Tag Archives: tony-blair

Is the media a ‘feral beast’? Science has the answer!

Tony Blair is lamenting about that eeevil old media. You know, the thing that he used to become Prime Minister:

the media can operate like “a feral beast” and its relationship with politicians is “damaged” and in need of repair.

Can this be true? Well, it would appear that we now have a way to find out. Simply stick one of these up a journo’s bum, et voila!

If the test is positive, the good news is you can use the bile they produce to make shampoo. How wonderful is that?

(I’d hat tip Chris Keating, but actually I read about it somewhere else first and thus he deserves no credit whatsoever)

Remembering ’97

Today was a family day, but I still managed to catch most of the key moments of the 1997 General Election results on BBC Parliament. I was having problem with our set top box but I just managed to tune in in time for David Mellor.

It was weird watching it – on the night itself I watched the coverage with about 500 other people in the Main Debating Hall at the University of Manchester Students Union. The film society, which I was also an active member of, was projecting the coverage on its big screen (I understand that the union has managed to kick MUFS out of the building now, which is a crying shame).

The Mellor bit I recall quite vividly, right down to Dimblebum making a wild prediction during it that the Lib Dems were set to win 61 seats (in fact it took us another 8 years to get to that point). His rant about Goldsmith failing to buy the election was much mocked at the time, but he had a point: millionaires should not presume to buy elections out of personal vanity. Goldsmith, having largely failed in his mission, was dead within weeks.

Neil Hamilton was as ungracious in defeat as I remembered (I’d forgotten about the Miss Moneypenny Party, with their candidate towering over the returning officer), Michael Portillo very much the opposite. Two points about the Enfield Southgate announcement. Firstly, Jeremy Browne was the Lib Dem candidate. Secondly, the BBC commentary was by Lance Price, who quite soon afterwards of course jumped into a job at Number 10.

The Enfield Southgate declaration was swiftly followed by the Stevenage one. I remember seeing Alex Wilcock standing on stage with his partner Richard (these were pre-millennial times, otherwise, I suspect a certain elephant would have been there as well) – at the time he was one of the few people I knew who was actually a candidate.

All the Lib Dems being interviewed kept talking about the Lib-Lab constitutional deal. Of course, a large amount of that was indeed delivered – it seems odd to hear people talking about creating a Scottish Parliament, Freedom of Information Act and Human Rights Act as these are all very much part of our daily politics now. Shirley Williams prediction that this was the last – or at worst last-but-one election to be fought under first past the post however proved to be somewhat wide of the mark.

Blair looked close to tears when he spoke at the Sedgefield Labour Club, and shockingly young. Various other faces popped up as well, such as Nicola Sturgeon, then 27, at the Glasgow Govan declaration (with black hair!). Peter Snow’s graphics were fantastic, particularly the animation where they flew over the UK showing Labour/Lib Dem target seats exploding and transforming from blue to red/gold (it reminded me of a cross between the post-2004 BBC weather map and the Death Star trench battle at the end of Star Wars).

If we’d known then how it would all turn out, very few of us would have cheered as loudly as we did, but nonetheless it was a fantastic evening. With the Tories now back on the rise and Labour in long term decline, it is just conceivable that we might have a similarly momentous General Election next time around, or maybe the next-but-one. Can the Tories make the bulk of non-Labour, non-Tory supporters as happy for them as we were for Labour winning 10 years ago? I suspect the answer is no, and I suspect that lies at the heart of Cameron’s problems.

I should explain that last sentence better. As the coverage today repeatedly reminded us, Labour’s vote share in 1997 wasn’t actually that high. What did it for them was the degree of tactical voting, with people voting for anyone but the Tories. Fewer and fewer people are prepared to vote in such a way, but the Tories only really have a shot if the public becomes so sick of Labour that they start to vote tactically against them. I don’t see that happening, not in the numbers that it did in 1997. People are open to Cameron, but the Tory brand remains toxic.

Graham’s Law

Inspired by Godwin’s Law, I’ve decided to declare a new principle:

As a political row involving any Jewish actors, no matter how tangentially, grows longer, the probability that someone will claim anti-semitism approaches one.

Apparently, for example, the cash-for-honours investigation is now officially anti-semitism. This would be rather more believable were it not for the fact that many of the people being investigated by the police at the moment were being accused of anti-semitism a couple of years ago (the degree to which references to pigs, even flying ones, is genuinely considered to be anti-semitism was put into perspective for me when, walking through the Jewish dominated Golders Green, I saw headlines screaming the allegation on the cover of the local rag, the, um, Ham and High). You can’t make any criticism of Israel without someone, somewhere, making the same accusation.

One point made in today’s Guardian must not be allowed to go unchallenged:

Journalists don’t refer to ‘Christian businessman’ or ‘Protestant businessman’. They only ever talk about Jewish people in that way.

I suspect that Peter Vardy and Robert Edmiston may quibble with that. Jonathan Freedland claims that ‘flamboyant’ is code for ‘Jew’ – I would suggest it is more likely to be code for ‘former Alvin Stardust record producer’. I’m certainly unaware of Lembit Opik‘s Jewish roots (and again, I suspect that calling Lembit flamboyant has more to do with his tendency to turn up to the opening of a paper bag and predilection for celeb gfs than it has to do with his Estonian roots).

The problem is, labelling every criticism of every Jew as anti-semitism is cheapening the term. These claims are in danger of creating exactly the kind of complacency that the people who are so prone to make them appear to be so worried about.

Personally, I find that people lack perspective when it comes to the cash-for-peerages investigation. While selling peerages is clearly wrong and corrupt, it has gone on for decades and it is no worse than giving someone a peerage for loyalty (there is a permanent coterie of brown-nosers which sniffs around the Lib Dem leadership who have a horrific tendency to find their obsequiousness rewarded with a peerage despite making very little financial contribution). Levy and Blair’s greatest crime appears to have been to get caught; and the focus on Levy appears to have more to do with transference due to his affinity with Blair than anything to do with his background.

But lazy allegations of racism risks leading to a guilty man walking free and the public perception that our political system is incapable of curing itself of corruption. So excuse me if I treat such claims with suspicion.

UPDATE: Darn, it looks like Graham’s law is already taken.

Tony Blair backs Jedi Rights

I knew the Downing Street epetition service was good for something:

The Government has no overarching role in regulating or recognising personal belief or faith. The UK has a long held commitment to freedom of worship and belief, and people are free to form religions and free to follow their own practices and beliefs provided they remain within the law.

May the Force be with you.

Next stop, the Charities Commission!

Downing Street Petitions: Initiative without Resolution

Well done to anti-road user charging campaigners for getting a million petition signatures on their Downing Street petition. As someone who has railed against this proposal, not from a motorist perspective but from an environmental and civil libertarian one, it is gratifying to see such a disastrous policy being given such a rough ride.

It does however present present me with a bit of a problem. We desperately need to rebalance direct and representative democracy in this country, but I can’t help but think that this sort of half-measure may end up doing more harm than good.

The Road User Charging example is a good example: government has already made it clear that it has decided to do this. To back down now would make them look very foolish indeed. Yet there is no formal mechanism for what happens next. From what I can make out from the website, Blair will just refer it to Milliband, who will write a curt “thanks for your input, but, no” letter to the petitioners and that’s it.

The problem is, there is simply no way of resolving whether these million plus individuals are representative of the wider population, or just a particularly animated minority. It has to be said that car users get particularly wound up about constant infiringements on the divine rights of motorists. Just the other day, an acquaintance of mine informed me that he was emigrating to Australia because “I’m just sick of draconian traffic laws…makes me feel like sending letter bombs… but someone beat me to it!” How’s that for a balanced perspective?

In my experience, campaigners on all issues have a tendency to assume that they are riding on a crest of popular support, and astroturfing is a standard tool in the modern campaigners’ repertoire. The Downing Street Petition Engine allows people to hang onto these beliefs, without providing a means for testing it out whatsoever. Not surprising, coming from a Prime Minister who much prefers religious leaders to scientists. In short, everyone who uses this system and doesn’t see immediate results will have a right to feel aggrieved and feel that issues are simply being cherry picked to suit the government’s agenda – because that is exactly what they are doing.

At least in Scotland, petitions go to a Parliamentary committee and get deliberated on. The Petitioners may not get what they want, but at least they get more of a formal hearing. In truth, the fact that Blair has done this before Parliament did demonstrates quite how inward looking the Westminster Bubble has become (all the guff from all sides last week about preferential voting marking the end of civilisation would lend credence to that view).

What we really need, of course, is a system of Initiative and Referendum. Far from undermining representative democracy, I’m increasingly coming to the view that this would be its salvation. With a system in place with clear ground rules, the lazy slur of “politicians never listen” would be exposed for what it is – if not enough enthusiasm can be generated to get an initiative started on an issue, then why should we be surprised if politicians aren’t leaping on that particular bandwagon. Conversely, faced with a process that could effectively overrule them, you can bet that politicians will be all too keen to address issues that are generating a lot of real public debate, with a view to nipping them in the bud before they have their hands tied.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that a referendum to legalise abortion has just been won in Portugal, and the Centre for Policy Studies have just published a new pamphlet on CI.