Tuesday, January 10, 2006

British Politics Bland?

After a bit of excitement around the new Tory leader and the sinking of the LibDem one, our political commentators appear to be in panic again. There are so many of them with so much print space and so much airtime to fill but there are so few real stories. That's why they have to drag up stuff about alleged panic in New Labour's ranks whenever anyone sneezes in the Palace of Westminster and why they harp on so much about the differences of approach and opinion between the Prime Minister and his Chancellor of the Exchequor. Stories about conficts between PMs and their Chancellors have been around since I started being interested in politics (1956 if you must know; I had a cold and so did the Prime Minister (or so it was reported). At my very tender age it was jolly exciting to have the same illness as the PM. Only about 40 years later did we learn that Sir Anthony Eden's cold was really a nervous breakdown. Who thinks spin is a recent invention?)

Most of my adult life I've been a revolutionary moderate or a radical centreist so I'm all for a bit of dullness mixed with quiet managerial efficiency and reform in politics. I'm glad that the extremists in both main parties have had their wings clipped. We need them there to keep the moderators on track but we don't want them running the shop as they were in the 1980s do we?

But I have some sympathy with the commentators; it must be grim to read the latest opinion poll in the Times which shows the parties more or less where they've been for a decade. Given the 3% margin of error the pollsters own up to, Labour 39%, Tory 36%, LibDem 16% Others 9% won't set the world alight. So nothing of substance to write about then but they can't stop, they have livings to make.

In the Telegraph, Alice Thomson complains that "Politics is no longer red, blue or yellow; Left or Right; Tory, Labour or Liberal Democrat. It's all about sets now. There is the Notting Hill Set, the Primrose Hill Set and the Orange Book Set." and asks "If all three parties are led by similar individuals expressing similar views; if all three political options have rejected "isms" from communism to socialism to capitalism and would hate to be called ideological; if all three leaders are making their pitch to voters on a promise to be the best managers of Team Britain - then how will the electorate choose between them?". The Telegraph leader writer also seems dismayed by the rush to the centre using education as today's example and castigating David Cameron who has "promised to prevent the opening of new grammar schools."

The Mail's comment column declares "With almost reckless abandon David Cameron is ditching any policy baggage which may impede his born-again Tories in their race for the centre-ground." But they seem less bothered because it gives them a chance to attack Tony Blair's record. They carry on the theme by rubbishing his announcements on the 'respect' agenda: "Not an approach that commands much respect, is it?" they think. While in the Guardian Zoe Williams thinks she's found a reason. Writing about Channel 4's Big Brother TV programme she says: "The ... argument is very rarely openly framed, yet is visible in all kinds of political discourse. It is that anyone with passion, with a judgmental moral code, with an idea in his or her head beyond "let's all stay calm, and make more money", is inherently foolish; and that such an individual's arguments are only valid if they are totally blameless from every conceivable angle, and in the unlikely event that they prove impossible to decimate with flimsy personal attack, can be laughed at for having anything so old-fashioned as a set of beliefs."

Libby Purvis writing, inter alia, about the late Tony Banks in the Times hits a nail: "But it is hypocritical of media commentators to complain about politicians disguising their rich humanity. We, ourselves, have done this to them. It is our fault. We mock, we sketch-write, we bestow cruelly apt nicknames (“Chatshow Charlie”), we force them to iron out everything that does not fit in with our template of middling ordinariness. If they speak robustly and wittily we accuse them of “gaffes”. If they admit that they don’t know something — anything — we pour contumely on them." So you've got yourselves to blame you commentators! The extraordinarily reliably sensible David Aaronovitch in the same paper wants the LibDems to choose someone more exciting than "Sir Menzies (“Ming”) Campbell" as leader. He concludes "Of course, it’s possible that while he has been occupied in all those [television] studios arguing gently for the unilateral abandonment of the Iraqi people, Ming has been contemplating all these matters, and has a serious, well-considered programme of domestic policies. If so, he can prove it in the period between now and early next month, when nominations close; Ming on income tax, Ming on school reform, Ming on the health service. But if, as I suspect, he is not so much Ming the Merciless as Ming the Pointless, then people such as Mark Oaten and Nick Clegg will have to reconsider, and offer themselves up to the party. If we are going to have a Liberal Democrat party (and I’m often glad we do), it might as well be a good one." Aside from the "I’m often glad we do" bit I can't find much to disagree with......


At 18:52, Blogger Aunty Marianne said...

Whatever brickbats may be flung about the boredom of British politics, it's a lot better than trying to be a voter in trilingual, bi-religious, rainbow-coalition proportional representation Belgium.


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