Sunday, 22 December 2013

2014 Through a cracked crystal ball.

It’s amazing what you can find at a car boot sale, only the other day I came across a genuine crystal ball that rather helpfully showed me what might happen over the next twelve months.


Flushed with success after their Jade Rabbit probe landed on the moon the Chinese announce plans for a new and even more ambitious space project; they want to send a manned mission to orbit Eric Pickles.


In an attempt to prove that he isn’t an out of touch toff David Cameron tells the media he fully understands the challenges facing ordinary voters. Where does one keep the Rembrandt? In the west wing or the south one, it’s a dammed tricky decision; especially when one has several houses and several Rembrandts obviously.


In the space of forty eight hours the Daily Express runs headlines claiming that tomatoes cause cancer, can cure cancer and were implicated in the death of Princess Diana before vanishing into a black hole created by its own absurdity; the Daily Mail blames its demise on the EU, or the 1960’s or something like that.


NASA announces that it has discovered a race of giant hedgehogs living on Mars all of whom are called Duncan; on the same day the Labour Party announce a slate of distinctive new policies that will win them the next election. The public have no trouble at all working out which of the two is an April Fools stunt.


In the wake of the scandals that have rocked it over the past twelve months the BBC decides to apologise for the children’s crusade, the fire of London and more or less everything else that has ever happened and made someone a bit unhappy just to be on the safe side.


Ed Milliband actually says something that is both interesting and engages with the public, sources within the Labour Party rapidly step in to say this is clearly an aberration and that normal, tedious service will be resumed ASAP.


In an attempt to revive their flagging finances the Liberal Democrats launch a new range of party themed products, the doormat with a picture of Nick Clegg on it is an instant bestseller.


The nation’s politicians go on holiday for the whole month, nobody notices apart from the fact that everything seems to work so much more smoothly.


Party conference season gets into full swing with the leaders of all three main parties taking to the podium to say that they and only they will do something so wibbly wobbly visionary and wonderful that even though they don’t actually know what it is yet will be pretty damned amazing.


At the UKIP conference leader Nigel Farage tells delegates he plans to spend the run up to the next election in his secret hideout under an extinct volcano practicing stroking a white cat and saying ‘Ah, Mr Johnson; I’ve been waiting’ in a suitably menacing tone of voice.


George Osborne announces an innovative new plan for tackling the deficit, doing Penny for the Guy, the £1.20 raised will really help; honestly.


Children around the country are encouraged to visit a strange old man in his grotto and tell him what they want for Christmas; nice to see Vince Cable finding a role at last.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Zac Goldsmith- a genuine maverick with a silver spoon in his mouth.

The government must ‘honour its promise’ to give voters the power to recall their MP if he or she is accused of wrongdoing, so says Tory MP Zac Goldsmith.

Mr Goldsmith put his own Recall Bill to parliament earlier this year and it recently achieved a favourable first reading, sadly his fellow parliamentarians are unlikely to allow it to go much further, in the same way that turkeys seldom offer to help with getting Christmas dinner ready.

Speaking in the Commons this week Mr Goldsmith said that under the proposals put forward by the government an MP could ‘refuse to perform any one of the functions required and still not qualify for recall.’

Were his bill to be adopted a petition with signatures from 20% of the eligible voters in a constituency could trigger the recall process.

What, you might ask, about the possibility of a vexatious recall driven by a constituent with a grudge? A good question and one for which Mr Goldsmith has a perfectly good answer, namely that to trigger a recall would require some 15,000 signatures to be gathered, implying a level of support and organisational ability beyond that of the average malcontent.

Giving voters the right to recall their MP would, he said, ‘go quite a long way to restoring the relationship between people and power.’ The government had, he went on, had ‘made a promise and it needs to honour it’, trying to ‘slip a pretence at recall’ in under the radar would lead to people ‘smelling a rat and it’ll do our reputation even more harm.’

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg supports recall, but only if it is the commons that decides whether an MP is guilty of wrongdoing, at this point I should probably refer you to my earlier comments about turkeys and Christmas dinner.

In June he told the commons that the Goldsmith plan was not ‘without its problems’ and that what was necessary was to ‘strike a balance, give voters, the public a backstop reassurance that if someone commits serious wrongdoing and they’re not held to account they can be held to account by the public;’ then added ‘equally I think we shouldn’t introduce a proposal which would in effect become a kangaroo court.’

Good old Nick Clegg, firmly astride the fence as ever and still managing to frustrate people on both sides; way to go.

I used to wonder what the point of Zac Goldsmith was, he seemed like to political equivalent of the male nipple, often prominent but nobody really knows what its there for. The he took up the cause of reviving our democracy by giving voters the power to recall a corrupt or inept MP and it all became clear; he is that rarest of things a genuine maverick.

By this I mean man of principle who is willing to say awkward things because he believes them to be right, rather than a charlatan who thinks stirring up controversy will get his name in the papers. There have never been enough people like that in politics and just now they’re pretty much an endangered species.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, he is, after all, the son of the late billionaire James Goldsmith, a man who was more like a Bond villain than any real person has a right to be and so troublemaking is in his blood. Back in the nineties Goldsmith senior was a huge thorn in the side of the Major government and helped to turn the perennial Tory squabble over Europe into a near existential crisis.

Goldsmith the younger has taken a more positive route; he has recognised that British democracy is slowly expiring due to a mixture of indifference and perceived impotence on the part of the electorate. Granting them the power to recall their MP would indeed give voters a feeling they have a real role to play.

The current perception of members of parliament is that they live lives of gilded seclusion far removed from the gnawing concerns of everyday life. Their seats are mostly safe and even though they have to provide receipts these days the expenses package more than makes up for the, comparatively, low salary they receive.

As with most stereotypes there is more than a grain of truth in this, very few MPs will feel the cold clutch of insecurity that is an all too common experience for their constituents. It would concentrate their minds wonderfully were they to have to worry even a little bit about being recalled.

Recall isn’t, of course, a magic bullet there are still many other problems that need to be addressed. Like a House of Commons that is too male, white and upper middle class to be properly representative and the mad decision by IPSA to recommend MPs get an 11% pay rise after the next election when most of their constituents will be lucky to have seen 1%, if anything, in recent years.

It is a good place to start though and Zac Goldsmith deserves to be praised for being its most vocal supporter.