Monday, 22 November 2010

20th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's assassination

20 years ago today Margaret Thatcher announced her resignation as Prime Minister (although she didn't actually leave office for another six days).

I don't remember it happening as I was only five-years-old (and in Berlin) but the resignation of Margaret Thatcher would greatly effect all British politics that came after.

Friday, 19 November 2010

"Never had it so good"

In 1957 Prime Minister Harold Macmillan gave a speech in Bedford in which he said "most of our people have never had it so good." At the time, the speech was said to be optimistic (if not arrogant), but in fact it was meant as a warning. Mr. Macmillan was trying to say that the recent years of prosperity wouldn't last forever.

Today Lord Young was forced to resign after saying "For the vast majority of people in the country today, they have never had it so good..."

He wasn't a member of the government (he was the PM's enterprise adviser), but it is still embarrassing for David Cameron.

It must be especially annoying for Lord Young as what he said was true. People who are in work and have a mortgage are doing quite well. As interest rates are so low, mortgage repayments are very small.

This group of people (which is sizeable) suddenly have more money at the end of month and can't be feeling too bad at the moment. However, they have job losses and public service cuts to come.

To me, Lord Young's ill-advised words seem like a Macmillan-style warning.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Across the Irish Sea

The history of the relationship between Ireland and Britain is not a happy one. Centuries of oppression and atrocities followed by war and partition means that few Irish people view their island's time under British rule with nostalgia.

However, in recent years there have been moves to improve relations between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. There is agreement and cross border cooperation on a large range of issues, most notably with Northern Ireland (where both the Republic and UK agree that the sovereignty of Northern Ireland should be determined by its people).

For most of the last decade Ireland was known as the Celtic Tiger due to the extraordinary growth of its economy, much to the benefit of its people and its closest neighbour and trading partner (the UK). However, the Republic's economy was very closely linked to the property market and thus was hit hard by the economic downturn.

It now looks increasingly likely that the Republic of Ireland will require a bailout from the EU, and today David Cameron stated that it was in the UK's national interest to help Ireland. The Prime Minister was talking about the very close economic and trading links, but he could also be referring to something less tangible.

Most British people (including myself) have Irish ancestry and the links between the two nations are far closer than most neighbours (which is why the prefix 'Beyond Blighty' has been omitted from this post).

However, the Irish are an incredibly proud people, and accepting a bailout from their former occupiers will not be appreciated in all parts of the Republic. But perhaps it will help heal some of the wounds of the past and make the future prosperous for all the people of these islands.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


This afternoon Downing Street announced that Andrew Parsons (the PM's photographer) and Nicky Woodhouse (the PM's filmmaker) have been removed from the civil service. The two had been referred to as 'vanity staff' and the Prime Minister was widely criticised for paying them with public money.

The removal of Mr. Parsons and Ms Woodhouse from the civil service is an embarrassing u-turn for the Prime Minister, but oddly, the press haven't covered it much today - they seemed to have had another story to talk about.

The happy and historic news of a Royal wedding has also buried some sad news for the readers of political blogs. Tom Harris, the Labour MP for Glasgow South, has announced that he is to give up blogging as it was getting him "into too many squabbles". A lesson for us all!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

When politics gets violent

Today thousands of prospective students, current students, lecturers and ordinary people peacefully marched through Westminster in protest to the government's proposed lifting of the cap on tuition fees.

Sadly, these peaceful protesters will not on appear on the front pages of tomorrow's newspapers. Instead, images of the violence at Millbank Tower (the location of Conservative party HQ) will be what millions of people will see when they read their daily papers tomorrow morning. And none of this will change the governmen's policy - if anything, the violent protests have now made the new fees more likely to happen.

The blurb to this blog states my dedication to impartiality, but there is one issue where I feel I should state my opinion. To quote Winston Churchill, democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. Most of the violent protesters were not students (nor are they ever likely to be), they were anarchists, who dislike democracy and believe direct action is the best way to achieve their goals. To be blunt, they are wrong.

This morning the Liberal Democrat MPs were very nervous about the changes to funding. At PMQs today, the Deputy Prime Minister (standing in for the David Cameron who's in Seoul) faced question after question about his party's sudden change in opinion on university fees. Many of Nick Clegg's MPs were terrified that this issue could lose them their seats and where talking about voting against the Bill when it comes to Parliament. However, the British public tend to support the campaigns of ordered and civil protesters, but quickly turn against those who resort to violence. Meaning those Liberal Democrat MPs probably feel a little safer now.

Direct action simply doesn't work in a democratic society, and it often has the opposite effect than that desired by its proponents. If you want to change policy in a democracy, debate the issue, convince people of your point of view, and scare the MPs with your support, but don't start smashing windows as it will get you nowhere.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Mutiny in Labour!

In my last post I commented on the brutality of Labour's suspension of Phil Woolas. Today Labour MPs, in their own words, mutinied against their own leadership as a result. In a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) the Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman, was heckled by her own MPs who were angered at the treatment of Mr. Woolas.

The thing is, Labour MPs don't normally do things like this. Unlike the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, Labour is boringly loyal to its leadership - for most of the time. Of course, Ed Miliband is on paternity leave following the birth of his son on Sunday. Meaning, Macavity-like, Mr. Miliband wasn't there to face the resentment of his party.

Although Mr. Woolas is still fighting the decision to remove him from parliament, there will be a by-election in his constituency as that decision cannot be overturned. All that Mr. Woolas can hope for is that the three year ban from standing for parliament, imposed on him by the court, can be lifted. If he wins on this point, Labour will have to make a difficult decision as to whether to readmit Mr. Woolas into the party and allow him to contest his own seat as a Labour candidate.

The problem for the leadership is that they'll look foolish if they let Mr. Woolas back into the party, but their own MPs will mutiny again if they don't.

Friday, 5 November 2010

What does this mean for the future of UK politics?

It's not uncommon in the United States for the results of close elections to be determined in court. Who could forget the 2000 presidential election, which in the end was resolved by the Supreme Court - not the voters. But things are different in the UK, or so I thought.

I hadn't bothered to blog about the election court, convened to decide whether Phil Woolas' election literature was lawful or not, because I had thought the result was a foregone conclusion as no UK court would overturn the decision of the British voters. Clearly Ed Miliband had come to the same conclusion as me, otherwise he wouldn't have recently made Mr. Woolas the Shadow immigration minister. However, Mr. Miliband and I were completely wrong.

Today the election court found Phil Woolas guilty of deliberately making false statements in his constituency of Oldham East and Saddleworth during this year's general election campaign. As a result, Mr. Woolas has been banned from standing for Parliament for three years and the election result in his constituency has been overturned – meaning there will now be a by-election to fill the seat.

The Labour party quickly suspended Mr. Woolas, and Harriet Harman forcefully condemned his actions, even though they had been serving together in the same Shadow Government just yesterday. It all felt a bit like Labour was over compensating. Of course, as a result of the verdict, Labour (along with the other parties) is now in election mode.

It is easy to forget that, even though the government has a comfortable majority, there is still technically a hung parliament, and every seat counts. The by-election will also be the first real chance to gauge the public's opinion of the new politics and to see how the coalition parties cope with fighting against each other in an election campaign.

One thing that worries me about this case is the precedent it sets. In years to come, as a result of today's decision, will close elections be determined by the courts instead of the people?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Beyond Blighty: A good day for Pres. Obama?

It's something of a clique to say that the next election begins the day after the last vote of the previous election has been counted, but the case of the US, it's very true. There is already speculation about which Republicans will run for President in 2012.

This sort of thing happens at the end of all midterms, what makes this time different is that the result of this election means we already know the result of the next – Barack Obama will win a second term.

This may seem like a strange prediction given Pres. Obama's glum assessment of the midterm results, but he shouldn't be too worried as history is on his side. Harry S. Truman in 1946, Ronald Reagan in 1982 and Bill Clinton in 1994 all suffered heavy losses in the midterms and all went on the win re-election with ease.

Of course, using history to predict the future is very dangerous, but there are other things to cheer up the Democrats today. Tea Party candidates did very well in many states, which has unnerved many moderate Republicans as the Tea Party's views are significantly to the right of most American voters. And yet, this insurgent group will have a great influence over the next Republican Nominee for President, who may end up being unelectable as a result.

One other thing that might make Pres. Obama feel a little better. With Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives, the President can blame them when things go wrong.