Friday, 3 May 2013

Smears, Stankovites and a turbulent priest

UKIP are a ‘collection of clowns’, ‘the most successful none of the above party of their day’ and their leader Nigel Farage, aka the Dick Dastardly of British politics, is the ‘heir’ to Nick Clegg.

These aren’t my views, necessarily; they were handed down to a breathless public by respectively Justice Secretary Ken Clarke and Tory donor Lord Ashcroft at the start of this week. It was all part of a media campaign highlighting the supposedly shambolic organisation behind the UKIP brand.

This was supported by a number of emails sent by former UKIP Treasurer Stuart Wheeler leaked to the Observer suggesting the party’s policy making process is chaotic and may lead to a split in the near future.

Spin the tape forward to today, a day after much of the country went to the polls in county council elections and the picture looks very different. Far from spinning down to the ground with his tail in flames Dick Dastardly Farage is flying high, meanwhile the Tories are wiping a lot of egg off their faces.

At the time of writing UKIP are coasting towards a national tally of sixty seats and twenty five prevent of the vote, not bad for a fringe party. The political earthquake some journalists, most of whom have been up all night and drunk too much coffee, have been predicting all day might not happen; but the clowns have certainly given the rest of the circus a damn good scare.

UKIP have a number of problems that could stymie their making the big push into the political mainstream, their organisation is appallingly badly run and, Farage aside, they lack any senior figure capable of coming over on television, but they are still managing to connect with a jaded public in a way the three main parties can only dream of doing.

This is due entirely to an ever growing realisation on the part of the voting public that the old way of doing political business no longer works, it is time for an alternative, or better still for several. UKIP don’t tick any of the boxes for me, but I can see why they might for someone else.

The Tories, the Lib Dems and Labour are all going to have to come up with something new to say and a more positive way of saying it or face exiting the big top once and for all.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has revived the ‘Hero of Labour’ decoration last awarded during the Soviet era. In a ceremony held in St Petersburg he handed out the first batch, honouring amongst other a coal miner, a mechanic and a theatre director.

This is part of a project to find ‘new heroes’ for Russia that are not linked to the darker parts of the country’s recent past.

Speaking to the BBC this week the director of the Lenin State Farm, there really is such a place apparently, said ‘Is it not an act of heroism to get up at five am to milk the cows and not come back home until ten at night?’

He added ‘What about doctors on call twenty four hours a day, are they not heroes? Today young people only seem to respect TV stars. It’s time to honour individuals who make a real contribution to our country.’

If you think I’m going to snigger at this in the way I do at the bare chested machismo Mr Putin usually displays you’re quite wrong. There is much to dislike about the Russia of the new capitalist tsar, not least the yawning chasm between the rich and everyone else and the regime’s brutal repression of free speech; but this time I think he might be on to something.

Something from which we here in Britain may be able to learn, our honours system does go some way towards recognising selfless charity work, but it is still too crowded with political hacks and celebrity grotesques. What it doesn’t do is recognise the men and women who do the dull, badly paid and usually unappreciated jobs like stacking shelves in supermarkets, caring for the elderly and cleaning out the drains without which our society wouldn’t function.

It may be going a bit far to address the checkout assistant as ‘Comrade Hero of Soviet Labour’ the next time you do the weekly shop, but would it hurt to honour them with a little courtesy. As they say down on the Lenin State Farm, are they too not heroes?

New Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welsby is shaping up nicely; he might yet turn out to be as much of a thorn in the side of the establishment as his predecessor Rowan Williams.

He’s certainly ruffled a few feathers by attacking the ‘culture of entitlement’ to be found within the City of London in his role as a member of the all party Banking Standards Committee. Speaking on the BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster programme he said ‘I think in banking, in particular, and the City of London a culture of entitlement has affected a number of areas, not universally by any means, in which it seemed to disconnect from what people saw as reasonable in the rest of the world.’

Bishop Welsby, who worked as an oil executive before taking holy orders, called for bankers to be given training in managing risk and the social consequences of their actions. When asked if his comments had caused upset in Downing Street he replied ‘sometimes feathers get ruffled, I mean, that’s life.’

Well spoken that clergyman. Even though I am still dubious about giving the church a seat in the legislative process, but if they’re going to be there then the bishops might as well use their position to, to keep the avian metaphors going, the odd cat amongst the pigeons.

Needless to say the archbishop’s comments have caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst people who would be happier of the Church of England would go back to being the Tory Party at prayer. As ever such nostalgic souls are missing the point entirely.

It is the job of a bishop to call people, either literally or figuratively, to their prayers, and as even we agnostics know prayer should be an awkward interrogation rather than a cosy chat. There is no more awkward question for a rich person to answer than; did I make my money honestly?

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