Daily Archives: 24 April 2006

Steady as she goes

Interesting Guardian/ICM poll today. Not the stuff about Labour hitting a 19 year low with the Lib Dems up; encouraging though that is I know better than to get excited by such things (although it is delicious irony seeing this just a couple of days after Blair harrangued his critics as being out of touch with the public). No, I was more interested in how the parties fared on the environment: Lib Dems 29%, Tories 22% and Labour 17%.

From memory I think Labour have tended to do better than the Tories in this area, so that is of course not good news for them. But it is encouraging that the Tories have so far to go before stealing our clothes on this issue. The onus of course is now on us to stop them from having a chance.

It does point towards an encouraging set of local election results, and an exciting by-election result on Thursday.

Still fighting the cold war

Oh, I do love being right. Less than a week ago, I accused Charles Clarke of fighting his old student union battles from his vantage point of the Home Office. Then he goes and makes a speech that illustrates my point.

I agree with much of what Rob Knight and Michael White have said about it. In the generality, Clarke is absolutely correct. The media do get carried away with purple prose. But that in and of itself is no great insight, and it is clear that this is merely a ruse of Clarke’s to cloud the issue. What’s more, his invocation of the cold war and apartheid is to miss the much wider issue.

The first important point to make is that while there are occasional lapses into hyperbole, there are plenty of moderate voices out there expressing concern for the New Labour agenda. This article by Jenni Russell a few weeks ago both makes my point and gives you an insight into the wounded martyr complex from which Clarke’s speech spung. The sort of demagoguery that he berates here is the exception not the rule – and the main reason why I can’t personally bear the Independent these days (let alone the New Statesman) – yet all are being tarred with the same brush.

These demagogues are, remarkably enough, not twittering liberals, but hard leftists such as Pilger or George Galloway. Yet again, the “decent” left are attempting to shut down debate by claiming that all their critics speak with one voice. Yet again, we’re back to the age old battles in student unions which are largely irrelevant.

George Galloway may still be fighting the Cold War, but not the rest of us, which leads me to my wider point. That is, the problem is not limited to attacking the government on the civil liberties agenda (where critics have more justification than in other areas), but is part of a wider anti-politics agenda. That is where the poison lies. Where there is hyperbole, it isn’t limited to criticising Charles Clarke, no matter what his ego thinks; it is used to attack every single politician in the land. It has effectively shut down dialogue, reducing it to megaphone discourse.

Clarke can’t have it both ways. To this day, anyone who believes that Israel is anything other than beyond reproach or, worse, that invading Iraq was a mistake, is liable to be compared unfavourably to the worst Nazi appeaser (at least). The problem isn’t limited to any particular class or political ideology; it’s much wider. And it is a vicious circle: tone down language and you will face accusations of going soft; fail to give as good as you get and face the accusation of not having the stomach for it.

At its root is our obsession with dichotomy. Who do we blame? Hegel? Zoroaster? It doesn’t help that in this country at least our whole political system is steeped in duality: two party politics (creaking at the seams) within a two house legislature. I don’t see within Clarke any enthusiasm for moving away from such systemic problems; all he wants is for what he perceives as the “other side” to sort themselves out. He has made a good fist at attacking “Them” but people hoping for a sense of mea culpa will be sorely disappointed. As such, his speech is unlikely to change anything.

UPDATE: A lot of common sense from Martin Kettle.

Old = new

Thank you Cristina Odone for revealing to me that Kirsty Alsopp, the smug presenter of Location, Location, Location whose latest wheeze is to do a series on the wonders of buy-to-let, is the daughter of the 6th Baron Hindlip. So it turns out that the poster child of new feudalism is in fact a member of the old feudal class. Explains everything, including her near ubiquity in Cameron press launches.

Lest I be accused of attempting to shoot the messenger, I should point out that I agree that programmes like Location, Location, Location are merely the symptom not the cause, and that under the circumstances they probably do help people get onto the property ladder who would otherwise not have a look in. But they aren’t matched with a reforming zeal. From what I can see, the Hon. Allsopp thinks the solution to everything is just to mouth platitudes about the need to build more houses; if it was as simple as that she would be out of a job.

The wages of spin

I don’t want to make a habit of agreeing with Iain Dale, but he is absolutely correct regarding Mark Oaten’s latest bid to rehabilitate himself. Let us not forget that the scandal about him visiting male prostitutes was exacerbated by his breathtaking decision to present himself as the quintassential “family values” leadership candidate. He genuinely seems to think that all it will take is a couple of articles in celeb magazines and ker-ching! we’re back in business.

Notwithstanding one foolish “source close to the leader” quoted in the Indy yesterday, one hopes that the Lib Dem front bench are not so quick to bring him back into the fold. We have enough of a problem with this Michael Brown business without Oaten rearing his ugly head again. What he should be doing right now is going out of his way to reestablish his private life as private property – that means keeping his (and Belinda’s) big mouth shut. This “strategy” screams of exactly the sort of glory chasing that partially lead to his downfall. It certainly doesn’t seem to be either in the party’s or his family’s best interests.

21st century crime

One thing that puzzles me… the Prime Minister is dead keen changing the “rules of the game” when tackling organised crime so that circumstantial evidence leads to presumption of guilt. Last time I looked, the circumstantial evidence that he has been accepting payment for peerages was mounting pretty high. Does he think the same standard of proof should apply to himself or should it just apply to people wearing stripy tops and masks carrying bags marked “swag”?