Some things change – but Prezza stays the same

Posted on January 07, 2013

A new year heralds change – 2013 will see new heights of human achievement, new lows of tragedy, new inventions and discoveries, new works of art and new ways to move the spirit.

What it will not see, it seems, is a new commitment to accuracy from John Prescott. In the history of scientific endeavour, few leopards have been discovered with less changeable spots.

This morning the good Lord – turned Sunday Mirror columnist – tweeted:

Unfortunately for Prezza, that photo – much used by the lefty twitterati in recent months – is from September 2004, as reported here.

That means the bubbly was being delivered not to George Osborne or his Coalition colleagues but to Gordon Brown, at a time when John Prescott was Deputy Prime Minister. Either Prezza knows the photo is from the wrong administration and is deliberately misleading his 167,000 Twitter followers, or he has mistakenly picked it up from somewhere else.

Let’s be charitable and assume it’s the latter. The only recent, mainstream use of the picture was in the Daily Mail last year, accompanying a story that the Chancellor intends to introduce a green tax on chilled champagne. The tax will supposedly be called the “Thermal Reduction Initiative (Champagne)”, or “TRIC”. Published under the byline “Pru Cremier”, the story was published on…April the 1st.

Oh dear, John.

A table, a chair – and liberty in the space between

Posted on December 18, 2012

Whether you like the monarchy or not, you’ve got to agree that the Queen knows her job inside out. It’s hard to think of anyone who has a more natural, ingrained understanding of her role and the protocol that goes with it. Just witness her glance of disappointment when Barack Obama bungled things and talked over the national anthem last year.

So it’s fair to say she does not do things by accident when enacting her constitutional role.

There was a great example of this at her visit to this morning’s Cabinet meeting. As the camera panned down the table, two things were noticeable.

First, that she was sitting in the Prime Minister’s chair. This is symbolic as well as polite – a reminder that the PM exercises many of his powers under Royal Prerogative, on the Queen’s behalf. She was visiting, so he gave up the chair to the person whose powers he exercises.

The second was that the Queen was sitting ever so slightly back from the table. Every minister had his or her chair pulled in to do business – she, though, was a few inches further back.

It is the tiniest thing, but far from irrelevant. It wasn’t chosen to enable a quicker getaway, or for leg-stretching room, but because it was part of her role in the room. In our constitutional monarchy, which has proved such a stable way of preserving democratic liberty against the tyranny of crown or dictatorship since 1688, the Queen was there to watch others exercise the powers of Government, not to govern herself.

She sat by the Cabinet table, not at it. And in those few inches of space lay 324 years of constitutional history – liberty preserved by the placing of a chair.

You won’t find an elected president in the world who is as classy as that.

House of Comments: Leveson, the rise of UKIP and the Autumn Statement

Posted on December 03, 2012

Last night, I took part in the new series of podcasts from House of Comments, along with Labour blogger Emma Burnell and Lib Dem Mark Thompson. We covered the big stories of the week, Leveson and the rise of UKIP, as well as a bit of a look forward to what might be in the Autumn Statement.

You can listen to the full podcast here, access it through iTunes here, or get the Feedburner here for Android and other devices.

Enjoy!

The Tory voting for an EU budget increase

Posted on October 31, 2012

Today the Government faces at least two votes on the future of the EU budget. It is an encouraging sign of the times that the debate is now between whether to freeze or cut the amount swallowed by Brussels.

Only a few years ago the battle was about whether to give up our rebate or simply to agree to a slightly lower rise. (Needless to say, Tony Blair went for the more costly option and sacrificed part of the hard-won rebate). Nowadays there is hardly anyone to be found in the political world who will argue, publicly at least, for more cash to go to the EU.

But there is one exception.

No-one really noticed at the time, but last week the European Parliament voted on the proposed EU budget, which proposes a 6.8% increase in the amount wasted spent by the European institutions.

This was the point at which David Cameron rightly stated his opposition to the plans, telling his MPs that

We’ve not put in place tough settlements in Britain in order to go to Brussels and sign up to big increases in European spending

The vast majority of his backbenches, his party members and the electorate at large unquestionably agree with him or want to go further.

At this point, let me introduce Malcolm Harbour, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands. Faced with an opportunity to vote to save taxpayers’ money, be loyal to his party leader and win the appreciation of his constituents all at the same time, Malcolm did the oppositehe voted for the EU budget to increase above inflation.

The latest press release on his website is titled “Danger for an iconic brand”. It refers to the future of the London Black Cab, whose manufacturer is in trouble, but may as well be talking about Harbour’s own impact on the reputation of the Conservative Party.

These are the last convulsions of the now almost extinct Conservatus Pro-Brusselsaurus. Malcolm Harbour is a disgrace, but looking at the composition of the Commons today we have good reason to hope he may be one of the last of his plodding, bizarre species.

–UPDATE–

Malcolm Harbour’s office have been in touch to report that he has since corrected his vote to register against the Budget – they assure me that it was a “genuine slip of the finger” in the Parliament’s electronic voting system. Maybe the pro-EU Conservatives are in fact already completely extinct?

A baby, a rifle and a car – but no vote

Posted on October 11, 2012

An unexpected outcome of the negotiations around the Scottish Independence Referendum is that votes for 16 year olds has suddenly popped up again. A round of huffing and puffing has commenced, with varying degrees of legitimacy.

There is justified concern that this is not really the way to go about revolutionising our constitution – who is allowed to vote should be a matter for Parliament, not something to be agreed in a bout of policy Border Reiving by Westminster and Holyrood.

The mechanism by which it is being introduced is unattractive, but the idea of votes at 16 is a good one in itself.

Deciding when an individual goes from legal childhood into fully responsible adulthood is always tricky. Any rule will inevitably be arbitrary. No matter how much Great Aunts may ask “how does it feel to be older?”, the answer is of course that someone is no more competent at voting on the day of their 18th birthday than they were the day before.

But given that arbitrary lines must be drawn for when the State recognises us as adults, we should at least try to ensure they are drawn in a consistent manner.

At the moment the qualifying ages for various kinds of legal and social rights and responsibilities are a dreadful muddle. You can leave school and go into the workplace, paying full rates of tax, at 16 – as long as you continue some kind of training. You can join the army at 16, though you can’t be sent to fight until 18. Of course, you can also legally have sex and have children from 16.

These are all signs that we think of those over 16 as adults, so why do we remain in denial when it comes to the right to vote? It is absurd that a 17-year-old serving soldier, working and paying tax, driving a car, and bringing up a child is currently told that he or she is not deemed mature or responsible enough to vote.

Opponents of lowering the voting age argue that 16- or 17-year-olds wouldn’t make informed decisions about who to vote for. In some instances, that may be the case – but it is certainly the case that there are plenty of 46- and 47-year-olds who may well not read the manifestos before voting, either. Arbitrary systems are like that, and if we removed the vote from every age group which has some wildly irresponsible members then we’d swiftly take the vote away from everyone.

Instead, let’s look to the plentiful evidence that 16- and 17-year-olds are very much capable of rational, responsible behaviour. Our society has weighed that evidence in deciding to allow them to work, pay tax, have babies and so on, but has been unaccountably stubborn on democratic rights. It is high time to equalise the voting age and iron out this anomaly.

Did Magna Carta die in vain?

Posted on September 27, 2012

Today’s news of David Cameron’s trouble remembering what Magna Carta means on theLetterman Show inevitably recalls Tony Hancock’s classic “Twelve Angry Men” episode of Hancock’s Half Hour:

With the immortal words:

Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?

Hancock reduced the audience to gales of laughter, and secured yet another entry in the annals of comedy history.

And yet, there’s also something rather sad about that clip, echoing down from 1959. If a prime time comedy show made that gag today, how many people in the audience would laugh and how many would be left scratching their heads over what it meant?

If you go to Runnymede, where Magna Carta was signed – laying the foundation stone of English freedom – you will find a memorial. Its inscription reads

“To commemorate Magna Carta, symbol of Freedom Under Law”

But it was not erected by the British public, or by our Parliamentarians, or our legal institutions. It was put there by the American Bar Association who, it seems, value Magna Carta more than we do.

Perhaps Hancock was right – Magna Carta means nothing to us. She died in vain.

Why Andrew Mitchell should have been arrested

Posted on September 26, 2012

Arresting people for swearing is ridiculous. And yet, under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, it regularly happens.

Section 5 is a badly written, catch-all law which – as one former officer put it to me recently – “lets us take people off the streets if they haven’t committed a specific offence but we don’t really want them there”.

The precise wording outlaws anyone who:

(a)     uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

(b)     displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,

within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

Given the total lack of any definition of what constitutes “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour”, and the overzealous nature of some (though far from all) bobbies on the beat, it is hardly surprising that the clause has been abused over the years. It has been applied to stop people making perfectly valid criticisms of Scientology, protesting against the murder and oppression of gay people in the Middle East, and saying religions are “fairy tales”, among many others.

Given that it is on the statute book, and that it is regularly used to arrest ordinary members of the public for far less serious behaviour than that displayed at Downing Street last week, Section 5 should surely have been used to arrest Andrew Mitchell, the Chief Whip.

Instead, he was allowed to swear repeatedly at a police officer, despite the police log’s report that bystanders looked “visibly shocked” – which seems to my lay perspective to qualify as using “insulting words…within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress”.

How many plebeians would be allowed to get away with that with only a verbal warning, rather than a trip to the cells?

Giving greater privileges and more freedom under the law to members of the Government than is given to the people at large prevents Westminster from understanding how bad the criminal law of this country has become. Leading the Chief Whip away in cuffs would have been an absurd scene when his sacking or resignation should be the sensible outcome, but it would have woken our representatives up to the excessive powers of Section 5.

Until that happens, what hope is there that they will realise the urgent need to reform the Public Order Act?

Kevin Maguire joins the foxhunting set

Posted on September 25, 2012

Kevin Maguire – one of Westminster’s most amiable lefties, even if he is a Mackem – never normally misses a chance to take a potshot at the ranks of the Right. Over the years, the Countryside Alliance has been a regular target, with a stream of hunting puns flowing from his pen.

So it was no surprise to see him join the Andrew Mitchell fray yesterday:

But wait a second, that cardboard copper looks rather familiar. Whose stand at the Lib Dem conference could that be?

Ah yes…

Perhaps Kevin’s not such a city boy after all?

The outfit selling Thatcher death t-shirts is taxpayer-funded

Posted on September 12, 2012

There was understandable anger at the news this week that t-shirts urging people to dance on Margaret Thatcher’s grave were on sale at the TUC Congress. While disgusting, sadly it’s nothing new that the hard left have some pretty unpleasant opinions – as I’ve reported on this blog in the past.

What is more worrying is that the organisation selling the t-shirts, the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centre, is apparently taxpayer-funded and closely tied to parts of the political establishment – far from being the independent loons the media reports have so far portrayed them as.

Take the following items as evidence:

– According to the DUWC 2011 Annual Report,  their Chairman is Cllr Graham Baxter MBE, the Leader of North East Derbyshire Council, who uses his introduction to the report to rail in a partisan way against the “Tory County Council”

– On page 8 of the same report, the “Fundraising” section lists money received from Bolsover District Council, North East Derbyshire District Council and Chesterfield Borough Council, as well as grants from no less than 11 County Councillors

– The Summer 2012 edition of their “Solidarity” newsletter headlines on a new campaign launch attended by Dennis Skinner MP and Natascha Engel MP, and thanks 5 County Councillors for the allocation of their 2012 taxpayer-funded grants

The DUWC may well do a lot of valuable work – certainly you can see the potential for an organisation offering impartial advice to jobseekers. However, it seems they’ve crossed a line a long time ago from helping unemployed workers to campaigning on a party political basis in a rather unpleasant way.

Until they go back to focusing their efforts on their proper, worthwhile mission, it is surely inappropriate for them to be using taxpayers’ money for partisan campaigns.

Back to School, Back to Maggie Bashing

Posted on September 05, 2012

Well, it’s back to school week, and it appears the lefty Maggie-bashers among our teaching community are hard at work already. Tom Chapman, the Deputy Chairman of Leicestershire South CF, spotted this poster go up at his school in Leicestershire:

 

It’s an exam guide, themed around a pretty vicious attack on Margaret Thatcher – nice to see our schools aren’t pumping kids full of political propaganda.

The photo quality isn’t great, so if you can’t read it here is a handy summary of what it says around the Margaret Thatcher cartoon:

Meet Maggie the Evil Examiner

Don’t forget to PEE her off
To really get under her skin use the PEE chain. Make a POINT, give your EVIDENCE, and then EXPLAIN yourself!

Obsessive
Maggie is obsessed with key words so make sure every answer has them!

The Milk Snatcher
Maggie actually hates children so ruin her day by writing an excellent set of exams!

Do you measure up?
Maggie actually uses a ruler to measure your answers so make sure you write enough for each question.

Maggie the cynic!
Maggie trusts nobody. This means that you must use examples in your answer to prove you are right.

Cheat! Idiot!
Maggie cheated on her exams and is really quite thick. This means that you have to explain everything to her. Write idiot proof sentences.

Aside from the poor writing, and the questionable approach of teaching kids contempt for their examiners rather than simply how to do well, this is an outrageous piece of nakedly political propaganda. By what right do lefty teachers tell children that one of our greatest Prime Ministers is “evil” and “thick”, “hates children” and “cheated on her exams”?

Is it too much to ask that children are taught facts rather than hatred?