Tag Archives: David Cameron

Party Leader Election Debates

Bear with me on this one, I actually wrote it last week prior to last night’s 7-way leader’s debate broadcast. Although I’m feeling perfectly vindicated as the whole thing more or less confirmed my suspicions as detailed below….

UK politics were treated to another novel concept this election cycle, the slightly oddly formatted affair on Channel 4 that saw Cameron and Miliband grilled separately in quick fire succession by the tenacious Jeremy Paxman, in addition to a small studio audience. It felt like a dense affair with little breathing room, as both leaders were put under no small amount of pressure by their inquisitors. Snap opinion polling gave the nominal win over the affair to Cameron by an order of 54 to 46, but the small margin has seen some commentators claim that, due to low expectations, Miliband was the actual victor.

Various other subsidiary metrics were gleaned via polling, relating to matters such as leadership quality, world standing, likeability, veracity etc., but really it’s hard to measure what if any genuine impact the event will have on the election. Reactions from journalists, politicos and the average observer seem to pretty much boil down to confirmation bias, and the much vaunted “undecided” are unlikely to pin their ultimate decision down to what they witnessed. It largely felt like a vapid presentation piece during which we learned nothing new, and the best a sceptic might say is that it was entertaining to watch both leaders squirm a bit.

Frankly, these leadership-oriented events are something of a betrayal of the traditional nature of British politics and a further step in the trend towards imposing a presidential sort of perception on things. For anything that adequately and accurately represents how the Westminster machine still really ticks you would have to include at least the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary. But given the tedious palava that were the negotiations to establish this year’s varied set of cross-party forums, such an eventuality would probably be beyond the capabilities of the broadcasters and parties to achieve.

The seven-way debate on April 2nd could be fairly forecast as a complete debacle, unless ITV’s Julie Etchingham has moderating qualities of supernatural proportions. If you’ve ever watched an early-stage US presidential primary debate, in which there are multiple candidates still in the field, you’d probably agree with that statement. They either descend into noisy and cluttered diatribe, or the moderator wields an iron fist and the strict time allocations reduce proceedings to a stilted competition of who has the best sound bites. And that would be referring to the relatively mild Democratic primaries. The Republican iterations are downright outlandish.

As for the other main formats, the April 16th BBC five-way will offer little by way of improvement for lacking Cameron and Clegg, despite Dimbleby’s formidable experience, though at least the April 30th Question Time between Cameron, Clegg and Miliband carries the familiar and tested feel of a UK political staple. The town hall vibe feels marginally more genuine, as even if the core questions are guaranteed to be pre-approved, there is no grooming the often visceral reactions of the crowd. The people in the audience that night will hopefully feel entitled to express themselves as freely as they often do on many an ordinary Thursday night.

One wonders if the broadcasters considered something completely different though, something that might have offered the electorate a proper look into the parties in a fashion that is actually representative of UK politics. The cross-party aspect possibly does provide an adversarial entertainment element, but really it is completely meaningless. Going back to the notion that the Chancellor and Home Secretary should be representing their parties as well, you could expand further and include other major portfolios, and have broadcasters host single party events that more fully delved into individual party legacies, policies and promises.

Line them and give them a treatment on par with Paxman’s uncompromising assaults on Cameron and Miliband for Channel 4. Perhaps it may appeal less to those who don’t already have a healthy degree of political engagement, but considering a major complaint of the Channel 4 spectacle was that it broadly lacked substance, perhaps not. The format would provide proper focus and strip away the chaff of who is a better debater or performer, which is an utter irrelevance to political competency and ideology.

There’s no doubt the parties would still find a way to moan and quibble over how the broadcasts were released, which day of the week, timeslot, order, interviewer, proximity to election and more, but it would be worth pursuing in future elections if the British public are keen on more accessible modes of having their political options presented to them. The spirit of televised pre-election political broadcasting is in that sense very worthy. But clearly as they are still a newfangled thing in this country, there’s great room for improvement on what we’ve seen so far and are yet to be served up with.


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Limited Term Politics

Now there was an announcement of interest – David Cameron won’t run for a third spell as Prime Minister, assuming of course he grabs a second by what won’t be more than the skin of his teeth. This caused surprising levels of disquiet among the Conservative Party, and the world of political analysis went into overtime to parse the meaning of it all. Was it clever? Was it reckless? What impact will it have on the election, and who would be the next in line? One question that doesn’t seem to have been asked though, is why it’s seen as appropriate for one individual to hold such a degree of authority in the nation’s politics for longer than two terms?

There’s no sense in dredging up the ostensible facts about the structures of British politics, cabinet politics, where technically the Prime Minister is only meant to be a part of a core team of fellow ministers. This isn’t the USA, some would say, Cameron isn’t the president and the differences in these systems means unlimited-term ministers are of less concern. But if we’re being honest, there has been a shift in the last two decades in the character of British politics that has seen the role of Prime Minister assume greater relevance. While still a far throw from being actually presidential, there’s no doubt a heady step in that direction was taken with the ascendancy of Tony Blair.

Even if that wasn’t the case, the question would remain – what is the logic and wisdom of allowing a limited group of individuals an unending seat at the tables of power? Why in this country is that effectively the default position for our ministers, from the lowly junior elect all the way up to No.10? Whatever bearing Cameron’s declaration will have on the imminent political landscape, and assuming the declaration was honest and to be borne out in the fullness of time, it’s hard to understand why it was greeted with any sense of controversy. Where were the congratulations for daring to be forthright about the limited extent of his political ambition?

It is a rarity that a political career of noticeable longevity was thus because of the excellence of the politician in question. More often than not it is a product of entrenchment, where the individual in question was simply able to cling on out of vanity and comfort, without any aspect of genuine competition for their place in politics. We see it in Westminster and in Washington, and in many other of the halls of governance across the world. That constituencies can be so utterly stagnant as to allow for the continuation of political livelihoods that span decades is surely something that defies the better wisdom of public service.

In the UK we have even enshrined the position of longest serving MP with the title “Father of the House”. For the last five years that honorific has belonged to Sir Peter Tapsell, although it may just be that this man belongs to that less common set of genuinely unflinching public servants, and it’s difficult, perhaps not even called for, to make criticisms of someone so broadly respected. This doesn’t mean the system in place that allowed a ministerial career that started in 1959 and runs to this very day, only disrupted by two years out of parliament from 1964-66, isn’t worthy of criticism.

It takes a glance across the Atlantic to see what is unquestionably the poster child for reformations to the allowed terms of public service, one Congressman Charles Rangel. How this perennial lightning rod of ethical discrepancies has maintained his 44-year career is no mystery, as we go back to those key words: vanity, comfort, entrenchment and stagnation. Leaving behind naïve ideals of politics, open ended political service is far more want to produce the Rangels of this world then it is the Tapsells.

Look to the expenses scandal our dutiful MPs found themselves embroiled in, in 2009. To date, eight politicians have had criminal charges brought against them, Labour’s David Chaytor, Jim Devine, Eric Illsley, Denis MacShane, Margaret Moran and Elliot Morley, and Conservative Peers John Taylor and Paul White. All but Jim Devine had served for a period of not less than 13 years, in most cases considerably longer than this. Of the dozens of other MPs obliged to repay the public coffers for their indiscretions, most assumed office in or before 1997.

This isn’t to say that a prolonged stint on the public teat is definitively corollary with petty corruption, and many MPs were quite capable of resisting temptation, but it is simply another layer to the argument that ministers, let alone cabinet or prime ministers, should have better restrictions placed upon them. Besides, a traditional ideal of politics was that it never should have been a substitute for an “actual” career, namely one that began and thrived in the private sector and then ceded into public service once some form of wisdom or experience of the real world was accrued. In that sense, politics carried some characteristic of sacrifice, rather than opportunism.

Like or loathe or David Cameron for his politics, there is at least a little something to applaud in his apparent unwillingness to plough ahead indefinitely in Westminster, without doubt with regards to his role as Prime Minister. Periodically, new leaders, new ideas and a new direction are hugely important to reinvigorating national politics. While it also remains to be seen if Cameron becomes part of the “revolving door” dynamic of modern politics that sees many slip from office into some form of lobbying, there shouldn’t be anything implicitly negative about saying, in politics, “Enough is enough.”

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Forget Deference for a Moment

The blood boils. With an early evening cup of tea I watched Prime Minister’s Questions, seeking my usual dose of political theatre, hoping to glean a few hints between the lines of the questions, answers and raucous cheering and jeering. It’s usually an eye-roller, but today it was an eye-bulging, vascular ruining, aneurysm inducing affair. The leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, is not fit for purpose, and that’s a very restrained assessment.

I’m loathe to repeat my general criticism of the Labour leader, I’ve already done so enough, but he drags me back in time and time again. The void of ideas, the steady stream of attack on government and the hypocrisy of his machinations in relation to his party’s time in government are bad enough, but he has sought new means by which to make tatters of the prestige of Westminster. I would advise you to watch this Wednesday’s edition and see if you don’t agree.

Being generously gracious, the coalition is not having the best time of things. It’s approaching shambolic territory really, and this is well understood by everyone. Criticism of this ill-matched union is well-deserved, as even their lingering claims of progress are being drowned out by the obstacles and regressions. Improved employment and increased exports aren’t enough to distract from huge benefit and public sector cuts, against a backdrop of an otherwise lame economy.

Cameron is visibly under fire. He looks tired, embattled, fearful of the whispers of a leadership challenge. The Conservative Party surely realises how utterly self-defeating this would be and yet I have a brewing dread based on their previously suicidal political blunders, not limited to becoming embroiled in social issues and the ever looming European question. Solidarity is beginning to waver and the struggles of government are plain to see.

So I say this of Mr. Miliband. If there is nothing he can do other than gesticulate like a precocious infant while riling up the Commons with petulant and entirely disrespectful rhetoric of precisely zero value, he should resign. Today was the end of my tolerance for his pathetic brand. Immediately to his left sits Harriet Harman, an infinitely better prospect for the party thanks in part to her maturity and experience, but also much more.

She at least is dynamic. Forget this talk of Teresa May taking over the Conservatives, unless Thatcher 2.0 is your thing, Harman should be the next female leader in British politics. And the sooner the better. God help us all if the dismal antics of Miliband and Balls are actually appealing to anyone, as their dereliction to the whole meaning of opposition spells doom for their potential in government.

I have no doubt Harman can dish out the salty Commons jibes with the best of them, and indeed has in her capacity as deputy under Brown. The difference between her and her two colleagues is that when offering criticism she also tends to offer alternatives. Not always fully formed, it must be said, but then I’ve never even demanded that of the increasingly symbiotic abomination that is the Labour leader and shadow chancellor. Just more than playground sarcasm.

Miliband was shockingly awful today. I can only hope people were paying attention. If they liked what they saw, they shouldn’t, because in every nasal taunt and scoffing assault were the signs of his total inadequacy. On their own it would usually only amount to the typical buffoonery of Prime Minister’s Questions, but coupled with his negligence and vapidity it’s an insult. Socialist ideas man? Thinker? Intellectual? My left nut. Prove it.

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Down and Out in Eastleigh

I commend the following thoughts to our esteemed Prime Minister. After the controversy of coming out on what this author sees as the wrong side of the “Mantel vs Middleton” issue, it would be advisable to check your fire for a moment. Take stock of the nature of half-informed, impromptu statements and learn the lessons therein. DO NOT, for example, under any circumstances, return from a goodwill trip to the subcontinent and immediately unleash another can of worms.

Too late. Taking to the hustings in Eastleigh with Conservative hopeful Maria Hutchings, it only took him a matter of hours to jump all over the BBC and the perceived slight surrounding this 5 Live radio debate, supposedly featuring the main party candidates. And UKIP. And the Lib Dems… Scorn for these two political rumps aside however, they actually managed to turn up. From such an important event, Hutchings’ absence was noted and questioned.

You’ve possibly read the details already. Cameron was very quick to attack the BBC on the grounds that Hutchings had not been informed of the debate and that yesterday was an impossibility for such an affair given that she was doing the public rounds with him. Which is to say, trying to take sustenance for her ailing campaign from all that public affection for the PM. Perhaps a less ineffective strategy than you might think, after a fairly successful international tour.

Accusations of political skulduggery abound. Hutchings has essentially been a litany of poorly calculated statements on anything from state education to how best to manage rioters and there was a sense that her date with Cameron was also a convenient excuse to avoid the heat of debate and potential embarrassment. The Conservative Party has hastened to paint the BBC as making much ado about nothing but I’m very sceptical.

For one thing, recent tarnishes aside, the BBC is in my mind the epitome of a fine broadcasting model and I’d go to war over it. Long after I’ve used the ashes of the NHS to choke the fires of every other inferno-consumed institution of repute on these isles, I’ll be defending the BBC. Sentimentality aside however, it seems plainly ridiculous that they would forget to invite the government candidate and they have every right to feel cheated by the Tories.

As do we. Open debates are hugely important to the democratic process and although Cameron and company suggest the BBC is being far too up itself, I would suggest the corporation’s indignation is rightly on our behalf. Given the much hailed importance of this by-election (the notional and relative importance of such a thing in this country raising an amused smirk), it is utterly laughable that the Tories have put up such a risky candidate, one who they can’t seem to rely on.

Political incompetence has been a serious threat to the health of government lately and this episode is doing little to improve things. It may sound cynical, but the least Hutchings could do is maintain discipline with a mind to winning. With Cameron leering over her for the better part of Thursday it seems order has been recovered to some degree but it’s probably too late. Eastleigh is a hard fought constituency between the Tories and Lib Dems, and polls predict a victory for the latter again.

This is despite the by election being forced by Lib Dem Chris Huhne’s disgrace and a broader feeling of that party as being somewhere between a death rattle and actual rigor mortis. I don’t yet buy into the notion that victory in Eastleigh will resuscitate the brand, but it would be a vaguely impressive sign of their desperation to survive. Not to mention a strongly condemning statement of the Tories’ boundless capacity for tripping over their own feet.

The curiosities of the exit polls will be there to dissect in good time, notably that of UKIP’s condition. Given that Nigel Farage exists in his own mind perpetually in the land of imminent political rampancy, it would be interesting to see how the public actually feel. And I’m looking forward to Labour’s jeering from the sidelines like one tends to look forward to a gut shot. Ah, the Great British by-election. Tickets are free.

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An Inexcusable Absence

Ladies and gentleman, it has been too long. Over two weeks since the last piece but in current affairs terms it may as well have been a lifetime ago. My apologies, as no doubt this house of reasoned comment has become part of your many dependencies and I dread to think of your sweaty convulsions of withdrawal.

It might have been a touch of writer’s block, or perhaps real world concerns took precedence for a time… but not wanting to appear anything but committed to this project, with a natural flair that excludes any possibility of a creative deficit, I shall say it was for this reason: sometimes there just isn’t anything worth writing about.

Events continued to simmer away. Simon Jenkins, Mark Mardell and many others continued to offer their own works for us to indulge in, but I have found little to really sink my teeth into. Bits and bobs at best. Domestically, our primary concerns are Europe, the gay marriage issue and a limited affray into Mali in support of the French. Abroad, the issues are still largely attached to events I’ve given temporarily appropriate attention to.

In my humble opinion these are all issues that just need sitting on for a while. The best I could offer at present is a rewrite of any respectable news source, or much worse, wild speculation or soapbox ranting. The gay marriage question is a particular risk for the latter concern but I’d rather save the best of my indignation for the possibility that the legislation will be defeated by that reprehensible Tory-right faction.

Even though I have criticised the legislation in previous articles, notably for its ratification of CofE canon with regards to homosexual union that further closes the debate within that church, it is just about a step in the right direction. To listen to many a socially backwards individual detail their homophobic concerns over the proposed laws is hugely disappointing, but my outrage is wasted until we have a result.

I may profoundly disagree with the MP who would fight equal rights and opportunities, but to get a little Voltaire on you, that MP has every right to maintain his position. I have every right to maintain mine, and if I really believe in the idea, should bear some responsibility to make it the majority one. I don’t terribly care about distasteful minority views providing they remain the minority view.

Of course, should the vote be lost from my perspective, I would technically be in the minority, but an ever-so morally justified and outraged one. It seems that despite the political division appearing scarily even, the public sentiment is broadly more progressive and should the legislation not pass it would be an indictment of the traditional element of the Conservative party’s disconnection.

As far as I can fathom, there is no logical or rational reason to oppose homosexuality, much less homosexual marriage. The often seen pained confusion and dissonance written on the face of someone trying to explain their objections to these things, says a great deal. Whether founded in religious or closed societal influences, it just boils down to a lack of understanding and a primitive fear of “otherness”.

I will say this much more for the time being. These are not difficult objections to circumvent or preferably overturn, and all the supporters of the legislation should be out in force making the best and most clear cases possible. Another notably inexcusable absence was that of David Cameron from today’s Commons debate. I’m sure Joe Biden was thrilling company but I fear that was rather a convenient excuse for once again not facing up to the right wing of his party.

I’ve said before that his balancing act between moderates and hard conservatives is unenviable to say the least. But I won’t reserve my criticism for him should his timidity here result in the wrong outcome on this matter.


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Regressive UK

A rather horrible week for social progress in the UK. George Osborne’s Autumn Statement speaks for itself. Further austerity will be unforgiving in raking back government services that will clearly hit lower and middle income families. There were titbits of liberalism… bringing forward the 10k tax allowance increase, scrapping the fuel duty increase… but with slashed corporate tax rates and an increased threshold for the top tax band and inheritance, it is very easy to accuse the Chancellor of not protecting the more vulnerable, but rather unapologetically improving circumstances for business and wealth.

It’s more complicated than that of course, it always is, but despite young George’s attempts to veil his distinctly conservative statement with convolution and detail, the spirit of it was clear to see. With as much disregard for the less affluent as is politically feasible, he will drag the nations economy back into stability. His perspective seems to be driven by interest rates, inflation, credit ratings, borrowing and spending; macro factors, as opposed to those niggling details like quality of life for families or youth unemployment.

As a young individual with a complex liberal/libertarian stance, one despairs. I approve of Osborne’s mandate to return the country’s finances to a sound place and appreciate that it’s not going to be done without some tears. There is absolute legitimacy in undoing some of the bloated social infrastructure of the Labour years. I just wish with every ounce of my being he didn’t have to be quite such a dick about it. Perhaps if his opposite number, the truly unbearable Ed Balls, had some serious thoughts to throw into the mix, Osborne would be more obliged to balance his approach.

The intricacies and uncertainties of the budget have been well dissected however, and better than I could, and really were just worth a mention in context with two other social issues that have sprung up. All thrown together, I’m pondering a possible lifestyle elsewhere in the world. These issues are drug policy and gay marriage.

Drug policy will be dealt with briefly as I largely said my piece in an earlier article subsequent to the UKDPC report. But last week, a further extensive study, this time by MPs and led by the broadly respected and experienced Kieth Vaz, recommended an immediate royal commission on national drug policy. It was called a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redress a failing system, backed by evidence from alternative systems that have found success in Portugal and elsewhere, and are being generally lauded due to their success and focus on care, not criminality.

To describe a mix of emotions that includes horror but also a total lack of surprise is difficult, yet so it was when Home Office minister Jeremy Browne deftly swatted the idea of the commission down. He was then followed by a sweaty David Cameron going further to say that drug policy wasn’t on the table for discussion as actually the current system is apparently working and we shouldn’t abandon it. This was so patently a case of sidestepping another protracted war against his socially draconian backbenchers I was almost willing to forgive him until I reminded myself that my early interest in Cameron was as a potential moderator of the party. If losing on Europe was enough for him to bow down in submission to this noxious clique then all hope is lost.

If further proof was needed that the party was slipping back in time, then all one needed was Maria Miller taking to the dispatch box and detailing her “quadruple lock” on the sanctity of a church’s authority to allow gay marriage or not. It being Church of England Canon that this is illegal, she was basically rubber stamping the illegality of a traditional form of homosexual union in this nation. Other religious institutions may choose different stances but that is somewhat not the point here. Using so cynically the separation of church and state and freedoms of religious expression, that abhorrent wing of the Tory party dodged a bullet in achieving their aims but not also looking overtly discriminatory.

How totally infuriating this has all been. Social values in politics is incredibly dangerous territory in the first place, as generally it is little more than a downward projection of the values of one or a few individuals who find themselves in a position of authority. I don’t belief the government should have a jurisdiction any greater than the handling of revenues, the implementation of law and the defence of the realm. Yet the three major issues in government of late, as I’ve identified them, are all so tainted by social values that I enforce my position that government should entirely avoid the arbitration of values.

It is a slightly difficult line to tread. The implementation of law that prevents murder is to some extent a law influenced by the social value that we should not kill each other, but this is a perfectly defensible and morally utilitarian example. The best way to feel safe about my person is with mutual reassurance – I shall not murder, am not a threat, and so shall not be murdered. Or at least, should not be murdered. But how that logic extends to one individual or group saying, “I disapprove of this thing that in no way directly effects me and so it should not be allowed,” is beyond me.

Students smoking legal marijuana will not have Browne getting high in the Commons – smokers will smoke, abstainers will not. Traditionally recognised gay marriage will not have Miller turning cheek and hitting the Soho bars and neither is there a jot of validity in that contemptible argument that it would erode the heterosexual interpretation of the union. It’s just all such thinly veiled, subjective, bigoted, unintelligent, unintelligible, irrational… codswallop.

Also known as bullshit. If I were Cameron I would re-establish my backbone and take to the backbenches with a cleaver. Conservative values politics in the last week has socially regressed the nation yet again.

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