Friday, November 27, 2009

Westminster Conference

L6 students - go to the new admin blog for details about Monday.

New UKIP Leader

Lord Pearson of Rannoch, a former Tory peer, has been elected to lead UKIP, in succession to Nigel Farage, who is concentrating on his parliamentary election campaign in Buckingham to oust John Bercow. Pearson came to speak to the sixth form at SGS a couple of years back, and was a decent, committed gentleman with no real gifts of advocacy - at least not to this audience. Nonetheless, this means that we have now been addressed by both the present and past leaders of UKIP - what a very UK-minded school we are!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Obama and Reagan

Two articles considering the comparison of Barack Obama with his conservative predecessor Ronald Reagan. Alex Massie in the Spectator, and Andrew Sullivan in an earlier Daily Dish post.

Dishing the Christianists

Andrew Sullivan's prolifically kept blog has an interesting post on the issue of Christian contributions to the body politic. Sullivan writes from America, where the Christian right form a significant voting bloc, and often hold Republican politicians in particular in thrall. Their strong stance on abortion and gay rights significantly distorts the political dialogue of the US. Sullivan writes of a "Cafeteria Theocracy" in this post, asking for Christian morality to be more consistently exhorted across the political spectrum before it can claim any great authority.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Nightmare of Being Hung

The Observer's IPSOS poll today shows a narrowing lead for the Tories over Labour, giving rise to much speculation in that paper about a hung parliament after the next election. Two articles worth reading on this scenario are Andrew Rawnsley's commentary, which deserves a separate entry really, and a piece by Roy Hattersely, in which the former Labour deputy leader recalls the time that he was a minister in a minority government (James Callaghan's). He doesn't think much of the experience, and ends his article with a clarion call for conviction politics - "What our democracy needs, above all else, is the politics of conviction".

Hmmmm, really? I mean, Nick Griffin certainly doesn't lack conviction. Margaret Thatcher's conviction was one of the most wildly divisive elements of politics in the 1980s. Tony Blair certainly had plenty of conviction about the need to fight a war in Iraq. Adolf Hitler was, in many ways, the ultimate conviction politician, squeezing out all those woolly minded consensualists. Roy's own conviction is the need for ex-Labour ministers to have good square meals and fine wines, and who could argue with that, but I think he looks at conviction politics through rose-tinted spectacles. Most of us just want effective and honest government, rather than the dangerous, arrogant assertions of the eternally convicted.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Europe's Grey Move

The massed ranks of euro-sceptics could, if they had a mind to, breathe a small sigh of relief this evening. The announcement of which two politicians are going to take on the shiny new pan-European roles created by the Lisbon Treaty - that of President and the ludicrously named 'High Representative' - has sent most people racing to their political almanacks to find out who on earth they are. To be fair, Herman van Rompuy, the Belgian premier now destined for greater things as President of Europe, has apparently been a much liked, and very able, prime minister of a nearly disintegrating Belgium. Baroness Ashton, however, Labour's successfully nominated High Representative, has barely been heard of in her own country, and certainly never done anything as undignified as stand for election. She appears to have been appointed as a bit of a trade-off in the dinner meeting that made the appointments, but the fact is that neither she nor her new boss have the personal authority or standing to do much more than travel round the world trading niceties. Europe is not going to turn into a superstate on their watch, and that at least should comfort the doom-sayers who thought we were suddenly and irreparably going to fall under the iron sway of a charismatic Brussels government. Europe remains a conglomeration of independent minded sovereign states - as it was always going to.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Brown Rap

Wonder if the Labour Party are wondering whether they can somehow get Jon Culshaw to do all of Gordon Brown's appearances between now and the general election - Culshaw's Gordon Brown rap is certainly worth watching.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why Cameron Should Steer Clear of the Sun

We may be used to an amoral, cynical and manipulative press, but the Sun newspaper continues to push the boundaries ever further out. The story about grieving mother Mrs. Janes, and the Gordon Brown letter, represent yet another of its many low points. As has been blogged on other sites, there is a legitimate political story about the lack of equipment being given to soldiers, which was a contributing factor to the death of Mrs. Janes' son. If the government is not properly protecting its own soldiers, then it should clearly be answerable.

On the other hand, to lay in so heavily to Gordon Brown for his handwriting, and to connive at the publicising of a private phone conversation made by him, seems to reach the pits of reprehensible journalism. Mrs. Janes' desire to attack the man she clearly sees as being responsible for her son's death is understandable, given the trauma she must be going through, even if it seems unfair to the prime minister. For the Sun to play along, however, is an acknowledgement that it is motivated by the deepest form of callous cynicism, and should stand as a warning to any wise politician to steer well clear of its poisonous embrace. David Cameron should not be welcoming the support of this paper. As he watches its merciless campaign against a man and government it once lauded, and sees its tactics illuminated so clearly in the bright light of its current determination to milk the grief of a human being as much as possible, he should be determining that he at least will deal with it in the way one might reserve for an angry scorpion. Only then might he have a chance of remaining unscathed when, as it surely will, it flails around towards him in turn.

PS: David Cameron might do well to reflect on a story which former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie dined out on for years, but which his victim, then PM John Major, claims never actually happened. MacKenzie reckoned that he once rang Major to say "I have a bucket of shit on my desk, and tomorrow I'm gonna pour it all over your head." Charming man really, and his successors share his delicacy!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Ironies of Commemoration

Stood in the cold last night admiring the sparkly array of fireworks and the HUGE bonfire that had been lovingly created, and got to musing about the sheer irony of November 5th. There was the impressively reconstructed Guy Fawkes on top of the bonfire, and we were all to cheer when he finally caught fire and fell. Cheer? The one man who tried to put parliament out of our misery? In the year of the expenses scandal, I wonder how many have reflected on their celebration of the capture and execution of the man who failed to blow it up!

Then there was today's always moving Cenotaph service. Who is prominent in placing the wreaths? Why, the politicians whose often poorly drawn policies create the conditions for the sacrifices we are commemorating. War is, after all, merely the pursuit of politics by the use other people.

You can read one Euro-sceptic's attempt to right the wrongs of historiography on Guy Fawkes here.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Rowing Back on a Referendum

Serious Tory rowing back on the issue of a referendum about Lisbon. Even Daniel Hannan, whose whole raison d'etre is to be a voluble euro-sceptic, is resisting any criticism of the new Cameron policy on Newsnight. William Hague announced the row back earlier - despite lots of huffing and puffing about the need for a referendum, now that comrade Klaus has ratified the Treaty for the Czechs, being the last to do so, Lisbon becomes law, and there is no going back. So no referendum. Which is of course the pragmatic policy, but is there more to it? Why is the situation over Lisbon not the same as the original decision to join the EEC, subjected to a retrospective referendum in 1975?

Some possible answers -

1. David Cameron is secretly relieved that he can drop the whole referendum idea. Lisbon is not actually a game-changing treaty (the Single European Act - signed by Margaret Thatcher for the UK - and Maastricht were more significant) and squabbling over its demands would have demeaned Cameron as a world leader. Now, he doesn't have to.

2. The Tory Party senses victory in Britain and even the euro-sceptic loons don't want to rock the boat at the moment. Cameron has an unprecedented hold over his party, desperate to return to power, and providing he continues making the right rhetorical noises on Europe, he can expect his nut-case tendency to basically keep quiet. Substantively, he won't deliver much for them, but we await his statement tomorrow with interest.

3. With the Lisbon Treaty written into European law, it is not possible to retrospectively to refuse to agree to its terms without actually pulling out of Europe - and no major party wants to commit to that, not even the Tories.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

X Factor's Twins Are the Only Stars

Well, it's not quite my view, although amongst a slew of distinctly average performers, at least they are an entertaining act, and no-one says we have to like the people we watch. For an alternative view of X Factor - and yes, I know it's not politics, but there's an 'Etc' in the title here - have a read of Bryan Appleyard's less than positive view; however, he's the one who seems to think the twins are the real deal in an unappetising show!

Why Brown Wants Miliband at the EU

It's not particularly difficult to work out why Gordon Brown might be promoting David Miliband for the extraordinarily named "High Representative for Foreign Affairs" job at the EU. For all that Miliband's stock has fallen in recent months, and he looks far less of a possible leadership candidate than he used to when we didn't know him so well, Brown is still anxious to get him out of the way by the time of the post-election fall-out. Miliband is a Blair protege, and Brown would prefer a clear run for his own people, who include the unlikeable Ed Balls, and the younger Miliband, Ed. So - give David to Europe, and there you go! Europe has always served the useful purpose of being a place of exile for politicians who have served out their domestic usefulness, although Roy Jenkins (who returned from being Commission President to form the SDP in the 1980s) and Peter Mandelson have proved that there can be life after death for anyone exiled there.

I'm not sure, though, that Brown needs to be quite so bothered about Miliband, as the more dangerous anti-Brown candidates are still lurking around - James Purnell, for example, would surely make a bid for the top job after the election, and as someone who freed himself from the shackles of a being a Brown minister, he would look like a fresh start.