Friday, 26 March 2010

Cabs for hire, more like the four stooges.

Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt, Geoff Hoon and Margaret Moran, remember those names; they belong to the four stooges who broke British democracy once and for all with their greed and stupidity.

They were caught out in a ‘sting’ operation run jointly by Channel Four and the Sunday Times offering to use their influence as members of parliament, and in the case of Hoon, Hewitt and Byers as former ministers of the crown in return for generous fees from lobbying companies.

Stephen Byers, charmingly, used the phrase that sums up their tawdry attitude to the public trust by describing himself as a ‘sort of cab for hire’, for a fee of around £5000 per day he would happily tout the interests of anyone who paid him around Whitehall. For all I know he would even south of the river after five o’clock, something real London cabbies never do, but they, at least, are trying to make an honest living.

Not surprisingly the Tories have seized on this latest incidence of Labour MP’s on the fiddle to claim the moral high ground, even though their own benches are home to more than a few ‘cabs for hire’, with Sir George Young, their shadow leader of the house calling for the matter to be ‘fully and impartially investigated’.

Good luck with that, as the saying goes, because at the moment there seems to be little enthusiasm on the part of the government for an enquiry, maybe there are a few too many skeletons in the Labour Party cupboard for that to be advisable this side of an election. Deputy party leader Harriet Harman said the issue had been looked into and that she was satisfied that any decisions made had been free from the ‘impropriety’ alleged by the media.

Well that’s ok then, we won’t worry our fluffy little heads about this any more and get back to being enthralled by the antics of the various leaders’ wives; as John Wayne might have put it the hell we will!

Last summer we all found the MP’s expenses scandal with its duck houses, bath plugs and mucky movies mildly amusing, how very small beer British political corruption seemed in comparison to that in other European countries. This time round we could comfort ourselves by saying that this sort of thing always happens when a government is running out of steam.

We can dredge up memories of the cash for questions scandal that did so much harm to John Major’s government during its dog days, in particular we will recall Neil Hamilton and his too close relationship with Harrods owner Mohammed Al-Fayed, we didn’t much like him then but his willingness to turn himself into a figure of fun since has won him a soft spot in our hearts.

It all contributes to the lie we like to tell ourselves in this country that politics is really a sort of Carry On film complete with sex scandals and dodgy characters out for the main chance. If that’s what we want to go on thinking after this latest debacle then we’re wrong; dangerously so in fact.

This is not something out of an Ealing comedy; it is a serious threat to our society and the democratic values upon which it is based. There is a real risk that Byers, Hewitt et al are low down on a rotten totem pole of potential corruption that reaches to the heart of government.

Gordon Brown may well be able to dodge holding an investigation into the activities of ex ministers for hire; he won’t though be able to escape the judgement of the public at the ballot box, even if it is expressed by record numbers of people not bothering to vote at all. Even that won’t end the problem though; a parliament largely filled with shiny new MP’s untainted by any hint of corruption will still be at a disadvantage caused by the people now heading for the sunset, or the Lords, with their pockets stuffed with cash. They will lack the one thing necessary for truly effective government; the trust of the British people.

And another thing:

Scientists have discovered yet another miracle weapon for combating obesity, it is, wait for it; seaweed.

My guess is that it stops you getting fat because it tastes so god awful nobody in their right mind would ask for seconds of any dish in which it had been used as an ingredient.

The death was announced this week of Harry Carpenter, for many years the voice of boxing on the BBC. He was, by all accounts, a true gent, a man who knew and was loved by everyone who was anyone in the fight game over the past fifty years, not least because he mastered the difficult trick of combining knowledge and passion for his chosen sport with an ability to share both with the viewing public.

How very different from the loud and excitable presenters covering sport for television today for whom the audience are only bit players in the epic drama of their personal ambition; truly we will never see his like again.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Would a hung parliament be so bad?

It’s official, well as official as anything depending on the inexact science behind opinion polls ever can be; Britain is heading for a hung parliament after the coming general election. Leaving aside the tired saloon bar joke about the best thing to do with politicians being to hang the lot of them would that really be such a bad thing?

It would be a very bad thing if you happen to believe that what Britain needs more than anything else as the economy stumbles and the deficit rises ever higher is the ‘smack of firm government.’

You know the sort of thing, firm leadership from someone who didn’t believe in changing their mind and thought the cabinet and parliament itself were there only to ask ‘please sir how high?’ whenever the great leader bellowed ‘Jump!’ That was what we had in the halcyon days of the eighties when Mrs T was in Downing Street and all was well with the world.

The trouble with people who feel nostalgic for the eighties is they are either on the payroll of Tory Central Office or too young to remember what they were actually like.

Tough leadership of the type we are all supposed to long for tends to create more problems that it solves. Decades of social and economic decline cannot be halted by telling the nation to pull its socks up or else and the refusal to change their mind shown by leaders in the Thatcher mould is more often than not symptomatic of a fear of appearing weak than any real sense of purpose.

In this sense a hung parliament would be a good thing because it would reintroduce to British politics something that has been considered a dirty word for the past quarter century; consensus.

Whoever wins the election will be unable to use the force of their personality, Thatcher, or a thumping majority, Blair, to ride roughshod over parliament and public opinion. After years of being a supine talking shop parliament will rediscover its power to hold the executive to account and sensible compromise, long a feature of British life outside the Westminster bubble will once again become the order of the day.

A hung parliament might also be the catalyst for finally encouraging Britain to stop worrying and learn to lover proportional representation. If that were to happen our political life would be freed at a stroke from the dead hand of the three main parties, all of whom have largely lost touch with their core vote and fallen for the blandishments of focus groups and marketing gurus instead. New voices and ideas would enter the debate and for the first time in decades politics would really mean something.

None of this may come to pass of course, opinion polls are notoriously inaccurate, public rage against New Labour, who ironically look very old indeed these days, might yet sweep David Cameron’s Tories into power; but what if it doesn’t? What if something fundamental has changed, before long we might find ourselves in interesting times where every vote counts and policies matter more than marketing.

And another thing:

David leaves clothes lying on the bedroom floor and can’t be trusted with the remote, Gordon is messy and noisy but loves to help people and as for Nick; he’s a little tinker who, allegedly, likes to play kiss chase.

Does any of the above matter, does knowing the foibles of the three party leaders as described by their adoring wives make them appear more ‘human’? Maybe, but it also makes them sound like lovably naughty six year olds.

Anna Arrowsmith, an award winning director of, ahem, ‘art’ films; you know the sort where the actors don’t wear much more than a smile, has put herself forward to be a parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats, cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the chattering classes.

I don’t think its so much the mucky movies she makes, in, I’m sure the best possible taste, that they dislike as the fact that she’s, scandalously, had a proper job before deciding to enter politics.

I laughed out loud and then shuddered at the story about three Royal Navy officers being brought before a court marital this week for crashing their submarine into a forty foot rock formation. Doubtless like male drivers the world over they failed to notice the rocks in question, which were marked on the map, because real men don’t look at maps.

I don’t know what effect it has on Britain’s enemies, but the though t of dunderheads like that sailing the world’s oceans in a nuclear armed submarine scares the c*** out of me.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Dimbleby: television is teaching our children history.

The revolution, if it comes, might not be televised but if David Dimbleby, something of a silverback amongst television presenters, is right the only place British children would be likely to learn one had taken place from would be a history programme broadcast on television long after the event.

In an interview with the Radio Times, not perhaps the most cerebral of magazines, he claimed this week that programmes such as his own The Seven Ages of Britain’ (you might think there was a discreet plug in there somewhere I couldn’t possibly comment) are ‘filling in the gaps left by the less than impressive treatment of history in the school curriculum.’

His views are echoed by a survey carried out by the Historical Association in which out of 700 schools questioned 3 out of 10 no longer taught history as a separate subject at Key Stage 3.

Melanie Jones, education manager for the Historical Association, said that although history was in general taught well in British schools ‘far too little curriculum times’ was devoted to the subject.

This isn’t a new complaint, for years parents, education professionals and people believe history matters have been complaining about the problems caused by a narrow curriculum; usually summed up as consisting of Hitler, Henry and the Holocaust, that seems designed for the specific purpose of killing kid’s interest in history off in the quickest possible time. There is also, of course, the perennial problem of a school curriculum that seems to grow ever more packed with requirements thought indispensable under government initiatives that are all too often forgotten about before the bureaucrats have come back from their lunch break.

There is though another problem at work here, namely that we are now governed by people who are, for the most part, historically illiterate. Nothing else could explain how we sleepwalked into the appalling mess that is the war in Afghanistan when an understanding of the horrors visited on British forces there in the nineteenth century would have been wise counsel against making war in that benighted land. The same goes for our approach to the economy, we repeated the mistakes of the 1920’s by allowing the financial markets to run wildly out of control and those of the 1930’s by doing too little to help people who have had their livelihoods destroyed by the crash. If all this leads to us having to relive the horrors of the 1940’s; don’t say the history books didn’t warn you.

The inescapable truth is that one of the most valuable resources any country can have is its history, without a clear understanding of where we’ve been where we’re going to could well turn out to be somewhere we don’t much like.


An ASBO for Rover?

As if they didn’t have enough to keep them busy the government announced plans this week to introduce ‘dog control notices’, ASBO’s for Pit Bull Terriers if you like.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson, a postman before he was a politician and so no stranger to getting bitten by dogs, said ‘The vast majority of dog owners are responsible, but there is no doubt some people breed and keep dogs for the sole purpose of intimidating others.’

He went on to say ‘it is this sort of behaviour that we will not tolerate; it is the sort of behaviour we are determined to stop.’ Cue the patriotic music and thunderous applause for the hero of the hour.

Meanwhile back in the Westminster bubble plans are afoot to launch a public consultation on legislation to make it compulsory for all dog owners to have their pets micro-chipped and to buy third party insurance.

As with so many things the brown government has done since 2007 this is all very well meant and so utterly impractical it is doomed to fail. The irresponsible owners the plans are aimed at are no more likely to buy insurance for their dog than they are for their car; as for giving Fang or Fido, or whatever they call the slavering beast that half drags them around the local sink estate an Anti Social Behaviour order, they’d probably hang it is pride of place on the wall next to their own.


And another thing:

All this week BBC 2 has been showing ‘Lambing Live’ as part of its prime time schedules, a programme that does exactly what it says on the tin; meaning that a bunch of cute little lambs get born and nothing much else happens.

I know that budget cuts mean Auntie has had to tighten her belt, but if this is the shape of things to come what can we expect next; coming soon ‘Paint Drying-Live?’

Its all gone wrong, Chris Evans taking over the Radio 2 breakfast slot vacated by Sir Terry Wogan at the start of the year, this week the former enfant terrible of radio was pictured creeping into Broadcasting House looking like a haunted wreck.

The Met Office may have given up making long range forecasts, but I more than willing to predict storm conditions in coffee cups across Middle England; it’s not a hurricane dears so please stop panicking.

Lets face it presenting a breakfast show on radio isn’t exactly rocket science, all you need is a pile of records and a store of breezy chat, whether the latter comes from an elderly stage Irishman or an overgrown ginger schoolboy is neither here nor there.

Give it six months and the TOGS currently getting their comfy underwear in a twist over nasty Chris taking over from lovely Terry will have forgotten what all the fuss was about.

Do I care whether Samantha Cameron, wife of the fragrant David, voted Labour during her wild youth? Not all that much.

Being married to a politician does not mean being married to his or her party too, unless, of course, you happen to be the wife of the honourable member for Stepford that is.