Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson 1958-2009

The news tonight has been shocking.

One of my favourite childhood memories is of a family trip to the cinema to see Moonwalker. The film begins with this:

Monday, June 22, 2009

And it's Bercow

So John Bercow has become the 157th Speaker of the House of Commons. I didn't think the Commons would elect a radical as Speaker but it's happened.

It was clear from the scenes of Bercow being led to the chair that there is still hostility to him in certain quarters in the Commons. I was expecting the formal motion to seat him to be challenged but instead it went through on the nod. Now I hope that MPs will accept the result and not act like sore losers. The Commons desperately needs to reform itself. Undermining a Speaker for petty personal reasons will not help that.

It's finally happened

I've just heard the news flash that our MEPs have succeeded in forming the "European Conservatives and Reformists" grouping in the European Parliament.

So I was wrong in my prediction that the new group wouldn't succeed. (How long before we're back in the European People's Party?) I've not yet seen the full list of parties we're caucusing with but I have no doubt that Labour and the Liberal Democrats will throw whatever mud they can and have incredibly selective amnesia about their own partner parties' records.

Meanwhile across the country literally dozens of anonymous commenters on ConservativeHome will be rejoicing. And everyone else in this country will get on with something more interesting.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Speaker election

Tomorrow sees the voting in the election for the Speaker of the House of Commons. Frankly so far I've found the whole thing about as riveting as a Liberal Democrat deputy leadership election.

Initially people hoped for a Speaker who could take a radical approach to shaking up the Commons' traditions. But how likely is that looking at the candidates?

* Margaret Beckett
* Sir Alan Beith
* John Bercow
* Sir Patrick Cormack
* Parmjit Dhanda
* Sir Alan Haselhurst
* Sir Michael Lord
* Richard Shepherd
* Ann Widdecombe
* Sir George Young

By my reckoning that's two Deputy Speakers (Haselhurst & Lord), a former Leader of the House (Beckett), a former Shadow Leader (Young), two grandees of their party (Beith & Cormack) and another ex nodding head minister (Dhanda). The parliamentary establishment is well represented in this election but I doubt any of these will be radical enough for what is needed. That leaves just three mavericks who are likely to really shake things up. And that includes one who is standing down from the Commons at the election (Widdecombe).

Only Bercow and Shepherd offer real bold change for the long term, but Bercow is facing a hate campaign rarely seen in politics. Just look at the vile in Nadine Dorries: Bercow as Speaker - a Forgone Conclusion?, even going so far as to attack Bercow's wife.

As disgusting as the attacks are, and as stupid as Dorries's reasoning is, it is hard to escape the conclusion that a Bercow Speakership would prove too divisive for reform to happen. Instead there would be too many attempts by the bitter to depose him.

This leaves only one candidate who offers a realistic prospect of overhaul and that is Richard Shepherd.

So I doubt he will win the election.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Sweet 2

I'll post my main comments on the Euro elections later, but for now here's a map showing every single region that has a Conservative MEP:

Yes for the first time ever one party has members representing every single part of the UK. And it is the Conservatives.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The threat to Brown Blunted?

Hands up those who remember when Crispin Blunt resigned from the Conservative frontbench.

Yes it wasn't exactly the most memorable event in recent political history. Blunt resigned literally when the local election polls closed and called for his party leader to go, expecting lots of MPs to sign letters. The political chatter assumed that his leader was doomed there and then. Instead the whole thing fizzled out, hardly anyone signed a letter there and then and things went on as normal for the time being.

The parallels with James Purnell's resignation are obvious. Over the past few days we were hearing about a round robin letter being anonymously circulated with loads of cloak 'n dagger stuff. Now I turn on the television to hear that the voices in the darkness are holding back on the letter and it may well never go ahead at all. After a few weeks I wonder if anyone will even remember this. The coup has been Blunted.

Of course Iain Duncan Smith did fall some months later after further events, including signs the party was going to crash into third place. If the parallels continue then Gordon Brown may well find a threat that's Betsygated...

Thursday, June 04, 2009

ZANU-PF - the new Nazis

There are few words available to describe the conditions in modern day Zimbabwe. But it seems that the situation is getting trivialised by the day.

There is a long standing tradition on the internet that the longer a discussion goes on, the more likely it is someone will make a comparison with Hitler and the Nazis, usually ridiculously overblown - see Godwin's Law for more information.

Now it seems that comparisons to Robert Mugabe and his party ZANU-PF are being made with the same level of casualness. Consider this comment on And another thing...: Your man at Westminster:
Zimbabwe UK! From Guido

UKIP are complaining that ballot papers are being handed out folded over and people don't realise their name is over the fold. Supporters are complaining to their party HQ that UKIP were not on the ballot paper...
Yes voters having to unfold the ballot paper (folded by a few helpful polling station officials because it's so long it's hard to get it in the box) is clearly comparable to the atrocities in Zimbabwe. Can anyone find more examples of these absurd over the top comparisons?

In more ways than one ZANU-PF are the new Nazis.

David Cameron's Election Day Message 2009

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

You pop out for a bit and this happens...

It seems to be a recurring theme. I go offline for an extended period (I went over to Hammersmith & Fulham for David Cameron's eve of poll rally) and a lot happens in the political world. It seems I'm not the only one - see Tom Harris's tweet.

I suppose I should go off on one about how Gordon Brown has lost all authority, how each resignation stacks up, how Labour have lost the plot when their local government minister resigns the day before local government elections, how this shows why everyone must turn out and vote Conservative tomorrow etc...

Nah. If you want to read that sort of regurgitated stuff, there are enough blogs by people who nod their heads on cue (and even more Labour ones if that's your thing). I'll post my own considered opinions on this all later when I've had time to relax and digest it all (plus whatever else news has come in by then).

Monday, June 01, 2009

Vote Conservative on the 4th of June

Here are two recent party political broadcasts:

The dangers of knee-jerk constitutional change

So far I think Tom Harris has made the best suggestion about how to respond to the expenses scandal - you can see his brilliant idea at And another thing...: The only possible response to the expenses scandal.

I'm afraid I can't come up with anything quite so spectacular but here's one that would change politics as we know it and that I know many people would be glad to see: Outlaw the Liberal Democrats. That will restore faith in democracy and end the scandal I'm sure!

More seriously there are numerous wild suggestions for constitutional change flying around, some of which seem to have been given no more thought than a brief contemplation in the pub. They are then advocated with an aggressive "any idiot can see this is a good idea" type of reasoning, often with pejorative terms like "reform" and "democracy" used as though they magically validate everything, with those who dare to question just how it will solve the problem at hand bluntly dismissed.

This is in no way a sensible approach to constitutional change. It needs to be carefully thought through, with the knock-on effects considered and with a more permanent basis of support than heat of the moment desires. There are many changes being advocated at the moment which are getting support in the opinion polls, but will people really be happy if they're implemented?

For example one proposal flying around is a standards board that would have the power to suspend or even sack MPs for misconduct. It sounds like a no-brainer doesn't it? Indeed a similar standards board exists for local government. But remember when that board suspended Ken Livingstone from office as Mayor of London? (It was overturned before the suspension took place.) The reaction was against the standards board for seemingly overriding the democratic choice of the people.

The idea of recall elections is taking off. Leaving aside the need to ensure that such a tool is not abused for mere partisan gain, has anyone advocating this ever actually knocked on voters' doors during a parliamentary by-election? I have and to put it mildly voters are not exactly happy that they've had yet another election land on them. Next time there's a by-election on, remember to ask the voters if they want more elections inflicted upon them!

Or there's the simultaneous demands for fixed term parliaments and a snap general election. But the whole point of fixed term parliaments is that you can't have a snap election!

(And fixed term parliaments don't exactly work well either. Germany supposedly has them but this hasn't stopped successive German Chancellors from manipulating the system to call an election whenever they want to. If people want to create the desired effect they need to change the political & popular culture to the point that a Prime Minister calling an early election for political advantage will risk displeasure being felt in the ballot box. But why bother trying to be effective when you can just pass tokenistic ineffective constitutional changes that make you feel good?)

I've also heard calls for more demands for referendums, including ones that the voters can initiate. Direct democracy - it sounds so wonderful doesn't it? But is it always the best thing? Referendums have been used to impose values upon people. In California the courts have just upheld that a referendum can take away basic rights, in this case the right of people to marry. Is direct democracy automatically the best thing if it can be used to deny people their rights?

Then on another level we have suggestions that the whole question of MPs' salaries and expenses should be handled by an independent review body. But one of the reasons why the expenses culture developed the way it did is because MPs did not wish to be seen to be accepting the full salary increases recommended by past reviews and instead an entire culture developed that allowances and expenses were meant to be generous to make up for the wages not being as high as they "should" have been.

And of course the usual suspects have once again pounced on every little thing to demand proportional representation. Apparently this will make it easier to get rid of MPs the public don't like.

So can someone tell me how the majority of voters of London can get rid of Richard Barnbrook from the London Assembly? He was elected by proportional representation after all. Or how are the majority of voters of South East England able to reject Daniel Hannan if they want to, when he is at the top of the list most likely to win the most votes in the proportional representation election on Thursday? Or, if we're taking the single transferable vote, how are the majority of voters of Northern Ireland to reject Bairbre de Brún if they wish? There's no alternative Sinn Féin candidate to choose instead. The harsh reality is that "safe seats" exist not because of magic but because a lot of people vote for political parties regardless of who the individual candidates are, and there's not much that can be done to change that.

Now a lot of this is critical and it's meant to be. I don't believe that there is a set of changes that will act as a magic wand to suddenly transform British politics and end all the expenses issues. Indeed one poll has found that two-thirds of voters agree that there is "nothing fundamentally wrong with Britain's constitution providing that MPs are honest and competent". (Daily Telegraph: MPs expenses: Six in ten voters want autumn general election)

But whilst "if it ain't broke don't fix it" suffices most of the time, it clearly doesn't at the moment. So here are some ideas, no more, no less, to throw into the discussion on ways forward:

* Initiate prosecutions against MPs who have committed criminal offences. If found guilty send them to jail and automatically vacate their seat.

* A standards board with the power to dismiss MPs. Yes this would be a trampling on democratic choice, but frankly there are times when the needs of the country as a whole should override the decision of one individual constituency. The principle has already been conceded at local government level, even if it took the Livingstone case to bring it up.

* That good old standby of an independent review body for MPs' salaries & expenses. However I would give it the power to actually set salaries not merely make recommendations that are politically difficult for MPs to vote in. That may not be popular in the short term but it would be better than the current mess. For oversight I would have the Lords as the chamber in control of the review body.

* For MPs who need a second home in London, instead of giving them the money to rent or buy one, perhaps the Commons should buy the home instead and the MPs only live there for the duration. This is an adaptation of the "hall of residence" idea often floated but repeatedly shot down on security concerns.

* Consider the constitution in a calmer state of affairs - that will produce better results than knee-jerk changes that just jump on the bandwagon.

A lot of this isn't sexy, it isn't dynamic and it isn't radical. But it's targeted at the problem itself, it isn't seeking to exploit the crisis for ends that have nothing to do with it and it isn't proposing the shake up the country. Calm reflection is always better than instant reaction.


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