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Showing posts from 2015

Will Oldham change the Labour narrative?

Until yesterday, the media narrative for the Labour party since the general election has been one of unparalleled disaster.  This only increased with the election of the very left-wing Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, a man whose main political work was as a serial rebel and protest march speaker.  Wholly unelectable, rejoiced the largely right-wing media in mock-sepulchral tones.  And he didn't do the things that politicians should do, like pander to the media march - this is a leader who committed the cardinal sin of failing to turn up to an Andrew Marr interview.  Honestly, where were his priorities?

Corbyn hasn't been much of a hit in the Commons, the place where the Westminster village gathers, and has rather annoyed regular Westminster watchers by taking the sting out of Prime Minister's Questions.   He doesn't even seem very interested in Westminster occasions, as if somehow they don't really impact upon his own supporters and voters in the constituencies.

Th…

As Paris faces terror again, has liberalism failed?

The western world is full of the distractions that our prosperity and liberal values allow.So much so, that for the most part we forget that we are at war.Then along comes a tragedy like the Paris attacks yesterday night, and for a few days – sometimes even weeks – we remember again about our war.
It is a war like no others before it.It doesn’t often come onto our soil, but it pervades our governments’ and security forces’ actions almost in total. Our military forces are nearly exclusively engaged in military action in the middle east; our security services dedicate the majority of their attention to threats from that same middle east.
But this isn’t just a one-sided military war.It is a culture war too.It is a war of liberalism versus fundamentalism, and the hinterland of this cultural dimension is at the heart of fears about the refugee crisis dominating Europe.
There is no clear resolution.Well, there is no clear resolution that commands political support.On our own domestic front…

President Rubio?

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When Marco Rubio scored his attack hit against former mentor Jeb Bush in the recent Republican debate, he may have been signalling that he was running against the old families of both parties.  For a long time observers and commentators have worried that the presidential election of the world's first democracy might end up being a slug-fest between two names who have come up before - Bush v Clinton.  What would it say about the nature of the American democracy if its two parties' best options were to produce the wife and son/brother of former presidents?  Well, Hillary may be sleeping easier at the moment as she continues to sail through the Democratic campaign, but Jeb Bush has never been a front-runner in the Republican one and the hot money is already gathering around Marco Rubio.

Rubio does well in debates, and his put-down of Jeb Bush - "someone convinced you attacking me is going to help you" - was further evidence that, unlike the senior politico, he can actu…

Lessons for Cameron from Denis Healey's "Greatness"

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David Cameron could be forgiven if he enters the Tory Conference week thinking about his place in history.  This, after all, is a man who doesn’t have to win another election, since he’s given himself a final term firewall against any future electoral catastrophes.  Not only that, but he’s been able to witness Big Bad Jezza Corbyn’s utter catastrophe of a party conference over the past week, with possibly only a few hours off to mull over the deteriorating quality of western foreign policy (currently sub-contracted out to the country formerly known as the Soviet Union).

Corbyn is a delight in many ways.  He’s not quite as different as a party leader as some hopefuls are suggesting, admittedly.  George Lansbury and Michael Foot were also bizarre lefty true-believers with a lofty disdain for practical politics, and both proved electorally disastrous for the Labour party, albeit from a better intellectual vantage point than the fuzzy minded Corbyn.  But Corbyn is the first of that mould …

How the Greek crisis is causing comfort for British euro-sceptics.

I've got a piece in the European online magazine "Vocal International" about the Greek crisis and the comfort that Syriza's unlikely allies on the British right might be gaining from it.  It's certainly been fascinating to see British Tories from both parliament and the commentariat line up alongside the left-wing Syriza to attack the European leaders.  The eurozone crisis links them both by providing a common enemy and for the Brits this really must seem like a justification of their oft stated criticism of the whole euro project.

The crisis will take some time to unfold but the ripples from its wake will surely hit up against Britain's own referendum in 2017.  Eurosceptics will be hoping that a Greek exit will help to sour the whole EU image in the minds of British voters.  Europhiles might be concerned that after one exit, another will seem rather less of a big deal.

The Telegraph and the BBC

The Telegraph seems to have reduced its editorial column; I'm sure it's narrower than it used to be.  Whether that is a commentary on the reducing number of writers and journalists the Telegraph seems to have, or simply a reflection of the fact that it no longer has much to say on its own account I'm not sure.  After all, a couple of weeks ago it devoted its main comment article for two days to extracts from the "Business for Britain" manifesto; much cheaper than getting its own hacks to come up with something original one presumes.

So it was with a certain glee that I read their comment in today's paper, inevitably welcoming the cuts that the government wants to inflict on the BBC.  The comment piece soon cut to the chase with its main complaint.  apparently, government money is being wasted on producing an "imperial" BBC website which competes with those of national newspapers.  Which translated broadly means that it is unfair that a public organ…

Donald Rumsfeld's Amnesia

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You might have thought that Donald Rumsfeld would at least have the decency to keep quiet.  Having wrought such damage upon the Middle East as the result of his ill-considered and misconceived policies, he could at least have spared us his ongoing thoughts.  Yet here he is again, giving an interview to the Times about the current problems and casting himself as a wise man of the past.

Extraordinarily, Mr. Rumsfeld has announced that he was never really in favour of imposing democracy upon Iraq.  George W Bush made a terrible mistake, he suggests.  His amnesia is all the more culpable given how much of Iraq's current day trauma stems from errors, mistakes and sheer arrogance on the part of Rumsfeld himself.  It does seem extraordinary that he is now suggesting he was not an ideological fellow traveller in the great crusade to impose western democracy on Iraq.  Indeed, it is worth just recounting just how responsible Rumsfeld was for the disaster that ov…

Education is failing poor, white, working class boys

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan hasn't yet explained why she thinks Academies are the answer to failing schools.  In fact, of course, they are an ideological expedient with very little educational thinking behind them.  the ones we have vary hugely in type, quality and success.

The reason this is important is because there is a crisis in education and the political fixes so far designed aren't dealing with it.  The Sutton Trust have produced their report "Missing Talent" - the high achievers (top 10%) at primary school who, after five years of secondary education, rank outside the top 25% of pupils in achievement terms.  That is some 7,000 pupils each year according to the Sutton Trust, and the largest proportion of these are white, working class boys.

There is more to mull on and consider in this important report, and the New Statesman gives an early commentary.  There are no easy or pat solutions, but in an age which has so vigorously set itself against formal a…

#the56 SNP MPs - could they be Commons reformers?

The problem for the well-publicised SNP #56 is that they actually have very little to do for their constituents in the Westminster parliament.  The meaty stuff, the legislation that affects the people who voted for them, actually goes through the Scottish Parliament, and will do so in even greater form after the increased devolved powers are given.  So what to do in Westminster?

Well one thing they could have a significant impact on is a change in the way parliament - and especially the House of Commons - actually does things.  In a sense, the SNP MPs have arrived as rather good-natured insurrectionists.  They have been sent to parliament by voters who see Westminster as the enemy.  Many of these new MPs share that view.  They've arrived in the hallowed halls of Britain's finest active museum as bewildered outsiders wondering what the hell is going on.  And they've lost little time expressing their frustration, being arguably the best group of politicians to co-ordinate …

School history at GCSE is about to be wrecked. Should we care?

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Education change is both a vast area and a small one.  Macro change concerns the very nature of our schools, their funding and their set-up.  Micro change concerns those small things that go on within a curriculum or inside the school.  Much political attention focuses on the macro – it’s easier and everyone tends to have a view.  But bear with me for a little as I try and explain why one of the less noticed micro changes – the complete overhaul of the GCSE history syllabus – is such a regrettable action of education vandalism.  Of course, my concern stems from the fact that I am a history teacher and clearly believe that history should be a strong and coherent aspect of any healthy curriculum.  Sometimes, though, these micro changes throw a much more illuminating light on the flux and turmoil within education than any of the macro items.  I've written a piece for the TES on this very topic, so here it is; why we should be opposing the changes to the history GCSE.

The untimely death of an under-estimated politician

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It was shocking to hear of Charles Kennedy's death this morning.  There was no warning, no expectation, and the man was only 55.  How could he suddenly not be here?  If we who merely know him from the outside think that,  how so much more shocking must it be for his family.  A suddenly bereaved wife, and a young son who also lost a grandfather not very long ago.  It is a sign of the affection in which Kennedy was held, and the largeness of the man's presence in our political consciousness, that so many have leapt to record their shock, sadness and regard for him.

Reflecting on his life and career, I suspect we have all been guilty of under-estimating him as a politician and leader.  Yes, he was widely liked.  Yes, we all knew that he could carry a chat show as well as anyone, especially if it was "Have I Got News For You?"  But were we really fully aware of his sharp political mind and the impressive principle which made him so effective at articulating a vision for…

The One Nation PM

David Cameron announced that he would be a "One Nation" prime minister, and in both outlook and practice he would appear to be fulfilling the role he has set out for himself.

Although he has indeed appointed a more Thatcherite cabinet than his predecessors, this has largely been through the pragmatic necessity of getting the right people into the right jobs.  The Cameron style of governance in any case favours continuity - a significant and, many would argue, welcome distinction from the almost constantly moving BLair/Brown years - and this obviously saw a number of committed Thatcherites retain Cabinet office (Gove, Grayling, Javid, Hammond to name a few).  They were joined by rising stars such as Priti Patel (attending, rather than a full-on member of cabinet) and Andrea Leadsom, while Thatcherite old-stager John Whittingdale got his place in the sun, not least because he happens to be the best-qualified person to hold his role.  The cabinet selection, in fact, was a triu…

Votes for 16 in EU Referendum?

Huh.  What do I know?  Having been dismissive of the idea that votes for 16 year olds is on the agenda at the moment (see post below), I caught this story in the Guardian.  Apparently Labour and the SNP may make common cause to at least secure the reduced voting age for the EU referendum.  In this instance such a move, if successful, could be a boost for the Yes camp, although generalising about the capricious young is always a bad idea.

Young Voters make a difference

There continues to be debate amongst politics students, political scientists and crowd-pleasing politicians at student conferences over the voting age.  Should it be reduced to 16?

Unlikely though it is to happen, it becomes a prescient question in the light of two recent referendums.  The 2014 Scottish referendum allowed 16 and 17 year olds to join the vote, and saw a huge proportion of that age group give momentum to the Yes vote, for full devolution.  Then came yesterday's vote on gay marriage in Ireland.  Passing by a 62% vote, few doubt that young Irish voters felt particularly mobilised to join the referendum, even travelling from hideouts abroad to do so.  Now the youth vote alone did not give Ireland a constitutional amendment which introduced gay marriage equality.  In Scotland, the reduction in the vote to 16 did not ultimately produce devolution either.  But in both cases, a radical change to the status quo was given momentum, and the possibility of popular consent, by…

UKIP and the politics of Mao

My A-level students are sitting their exam on twentieth century Chinese history this afternoon.  It is an extraordinary topic, dominated by the figure of Mao Zedong.  Mao may have started with great ambition and ideals for his country, but most remember him now as the power-crazed lunatic who led China into the Great Leap Forward (deaths 40 million, though many estimate higher) and the Cultural Revolution (deaths around 1 million, and a devastated Chinese educational and cultural landscape).

One of the incidents I hope my students will recall is Mao's reaction to some criticism levelled against him by an old and trusted colleague. When Peng Dehuai, then the defence minister and head of the army, dared to broach some criticisms of Mao's plans for what proved to be the disastrous Great Leap Forward, he was greeted by a storm of abuse.  Mao took him to task in front of the Communist elite, gathered at a conference in Lushan, blasted him for his temerity in launching such obviou…

Skinner 1, SNP 0

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Perhaps Scottish Labour could requisition the services of Dennis Skinner, the "Beast of Bolsover".  The parliamentary veteran and plain speaker has defeated them in their first attempt to remove him from the seat he's been occupying for 45 years or so.  These SNP types, for all of their bread and chip suppers on the terrace and their take-over of Labour's favourite bar, are wimps after all.

Of course this is all rather arcane and of no significance to the average voter whatsoever.  But the increasing issue of the 56 SNP MPs is this.  What will all these MPs actually do, given that most of the issues affecting their constituents are dealt with now by the MSPs of the Scottish Parliament?  What is the British taxpayer awarding them £67,000 for?

Time to move on with devolution and save at least £3,752,000 a year straight off.

Those who can, organise; those who can't, commentate

Lynton Crosby is certainly entitled to a bit of triumphalism.  Getting Boris to London City Hall is one thing, but getting David Cameron back to Downing Street with a majority against all the odds certainly ranks as one of the great Lazarus tricks of modern politics.  So well done Mr. Crosby.  If you weren't already in the super-league of international political consultants, I guess you must be not only in it but near the top of it now.

He's left us with a bit of a gift too.  Not a big speaker to the press (no good campaign manager wants to be the story during a campaign, as Alastair Campbell should have realised) he has now given a departing interview to the Daily Telegraph.  Amongst all the post-election ink flow, this one provides some of the more interesting and controversial analyses, coming as it does from the man who won.

As I read his interview, I warmed to the man, far more than I might have expected.  It was two points in particular that produced that feeling of pos…

Chuka's withdrawal

Chuka Umunna was never considered to lack ambition, and had long been talked of as a future leader.  His unexpected withdrawal from the leadership race raises questions that reflect poorly on the current state of our political and media relations.

Mr. Umunna states that he thought he was ready for the pressure that being a leadership candidate would bring but had under-estimated the level of coverage and intrusion that it actually brought.  This does not appear to be a candidate running away from a potential scandal.  This seems to be a man who has looked over the parapet and decided he wants to have a life rather than run into the no man's land of leadership coverage.  In this, he follows another Labour MP who looked like a good bet for a party seeking able and empathetic figures to lead it, Dan Jarvis.  Mr. Jarvis decided not to enter the race because of the potential impact on his young family.

Chuka Umunna has done his soul-searching and reached a pretty rapid conclusion.  Bu…

The hell keeps on coming for Labour

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There was an outpouring of Blairite angst over the Miliband election campaign last week, but the hell isn't over yet for the "Hell, yeah" leader.  Today's "Times" sees political columnist Philip Collins provide one of the most seering condemnations of the Miliband experiment that I've read.  It makes Peter Mandelson sound like Bagpuss.

Collins' first targets are the "cavalry of denial" who are lining up to contest the Labour leadership, so Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham.  Noting that Labour's electoral problem was as significant in England as in the much reported Scotland, he describes Yvette Cooper's recent article for the "Mirror" as "a platitudinous, intern-drafted press release for the Pontefract and Castleford Express", taking her to task for the blithe belief that the average voter really liked a lot of what Labour was saying.  Er, no they didn't, notes Collins.

On to Andy Burnham, whom he beautifull…

A One Nation PM and his Thatcherite Cabinet

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David Cameron gave a dignified and well considered speech on hearing of his final victory in the election. Able to lead with a Conservative majority, he described himself as a "One Nation" prime minister, making a clear pitch to position himself in the centre of British politics.  He at least, it seemed, was not taking the erroneous lesson from the election that Britain is a naturally right-wing country.  Instead, he was making a valiant attempt to reclaim the most potent Tory brand in electoral politics.  His cabinet appointments, however, have rather belied his own personal branding, for David Cameron has, on the surface of it, appointed one of the most right-wing Conservative Cabinets ever.  Not even Margaret Thatcher could boast such a Thatcherite cabinet.

Take the early appointments.  Michael Gove at Justice, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Defence's Michael Fallon - all have articulated routinely Thatcherite positions.  Hammond, who favours leaving the EU, is pr…

Was it a bad campaign, or are we bad voters?

It's the anniversary of the defeat of Germany in 1945 today.  Many have said that the western countries were fighting to preserve liberty and democracy.  At least in part.  So it might be worth considering the state of the democracy that today's anniversary kept in being.

As commentators use up the last of their "what sort of coalition are we likely to have" scenarios, they've turned to the "what a dreadful campaign it's been" ones.  This has been most eloquently - and perhaps lengthily - illustrated by Michael Deacon's piece in today's Telegraph, but he is not alone.

It's a moot point as to how seriously we should take the journalistic moaning of stagnant campaigns.  Politicians are where they are, and do what they do, largely as a consequence of the way our brave journo have covered previous campaigns, and cover politicians generally.  Douglas Murray has identified this aspect of the state of our democracy most clearly in this piece fo…

Sparing a thought for the poor bloody politicians

I know we shouldn't be too sympathetic towards our would-be leaders.  They're grasping, lying, slippery, power-hungry egoists out for themselves and likely to ruin us all in the process.  Aren't they?

It's not a popular thought, I own, but I do have more than a sneaking sympathy for the plight of our putative representatives, and especially their leaders.  Pounding the streets day after day, meeting inordinate numbers of punters who are all experts in everything, having to be nice to even the most moronic questioner....it's not exactly an idyllic existence.  One of my friends, soon to be elected if the runes are right, is about to depart a well paid job with some decent off-time, for a relentless, looking-glass existence which will require far more hours of his time and yield a far smaller income.  And yet he's pretty cheerful about it, because at last he's got a chance to engage in public service of the highest level.

They're all expected to take buck…

An Unusual Election - three defining characteristics

Three things mark this election as unusual. 
One is the remarkable paucity of actual policy debate.  Yes, there’s been some to and fro on housing, a modicum of difference on tax generation, but outside of the narrow-cast debate on the economy very little of substance has been thriving. 
Defence?  Michael Fallon wants us to fear the SNP’s bid to get rid of Trident, but offers little in the form of positive defence policy for himself.  Foreign Affairs?  Ed Miliband briefly attended to an area that has never been an interest of his to accuse David Cameron of responsibility for migrant deaths.  But foreign affairs spokesmen have been so low-key as to be rendered unpersons, barely able to stop the traffic in their own constituencies, never mind the rest of the globe around which they potter so un-noticed.    Education?  Once hugely controversial, with Michael Gove’s disappearance from the issue it has sunk into the backwaters of little regarded speeches and rarely referenced manifesto p…

The Union Under Threat?

The devolution referendum proved a hollow victory in the end for unionists.  Losing the campaign for hearts and minds, the southern party leaders came up with an extraordinary pledge that stretched the idea of union to breaking point.  It also added something into the referendum mix that wasn't actually on the ballot at all.  No-one can say whether or not the final result really was a vote for the Union, or in actuality a vote for the devo-max that English leaders were offering by the end.  Then, as soon as the vote was passed, David Cameron, the quintessentially English leader with the very Scottish name, sought immediate political advantage by demanding English Votes for English Laws.  He has also been happy to put himself forward in this election campaign as an English, rather than British, leader.

Well, the SNP advance in Scotland continues apace it seems, such that polls today suggest they could sweep the board and take all of Scotland's 59 MPs.  What has so signally fail…

Election Notes 2 - Brand, Legitimacy and a Defence Fail

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Brand meets Miliband....or Vice Versa

Difficult to know who was the most important of the two in yesterday's Miliband versus Brand meeting, but it's certainly caused waves and who knows, that might be what Ed Miliband really wanted.  after all, he was never going to get an intelligible political debate from Russell Brand.

Miliband has been making more, and more interesting, waves this election than David Cameron, and that should worry the Tories.  He has taken them - and his own party - by surprise with a pretty good campaign so far, and while some of his moments have been awful ("Hell, yes" springs to mind), on the whole he's trumped expectations pretty niftily.  That should at any rate be a warning to the Tories who keep insisting on employing negative campaigner Lynton Crosby - do someone down too much and you'll find they merely have to walk unaided to appear triumphant.

Inevitably, the two camps on the Brand interview are the right-wing one, broadly fol…

The Tories' constitutional malice

The Conservative party used to be one of rectitude and respect for the constitution.  No longer, if its tactics in this election are anything to go by.  Take its approach to Scotland and the issue of parliamentary legitimacy.

Dave's SNP Card

David Cameron's attempt to corral votes by raising the spectre of SNP power at Westminster is a pretty negative tactic, and of course will do nothing to endear Scottish voters to the Tory party in Scotland one suspects, but it may be paying dividends.  Albeit on the margins.  A poll in the Independent reports that the prospect of a Labour-SNP deal is indeed off-putting to a number of voters - one in four is the number cited. This has not yet, of course, translated into actual votes, or even definite determinations to vote Tory.  The main polls still suggest the Tories are struggling to keep much of a lead, although yesterday's Ashcroft poll showed a 6-point lead for them, the largest yet.

The problem with Cameron's SNP tactic is tha…