So after months of phoney war, we finally had the first formal battle in the election campaign. Yes, the campaign has yet to start officially but last night's debate between Alistair Darling, George Osborne and Vince Cable was surely the first proper skirmish. Who won? Hard to say. All three came across as nervous but all three will be pleased that they didn't drop any major clangers. Vince Cable has to be pleased that he delivered a few memorable sound bites - "pinstrip Scargills holding the country to ransom" - and got a couple of laughs. Standing centre stage, Cable, while a bit doddery, did what he does best, position himself as the man of the people, the non-politician, avoiding any real scrutiny of his own policies. He and Darling tag teamed Osborne quite effectively on the Tory decision not to impose the planned increase in National Insurance (not quite a tax cut more not a tax increase) but Osborne held his ground. Darling looked relatively assured but not as confident or polished as when he delivered the budget last week. And that was one of the issues, in the House of Commons these three battle, parry and joust all the time. They do it naturally and with confidence, without worrying about cameras. Last night, they were perhaps too fixed on their "performance". The Party Leaders are more used to being on camera so in theory ought to be more relaxed about the medium when it comes to their debates. However, given the 76 rules that will apply to the debates, I fear we may will have to endure three rather dull programmes.
Tuesday, 30 March 2010
I see that the Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint about one of Rod Liddle's blog posts. In the offending piece Mr Liddle claimed that the "the overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community". What utter tosh. It was a claim questioned by many and roundly demolished by that wonderful Radio 4 programme on statistics, More or Less (yes I love it, I make no bones about it I am a Radio 4 junkie). I am pleased to see that the PCC has made what in my view is the right judgment. It was interesting that in seeking to defend the publication, the Spectator argued that it is in the very nature of blogs that they should be provocative. Now, I fully expect to be offended by Liddle, he has offended me on a regular basis but I do object to him parading his opinion a fact - an opinion I am pleased to say the PCC shares with me.
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
It was exciting viewing. Clever politicians debating real issues that matter to real people. This is what politics should be all about. Unfortunately, for much of the past year, it hasn’t been and it is depressing. When children in the future study British political history of the early 21st century, this period will be known for grubbiness and sleaze and this parliament will be known as the Rotten Parliament. A group of politicians, some greedy, some foolish, some both, have reduced the reputation of Parliament to the lowest levels for decades. This is a huge problem, especially with an election coming up. British politics is in dire need of a rebrand. I don’t mean parties softening their logos and coming towards the centre, but politics as a whole repositioning itself. For our democracy to work, people need to have a reason to stop being cynical, they need to want to vote and voters need to start trusting politicians again. That means politicians have to reconnect with voters. We have to believe that politicians understand the challenges of raising a family, running a business, holding down a job. Politicians need to engage with us on real issues, the ones that really matter. The economy, jobs, health, education, crime, transport. The politicians who get this, will be the ones who ought to get the votes.
Sunday, 21 March 2010
I have just completed the Sport Relief three mile challenge - ok I know it isn't that challenging but while I love sport, I eschew physical activity. So walking three miles is something of an achievement for me, especially since I was walking with an over-excited eight-year old and a very stroppy teenager. But the purpose of this post is not to boast (although you are welcome sponsor me). No, I want to have a bit of a rant about lobbying (yes, again). What has this got to do with Sport Relief? Well Comic/Sport Relief is one of the most effective lobbying organisations. It does a brilliant job of engaging with organisations of all kinds (government, private sector and voluntary) to achieve its objectives. And it is, quite rightly, applauded for its efforts. Compare this with the increasingly hostile attitude political parties and the media are adopting when it comes to lobbying companies. We are being portrayed as, at best, unnecessary and, at worse, responsible for the ethical decline in politics. What utter nonsense. Yes of course organisations don't have to use political consultants, they could do it themselves, just as they could do their own legal work, accounts and advertising. But let's be honest, to do it effectively needs knowledge and experience which is why they call in the professionals. As for our corrupting the system, it has been politicians themselves who have done that. The greed and poor judgment of a significant minority have reduced the levels of trust and faith in the body politic so low. Today's Sunday Times/Dispatches story is about politicians selling access and favours not professional consultants. Don't confuse the two.
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
I am smitten, I have fallen in love, I have even wondered if I can make a life change. And what is the object of my affection? Physics. Yes, I have become obsessed with this branch of science. I know it is hard to believe, anyone who was at Copthall School with me will testify to the fact that I was a very poor student with very low levels of commitment to Newton, Faraday and Boyle. But on Sunday night I had something of a Pauline conversion. Prof Brian Cox (very different to the actor of the same name) successfully wooed me with his wonderful documentary on the sun. It was truly amazing. I was rapt. Certainly if the good Professor had been my teacher back in the day I certainly would have been more inclined to study. He brought the subject to life. To be fair, Radio Four podcasts (In our time and Material World) have prepared the ground for Prof Cox. But without doubt, he is a brilliant communicator, engaging with his audience, infecting them with his enthusiasm, making them want to hear more. For my part I did wonder whether I might retrain as an astronomer or physicist before realising that interest - no matter how passionate - was no substitute for a good grounding in maths. Oh well there goes another chance for a Nobel prize.
Monday, 8 March 2010
Oh my god, the handling of the Venables case is driving me to new depths of despair (or is that heights of fury?) The Ministry of Justice has let this story spill from news cycle to news cycle. It should from the outset of this media feeding frenzy made clear that if there was even the slightest chance that Venables might face new charges, it was not going to comment. Ministers, civil servants and even journalists know that the entire apparatus of the criminal justice system has an obligation to ensure that an ensuing trial is untainted. It is not a question of protecting Venables but of protecting the rights of any victims of any alleged crimes which Venables may have committed. The MoJ should from the start have stood up to the baying mob. It should have reminded everyone of the strict court injunctions in place which prevent the publication of material which might led to the identification of Venables (and Thompson) and pointed out that the chances of any future trial being deemed fair would be seriously reduced if the defendant had been identified as a convicted child killer. Instead, there was much panicking and wringing of hands. I hope it has now got its act together.
But don't get me started on the person (police officer? probation officer? social worker?) who sold the information about Venables to the media . . .