Showing posts from February, 2011

Clegg 'Forgets' He's In Charge!

Nick Clegg apparently forgot he was in charge of the country while David Cameron is busy touting for business in the New Improved Middle East. Actually, to be fair, he merely made an off-hand comment, saying that he supposed he was in charge, but the whole issue is rather overblown in the modern era with the internet and blackberrys.

Clegg has it right. His refusal to make a big play of deputising for the PM, and instead acknowledging that things don't change much just because the PM is out of the country, is a welcome difference from the bear-pit politics of the Blair era. In those days, the issue of who should be 'in charge' when Blair was on holiday, or away, was savagely contested amongstt he Labour high command. It was meant to be John Prescott, but that didn't usually stop a Mandelson or a Straw or a Reid claiming they were really the ones pulling the strings. More recently, under Gordon Brown, he had barely left Downing Street for a brief sojourn before Harr…

Foreign Office Shambles and the Tragedy of William Hague

Everyone knows it's difficult running the British Foreign Office, having to deal with those pesky foreigners and not having a clue which country's going to stage a revolution next against one of our chummy autocrats. But really, William Hague seems to be excelling himself in his frontman-for-a-lost-cause routine. A few days ago he was telling us that the firmly Libya based Colonel Gadaffi was on his way to Venezuela. Now he's trying to explain why Britain can't even match Turkey in evacuating our nationals from Tripoli. Actually, to be fair, he finally gave up on the task of fronting one of the British Foreign Office's most lamentable performances to date by not even appearing on a predictably aggressive Newsnight interview, leaving the field to his rather clueless junior minister Alistair Burt whose only line was that we did well in Tunisia and Egypt.

I've not got a huge amount of sympathy for the Brits who have been busy propping up the Gaddaffi regime wit…

Politics, Parties, Leaders and Image

There is much to be gleaned from psychology in understanding politics. I'm just not sure that the lecture some of us went to this evening did much of the gleaning. The phrase of the evening from the very pleasant and engaging Dr. Tereza Capelos was "We need more information". She also noted that, on the whole, political scientists aren't there to provide answers, they're there to ask questions. So on the whole, her initial comment that "we would go into the minds of the voters" may have been a little ambitious - especially when you consider that most voters don't venture much into their own minds. Any visitor is likely to find....well, something of a sparsely populated desert I suppose.

Nevertheless, in amongst some of the stuff we probably already guessed at (most voters vote according to feelings rather than on specific issues; politics is emotional etc) and the occasional piece of academic jargon on the impressively large overhead screens (tr…

True Grit, True Class

This is a time for great films. Don't know why, maybe the studios have started to understand the value of brilliant scripting and superb acting over blockbusting, sequels and effects. Whatever the reason, I hope there's more to come. Much attention has been deservedly given to those superlative films "The King's Speech" and "Black Swan", both of whose main actors are up for Oscars which they richly deserve. You can add to that consummate coupling an equally outstanding third film, the Coen Brothers' remake of "True Grit".

The story is a straightforward revenge quest, as a girl hires a US Marshal who has seen better days to help her hunt her father's killer. What turns this relatively simple story into a masterpiece of modern cinema is a combination of sparkling scripting, with the spare dialogue leaping off the screen at you; cinematography on a scale grand and well observed enough to truly capture the rugged, wide expanses of mid-…

Defending Ken Clarke From The Tories

My old stamping ground, the Tory Reform Group, has a new blog, so I thought I would post one final thought on the old one, before disappearing altogether. Ken Clarke is once again making waves with his honest assessments of the political scene, and is also under regular attack from his right-wing opponents, so I thought it only proper to provide a defence - a somewhat limited one, but it is with specific reference to the accusations that he persistently undermines Tory leaders.

The Rotters' Club

"There were a couple of men dining by themselves. One was taking out his glasses to study the menu, the other was tipping brown sugar into his coffee cup from a paper sachet. Their actions seemed banal: but how was anyone to know what storms, what torrents of ideas and memories and dreams were raging through their minds at that instant?"

Anyone who can deliver that wonderful insight from such an everyday scene is worth reading further for the way in which he tries to get under the skin of how we all tick, and Jonathan Coe is such an author. I have discovered him only recently, thanks to a couple of former students, and have read only two of his books, but they are high on my list of recommendations. "What a Carve Up" was a great read, and an incisive dissection of Thatcherite Britain, but if anything "The Rotters' Club" is even better. Set in that weird decade of my own childhood, the 1970s, with its divisive politics, odd music, strange fashion s…

10 o'Clock Live and the Big Society

It's getting better. Not, alas, the Big Society, which is still stuck up a cul-de-sac with no obvious means of escape, but Channel 4's new (ish) political satire show, 10 o' Clock Live. The scheduling is admittedly chronic, cutting across that other show for political anoraks, Question Time, but there is an increasing chance that they are not going to be shedding half their viewers at 10.30 for too much longer. This evening's episode was, as expected for a one hour show, uneven, but much less so than earlier episodes. Jimmy Carr's opening news review is still poor - the audience laugh at his mis-steps and his deprecatory look when things go wrong rather than the rapidly dying wit - but it was followed by two excellent, classic monologues from Charlie Brooker and David Mitchell. Mitchell's interview with Simon Hughes was better than his fold-up-and-wilt approach to Alistair Campbell a couple of weeks ago, and Hughes defended himself quite well too. But for …

The Politics of Justice, US Style

Lord Phillips may be concerned about his lack of judicial independence under the current funding and structure of the Supreme Court in the UK, but the legendarily independent US Supreme Court is also facing scrutiny. Or at least, one of its justices is. Clarence Thomas was always a controversial appointment as a very conservative justice beloved of the Republican movement. His wife, a former Tea Party group founder, is now a political lobbyist, and Democrat representatives in Congress are asking the good Justice to recuse himself (step down from) from deliberations on the constitutionality of the national healthcare bill on the grounds of possible conflict of interest. This is becoming a thoroughly political issue, as a Republican senator has also suggested that Obama's newest appointment, former Solicitor General Elena Kagan, should also recuse herself from the same issue because of her former government position.

Lord Phillips should cast a wary eye towards Washington, and …

The Politics of Justice, UK Style

Some of the more adventurous SGS politics students take advantage of the regular lecture visits organised by the indefatigable Mr. Bartlett, and last night's trip to hear Supreme Court President Lord Phillips at UCL proved to be a high profile one. The Supreme Court is, of course, the body that replaced the House of Lords as the UK's highest court. Apart from giving its leader a Star Warsy type of title, it was a move to ensure the independence of the UK judiciary. Lord Phillips last night suggested that the set-up of the court was hardly conducive to much independence, with its funding granted on an annual basis, its civil service answerable not to him, as president, but to the political Justice Secretary, and its appointment of judges subject to MPs' scrutiny.

These are serious charges, and strike at the heart of the constitutional question of how far judicial independence requires independent funding, limited scrutiny from parliament etc. The Supreme Court was an att…

Nick Clegg, Universities and Social Mobility

Nick Clegg, famous alumni of exclusive Westminster School, wants universities to widen access to those who didn't go to a famous public school. It's a campaign full of fraught joys, from poking fun at Mr.Clegg's own privileged background, to damning the universities for daring to dumb down their entrance requirements, to quite properly demanding a return to grammar schools in all areas to give social mobility a bit of meaning. As ever, the Economist's university educated Bagehot is on hand to put things in perspective, including the insight that universities have always been prepared to give lower offers to pupils from tough comprehensives. Makes a change from the boring, predictable, dull but well prepared public school toffs. Which leaves the grammar school boys and girls where, exactly?

We Are Being Poorly Governed

Simon Heffer in the Telegraph is no friend to David Cameron, and he uses his column today to note the growing unrest amongst Conservative backbenchers at Cameron's leadership. In this, he echoes other right-wing commentators such as James Kirkup, Tim Montgomerie and James Forsyth (see earlier posts). However, he has a fresh take on one aspect of the problem that the Coalition government is facing, and that is the very quality of governance.

Heffer cites the recent Forest Furore as an example of idiotic presentation of a policy, and goes on to examine the Defence Department. He has harsh words about the quality of the all important civil service:

One of the greatest difficulties the Government has is with the quality of the Civil Service, diminished and emasculated after 13 years of politicisation by the Labour administration. A reader wrote to me last week about how a letter to her husband from the Ministry of Defence began "Dear Lt Cdr (Ret'd) Smith", something…

More Right Attacks on Cameron

If you judge a man by his enemies, then David Cameron is doing pretty well as a centrist, consensus minded One Nation Tory. Barely a day goes by without the sirens of the right launching yet another whinge in his direction. Tim Montgomerie, the editor of online site Conservative Home, now regularly breaks cover from the safety of his internet operation to take the battle into the frontline of the papers that bloggers enjoy deriding as the 'dead tree press'. In the Mail last week, and the New Statesman this week, he is busy sounding his by now familiar message of "Woe to Cameron who won't listen to his right-wing backbenchers'. Time was when Montgomerie used to have something interesting to say, but his record got stuck some time ago.

He's joined by the usual variety of right-wing nay-sayers in the predictable corners of the press. James Kirkup, holding forth in that long-term battalion of Thatcherism the Daily Telegraph, provides a detailed analysis of Cam…

Post-Mubarak Fears

One Egypt based blogger expresses his fears of the anarchy that might envelop Egypt in the aftermath of the current protests. Hope for a better future competes with such pragmatic pessimism.

Egypt's Eruptions Show Signs of Spreading

President Saleh of Yemen certainly gets it, although possibly too late. He has announced he will not be seeking re-election in 2013, ahead of Yemen's own planned 'day of rage' on Thursday. It may still not be enough, as the extraordinary 'people action' which started in Tunisia continues its rampage across the Arab world. There are reminders here of the fall of communism in 1989, which erupted so unexpectedly and then gathered steam across all of the eastern European countries. The danger in the current instance, however, lies in what on earth will replace the tottering regimes. The dictatorships of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen sit atop a simmering cauldron of poverty and unrest which is easily exploited by the well organised Islamic fundamentalist groups waiting to seize their chance. The protests in Egypt, and the putative ones in Yemen, seem to be led by liberal minded middle class and young citizens who would have little truck with the conservative islamicist…

Paxman's Gem

Courtesy of the Media Blog, edited by Old Sutt Will Sturgeon, we have this gem of an email from Jeremy Paxman, announcing the death of the Newsnight daily email.

"The time has come to put this exercise in fatuousness out of its misery" announces Paxman, with typical under-statement. He goes on to say, in his usual mild tones, "The reason for killing it off is pretty straightforward. It's crap." There's more brilliant material in that vein in what is one of the few must-read news emails issued by the BBC.

Paxman's tone clearly hasn't changed from when he was forced to do weather reports on Newsnight. He responded by injecting them with as much verbal contempt as possible, as shown in this compendium from Have I Got News For You:

Good Journalism, Bad Journalism

We watched "All the President's Men" at the History Film Club last Monday. It's slow, but it shows the painstaking care with which the two Washington Post journalists working on the Watergate case - Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein - went about proving their case. Their story eventually brought down a president, but it took many months to get there, and the film illustrated the frustrations of real, investigative journalism, and the painstaking need for certainty, for getting every controversial fact approved by at least three sources. It was a remarkable tale, and no less tense for knowing the eventual outcome. It was a portrayal of journalism at its best. It was an illustration of what one hopes men and women go into journalism for. To bring the mighty to account, to represent the poor and voiceless, to bring us true stories that illuminate the world we live in, to answer the almost unanswerable question of Pilate in the gospels - "What is truth?"

So hold a…

Prime Ministerial Power and Christmas Cards

I've linked to Tim Montgomerie's analysis of David Cameron's exercise of the premiership opposite (but note that Montgomerie, as a right-wing Tory, is intrinsically hostile to Cameron), but it is the little things that matter as well, as Iain Martin at the Wall Street Journal noted.

The Significance of the 2010 Coalition Negotiations

One of the doyens of political commentary, Peter Riddell, has written of the lessons that the coalition negotiations following the 2010 election have on our understanding of the impact of a hung parliament. To some extent, the successful coalition outcome has forced a review of previous asumptions about what should happen when an election produces a hung parliament. Riddell's conclusions are certainly worth noting.