Showing posts from November, 2010

Defending Obama

'American exceptionalism' - the firm belief in America's unique position and positive virtues in world society - is a clearly dear to the heart of most Americans, even if they might sometimes struggle to articulate it. Barack Obama identified it clearly in a recent speech at the G20 summit, but his comments have been ripped out of their context and subjected to severe criticism by numerous conservative commentators in the US. They have attempted to deny that he believes in any sort of American exceptionalism. It is a lethal charge in a country whose political centre of gravity is still firmly to the right, and we in Europe perhaps find it difficult to understand just how much the vilification of Obama as an entrenched leftist is gaining ground in the US. Andrew Sullivan, the libertarian ex-Brit who now lives in America and has been a consistent supporter of Obama, provides an illuminating comment about the 'Big Lie' being levied against the president. His defe…

What Students Could Have Protested About But Didn't

I must confess I'm not always on the same page as the 'Spectator' these days, but editor Fraser Nelson's blog-post about what students haven't protested about over the past thirteen years is pointed, and perhaps makes today's protests seem just a little more self-serving.

Quote of the Day

"This is what happens when they oppress students for so long", from an over-excited and distinctly unoppressed looking sixth former on his day out to view the violence. Next lesson - what oppression really means, with reference to North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe, Russia...........

Palin and Our 'North Korean Allies'

Sarah Palin is the front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2012. A few nay-sayers keep trying to suggest that she just doesn't have the political nous or intelligence to be a credible candidate, but honestly, anyone could mistake South Korea for North Korea couldn't they?

Revolting Students - Again

Having managed to retard their case with the ludicrously and violently mismanaged protest of two weeks ago, it is entirely typical of the student mentality that they should consider another expression of student nihilism to be appropriate today. This time, the protest is not London based but designed to be across a range of university campuses, and even schools. Students striking in protest would not, of course, have any impact at all given that the majority steer sedulously clear of lecture theatres for most of their university careers. So protests it has to be, and given the motley collection of organizers, the chances of these simply being peaceful protests is limited.

I have an innate sympathy with the opposition to student fees, which is what makes the opposition enhancing protests all the more frustrating. I have a sympathy because I, in common with the rest of my generation, benefited not just from free university education but also, where needed, government assistance towards l…

Did AV Deliver a Worthless Leader?

Churchill's jibe that the Alternative Vote delivered the most worthless votes for the most worthless candidate must be ringing a bit louder in the ears of Labour MPs. Their leader, Ed Miliband, is back on the job after his paternity leave, but a mere eight weeks in and there are already mutterings on the Labour benches about his lack of impact. MPs voted, of course, for his brother by a greater margin, and David won the first vote overall, but the the AV miracle stepped in and delivered Ed Miliband to the Labour Party. It can't be any great comfort, either, that the last party political leader to succeed to the job without gaining the majority support of his party's MPs was, er, Iain Duncan Smith.

The Liberal Defence on Tuition Fees - It's all about the Mandate.

Or not, in this case, as the Lib Dem defence, which we first heard articulated by Nick Clegg last Tuesday at Portcullis House, is that they didn't win the election and thus didn't have a mandate to carry out their pledge to remove tuition fees. Clegg's articulation of this played well at the Hansard Society meeting, so much so that it has now, finally, become Lib Dem orthodoxy. Tom Brake used it at a local meeting on Thursday evening, and now Vince Cable has used it in a BBC television interview. Looks as if there is some co-ordination going on behind the Lib Dem message after all.

Palin and Putin - A Match Made In......

The two putative runners for the presidencies of America and Russia in 2012 are so similar it's uncanny - the First Post shows a collection of pics that underscore the spiritual partnership of these two cuddly candidates for supreme office.

Cameron Bows to Media Pressure Again

David Cameron has decided not to go on holiday to his old Eton pal's holiday home in Thailand (the Eton pal in question being the Prime Minister of Thailand of course). The media had already homed in on this, and he was worried about exacerbating a controversy by going. He engineered the resignation of Lord Young last week because Young's comments played badly in the media. And he has removed his personal photographer from the Downing Street pay roll in response to media criticism. There are certainly occasions to head off undue media criticism. But there is a danger that so many u-turns raise questions about his initial judgement, given his unwillingness to defend any of his decisions to a ravenous media, and that he simply becomes a push-over on any would-be critical media story. Neither of them great conclusions, alas.

Soundbite Interviews

Iain Dale increasingly uses his blog as a vehicle to promote his LBC show or publishing ventures, but there are some occasional nuggets and his piece attacking the soundbite nature of radio interviews is pretty on the button.

Radio Beats Television and Grammar Schools Win the Day

Was at Any Questions on Friday night - a rare night out and change from my usual Friday night routine of selecting a new book to read. It was at Wallington Girls and Jonathan Dimbleby chaired Simon Heffer, John Denham, Philip Hammond and Viv Groskop (she's a Guardian journalist). Any Questions is, of course, a far more venerable programme than the more recent Question Time, which nicked the format for television and now adds an extra panellist just to ensure a lack of proper discussion. Question Time has the advantage of offering televisual political theatre, but falls down in the area of interesting political debate, and this is surely where the radio version scores. Shorn of the nuisances of television broadcasting it was a much easier, more straightforward production, with audience participation thankfully limited to the asking of initial questions and providing applause or expressions of disapproval, leaving the main discussion to the usually well chosen panellists. Dimbl…

Kim Il Gove

Michael Gove has just received the Dunford 'Sporting Glory' treatment (sorry, SGS in joke) as an exciteable Andrew Marr refers to him as Kim Il Gove. Gove busily denied being more centralising but he shouldn't defend himself too hard - all Education Secretaries want to decide what is taught and how, and this is not necessarily a bad thing, given that there are almost as many different ideas about what is right for schools as there are teachers and education bureaucrats working for them. A bit of centralised decision making brings order, and decisions to remove GCSE modules, tighten up grammar and spelling, and even teach history sequentially (which many schools do as a matter of practice anyway) are likely to receive much support. There will be less support for the extraordinary decision to apparently cut back school sports spending, but we should hold back before becoming too hysterical. What Gove has done is remove the ring-fencing from a particular approach to prov…

The Commons in Action

Still flush from the excitement of the Nick Clegg meeting, the SGS team then headed over to see what was going on at the House of Commons. Unusually for an evening sitting, the hallowed green benches had a few elected posteriors sitting on them to debate the issue of fixed-term parliaments. When we joined the party - although admittedly in the second class seats behind a mammoth glass partition that serves to remind us of our inferior, unelected status - two rather lonely government bench figures were being forced to listen to a succession of Scottish MPs ask why they weren't taking more notice of the Scottish experience. Thomas Docherty MP gave us a helpful lecture about the intentions of the American founding fathers. Sheila Gilmore, of Edinburgh East, rambled through a series of Scottish based points that faced regular intervention from those Tory MPs still casting half an ear to the debate, and which usually required one or two members of her own side to counter-intervene …

Clegg at the Attlee

The Deputy Prime Minister himself, Nick Clegg, spoke at the joint Hansard Society, Political Studies Association meeting last night in the Attlee Suite at Portcullis House. But not until he - or, rather, the Political Studies Association - had been properly introduced by its chairman. Professor Vicky Randall proudly informed us that the Political Studies Association exists to promote.....political studies; a helpful clarification. Nick Clegg, by contrast, got the most cursory of introductions, and then spent some of his time laboriously commending former Times political editor Peter Riddell on his recently acquired Privy Council membership. The distinctly un-Privy Councilled Michael Crick, Newsnight's unruly political editor, sat with pursed lips at this evidence of a fellow journo entering the hallowed realms of the establishment. Anyway, commendation over, the Deputy PM got down to the brass tacks of giving us a fluent account of the Constitutional Reform Bill which we all …

Students Are Revolting

You've got to admire the genius political acumen of the student movement leaders, honed as it has been by the best that a university education can give. There had been a creeping sympathy for the plight of students faced with soaring fees. After today's violent protests, however, the story can quickly move back to the hoary old one of hooliganistic students who don't deserve a penny of taxpayers' money. Lucky old government. Unlucky decent students.

UPDATE: Paul Waugh's tweet is on the money - predicts that student protests will be a thing of the past once students are paying high fees and needing to get their money's worth out of their education!

Phil Woolas

He was an unimpressive minister, outgunned by Joanna Lumley on the Gurkha issue amongst other political failings, and he has ended ignominously, by being declared to have lied about his opponent in his election literature. Phil Woolas represents a sorry episode for Labour all round. but does the new hard line, enunciated by Harriet Harman this morning, really ring true? She says that Labour will not have him back even if he wins his appeal agains the election ruling. This is, she says, because Labour will not tolerate lying in order to get elected. Is she really saying that up to this point the Labour party, which had Woolas back as a shadow spokesman until last week, had no inkling until now about the tendentious nature of his election literature? It beggars belief.

Oborne's Punts

The Telegraph's Peter Oborne has stuck his neck out again this week. He dares to suggest that the Coalition is one of the most revolutionary governments Britain has seen, comparable to Asquith, Attlee and Thatcher - potentially. And he thinks the Tories' civil war on Europe has been laid to rest, citing the extraordinary events of this week -

Last weekend, David Cameron opened the way for a sharp increase in our budget contributions to Brussels, while giving the green light for a new treaty to save the eurozone. On Monday, he announced a new era of defence co-operation with France. The Prime Minister has developed an easy, relaxed and mature relationship with both President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel. Until very recently indeed, there would have been uproar had a Tory leader countenanced any of this. Last week, there was scarcely any reaction on Conservative benches. The spectre of Europe, which has engulfed the Tories since the assassination of Margaret Thatcher …

The Right Nation Again?

There remains a lot of excitement amongst British conservatives over the Tea Party victories in America, and the house journal of the right, the Spectator, has no less than three admiring articles on the subject in this week's edition. Most prominent amongst them is Andrew Neill's turning of an extra buck by translating his BBC programme into a second salary piece about the 'New Republicans'. He suggests that America has returned to the embrace of the right, but he may be as premature in that assertion as other commentators were two years ago when they spoke then of the dawn of a new liberalism heralded by Obama's historic victory.

The American electorate is as fickle as any other, and veers from liberalism to conservatism on a regular basis. The liberal Woodrow Wilson was succeeded by a forgettable trio of small government Republicans who were caught short by the Wall Street Crash and gave way in turn to the uber-liberal Franklin D Roosevelt. In the 60s, the l…

The People's Contradictory Voice

The people may have spoken in the US mid-terms, but hardly with one voice, and not terribly clearly. The Tea Party may be celebrating the arrival of some of its key people in Congress, but I doubt the vote on Tuesday was a particularly significant endorsement of them. The exit polls are interesting - as they left the polling stations, 37% of voters said they wanted a stimulus to create jobs, while 37% said they wanted the budget to be reined in. They weren't necessarily different people in each group either. The Tea Party and their imprisoned leader, John Boehner, may be talking of dismantling the Obama reforms, too, but health care was not the priority issue for those questioned in the exit polls, and when they did express a view they appear to have been evenly split in favour of further expansion and taking apart.

Lessons, therefore? Not exactly new - a government presiding over unemployment, even when they are not responsible for the economic conditions which produced it, …

Tea Party Prisoner

Will new House Speaker John Boehner really be his own man? He's told the Tea Partiers that "I will never let you down", and has probably just closed the prison door on himself. Republican intransigence was the reason for the difficulties faced by Obama in passing his radical bills, but so too was the way in which the whole project was undertaken - the BBC's Mark Mardell has it on the button:

It didn't help that the bail-outs of the banks and the car industry were disliked by left and right. To the left, they were helping the rich and powerful corporations which helped create the mess. To the right this was a Big Government takeover of the economy.

There was some terrible politics. Regardless of its merits or otherwise, health care reform looked like a muddle, badly sold, badly explained - and the eventual bill was the mangled result of the sort of horse trading people thought they were voting against.

The Republicans Are Back

The new House Speaker, John Boehner, announced that he hoped President Obama would now respect the wishes of the American people. Just a pity that the Republicans in Congress didn't do that for the past two years.

Obama's had a set-back, and the very active 111th Congress will now give way to a 112th Congress controlled by people who want to undo most of the Obama-Pelosi legislation. The message for Obama is to be as good a politician in office as he was campaigner out of it, and to sell his remarkable agenda more effectively to the American people. As for the Republicans, who still lack a positive agenda and who have been in thrall to the radical, eccentric Tea Party movement, they could reflect on the fact that but for the Tea Party's more fringe candidates, they might now also be the majority party on the Senate as well.

One Nation Tories Should Want Obama’s Democrats to Triumph Tonight

They won’t of course. Caught in the midst of a recession that isn’t of their making, they will still receive much of the blame from disillusioned voters, and the Republicans should cruise to a victory in at least the House of Representatives. A Gallup poll is estimating an unprecedented Republican gain tonight , enough to give them the Senate as well, and the Republicos at Conservative Home are already cooling the champagne. Tim Montgomerie has triumphantly recorded Conservative support for the Democrats at a limping 17%. Where, he smugly asks, have the former Tory Obamacons gone?

If the Obamacons were genuine One Nation Tories they should still be standing at his side. The witches’ brew of Republicanism and Tea Partyism offers up such a lethal cocktail of xenophobia, state minimalism, fear, religious fundamentalism and rampant, crush the poor libertarianism that it should inspire nothing but horror amongst all decent, modernising One Nation Tories. The idea that anyone in the To…