Britain on the brink: the SNP and the 2015 general election

The unionist Tories big up SNP's Sturgeon. Reality will be different

The unionist Tories boost SNP’s Sturgeon. Reality will be different

You could never accuse the British establishment of being intelligent. Almost a century ago, its brutal response to Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising ensured the departure of the 26 counties from the United Kingdom. David Cameron is doing his very best to repeat the trick 100 years on with Scotland.

I don’t blame the Tories for having fun at Labour’s expense over the rise of the SNP. But talk of the SNP holding the country to ransom is very foolish. The Scottish nationalists are completely entitled to use its bargaining power in the new parliament. That’s how parliament and the constitution work. More fool the Tories and Labour for allowing the survival of our corrupt and undemocratic voting system. It’s unlikely the SNP would be in the same powerful position had justice prevailed with the introduction of a more proportional voting system.

As Jonathan Freedland says in today’s Guardian, the Conservatives have been totally calculating in talking up the SNP. Chancellor George Osborne praised Nicola Sturgeon’s performance in the leaders’ debates. Why? To embarrass Labour. Yet the ploy was cynical and stupid at the same time. If the Tories were so horrified by the SNP supporting a Labour government, why praise that party’s leader?

Ironically, the SNP is likely to have less influence by ruling out any kind of unholy alliance with the Tories. It’s unlikely to repeat its 1979 folly in bringing down a Labour government. Ed Miliband may have more room for manoeuvre as a result, despite the Tory scaremongering.

Here’s my verdict after last September’s Scottish independence referendum:

“Out of touch London politicians have had the fright of their lives. Cameron, Miliband and Clegg complacently assumed that the result was a foregone conclusion. But when a single poll claimed a yes lead, they panicked. They cobbled together a promise of ‘Devo Max’ – home rule within the UK. Dave, Ed and Nick rushed up to Scotland to declare undying love for the country and plead with Scots not to file for divorce. It was desperate and unconvincing.”

Judging by their actions over the last month, those out of touch London politicians have learned nothing.

Election 2015: heading for Ed?

Ed Miliband and the hen party

Ed Miliband and the hen party

The Tories expected Ed Miliband to implode under the pressure of a general election campaign. Yet the opposite is happening. The Labour leader has grown in stature (even with hen parties – above) and popularity while the Conservatives have slipped as their campaign has tottered from disaster to misjudgement.

There’s still time, of course, for the incumbent’s advantage to show. Labour still shivers at the memory of 1992, when apparent victory was snatched from the party at the last minute. (Although the reality was different: the polls underestimated the Tory vote.)

Here are my thoughts on the 2015 election campaign just over two weeks from the poll.  Continue reading

It’s an election, not a war, Polly Toynbee

It's an election, not a war

It’s an election, not a war

I expected better from Polly Toynbee. The Guardian’s columnist is usually a wise commentator on politics, and a passionate voice for the deprived. But today’s column indulged in childish war cliches. I assumed a female commentator to be more sensible.

What on earth has a ground war and an air war got to do with an election? Please grow up.

Don’t get me started on ‘retail offers’. Political reporting gets more ridiculous by the day.

Leaders debate: in praise of the women

Follow my leader: #leadersdebate

Follow my leader: #leadersdebate

The 2010 #leadersdebate series electrified that election campaign. It was a first for a British general election. It made Nick Clegg famous, as Gordon Brown and David Cameron competed to agree with Nick.

Women on top: Leanne Wood and Nicola Sturgeon at #leadersdebate

Women on top: Leanne Wood and Nicola Sturgeon at #leadersdebate

Tonight’s debate was very different. There were seven leaders crowding the stage. Refreshingly, three were women: the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon; Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and the Green Party’s Natalie Bennett. Most of us thought they won the day, with their good manners, willingness to listen and different approach. At one point the men got into a shouting match – showing they care nothing about voter disdain for such hooligan tactics. (Just as they’ve not changed PMQs.) And the three women weren’t English. Diversity in action.

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The Daily Telegraph turns Torygraph

I cancelled my digital subscription to the Daily Telegraph today. A shame, because it’s one of my favourite news apps. But I’m not willing to pay £10 a month for what has become a general election propaganda sheet for the Conservative party. I’ll get enough of that for free through the letterbox. It’s living up to the Torygraph tag.

Hold the front page: business leaders support the Tories. In other news, the Pope's a catholic

Hold the front page: business leaders support the Tories. 

Every front page lead story for the past six days has attacked Labour or carried a pro-Tory message. Today’s reported that 100 business leaders think that Labour threatens the economy.

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Paxman’s back: Cameron and Miliband grilled

Jeremy Paxman grills David Cameron

Jeremy Paxman grills David Cameron

The day after the BBC fired Jeremy Clarkson for assaulting his producer, it was good to see the other famous Jeremy back in action. Former Newsnight presenter Paxman grilled David Cameron and Ed Miliband live in a pre-election debate.

Paxman's presses Miliband

Paxman’s presses Miliband

Cameron came off worst – in a repeat of the first 2010 TV debate, he was nervous and under-perfomed, at least against Paxman. By contrast, Ed Miliband did rather well. He was  impassioned, confident and humorous. Many neutrals will have been impressed. He came up with the best line of the night: “You’re good, Jeremy, but not that good!” in rebutting the idea that he’d be a puppet in the hands of a resurgent SNP.  Continue reading

London remembers Britain’s latest Afghan war

It was a shock to see armed police at Marylebone station yesterday. It was so out of the ordinary. But then I saw this:

Shades of Life on Mars: London 2015

Shades of Life on Mars: London 2015

This Austin 1973 police car was parked on Horse Guards Road, opposite HM Treasury. It was one of a series of police vehicles along the road, with soldiers also present. Shortly afterward a police lorry went by. What on earth was going on?

Police in force in Horse Guards

Police in force in Horse Guards

Later, I found out that the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and political leaders were taking part in a commemoration at St Paul’s marking the end of Britain’s participation in the Afghanistan war. I saw the end of the flypast marking the event:

Flypast marking end of Britain's latest Afghan war. 13 March 2015

Flypast marking end of Britain’s latest Afghan war. 13 March 2015

Britain’s latest entanglement in Afghanistan was an extraordinary development. In 1978, I learned about our disastrous 19th century Afghan wars during O level history. A year later, the Soviet Union invaded that country, with equally ill-fated results. I never imagined I’d see Britain repeating these disasters. George W Bush and Tony Blair were mad to embark on another Afghan adventure. How sad that 453 British troops (not to mention countless Afghans and Americans) lost their lives as a result.

Cameron’s clanger: the great election debate fiasco

2010 leaders debate: Cameron cannot veto the people's right to 2015 rerun. Photo: BBC website

2010 leaders debate. David Cameron cannot veto the people’s right to a 2015 rerun. Photo: BBC website

There are weeks when I despair of Britain’s politicians. And there are weeks when I really, really despair of them. This was one of these weeks.

David Cameron’s attempt to torpedo the 2015 general election leaders’ television debates is beneath contempt. It shows the Old Etonian at his very worst: arrogant, tactical, self-serving, inconsistent and above all wrong. What was he thinking? Three cheers for Britain’s broadcasters for insisting the debates will go ahead. They must ’empty chair’ the prime minister if he is so foolish to refuse to take part.

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Europe: a dangerous obsession

Introduction

I wrote the article below in 1995. It’s eerie how little has changed in 20 years – the only conclusion I’d change is the assertion that few people would have voted in a referendum about whether Britain should join the euro.

Europe – a dangerous obsession

Rob Skinner, March 1995

British democracy is at crisis point. Not just because fifteen years without a change of government has left the nation restless for change. Not even as a result of former ministers making sleazy, easy money in a privatised quangocracy.

No, this crisis is a case of obsession. The subject of this obsessions is Europe, the perpetrators politicians and the media alike. This single topic dominates news bulletins, current affairs programmes and the leader columns of the national press. Yet it utterly fails to stimulate the nation.

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Cadbury’s and the supersonic Seventies

Three years ago, I blogged about Dominic Sandbrook’s BBC series The 70s. I reminisced about Cadbury’s Supersonic Seventies TV advert and lamented that it was sadly missing from YouTube.

Happily, it’s now there. It was pure nostalgia watching this over 40 years later. Curious how I remembered the ending so accurately: ‘One of today’s great tastes, ooh ooh!”