Monday, May 18, 2015

Ten days after the constitutional non-crisis - 1

Ten days ago a constitutional crisis did not happen. Actually it was never going to happen as neither a minority government nor a coalition negotiated over some days do constitutional crises make. Now that I think of it this country has not had a constitutional crisis since the Abdication but try telling that to the average political hack or the average left-winger. To the latter a Conservative government (and I am afraid that is what we are going to have for the foreseeable future) is a constitutional crisis all of its own.

These ten days have been a little difficult. Every morning I sat down at my computer with the firm decision of doing this posting at last, then found that various stories just continued to emerge, if not about UKIP (stop sniggering at the back) then about the Labour leadership election (well, at least they are having one). So today I have decided to write a general piece about the election and its immediate aftermath and hope that nothing very serious happens in the next couple of hours while I work on it.

Is political life back to normal? Well, some aspects of it: David Cameron is putting together his first fully Conservative government and various media outlets are coming up with irrelevant facts about new Ministers that makes them look evil and sinister whereas they are no more that than any other politician.

For instance, we have found out that the new Minister of State at the Department of Work and Pensions, Priti Patel, has once expressed herself in favour of capital punishment, and is now refusing to talk about it, apparently under the impression that this has nothing to do with her new job. Michael Gove, the new Justice Secretary, as a Times columnist wrote that he was in favour of capital punishment and - shock, horror - criticized the Lawrence Inquiry. Could somebody pass me the smelling salts, please? Thank you.

Then there is the Equalities Minister, Caroline Dinenage, who is against gay marriage. She may or may not have done a U-turn on that but, either way, it is of little importance. You could say, as someone did to me, that this constitutes a clash of interests but, in actual fact, her private opinion makes no difference.

For the record capital punishment is not about to be brought back and gay marriage is not about to be abolished. (And we should not have something so preposterous as an Equalities Minister.) Therefore, what individual Ministers think on either of those subjects is irrelevant and not in the same category as the new Culture Minister's well-known view that the BBC's licence should be reformed out of existence. That is a matter for discussion (and this blog supports him) as it is a matter of policy. Private opinions on non-issues are not.

It never ceases to amaze me that the same journalists (and ordinary people) who complain about politicians being boring, lacking in real opinion, producing only PR sound-bites also get into an uproar whenever there is the slightest indication of one of those politicians not ticking all the "right" boxes.

EU "renegotiation" is back on the agenda or sort of, with Andy Burnham, the leading candidate for the Labour leadership (and the man who carries some of the blame for the mid-Staffs hospital scandal) is already urging (and here) David Cameron to conduct those supposed re-negotiations as fast as possible and have a Brexit referendum as early as possible. Well, I have always said that the earlier we have a referendum the more likely we are to lose, which explains Burnham's attitude but makes one wonder why Nigel Farage, the UKIP Leader in Perpetuity should be so anxious to have one this year.

The election campaign was extremely dull as most people agreed and the appearance of daily opinion polls with minuscule and statistically irrelevant movements hailed as great news stories did not help. Of course, there were a few stories that enlivened matters.

There was, in case anyone has forgotten it, Harriet Harman's pink minibus, specially for women voters - so unthreatening to the little housewife. There was the famous EdStone with the six meaningless promises made by the former Leader of the Labour Party, which then disappeared and has now been found in some industrial warehouse. I am not sure the fact that the man who carved it and then felt sorry for Miliband is actually a Tory voter, is much of an issue. it raises a smile but not much more than that. Well, somebody had to carve it once the Labour strategists decided on having such a stupid gimmick and to spend about £30,000 on it.

A less entertaining story was the attendance by a number of senior Labour politicians, including Jack Dromey, husband of Harriet Harman at a political rally organized by Labour political activists which decided on gender segregation. Ms Harman, who would have been eaten for breakfast by some of those tough Labour ladies of yore, justified it all by rejoicing in the fact that at least the women were allowed to be present. (Goodness, I actually agree with Nigel Farage's comment at the end of that article.)

So, on to the various leadership elections (for those who are having them). For a boring election campaign it produced some wonderful results, not least the sight of three party leaders resigning within hours of the result becoming obvious. Well, OK, two party leaders resigning and one offering to resign with the obvious proviso that he will stand for re-election, then unresigning. Why it took Jim Murphy, the Leader of the Scottish Labour party to resign, given the catastrophic result he delivered is a mystery but getting immediately involved in a spat with the boss of Unite, Len McCluskey is providing the Scottish Labour voters with much needed fun. Roughly speaking they each think that the destruction of the Scottish Labour representation in Westminster is the other's fault and, anyway, they should separate themselves from the Labour party in London. This could run and run.

Oddly enough, neither of them mentions the fact that for years the Scottish Labour party allied itself with the SNP in order to drive the Conservatives out of the Scottish politics, even making that famous joke about pandas in Scotland. All I can say is that be careful when you start riding a tiger and remember what happened to the lady from Riga:

The came back from the ride
With the lady inside
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

That is exactly what has happened to the Scottish Labour Party with the SNP playing the part of the tiger. For my readers' information there are two pandas in Edinburgh zoo so while it is fair to say that there are more of them than either Labour or Conservative MPs there are fewer than non-SNP ones. Some kind of an achievement.

So the Labour leadership contest: the media favourite Chukka Umunna, has dropped out of that election. He says that it is because he could not stand the strain of media attention, the media is speculating what it is he does not want anyone to find out.

The Mail is suggesting that it has something to do with his father's mysterious death in a car crash in 1992 when he stood for the governorship of a Nigerian state on anti-corruption platform. There are suspicions that it may have been a political assassination. While accepting all of that it seems an odd reason. Surely Mr Umunna couldn't have recalled all this three days after he threw his stylish hat into the ring.

Then there are stories of his girlfriend, who appeared with him when he announced his candidacy, as well as his grandmother were hounded by the media. I'll give him the grandmother but the girlfriend, a lawyer, as so many Labour politicians and their partners are, has shown herself to be part of the campaign.

The Express is less generous: their theory is that Mr Umunna was afraid that his drinking habits will be revealed. I can't resist quoting three paragraphs from the article:
The shadow business secretary, who dramatically pulled out of the contest to replace Ed Miliband, is a regular at the club, where steak costs £150 and a bottle of cognac is up to £4,000.

He was seen at the M Den, an eel skin-lined room in central London, during the General Election campaign and last week he blamed the pressure of media scrutiny for his decision to pull out of the leadership race.

Described on the M restaurant’s website as a place where guests can “get up to mischief”, the club is so exclusive even celebrity status doesn’t guarantee access.
Why should this matter, you might ask? Well, one of the issues the Labour party is agonizing at the moment is the perception that they are now a party of rather well off middle class toffs who have little if any interest in or ideas for what might be called the ordinary people of this country. A membership of such a club (I imagine it must be true or there would have been threats of libel action by now) would not go down too well, particularly as Mr Umunna has been described before as having as somewhat haughty attitude to the plebs.

So he is out and Labour is not about to have a black Leader. Given past history, I assume that whenever we have a non-white Prime Minister, he or she will be a Conservative. Which reminds me of a small piece of news: we now have the first British Chinese MP, Alan Mak from Havant. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he is a Conservative. Did you expect anything else? His family background, education and professional career is well worth reading.

Meanwhile, the Labour leadership hopefuls, described by the Guardian as "spadocracy", all but one of the ones we know, being former special advisers or spads. Mary Creagh, the one non-spad, also has a different hair style from the others. Otherwise, diversity seems to be strangely absent in any way from these hopefuls as Guido points out. Scions of privilege he describes them, and that is what they are. None of them grew up in a flat above a small shop as did Mr Mak, the new Havant MP.

[To be continued ... and this time it will happen]


  1. Very entertaining and informative, Helen. Please keep it up.

    1. Thank you. I am working on the second one. Honest.