Sunday 27 June 2021

Two dishonourable men

 The discovery of Health Secretary Matt Hancock who  has spent the last fifteen months urging us to keep  two metres social distance from others, even grandchildren,  in a clinch with a member of his department was an opportunity for Hancock and the Prime Minster to show there was still some understanding of common decency at the top of the Government.

It would have been honourable if Hancock, "caught bang-to-rigths, Guv" had resigned at once rather than waiting 24 hours for pressure from Tory party members and MPs to recognise that his continuation in the job was untenable.

As he did not do so, Prime Minister Johnson could have shown qualities of leadership by sacking him at once, or demanding his resignation if that;s the way they do things.  Instead Mr Johnson, presumably believing  that his Teflon carapace was still in place, accepted an apology from Hancock and "declared  the matter closed."

The Tories talk a great deal about pride in Britain, but as a political society  we have little to be proud of.

Post Script (added 2th June)  It was mentioned on the Radio 4 News Review this morning that one of the newspapers reports that Hancock may revive £16 000 "severance pay" as a result of his forced resignation. That's just slightly more than a person would receive before tax for  working 35 hours a week for a year on the minimum wage.  The entitled certainly.have things skewed in their favour.

Friday 18 June 2021

Whoopee! Another Orpington

 In 1962 the Liberal victory in Orpington rescued the party from near extinction (2.5% of the national vote and only 6MPs in 1951) to being once again a recognisable force in British politics.  Our candidate Eric Lubbock overturned a Tory majority  of 14 000 to win with a Liberal majority of nearly 8 000.  From then on, albeit in  fits and starts, the Liberals/Liberal Democrats gradually increased our representation until in 2010 we achieved 23% of the national vote, 57 MPs, and formed part of the government.

Then, through inadequate coalition arrangements and being outmanoeuvred by the Troy wiles,  we blew it. In the next election of 2015 we were reduced to less than 8% of the national vote and only 8 MPs.  Not quite back to square one, but not far off.

The figures for the Chesham and Amersham by election, held yesterday, are remarkably similar to Orpington.  Our candidate Sarah Green, with 56.7% of the vote,  turned a Tory majority of 16 000 and into a Liberal Democrat  majority of just over 8 000.

It would be a nonsense to extrapolate this result to the whole of the country in a general election, but in my view its significance is two-fold:

1.  It cements the position our leader Sir Ed Davey.  Any murmurings within the party about  his less than charismatic impact on the electorate will be silenced.  More importantly the media, in spite of his efforts, have more or less ignored him, and therefore us, since his election  as leader.  Now I suspect they will take more notice of us as serious contenders with political ideas  and eventually power to implement them.

2.  This by-election victory is the first serious crack in the Teflon-type coating which has protected the Tories since Mr Johnson became leader.  Astonishingly, in spite of proven lies, dubious constitutional manoeuvrings and incompetence he and they have continued to ride high in the opinion polls.  Serious commentators on politics have long argued that this could not possibly last.  

True there have been a few fissures in the carapace. They did not do as well in the recent local elections  as it appeared: their poor performance was obscured by the media's attention to their victory in Labour's former stronghold of Hartlepool.

But this by-election could be the start of return to sense in British politics.

Orpington to government took nearly half a century  (48 year to be precise).  Let's hope it doesn't take as long this time

Wednesday 16 June 2021

The "Bad Chap" practice of government

 Way back in 2018 historian Peter Hennessey described Britain's uncodified constitution  as the '"Good Chap" theory of government,' and lamented its rapid erosion.

Some say the British don't have a constitution: " We just make it up as we go along." 

It is true that we do not have  a single  document in which the rules for government are set out. Instead  we have a mixture of historic documents (eg Magna Carta,) significant legislation (eg the Bill of Rights 1689, the Reform Acts,) Common Law, judicial decisions (declaring the prorogation of parliament in 2019 to be illegal) and precedents, parliamentary rules (Erskine May) and a whole host of customs and conventions.

None of these are "set in stone" and, as Hennessey pointed out, their smooth working relies on our governments to be composed of "good chaps (and,these days, lasses)" prepared to act decently and in accordance with the established norms.

I don't suppose the erosion of the system began with the Brexit vote, but it has certainly progressed rapidly since. Mrs May, for example, tried to  exclude parliament from any say in the implementation of Brexit, Mr Johnson tried to stifle criticism of its implementation by proroguing parliament, and now, after threatening to break international law,  blatantly proposes  to renege on a treaty (the Irish Protocol) which he himself signed not eighteen months ago.

"Good Chaps" seem to have faded from the scene.

 The latest deviation for accepted behaviour  may seem trivial but cold have serous consequences.

 The "Ministerial Code," which Johnson has signed, and to which he wrote a foreword, stipulates that "[T]he most important announcements of government policy should be made , in the first instance, in parliament."  Yet on Monday  Johnsen himself announced the postponement of the end of the lockdown restriction  by a month, not to parliament, but to the press at 6pm.

 The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, has protested.  Can he do more?

The press can , of course ask  questions, but at a press conference the questioners are selected by whoever is giving the information  Reporters represent their probably biassed (if News GB certainly biassed) organisations  rather the public, and are all too easy to fob off.  

In parliament it is the Speaker who chooses the questioners, and they are , however imperfectly elected, representatives of us, the people.

At the moment I am reading a description by a Christabel Bielenberg, the Anglo Irish-born wife  of one of the plotters against Hitler, of life in Germany in the 1930s and 40s.  

Yes, I know, comparisons are far-fetched.  We are still a long way form storm troopers and whoever  needs to quote Hitler has usually lost the argument.

But there are parallels, and  this shameless government is dipping it toes in dangerous waters.

Come back the "good chap (and lasses.)"