Mourning David Amess – and yearning for a kinder politics

Britain was horrified by yesterday’s murder of Sir David Amess – the second member of parliament to be killed in five years, after the tragic loss of Jo Cox in 2016. Police are treating Sir David’s killing as an act of terrorism.

In the meantime, I yearn for an end of the climate of hatred that has developed in British politics in recent years. As I blogged a week ago after the death from cancer of James Brokenshire MP politics has always been a rough trade. But calling your political rivals scum (as Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner did recently in referring to Tories) and enemies of the people and traitors (as populist right wing papers labelled the judiciary and MPs who didn’t support Brexit) is undermining democracy and the rule of law. All amplified by the poisonous echo chamber of social media, which circulates hate speech and lies.

This rancid mix may not have been the spur to the person who ended David Amess’s life. But it makes reasonable debate on crucial but sensitive topics almost impossible.

Britain’s parliamentarians – in Westminster, Cardiff Bay and Holyrood – serve the people tirelessly. A friend recently praised the new MP for Chesham and Amersham, Sarah Green, for her superb support on a family matter. Our friend is not a natural Lib Deb voter – but Sarah, like all MPs, is dedicated to serve and help all her constituents, no matter how they voted. MPs, MSs and MSPs have become a social service, far removed to their predecessors years 60 years ago who had far less contact with their constituents. They deserve our support especially when they live in fear after two of their peers have been struck down in the service of the people.

‘Didn’t agree with his politics but…’

The saddest news

I was sad to read that James Brokenshire MP had died. He was an effective and thoughtful minister, and a role model for anyone wanting to serve their country through politics. I once took part in an event alongside him in the early days of the coalition government.

It was no surprise to see a flood of tributes on social media, but many people struck a jarring note by prefacing their remarks ‘I didn’t agree with his politics but…’ This is crass. It is as if they think people will think badly of them for praising a political opponent. They are hardly risking the opprobrium heaped on Irish leader Eamon de Valera who visited Germany’s representative in Dublin in 1945 to express Ireland’s condolences on Hitler’s death.

Labour’s leaders were much more sensible, paying unreserved tributes to James. Keir Starmer and his deputy Angela Rayner were eloquent and generous. Rayner’s comments were far better judged than her vitriol a few days earlier when she described Tories as scum. That was ill judged – Labour needs to win back voters who have switched to the Conservatives, and calling them scum isn’t likely to help.

Politics is a tough trade. Its disciples have been exchanging insults for centuries. But in an age when death threats are regularly made against politicians on social media (and just five years after the murder of Jo Cox MP), let’s be more respectful and choose our words with care.

Elections 2021: London media ignore Wales again

For Wales, see … nowhere

It’s the same old story. The London media has always ignored and neglected Wales. The Times is a classic example. It has a Scottish edition but never pays Wales the same attention. So I was not surprised to see the Welsh Senedd elections barely reported – and then badly – in today’s iPad edition of the paper. The Saturday news summary above ignores the fascinating and unexpected Senedd election results.

No such thing as the Welsh Assembly

The story The Times did run (above) repeatedly referred to the Welsh Assembly – an institution that no longer exists. The country’s legislature is the Senedd – the Welsh Parliament.

Yet in its obsession with Hartlepool and Holyrood, the London media (with the honourable exception of the BBC and The Guardian) were missing a really significant story. The incumbent parties in government in Cardiff Bay, Holyrood and Westminster did well. Labour’s Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford has won plaudits across these islands for his calm leadership during the pandemic. The Senedd results showed that voters rewarded Labour for its steady hand on the tiller. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon looks to be close to an SNP majority. And, as the London media keep telling us, Boris Johnson has dealt a blow to Labour’s UK leader Keir Starmer by capturing another traditional Labour parliamentary seat in Hartlepool. But the story is rather more nuanced even in England.

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25 years ago today: Margaret Thatcher resigns

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25 years ago today, Margaret Thatcher resigned as prime minister. She bowed to the inevitable after her cabinet finally rebelled against her autocratic rule.

I blogged at length about Britain’s first woman prime minister when she died in 2013. I titled that post ‘the woman who changed Britain’ – which she did, for both good and ill. She was a force of nature, unlike almost all of her successors. Only Tony Blair came close.

Blame Blair and Brown for Corbynmania

Why no-one is listening to Blair: Chris Riddell in The Observer

Why no-one is listening to Blair: Chris Riddell in The Observer

The battle for the Labour Party’s soul is raging. The man who led the party to victory in an unprecedented three general elections has issued apocalyptic warnings of the consequences of electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader. Tony Blair says that under Corbyn Labour would be routed, and possibly annihilated.

I’m no Corbyn supporter or Labour party member, but I find it breathtaking that Tony Blair or Gordon Brown have the cheek to lecture people on whom to vote for. While they created an election winning machine and made voting Labour fashionable – for which they deserve great praise – their deadly feud threw away the huge opportunity that Labour had to transform Britain after May 1997. Brown was the worst culprit, obsessed by a corrosive sense of betrayal at Blair’s election as Labour leader in 1994. He took every opportunity to undermine Blair, while Blair always shrank away from moving Brown from the Treasury, for fear of the consequences. Yet Labour and Britain paid a heavy price for this tragically dysfunctional government.

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General election 2015: a personal verdict

Change at the top

Change at the top

The polls were horribly wrong. The closest election for years proved nothing of the kind. David Cameron is back in Downing Street with a 15 seat parliamentary majority. Three of the seven party leaders who took part in the leaders TV debate resigned on Friday. Cameron and the Tories appear utterly in command. Yet that command may prove less enduring as the years unfold. Here are my thoughts three days after the most unpredictable election since 1992.

David Cameron’s majority has shrunk, not increased

The Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition had a majority of 76 in the House of Commons. It ensured a relatively smooth ride over its five year term. True, the two parties had their fractious moments, especially over the voting reform referendum, which the Tories torpedoed. But the coalition proved far more stable than anyone expected in 2010.

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It’s the Sun wot fudged it

The Sun endorses Tories and SNP

Vote Tory! And SNP!

Newspapers love to think they have influence. Tony Blair grovelled to Rupert Murdoch to win The Sun’s endorsement in the 1997 election, after the paper claimed (wrongly) to have won John Major the 1992 poll. Yet this week’s decision by Murdoch to back two utterly opposing parties north and south of the border reveals the nonsense of such self important, cynical posturing.

I take exception to papers telling me how to vote. Democracy suffers through the massive bias in favour of the Tories. I also objected to the Guardian’s campaign against Boris Johnson in the 2008 London mayoral election. Yet the Sun’s laughable decision to back both the Tories and the SNP surely suggests the days when anyone paid attention to eve-of-election endorsements are coming to an end.

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.