Billy Bragg, aka the Bard of Barking, has been saying too many nice things about the Lib Dems.
Archive for April, 2010
Have been ridiculously busy with election-madness. Hopefully there’ll be more time to write some posts this week. Anyway, here’s a brief summary of Jako thoughts:
- There was very little media mentioning of Gideon Osborne humiliating himself at the Tory manifesto launch. A journalist asked Cameron about his commitment to the environment and green taxes. Cameron said a question about green taxes should be answered by the Shadow Chancellor. Said Shadow Chancellor could be seen desperately flicking through the Tory manifesto, with other Shadow Cabinet members passing him notes on what to say. Talk about a total failure to master one’s brief. Pathetic.
- Labour’s manifesto was nowhere near as radical as I’d have liked. Not much of great excitement to promise voters that a Labour fourth term would bring. Instead we have to talk about all Labour’s previous achievements like tax credits and child trust funds – themselves quite complicated to explain – and emphasise the importance of defending these from Tory/Liberal cuts.
- Although saying that, we can hardly establish a clear dividing line on investing in public services versus cuts when spending squeezes are already affecting parts of the NHS (hence the very unhelpful argument over the Whittington).
- Mentioning the Liberals, this poll nonsense is a total fricking disaster for us round here. Awful. A potential calamity. I appreciate that it makes the election more interesting but I really could have done without the hassle! I also wholly reject the idea that Clegg performed especially well at the debate on Thursday. I just think that his job was fundamentally easier in that he could easily capitalise on disillusionment with the two biggest parties.
- Clegg’s attacks on the “old politics” of the “old parties” is so nauseatingly ahistorical. Let’s not forget that the last time the Liberals formed their own government (1911-1915) they took us into a horrendous bloody war in which nearly a million Brits died. Just like with Iraq, the party with the most number of anti-war MPs was Labour.
- Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe made us all laugh when he said Nick Clegg was “seriously impressive”. But now we all have to take this…seriously. I can even understand the appeal of the Lib Dems. They talk about equality, which my party does not do enough. And Vince successfully gives the impression of being genuine and competent. He is certainly more inspiring than Darling and infinitely preferable to Osborne. But all I have to then do is remember that a local level they are fairly reactionary and unpleasant and that a lot of their ‘progressive’ sounding arguments aren’t built on solid foundations.
- I was disgusted to be wearing a Smiths t-shirt on a day when David Cameron once again told the world that he’s a massive Smiths fan.
Just back from the official election campaign launch in my ‘hood.
Very good speech from my MP in which she reminded us of all the good stuff she’s done compared to the local Lib Dems’ addiction to taking photos of themselves outside post offices/hospitals and then simply whingeing.
Guest speaker was Tessa Jowell. She was not so inspiring. I was rolling my eyes (I don’t think I was the only one) when she tried suggesting – in apparent seriousness – that because this is such a high-profile marginal seat it will get a lot of attention from journalists and therefore party activists should make sure they remain ‘on message’.
Pah. We are having most success on the doorstep when we focus on the policies of Islington Labour and when we make clear to people that an ‘x’ next to the name of the Labour Party candidates doesn’t have to signify an enthusiastic endorsement of Gordon Brown and everything the Government has done since 1997.
When out knocking on doors today, asking people if they had any issues they wanted to raise with their local councillor, a fellow-canvasser was told that the nearby school should serve halal meat. The voter’s argument was that the majority of pupils were Muslims. This was politely noted.
Had it been me canvassing that person I would not have been able to appear at all receptive to this demand. In fact I would probably have found it hard to restrain my anger at the suggestion that securing halal lunches was more important than safeguarding free school meals, the local Sure Start centre or youth clubs.
Being a liberal sort of society, people are allowed to follow a religion which requires them to kill animals for meat in a manner different to standard practice and which sits uncomfortably with the laws on animal welfare. People are even (mistakenly, IMO) allowed to have state-funded faith schools where conformity to these sorts of cultural norms are more rigorously enforced.
However, the school in question is not a faith one. Altering its catering policy to comply with the demands of religious parents – even if they did happen to form a majority – would be a mistake.
As a secularist, I dislike seeing publicly funded institutions bowing to the demands of the religious. Accepting a new dietary regime because of religious pressure may only encourage other changes to be sought – perhaps to the curriculum, the teaching style or the use of facilities.
At my next school governors’ meeting I will definitely be seeking to establish where any meat in the meals is sourced.
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab):
To misquote one of my contemporary political heroes, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), whom I have come to regard as a friend as well as a colleague, this will be the last speech that I shall ever make as a Member of this House of Commons. It comes at the end of what some have called the Manure Parliament, at a time when the stench of corruption and personal greed has overwhelmed the good that we try to do and the reasons why the vast majority of us come to this place. In my last contribution I want to mount a staunch defence of politics and politicians: not as an apologist for the status quo-because I have always been on what one could call the Hezbollah wing of the reform movement-but because I believe passionately that a precondition for the survival of a healthy democracy is the holding of regular elections, and that for those elections to function there must be candidates. Those candidates who eventually succeed in securing the approval of the electors will, whether they like it or not, grow up to become politicians, just as night follows day.
Yet, if we follow the subtext of much of the media coverage of our politics-and it long predates last spring’s expenses scandal-things would be so much better if somehow we could have politics without politicians and clear out the whole political class. All the ills of the world are easily solved, all problems are simple, and politicians-us lot-only make matters worse. Then, by adding a dose of xenophobia and a dollop of snobbery with some implied racism mixed in from time to time, we have the gospel according to Rod Liddle, Melanie Phillips, Jan Moir, Richard Littlejohn and a dozen other commentators of the fourth estate, who know it all. Well, anyone can write about what other people should be doing. I have spent a quarter of a century of my life as a public representative, often listening to other people telling me what I should be doing. I only wish I had spent half as long hearing people ask how they, too, could come forward and serve their communities assiduously, as the best of us here and in councils and assemblies the length and breadth of this land try to do.
I want to quote-more accurately-another of my contemporary heroes, my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), who gave the 2009 lecture for The Political Quarterly, which I commend to hon. Members. That provided much of the inspiration for this debate. He said of politicians:
- “You see someone has to do it-someone has to take responsibility. As politicians we give voice to the hopes of the people and inevitably we will also feed their disappointments.”
We should not apologise for coming together to form political parties. It is what the public want us to do. They want us to forge alliances based on common programmes and principles. The notion of a House of Commons filled with 650 independents, unable to agree on a single thing, has never appealed to the electorate, although it is in their gift to deliver it. At its best this place is the cockpit of our democracy, where the battle of ideas is fought out, and the hopes and aspirations of the people who sent us here receive expression and are sometimes realised. At its worst the Commons can be a craven institution, in thrall to either the Executive or party advantage, and pandering to the baser parts of the media. The day we finally subcontract our law-making to the likes of Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch will be the day on which representative democracy dies. Collectively we will have lost the moral authority that we have left.
We have gone far too far down that road already, giving too much power, without accountability, to unelected press barons who draw their political lineage and set their moral compasses from such repulsive headlines as “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” in the Daily Mail of 15 January 1934; I think that it has become more extreme over the years. Who will ever forget the famous headline in The Sun of 9 November 1998: “Are we being run by a gay mafia?” It was particularly demeaning to see the former leader of my party attempting to formulate child protection policy on the basis of a News of the World witch hunt that led to a mob attack on the home of a paediatrician, rather than by listening to the sensible, informed opinions of senior police officials and experts from organisations such as Barnardo’s and Save the Children, who know a thing or two about managing paeodphiles released from prison. We have yet to find out what price Mr. Murdoch has extracted from the Leader of the Opposition in return for the political endorsement of The Sun. I worry that we may see the break-up of the BBC and certainly a diminution in the regulatory powers of Ofcom.
Perhaps it is fitting, as a former shop steward, to end by speaking up for the trade of politics. I implore those who follow on in this place to promote nothing less than a cultural revolution in our political life. The vicious, build-them-up, knock-them-down culture is a self-defeating road to nowhere except personality-driven politics. This House of Commons must remain central to our national political life. It must never be treated merely as a vehicle for policy announcements and party press releases. To brush it aside is to brush aside the one powerful tool that our democracy bestows on its citizens. We should remember that power vacuums never remain in place for long. Our politics may not be perfect, but when politics fails, people with guns invariably take over.
The day didn’t actually start particularly well. I was faced with dastardly Liberal Democrats leafleting outside the tube station at ten to eight this morning.
“Oh no!” I thought, “they’ve got momentum! And as everyone knows, politics is all about the mo-men-tum! They’re out leafleting and I barely had time to brush my teeth properly before setting off for work. We’re doomed!”
However, reflecting upon the situation on the escalator I thought about how inefficient leafleting Angel tube station is when you’re trying to target Islington South and Finsbury voters. Half the people going there have got off buses from Underground-deprived Hackney.
Therefore, Foxy Bridge was simply wasting lots of paper. Let’s hope for the sake of the planet that people recycle her propaganda.
Melancholy returned at the news that the councillors would have attend a tenants’ association meeting and wouldn’t be able to come canvassing tonight. In fact, it looked like it would just be me and one other comrade. This would not have been momentum-tastic, to say the least.
Yet come 6.30 one of the councillors had decided he could join in the door-knocking, plus we got the MP and people from her office along and another local member unexpectedly turned up. Woop woop!
To top it off, the reception was good. Hardly any self-identifying Liberals (as usual), a handful of Tories, but lots of people remaining loyal to Labour. Some of these folk seemed to be even more dementedly pro-Labour than me! It was great!
Momentum is here and hopefully it’s here to stay. Tomorrow we visit Bevan Street. I will get stroppy with any resident of Bevan Street who does not plan on voting Labour and suggest they move to Thatcher Avenue (or something like that).
If interested apply here.
Chris Grayling truly is a numpty.
I don’t think his comments are actually especially controversial or surprising considering that there are plenty of people in both the big parties who delight in giving all sorts of privileges and exemptions to the religious.
But the incident is yet another example of Mr Grayling attracting negative headlines for the Tories.
He had dodgy expenses claims, he compared Moss Side to ‘The Wire’, he mistakenly described the appointment of General Sir Richard Dannatt as an adviser to the Conservatives as a “gimmick” and he was lambasted by the UK Statistics Authority for his misleading interpretation of crime figures.
The man is a walking political disaster-zone. Why does David Cameron keep him in his Shadow Cabinet team? Poor judgement, methinks.
A wonderfully wacky news story is breaking. Mark Collett, Nick Griffin’s BNP protegé and the party’s publicity director, has been arrested! For issuing death threats! To NICK GRIFFIN!!
Mark Collett of course famously told a documentary crew making a programme about the BNP yoof contingent (‘Young, Nazi and Proud’) that “Hitler will live forever and maybe I will too”.
It’s now emerging that Collett has got himself involved in a bid to oust Griffin as BNP Führer. In fact, to oust him to such an extent that he would be ‘an ex-BNP leader, this BNP leader has ceased to be!’
Perhaps Collett – convinced that getting rid of the dictator and bringing in fresh leadership was the only hope of victory – wanted to organise a BNP version of the 20 July plot.
Fascinating stuff. Hopefully it can only undermine the BNP’s election campaign.
On this, the day when we celebrate magic baby Jesus miraculously sharing a handful of chocolate eggs amongst 5000 people before getting crucified and then coming back from the dead for a brief comeback tour, it seems appropriate to reflect upon matters of spirituality.
Pope Celestine V (c.1209 – 1296) retired because he couldn’t handle the papal pressure. Having lived for decades as a hermit, he had originally tried to run away when the bishops decided to make him pope (presumably there was a lack of decent alternative candidates back in 1294). After just five months in the job he quit as he wanted to return to his hermit cave.
But although he abdicated his position Celestine wasn’t allowed to enjoy his retirement. His papal successor had him put in prison and was probably responsible for bumping him off in 1296. Poor old Celestine.
The point of this story is that there is a precedent for retiring popes. Ergo, if Benedict XVI feels very bad for allowing as Archbishop of Munich a known paedophile priest to be assigned to pastoral duties where he continued to abuse children, he could always consider calling it a day.
“The buck has to start somewhere”, the Pope could declare, “and to demonstrate that we are serious about making amends for the many years of covering-up these criminal activities it is obvious that all those tainted by the scandals need to go and new leadership brought in”.
However, having the preacher to the papal household compare the current criticism of the Catholic Church to the “most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism” (a bit of an odd thing to say considering the controversy around Pope Pius’s conduct during WW2) suggests that the Pope and his team won’t contemplate the Celestine strategy.