Sunday, February 28, 2010
Meanwhile, further to my previous post, Jon Cruddas and Jonathan Rutherford are on the attack with a stinging condemnation of the Thatcher era.
David Cameron is a man of some mettle, and he has shown in the past that he has been prepared to resist the siren voices of the right-wing in his party. His reward has been to see himself vigorously lambasted by the rightist press - the Telegraph and the Spectator are amongst his severest critics - and on the conservative blogs. He should continue to resist. The Tories are not in trouble because they are not right-wing enough. They are in trouble because they have failed to spell out their distance from hobbling slash-and-burn economic policies strongly enough. They have allowed the internal debate to seep into the public sphere. They have failed to make bold, centrist policies count. David Cameron, and his key strategist Steve Hilton, were at their most successful when showing the country that the party was modernising.
It is the Tories' right-wing heritage that continues to hamper them. The legacy of its turn towards right-wing ideology in the 1980s was to remove their electoral presence from vast swathes of the country. Their almost total lack of representation in Scotland and Wales, their retreat from the cities and their evisceration in large areas of the north of England - especially the North East - were all the result of the polarisation of the Thatcherite polity. Only recently have they started to crawl slowly back into some of these areas, and that success has everything to do with the successful re-orienting of the Tory brand by David Cameron and Steve Hilton. That this might now be under threat from a resurgent right that sees re-election as its birthright, not that of the modernisers, is a dire problem for Mr. Cameron. Has he really managed to re-secure the party an electoral pact with so many disillusioned voters, only to see it snatched away again by the Thatcherite hard core who have never cared to see the party return to its once dominant centrist position?
Mr. Cameron apparently takes advice from William Hague. Hague is a natural right-winger, but as leader he saw his hopes dashed when he authorised an election campaign based on a core, ideological Tory message. The bitter reward of his leadership was to see his party endure one of its most catastrophic results after a term of New Labour. Michael Howard flirted with modernisation, but rode to electoral battle under the safe banner of right-wing values. I can remember even now the sheer disgust expressed by some former Tory voters for the unashamed Tory strategy of 2005. A centrist nation wants a centrist party of the right, but since the Thatcherite hijack of the party they haven't had it. Labour's current fightback has much to do with that residual problem of the Tories, and if - with a modernisers victory hanging temptingly in front of them - the Thatcherite wing once again manage to snatch defeat for the party this spring, they could well manage to consign a once genuinely national party to Trotsky's dustbin of history.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Schools Secretary Ed Balls also told the BBC he did not "recognise this atmosphere" of alleged bullying at Number 10.
"Jeremy Heywood, who is the top civil servant, said the opposite was true - it was a friendly, caring, supportive environment. I think he is right," Mr Balls said.
Warms the cockles of your heart, doesn't it, to know what a caring, supportive, beautiful environment No. 10 is to work in? Don't know WHAT Alastair Darling can have been on about when he referred to the 'forces of hell' being unleashed. And remind me, why did former No.10 adviser Damian McBride have to resign? Was he just being too nice to people? Or was he caught out trying to plant some truly unpleasant, untrue and hurtful stories about his enemies on a website?
Even if Kellner is right, however, and a 7% lead could bring the Tories a more meaningful 10/11 seat lead, the question must still be raging around Conservative Headquarters. At a time of severe economic recession, with all sorts of brickbats raging around an unloved prime minister, what do they really have to do to get elected with a majority?
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Monday, February 22, 2010
As for No. 10, it has pulled out all the stops to alleviate a damaging story. As I've already noted, they have managed to deny allegations that were not originally made. They have had the Dark Lord of Spin himself, Lord Mandelson, casting aspersions on anyone who has dared to suggest that Gordon Brown is anything other than merely 'driven' and 'passionate'. We've even seen John Prescott - yes, he of the flailing punch - step up to the cameras once again and assert, with his usual pugnacity, that of course there is no bullying at No. 10.
The government did have some time to prepare its response, as Patrick Wintour at the Guardian (The Observer's sister paper) reports today. The Conservative blogger Iain Dale reminds his readers of John Prescott's record, and of Peter Mandelson's earlier views of Gordon Brown. All of which adds up to a political whirlwind that may claim poor, unwary victims like Ms. Pratt, but is unlikely to significantly change the electoral arithmetic. There is an issue of character with regards to Gordon Brown, and there has always been an issue of spin, with New Labour (Mandelson, Brown and Blair's creation) in particular. But voters will still be more interested in who gets them out of an economic crisis most effectively.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Full article here.
No. 10 categorically deny that Sir Gus O'Donnell ever instituted an inquiry into Gordon Brown's behaviour. That's nice. But again, it wasn't one of the allegations made - all Rawnsley says is that O'Donnell heard informally about Brown's behaviour and gave a private warning to the Prime Minister.
So, when in doubt, just refute a few allegations that weren't actually made
This is grist to the media mill, but the question arises as to whether, apart from the love of the sensational, all of this really matters? Well, Rawnsley rightly defends his publication of such material, which some may consider gossip, by referring to the issue of character. Gordon Brown is keen to talk about character. He once authored a book called "Profiles in Courage", testament to his admiration of particular character traits. Rawnsley says that Brown is hoist here by his own self-references:
Gordon Brown himself has made an issue of his character. He has repeatedly asked for votes as a personal endorsement on the grounds that he is the right leader for the hour. At the 2007 Labour conference, just before his early honeymoon imploded in the debacle of the phantom election, he was marketed under the slogan: "Not flash – just Gordon." At the 2008 conference, held in the midst of the meltdown in the financial markets, he told the country that it was "no time for a novice", again making his own character the defining issue.
His recent appearance on ITV's Life Stories, where he made an uncomfortable attempt to engage in what he had previously disdained as "the politics of celebrity", was a conscious effort by Number 10 to project his personality in a way that might make it more appealing to voters.
"I know that I'm not perfect," he told a pre-election rally in Coventry yesterday. "But I know where I come from. I know what I stand for" – asking to be re-elected for his values. Having himself elevated character as an issue, the voters have the right to be acquainted with every dimension of that character.So character matters, and yes we do have a right to know what sort of man is governing us. We can draw our own conclusions about its importance when we vote.
Also interestingly, James Purnell's decision, at just 39, to leave parliament is a further reflection on the parlous state of that institution's reputation. That such a one-time high-flier, who has dedicated his life to politics, should now see a better chance of achieving political aims outside of parliament is a sad comment on the state of MPs, their efficacy and their morale, at the moment. The major challenge of the new parliament, whatever its composition, comprised as it will be of a virtually unprecedented number of new MPs, will be to act to restore integrity and commitment to its undertakings. It will not be on things like expenses - which have now, anyway, been the subject of such severe restrictions that they are unlikely to be a problem for the foreseeable future - but on the way in which these MPs utilise their legislative roles in the scrutinising and passing of better, meaningful laws. Once they begin to show that they have vision and teeth, it will be time to reconsider the relatively meagre remunerations they currently receive. There is no value to a democracy in failing to entice able people from all sectors of life into its legislatures by suitable remunerative packages, and for all the fuss about expenses, this will have to be addressed at some point. We need a positive, effective parliament, and continualy belittling our MPs will never be the way to achieving that.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Mr. Hannan wrote on the Daily Telegraph blog about the Georgian economic experience, claiming - in the headline no less - that "Libertarianism has made Georgia rich and free". A stirring article, no doubt, but comprehensively demolished by the Georgian opposition on their website. Mr. Johnson, meanwhile, comes in for attack from a Labour blogger who claims, in two posts here and here, that his attitude as Mayor of London has simply resulted in greater isolationism for Britain's capital city. Interesting reads all round.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
"There is no deeper pathos in the spiritual life of man than the cruelty of righteous people."
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The Evening Standard's Paul Waugh has probably the most thorough and accurate account of the 'evening of mayhem' that led to Cash's resignation.
The BBC have done an interesting projection on likely outcomes of AV using previous election results. The principal losers seem to be the Tories, who would benefit far more from a properly proportional system or even a hybrid of the type that runs in Scotland. Labour benefit to a small degree - explaining Gordon Brown's preference for this particular alternative - while the Liberals do not exactly break through their electoral barrier. If the only alternative is AV, we may as well stick with First Past the Post!
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
A rather dramatic item from breitbart.com, but what could the threatened 'punch' be? February 11th is the date in question - the anniversary of the Shah's overthrow in 1979, but a day that, in Iran, might be dominated by renewed opposition protests at the apparent illegality of President Ahmadinejad's re-election. Perhaps the ayatollah is hoping to draw attention away from domestic difficulties with the launch of a nuclear missile?
But has Cash really resigned? Party headquarters may prefer to avoid a potentially divisive new selection meeting, and according to Paul Waugh, Cash appears to be tweeting as if she is still the candidate. Curiouser and curiouser.
Monday, February 08, 2010
The increased role of the studio audience in the Question Time programme itself has rendered its discussions infuriatingly pointless and almost inevitably trivial. No serious point of debate can ever be pursued to a satisfactory conclusion and every attempt at substantive argument is interrupted and plunged into incoherence by wildly irrelevant random points from the audience.
Of course the rise of the political blogs has had an impact - albeit a fairly marginal one at the moment - on politics. The problem for most bloggers is that their material is scanned more than read. The average reader may visit their favourite couple of blogs for a few minutes during the course of a bit of web searching. For the blogs to maintain any sort of position, their posts are necessarily short and opinionated. Most blogs are one-person operations lacking the resources of a media organisation*. There is a democratic element to blogging - it is a healthy and egalitarian exercise in a pluralist democracy, and the internet generally has absolutely impacted on the nation's political conversation, giving access to a wider array of unmediated voices, and instant communication possibilities by a huge variety of pressure groups. But the overall influence remains significantly limited, as illustrated by the fact that the single most important, most explosive, most game-changing political story of the year was of course broken by a mainstream newspaper with substantial resources to buy it. The Telegraph's exposure of MPs' expenses. The blogs have a long way to go before they're playing at that level.
* One interesting exception is Conservative Home, and its aggregating sister site, Politics Home. They are funded primarily by two wealthy sponsors - Stephan Shakespeare and Lord Ashcroft - and carry no advertising. Financially unviable, they are very much the tools of their owners, who have a life or death power over them not matched even by the most authoritarian newspaper magnate, who does at least still need to sell both copies and advertising.
Friday, February 05, 2010
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Read the whole article.
Meanwhile, Clare Short bounded back into the political limelight yesterday with her evidence. She was hardly going to play a meek role discussing a war she herself had such split feelings over, and she let fly quite a few blunt remarks about her former political colleagues. It's not so much her characterisation of Blair and Campbell as a couple of con-men - an expected tribute - but her picture of the whole cabinet jeering her when she tried to question the war's legality. Finally, we have it. This was not a cabinet of cautious, independent thinkers, as Straw and Hoon have tried so hard to suggest. They were a bunch of unthinking mediocrities who fell quickly in behind their leader's obvious desire for war. Whatever else it shows us, Chilcot has exposed the absence of proper cabinet government under Blair, and not just because of prime ministerial fiat, but because the cabinet itself abandoned such a pretense. Well done, Clare.
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
Interestingly, the experience of partial PR in Scotland and Wales has actually been to benefit the Tories, and diminish the Labour Party's hitherto firm stranglehold. While the Conservatives win seats in the PR list that they can't get through FPTP, the Labour Party has seen its monopoly, based on its ability to win the seats, significantly reduced by the rise of the SNP and Plaid, both beneficiaries of the list system. The Liberal Democrats, too, have fallen behind the Conservatives in the Scottish parliament in terms of seat numbers; they are the fourth party in Scotland, but the third party in terms of Scottish seats at Westminster. A real devolution problem for any incoming Conservative government will be the fact that, whether or not they have a majority at Westminster, they are likely to have only one or two MPs from Scotland. This could augur further calls for greater Scottish independence, which could potentially, of course, benefit the Tories at Westminster as they start to take the knife to all those safe Labour seats. So, Gordon Brown's late reform proposal may also be about the basic survival of the Labour Party.
The Conservative attitude to electoral reform remains a little bizarre - they are not natural winners under FPTP at the moment - but then, anyone who looks to the Tories to do anything other than hunker down when it comes to political reform is living in dreamland. They opposed devolution, have never held referendums, and opposed further reform of the House of Lords. On all these issues, circumstances forced them to shift their position slowly and reluctantly - it may also happen with the voting system, but surely just once they would prefer to be in the driving seat?
[This BBC video, by the way, gives a good 2 minute overview of the current Scottish situation as a result of the Additional Member system]
Monday, February 01, 2010
It was striking how conservative all of the candidates were. They all, for example, made very Eurosceptic pledges, all backed grammar schools, all committed to much stricter control of immigration.
I remember a time when all prospective Conservative candidates were expected to show support for the death penalty. Now, it seems, you have to make sure you sign up to the full raft of Thatcherite beliefs, whatever the party leadership may be saying. Continued evidence, it seems, of the gulf between David Cameron's leadership echelon, and the grassroots party.