Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Actually, on that point...

In my last post I commented that I didn't think that Cameron had looked particularly red in the face (with regard to Ed Miliband's rather odd Crimson Tide reference). Thinking about it though, outside of the very specific milieu of PMQs, Ed Miliband's attitude would be considered bizarrely obnoxious.

The set up was that Miliband asked Cameron a series of "questions" that took as their premise the idea that Cameron was cowardly, lazy and generally useless. He framed these questions by mockingly reading out a series of aspirations Cameron had had before entering Government, pausing for mocking laughter from his backbenchers.

He then said, after Cameron's response, in effect "oooh, he's going red!" We all then score the exchange as to how well each side is considered to have done.

I'm not singling Miliband out here (this is what PMQs is, and what it's now for), but there's really only one other scenario where I can envisage this sort of exchange taking place, and it's a school playground. Danny Finkelstein has a very good article in the Times this morning about, effectively, the death of respect in politics in the United States (short version: Nixon's fault). I suspect that any attempt to argue for respect in British politics would be a pompous waste of time, but it is all awfully weird.

PMQ Dissonance

I only actually get to see PMQs every so often - lunchtime on a Wednesday isn't the most convenient time for someone with a non-political job. I usually keep tabs on Twitter, and read the political commenters' take on it afterwards. So when I do see it, I tend to be surprised. Today's effort was scored at the time as an easy win for Miliband, Harry Cole's tweet that he was "caning them" being reasonably representative.

But the thing is, that when you see Miliband in action he just seems so weird. Presumably all proper political observers have acclimatised by now, and operate an unthinking handicap basis, so that his looks, speech and manner are ignored. That's perfectly understandable (and a similar thing happened with Gordon Brown at PMQs - his early performances were slated, his later ones praised, but the factors that were originally slammed were always present, journos just became used to them) but it does mean that when you see rave reviews for Ed's performance it jars. You think, 'what, him? Seriously?'

For what it's worth, I didn't even think that Cameron looked especially red...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

They think it's all over!

I rather like Dan Hodges (which I'm sure is an overwhelming relief). It's always more fun to read people taking aim at their own sides than it is to read the same old usual boring critiques of the other side. Civil war is generally juicier (see poor old Mehdi Hasan for an illustration of that).

But one thing I do wish that he'd stop doing is calling the US election over and done with. Obama's still the favourite to win, but this is an election - and not one of those Texas elections LBJ specialised in - and it really honestly isn't over until all the votes are in. Electorates are a fickle bunch, and when  the candidates are generally within a point or two of each other in the national polls, it's clear that there's a bit more to go in this race.

I mean, you'd think Dan would have learned his lesson last time...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hastings on Boris

It's history hour on the Reptile, and I've dug an editorial out of the Daily Mail from 1912. It's remarkable how many of the points raised here remain talking points today.

Most politicians are ambitious and ruthless, but David Lloyd George is a gold medal egomaniac. I would not trust him with my wife nor — from painful experience — with my wallet. It is unnecessary to take any moral view about his almost crazed infidelities, but it is hard to believe that any man so conspicuously incapable of controlling his own libido is fit to be trusted with controlling the country.

His chaotic public persona is not an act — he is, indeed, manically disorganised about everything except his own image management. He is also a far more ruthless, and frankly nastier, figure than the public appreciates.

One of our biggest problems as a society is that we have become obsessed by cheap rhetorical tricks. We no longer look for dignity, gravitas, decency or seriousness of purpose in our leaders in any field. We demand only stardust, a meretricious speech at a public meeting.

I knew quite a few of the generation of British politicians who started their careers in 1845 — the likes of William Gladstone, Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Palmerston, Lord Roseberry, Lord Salisbury. The common denominator among them all, whatever their party, was that they entered politics passionately believing they could change things.

They were serious people. It does not matter whether they were wrong or right — almost all of them had real beliefs. Today, most aspirant politicians of every party have not a personal conviction between them. They merely want to sit at the top table, enjoy power, bask in the red boxes and chauffeur-driven cars, then quit to get as rich as Arthur Balfour.

David Lloyd George was at the Liberal conference yesterday for one purpose only — the exaltation of himself. This does not much matter when he is only Chancellor, but would make him a wretched prime minister. He is not a man to believe in, to trust or respect save as a superlative exhibitionist. He is bereft of judgment, loyalty and discretion. Only in the star-crazed, frivolous Britain of the 20th century could such a man have risen so high, and he is utterly unfit to go higher still.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Meaning of Boris

There's a very simple reason why the Mayor of London is the flavour of the month - both for the beleaguered Tory party and for the press pack - he makes people smile. When you think of Boris, you picture him stuck on a zip-wirefalling into a river or, most memorably, taking on Germany at Wembley (if you can watch that last video without smiling, you are clinically dead inside).

Tories generally have struggled to deal with the Bridget Jones problem (c'mon, you remember...):

"It is perfectly obvious that Labour stands for sharing, kindness, gays, single mothers and Nelson Mandela as opposed to braying bossy men having affairs with everyone shag shag shag left right and centre and going to the Ritz in Paris then telling all the presenters off on the Today programme."

This was summed up even more brutally by Theresa May way way back in 2002, when she referred to the fact that people called the Tories "the Nasty Party". Since then, the main job of all the party leasers has been to try and rebut this view, and recreate the Tory party's image as one of warmth, decency and compassion. (This, incidentally, is why the Andrew Mitchell story was so unbelievably toxic. It's at least twenty times easier to confirm someones opinion of a party than it is to change it. The image of, ahem, a "braying bossy man" shouting at policemen and calling them plebs is just disastrous.)

The problem with trying to deal with this image problem, is that you have to acknowledge it in order to do so. And self-criticism isn't at all fun - especially when the underlying charge is (or at least is perceived to be) unfair. Criticise someone for their lack of competence, or their misconceived notion of politics, and you are attacking their political beliefs. Attack someone because they are 'nasty' and you are attacking them personally - and that's much less easy to deal with. We don't like to think of ourselves as nasty people (for the very sound reason that the overwhelming majority of us aren't). It's depressing. It's all a bit miserable. When Tories hear the leadership saying 'the party needs to change, and to modernise' they tend to hear 'you're nasty and you need to change'.

And that is why Boris is Conservative catnip. He doesn't say the party needs to change. He insists that it has already changed, and that to be a Conservative is to be a good person doing good things - and is something to be proud of. His ebullience - his personal refusal to be downcast, even when apologising, is uplifting. Make people feel good about themselves, and they will feel good about you too.

Since Disraeli appears to be all the rage at the moment, there's a (probably apocryphal) story about him that rather sums this all up. A young lady was asked her opinion of the Gladstone and Disraeli - both of whom she had sat next to at dinner.

"When I sit next to Mr Gladstone," she replied, "I feel that he is the cleverest man in England. But when I sit next to Mr Disraeli, I feel that I am the cleverest woman in all the world."

Hilaire Belloc - political commentator

Lord Finchley tried to mend the electric light
Himself. It struck him dead: and serve him right!
It is the business of the wealthy man
To provide employment to the artisan.