingered as an expenses abuser. He has a safe Tory seat (Wycombe) and every prospect of government office should his party win the next election. So why stand down? He explains his reasons in forceful post on Conservative Home. Specifically, he says:
" For Parliamentary democracy to work, a robust executive – strong government - must be balanced by a healthy legislature – by a flourishing House of Commons. That the Commons has been sick for many years is incontestable. The tragedy of the expenses scandal is that the patient, in consequence, is likely to receive a bigger dose of the medicine that’s causing the illness – namely, professional politics."
Do read the whole thing - anyone interested in the health of parliament and the prospects for Commons reform will find his piece both depressing and eloquent.
But for all the shock value, Purnell is acting alone. That was made palpably clear by the fast reaction of Purnell's probable favourite for the Labour leadership, David Miliband. Miliband has moved fast to put clear distance between himself and Purnell - it was wrong to resign, and it is Purnell's misfortune to place his faith in such a weak reed. It is also Brown's possible good fortune - if a man in his current position can be said to have any good fortune at present. I am hesitant - particularly after having so badly mis-called the Speaker issue a coupe of weeks ago - to predict that Brown will stay, but the odds are still on that he will. It takes 70 Labour MPs to break cover and sign a nomination paper for there to be even the hope of a leadership election should Brown - as all good judges confirm he will- resist standing down. And they also need a candidate to back, and there is absolutely no clear indication as to who that might be. With Miliband confirming he will stay in the Cabinet, and Alan Johnson pouring cold water on his own leadership abilities, Brown does not look as if he is facing any heavyweight leadership challengers. And Purnell has also said he is no leadership challenger. But, whatever the subtleties of Gordon Brown's position tonight, he knows, none better, that 24 hours is a long time in politics.
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
The right-wing American author Tom Clancy once envisioned, in one of his bestselling thrillers, the need for a wholly new Congress to be elected after a plane had deliberately crashed into the old one, wiping out virtually all of the elected politicians (and yes, he wrote this before 9/11!). His hero, Jack Ryan, was the unprofessional politician thrust into the limelight as a novice president, and he called for a 'citizen army' of new representatives to come forward and stand for election. In Clancy's fictional world, Congressmen and Senators who had never been politicians was almost a utopia, and it had a tempting sound to it. No more so than now, when the reputation of our elected representatives is so low.
I do keep wondering whether we aren't being too harsh. After all, we need committed MPs to carefully consider the legislation which governs us, to be the eyes and ears of a public that doesn't wish to spend its time on politics. As a democracy, we arguably get the politicians we deserve. After all, we send them there, to do the job we don't want to do. And yet, every time I start to develop sympathy for the plight of the hunted MP, another one pops up on television to remind me why a god old clear-out is probably just the thing our body politic needs to rejuvenate itself. There was Bill Cash a the weekend, in his lovely country house, still ignorant of why seemingly false claims for second homes strikes such a bad chord. Then there was Harriet Harman on Newsnight last night - shrilly and persistently not answering any of Jeremy Paxman's questions (leading to a classic Paxmanism at the end of the programme, where he was about to summarise what Harman had said, and lamely concluded "I don't really know what we think she said but it was jolly interesting".) There's the property speculator Geoff Hoon, paying back a paltry £300. They just keep coming out of the woodwork, this dismal collection of elected representatives with their silk cushions and gilded toilet seats, utterly unable to grasp what's gone wrong.
So perhaps it is time for a clear-out, and perhaps we are heading for one. Conservative Home reports that none of the dozen or so tory seats that have suddenly found themselves in need of a candidate will be selecting until September, to allow Central Office the chance to sift through the apparently thousands of applications they have received. Hopefully, applications from ordinary citizens who have decided that it is time they did their bit of public service after all. There is, clearly, little point in swapping one set of political apparatchiks for another.
Peter Oborne published a timely book last year, bemoaning the existence of a permanent political class, united by ties of work, friendship and family, and insulated from the world they were meant to represent outside of Westminster. He could cite the married Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, both cabinet ministers, or the sibling cabinet members David and Ed Miliband. He could have cited one of the worst expense abusers, Ann Keen, sister of a deputy speaker, Sylvia Heal. He likened the situation to that described by Lewis Namier in his seminal "Structure of Politics in the Reign of George III". It was a damning indictment, the suggestion that our political class was no more rooted than that of the early 18th. century, but Oborne was more right than not, and the political fall-out of that insulation has been thrown up far more rapidly than perhaps he could have imagined.
It's not certain, but I think that quiet revolution is starting to occur, and as with all revolutions, we have no idea of the outcome. It's utterly fascinating though!
Monday, June 01, 2009
UPDATE: To consider these issues we can hold a session tomorrow. I am happy to do a couple of sessions if that suits - one for the historians in the morning, following their exam (with a suitable break in between, obviously) and a further one at around 4pm for those preferring a later time! The main aim will be to see how recent events can fit in to your Politics 2 answers. Clearly, your answers will not major on MPs' expenses and the constitutional reform suggestions that are following, but they can - and should - at least reference these things. After all, nothing has driven the plight of parliament more firmly into the centre-ground of public attention than the mis-use of the expense accounts by MPs, and the tally of them who are now deciding not to stand just goes on getting longer. David Cameron has re-opened the Conservative Candidates List, and reportedly already received 1,000 applications (no, mine is not amongst them!). The 'fringe' parties are likely to benefit as never before in the European Elections on Thursday, a Speaker has been forced to stand down for the first time in 300 years, and the sitting Prime Minister, after a bare two years in office, is facing calls to stand down from within his own party. Making sense of all this is clearly a fundamental task for any politics student.