Friday, 12 June 2009

UPC’s to the rescue?

Angry, self regarding and uncomfortable in his own skin, just three of the terms used by Business Secretary Lord Mandelson to sum up the character of Gordon Brown. He used them in a string of emails sent to Derek Draper, some time editor of the Labourlist website better known for playing Dastardly to Damian McBride’s Muttley in the email smear scandal that wrecked both their careers, published in the Mail on Sunday last weekend.

Few people would disagree with that character assessment and most would suggest that it could be applied equally well to the party he leads and which this week, again, lost its nerve when challenged to back or sack him.

Like the Tories under John Major the Labour Party, as led by Gordon Brown, has lost the ability to make the public like, let alone trust or respect, them and the collapse of the party’s vote at the European Elections predicts disaster at the polls in May 2010 or maybe sooner followed by a generation or more in the political wasteland.

As disaster loons and even the most loyal and determinedly upbeat activists begin to talk about limiting the size of the party’s defeat rather than playing for a last minute turn around the stature of Alan Johnson continues to grow.

Promoted to Home Secretary in Gordon Brown’s last ditch reshuffle of his cabinet Johnson continues to maintain with Zen like calm that he has no ambition to be either Prime Minister or leader of the Labour Party were it to find itself in opposition this time next year. Cue much nodding of heads by the sages of Fleet Street and proclamations that he would say that wouldn’t he since politicians always profess to want least the one thing they want more than anything else, don’t’ they?

In any other case I would be inclined to agree, with Johnson thought things are never quite how they seem. He has outsmarted the Oxbridge educated chancers in the cabinet by the simple, but devastatingly effective tactic of being honestly ordinary, and he may well be being honest now when he claims to have no desire to be party leader.

Honest in the sense that he realises that in its current form the only place the Labour Party seems in the mood to be led is over the edge of a cliff.

It must have been a supremely satisfying experience for some lucky Unite Against Fascism activist to land an egg right in the fact of BNP leader Nick Griffin as he attempted to give a press conference to mark his election as a member of the European Parliament, satisfying; but counter-productive in political terms.

The disruption of his press conference by protesters angered, quite rightly, by the continued rise of the far right in British politics, allowed the odious Griffin to sound almost like a real politician when he told the BBC that ‘people should be entitled to hear what we have got to say and to hear journalists question us robustly.’ Suddenly the people who really are in the right because the oppose the nasty checklist of prejudices and paranoia put forward as policies by the BNP were made to look like an extremist mob as this witless man with little of consequence to say found himself the lead story on every news bulletin and decorating the front page of the next day’s newspapers.

It may sound dull and timid to the sort of people who cut their politics with a hefty shot of adrenaline but the only real way to beat the BNP is though the ballot box. That requires real thought from the three main parties about how they address the practical problems faced by may Britons and a mature determination to rise above petty point scoring that is seldom in evidence amongst our elected representatives.

Anything else, however satisfying it may seem at the time, is just so much sound and fury signifying nothing.


As the dust of the scandal over MP’s expenses finally dies down thoughts within the Westminster bubble turn to reforming the political system, which means, inevitably, reviving the ancient debate over whether or not we should embrace proportional representation.

Viewed from a purely political perspective the answer is yes, although as recent experience has taught us politics is seldom pure and rebuilding its reputation is more about rebuilding grass roots democracy than changing the way we vote.

To do that we need to embrace UPC’s rather than PR. Who they? How much will that cost? They acronym stands for ‘unreasonably persistent complainants’, the sort of people who sink their teeth into an issue and don’t let go until they get a result and they would probably cost no more than the price of a stamp.

What any UPC deserving of the name does is highlight local issues, often to the frustration of local and national government that would prefer to deal with an electorate that doesn’t trouble its fluffy little heads with scrutinising what the great and the good are getting up to in their name. Once upon a time back bench MP’s used to do this job back in the innocent days when politics was still a vocation rather than a safe berth for mediocrities.

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