The BBC are currently reporting that the individuals suspected of carrying out the atrocities in Woolwich have been ‘known’ to the security services for some time. This is often reported in the aftermath of such heinous events, and I can see why. The implication of this is that the event in question might have been avoided had the security services been more competent. But to me this seems both horribly tasteless and redolent of staggering ingratitude. The anonymity of the various agencies that safeguard both British subjects and resident foreign nationals makes them an easy target for the press and Parliament; it is fatuously easy to publicly criticise those whose job makes it impossible for them to publicly respond. We have, quite literally, not a blind clue as to what informs or influences the decisions that those who work in those agencies make; nor the sacrifices that they make; nor the responsibilities that they bear; nor the guilt that they must undoubtedly feel when bastards like those who committed this atrocity slip through the net. I’d imagine there’s going to be a lot of criticism of the security services over the coming days. On the offchance that anyone from one of those agencies happens to be reading this, ignore it; we, the public, don’t know half as much as we think we do, and if we did, we’d be rather more grateful than we are. A, 23/05/2013, 2.40pm
The Woolwich killing is gruesome, grotesque and grim. Basically, think of any negative adjective: it will apply pretty well to what happened yesterday. It’s difficult to say anything about this tragedy without sounding impossibly trite. But here goes: the two poles of human behaviour met yesterday. The brutal murderers were at one end. But at the other end was Ingrid Loyau-Kennett. She was not a mere passer-by. She was on a bus and, seeing a man lying wounded in the road, her natural instinct was to get off the bus and go to help. There will have been dozens of people on that bus. Loyau-Kennett was the only one who decided to, as it were, walk into the line of fire. Why? Because she had had elementary first-aid training as a Brownie leader. As she tended to the body, a man wielding a meat cleaver appeared by her. She happily nattered to him, and his partner, to keep them occupied, until the police arrived, because “I could speak to him and he wanted to speak and that’s what we did.” David Cameron has been saying, as many leaders do after incidents like this, that the best way to respond to terror is to live life as normal. Quite right. But perhaps, in addition, we can all try and be a bit nicer, a bit gentler, a bit better: a bit more like Ingrid Loyau-Kennett. H, 23/5/13, 11.30am
The whole Europe Question is really blowing up, and everyone in politics-and-media-land seems to be battling for the position of appearing to be ’on the side of the people’ in one form or another. Only one point really – appearing to be so, and actually being so, are often different things. Sometimes they’re the same, but sometimes they really are mutually antagonistic. So don’t believe what you read in the papers and, for God’s sake, when the inevitable referendum arrives don’t vote to exit the institution just about keeping Europe from plunging once more into financial crisis. It’s really very important to everyone on the planet that stability is preserved, and that populists are ignored.
One other thing – Henry writes below of all the radical and transformative things that New Labour did that he approves of, and wonders how anyone could not remember this period with fondness. It seems to me that ‘transformative’ is not a synonym for ‘good’. Sure, they did some excellent, liberal, progressive things; but the ban on fox hunting was brazenly arrogant and populist metropolitan meddling, public spending on overseas aid is something which many disagree with (not I, but certainly an awful lot of low-paid and hard-working people, who the Labour Party is ostensibly supposed to represent) and devolution has set the wheels in motion for the eventual dissolution of the country. Foreign wars, the culture of spin, stuffing the upper house with decidedly suspect donors, a domineering executive which sidelined the legislature – such rosy, halcyon days. A, 13/5/13, 3.30pm
The motion at the Union on Thursday was “This house remembers New Labour fondly”. To me, this seems pretty uncontroversial: given what preceded and followed it, who but the most miserable and old-fashioned right-winger (Peter Hitchens, basically) could fail to remember the period with happiness? Most of the arguments made against the motion (which, disappointingly and unsurprisingly, fell) either made the point that New Labour did not go far enough in what it did or that it did not do enough. To which my response is: the national minimum wage, the conclusion of the Northern Ireland peace process, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution, a doubling of per capita funding of state education, 85,000 more nurses, 32,000 more doctors, city-wide government restored in London after its abolition by Thatcher, the revocation of Section 28, the introduction of civil partnerships, a ban on fox hunting, a doubling of the overseas aid budget, Sure Start. Each of the members of that list is, in its own right, remarkable. Together, they forge a set of policies as radical and transformative as Thatcher’s. And it is surely in the transformation of British society that New Labour’s real success lies. The Thatcher quote that her greatest legacy was New Labour is apocryphal and trite. But surely the most significant result of the transformation of British society engineered by New Labour is a Conservative Party that not only agrees that Section 28 was regressive and homophobic, but also created legislation to introduce gay marriage; a Conservative Party that supports the national mimum wage that it had said would ravage the labour market; a Conservative Party which will not reverse the ban on fox hunting; a Conservative Party committed to overseas aid. As I watched Ken Livingstone (a man whose job was created by New Labour) tearing into Blair and Brown at the Union on Thursday, I wondered what more some people expect a Labour prime minister to have done. H, 13/5/13, 12.15pm
I’ve just finished reading Andrew Adonis’ blow-by-blow account of the coalition negotations following the 2010 general election, 5 Days in May. If you’re as much of a loser as me, you will love it. It reads more like a fictional political thriller than anything else. But it also revealed what I think is the most important drawback of coalitional governments, which is that they are fundamentally anti-democratic. As Adonis tells it, Labour was willing to offer all manner of things to the Lib Dems in the negotiations: AV (without a referendum), an entirely elected House of Lords, four-year fixed-term parliaments, caps on party funding, a statutory register of lobbyists, the scrapping of ID cards and the National Identity Register – all these and more are in the draft coalition agreement between the Lib Dems and Labour that is appended to the book. I support some of these policies, but they were not policies that somebody voting Labour on May 6th would have expected to see supported by Labour on May 10th. The smoke filled room does not have the same legitimacy as a general election, which is why it is so infuriating when Cameron and Clegg (as they regularly do) justify a policy by exclaiming: “It was in the coalition agreement!” That said, I suspect, with support for the two main parties declining, that we are in for a prolonged period of negotiations of this ilk. The lesson: pay no attention to the parties’ manifestos in 2015. But then of course nobody does anyway.
On a side point, I was particularly amused to read that one concession foisted on Labour by the Lib Dems was “a commitment not to raise the cap on tuiton fees”. H, 7/5/13, 1.30pm
I sense something of a spat brewing. Henry, intelligent, knowledgeable and all-round nice guy, believes I am wrong to argue that Thursday’s elections don’t matter. Well I’m not entirely sure I said that, but do let me clarify and say that they do, though not in the way that Henry suggests. The news that councillors ‘do stuff’ it not, I must say, even for an English student from the bourgeois climes of southern Gloucestershire, a revelation. The news that elections determine what it is that councillors do, frankly, is. I think most people expect certain things from their local politicians; that they care about the area, they know what’s best for the people there and that they’re willing to help with reasonable requests that their voters have. What I regard as witheringly fatuous is the notion that these qualities are what is rewarded in elections. People vote based on the efficacy of the political marketing, their perception of the government in charge and yes, to an extent, on the platform of the local parties. But it’s just wrong to say that ‘council elections are about local issues’ as though this settles the matter, because it doesn’t. They’re about national ones too. Which is why the parties based in Westminster care – why the ‘faceless careerists’ (not my words) that dwell therein are driven to godforsaken places all over the country to smile, play football, chow down on sausage rolls and pretend they give a stuff about whether or not the locals have their swimming pool closed. Because if these elections didn’t matter nationally, there’s no way on God’s earth you’d get the Cabinet to traipse round Daventry with rictus grins plastered onto their faces like something dug up from one of the plague pits in Prague; nor Harriet Harman to visit Essex, or Ed Miliband to go to Doncaster. The next time the well-meaning quasi-Messiah standing for election writes on a leaflet that they just ‘want to make a difference,’ by all means believe them – and then bin it, go volunteer in a charity shop, apply for an allotment and join a book group. Because it’s by doing this, rather than by throwing an electoral bone to the carrion crows of Westminster, that places are made pleasant and ‘stuff’ is done. A, 30/04/2013, 9.00 pm
Adam, my estimable colleague, is wrong (see below). He’s not wrong that apathy is a democratic act, although I’m not sure that anybody is denying that. He’s wrong that Thursday’s local elections don’t matter. Actually, they matter quite a lot. Councillors sort out potholes. Councillors sort out schools. Councillors deal with the Port Meadow saga. Councillors decide whether your college can build a new conference centre/cash cow. Councillors do stuff. In fact, they probably do more that affects you directly than your MP, and certainly more than your MEPs. That is why these elections matter. By all means be apathetic about national politics, but nobody is genuinely apathetic about local issues, and council elections are about local issues: councillors do not stand on national platforms. These elections are not about austerity versus fiscal stimulus, but local issues. Nor are the candidates faceless careerists, as Adam suggests. The councillor’s salary is not great. They have day jobs, too. They stand to represent their area, because they want to make a difference. Is that not the precise opposite of what is taken to be so wrong with national politics today? So read the “polaroids of the visages of sundry well-meaning individuals gurning into the lens underneath suitably catchy slogans” that are stuffed into your pidge, and be glad that some people care, even if you don’t. H, 29/4/13, 1.40pm
Scraps of paper deposited in my pidge, bearing polaroids of the visages of sundry well-meaning individuals gurning into the lens underneath suitably catchy slogans, inform me that there are elections on Thursday. As a first-year student, I am spared from one of the worst aspects of elections. In the run-up to the point where a minority of people traipse to some dingy voting setup in the nearest church hall, much of the population is subjected to the horror of conversation with one of the unspeakably dreary individuals – individuals whom in normal circumstances would be incapable of mustering the social wherewithal to mutter ‘good morning’ to one of their neighbours – who campaign for one of the various parties of this sceptred isle. Their zeal and fervour grants them the bloody-minded audacity to march up to the houses of complete strangers, cultivate a suitably compassionate manner and, this veneer in place, gently hector said strangers as to why they should vote for one tedious, dead-eyed bore over another. This may sound harsh, but I really do wish that the various parties and campaigners would recognise that apathy is a democratic act – not wanting to listen to their buzzwords and slogans, or read their shoddily produced fragments of election material, is just as much a political act as participating fully in their campaign game. A, 28/04/2013, 12.30pm
David Cameron did a remarkable thing today. He said something that was sensible, considered and right. He said that worries of ‘another Iraq’ are affecting the decision of western countries as to whether to intervene in Syria. I do not profess to have ‘the answer to Syria’. Nor do I even have an opinion on whether we should intervene. Or, more accurately, I have about five diferent opinions every day. So too with Iraq: every time I think about the war, I come up with a different opinion. Obviously, each of them is equally crude. But I don’t think that it should be too controversial to suggest that the Iraq War should play little part in judgements on Syria. Firstly, Iraq and Syria are massively different situations. The Assad regime is crumbling; Hussein was in a position of relative strength. Secondly, and more pertinently, all the faults in the conduct of the Iraq War will have been, or should have been, corrected, particularly the way that intelligence reports are drawn up and acted upon, and the need to plan for the peace as well as the war. All other problems were specific to Iraq, and so any factor influencing governments’ judgements on Syria should be specific to Syria. But even though Cameron said a decent thing, vote Labour on Thursday. If you care. Which you probably don’t. But you should. H, 26/4/13, 6.45pm
So, based on the figures from the last quarter, the United Kingdom has avoided descent into a triple-dip recession. ‘Today’s figures are an encouraging sign the economy is healing,’ said the Chancellor earlier today. Well, if he genuinely finds a growth rate of 0.3% encouraging, my only reaction can be to applaud his manically chirpy and catastrophically sunny outlook on life. No disappointment was expressed, no dissatisfaction as this pathetic rate of economic growth. As far as I can see, this is it, the party’s over, everyone pack up, lower your expectations and pootle on home – the reaction of the Cabinet to what amounts to little more than embarrassing economic stagnation is not anger or shame, but rather palpable, quivering relief. For all their ludicrously macho rhetoric about being ‘radical’ and ‘reforming’ in restoring the country’s finances, the government are being fantastically complacent and lethargic. And in so doing, I think, they write their doom for the next election. A, 24/04/13, 1.30pm
I’ve held off on commenting on the Paris Brown case partly because I was struggling valiantly (and unsuccesfully) not to fail my macroeconomics collection, but mainly because I didn’t know what I thought. We do, after all, all say silly things on social media. Feel free to stalk my Twitter feed for ample evidence. And, like many PPEists, I adore Matt Santos’ defence of politicians being human beings in the West Wing. It sets my heart a-flutter, which is a sure sign that I need to get out more.
But there’s an important point to make: her tweets are genuinely quite disgusting. She says homophobic things (just replace ‘fag’ with ‘black’ or ‘Jew’ if you don’t understand how offensive her tweet was), anti-immigrant things (note, not anti-immigration, OUCA), and says she wants to “cut” people. Basically, she is a nasty, snide young person, appointed to a job to stop young people being nasty and snide. Most importantly, she is old enough to know better. If she doesn’t know better, that’s not because of her age, but because she’s ignorant. And I don’t want the taxpayer to fund ignorance. H, 22/4/13, 10pm