Wednesday, December 07, 2011
But as Gingrich becomes the most likely conservative alternative to Romney, there is some talk that a Gingrich-Obama contest could be a great ideological stand-off, focusing on genuine policy differences and with detailed back-up, rather than just rhetorical generalisations. The 'New Republic' pundit Michael Kazin posits just this situation, noting that Gingrich is determined to challenge Obama to lengthy debates. Policy might just hold the field in this putative contest.
That all assumes Gingrich's oft described 'colourful' private life can be kept off the burner. He might have less trouble from an Obama campaign on that score than from his own conservative supporters - the Washington Post reports continuing questions from Republican leaders about Gingrich's ability to steer a campaign that could focus on his 'personal life'. They're also concerned that Gingrich is not easily docketed as a straightforward Tea Party supporter.
I like the idea of a Gingrich candidacy. He's different, trenchant, original, intelligent and turns the identikit candidate notion on its head. And it really would be good to see someone whose flaws have been so publicised overcome the negative effects of such publicity; it could mark a real turning point in media reportage.
Hat-Tip to Andrew Sullivan's always excellent Daily Dish for the Allahpundit and Kazin links. Now, here's Mitt's smug little video ad -
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
The last time there were riots in Tottenham, the local MP’s response was to crow that the “police got a bloody good hiding”. He may have been chiming in with the views of many of his constituents, but in the aftermath of riots that encompassed the brutal murder of a police constable it was never going to be a response that scored highly on the constructive engagement scale.
This time, the local MP, who was a boy growing up near the Broadwater Farm estate in 1985, raced back from his holiday as soon as he heard of tension in Tottenham following the shooting of Mark Duggan, spent hours and days in constructive engagement with the local community and the police, and has now published a book of his reflections on the state of urban Britain. But then, David Lammy has always been a very different character from his predecessor.
The former Higher Education minister hasn’t necessarily been one of New Labour’s more impressive spokesmen, but in his post-riots book “Out of the Ashes” he seems to have discovered a political voice that might just be the making of him. No-one can doubt Lammy’s credentials in reflecting on the lessons of Tottenham in 2011. Brought up in the area he now represents, a boy in a single parent (his mother) family from the age of 12, and a black student in a private white-dominated school for much of his secondary schooling, Lammy has personal credentials aplenty in casting his eye over the inner urban landscape that exploded so suddenly last summer. He also understands how government works, and has a close knowledge of the mechanics of the New Labour project under both Blair and Brown.
Yet his is no ‘angry voice’ and it is certainly not an apologia for New Labour. It is a very personal, dignified and thought provoking reflection that offers plenty of food for thought when it comes to devising policies to regenerate a Britain whose broken state Lammy firmly recognises. It is a virtue of his book that it does not represent some dully partisan approach but instead seeks to find practical ideas in community projects which have already been tried and tested. Lammy may write as a Labour MP, but there is much here that One Nation Tories could readily identify with.
Not that there isn’t anger in “Out of the Ashes”. Go to the book’s last chapter, “Banks and Bureaucrats”, and you’ll find an eloquent and condemning account of the powerlessness of the modest citizens left homeless by the riots, and treated mercilessly by the banks. As Lammy recounts the wretched behaviour of banks whose own irresponsibility caused them to be bailed out to the tune of billions of taxpayers’ pounds, you can almost hear the levels of indignation rising and you start to ask why every representative doesn’t regard the contemptuous treatment of his constituents with similar outrage.
Even here, Lammy soon morphs into the would-be fixer, examining how bureaucracy might just work in his constituents’ defence. This is his virtue. Unlike socialists of yore, the current MP for Tottenham sees people in small community terms, to be helped and engaged with by similarly community-based ideas but backed by the power of the state. The key is that the state comes second, not first.
Some of Lammy’s themes will chime with even the most vigorous social conservative. He has no truck with the liberal notion that fathers in families don’t matter. After all, he grew up without one for a significant period of his childhood, and hasn’t put on rose-tinted spectacles to view the experience subsequently. He wants strong male role models in deprived urban areas who are not vacuous celebrities or weapon toting gangsters. He believes every sinew should be strained to keep fathers, especially separated ones, involved in the child rearing process.
On criminality, he believes in punishment, but once punishment has been made he wants effective rehabilitation and offers an interesting – if rather uncosted – form of ‘social impact credits’ to pay for it. This is where the Lammy medicine veers away from the world view of many Tories – he knows his proposals will cost money, and is happy to advocate this. After all, he is not planning to cut the state. Not when it has so much to do.
Lammy’s Britain is broken because too few jobs are around to give people the necessary self-worth, and because poverty is surrounded by plenty, and because the voiceless see the influence wielded by the small community of the well connected. He takes examples that look like the Big Society in action on a small scale, but believes that they need proper state support to become full blown solutions.
He writes with authority and integrity because, whatever else you think of him, he knows his constituency intimately and has been there when a promising young man has been gunned down by a gang emptied of the last signs of human morality, or when a young offender has been failed by the would-be system of rehabilitation. When a politician writes with this level of sincerity, knowledge and commitment, he deserves a hearing. From all parties.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The list of tea-party candidates reads like the early history of the U.S. space program, a series of humiliating fizzles and explosions that never achieved liftoff. A political movement that never took governing seriously was exploited by a succession of political entrepreneurs uninterested in governing—but all too interested in merchandising. Much as viewers tune in to American Idol to laugh at the inept, borderline dysfunctional early auditions, these tea-party champions provide a ghoulish type of news entertainment each time they reveal that they know nothing about public affairs and have never attempted to learn. But Cain’s gaffe on Libya or Perry’s brain freeze on the Department of Energy are not only indicators of bad leadership. They are indicators of a crisis of followership. The tea party never demanded knowledge or concern for governance, and so of course it never got them.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
As if Russia wasn't in a bad enough state, it's next president (the election's just a formality) is now trying out in that most pain-inducing of professions - dentistry.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Anyway - here's that apparently fatal Perry performance (and yes, it is pretty bad).
Sunday, November 06, 2011
In the hands of a great historian, the subject has the power to change minds...
It is this which provokes Lane's reflection that, call it what you will, video at home is NOT cinema! Yes, he understands why you might feel tempted to avoid the cinema, suggesting the average reaction of the film buff to the chance to watch at home might be thus:
“Can you blame us?” they will cry. “Who wants to pay for a sitter, drive twenty miles in the rain, and sit in a fug of vaporized popcorn butter next to people who are either auditioning for ‘Contagion 2’ or texting the Mahabharata to their second-best friends?”
But there is much more to consider, and Lane comes up with an almost elegiac defence of the collective cinema experience:
There’s only one problem with home cinema: it doesn’t exist. The very phrase is an oxymoron. As you pause your film to answer the door or fetch a Coke, the experience ceases to be cinema. Even the act of choosing when to watch means you are no longer at the movies. Choice—preferably an exhaustive menu of it—pretty much defines our status as consumers, and has long been an unquestioned tenet of the capitalist feast, but in fact carte blanche is no way to run a cultural life (or any kind of life, for that matter), and one thing that has nourished the theatrical experience, from the Athens of Aeschylus to the multiplex, is the element of compulsion. Someone else decides when the show will start; we may decide whether to attend, but, once we take our seats, we join the ride and surrender our will. The same goes for the folks around us, whom we do not know, and whom we resemble only in our private desire to know more of what will unfold in public, on the stage or screen. We are strangers in communion, and, once that pact of the intimate and the populous is snapped, the charm is gone. Our revels now are ended.
Let's take the smaller contest first. As Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has the second largest personal mandate in western Europe (only the president of France, elected by a whole nation, has a larger). His role, though, has few obvious powers and is defined more by his ability to influence a range of other bodies and their appointments, such as Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police Authority. Even so, the Mayor is in a position to provide leadership to one of the world's greatest cities, and there have been plenty of opportunities for Boris to do so, ranging from the need to bridge London's powerful and wealthy economic elite with its teeming citizens on average to poor incomes; through offering hope and direction during and after some of the worst riots to affect the city in years; to waving the flag for the city that will host next year's Olympics and ensuring its legacy. Boris has been, at best, erratic over all these challenges. He took his time to return when the riots broke out. The Olympic legacy is still befuddled and mixed. His has been an ambiguous voice on the issue of the City versus the People. Even when it snows, Boris' roadshow slips and slides along with the weather.
Against this, he should be an easy target. But his main opponent is a tired re-tread (Ken Livingstone), whilst the third party has - amazingly - also offered up the same candidate as last time (Brian Paddick). Dan Hodges outlines the reasons why Livingstone is such a poor candidate for a piece on Progress. He also notes the 'showbiz' nature of the mayoral contest, which is where Boris exhibits the necessary all important charisma against an opponent whose every pronouncement has been death-defyingly dull so far. As for Boris' ability to distance himself from the Tory Party high command, it is without peer. If he does win - the safe money option at the moment - it will give no comfort to the Tory Party.
The more significant contest is, of course, the US presidential election, and here attention has been focusing to date on the fractious Republican field. As I've noted before, barely a week goes by without one of the right-wing front-runners imploding, and it has most recently been the turn of outsider Herman Cain. Cain has been the subject of some vague sexual innuendos which have stalled his appeals, but every scandal and hitch afflicting the Republicans' right-wing leaders benefits the man who desperately wants the nomination, Mitt Romney. Many observers believe that, in turn, a Romney candidacy pretty well hands the election back to Barack Obama.
Incumbent Obama, too, presides over a recession with no obvious upturn in sight, and has imposed a hugely controversial - from both left and right - health care plan on a country that hates state action. The optimism that greeted his election in 2008 has dissipated and many of his liberal allies feel he has made too little progress to merit a second term. All of this should be manna to the Republicans, yet as Tim Stanley points out in the Telegraph, the Republicans have leaked scandal about each other and appear as a thoroughly disunified, macabre bunch of political misfits (ok, Stanley doesn't use those terms to be fair; he's a lot more polite). Stanley's article, from an academic who wants to see Obama out of the White House, is also interesting in its focus on the power of a relentless media in raking over candidate private lives, which should provoke a serious debate about how we really want our politics reported and pursued. For the moment, however, such shenanigans offer hope to a beleaguered White House incumbent. It's one thing that offers a link between two otherwise very different personal electoral contests.
Monday, October 31, 2011
But what about the protestors? They cut a wretchedly useless, disparate, ill-begotten group of would-be radicals. Whatever the merits of their case - and who wouldn't argue that the arch satans of the banking world should be brought to book - they have projected such an inarticulate stance that they deserve the opprobrium increasingly being heaped upon them. Most damning of all for these part time protestors must be the fact that a group aiming its ire at the financial world have settled all to happily for the soft target of St Paul's Cathedral. While the London Stock Exchange remains blissfully free of any interference from the brave souls of, er, "Occupy the London Stock Exchange", so too do the upper echelons of all the UK's banks. The protestors have secured the scalps of two well-meaning, broadly supportive clergymen. They have failed in their main objective, and seem perfectly happy in their status as radical eunuchs. Such personifications of palpable uselessness should pack up and leave in sheer shame, regardless of the aesthetic and hygienic reasons for getting rid of them.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011
The Guardian blog notes that Chancellor George Osborne has used the reshuffle surrounding Hammond's move very effectively to his own advantage, and suggests it's a further play in an undecalred leadership campaign against Boris Johnson.
The Tory Reform Group's Egremont blog, meanwhile, slams the appointment of a man professedly uninterested in defence matters as a grave error.
"We feel that there are issues here that are worth pondering", said Liu Weimin in one of his more illuminating comments, going on to add that "We have also noticed that in the media there has been a lot of commentary, discussion and reflection. But we think that all of these reflections should be conducive to maintaining the sound and steady development of the world economy."
Little wonder that sino-spotting remains a seriously demanding interpretive occupation.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Although Fox has denied rumours that he is gay, his friendship with Werritty seems to go beyond what many might consider is normal in male friendships. But the more-inclusive-than-thou Cameron would instinctively steer clear of querying it.
Even better, McKay then has a go at Labour's Jim Murphy for 'smear and slander':
The Daily Mail - you couldn't make it up (er...).
Sunday, October 09, 2011
He may have a point. The three weeks of conference gatherings, which should be showcasing all that is most exciting, radical and controversial about the parties and their policies - which should indeed be shaking up the British polity after its summer, ready for a reinvigorated political term - has been so underwhelming that most of us have been able to sleepwalk through it, unsullied by the thoughts of our elected representatives and their adoring supporters. The barely memorable bits are memorable for the wrong reasons - Sarah Teather's truly lamentable attempt at stage humour, for example, or Ed Miliband's arguably self-evident declaration that he was not Tony Blair. Whatever came out of the conferences has, in any case, been quickly over-shadowed by a good old fashioned political corruption saga.
It is notable that the individual who has reminded us of how genuinely great people can change our lives, has been not a politician but a techno-geek. The obituaries of the giant of Apple, Steve Jobs, have dominated news and magazine covers, and generated lengthy articles about the changes he has wrought. Most politicians can only dream of having even a tenth of the impact that Steve Jobs has had on most of our lives. Alongside the late creator of all things 'i', Amazon's Jeff Bezo has also been making headlines as he presages the launch of the Kindle Fire. The Sunday times today (in a pay to view article) heralds him as the inheritor of Jobs' crown, but in reality he has been making changes to our lives for years already.
The techno-geeks clearly dwarf the politicians. But in a world of globalised relationships and unpredictable enmities, to say nothing of economic volatility, it would be nice to think that one or two politicos could try and hit the mark just slightly above the merely mediocre.
Nick Clegg, say cabinet sources, would not let Mr Clarke, a hero of the Tory left, be sacked.
It adds a new dimension to coalition politics to see a big Tory beast of the left surviving as a result of Lib Dem pressure. But then, Clegg did describe Clarke as the fifth Lib Dem member of the Cabinet in his conference speech.
Meanwhile, Conservative Home also links us to an article from the Independent on Sunday pointing out "the flaws of David Cameron" (it is, actually, a very interesting piece). You can almost hear hands rubbing with glee over at CH headquarters.
During the general election campaign last year, Fox's home was burgled. His laptop, mobile phone and car were taken, although no sensitive documents were stolen and there was no sign of forced entry.
Intriguing not because it is new information - the incident was well reported at the time - but because it bears no possible relation to the rest of the article. Between two paragraphs continuing the story of the Fox-Werrity relationship comes this wholly disconnected paragraph. It doesn't fit, doesn't continue the story, and sits very oddly indeed. Now why, I wonder, would the IoS see it as important to remind us all of this incident?
Saturday, October 08, 2011
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Monday, September 19, 2011
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Monday, July 18, 2011
Sometimes hacking can be really worthwhile!
Sunday, July 10, 2011
I did check out one further part of the website - the 47 page collection of their best front pages, and as I was reading these, I realised how much better our Sundays will be without this tawdry, gossip mongering, sleazy newspaper. It is sad, certainly, that 200 people have suddenly lost their jobs. But Sunday after Sunday the News of the World has served us up a diet that appeals to the very lowest common denominator of taste, purveying a content that matches in tawdriness the methods it has - apparently - often used to obtain it.
There may well be a new, equally bad newspaper to take the News of the World's place and titillate its 7.5 million readers, but for the next few weeks at least Sunday mornings in Britain are very slightly more uplifting without it.
Thursday, July 07, 2011
We don't know what the outcome will be of various investigations, inquiries and hearings, including the one overseen by Brooks herself at News International. But people couldn't wait for all that to unfold: they demanded something be done now. If they jumped the gun and jumped to conclusions based on limited evidence, they were only acting the way they had been taught to by the News of the World itself.
He goes on to elaborate:
"We will be passing our dossier to the police." Those words appeared at the end of News of the World investigations down the years, implying that readers should infer guilt on the part of whichever ne'er-do-well was being investigated that week, their wrongdoings exposed thanks to secret recording or other "dark arts". It created a culture in which an allegation became proof, a culture in which readers were invited to leap to conclusions. If people have done so this week, the News of the World can hardly condemn such behaviour.
It may be the methods rather than the substance of the News of the World's type of journalism that has caused its downfall, but as Baxter's article shows only too clearly, it is not always possible to separate the two. The News of the World may not have quite destroyed itself, but its parent, News International, is beginning like Saturn to consume its own children, and who knows where that might end.
And yet. The extraordinary announcement manages to leave a bitter taste in the mouth. After all, no-one is claiming that it is the paper's current leadership and reporters who have been responsible for the scandals currently engulfing it. The current investigations relate to an ethos and practice that dates back to at least 2002, and the person who was responsible for setting that paper's standards, as the editor, was Rebekah Brooks, now the person presiding over News International itself. There will not be wanting people to ask why the 'clean' current editor of the News of the World should be sacrificed when the person who was actually editor at the time remains in post.
Some of us may welcome the closure of a tabloid which has long been an embarrassment to British journalism. But the dramatic closure of the newspaper still doesn't cleanse the owning organisation of all the problems surrounding it, and Ms. Brooks' continuing leadership position will hardly reassure those who want to see proper rectification take place. It beggars belief that News International can now appear unsullied when the woman who has presided over its worst excesses - whether knowledgeably or not - remains in position. Closure of a newspaper has not provided closure of the issue.
How things have changed. Like many revolutions, this one has been boiling under the surface for years but has suddenly, and largely without warning, burst onto the scene. In so doing, it is not only changing the way in which things are being done, but shedding an illuminating light on the darker corners of the British polity.
On changes, Steve Richards in a trenchant piece for the Independent today, remarks upon the extraordinary scenes of once fearful MPs lining up to attack the Murdoch empire, and his key henchmen and women, in the Commons. Richards' piece is a fine and glorious read, suitably over the top and biting towards the malign influence of News International over the years. And, of course, not one that would have been written any time before, say, the day before yesterday!
Few institutions emerge with much credit from this sorry affair. The bulk of the newspaper establishment failed to produce any sort of investigation of its own - only the Guardian stands as a beacon of virtue in this regard, and we can only guess at the pressure it had to withstand both within and without the incestuous media establishment. The Press Complaints Commission remains a vapid eunuch incapable of action against its own. The political classes, repeatedly confronted with the excesses of tabloid reporting, cravenly failed to take any stand against them. Only now, as the giant falls, are they starting to run towards it kicking and punching. The role of the Metropolitan Police is particularly murky, itself the subject of a potential investigation. Quick to leap into action against politicians, they have proved remarkably more sluggish in pursuing News International. And our leading politicians, the men who would be premier, have been most shabby of all. From Tony Blair to Ed Miliband, the pursuit of the Australian magnate's favour has been a ludicrous sideshow of lilliputian proportions. Richards describes Blair's flight to join Murdoch's executives at short notice; Cameron employed Andy Coulson and wines and dines Rebekah Brooks; even Ed Miliband saw fit to attend Murdoch's summer bash this year, and employs former Murdoch man Tom Baldwin as his press secretary.
The press wields huge power even now on the political discourse of this nation, and consequently on the decisions taken by our political leaders. It also, more nefariously, has the ability - which it exercises - to destroy the reputations of individuals big and small. Such are the libel laws of the land that it rarely needs to apologise for its often grievous errors. It can ruin people at the stroke of a pen and never need to pick it up again for a further apologetic motion. And apparently, up to now, it has employed illegal means to intrude on private individuals' space and emotions with impunity. It has demanded the hide of erring politicians, but the erring leaders of News International now simply slink into the dark corners of their unfathomable citadels.
Will there actually be justice? Will Murdoch, Brooks, Coulson and the rest of the merry band finally face the come-uppance they so readily demand of others? The limp and belated response of David Cameron and others hardly suggests so, although the sound and fury of other MPs in the Commons yesterday may indicate the backlash to come. But justice, in this instance, will be more than an inquiry or two into News International. It demands a wholesale review of the way in which our press conducts itself, and no more tip-toeing around the need for proper oversight here as elsewhere.
One of David Cameron's predecessors, Stanley Baldwin, under pressure from Lord Beaverbrook - the Murdoch of his day - commented that the press "had power without responsibility; the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages". He highlighted journalism at its lowest point. What it could, and should be, is summed up in a fine sentiment by Peter Oborne in today's "Spectator":
Unfortunately, we in Fleet Street have forgotten that the ultimate vindication of journalism is not to intrude into, and destroy, private lives. Nor is it the dance around power, money and social status. It is the fight for truth and decency.
If this spat means journalism returns to fighting for truth and decency, rather than the tawdry intrusion into private lives, then we may have recovered something good from this after all.
Sunday, June 05, 2011
It really is increasingly rare for ministers to be brought to book over specific issues connected with their job. Plenty of ministers might resign due to non-job related problems: sex scandals, for example, which took David Mellor in John Major's government; or abuse of office - see David Blunkett and Peter Mandelson, who both resigned twice for different reasons - well worth googling them; or health reasons (Mo Mowlam in 2000). Ministers do also resign over differences with policy (i.e. they cannot maintain Collective Responsibility) - Robin Cook resigning as Leader of the Commons over Iraq is a good case, or James Purnell resigning as Work and Pensions Secretary because he believed Gordon Brown should stand down as Prime Minister. However, the responsibility of modern ministers is so wide that it is becoming unrealistic to bring them to book for single errors. Examples of where this has been tried are:
- Michael Howard in 1997. As Home Secretary, he was responsible for prisons policy, and faced criticism over a spate of prison escapes. Howard blamed the Prisons Service, and sacked its head Derek Lewis. Howard sought to distinguish between his 'policy' responsibility (which he claimed was intact) and the 'administrative' responsibility (which had failed and was the Prison Service Director's purview). This issue was famously the cause of an infamous television interview with Jeremy Paxman, in which Paxman asked Howard the same question 14 times.
- Stephen Byers came under pressure to resign as Transport Secretary following his decision to force Railtrack into administration, and over increasingly bad publicity about the way he was running transport policy, including allegations that he lied to parliament about such issues as rail safety. Eventually, Mr. Byers did in fact resign in May 2002, but it had looked as if he was trying to hang onto his job despite the problems over his leadership of the transport department.
- Defence Minister Quentin Davies faced calls to resign after his claims that the SAS were happy with their equipment were brought under scrutiny as the result of contrary evidence given to a parliamentary committee (2008).
- Education Secretary Ruth Kelly refused to resign after her department was said to have endorsed the application of a sex offender to stay teaching in schools (2005).
Two recent examples of ministers under pressure over policy issues don't quite fit the bill.
Caroline Spelman's handling of the Forestry Commission privatisation was strongly criticised, but she changed her policy, under pressure from No. 10. Andrew Lansley remains under pressure over his NHS reform proposals, but these are 'consultations' which again may be changed. Both of these examples are related in any case to policies which are widely disliked, rather than administrative incompetence, which is what the doctrine of Ministerial Responsibility is meant to cover.
The best recent example - and it's not that recent - of the doctrine in practise remains Lord Carrington, resigning as Foreign Secretary in 1982 (along with his whole ministerial team) because of the Argentine invasion of the Falklands, for which he took responsibility.
Estelle Morris resigned as Education Secretary in 2002 after a series of criticisms over the way she was handling the brief, admitting that she felt she was not up to the job. A rare burst of honesty that was greeted with warm applause by civil servants in her department.
All of the above examples can be googled for details.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Cohen's article is here.
Friday, May 27, 2011
1. The Institute for Government blog is worth keeping an eye on anyway, but specifically have a look at this article by former Times commentator Peter Riddell about the effectiveness of ministers, and how long they should really be in place. Particularly cogent given that David Cameron has signalled his intention to try and keep ministers in their positions for a longer than normal period of time. Hence his reluctance to sack erring ministers like Caroline Spelman or even Ken Clarke. The downside of any plan to retain stability in ministerial office, of course, is that it generates frustration in the MP ranks below, all of whom want to experience office for themselves.
2. If you have a bit of time, you could read through the Institute for Government's "One Year On" report, a review of the Coalition Government after one year, with the emphasis on how well it has governed. There will be lots of useful examples to use in any exam, although I should also emphasise that it should not negate the need to use a wider range of examples from previous governments too, such as are found in the tutor2u revision guide. Nevertheless, the report is an illuminating one, to be read for profit. There is a brief summary on the linked page as well.
3. For those intending to cover the judiciary, there is an excellent recent article on the work of the Supreme Court in Prospect Magazine.
4. An assessment of David Cameron's premiership from a right-wing point of view by former Tory MP Paul Goodman is here, while an analysis of the Prime Minister's tendency to U-turn is here. Both very good in preparing for PM questions in the Executive topic (but do remember that such questions can equally focus on the role of the Cabinet).
These articles are all about extending your ability to understand and make arguments about how government works in this country, and provide you with some excellent contemporary material to put alongside other recent developments.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
yfrog Photo : http://yfrog.com/h0oftbkj Shared by The_MediaBlog
[photo tweeted by the Spectator's Pete Hoskin]
It’s all very friendly. David and Barack have been partnering each other in a table tennis game at a south London school; they’ve been serving up burgers in the No.10 garden; they’ve both been reveling in the pomp of a Buckingham Palace banquet; and they penned a joint article for the ‘Times’ suggesting that their two countries don’t just enjoy a ‘Special’ relationship but an ‘Essential’ one.
Oh dear. Another prime minister bites the dust as he succumbs to the seductive charms of the power and glory of the American presidency. It doesn’t really matter who the president is – although it can’t hinder matters that it is currently the coolest man on the planet, and a man more determined to get his guy than the Terminator. At some point in their premiership career the men, and one woman, at No. 10 quickly fall victim to the belief that Britain enjoys a Special Relationship with the United States. That there is precious little evidence to suggest that the Americans believe the same is clearly neither here nor there. A quick canter through the history of the Special Relationship That Never Was might help a little.
Roosevelt and Churchill.
This is where it was meant to have started. FDR moved heaven and earth to get US aid to brave little Britain, and he and Churchill bestrode the post-war world stage like conquering colossi joined at the hip. Yes?
Er, well not quite. Roosevelt was a thoroughly reluctant interventionist. He gave short shrift to the pro-interventionist Century Group, deferring instead to advisers like Sumner Welles, who in January 1940 was still determined to get Hitler and Mussolini to talk peace. When help did come, Roosevelt extracted everything he could from Britain and then tried to make sure the Atlantic War was firmly eastern focused, which suited American interests better. Neville Chamberlain had always believed that the cost of American help would be too high – he wasn’t wrong. Military bases, trading concessions and considerable regional influence was all ceded to the USA. The Roosevelt-Churchill relationship existed mainly in the mind of Churchill himself, who did so much to propagate it. Which is surprising, given the way FDR himself sought to undermine Churchill in front of Stalin at Yalta.
Truman and Attlee
Well, Attlee didn’t speak much anyway, but his Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin did, and it was Bevin who felt so downtrodden by Truman’s Secretary of State that he advocated British ownership of nuclear weapons, if only so that “no foreign secretary gets spoken to by an American Secretary of State like that again”. It was another Truman Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, who caustically remarked that “Britain has lost an empire but not yet found a role”. Thanks for the support Dean.
Nixon and Heath
Possibly the only really effective working relationship between a US President and a British Prime minister, because it was based on an understanding that there wasn’t actually a Special Relationship at all. Both Heath and Nixon believed that America’s real focus in Europe was never going to be a single country, but a united European organization. Nixon, in any case, was very clearly identifying the East as the true arena for US activity.
Reagan and Thatcher
This is where it’s meant to really go into overdrive. If the lovebirds Maggie and ron didn’t have a special relationship, then who did? But, alas, for all their cooing to each other in public, Reagan not only proved notoriously slow to throw support behind Britain in the Falklands crisis, but then didn’t let Thatcher know when he invaded the Commonwealth country of Grenada. Britain had to content herself by joining 108 other nations in condemning the invasion at the UN. Tellingly, Reagan later recollected than when Thatcher phoned him to say he shouldn’t go ahead, "She was very adamant and continued to insist that we cancel our landings on Grenada. I couldn't tell her that it had already begun." Special Relationship indeed.
Bush and Blair
No world leader was more determined to show his support for the US than Tony Blair. No other world leader was greeted familiarly as “Yo, Blair”. But for all the support he gave to George W. Bush’s strategy of middle east invasion, Blair’s voice was heard as tinnily as anyone else’s when it came to trying to influence US foreign policy. It was one of the supreme, defining failures of his premiership.
And now it’s the turn of David Cameron. He admittedly started out with a semblance of independence. He is withdrawing British troops from Afghanistan far more quickly than the Americans would like, and he was clearly speaking with a different voice when he led the calls for action over Libya. If the American President’s state visit is merely an occasion for a good bit of mutual publicity, and some shared thoughts in a common language, then David Cameron may have escaped lightly. If he really starts to believe in a Special Relationship, though, he is as doomed as all of his predecessors. Because, not unsurprisingly, the only Special Relationship America has is with herself.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
An American friend of mine, a strong Obama supporter now residing in the UK, was almost in despair as she considered the one Republican who might be able to unseat the current occupant of the White House. It was, she said, Mitch Daniels, a man who combined rare qualities of empathy and commonsense with a core Republican appeal given his past history as speechwriter to Reagan and Budget Director to Bush I. I seem to remember a speaker - a former Congressman - at a conference at the British Museum last September making a similar point - if the Republicans wanted a winner, they should look to the Governor of Indiana.
Well, Daniels has pulled that rug from under the Republicans - perhaps reluctantly - and the current Republican field remains a distinctly uninspiring one, comprising Gingrich, Pawlenty and Romney. Now I guess we're just waiting to hear from Michelle Bachmann to really liven things up. I think we can guess what the team in the White House are hoping for.
There is, incidentally, another angle to the Daniels decision that is worth examination. He has said he cannot run because of his family. We may guess that they are firmly against. And who could blame them, for in the intensely observed goldfish bowl of American politics, why would any sane individual, concerned for their stability and, yes, their privacy, want to subject themselves and their families to the relentless, hysterical and often hypocritical scrutiny of the presidential process. If they're not careful, the Americans may one day find that the only people willing to run for the presidency are the same sort of people who apply to be contestants on reality television. So perhaps Sarah Palin may be in with a chance one day after all.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
This article from the Guardian details a rally organised by the pressure group Save Lakeland Forests as part of the ultimately successful campaign to get the government to overturn its decision to sell off Forestry Commission land.
I thought there had been 9 U-turns already from the former PR man turned Prime Minister, but this New Statesman list suggests ten in fact! Meanwhile a thoughtful assessment of why Mr. Cameron U-turns so much, and why it could be seen as part of a good old fashioned pragmatic and responsive Toryism, is here in the Guardian.
And here is Douglas Carswell's latest brief comment on his Direct Democracy campaign, although for more detailed material on what he is aiming for go here to his and Dan Hannan's Direct Democracy blog.
The Conservative Home website carried a lengthy article analysing the new ideas here.
Amongst other things they comment that "Blue Labour is fundamentally against the economic neo-liberal and socially liberal approach of Blairism. "
Labour MP and former education minister David Lammy, who is sympathetic, explains the idea here.
How does this fit in to likely AS questions? Really as an indication of where Ed Miliband is trying to take the Labour Party at the moment. Like David Cameron in 2005, he is confronted with the need to develop a fresh identity for an old party (Mao's delight in blank sheets of paper, which you could write completely new things on, comes to mind!) and 'Blue Labour' represents some of the current thinking in the party leadership. Of course it is untested on a wider public canvas as yet, and some Labourites are clearly hostile. But Miliband, the Brownite New Labour man elected leader with the votes of the trade unions, needs to do something to show where the post-Blairite party might be heading.
Friday, May 20, 2011
For a Chinese youth not easily able to blog or tweet their unhappiness with the authoritarian political set-up of their country, it seems the resort to a more old-fashioned, tried and tested method of political protest has now been enacted. It may not be the Cultural Revolution, but I guess the eggs that hit might have made a modest impact on Fan Binzing. Apparently the Chinese government was scrambling to remove any internet traces of the incident...something of a Canutian policy I'd have thought!
Forsyth uses the story to point out the danger to Ken Clarke in the wake of yesterday's typically evidence-based and elegantly argued Sun editorial that Ken Must Go. But the real alarm bells ring not for Clarke, but for the government as a whole if it really is in hoc to such ridiculous decision making parameters. Many of the commenters on the Spectator site seemed to take a similarly dim view of proceedings, such as this eloquently expressed point:
Let's hope for all our sakes that it [ the govt] feels it necessary to stand up to the mediaevalism of thought-process that permeates the Sun and its red-top rivals. Let's hope that it is untiring in promoting the message that humanity must do better than allow itself to be dictated to by lamebrains - for otherwise there's little hope for us.
Perhaps, though, with Coulson gone and Cameron now in government, there might be a change of heart about how closely he should follow the dictates of the Sun. He might do well to remember the immortal words of one of his Conservative predecessors. Stanley Baldwin, referring to the Beaverbrook press, said of the press that:
"It carries power without responsibility; the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages"
Mind you, one of Baldwin's more cynical supporters muttered that it was unfortunate they had now lost the harlot vote. Can't have everything I suppose!