Showing posts from 2013

Democracy - It Means Getting Involved!

A usually smart friend of mine posted up on his facebook page part of an article in the Guardian by George Monbiot.  The essence of the article as a whole is that big business runs the political parties so we might as well all give up and forget about politics altogether.  It's already been bought by someone else.  The posted segment was the conclusion, where Monbiot's lengthy, eloquent whinge-fest reached its apogee:

Since Blair, parliament operates much as Congress in the United States does: the lefthand glove puppet argues with the righthand glove puppet, but neither side will turn around to face the corporate capital that controls almost all our politics. This is why the assertion that parliamentary democracy has been reduced to a self-important farce has resonated so widely over the past fortnight.
So I don't blame people for giving up on politics. I haven't given up yet, but I find it ever harder to explain why. When a state-corporate nexus of power has by…

Clegg Attacks 'Sneering' Paxman

Nick Clegg often seems to be the whipping boy of British politics.  Leader of the junior coalition partner, no powerful press or media to support him or his party, lambasted on all sides because he can't deliver a full Lib Dem manifesto list.  You do wonder what he could do to achieve any sort of positive press, and I remain impressed at the man's ability to simply keep going.  His latest comments on his LBC radio show are meanwhile unlikely to endear him to one powerful media presence.  He decided to take aim at none other than Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman, the Grand Inquisitor of British politics.

Paxman recently soft-balled Russell Brand in an interview and subsequently went on to echo Brand's comments about being disengaged from politics and not voting in an election.  It is easy to understand Mr. Paxman's frustration with many of the politicians he interviews - and much of it provides very good political theatre - but it seems somehow out of kilter for him to gi…

The Police Fit Up Is Unravelling

There is still more to come in the so-called 'plebgate' saga, but the scandalous tale of a senior cabinet minister being fitted up for political reasons by select members of the police force is certainly unravelling.  The Police Federation behaved disreputably at the time, as I noted here, and today the deputy chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission has more or less confirmed that in her view the Federation behaved dishonestly in its media accounts of the meeting it held with Andrew Mitchell, the then chief whip who was under fire.

The Police Federation looked like a hostile and malevolent organisation at the time.  What is perhaps more concerning is that members of the Downing Street team - charged with the protection of ministers and other VIPs - also appears to have contained the canker of dishonest and deliberately malicious behaviour within its ranks.  There is some way to go yet before the Met police finally fesses up and works out where to go from here, b…

Adam Afriyie's Early Hubris

Adam Afriyie's leadership bid is still only in embryonic form - there is noticeably no vacancy at the moment, nor much of a call for one - but even so it looks as if it's crashing fast.  Mr. Afriyie has not discouraged people from referring to him as a "Tory Obama" but doesn't seem to share the US President's political acumen.  He doesn't actually seem to share anyone's political acumen to be honest.  I never thought a Eurosceptic proposal could be greeted with contempt and hilarity within the Tory party, but such is Mr. Afriyie's standing amongst his parliamentary colleagues that that is exactly what has happened with his like-to-be-stillborn amendment to the euro referendum Bill.  Most of the 2010 Tory intake have signed a letter urging him to drop his amendment, which demands a referendum next year, according to a report from James Forsyth in the Spectator.  Forsyth also tantalisingly claims that if Afriyie doesn't drop his amendment then …

The Fourth Estate Is Too Powerful To Be Left Alone

A Privy Council Committee has rejected the newspapers' own ideas for the regulation of their industry and as such the ball is back in the politicians' court.

It seems utterly contrary to all principles of a free society to have politicians discussing - and preparing to legislate on - the freedom of the press at all, but in the UK in the early 21st century the sad fact is that our Fourth Estate is out of control.  Subject to no authority but its own and wielding immense power over public and politicians alike, the print media continues to dole out its own brand of harassment, influence peddling and political self-righteousness to often terrible effect.  This was seen in its most vigorous form again in the Daily Mail's now infamous article and headline about Ed Miliband's father.  When they printed Mr. Miliband's response to the attacks on his dead father, they ensured that his article was surrounded by further antagonistic reporting and editorialising.  This was ha…

Anything Interesting About the Reshuffles?

Apart from the people directly involved, no-one's lives are going to change as a result of the three party reshuffles held in Westminster yesterday.  We don't look at them for seismic political shifts, but see them more as cautious statements of political intent.  Thus, Ed Miliband appears to have very slightly shifted his party towards a more left-wing position and ditched a few Blairites; David Cameron has marginally increased the female profile of his party's governing ministers and shifted a little into the centre ground; and Nick Clegg has thrown a bomb into the Home Office as well as sacked a perfectly inoffensive Cabinet minister.

The most interesting move has been that of Lib Dem Norman Baker to the Home Office, as effectively the Lib Dem deputy to Theresa May.  Baker has famously cast aspersions on the suicide of scientist David Kelly (part of the collateral damage of the infamous Iraq war dossier and the Campbell/Blair feud with the BBC), suggesting he was murde…

The Daily Mail's Torrid Little War

The Daily Mail has certainly gone into overdrive in its battle against the Miliband family, with its sister paper, the Mail on Sunday, sending journalists under cover to a memorial service for Ed Miliband's uncle.

It isn't worth recounting the full saga in this post, although the Media Blog has a pretty comprehensive analysis, complete with the reminder of the Mail's own rather disreputable past as a Nazi supporting paper in the 1930s (with the present owner's great grandfather writing eloquently in defence of the blackshirts).  Nick Clegg, too, had a good line when he commented that "if anyone excels in denigrating and often vilifying a lot about modern Britain, it's the Daily Mail".

It is no secret that the Mail, in common with most other newspapers in Britain, is vigorously opposed to any regulation of it by a statutory body.  The way it's handled the Miliband affair has probably made the case for such a body stronger than ever.  The Mail is a po…

Politics Reading

I've updated the reading list to include Damian McBride's memoirs and Matthew D'Ancona's new book on the Coalition, "In It Together", so for those wanting to check out a small selection of good, general reader friendly British politics books, here is the current list for AS level students (together with a few suggested websites and blogs, but the sidebar on this site is more comprehensive.)

There's a good review of the D'Ancona book by Gaby Hinsliff in the Guardian here. She admires D'Ancona's insights, but notes the rather partial nature of his tale.

McBride's Self-Deprecating Memoirs

Damian McBride, former spinner to Gordon Brown, has received a great deal of publicity of course, but his book is well worth reading.  Or at least it looks as if it will be from the perspective of starting chapter 3!  I think it's the sharp turn of phrase and witty self-deprecation that's winning me over.

Here's how he ends chapter 1, having described his desperate escape from the media scrum in the boot of his girlfriend's car:

"Alone with my thoughts in the darkness, one word came to my mind: 'Twat.' "

And no sooner have we chortled over that, than the second chapter gives us:

" I wasn't always a nasty bastard, but you could argue the signs were there."

If Mr. McBride does decide to return to the political arena, there's no reason why his writing shouldn't enliven our reading of it in the press on a regular basis.

Red Ed?

Has Ed Miliband committed Labour to a sharp leftward move?  The Spectator's Fraser Nelson thinks so, in this piece analysing the new Ed, taking credit for the 'Red Ed' label (really? that needs crediting?) and suggesting that Milband's sharp left turn might be just what's needed to wean Tories off UKIP.

Personality Politics Ousts Policy This Weekend

We love gossip, and we love reading or hearing about the outrageous goings on of our political masters.  For public consumption, of course, we all say we're fed up with personality politics, and attacks upon politicians by their enemies.  The media is with us.  They too hate the sordid world of personality politics and would much rather the political classes concentrated on good, hard policy.  Which is presumably why so much of today's political coverage is devoted to the distinctly gossip based revelations of Gordon Brown's former spin doctor, Damian McBride.  And why yesterday, so much time was spent showing and discussing the laughably neanderthal views of an MEP for a minor party.

Godfrey Bloom (I keep wanting to call him Orlando, bizarrely) is a largely joke figure who seeks - genuinely it would appear - to reinforce his image as a caricature blunt speaking, offence giving politician.  He probably sees himself as "telling it like it is".  Most people see hi…

Michael Le Vell's Hell and the Daily Mail

The Daily Mail was all sympathy and outrage on behalf of 'Corrie' star Micahel Le Vell yesterday, headlining the question "Why Was He Ever Charged?".  But as the Media Blog points out, the good journos at the Mail might not need to look much further than their own and their fellow tabloids' efforts over the past few months.  Yet another triumph for the unregulated press!

Politician 'Boring' Shock

And today's shock revelation is that even television news editors think that their politician guests are boring.  Ian Katz, who has admittedly only been editing Newsnight for a week, was caught out with a tweet - intended to be a direct message, but these things can be so difficult to work out - that described last night's guest, Labour front bencher Rachel Reeves, as 'snoring boring'.  This can hardly come as a revelation to anyone who has bothered sitting through a Rachel Reeves interview, but an offended Labour hierarchy has forced him to apologise for his undeniably accurate comment.

Several Labour nonentities have already announced that they might not appear on the programme, which can only enhance the prospect for some more energising news viewing.  The Telegraph's Michael Deacon has a great take on the whole affair here, while the rest of us live in hope that the unfortunate Mr. Katz's indiscretion might just wake MPs up to the need to stop reading part…

Previewing Obama's Speech...And a Housekeeping Notice!

Barack Obama's move to refer the decision for a military strike against Syria was an extraordinary one, and gave the impression that this president, at least, didn't want the burden of what he considered necessary but unpleasant action to be placed on him alone.  Was it an abdication of leadership?  His opponents would argue so, but as we look back at the last half century or so of American foreign policy there have been times when such an abdication might have spared the US some truly disastrous interventions.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama's speech to his country tonight may presage some further backing off from military strikes in the light of the recent Russian diplomacy and Syrian government response about its chemical weapons.

Ronald Reagan's former speech-writer, Peggy Noonan, has a forthright and - of course - elegantly expressed view about Obama's dilemma in her Wall Street Journal blog.  She holds no candle for a president she clearly despises, describing him as &…

Iran's Election Requires Positive US Response

When Iran last held an election – four years ago, as its constitution demands – protests greeted the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmahdinejad which went on for days and even led to some expectation in the West that a long awaited “green revolution” might be at hand.The U.S., under its relatively new and apparently liberal president, played a careful role, keeping public comments low-key in order not to further inflame a clearly delicate situation.President Obama was clear that there was to be no US intervention, and he faced a predictable round of right-wing criticism for his temperance.
Yet there is a case for seeing Mr.Obama’s earlier restraint as a necessary factor in this year’s victory of a would-be reformer in Iran.Using the voting booth – something western audiences could sometimes be forgiven for thinking that Iran doesn’t possess – the Iranians have now given their presidency to Hassan Rouhani, a reform minded cleric.
Mr. Rouhani may seem an unlikely reformer, and there are those…

Betraying the Bright

How often is it possible to bemoan the same problem and consistently avoid the obvious solution?Plenty, it would appear, if the problem is how to support bright children in the state education system.
Ofsted have today reported that thousands of bright youngsters are failing to achieve their potential in secondary schools.They have issued some shocking figures.Take English.Of the children who achieved Level 5 in English (the highest level) in their primary schools and went on to the standard non-selective secondary school, 62% failed to gain a grade A or A* in the subject at GCSE.Even taking into account the natural decline in learning that some children experience in the secondary school years, that is a lamentable figure.
More than a quarter of previously high attaining pupils failed to gain a grade B or A in Maths or English.The bright, eager primary school pupil with ability to nurture is being betrayed by what Ofsted have described as a “culture of low expectations” in secondary…

Conservatism and the State

Peter Oborne is a must-read journalist and author.  His books on modern politics - "The Triumph of the Political Class" and "The Rise of Political Lying" - were compelling indictments of the modern polity from an erudite, informed and maverick observer, while his most recent book, "A Dangerous Delusion", bravely and honourably seeks to correct years of misinformation about the threat of a nuclear Iran.

But Oborne is first and foremost a conservative who understands conservatism better than most of its professional practitioners in parliament, and his recent Telegraph article is a masterly survey of what's right and what's wrong with the Cameron government.  Oborne understands the Conservative relationship with the state, when he writes:

"Conservatives understand that there is a great deal to be said for leaving things alone. They respect the wisdom of the past, the necessity to preserve inherited institutions, and the rule of law. 


One Nation Conservatism

Further to the rather frustrated post below, I did blog a slightly more detailed response to Damian Green's Macmillan Lecture on the TRG's Egremont blog.

One Nation Conservatism's Crisis

It's come to something when the best defence that can be mustered of One Nation Conservatism is that it encourages aspiration by stopping people living on benefits.  I'm not sure if that had been the limit of its inspiration it would ever have made the extraordinary impact it did from Disraeli to Heath, but that seems to have been the message from the TRG's Macmillan event on Tuesday evening.  There was a definite desire amongst some of the audience for a more forthright defence of One Nation than was available from MP Damian Green, and one of the most eloquent interventions reminded us of the still pitiable existence of a substantial group of marginalised people in poor areas of the country, prompting the question of what Conservatism has to offer them.

One Nation Conservatism was once a clarion call for action.  Now it seems to simper in the face of neo-liberalism.  When Ken Clarke finally goes, I do wonder if there will be anyone left still bothered to wave the flag fo…

Another Doctor Needed

Not for the NHS, of course, but for the sci-fi perennial Dr Who.  As a not-quite-obsessive but nonetheless keen fan over the years (a good bulk of its 50 year run alas!) Matt Smith's announced departure has of course prompted excitement and anticipation.  A few musings on his successor on the other blog.

MPs We Deserve?

They've not got much of a reputation at the moment, these MPs we send to Westminster.  And the fact that the lobbying scandal has engulfed three Lords and only one Commons member in its current round doesn't seem to have helped the elected lot one jot.

Now the government, in its customarily ham-fisted way, has tried to use the scandal for the cynical purpose of a bit of anti-union legislation.  Ian Dunt, editor of, called this a "disreputable" move.  Rafael Behr was even more scathing in his rather lyrical tweet:

But perhaps most refreshingly came the reaction from Tory MP and certified maverick Douglas Carswell.  He questioned whether the lobbying scandal had really generated concerns about trade unionism, as well as asking whether or not it was the lobbyists or the lawmakers who required a bit more oversight.  Take a look at this series of his recent tweets, and then remind yourself that he's an MP:

Carswell - along with MEP chum Dan Hannan - is…

Beware What You Tweet

Somehow, Sally Bercow managed to secure upwards of 56,000 followers on twitter.  Which made her inadvisable tweet about Lord McAlpine all the more - well, inadvisable.  Lord Tugendhat's ruling appeared today, and he ruled against Bercow and in favour of McAlpine, that the tweet was indeed defamatory.

There can't have been much doubt on the part of anyone who read it that Mrs. Bercow wasn't in fact simply stating a trend and asking a question about it.  "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*" asks us to believe something more; it was a would-be cunning way out of being accused of suggesting that McAlpine was a paedophile - the nature of the untrue twitter rumours based on a poorly sourced Newsnight film - by indulging in a bit of nudge-nudge wink-wink gossip.  As such, the ruling is to be welcomed.  If it dissuades Mrs. Bercow from tweeting in future it has probably served a further purpose too.  Her fame is mysterious, and despite frequent denials seems…

Cameron's Losing Battle Against Tory Puritanism

With Tory cabinet ministers - led by the ubiquitous Mr. Gove - scrambling over each other to assure their party of their out and out Euro-scepticism, it is tempting to wonder what all the fuss over UKIP is about.  Apart from a matter of timing, it seems they are all united on a referendum approach.  But, of course, there is more to it than this.

UKIP is not just a repository for those who are anti-European.  Indeed, Europe is merely the hook on which to hang a whole panoply of other concerns, making UKIP essentially a protest party.  For disillusioned Conservatives in particular UKIP offers an unrepentant leader in Nigel Farage, who contrasts nicely with the rather more nuanced Mr. Cameron.  Tory members - both grassroots and a significant number of backbench MPs - are not happy in coalition, hate the thought of Tory moderation and dislike the grey shades that come with compromise.  In their black and white - or blue and red - world, there is much virtue in Tory puritanism and Mr. Ca…

The Problem With Michael Gove

It's a great pity Michael Gove can't just become history rather than being able to prounounce upon it.  If he were one of those tedious old bores who keeps telling you how much better things were in the old days then one could safely nod sagely and expect to escape within about half an hour or so.  Sadly, Mr. Gove can't be escaped from very easily, and his unformed views on history teaching matter because he is the Education Secretary, the man who can dictate what we teachers do if he so chooses.  And it appears he does so choose.

Michael Gove has no expertise or experience in teaching, and as an English graduate he sports no more historical acumen than the interested amateur.  The interested history amateur is, of course, not to be sniffed at.  The great virtue of history is that it can and should be read, savoured and enjoyed by all.  Mr. Gove, unfortunately, believes that he has a mission to restore a form of history recitation to schools that used to be quite popular …

Othello, but not at the National

In the week of Shakespeare's birthday (probably) it is no bad thing to indulge in a bit of Shakespeare watching, and so I took myself off to see Othello with a couple of friends.  No, not the lauded one at the National, but a great fringe production in a north London pub.  Well, at the top of it anyway.  The review is here

Envy, jealousy and rage in a war camp setting are one thing, but there must be a chance soon to comment on our own prime minister's uneasy relationships.  Looking over his shoulder all the time at Boris Johnson, he has decided that one of his best manouevres is simply to get a member of Johnson's family on board, and so he has appointed Jo Johnson - unlike Boris, an MP - as his new head of the policy unit.  Whether that's to generate new political ideas, or just because the magic of the Johnson name is meant to assuage unhappy Tories who believe Cameron is too left-wing, is yet to be seen.  It's probably not a long term solution to electoral u…

Funeral Reflections on Margaret Thatcher

I was nursing a hot chocolate in a small café beneath one of the North Yorkshire peaks when someone told me that Margaret Thatcher had died.There were no rumblings in the nearby mountains, no lighting strikes and the rain didn’t stop falling, but it was possible nonetheless to feel a sense of the profound.We all of us, after all, live in a country whose political environment she has largely ordered, and the acres of print and online commentary which followed the announcement of her death was all produced by men and women whose own political outlook was shaped by her.We are all Children of Thatcher.Progressives and reactionaries, lovers and haters, nationalists and internationalists, we have all had our political consciousness defined by the woman whose funeral procession will move along the Strand and Fleet Street and up to St Paul’s this morning.It is an extraordinary reflection of her impact.Just as politics seemed to be retreating into blandness, and fewer people want to be bother…

Michael Goveathonics

Michael Gove believes himself to be the greatest historian living.  Only he really understands how to impart the most important historical knowledge to youths in schools.  Nothing else really explains his fantastic new history curriculum, which breezily rejects the advice of top historians, and of all the rather less academically inclined practitioners of teaching history, and instead gives us the Gove History of Britain.  When he and his two advisers played the game "who do you think are the most important figures in making Britain great" and turned it into a would-be history syllabus, they were merely assuring each other that they really did know better than anyone else.

Well, it turns out that this is but a small part of what is going to be the only subject on the Great British School Curriculum - Michael Goevathonics.  It is outlined, ever so clearly and horrifyingly realistically, by comedian Stewart Lee in his Observer column today.  Lee reminds us that Gove was once …

Eddie Mair Skewers Boris

Most interviewers succumb to Boris Johnson's peculiarly bumbling charm and thus fail to really nail him on political or personal issues.  It remains something of a mystery as to how this most flawed of politicians remains such a public favourite, but this morning one interviewer did at least manage to treat Johnson as a politician and not a celebrity, and quietly stuck the knife in with nearly every question.

Somewhat ill advisedly, one suspects, Boris has agreed to be interviewed for a documentary about himself, "The Irresistible Rise of Boris Johnson", to be shown on BBC2 tomorrow evening.  The Marr Show's presenter for the day, Eddie Mair, was thus on interviewing duties with Boris this morning.  Mair is already one of the BBC's most highly regarded interviewers by those who appreciate well informed and forensic interviews.  His on-screen honesty was a gem when he fronted 'Newsnight' at the time that programme was under the microscope for its Jimmy Sa…

Culture Break - Cloud Atlas

I don't think I'm ever going to make it as an up to speed reviewer, but I did finally get to go and see the extraordinary film "Cloud Atlas" - review is here.  Very engaging film, visually brilliant of course (it's the Wachowskis after all) but possibly didn't quite meet its ambitions.

The Spectator's No

I'm certainly pretty clear that I think the press is too monstrously arrogant and out of control to avoid external regulation.  My previous two posts, and the links therein, bear this out.  The screeching noise from the media itself has added over the last couple of days to the impression of arrogance.  Nevertheless, the argument against regulation can still be made in a reasoned way, and the Spectator this week has attempted to do just that.  I'm not convinced the Spectator would be likely to fall foul of the new demands for press integrity contained in the proposed legislation, but despite its tastelessly tabloid-style cover this week, editor Fraser Nelson presents the case against the Charter, blogging his conclusions here, which seems to encompass his fear of a threat to the freedom of online expression too.  The main article is in the magazine's print edition.

More Press Noise

The press are certainly able to make a lot of noise.  Most of the country may not be that bothered about press regulation, but it has definitely become the NUMBER ONE ISSUE for the denizens of the media class.  The Budget is almost looking like light relief tomorrow.

There are a few voices of sanity if you look hard enough.  Amol Rajan in the Evening Standard yesterday commented on the dangers of victim justice, while Will Sturgeon on today's Media Blog provides a reminder of exactly why press regulation is on the agenda, and it's not to do with politicians trying to extend their power, funnily enough.

But there is also still plenty of group press hysterics to keep us all entertained, nowhere more obviously than in Quentin Letts' parliamentary 'sketch' in today's Mail.  Letts is so focused on pouring vitriol over the heads of any MP who dared suggest that press regulation is needed that he quite forgot to be funny.  Or maybe that's become his house style n…

Freedom of the Press? Or Abuse of Power?

A powerful and over-mighty institution that has abused its power, lied publically over the years, ruined the lives of innocent people and vigorously defends its right to attack all manner of individuals in ways that are likely to cause stress and ongoing emotional damage, may possibly be subject to some form of regulation.Had this been any other institution – the police, perhaps, or the National Health Service – there would be no shortage of pious articles in the press to call for stronger, probably legally backed, regulation.But the institution in question today is not any of these public services.It is the institution of the press.The privately owned, unregulated behemoth that strides unchecked across the landscape of Britain.So fearsome is the power wielded by this institution that the Prime Minister quails before the very thought of taming it.The man whose government is happy to attack teachers for not doing their jobs, or health professionals for failing in their duties, has ste…