Wouldn’t you like a job where you can have two weeks a year to just think. Think, eat clam chowder, sit by the lake and drink pop.
Entries from March 2005 ↓
In the world of political blogs that I half inhabit, the discussion for tomorrow will not be Howard Flight and his admission that the Tories intend greater cuts than is politically acceptable at the moment. It will not be Michael Howard and whether he has gone too far this time. It won’t even be the launch of the lib dem policy on crime, although of course, I’m personally on the edge of my seat on that one. No, tomorrow will mark the launch of another Tim Ireland belter, with my party taking another Internet hit. Such is life.
So here’s my usual government health warning. Protest voting helps the Tories. Really, it does. Just because they’ve collectively jumped off a cliff this week doesn’t let you off the hook. Vote Lib Dem, get the Tories. If you’re sick of me saying it, have a look at the wise words of Mr Peter Hain, Leader of the House of Commons.
Mrs Watson and I have rows about those little foibles. One of her big irritations is that I simultaneously listen to Radio 4 whilst playing an itunes shuffle on the lap top. Just at the point where she was switching the radio off, the news came in that Paul Hester has died. Then, on itunes, came Crowded House, “Four seasons in one day”. The lyrics are hauntingly prevalent.
Smiling as the shit comes down
You can tell a man from what he has to say
Everything gets turned around
And I will risk my neck again
You can take me where you will
Up the creek and through the mill
Like all the things you can’t explain
Four seasons in one day
Blood dries up
Like rain, like rain
Fills my cup
Like four seasons in one day
I’m trying to get some sleep in before the big day, you know the one that isn’t going to be on May 5th. Easter reading has left me a nervous man. In an article “down with the kids”, Jacques Perret starts:
“What’s the greatest story of rock ‘n’ roll excess ever told? Keith Richards staying awake for a whole week. Whoooah! Try becoming a new parent, keith. You won’t get to sleep for three years. And when you do, it’ll be for one minute an 20 seconds, when you climb into the freezer at Sainsburys.”
I meant to say that I was interviewed for Radio 4 analysis last week. They’re doing a programme on political blogging. I said that there was great potential for blogging but we needed to reach a critical mass of bloggers in order to get a proper and balanced debate going in the UK. At the time, the site was getting hammered by spammers and protest voters (and the usual young liberals), so I was probably more negative than I meant to be. Still, what confused me was the sudden interest of Iain Duncan Smith in the medium. The Times has the answer. He wants to build a vanguard of right wing bloggers in the UK and looks to the US for inspiration. I’m not so sure it will work. For one, we may moan about our press but there is every strand of political thought on offer in the UK – from the Morning Star to the Daily Mail. Secondly, our newspapers have the best writers. Only a few bloggers can match their style and prose. Those bloggers that can, cross the divide and end up in print – Oliver Kamm, for example. Thirdly, rusty though they may be in some areas, political parties are generally broad churches (even in Arundel I suspect!). Anyway, Conservativehome is half think-tank, half blog. I couldn’t bring myself to click through on the “New Labour – Tough on Islamic terror? Soft on Irish terror” link on my day off but you might have a stronger constitution than me. Let us see how Conservativehome develops over the next few months.
The first time I met Jim Callaghan was in late 1995. We were on the verge of a landslide and he was excited, full of energy and passionate about what we had to achieve. I was with a group of young members, many of whom had no real memory of him being PM. I found it difficult to comprehend, after all, my entire childhood had been underpinned by the trials of Harold and Jim. My memories were confused. I knew that Jim was our leader but couldn’t understand why all my family moaned about it. In fact, all my family, their friends and all their friends moaned about Jim. I can remember him being interviewed on Nationwide and hearing my dad shouting at the telly.
This was at a time when Michael Foot came round for tea and Eric Heffer was the guest speaker at the local party fundraising dinner, claiming, to some controversy, the costs of his hotel room (the best in kidderminster) and the price of all the Sunday papers as part of his expenses. Call me a rebellious child, call me contrarian but amidst that swirl of seventies activism during my formative years, I liked Jim Callaghan.
So when I met him in 1995 it was a great honour. We talked for some time about what the new government should do and rather more importantly, what it shouldn’t. He warned me about the unions trying to call the shots. As he spoke, it was as if a terrible memory was playing again behind his eyes. His premiership was not an easy one. A miniscule majority, a party preparing itself for a civil war and morale at an all time low. It makes our current worries pale into insignificance. Then he laughed it all off with a joke and a smile. A sense of humour is the second rarest commodity in politics (loyalty being the first), and Jim possessed it in abundance.
The next time I met him was a treat. There was a very small gathering of people at the centenary of the founding of the Labour Party. I managed to deputise for my boss, Ken Jackson, the then leader of the Amalgamated Engineering and Eletrical Union. I’d not taken Jim’s advice in 1996 and gone to work as a political organiser for a union – not that we’d called the shots of course!
There must have only been 40 people present but Jim was one of them, along with every other living Labour leader – Jim, Tony Blair, Neil Kinnock and to be pedantic, Margaret Beckett were all in the same room. I’ve got their autographs on the programme somewhere. It would make a great ebay item!
I loved Dr Who last night. Russell T Davies has done a masterful thing – interesting characters, great visuals and now that we have got to know the new doctor and his assistant, Rose, played brilliantly by Billie Piper, there will no doubt be a good plot.
Everyone loves a good plot. Conspiratorial characters, the good guys battle the bad, the unexpected around every corner. That’s enough of the Tories, back to Dr Who (ba boom). Actually, the Tories have been doing a bit of jumping back in time themselves lately but exterminating the profile of poor old Howard Flight, that’s just dalek like. I tried a google search for Mr Flight and was directed to this profile of him at Conservatives.com
Not that my Labour party hasn’t got a fair share of Dr Who baddies. We even have a parliamentarian who was a sea monster in one episode back in the seventies. Another house of commons pen to the first commenter to get his name right.
I have a lot to say about Jim Callaghan but not just yet, except to say, I am sure that the history books will be kinder to him than his contemporaries. My thoughts are with his family.
I couldn’t have been the only one transfixed by Michael Howard’s interview about the sacking of Howard Flight. He was in a kitchen, flanked by a welsh dresser, protected to the front by turrets of fruit. A large bowl of melons helped draw your eyes to his deliberative hand movements. Strange times as they say.
Despite the peculiar back drop, we shouldn’t forget that Michael Howard sacked an MP for not “sticking to the line”. What, I wonder, would you think or write on your blog, if a similar incident had happened within my party?
There are now two debates raging:
1. The extent of the power that a party leader has to sack an MP.
Matthew D’Anconna has just said on the Today programme that these were “highly specific circumastances for a highly specific event”. Maybe. Simon Heffer describes it as a “gross over-reaction”
2. The extent of Tory cuts.
As the Guardian leader says this morning “Mr Howard can be as tough as he wants. The deed is done. The truth is out. The voters are not going to forget – and are not going to be allowed to forget – Mr Flight ever again.”
My favourite blog has been shortlisted for an award. Go on. Humour me. Vote Liberal Democrat Watch.
Apart from letting the cat out of the bag over their real spending plans – I don’t think that anyone will question the Â£35 billion of cuts position now – Howard Flight has signalled the ideological torpor at the centre of the British Conservative party. In a fascinating account of the Keith Joseph lecture, Polly Toynbee teases out their intellectual struggle. There is a strand of thought in conservatism that almost hates the state. Remember Michael Howard is the man that recently said “I believe that the state should be small so that people can be big”. For them, there is no role for the state to provide anti-poverty measures like tax credits to the working poor. For Michael Howard, a diminishing state is more important than providing true equality of opportunity.
A child from a poor estate is more likely to prosper when her or his life chances are improved. You achieve this by encouraging good parenting (sure start), alleviating poverty (tax credits, nursery places and maternity cover), good schooling (smaller class room sizes, decent school fabric through the schools of the future programme), decent health (prevention measures, more beds, more doctors and nurses), I could go on.
Howard Flight has shown that the Tories are still locked into their past. When their senior researchers talk of the public being “misguidedly fond of the NHS” you realise how out of touch they really are. A number of their candidates have called for the withdrawl of benefits to all single mothers.
If there is an election in the next few weeks, we have to put this strand of conservatism under much greater scrutiny because behind the rhetoric, it is this strand that is on offer at the ballot box.