Thursday, May 13, 2010


Pick a cliché, Any cliché.

a) Carpe Diem

b) All Political Lives end in Failure

c) A Week is a long time in Politics

The first was originally spoken by Horace in around 20BC although Hollywood got in the act recently with Dead Poets Society (1989) and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) chimed in with the rather delightful take on it - "Come on, Steve. We've got a Diem to Carpe!". The second and third came from Enoch Powell in the mid Sixties and Harold Wilson around the same time. This week, all three came into my mind at the same time, like a line of buses, one behind another in a queue.

This last week has been quite mesmerising to anyone with the slightest interest in the politics of how this country is run. You simply can’t appreciate how what is going on today will be perceived in 50 years time. But something tells me that a long time hence, May 2010 will be seen as a time of massive importance to the UK and the way it’s run. David Cameron said it was “Seismic”, and I hope he is right.

We’ve had 13 years of the most depressing and stultifying Government this country has had in my lifetime. I include the Thatcher years in that judgement. She did what had to be done, and thank Goodness she did. It was most unpleasant while she was doing it, but, like taking a nasty tasting medicine which is the only way to cure a terminal disease, she had the balls to do it and carry on doing it when she could so much more easily have given in.

Blair and Brown’s era is, Thank God, over. Blair’s touchy, feely, clandestine, freaky, creepy, “Trust me, I’m a straight Man”, quasi religious approach, combined with Brown’s subversive, secretive, bullying, arrogant, financially irresponsible, micro-managing, State enveloping approach to the governance of this country, turned this author at least into a very cynical, disappointed, sad, and increasingly depressed individual.

We’ve just seen 6 days where the election seemed to deliver the worst of all worlds to everyone, and you could be spared for intoning “Beam me up, Scotty” and looking around for Dr. Spock to pull the levers.

And then David Cameron, instead of settling for the humdrum possibility of a strained “Let’s see what we can cobble together with the Lib-Dems”, stands up and makes them a completely unexpected offer of Shared Government, based on the Highest Common Denominator rather than the Lowest Common Denominator of the policies which each party had. I, for one, listened, almost childishly thrilled as he spoke. It is all too easy to be cynical about it because the last 10 years in Politics has made us all like that, but in a few minutes, a shaft of light seemed to switch on in Westminster.

That was the “Carpe Diem” moment. A massively bold move, at once brave and very risky. He’s got a fair numbers of non believers in his own party let alone the Lib-Dems, but he clearly decided that such a breathtaking offer was the only way forward, and he’d try to gather the non believers back into the flock together later.

The maths, at first seeming to be horribly against any reasonable outcome, immediately seemed to be almost perfectly set up to ensure the Tory/Lib-Dem “Coming Together”. Just sufficient to ensure that New Labour couldn’t quite manage to strike a deal, and just enough to ensure that the Tories couldn’t take the easy option and just enough to force them to think in a radical fashion.

Given what they’ve done, they’ve actually sealed the deal extremely quickly, helped no doubt by the increasing realization between Cameron and Clegg that there might be more that binds them together, than separates them. Clearly, there’s a considerable personal chemistry between them, which the country really needs at this juncture, which Brown couldn’t begin to share in a million years. For all New Labour’s ruthlessly efficient Party machine, as a comparison they looked old, tired, spent and lacking any desire to look forward, think differently or even consider a compromise. That was the “All Political lives end in Failure” moment. I personally hope that they rue that position very greatly in times to come.

So here we are, and yesterday the new owners published the text of the Conservative/Lib Dem Agreement. It’s written under 11 clear and separate headings and I find it an exciting and rather moving document. I suppose it’s inevitable and obvious that, when you are making a binding agreement between two political parties, you need a “contract” written down to set out the details if only to avoid the “He said, she said” issues which will inevitably come up when the policy waters get choppy. But they seem to have done it, and done it in double quick time and I for one can hardly fault it. And it’s so positive.

Everyone in this election seemed to utter the mantra that sorting out the country’s economic woes is Item 1 on the Agenda. Which it is. In some ways though, the issue is so big that anyone party which came to power would have to do broadly the same things. Massive cuts in public spending and/or huge rises in taxation. The only real issue is where and how thickly you spread the pain. No-one is going to get away without suffering whoever wields the scalpel or axe. So in reality, the size of this Deficit issue is such that it broadly neutralises the differences between the various parties.

It’s really the other areas of policy which make the difference, and the one massive, overwhelming area which splits the pack into two is the emphasis that both Cameron and Clegg place on Civil Liberties. New Labour’s guiding Principle, as a party is to interfere in and control the lives of the citizens of Britain, and the other two parties want to roll back this intrusion. It’s simply the State versus the Individual.

If there has been a main, serious thread running through this blog in the three years I have been writing it, this is it. The one thing which really upsets me as a citizen in this country is the way the Blair and Brown Government have systematically and deliberately set out to restrict the individuals in this country. The surveillance, the restrictions, the data assembling, the limitations on dissent, the continual intervention of the State in the lives of the British citizen. We’ve all sat and watched it like rabbits in headlights, almost powerless to prevent its tentacles spreading into our lives. Most people are still only just waking up to its implications and it is a matter of great personal joy to read Section 10 of the Agreement the two parties have written.

No weasel words, or Party Political spin doctor language. Simple, straightforward proposals for Major Change. Just read this extract -

10. Civil liberties

The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.

This will include:

· A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.

· The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.

· Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.

· The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.

· Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.

· The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.

· The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.

· The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.

· Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.

· Further regulation of CCTV.

· Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.

· A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

If that’s not a breath of fresh air howling through the corridors of Government, I don’t know what is. Hoo-bloody-Ray.

I am now in my 64th year, and I was becoming almost resigned to this dispiriting spread of Government interference destroying the essential nature of the way of life in this country. Now, I see a glimmer, possibly a glow of hope. The flame has only just been lit, but let’s hope it burns brighter in the months ahead. I hope I’m not being too naïve and expectant. I’m sure it won’t be as easy as they all think at the moment. Swinging the direction of Government around is like turning supertankers around on themselves, requiring immense effort and taking far longer than you’d imagine. But if you don’t set out to turn the wheel, nothing will change. That was the “A Week is a long time in Politics” moment.

I went out this afternoon to take Milly, our dog, for a walk along Wenlock Edge, a beautiful part of the landscape from where you can see the Shropshire Countryside laid out like a green and yellow patchwork quilt for 20 miles or so. The trees were in blossom, the fields were ablaze with colour, the weather was sunny and the countryside had that zingy freshness that Spring brings – everything new and clean.

I had a real spring in my step and I was glad to be alive.

Monday, May 10, 2010


The last week in the UK has been quite momentous, at least from a political viewpoint. We’ve been through the most exciting General Election in decades, and 4 days after it all happened, we still have no idea what’s going to happen. As I tap these keys, Gordon Brown has just resigned, so another rock in the pool. We have politicians claiming to be acting solely in the “National Interest”, and having to understand the word “compromise” for the first time in ages, as two parties who make significantly uncomfortable bedfellows, try to square the many political circles facing them both.

If, before last Thursday, you were trying to make the result as uncomfortable as possible for all three major parties, you’d have ended up choosing just about the position we’ve actually found ourselves in. If it wasn’t so serious, you’d collapse laughing at it all. It’s one of those stories which, if you read it in a novel, you simply wouldn’t believe.

And because of the involvement of the Lib-Dems, where Proportional Representation (PR) is a religion, this issue leaps to the front of your thoughts.

There is no doubt at all that the structure of the way we hold our elections is not right. To start with, we have too many Member of Parliament in this country and we simply don’t need 650 MPs.

In addition, the constituencies need to be massively rebalanced – it is quite wrong that constituencies exist with such dramatically different numbers of electors in them. It’s supposed to be a democracy surely – at least I thought it was, and in electoral terms, we’re all supposed to be equal. The average constituency in the UK has around 74,000 electors, but the Western Isles seat in Scotland has 22,000 and the Isle of Wight in Southern England has 110,000. Where’s, in heaven’s name, is the fairness in that? A Scotsman with 5 times the electoral power of someone in Ventnor.

The debate about PR, and the virtues and vices of the many alternative systems is not an easy one, and there is absolutely no right answer. Even explaining it to the average person is a major task. Just look at the explanation of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system on Google if you don’t believe me. The task of getting the electorate firstly to understand and then ultimately agree on a replacement process is, in my opinion just what this country does NOT need at the moment. It's the Economy, Stupid.

You only have to look at the political map of the UK for one thing to jump out at you. Scotland is almost a complete mix of Lib-Dems and Labour seats – Red and Orange covers the map, with the Tories having only 1 seat in the whole of Scotland. Look at the rest of the UK, and it’s totally different - the situation in the rest of the country is covered in blue with the Tories, geographically at least being the overwhelmingly dominant force. Just look at the numbers, and you see an almost complete divide between Scotland and the rest of the country. Surely, this presents an obvious option.

The maths seems, on the surface, straightforward. The UK electorate has spoken and voted with the Tories getting 306 seats, Labour 258 and the Lib-Dems ending up on 57 – what is technically known as a Dog’s Breakfast. No one party can do anything with that set of numbers. Take the Scots out of the equation however, and the English (well alright, including the Welsh and the Northern Irish as well) situation is transformed. The Tories would have 305 seats, Labour has 217, and the Lib-Dems 46. If you balanced out the constituencies out properly and fairly, the differences would be even greater. The electorate, or at least the English electorate, has spoken. Decisive One Party Government – QED.

Our current impasse is down to the ridiculously inappropriate effect of the Scottish electorate on the UK. The whole of the Scottish votes cast for ALL parties (2.47 million) is less than 80% of the 3.02 million rag-bag of “Others” who voted in the whole of the UK, votes which interestingly only generated 22 seats between them. So how can the Scots possibly believe they’ve got any moral right to argue against this situation.

Stand back from it all for a minute. The Scots, as a nation, at best dislike, and at worst, hate the English, and, as far as most of the English are concerned, they love Scotland as a place, but we are not, taken as a whole, quite so keen on its inhabitants. Three hundred years of Union have not resolved this issue, and today, it’s still the Haggis, rather than the Elephant, in the Room. The West Lothian Question, which is amazingly lost in the background noise of this election needs to be polished and burnished for the electorate to consider its position.

So let’s give them what they (or at least the majority of Scotsmen and Englishmen) actually want, and let them go their own way. The Scots actually cost the British economy a fortune. England pays them a vast premium, with England’s far superior wealth generation supporting the Scots inability to do so, with a massive subsidy. And the simple question now is – Why do we let this carry on?

They’ve got their own Parliament now (paid for by the English!), so they have got the administrative structure in place. Let them have their oil. Let them sort their own Tax structure out. We’ll still defend them against the world, but they can pay a fair share of the cost of doing it. They’ve got brains, and they never cease to tell you how many intellectual developments which have changed the world have their roots in Bonnie Scotland. So let these clever souls sort it all out for themselves. Let them charge everyone to go to Scotland to see the glories of the Highlands and Islands. Let them have the immense revenues from Whisky, Drambuie and Harris Tweed. They have a strong thread of University prowess and considerable entrepreneurial skills – so let them use it to concentrate on forging their own destiny.

From my (probably jaundiced) view, I can easily live with Scotland being a separate country. It would stop their continual whinging having any effect on us Southerners. And at least, England could at least make a sane decision on British Summer time without worrying about a little old lady in Thurso who would find it too dark when she got up to make her porridge in mid March, preventing the rest of us enjoying the day as we should.

Rant over!

Now all I’ve got to do is to explain all this to my Scottish wife. I suspect a separate bedroom beckons tonight!