Daily Archives: 20 July 2006

Jack Straw: we’re sh*t and we know we are

It turns out that rather than becoming the Minister for Europe, Geoff Hoon quietly died a couple of months ago.  I know this because in an extraordinary statement to the Commons today, his successor as Leader of the House Jack Straw channelled his spirit:

“I also just say, and I’m glad this has been recognised on all sides of the House, there has to be recognition by members of the House that if the order paper is absolutely overloaded with questions in industrial quantities, by researchers, in some cases never been seen by the members, then there are bound to be logjams,” he added.

“There is a real problem, I’m glad to see there is assent for this.

“I am assiduous, and so are all my colleagues, in ensuring wherever possible questions are answered.

“But we have a problem in the House, which is called researchers trying to prove a point and the result of these websites called TheyWorkForYou which simply seem to measure MPs’ work by quantitative rather than qualitative measures.

“It is a matter for the whole of the House, not just for ministers.”

To be fair, it could simply be that Jack Straw was simply being an idiot – he’s certainly shown a capacity for idiocy in the past.  But until now his appointment as Leader of the House was a breath of fresh air compared to his predeccessor and he is probably the most intelligent person to take on the role since Robin Cook.

Let’s get this straight: MPs across the Commons are blithely allowing their researchers to submit questions without their explicit approval?  Are MPs really that incompetent?  And this is all because of some willy-waving exercise to get their stats improved on theyworkforyou?

To be fair, some spotty little oik admitted as much at the Hansard debate earlier this week on Parliament and eDemocracy.  But there are two things wrong with this picture: firstly, if MPs can’t accept responsibility for what goes on in their own offices, what will they take responsibility for (in Mark Oaten’s case, not even for having an affair behind his wife’s back it would seem).  Secondly, and with all due respect to the guys behind theyworkforyou, what are these prannocks doing taking the league tables on a minority interest website like this so seriously in the first place?

There is a serious debate to be had about how we can measure the performance of MPs effectively.  That debate is not being lead by Jack Straw, or any other MP for that matter, but by theyworkforyou themselves – on 7 November in fact. Will Jack Straw be there?  Having made this attack, he’d bloody better be.

I’ve added a pledge on theyworkforyou’s sister website pledgebank and would encourage people reading this to sign it.

(hat tip: Guido and the Monkey) 

Criminal Nonsense

It’s a sad day when you don’t even need to look up the actual figures to realise the media and political classes are talking utter balls on crime.

An 8% increase in robberies? No an 8% increase in recorded robberies. To give this some perspective, one other statistic hidden in the Guardian coverage today was that just 38% of violent crime is reported. According to the British Crime Survey, an annual survey of 50,000 people (vastly higher than the 500-1,000 surveys newspapers commission themselves and then claim have been written on tablets of stone), violent crime is stable.

You have never had it so good. The only exception is, possibly, if you’re young. Under 16 year olds are not interviewed as part of the BCS so crime against young people is not recorded in it. It is therefore conceivable that the recorded increase is due to an increase in crime against kids, largely perpetated by other kids.

The only way in which that angle gets covered in the media however is to blame kids themselves for carrying MP3s and mobile phones. Strangely, no one ever blames pensioners for getting mugged despite the fact they make it really easy for people.
Top prize for most idiotic remark of the day must go to Nick Clegg, who put in a press release that:

The rise in these violent offences is fuelling the fear of crime which runs deep in the public consciousness.

Or, to paraphrase:

The possible increase in young people getting mugged allows irresponsible politicians like me to scare the bejesus out of Daily Mail reading grannies. Hurrah! As for mobile phone masts and the MMR jab, they’re really scary! Wooo!

He couldn’t sound more Mark Oaten-like if he tried. Let’s hope he isn’t in the market for a glass coffee table.

A Taxing Question: Do Lib Dems want the Youth Vote?

Tony VickersA poll by the Hansard Society to coincide with the local elections in May had the Liberal Democrats winning the Youth Vote: 30% of 100,000 pupils in over 200 schools voted Lib Dem, with Labour and Greens tying on 25% and the Tories on 15%. National policies such as free tuition fees and opposition to the Iraq War probably account for it, but the Lib Dems could be about to squander this support. The reason is an unlikely one for the Party that still sings “The Land” at its annual conference: the virtual abandonment of any domestic property tax. Continue reading A Taxing Question: Do Lib Dems want the Youth Vote?

Getting off the treadmill

Rob Fenwick asks “is Ming Campbell the Liberal Democrats’ IDS?” Well, based on his performance on Newsnight this evening, the answer to that is most certainly not, and asking the question is to miss the real problem.

IDS was a no-mark that the Tories elected in an act of self-immolation. Ming was a respected and established front-bencher that the party turned to as a safe pair of hands.

Ming’s problem has been the development of a self-reinforcing narrative of the kind that the media love because it means they can trot out the same story time and again. It’s like the question “when did you last beat your wife?” – the implication is that the interviewee is a wife-beater and there is nothing the interviewee can do except attempt to get the interviewer to ask something else. Whenever Ming succeeds in moving on from the old/old-fashioned/lacks passion question, he is very effective, but sooner or later we’re stuck with the “aren’t you too old?” question for no better reason than the fact that that is what everyone else is asking.

It is very similar to the problem that Blair faces. The endless questions about when he is going to go are entirely vacuous and fail to inform the political debate. But they get asked because the media regards the fact that the media is asking the question as a reason for asking the question.

So far, Cameron has avoided being battered by his own Question. He’s currently too new, too unformed. But it would be foolish indeed to assume he won’t end up on the receiving end of the same treatment.

One of two things will happen: either Ming will successfully move on from The Question, or he will eventually be consumed by it. Slowly but surely I think he’s going the right way about moving forward but it isn’t easy. But it is up to the Lib Dem grassroots to not get distracted and to look at the substance. The real challenges for Ming are whether he delivers an effective policy agenda at our autumn conference and whether he can start to prove he is modernising our campaign strategy. If we were foolish to ditch Ming because of The Question we would almost certainly make the situation worse. Two regicides in as many years? Is that remotely a good idea?

The whole nonsense of all this for me is summed up by the fact that people criticise Ming for both lacking passion and not being Charles Kennedy. Charles had his strengths, but coming across as passionate was never even remotely one of them. The same people who are now criticising Ming for lacking passion and the party for ditching Charles were calling for Charles’ head less than 12 months ago because he seemed to be sleepwalking from one crisis to the next.

The real challenge for Ming is to develop a narrative that superimposes itself over the one he’s been lumbered with. The Lib Dems are very poor at this sort of thing; Ming needs to break the mold.