The Falkland Islands’ referendum could hardly have been more clear. Turnout was over 90%, and while 1,513 voted to stay as a British overseas territory, only 3 voted against.
Those three are intriguing. Iain Martin of the Telegraph speculates that they may have been voting for independence from Britain but not in favour of joining Argentina.
But what if they were motivated by true Argentine nationalism? After all, there are some Argentines living in the islands (real ones, I’m not adopting the Kirchner Government’s ludicrous suggestion that everyone there is legally Argentine). And any who have been resident for seven years prior to the referendum had the right to vote yesterday.
The precise number of Argentines living there isn’t clear – a spokesman for the Falkland Islands Government tells me there are “a handful”, but legal nationality wasn’t a question on the Islands’ 2012 census. The closest estimate I can find is from the BBC in 2007, who reported that:
“20 Argentines…are fully integrated into the 3,000-strong community of the archipelago”
It seems likely that those who were “fully integrated” 6 years ago would by now have lived there long enough to be entitled to vote in the referendum. Even in a worst case scenario in which half of them had died, emigrated or fallen in the sea since 2007, that would leave 10 Argentines with a vote on the future of the islands.
So it seems clear that not only did an overwhelming majority of Falkland Islanders vote to stay British – not even a majority of the Argentines eligible to do so voted to leave.
Maybe Christine de Kirchner needs to have a rethink…
Tomorrow, Sir Gus O’Donnell, the former head of the civil service known in Whitehall as GOD, starts a new BBC series titled “In Defence of Bureaucracy“. The adverts trailing on Radio 4 rather smugly quote people saying bureaucracy makes them think of “Stalinist Russia” before presenting Tony Blair and the voice of GOD himself to reassure us that in fact bureaucracy holds us in its warm embrace from cradle to grave.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Sir Gus has recently set out to make himself the UK’s Mario Monti – a top-down technocrat who thinks that if only the grubby masses would stop poking their noses into how things should be run, then the clever suits in Whitehall could get on with making this country into a statist pleasure-dome.
In 2012, he essentially put up his own civil service candidate to be Mayor of London – happily, Siobhan Benita got a worse drubbing than the Italians dished out to Monti, coming fifth with 3.8% of the vote.
It is true to say that the British Civil Service was once a fantastic institution – but that is not the same as thinking they should ever hold political power. In fact, not wanting to force their own views on our democratic institutions was essential to their success and standing. The GOD delusion that civil servants should now run the show is both a symptom and a cause of Whitehall’s downfall.
To see how times have changed, just look at today’s news. Yet again, Ministers who went into government opposing ID cards are having the wasteful, illiberal policy foisted upon them by officials.
Somewhere in Whitehall it seems there is a civil servant whose only job is to review new government policies in the hope of finding an excuse to use them as a vehicle for re-introducing ID cards. Who cares that the electoracte, and their representatives in Parliament, oppose the scheme? Why should righteous civil servants sit back and accept such opinions when they know themselves to be wiser than the people?
Politics was traditionally about the interaction of voters and politicians. That perspective worked well when the civil service appreciated the essential limits on their role. As soon as some in Whitehall decided they should give the orders, rather than take them, our democracy proved startlingly vulnerable to civil service activism. Through every window of opportunity, a pinstriped arm reached to grab another bit of power from the people.
This trend has flourished in the last fifiteen years, and it is going on right now, as you read this. The cost to our pockets, our freedom and our democracy has been vast. Sir Gus O’Donnell will take to the airwaves tomorrow morning to spin in its defence, paid for by you and me.
I’m pleased to report that this evening I will be joining the panel of the BBC’s Question Time as their @BBCExtraGuest. This means I’ll be responding to the questions, commenting on the show and debating/arguing/falling out with the Question Time audience on Twitter.
The show is being broadcast from Eastleigh, for obvious reasons, and the panel includes Jeremy Browne MP, Angela Eagle MP, Claire Perry MP, Neil Hamilton and Ken Loach so it should be a fairly provocative discussion.
If you’d like to follow my tweets and join in live, I’ll be tweeting from @BBCExtraGuest from about 10 minutes before the show starts. I hope you’ll join me there!
UKIP’s internal tensions have been obvious for some time. As the main party has gathered points in the opinion polls by picking up kneejerk reactionary positions on gay marriage and the burkha, the youth wing – Young Independence (YI) – has seen its own surge on the back of libertarian activism.
As I tweeted a month ago, after witnessing a debate on gay marriage between an old guard member and Olly Neville (a leading member of YI):
— Mark Wallace (@wallaceme) December 14, 2012
All parties – and the country at large – have that growing generational difference, particularly when it comes to the understanding of individual liberty. The test of their character is how they deal with them. And that’s where UKIP are now in big trouble.
In what some have inevitably dubbed the #Ollyshambles, Neville – who recently became the popular Chairman of Young Independence – was last night sacked from his post by the party’s leadership. His crime? He dared to disagree with them over gay marriage and on the idea that European Elections were more important than Westminster – both perfectly sensible positions for a libertarian eurosceptic to take.
So why should anyone care? After all, I hear you say, he was just the youth leader of a political party which has no Parliamentary representation. That’s true, of course, but the Neville affair does have some important ramifications for UKIP and for our wider politics.
Consider the context: UKIP are at 16% in the polls, widely touted as headed for first place in the 2014 European Elections and according to the Mail on Sunday set to deny David Cameron any chance of a General Election victory, all at a time when the EU is an increasingly important issue. Whether they convert their current polling into votes, and how they campaign matters a great deal.
The implications are numerous.
First, there’s the impact on UKIP’s effectiveness. The party’s youth wing had been signing up activist after activist from Conservative Future, based on its message of good humour and libertarian politics. That is now shattered, as the leading proponent of both is roundly duffed up. UKIP have already had resignations over the scandal, meaning they are losing energetic young activists as well as the gloss which an active youth organisation gives to a brand.
Then there’s the damage this does to UKIP’s message that it is a different kind of party, one that rejects top-down control and the enforcement of toeing the line. They have made great hay with this – look, for example, at the comments given by former CF Deputy Chair Alexandra Swann on her much-publicised defection to UKIP:
“As a member of Conservative Future, with no real power, I was monitored and forced to stick rigidly to the party line. The Tories stifle debate, and no one gets along, whereas UKIP encourage debate and they all get along fine.”
That sounded great for them at the time, but now rings extremely hollow. Small wonder Alexandra was looking rather uncomfortable on Twitter last night in the face of the news.
Given that the Conservatives allow MPs to break ranks on leaving the EU or opposing green taxes, while Labour keep Frank Field, Lord Adonis and plenty other outspoken rebels in their ranks, UKIP risk their anti-politics reputation by sacking people for simple disagreement.
Perhaps most serious for Nigel Farage is the impact this has on his own core messages about what UKIP believes. Time and again we’re told it is a libertarian party, and yet it seems that speaking your mind in favour of libertarian positions is a sackable offence.
The same goes for the question of who their leader backs or sacks. When Winston Mackenzie, the UKIP candidate in the Croydon North by-election, became the latest official representative of the party to say something horrendously bonkers by announcing that gay adoption was a form of “child abuse”, we were told that UKIP is a party that lets its people hold their own opinions.
As recently as Monday, Farage was on the Today Programme defending his troops from the Prime Minister’s allegations of oddness on the grounds that:
“…we’re eccentrics, and we tolerate eccentricity.”
So either it’s acceptable “eccentricity” to insult gay people, but unacceptable to suggest they should be allowed to marry, or this is an overnight change of position. If it’s the former, then that’s pretty horrendous. If it’s a change of position, presumably UKIP will now sack anyone who breaks from any policy at all. That would be awkward for them, given a) the tendency of their candidates and MEPs to do so and b) the fact that Nigel Farage himself has publicly gone on record as opposing their policy on drugs.
Next time (and there will be a next time) a UKIPper says something genuinely awful, how will Farage fight off the demands to sack him or her?
All in all, this is a pretty mess: young activists alienated, a libertarian and anti-politics reputation fundamentally undermined, and a total inconsistence with their own leader’s attitude to sacking and policy cohesion. Anyone acquainted with the history of UKIP will know that they are no strangers to arbitrary purges – indeed, they are probably the only political party with far more ex-members than members. It’s fair to say a return to that bloody heritage is not the road to political success.
2012 may have been UKIP’s year to party, but the Ollyshambles suggests 2013 may be the year of the hangover.
The scandal rushing through the offices and studios of the BBC has many sources – horrifying historic sex offences on a staggering scale, poor journalism making it to air due to an apparent panic within Newsnight and a disastrous failure of management at the very top have all played their part.
The results of the crisis are clear to see. The Director General has gone under the professional guillotine. Newsnight’s future is in doubt. Less than half of the public, who fund the Corporation, now think it is trustworthy (according to a ComRes poll carried out before the erroneous report aired and Entwhistle resigned). Infighting has gone public, with various famous faces slugging it out in the press.
The question now is how to solve this mess.
Simply hoping that the next DG, and all of his or her successors, will have a better approach to crisis management than the beleaguered George Entwhistle, is not enough. As the misappointment of “Incurious George” showed, the current system cannot guarantee it will always pick the right candidate.
Not only is the appointment process flawed. Entwhistle’s flailing attempts to hide behind protocol and process rather than step up and deal with the scandal showed that the position itself has a fatal lack of legitimacy and authority.
The next Director General must be selected through a process which is transparent, which openly tests their abilities and policies, and which confers on the winner a genuine authority and legitimacy. In short, the Director General of the BBC should be elected by the licence fee paying public – an electorate who, through a recall power, should also be able to sack them if they so wish.
Only that way will we end the oddity of the people’s broadcaster (and its multi-billion pound budget) being run by an anonymous suit anointed by Lord Patten for reasons unknown. Only that way will we prevent a re-run of the farce in which the Editor-In-Chief of a publicly-owned Corporation seems surprised that the public expect him to answer to them when things go wrong. Only that way will the people be willing to place their trust once more in the BBC’s discredited leadership.
The Today Programme is no stranger to unfortunate mis-pronunciations – as Jeremy Hunt found out to his cost.
Yesterday, they ran an interesting piece by Evan Davis exploring the unity or otherwise of the Labour Party, and asking what has happened to the hardline Labour Left. As part of the package, Evan interviewed the posterboy of the Angry Young Left, Owen Jones.
I’m sure Evan meant to introduce Owen as a “columnist”, but listening to the recording here, it does sound as though it came out slightly redder than that…
As ever, the reshuffle has raised crucial political questions: What does this mean for the Third Runway? Who cried when they got the sack? Did we really need to see the receipt for Grant Shapps’ now famous £4 machine washable tie?
But perhaps the most important mystery is this: how are you supposed to punctuate the Government Whips’ Office? Is it an office belonging to many Whips, or is the Whip an intangible, singular entity in itself? Alternatively, is the office simply where the Whips sit, and therefore not in anyone’s possession?
Westminster is deeply divided on the matter.
The normally omniscient House of Commons Library goes for a singular Whip: “The Whip’s Office”.
Meanwhile, the BBC plumps for a plural possessive: “the Whips’ office”.
The political establishment has, all of a sudden, found itself trapped in the “Cool Whip” conversation between Stewie Griffen and Brian in Family Guy.
Perhaps some grammarians can settle the question once and for all?
Pity Jeremy Vine; one of Britain’s brainiest journalists and host of an extremely popular national radio show, when he became the anointed heir to the fabled BBC election swingometer, he must have thought he was destined to be like Peter Snow, a fabled sage one day retiring to the mountain peaks of election night legend.
It hasn’t quite turned out like that. For some reason, the insightful Peter Snow swingometer process seems to have been replaced with an annual ritual humiliation of Jeremy Vine. I don’t know what he’s done to deserve it, but he seems to be a producer’s piñata.
Emily Maitlis got a rather snazzy touchscreen to present the results as they came in, so Vine must wonder: why me?
On election night 2008, he dressed up as a cowboy to illustrate Nick Clegg’s vote share, putting on a cringeworthy accent and miming shooting cans:
Then there was election night 2007. which took an inexplicable Ali G theme with Vine being forced to present Lib Dem results as “Ming’s Bling”:
This year, at least the embarrassing costumes and attempts to be down with the kids were gone, but they still got poor Jeremy down on his hands and knees on the floor.
Apparently he was tracing the route of a bizarre walk you could do hypothetically do from London all the way to Land’s End without ever passing through a council with a Labour representative – which may, I suppose, appeal to those who plan their rambling on the basis of local electoral geography. If you meet someone like that, do let me know – I’d advise backing away from them slowly, before fleeing for your own safety.