Tag Archives: Elections

The “country was founded on conservatism”?

But there is a reason hardline Republican[s] stand firm. Many of their supporters want them to hang tough. One man, selling bread and vegetables, told me: “I hope he wins, I don’t want a Democrat in, the people in power now are extreme lefties, our country was founded on conservatism.”

So Mark Mardell, reporting on the Virginia gubernatorial, for the BBC.

In itself, that is worth a moment’s historical reflection:

  • upending one’s whole lifestyle, to sail across the wild Atlantic, in hope that the new colonies offer a better life than Stuart England?
  • revolting against the Hanoverian monarchy, looking to evolve a better form of government?
  • heading out, across the Appalachians, through the Great Plains, across the deserts and mountains, from sea to shining sea?
  • building a Republic, based on original principles that all men are created equal, entitled to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?

Such radicalism (radix implying deep-rooted change) is “conservative”? Even in the squirarchical Old Colony?

No: that doesn’t quite tally with the reality.

Yet it goes further.

In the fastnesses of the (old) York night, Malcolm was wakeful. Sometime after 2 a.m. (GMT) he found himself watching the Washington Post‘s minute-by-minute update of the Virginia race.

At the beginning of his watch, Ken Cuccinelli was ahead by a margin of just a couple-of-percentage points. The big (and the big-for-the-Democrats) precincts were just checking in. With each update, the margin narrowed.  Around 2:25, with Cuccinelli still nominally ahead, Fox News called it for Terry McAuliffe. ABC and NBC followed. By 2:45 or so, the lead changed. Only then did the Post call it for McAuliffe. By the English dawn’s early light, McAuliffe was two-and-a-half percentage points clear. This, the Post maintains, is a “narrow” victory.

As Malcolm has said before, his addiction to US Elections goes back to that long night of 9th November 1960, in a Dublin basement flat, trying to decode, through the AM atmospherics, what AFN was reporting as results came in.  Even that was foreshadowed back in 1953, when his Dear Old Dad explained his interest in the Presidential: “This is important”.

If neck-hairs now bristle, you’re an addict

There is that purple-prose opening of T.H.White’s classic account, The Making of the President:

How well worn is yours?

How well worn is yours?

… though the powers of the office are unique, even more spectacular and novel in the sight of history is the method of transfer of those powers-the free choice by a free people, one by one, in secrecy, of a single national leader.

Whether Americans have chosen this leader well or badly is of the most immense importance not only to them but to the destiny of the human race. Yet, well or badly done, no bells ring at any given hour across the nation when the voting is over, nor do any purple-robed priests wait that night to anoint the man who will soon be the most powerful individual in the free world. The power passes invisibly in the night as election day ends; the national vigil includes all citizens; and when consensus is reached, the successful candidate must accept the decision in the same rough, ragged, and turbulent fashion in which he has conducted the campaign that has brought him to power.

White’s metaphors ring true. There is a mystic element as any great, free election winds its course to a conclusion: the collective of individuals making a choice. It is, perhaps, Jungian:

51M4XENZ0JL._SY445_… in addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals.

Vox populi, vox dei

The voice of the people is the voice of God? We can quibble, as wikipedia does, whether that was William of Malmesbury or Alcuin to Carolus Magnus — though that latter is actually a denial:

Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.

[Don’t pay attention to those who say “The voice of the people is the voice of God”, for the unstable masses are ever on the verge of madness.]

Nice word, that tumultuositas. It goes beyond the more usual Latin word tumultus. It implies something more than “commotion”. When Cato uses the adverb tumultuose, it may need to be rendered as “with panic and wild alarm”.

Alexander Pope, another Tory, brought Horace’s Epistles into the eighteenth century (though here referring to theatrical claques) and went with Alcuin:

All this may be; the people’s voice is odd,
It is, and it is not, the voice of God.
To Gammer Gurton if it give the bays,
And yet deny the Careless Husband praise,
Or say our fathers never broke a rule;
Why then, I say, the public is a fool.

That view, that the popular view was not to be trusted, persisted down to the last century and beyond (hence the resistance to plebiscites, with some justification). The US Electoral College (a vestige of the old post-colonial oligarchy) still filters the popular will. After all, Al Gore in 2000 had a half-million majority in the national popular vote.

Get stuffed!

There were two Vox Pop reactions to the Virginia election which, to Malcolm’s mind, seemed a trifle bizarre.

  • First, there was the GOP spokesman who went public to blame his party’s performance on the “polls”.

Well, yes. People are, as Alcuin deplored, unreliable. However, we may infer that the complaint was more about the public opinion polls, particularly those in the Washington Post, publicised in the run-up to the election. If so, Physician, heal thyself. Those polls were reflecting response to the government shut-down, engineered by the Tea-party types in Congress, and endorsed by candidate Ken Cuccinelli.

  • Then there was the lady, bewailing the way the numbers were slipping away from Cuccinelli, who declared she was “praying for Virginia”.

Ho hum, my dear! Even in your philosophy, any divinity out there has her/his universe to run. Stuffing ballot-boxes doesn’t appear in the job-description.

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., culture, History, politics, polls, Quotations, Republicanism, United States, US Elections, Washington Post

How local?

The New York Times looks at the Shutdown in Washington in the context of the Virginian Gubernatorial election:

With 170,000 federal employees in Virginia and 30 percent of the economy of Northern Virginia dependent on government spending, no state has more to lose from a government shutdown than this one.

And the first concrete gauge of the political fallout may play out here, where a governor’s race that had been dominated by the weakness of the two candidates now seems to be focused on the question of which party will take the blame.

With the election just 34 days away, the issue increasingly is raising risks for Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the Republican, who is worriedly trying to keep voters angry at Washington Republicans from taking it out on him.

All (and the rest of that piece by Trip Gabriel) doubtless very valid.

The niggle it raises in Malcolm’s mind is: to what extent do national issues rub off at the local level?

There obviously is a chasm of difference between, say, the 3.75 million accredited votes in Virginia in the 2012 Presidential Election, and the 394 who turned out last week for the Way Ward of Mid Devon District Council. On quantum alone, one is statistically suggestive, and the other is … not.

Even so, we can draw some inferences:

  • There something odd about Virginia returning eight Republican Congressmen (and they are all men) out of eleven Districts, when Obama carried the State by a twinge over his national rating. Only back in 1982 was the disparity so great.
  • Admittedly, the Democrat vote seems heavily concentrated in places like Hampton Roads and Fairfax County (which, incidentally, has the highest family income anywhere in the nation).
  • There does seem to be an issue to be addressed about balancing the Districts. The GOP intended to gerrymander even worse, and ran into serious problems therewith.
  • The State is dividing, as the liberal north moves Democrat, while the south remains highly conservative and Republican. It is in the northern part that the population is growing, and now comprises as much as a third of the electorate.
  • Despite all that, the GOP grip continues to tighten:

Virginia

  • An outsider might begin to mutter “fix”.

That is incidental to that niggle in Malcolm’s mind

It’s quite illogically logical for voters to go different directions locally and nationally. There is a natural propensity to be “awkward”, or to look for “balance”. More than half of Greater London’s constituencies (38 of the 73) stayed with Labour in 2010 (and that was a “bad” year). Then in the 2012 Mayoral (generally, a pretty “good” year for Labour), Boris Johnson was near on 4% ahead of Ken Livingstone.

As for the surge of UKIPpers in May 2013 (up to 23% nationally, and 139 additional councillors), we still don’t know if that was a freak (current polling seems about 10%, but doing far better in local elections), or a more enduring presence. UKIP, in any case, seems to be the “Up yours!” vote (which, at least, is an improvement on the BNP, the previous recipients). By all accounts the “Up yours” tendency will be a strong flavour in the European Parliamentary election next year — though, surely, Labour must improve on its derisory 15.7% of 2009.

Let’s apply all this to the four million voters in Scotland

A couple of curious statistics there:

On December 1, 2012:

  • 4.06 million people were registered to vote in the local government and Scottish Parliament elections – an increase of 54,795 (1.4 per cent) compared to December 1, 2011, the highest level recorded since local government boundaries were revised in 1996.
  • 3.99 million people were registered to vote in UK Parliament elections – an increase of 43,665 (1.1 per cent);
  • 3.99 million people were registered to vote in elections to the European Parliament, an increase of 43,489 (1.1 per cent).

The Scottish General Record Office adds a further caveat to that:

  • During the same period [2009-12], the number of European Union (EU) citizens registered to vote in local government and Scottish Parliament elections rose by 11,114 to 79,063 (16.4 per cent). This is likely to underestimate the total number of EU citizens resident in Scotland, since many may not register. Latest estimates put the number of EU citizens from continental Europe living in Scotland at around double that number.

So, Mr Salmond: one in every fifty of the voters in the Referendum will be Europeans, rather than Scots. And four more of those fifty are English-born. We are already accounting for 10% of the Scottish electorate.

For the BBC, just a couple of weeks back, John Curtice ran his slide-rule over the present polling:

_69904823_pollinggrahnew

The Curtice slide-rule may have an electric smoothing attachment, for his conclusion is:

… the best measure of the balance of public opinion – the average ratings for the Yes and the No side across all of the recent polls – looks much the same now as it did a year ago.

The Yes side’s average poll rating currently stands at 33%, while the No side has a score of 50%. Around 17% say they do not know or are unsure about what they will do.

If we leave the Don’t Knows to one side, that suggests that if the referendum were being held today rather than next year, 60% of people would vote to stay in the United Kingdom while 40% will vote for Scotland to become an independent country.

That is a little better for the Yes side than the equivalent figures for those polls that were conducted earlier this year, which on average gave Yes 38% and No 62%.

That is a bit of a come-down for Salmond and the SNP: in May 2011 the SNP took 45.4% of the constituency vote. It is more credible that the SNP excess-of-2011 over where-they-are-now isn’t disillusion among Nationalists, but that on local issues and for local candidates a significant number of Unionist votes were lent to the SNP.

By the by, if there’s anything crooked about Districting in the State of Virginia, it’s straight stuff compared to Scotland: on just 32.7% of the vote, Labour took 35 of the 73 constituency seats (though that was “remedied” by the Regional Seats.

[For the record, Malcolm happily voted “No!” in the 2011 Alternative Vote Referendum, not because of partisan bias, but because it didn’t offer, by any stretch of the imagination “proportional representation”.]

In the meanwhile, for an Election addict, like Malcolm, the Virginian Gubernatorial is the juiciest low-hanging fruit. And — happily — it shows good promise of being a dirty one:

Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign is launching Facebook ads targeting Virginia’s substantial federal worker population that attack Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) for the federal government shutdown.

“There are 150,000 federal employees in Virginia,” read the Web ads. “Why is Ken Cuccinelli standing with the Tea Party on the government shutdown?”

The ads target federal workers in Northern Virginia, where nearly one third of the economy relies on the federal government, and in the military-heavy Hampton Roads region. 

The shutdown could have a severe impact on Virginia’s economy, and stands to become a major campaign issue with one month left to go until the election.

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Filed under Boris Johnson, Britain, Elections, Europe, Ken Livingstone, Labour Party, London, Salmond, Scotland, Seamus Heaney, Tories., UKIP, US Elections, US politics

Constitutional reform only happens if …

… it suits the interests of those implementing it.

Not just an historical truth, indeed an axiom, but the punch-line of a beta++ effort by Steve Richards for Independent Voices.

Let’s take on face value Richards’ headline:

Why fixed terms parliaments are a nightmare for leaders and a gift for rebel MPs

Our Chief Political Commentator says that Conservative MPs can plot and stir because the next election is still years away

Hold on! Surely that’s what a true Independent would wish? And … err … yes, it somehow reminds Malcolm of …. Ah, yes!

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion…

If government were a matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?

Indeed, the authentic Burkean voice from the College Historical Society of Trinity College, Dublin (founded 21st March 1770), of which — much later, and far less oratorically polished — Malcolm’s alter ego was once a minor officer.

Richards’ Big Thing amounts to this:

The current parliament is already nearing the end of its natural life. Symptoms of mortality take many forms. In terms of policy Cameron has made waves recently with two big announcements. Both apply to the next parliament and not this one. His proposals for a referendum on Europe and high speed rail take effect after the next election. The more immediate agenda in the Commons is of little significance compared with those post-election policies and the near revolutionary measures placed before MPs in the Coalition’s early unprecedented flurry of reforming zeal.

In other words, the health of the body politic depends on a renewal of the parliamentary mandate in the short term, not in May 2015.

Yet, as he makes clear, with little to do, and at a time when MPs should be honing their knives for re-election, it’s all gone deadly, flatly dull. The death of the Bill to change boundaries was the last straw, which is why (even after Clegg slit its throat) the Bill was kept in suspended animation while all kinds of pressures were brought to bear:

  • Over the weekend, were the DUP really told they could exempt Northern Ireland, if only …
  • Why does James Kirkup (who should know better) and other susceptible post-adolescents keep afloat the notion that the Bill can be revived?

And, for the Satan’s Blood (“800,000 Scoville units”) in your political chilli, muse on what MPs get up to, when otherwise not exerted. Why, they plot, of course! Or, as Richards renders it:

There will be no election in 2014. After the next 12 months there will be another whole year before the election moves fully into view. There is still plenty of time to be disloyal, to speak up for principled conviction, to plot and plan against a leader. This has some danger for Clegg. But Cameron is the main victim as news surfaces of a plot to install a successor … if he loses the election. Such plots happen for many reasons. One is that Conservative MPs have time on their hands, lots of it. They will rally round next year, but not this. The fixed-term has made prime ministerial life less secure rather than more.

Even so, Malcolm has another gripe with Richards’ piece, particularly so in the rest of that final paragraph:

Constitutional reform only happens if it suits the interests of those implementing it. Presumably Cameron thought that in the unusual circumstances of a Coalition a fixed-term would bring stability. But most fixed-terms in other countries last a maximum of four years. Five years is far too long. And of those five this is much the most dangerous for leaders hoping to flourish when the still distant election finally arrives.

As Malcolm recalls, the LibDems, suspicious that Cameron and Osborne would dump them were an electoral opportunity to open, inserted the time element in the coalition agreement. Now, what could possibly have provoked that partisan fear into the pre-nup?

Second, Richards is absolutely correct. Five years was, is and always will be too long. Malcolm’s Pert Young Piece had considerable difficulty in  explicating the five-year term, at the Anzac Cove gathering, 2012, to a band of highly-dubious antipodean democrats. It’s also been commonly accepted, nearer home, ever since the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill was first out there in the wild. Anyway, consider:

  • The “ones-we’re-bound to lose” (Macmillan-Home in 1959-64; Wilson-Callaghan in 1974-79, Major in 1992-97; Blair-Brown in 2005-10) went into a fifth year;
  • To which might be added the “one we miraculously didn’t lose” (Major, 1992) which also went to the wire.

Versus:

  • the ones “we can win” (Thatcher in 1983, 1987; Blair in 2001, 2005) which took advantage of the opportunistic electoral windows.

On that basis alone, the 2010-15 government had given away its main electoral advantage: the chance for any prime minister to exploit a particular moment, one when the economic and electoral cycles could be matched. So, a Malcolmian prediction, when the next parliament assembles, if there’s a majority government, the 2011 Act will be repealed in short order and shall hear no more of fixed -terms.

In short, there’s that gross misunderstanding: in the unusual circumstances of a Coalition a fixed-term would bring stability. Richards, wisely predicates that with the weaselly “presumably”. Consider the normality of UK politics: in the forty years from Wilson to Cameron we will have had just three governments defenestrated — in 1979, 1997 and 2010. The success of Gordon Brown was that the expected Tory take-over didn’t happen (and, in Malcolm’s book, history will be very much kinder to Brown than current poison has it).

Burke, whom we had above, had the Fixed Term Parliaments Act bang to rights, and as far back as 1780:

Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny. In such a country as this they are of all bad things the worst, worse by far than anywhere else; and they derive a particular malignity even from the wisdom and soundness of the rest of our institutions

Let’s add a word to the wise:

The people can recognise them. And resent them

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So they’re not totally useless!

Headline in The Guardian, page 4:

Tories furious as Lib Dems delay boundary review.

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Saying “different things”, South Antrim

Hair of the DogmaThere was a brief note on ConHome:

Boundary changes blow

“David Cameron’s slim hopes of pushing through boundary changes that would deliver the Tories 20 extra safe seats have been dealt a blow by the Ulster Unionists.” – The Times (£)

 Malcolm hadn’t seen this elsewhere, apart from below the fold on page 17. So he thinks The Times pay-wall should give way:

Unionists deal blow to Tory boundary plan

Roland Watson Political Editor

David Cameron’s slim hopes of pushing through boundary changes that would deliver the Tories 20 extra safe seats have been dealt a blow by the Ulster Unionists.

The Tories need support from across the minor parties if they are to see through the changes after Nick Clegg said he would no longer support them following the defeat last summer of his plans to reform the House of Lords.

But William McCrea, the DUP MP for South Antrim, said he would not back the changes, which would cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600, and in Northern Ireland from 18 to 16.

Mr McCrea also told The Times that the boundary review process should be halted quickly to prevent public money being wasted.

Government sources who have tried to canvass support from the DUP said that “different Unionists say different things”.

The Tories would need all of the eight DUP MPs and six SNP MPs to have the chance of overhauling the 312 combined tally of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs.

Mr Cameron had been pressed by the 1922 Committee to force boundary changes through before the election, thus boosting Tory hopes. But Labour and Liberal Democrat peers are expected to win a vote today that would delay any changes until 2018.

William-McCrea-291x275Dr McCrea may have the dogma, even if the hair has AWOLed over the years. Explaining the abstruse connection must await the end of this post.

The devil is in the numerical detail

Anyone with half a wit knew that, once Clegg had pulled the plug, the baby was out with the bath-water. Subsequently Paul Goodman came up on ConHome to regurgitate his calculations, which amount to 320 for the Tory gerrymander and 321 against. His punch-line acknowledges potentially-defaulting Nadines:

On the darker side, the biggest Commons obstacle to the new boundaries could be Conservative MPs themselves.  More gain than lose from the changes, but not all losers can be guaranteed to vote for their likely or certain removal from the next Parliament.

Doing the maths while minding mice at the crossroads? [See The Hair of the Dogma, page 171, and all is apparent.]

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Pork?

Since Malcolm posted The bottom of the barrel earlier today, he has had a sense of unease.

Let’s consider a couple of the road schemes, as itemised by  page 11 of today’s Times:

A14
£20m investment to reduce congestion, improve junctions and increase resilience.

This was the one that gave Malcolm a faint sniff of bacon being grilled.

It amounts to sorting out the link from Cambridge (the top end of the M11) to the A1(M). Yes, it should have been done a while back, probably as soon as the John Major Memorial Motorway (curiously convenient for Major’s home at Great Stukeley) between Alconbury and Peterborough was conceived:

IMPROVING the A14 was yesterday (Tuesday) named a Government priority by the Chancellor – with £20million for “immediate improvements” and a report on the road’s future by early 2012.

Chancellor George Osborne, presenting his Autumn Statement in Parliament, said money would be released for safety work and announced a study to find a long-term solution for the road.

The immediate funding will pay for junction upgrades at the Girton and Spittals interchanges and additional signage for drivers, while an all-options engagement programme, labelled ‘The A14 Challenge’, will give the public, businesses and local authorities their say.

The study will examine the potential of the previously-scrapped Fen Ditton to Ellington upgrade, assess other methods of reducing congestion – by improving freight alternatives and public transport – and the options for financing the project, possibly through a toll road.

That looks like a bit of bunce for two MPs: Jonathan Djanogly (Conservative, Huntingdon) and Shailesh Vara (Conservative, NW Cambridgeshire). Assuming the LibDem vote collapses (almost a given), and doesn’t go disproportionately Tory (as if), Vara could just about be in difficulties at the next General Election — especially if UKIP continues to make inroads into Tory core-support. So, Djanogly (who hasn’t had the happiest of relations with his constituency association) and Vara (small fluff over expenses) have both got feathers to stick in their caps, while all it has cost is a bit of tarmac and a lot of consultant fees.

None too far distance we have a bigger-ticket item:

A14 Kettering Bypass
£110m for widening between Junctions 7 and 9.

The Tory MP for Kettering is Philip Hollobone. The boundary review would make the constituency co-terminous with the borough. In 1995-99 and 2001-3 Labour had political control of Kettering council. Hollobone’s seat therefore becomes more marginal.

That’s as far as Malcolm has reached in looking at the political implications of these projects. A quick flick of some of the others — Nine Elms (Tory Wandsworth) gets a whiff of a link to the Northern Line tube, the Oxford-Bedford rail link (restoring, in part, the old Varsity line, largely across Tory constituencies) — also has overtones of a partisan timbre.

Doubtless others will take up the chase.

Oink. Oink.

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Who steals my purse steals trash …

Malcolm has never been wholly convinced by the outraged postures struck by Damian Green. Nor the chorus in unison of outraged journos and similar reptiles.

Green was in receipt of stolen goods. Admittedly, the stuff was of little worth, which is why he is not under the cosh of the Official Secrets Act. He was apparently “aiding and abetting misconduct in public office” (which comes down to professional disloyalty and political subversion) by encouraging — or, at very least, countenancing — a wannabe, Chris Galley, pilfering from his employer.

So, to continue:

… ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

Othello, III.iii. 155–161

Green has one strike in his favour: he is not a lawyer. He is, however, intimate with that other main Guild and Mystery which controls our affairs: he is an ex-journo himself, a former business editor for the Times and then for ITN. He is not, therefore, entirely an innocent.

Furthermore, if Green had used his ill-gotten gains in the House, with his Parliamentary privilege, there could be no gainsaying. In practice, he seems to have expended them by currying favour with other journos, notably those of the Times.

The main doubt hanging over Green is not his actions: they speak amply for themselves. It is his forename. Note the number of mispellings as “Damien“, often through the Guild and Mystery itself. The BBC and Sky have also made the error.

So Malcolm was cheered to find Rod Liddle in the Speccie already saying much of this, in a similar vein, under the title:

The law applies to Damian Green, too

Liddle says, pungently (his piece employs a nice conceit derived from “grooming”):

The Damian Green case is perfectly straightforward, if you are not a copper. If Green conspired with his pet civil servant to illegally obtain documents, then he probably has a case to answer. If you acquire stolen material, the correct procedure is to return it to its owners or hand it over to the police, rather than exploit it for personal and party political gain. If you think that the material you’ve seen is important and in the public interest, then you should use the political and legal system to insist that such material should be accessible to the public. This seems pompous and sort of unjournalistic, but then I always have a problem, a sneaking worry, when the entire journalistic establishment is united in its outrage, as has been the case following Mr Green’s arrest. And I don’t understand why laws which apply to the rest of us should not also apply to the otherwise first-rate Damian Green.

‘Nuff said?

Well, not quite.

On behalf of the Guild and Mystery, we have defence witnesses such as the venerable Alan Watkins, not quite a spent fire, illuminating the embers of the Sindie. Malcolm’s reading of Watkins goes back to the Sixties, when his political commentaries made the New Statesman essential study and a weekly delight. Malcolm knows that Watkins can harrumph for Wales, as much as the Hefferlump does for Essex. Therefore Malcolm was not surprised by Watkins’ clearing of throat:

The loftier peaks of our system of government are almost always enshrouded by mist. From time to time, however, the weather changes, the tops of the mountains become visible, and a watery sun sheds a little light on what may lie at the summits. But usually the fog descends once again, while the citizens gazing upwards are no wiser than they were before.

We shall have to wait for tomorrow’s debate before drawing any conclusions about the arrest of Mr Damian Green and the strange behaviour of Mr Speaker Martin, not to mention other assorted functionaries scattered around the palace of Westminster, in addition to the constabulary.

Yes, indeed, and that is about as much clarity as Watkins offers in re: Green. However, Watkins does refer usefully to past discombobulations:

  • To illustrate how there are ways of defusing a situation, Watkins recalls January 1987. Thatcher’s Leader of the House, John Biffen exercised considerable and characteristic legerdemain avoiding a BBC Scotland film (fronted by Ludovic Kennedy, the Zircon spy satellite project) being shown in Parliament and thereby circumventing a Government ban.
  • To discuss the nature of Parliamentary privilege, Watkins harks back to the Duncan Sandys affair of 1938. This is a dredging of memory beyond even the Welsh Wizard, who would then barely have climbed out of the pram. The episode puts Green and his screams of pain in perspective.

The Sandys of time, 1938

Sandys was Churchill’s newly-acquired son-in-law, and Tory MP for Lambeth (the notion of Lambeth having a Tory as MP is, itself, somewhat confusing). Sandys had information about anti-aircraft defence. Decently, on 17th June, he wrote to the Secretary-of-State for War (those were days before political correctness applied to ministerial titles) in advance of submitting parliamentary questions. Sandys explained, as reported in Hansard of 27th June, what happened next:

… on Thursday last I received a letter from the Attorney-General asking me to go and see him that evening. At this interview the Attorney-General informed me that the question which I had sent to the Secretary of State for War showed, in the opinion of the War Office, a knowledge of matters covered by the Official Secrets Act, and he asked me to reveal the sources of my information. He added that I was under a legal obligation to do so. When I inquired what would be the consequences, were I to refuse to comply with his request, he read me the text of Section 6 of the Official Secrets Act and pointed out that I might render myself liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years.

Sandys kept his counsel, and approached the Speaker for a ruling on whether to raise the issue in the House. Back to Sandys’ speech:

On being informed of this, the Attorney-General asked me to come and see him again, and told me that I had been under a misapprehension if I had thought that he had been threatening me with the use of the powers of interrogation under the Official Secrets Act. He offered to give me an assurance that “there was at present no intention” to use these powers against me. However, I contended that since the withdrawal of the threat of the use of these powers was qualified by the words “at present” the position, in my opinion, remained unaltered. Thereupon my right hon. and learned Friend offered to drop the words “at present” and to give me an assurance that “there was no intention” to take this action against me. But I pointed out that an “intention” might subsequently be changed. In reply to this the Attorney-General said that he was not free to give me more than this rather limited assurance without first obtaining the consent of the Secretary of State for War, who was away in Scotland. However, after I had told the Attorney-General that I was not inclined to abandon my intention to raise this matter in the House, he eventually offered to write me a letter giving an unqualified promise that in no circumstances would these powers of interrogation be enforced against me. I thanked him for this assurance, but told him that I could still not give him any undertaking to drop the matter, since this was a question which concerned not merely myself, but equally all other Members of the House of Commons, and it was in my opinion most desirable that the position of Members under the Official Secrets Act should be clarified without further delay.

From all that, we can see why the Met Police have dug around for some legal basis, other than the Official Secrets Act, to justify pursuing Green. It also suggests that the Hefferlump’s parpings go over the top, working himself into a tizz over:

warped politicians … [and]  … our old friend Lord Rumba of Rio – the artist formerly known as Peter Mandelson – doing an imitation of almost demented self-righteousness about the Green affair, claiming that Tory protests were merely a tactic to divert attention from their wrongdoing.

When Lord Rumba ran the Labour press office in the Eighties, the party specialised in exploiting leaks about the wicked Tory government of Margaret Thatcher. He has changed his tune since then, as men without scruple or conventional morality are wont to do.

The Hefferlump is capable of the odd transgression of “scruple or conventional morality“. He is happy to bask in the glow of having coined that emblematic term, “Essex Man”. As Malcolm has previously noted, it was a blatant act of recycling.

Anecdotage: not mad, but several stops beyond Barking

The Financial Times political correspondent went to Havering-Upminster in the October 1974 General Election: statistically, this seat was the tipping-point — if Labour could take it, there would be a majority for Harold Wilson. In fact, as the insiders (including the Labour candidate) were aware, it was not that simple.

That Labour candidate, flannelling as best he could when the correspondent’s professional appraisal came up against glowing optimism, proffered the notion that there was an “Upminster man”, with bougeois trappings but more liberal tendencies. All of which, suitably sanitised, was presented in the Pink ‘Un.

None of which is as profound as the tragedy of the Moor of Venice.

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