Thursday, June 17, 2010

George Young's World

When summing up how his star-crossed lovers might feel once they had been re-united in the course of a long and complex plot, the genius comic writer P.G.Wodehouse would often use a phrase such as this - "He felt that all was absolutely for the best in this best of all possible worlds". On a beautiful summer evening yesterday, as birds twittered, along with most of the media chatterati, and tourists milled, Leader of the Commons Sir George Young sported a Wodehousian tone in his speech at Westminster to the Hansard Society.

Sir George, the 'bicycling baronet', is a bit of a Wodehousian character himself, in a world where Etonians are once again 'in' after a long absence. A charming, thoroughly decent, not exactly exciting gentleman, he is charged with bringing the Cameron/Clegg government's parliamentary reform programme into being, and to be fair, he had much positive news to report to us. Backbenchers have got their own committee, the Coalition Committe is a dream, parliament is being reinforced to better scrutinise the executive. All well and good. But what really got Sir George going as close to a rhapsody as he would allow himself, was the sheer beauty and wonderfulness of the coalition. He couldn't quite believe it himself. The Liberal Democrats and their Conservative colleagues were working superbly well together. Liam Fox and his Lib Dem deputy Nick Harvey were as one on the key issues of defence. As were Sir George and his own deputy David Heath. In fact, suggested the new Leader, he and his deputy had really always voted the same way (although Sir George may have allowed enthusiasm to get the better of him here; my usually well informed colleague noted that they had actually voted separately on the issue of shorter summer recesses, which Sir G. is now a convert to).

His keen-ness on this new parliamentary arrangement also allowed him one of his better lines - "David Cameron and Nick Clegg share the same philosophy but are in different parties, whereas Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were in the same party but had different parties". Actually, of course, it's more about the fact that Cameron and Clegg share a similarly pragmatic outlook and have better personal chemistry, but there we go. Sir George also noted that it was time to give parliamentary debates more punch, although coming from a man whose own delivery had the measured tone of a sun-sated bumblebee this might be portending an excitement that is difficult to realise. Nevertheless, the era of car seat punching and mobile phone throwing is over, and the bicycling baronet is merely the latest figure to report on the new mood of joy and harmony that is currently permeating parliament. Now if only someone could usefully remind the Tory Right that that is the era we are now in, Cameron and Clegg really might be able to survive the full five years.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Scottish News

For those wondering what the point of the Scottish Parliament might be - apparently even the majority of Scots remain determinedly uninterested in its affairs - then be enlightened, for it is clearly to provide the occasional bit of light relief from the drudgery of ordinary politics. Hence the McAveety Affair. Mr. McAveety chairs a Scottish Parliament committee. Thanks to the very modern nature of the Scottish Parliament, all of the committees have microphones in excellent condition. Certainly good enough to pick up Mr. McAveety's 'off air' comments about the 'very attractive girl' sitting in the second row, 'dark and dusky', and whom he later compared to a Gauguin painting. In many ways it's a shame he's felt the need to resign. Scotland's political talent pool is not so large that it can really afford to lose someone who can not only recognise a Gauguin painting, but apply it so effectively to real life.

Low Level Blogging

This blog was originally intended to direct A-level politics students towards stories of note in the pursuit of their studies. One or two even managed to access it a couple of times. While that is still meant to be its purpose, it has obviously become a therapeutic sounding board for me as well; we're all columnists in the great connected world of the internet! Its school-based nature does, however, mean that the impetus for regular updates tends to die a death in the long, lesson-less summer period. Why mention that? Simply for tidiness - an explanation of why this is so infrequently updated, at least until September brings another opportunity for me to persuade a new tranche of students that these words are worth reading.

Liam Byrne's Mistake

James Forsyth in the 'Spectator' provides the explanation for Liam Byrne's apparent lapse of judgement in leaving the "We have no money" note in the drawer of the Chief Secretary's office when he departed. Interviewing Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, Forsyth notes that when he was shadow Chief Secretary, Hammond and Byrne got on well, engaging in friendly banter to and from television studios. Thinking Hammond was almost certain to succeed him, Byrne left the note - something of an in-joke between the two of them. Hammond tells Forsyth he probably wouldn't have revealed its contents, leaving Byrne kicking himself that the Tories failed to gain a majority, thus having to put Lib Dem David Laws into his old office instead!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Politics Albanian Style

Well we were getting in a tiz after May 9th. because the coalition negotiations took at least 5 days to produce a government. Here in Tirana the ramifications of last summer's election are still going on, and several ballot boxes remain unopened and are the subject of ongoing dispute. Tirana is a rapidly developing city now, thanks in large part to the efforts of its socialist mayor, Edi Rama. The thing is, though, that Rama is also the opposition leader, and believes he, rather than conservative (or Democrat) Sali Berisha should actually be prime minister now. Traffic in the always somewhat anarchic capital virtually ground to a halt last week while Rama and his allies took their campaign to the streets, going on hunger strike and camping out near one of Tirana's major squares. Sadly, that's all disappeared now as the protagonists head to Brussels to see if they can negotiate a way out of the impasse, while Rama's diggers continue to develop Tirana's city centre. Meanwhile, most Albanians carry on imperviously, their daily routines unaffected by the political wrangling that is presumably designed to bring them all better lives! Perhaps we could learn a little from their phlegm, if not their politics!