mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
There's an interesting short essay available for free from the London Review of Books authored by emeritus historian Dr Ross McKibbin dated October 1991. It reflects upon a re-assessment of the Wilson and Callaghan governments, in light of Thatcherism, and in anticipation of the general election that took place in April 1992. Two extracts in particular caught my attention, as each could easily have been re-written for the current turmoil afflicting the Labour Party. Plus ça change...

"The Labour Party has been peculiarly disabled in the last ten years because so many of its own members have written off its history. Thatcherism was in practice distinctly vulnerable to attack – but not by a party which had denied its own past. How people choose to ‘remember’ the Wilson and Callaghan governments is consequently something to which the Labour Party should urgently attend: only if they ‘remember’ them benevolently (or at least not malevolently) can Labour hope to re-establish itself securely as a governing party. Yet there is still no evidence that the Labour leadership wishes to attend: on the contrary – as Mrs Thatcher did with the Heath government – they seem either to pretend that the Wilson and Callaghan governments did not exist or that they were mistakes for which the Party must endlessly atone."

[...]

"If an ideological alternative to the Conservative Government is to be made acceptable to the electorate, both folk memory and the Labour Party will have to change their minds about the 1964 and 1974 governments and the Labour Party will have to do it first. The Labour Party has committed the cardinal rhetorical error of any political party by apologising for its own past: the Conservatives may ignore their own past, but they never apologise for it. Labour has done this partly because of the utopianism of many of its activists – to them the best is always the enemy of the good – and partly because of a certain timid and innocent defensiveness. Labour always plays the game by other people’s rules. A measure of this defensiveness is the extent to which the Labour Party is happy to be thought the ‘caring’ party but is plainly less happy to be thought the ‘competent’ party, even though there seems no logical reason why it could not be both. It thus apologises for the Wilson and Callaghan governments because the activists said they fell below perfection while those in economic and cultural authority said they failed. But there are entirely adequate justifications for these governments which the Labour leadership should start making. Although it seems scarcely possible, the majority of the electorate still believes that the Conservatives are more ‘competent’ economic managers than Labour, and this basically means that they think the Tories are more fit to govern. We can be fairly certain that as an election approaches this belief will become more intense – much to Labour’s detriment. The Labour leadership must, therefore, assert that the Wilson and Callaghan governments were more ‘competent’ than their predecessors and successors, which they were, and sound as though they mean that as a compliment, and also recognise that their policies, though indeed imperfect, were better suited to a sluggish, rather uncohesive society than the alternatives. They might then be able to argue that the rather rough-hewn social democracy with which the Labour Party is historically associated has worked very much more in the national interest than anything else we are likely to have. And that we are more likely to have a productive capitalism under Labour than under its principal opponent. A Labour Party which restores itself to its own past might, having perceived its strengths, accept its weaknesses: namely, that under our present institutional and constitutional arrangements its spells in office may be fitful and unrewarding."

If you read the rest of the essay or other writings by McKibbin it is quite clear that he isn't a Blairite (or Brownite) by any stretch of the imagination. As such, perhaps someone ought to send every Corbynista a copy of this essay to illustrate their folly in repeating the mistakes of the last generation by denying the many great achievements between 1997 and 2010.
mcgillianaire: (Changing Guard London)
"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London.
No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life;
for there is in London all that life can afford."

~ Samuel Johnson ~

On Thursday morning I fly to DC, drawing to a close over nine years in the UK. It seems fitting for such an occasion to delve into the memory bank and recollect how things have changed since I first moved here on a sunny May morning in 2007...

  • Tony Blair was still PM, Ming Campbell was Lib Dem leader and Ken Livingstone Mayor of London.
  • A woman had yet to serve as Britain's Home Secretary.
  • It was legal to smoke in pubs.
  • £1 was worth nearly $2.
  • Kate and Wills had just broken up.
  • Waterloo Station was still the Eurostar terminus.
  • Free newspapers thelondonpaper and London Lite were still in production and you had to pay for The Evening Standard.
  • Steve McClaren was England's football manager and the national team had yet to play at the new Wembley.
  • Portsmouth FC, now in the fourth tier, had just finished 9th in the Premier League.
  • Mourinho was Abramovich's only managerial appointment.
  • There was no equal prize money at Wimbledon between men and women.
  • The Digital Switchover had yet to begin.
  • Britain's Got Talent, Outnumbered, Would I Lie To You & Only Connect hadn't aired; Parkinson & Grange Hill were still on.
  • The iPhone hadn't been released yet.
  • Spain hadn't won a football World Cup or European Championships since 1964.
  • Pep Guardiola had yet to manage Barcelona and therefore hadn't won any of his 15 major trophies to date.
  • Djokovic had not won a Grand Slam yet, Nadal just 3 and there was only one British appearance in a final since 1977.
  • Myspace was the most popular social network, Twitter was just a year old (with fewer than 700,000 users) & Facebook had 20 million active users (it's now over a billion).
  • Justin Bieber hadn't been 'discovered' yet, Lady Gaga hadn't released her first album and Taylor Swift was still unheard of despite having released her first album.
  • Jennifer Lawrence had not acted in a film yet.
  • And finally, a little-known African American senator from Illinois had just announced his candidacy to the US presidency.

I hope I return to Blighty 21 months from now. I'm sure the time will fly. But my life has not quite gone according to plan until now, so who knows what the future holds. What I do know is that my lifelong love affair with The Great Wen and all things British will never diminish. So long Great Britain and its great people, thank you for all the wonderful memories.

Signing out for the last time on this side of the pond (for now), this is That Bloke in the Big Smoke.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
Here's a scenario: let's assume Britain votes to remain within the EU, but only by the narrowest of margins. Following the lead of their members, several Brexit Tories cross the floor to UKIP, throwing the government into chaos. A group of moderate Labour MPs frustrated at their inability to oust Jeremy Corbyn as leader, form an alliance with David Cameron, George Osborne and their rump Tories to try and prop up a minority administration. The Orange Book Lib Dems (all three of them?), after much soul-searching and fearing their continued irrelevance also decide to reluctantly join the alliance. At the next general election, the alliance merges into The Centrist Party and competes with UKIP, Labour, SNP, Greens and rump Lib Dems. Imagine that.
mcgillianaire: (Changing Guard London)
I voted for Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dems) and Sadiq Khan (Labour) respectively in the London Mayoral election. In the London Assembly, I voted for Nick da Costa (Lib Dem) in my Enfield and Haringey seat and allocated my List vote to the Greens.

Another year, another #ToryFreeZone at the ballot box. A unique year as we return to the polls next month for the EU referendum. I've yet to make up my mind on that. It all boils down to whether the sovereignty gained is worth the inevitable economic uncertainty in the immediate and medium-term post-plebiscite. As a weak social democrat, one cannot easily dismiss Lord Owen's support for Brexit, nor that of the Green Party's Jenny Jones. They are very reasonable people with whom I don't always agree, but they are of the firm belief that the EU cannot be reformed in its present state and I am inclined to concur.

Unfortunately, the fact Brexit is also supported by the likes of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson (among other odious creatures) makes it extremely difficult to convince oneself that this is indeed the right choice, made worse by the prospect of accepting a post-Brexit negotiation on their terms rather than the Owens and Joneses of the world, who would have very little say on it.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
[ Originally posted 21 October 2013. Last updated 16 July 2016. ]

In the hagiography that greeted Mrs T's death, other politicians of her era emerged out of the woodwork. I was intrigued. How many of these old fogeys were still knocking about? The oldest I was certain of was Tony Benn (88). I also knew
Peter Tapsell, Douglas Hurd, Shirley Williams, Norman Tebbit (all 83), Dennis Skinner, Nigel Lawson (both 81),
Roy Hattersley and Michael Heseltine (80), were still alive. But who else? My findings threw up some interesting names...

Read more... )
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
The problem with British politics is that there are two centre-left parties competing against each other in a first-past-the-post voting system, rather than forming an electoral alliance to defeat the Tories at any cost. Ideally, the Liberal Democrats would not even exist under present circumstances, and I say that as someone who has almost always voted for them and whose political philosophy most closely matches mine. But it cannot be denied, a vote for the Lib Dems in Labour-Tory marginals is an indirect vote for the Tories. And who suffers? The people who want and need a centre-left government.

Given the extreme unlikelihood of the Lib Dems dissolving anytime soon and despite their recent electoral woes, anyone who seeks an alternative to a Tory government should encourage an electoral pact. The pact needn't cover the entire country, simply the constituencies where either party can defeat the Tories. A similar pact could be struck with Plaid in Wales and SNP north of Hadrian's Wall. The idea of a pact is nothing new, even in Britain, but it gained traction in my mind after the recent French elections. The Front National were resoundingly defeated in the second round after the Socialist Party withdrew some of its candidates. This enabled Sarkozy's centre-right party to win instead: the lesser of two evils. Such emergency measures can be viewed as the political equivalent of gamesmanship, going against or rubbing disturbingly close to the boundaries of fair democratic play. But in politics as with life, one must constantly make choices and in this instance, the choice was between explicit racist extremists and a more preferable, though not entirely tolerable lot. We should learn from them.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
Denis Healey, 1959 Labour Conference speech excerpt from his autobiography, The Time of My Life (1989):

"I pointed to the growing gap between the Labour activist and the voter:

    'Hugh Gaitskell was absolutely right when he said yesterday that what gets cheers at this conference does not necessarily get votes at elections. If it did we would have won Devonport [the seat which Michael Foot had just lost]. There are far too many people who … want to luxuriate complacently in moral righteousness in Opposition. But who is going to pay the price for their complacency?

    You can take the view that it is better to give up half a loaf if you cannot get the whole loaf, but the point is that it is not we who are giving up the half loaf. In Britain it is the unemployed and old age pensioners, and outside Britain there are millions of people in Asia and Africa who desperately need a Labour Government in this country to help them. If you take the view that it is all right to stay in Opposition so long as your Socialist heart is pure, you will be 'all right, Jack'. You will have your TV set, your motor car and your summer holidays on the Continent and still keep your Socialist soul intact. The people who pay the price for your sense of moral satisfaction are the Africans, millions of them, being slowly forced into racial slavery; the Indians and the Indonesians dying of starvation.

    We are not just a debating society. We are not just a Socialist Sunday School. We are a great movement that wants to help real people living on this earth at the present time. We shall never be able to help them unless we get power. We shall never get power unless we close the gap between our active workers and the average voter in the country.'

Thirty years later I am still making the same speech."

Roy Jenkins, BBC's Dimbleby Lecture excerpt, 22 Nov 1979:

"The paradox is that we need more change accompanied by more stability of direction. It is a paradox but not a contradiction. Too often we have superficial and quickly reversed political change without much purpose or underlying effect. This is not the only paradox. We need the innovating stimulus of the free market economy without either the unacceptable brutality of its untrammelled distribution of rewards or its indifference to unemployment. This is by no means an impossible combination. It works well in a number of countries. It means that you accept the broad line of division between the public and the private sectors and don't constantly threaten those in the private sector with nationalisation or expropriation.

You also make sure that the state knows its place, not only in relation to the economy, but in relation to the citizen. You are in favour of the right of dissent and the liberty of private conduct. You are against unnecessary centralisation and bureaucracy. You want to devolve decision-making wherever you sensibly can. You want parents in the school system, patients in the health service, residents in the neighbourhood, customers in both nationalised and private industry, to have as much say as possible. You want the nation to be self-confident and outward-looking, rather than insular, xenophobic and suspicious. You want the class system to fade without being replaced either by an aggressive and intolerant proletarianism or by the dominance of the brash and selfish values of a "get rich quick" society. You want the nation, without eschewing necessary controversy, to achieve a renewed sense of cohesion and common purpose.

Betty Boothroyd on Tony Benn in 1981, The Autobiography (2001):

"Tony [Benn] proved a valuable supporter of mine when I became Speaker, and I acknowledged his seniority and his right to express minority opinions by calling him regularly to speak. But we were at loggerheads in those desperate times. Declaring my support for Denis [Healey], I objected to candidates who offered simple solutions to complex problems and who promised to transform society in a matter of weeks. 'In a democracy, political life is not easy. Nor, in a democracy, is intensity of commitment a substitute for the wider breadth of support needed to return a Labour government.' I mentioned no names, but did not need to."

Chris Mullin, A View From The Foothills: The Diaries of Chris Mullin; Preface, xii (Spring 2009):

"What kind of politician am I? Had I been asked when I first went into Parliament, I might glibly have replied that I saw it as my mission 'to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable'. But over the years I have learned that there is more to politics than that. If you are to stand a chance of forming a government and to do that you have to take with you a swathe of the comfortable. It follows, therefore, that in an age of majority affluence, any serious politician has to spend a fair amount of time attending to the needs of the comfortable. Today, if I were asked to define my politics, I would reply that I am 'a socialist with a small "s", a liberal with a small "l", a green with a small "g" and a Democrat with a capital "D"'."

Alan Milburn, Centre for Social Justice speech, 24 Jun 2015:

"Political parties have to exist for a purpose and so do party leaders. Without it they are nothing. Great leaders always have a big purpose. For Churchill it was victory in war, for Thatcher victory against a stifling state. For Blair it was victory against old-fashioned attitudes and institutions that held our country back. Today, to be blunt, voters are no longer sure what Labour is for. They do not see a compelling core purpose. In that regard we are not alone. Across the developed world, the Right is in the ascendancy buoyed by the collapse of communism, the grip of globalisation and the fall-out from the financial crisis. The Left has been wrong-footed, uncertain how to apply our traditional values in this new world. As always we get into trouble when we confuse the ends we believe in and the means we deploy. The one remains fixed - our commitment to fairness and justice, our insight that we achieve more together than we ever can alone. But the other - our means - has to be flexible if we are to succeed in the modern world. It is this calibration between what is fixed and what should be flexible that the centre-left has found most difficult to get right. And I think explains why across the developed world it has been losing more elections than it has been winning."
mcgillianaire: (South Park Me)
I'm in America. I've been here 3 weeks, and I'll be here for 9 more. The weather in Providence, RI is a lot warmer (and sunnier) than London - so far. I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I'm staying with my sister and future bro-in-law. I'm taking a couple of online courses from Harvard's continuing education school and a course to prepare for the GRE. The GRE is a standardized test for postgrad studies in 'Murica. I've decided to turn my back on the legal profession and return to university next year. I'll be applying for public policy degrees in the neighborhood. Boston is commuting distance so there are quite a few options to pick from. I definitely don't have the grades or accomplishments to even consider the likes of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, but hopefully I will get admitted to the next rung of alternatives below it.

My family would like me to remain in America after my postgrad degree, preferably close to my sister, but I am pretty clear in my mind that this is just a short adventure across the pond. That said, I am really looking forward to the opportunity of studying in America, and I am open to the idea of staying here for a year or two afterwards if I can secure a job in DC (or anywhere else, as long as it's in public policy). But I would like to return to London eventually.

I haven't quite left permanently either. Once my three months on the visa waiver program ends, I'll be flying back to London for the Christmas period. As amazing as the weather is right now and as cool as it is to be in America, I miss Blighty. Thank fuck, if you'll pardon my French, for smartphones and tablets. And thank fuck for the BBC. The radio app has been a godsend. It's like I've never left. Although waking up to You & Yours has been an interesting experience; sort of like the opposite of waking up to Up All Night when I'm in Oman or India. And with free VPN apps, I've even been able to tune into Sky Sports to watch live events, while catching-up on the latest comedies via the iPlayer app!

It was also interesting to vote in the Labour leadership election while sat on my computer here in America. I didn't give Jeremy Corbyn any of my nominations and instead plumped for Kendall, Cooper and Burnham in that order. None of my choices did well in the deputy leadership and London mayoral candidate election either. But nothing was as amusing as the media and shadow cabinet meltdown that greeted Corbyn's victory declaration. The Tories and right-wing media predictably labelled him a threat to humanity. And Blairites clearly didn't know what to do; cross the floor, jump ship or piss from inside the tent. Basically a raft of similar options that will not change the result in 2020.

And poor Corbyn, the chap clearly wants politics to change, but I don't think he feels comfortable leading the circus. Leadership necessitates compromise, and if there is something that sets Corbyn apart, it is his principled consistency. Love or loathe him, he has made a career out of it. The leadership will be a test of his political ambition and nous, neither of which he has displayed until now. Yet there are many attributes that I admire in Corbyn (the backbencher), and it is refreshing that someone of his disposition has risen to the top of British politics.

Alas, one wonders whether Labour should reduce itself to simply a party of protest, or seek to position itself as a government-in-waiting, ready to take over from the Tories at a general election. It's one thing to secure a thumping mandate from the cheerleading squad, quite another appealing to a wider electorate.

I wasn't even bothered about his appearance at PMQs, at St Paul's cathedral, his insistence to remain silent during the national anthem, or the chaotic manner in which the shadow cabinet was formed. It reflected a person for whom substance matters over spin. But I can understand why the electorate may have viewed it differently. You know, the same people whose votes he needs in 2020. Corbyn faces an uphill battle. The Tories plan to reduce the number of MPs and re-draw constituency boundaries - largely to their benefit. And there's still no sign that Scotland will abandon the SNP. Which leaves about 50-75 marginals to gain from the Tories in order to form a government.

Corbynistas are banking on three things: the 35% that didn't vote in May, old Labour UKIP voters and old Labour Green/Lib Dem voters. It's true, a lot of people didn't vote in May and Corbyn's election may inspire some people to vote for the first time/again. On the contrary, Labour voters who really don't like Corbyn's policies, but voted for Labour earlier this year, may jump ship too. It also remains to be seen whether young voters stick with Corbyn, if he continues to compromise on his principles (eg: accepting a role as a privy counsellor etc). As for old Labour UKIP voters, UKIP finished second in many Labour-held seats. There wouldn't be much point if those voters returned to Labour. Labour needs UKIP voters in Tory-held seats to 'return to the fold'. It's a big ask. One suspects such UKIP voters would not have been impressed with Corbyn's refusal to sing the national anthem at an event commemorating the Battle of Britain. And as for old Labour Green/Lib Dem voters, well they may gain a dozen seats or so that way, but what use will that be? They need at least 50. I just cannot see Corbyn winning a general election.

It may all be be a moot point. Several pundits have chipped in with their predictions of how long they think Corbyn will last, ranging from a few days to three years. Even members of his shadow cabinet refuse to say with any conviction that he will fight the next general election. For what it's worth, my guess is between six months to a year. Once the novelty wears off, once conference season ends, once there are a few more media "gaffes", and once the opinion polls tank, we'll see whether he roughs it out. Unlike power-hungry careerists who would refuse to fall on their sword until the last possible moment, I think Mr Corbyn would recognise his role in a sinking ship and jump.

One of Corbyn's illustrious predecessor's is often quoted (though perhaps incorrectly) as saying that a week is a long time in politics. Well, what a week it has been. To those who complained that politics had become a sterile affair, you've got your comeuppance. Now then, are you prepared for the consequences? I'll be watching from afar with interest.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
There are many things to like about Jeremy Corbyn, even if one does not agree with his politics. One facet in particular stands out: he is a principled politician who walks the walk. And few can claim the same at the highest levels of politics anywhere in the world. That alone should be enough to welcome his participation in Labour's leadership election. Mr Corbyn represents a significant chunk of the Labour family, one that has been forced to accept the domination of the party's opposite-wing since the early 1980s. It has been an uneasy marriage of convenience period of submission, aided by resignation in the face of nineteen years of Tory government. But the shackles are off. The loony-left will stay silent no more.

And why should they? This is their party too. They have as much right to be heard as the Blairites. After all, what is the point of democracy if alternative viewpoints are shut out of the mainstream? A healthy democracy is one in which (aspirant) political leaders can access a fair platform to freely exchange ideas with the body politic, regardless of how impractical, nasty, or ridiculous they may seem. Choice is paramount in the court of public opinion. Let the people decide whose evidence stands intense scrutiny.

That doesn't mean I believe Mr Corbyn can become prime minister, or more importantly, would be a good one if he did. I certainly prefer his brand of politics to that of the swivel-eyed right. But I would rather we avoided both in government. What the country needs is a radical centrist government of all the talents. In my Labour ministry, Mr Corbyn would either be offered Foreign or Environment Secretary. The former is a job he is best-suited to and one that I suspect he secretly craves. A cynic might even say, apart from outright exclusion, it is a role in which he could cause least economic damage with his socialist leanings. There might be some truth in that.

To some/many people, the Labour leadership contest is a debate about what the party stands for. Not for me. Leaders come and leaders go, the party carries on. Leadership contests reflect the political realities of a particular time. For better or worse, the conditions are ripe for Mr Corbyn. He isn't the first candidate from his wing of the party to contest the leadership and he won't be the last. He isn't even their most charismatic spokesperson. But he has struck a chord and gained momentum.

It is unfortunate that some commentators have used fairly pungent language to dismiss other candidates and scaremonger their supporters. Blame for this can be apportioned to all sides. Sad as it is, that is one of the fair prices we pay for a free society. But we should do more to encourage a courteous battle that attacks policies rather than personalities. Because at the end of the day, regardless of the unhelpful labels attached to candidates and their supporters, people like me will always prefer a Labour government, however right-wing, to a Tory one that drifts left/centre (on individual policies) for opportunistic purposes.

Politicians consciously choose their party membership. This is crucial because even though the politics of Cameron, Osborne, Clegg, Blair and Kendall may seem very similar, the fact they belong to different parties is significant. It signals to me that the philosophy underpinning their politics is at some level driven by the general aims of their party. And that makes all the difference. People like me cannot stomach the thought of voting Tory, let alone work for the party. But we do share an enthusiasm for the positive aspects of individual freedom, private enterprise and wealth creation. We are also greatly troubled by the vast disparities in wealth, education and health, at home and abroad, and the negative impacts of our imperial legacy. The question is, how do we square the circle?

It is a conundrum that I have grappled with ever since I became politically aware as a preadolescent. And though my politics now is closer-aligned to Liz Kendall than the other three candidates, the diplomat in me can identify with Andy Burnham's obvious desire to unite opposing factions of the party. That there is significant disagreement among the Labour family is to be cherished. Dissent is at the heart of our open and tolerant society. The key is to recognise that the majority of us largely agree on the ultimate aim: to establish as fair a playing field as possible for everyone, not just in Britain, but if possible, even the world. The disagreement pertains solely to the means adopted.

The problem is exacerbated by a fixation of pigeon-holing people, policies and ideas into neat boxes to fit our narrow world-view. Speak in favour of free markets and be accused of Blairism, or worse, of being a Tory. Talk about re-nationalising the railways, and be accused of importing communism. Talk about limiting AIDS treatment to British citizens, and be accused of racism. And so forth. We need to take a much more liberal and loose approach to strict definitions. We also need to learn how to let go of the past and treat the present on its own merits. It is understandable why the mass media adopts these simplistic strategies to explain complex issues, but we don't have to play their game.

We need to co-opt a grown-up politics where it is perfectly normal to discuss Corbyn's policies with those of his opponents, as though the only differences between them were the reasons put forward as to why one should be favoured over another. I truly believe that there are always positives to gain even from those whose politics are diametrically opposed to mine. Ideally, we need to take the best of everything, discard the worst, but be willing to discuss absolutely anything so that we can test, scrutnise and tease out the best and worst bits, before jumping to conclusions. There are few (if any) easy solutions to the myriad of decisions taken by politicians. Every choice results in benefits and costs. Every. Single. One. Even the best ones.

Ultimately, every generation should have an opportunity to challenge allegedly settled states of affair. Who knows, the debate might throw up some interesting or unforeseen perspectives from which we could all learn something. Or perhaps not. But we won't know for sure until we try. So to those who say, Jez We Can, count me in for the ride. We can worry about the destination after 12 September.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
"But my father summed it up pretty well by saying, "Nobody in our family has ever voted Conservative, without a stiff drink before, and afterwards."" ~David Owen

If a week is a long time in politics1, what about a lifetime? Tasked with the challenge of teasing out salient introspections from the life and times of some of Britain's grandees, is the contemporary political historian, Peter Hennessy. He delivers an insightful programme, as it launches its third series with the enigmatic David Owen. Having listened to several episodes, Owen's is among the best. I also recommend the one with John Major from last year. In all, Hennessy has talked to:

01. Shirley Williams
02. Jack Straw
03. Norman Tebbit
04. Neil Kinnock
05. John Major
06. Roy Hattersley
07. David Steel
08. Margaret Beckett
09. David Owen

And by the end of this series he will have interviewed Norman Lamont and Clare Short too. Each episode is either 28 or 43 minutes (depending on the series), with the latter forming the perfect length to explore a lifetime without inducing boredom and avoid glossing over multiple events or issues. But there are a few peripheral shortcomings. For instance, by the end of this series the uneven ratio of guests by political party will have been exacerbated to comprise: 5 Labour, 3 Tories, 2 SDP/Lib Dems and 1 Liberal. Given that Williams and Owen were also cabinet secretaries with Labour, you could question whether the breakdown was a matter of design, bad timing or lack of Conservative enthusiasm (I find this doubtful). This only matters because it's produced by the BBC. There's also the issue of gender ratio with three women out of eleven by the end of this series. And one other minor criticism about Hennessy's interview technique. When teasing out their reflections, he sometimes comes across as presumptuous, but it may have been an intended tactic or perhaps more likely, my imaginative nitpicking. Those minor quibbles apart, it is an absolutely fantastic programme and essential listening for the anorak.

1 Possibly misattributed to former British prime minister and Labour leader, Harold Wilson.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
2015 - 24.4% - T
2010 - 38.5%1 - T+LD
2005 - 21.6% - L
2001 - 24.2% - L
1997 - 30.1% - L
1992 - 32.5% - T
1987 - 31.8% - T
1983 - 30.1% - T
1979 - 33.4% - T
1974 - 28.6% - L
1974 - 29.3%2 - L
1970 - 33.1%3 - T
1966 - 36.2% - L
1964 - 34.0% - L
1959 - 38.8% - T
1955 - 38.1% - T
1951 - 39.3%4 - T
1950 - 38.6% - L
1945 - 34.9% - L

Although one shouldn't compare apples and pears, it is worth noting that this government intends to impose a 40% win threshold on balloted strikes affecting essential public services. In addition to this, a majority of the union's members would have to participate in such an action, unlike the present situation in which there are no participation thresholds and a simple majority of balloted members is sufficient to carry out a strike. Such proposals have form on both sides of the political divide, as the then Labour government under Jim Callaghan imposed a 40% win threshold on the Scottish referendum of 1979. Even though a majority voted in favour of implementing the provisions of the Scotland Act 1978, they fell 7.1% short of the threshold. Soon afterwards the Scottish National Party withdrew its support to the government, resulting in a vote of no confidence, a general election and eighteen years in the wilderness for the Labour Party. And by how many votes did the government lose the no confidence motion to trigger the general election? Just the one (311-310).

1 This is a combined figure for the Tories (23.5%) and Lib Dems (15.0%).
2 Labour secured the most seats and formed the government, but the Tories won the popular vote.
3 The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.
4 The Tories secured the most seats and formed the government, but Labour won the popular vote.
mcgillianaire: (BBC Logo)

Paul Dacre, speaking passionately against press regulation in October 2011.

A fortnight ago, I couldn't even picture the man running Britain's second biggest-selling newspaper, The Daily Mail. I knew who Paul Dacre was, and I had (irrationally) grown to dislike him, but beyond that, I didn't know anything about him.

I had absolutely no idea about his life, what he sounded like, or whether his own views coincided with the controversial ones propagated by his middle-market tabloid. He was an enigma. A hidden sort of satanic figure, an imaginary Norman-Tebbit-Spitting Image-like-puppet machinating in the background. Now, a fortnight later, and the devil has been unmasked.

It began with BBC Radio 4 profiling him, as a response to the furore caused by a Daily Mail article written by Geoffrey Levy at the end of last month, provocatively headlined "The Man Who Hated Britain", referring to Ralph Miliband, the late father of Labour Party leader - and Daily Mail bete-noire - Ed. Then, yesterday, Dacre ventured into the dark side himself by writing in The Guardian, his rag's arch-nemesis in the eyes of his mob, sorry, readers. Sound a bit dramatic? It certainly felt surreal.

Throw into that mix a running feud between The Mail and Auntie, the post-Leveson repercussions, the Snowden revelations, and you have the perfect ingredients for a box office blockbuster. And best of all, we still don't know how it'll end yet.

For what it's worth, I'm with Paul Dacre on press regulation. I do believe that along with certain other things, such as: parliamentary privilege, free, fair and secret ballot elections, and an impartial judiciary wedded to the rule of law; a free press, warts and all, is essential to the healthy functioning of a democracy. Dacre is right to point out the disproportionate coverage by the BBC over the Ralph Miliband story, in comparison with the Guardian's revelations of the Edward Snowden documents.

As much as I am Auntie's cheerleader and part-time Guardianista, I would rather live in a country that allowed all views to be aired freely, even ones that disgust me. That does not mean the press can publish whatever they want. Nor should they be limited by a Royal Charter or even self-regulation. The solution lies in the application of existing laws on defamation, contempt and other relevant crimes as and when necessary. Some of the existing laws are already too stringent, particularly those relating to the freedoms of expression and privacy as embedded into English law by the Human Rights Act, via the European Convention. Even so, I would still prefer judges to recalibrate the imbalance on a case-by-case basis, rather than a regulator.

In any democracy worth its salt, there needs to be a clear separation of powers between the legislature, executive, judiciary AND (especially) the press. Many constitutional law textbooks do not include the press as an organ of government, and perhaps rightfully so, as it does not directly partake in the law-making process. However, it is precisely because of that unofficial status, it should be able to remain independent and hold the State to account. The last thing we need is for an official branch of government to interfere with a centuries-old institution, that has done more good than harm. Let those who break the law be held to account by the courts, and let the Great British public decide for themselves who deserves their readership or not.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)


I consider this speech one of the greatest ever and I remember the goosebumps I felt when I heard it for the first time ten-and-a-half years ago. Even after several dozen viewings a decade later, it doesn't fail to induce the same feelings. As the West prepares to attack Syria in the coming days, it's worth reminding ourselves of the arguments against military intervention without international agreement or domestic support. Robin Cook's passing was a great loss to British politics.

EDIT @ 16.30, AUG 28:
Does anybody recognise the other politicians, besides Cook and Corbyn, in that still-image of the video? I feel like I should know the names of the chap sitting immediately to Cook's right, and the chap sitting immediately behind him to his left (with hands crossed), but I haven't been able to figure it out in ten years, leaving me with little chance to figure out the others either. The chap on the top left of the screen reminds me of Richard Griffiths.

Syria

Aug. 28th, 2013 09:35 pm
mcgillianaire: (Bedouin in Desert)
Well done Labour, if indeed they were instrumental in securing two votes in the Commons. The second is the crucial one on military action, but it won't take place until the on-site UN weapons inspectors have reported back their findings. My views on Syria are still fairly fluid given the complex nature of the conflict, however if chemical weapons have been used (regardless of whether it was the government or the rebels), then I think I would support a limited air strike, merely to dissuade either party from engaging in that type of attack again. But only on one mandatory condition, that we had UN (and possibly even Arab League) support, just as we did with Libya. Surely that's the most important lesson to draw from the Iraq War fiasco. I don't think we should (ever) engage ground troops or take sides in this conflict because I think they're as bad as each other. If the rebels were to come to power, I'm fairly confident they would wipe out the Alawite community, to which Bashar Assad belongs. Sad as it is to digest, pre-Arab Spring, Assad, like Saddam Hussein before him, had largely maintained the peace (albeit fragile) between the various communities. Both belong to minorities, just as the Sunni rulers do in Shiite majority Bahrain. I suspect the best solution for Syria, would be to broker a deal between the warring factions, with the support of Russia. The last thing we need is to meddle in another regional conflict that is essentially a Greater Game being contested between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. Yet I suspect between Iran's sabre-rattling over Israel, the Anglo-American Jewish lobbies, Iran's nuclear enrichment, and rising oil prices, my advice will eventually be ignored.
mcgillianaire: (BBC Logo)
Here's an excerpt from the speech of a most fascinating politician, that eventually paved the way for the formation of the Social Democratic Party in 1981, and eventually, New Labour in the 1990s. At the time, Jenkins had been out of Parliament for three years and was working in Brussels as Britain's first and only (to date) President of the European Commission. Charles Kennedy later said of the lecture: "Every so often in life, you hear someone articulate your own thoughts - and they do so with an elegance and eloquence which make you wish you had been able to say it yourself. Roy Jenkins's Dimbleby Lecture of 1979 had that effect on me." Even today, this particular passage rings true as much as it did back then:

"The paradox is that we need more change accompanied by more stability of direction. It is a paradox but not a contradiction. Too often we have superficial and quickly reversed political change without much purpose or underlying effect. This is not the only paradox. We need the innovating stimulus of the free market economy without either the unacceptable brutality of its untrammelled distribution of rewards or its indifference to unemployment. This is by no means an impossible combination. It works well in a number of countries. It means that you accept the broad line of division between the public and the private sectors and don't constantly threaten those in the private sector with nationalisation or expropriation.

You also make sure that the state knows its place, not only in relation to the economy, but in relation to the citizen. You are in favour of the right of dissent and the liberty of private conduct. You are against unnecessary centralisation and bureaucracy. You want to devolve decision-making wherever you sensibly can. You want parents in the school system, patients in the health service, residents in the neighbourhood, customers in both nationalised and private industry, to have as much say as possible. You want the nation to be self-confident and outward-looking, rather than insular, xenophobic and suspicious. You want the class system to fade without being replaced either by an aggressive and intolerant proletarianism or by the dominance of the brash and selfish values of a "get rich quick" society. You want the nation, without eschewing necessary controversy, to achieve a renewed sense of cohesion and common purpose."

You can read other extracts of the speech here and here, but I'm not sure if the latter link is a copy of the whole lecture. If anyone knows of a better link or has access to the full speech, I would much appreciate it.

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