Confessions of a Political Animal

August 30, 2008

Who will be quickest to disillusion their electorate?

Filed under: Conservatives,US Elections — Political Animal @ 12:02 am
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Enoch Powell once said that all political careers end in failure. Usefully, despite the regiment of knuckle-draggers posting ‘Enoch was right’ all over the web, he successfully set about proving his own theory. So if failure comes to all politicians, disillusion is its first symptom. With the USA potentially about to elect the guy from the back streets of south Chicago and the UK seemingly certain to elect the guy from the back streets of Eton in 2010, the potential arises for a controlled experiment as to which one lasts the longest before disillusion sets in. Of course, the US could well mess it all up by voting for a 72-year old about whom no one has any illusions in the first place.

So, let’s look at the case for each of our contenders to attempt to judge who will find their voter’s enthusiasm waning first: (more…)

August 29, 2008

Is high-speed rail the wrong track for Britain?

Britains first and probably last high speed line (c)

High Speed 1 from St Pancras to the Channel: Britain's first and probably last high speed line (c)

It was reportedon Wednesday, that ministers are becoming decidedly luke-warm on the idea of a north-south high speed rail line for Britain. This flies in the face of the accepted wisdom that Britain needs 180mph domestic rail services in order to tempt passengers away from domestic flights and their cars. Even the traditionally rail-unfriendly Tories have been making warm noises about a high-speed line (they won’t have seen the potential bill yet), thankfully having weaned themselves off the pie-in-the-sky idea of a maglev network. As an advocate of greater use of Britain’s railways for both passengers and freight, I might be expected to share the enthusiasm for high-speed rail. Until recently, that would have been correct, but I have increasingly become a high-speed sceptic.

I worry increasingly that a lot of the support for a domestic high-speed line is based around an understandable, but flawed, desire to emulate the success of the French TGV network. Yes, the Train a Grand Vitesseis a pleasure to travel on, has slashed journey times and effectively put an end to air travel on some of the routes it serves (e.g. Paris-Marseille and Paris-Strasbourg). But the idea that this is automatically (more…)

August 27, 2008

GLAring omissions

Any visitor to London in the past 8 years couldn’t help noticing the ubiquity of the Mayor of London branding on a wide range of publicity for events, services and campaigns run, supported or funded by the then Mayor. Opinions were divided on this – some felt that the ubiquity of the branding smacked of a very un-British egotism bordering on totalitarianism, others, The Animal included, saw it as an acceptable way of demonstrating the priorities of the city government and how public resources were being allocated.

During the election campaign, Boris Johnson made some comments that suggested he was of the former opinion. Fine – this is hardly an issue anyone is going to mount the barricades for. I assumed we had seen the last of the Mayoral branding outside, perhaps, the Mayor’s website. It has remained there, with inevitably the on replaced with an on.

But the branding hasn’t disappeared – it has just become a bit more (more…)

Left behind in Europe

I have a great interest in European politics. That’s not the same thing as having a great knowledge, mind, because as with most things the interest boils down to a scatter-gun approach to picking up pieces of random trivia. Broadly speaking, I develop a fascination with the politics of wherever I go on holiday, which will extend to attempting to read the papers, working out the mathematics of possible coalitions and deciding what advice I could give from my vast experience of electoral politics in the unlikely event of my being stuck in a railway compartment with the leader of the local socialist party. Thus, a couple of years ago, I could have written a post on the minutiae of contemporary Slovenian politics. Now, I couldn’t tell you who the President is. My current knowledge of European domestic politics is, to all intents and purposes, limited to:

a) an ability to discuss at great and tedious length the quasi-authoritarian nature of the governorship of the Svalbard archipelago; (more…)


Filed under: Conservatives,Health — Political Animal @ 11:07 am
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I thought about a montage of Ken Clarke, Eric Pickles and Anne Widdecombe here, but my nice side prevailed

I thought about a montage of Ken Clarke, Eric Pickles and Anne Widdecombe here, but my nice side prevailed

Maybe its the heady whiff of fast approaching ministerial Jaguar seat leather gone to their heads, but the Tories seem to have decided to spend the summer reminding the serfs just how unpleasant, yet faintly ridiculous, their rhetoric can be.

Cameron started it all off earlier this summer with a catchy ‘no excuses for being poor, no excuses for being fat’ refrain – <cynic> which seemed to be largely timed to minimise the Tory vote in Glasgow East to help the SNP</cynic>. Then the Witney Wonder headed off for Cornwall Georgia Turkey, leaving Andrew Lansley to fill in the detail in a wonderfully titled speech No Excuses, No Nannyingwhich he will deliver to the Reform think tank today. The Animal does feel that at least when medical man Dr Liam Fox held Lansley’s position, he might not have allowed a headline (‘No excuses for being fat’) that flies so clearly in the face of accepted medical opinion to be put out by the central office wonks. (more…)

August 26, 2008

Early Day Motion Watch – Part 1 of a continuing series

Filed under: Early Day Motion Watch,Parliament — Political Animal @ 8:04 pm
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It might seem a bit early in the life of this blog to be getting into the obscurities of the House of Commons, but the Animal has always believed in starting as you mean to go on.

There is something about the Early Day Motion that really fascinated me, ever since…well…ever since I worked for an MP who really (and I mean really) liked signing the things. I think the fascination lies in the combination of the utter pointlessness of the whole enterprise and the fascinating insight they give into the minds of our dearly beloved parliamentarians.

A quick bluffers guide to the Early Day Motion (or EDM henceforth). They have been very acurately described as ‘parliamentary graffiti’ – basically they allow your backbench MP to scrawl Joe Bloggs MP ♥ Post Offices on the toilet wall. Then every other MP (except, by convention, members of the government) gets the chance to add their name, just to prove they love Post Offices as well. And then…well nothing really. These motions are never debated or voted on (although they technically call for a debate at ‘an early day’). They sit, largely unnoticed and unloved on a Parliamentary Database. Very occasionally, on very contentious issues, they serve as a warning sign to the governing party that MPs beyond the awkward squad are concerned about a proposed policy. If enough moderates appear, there may be concessions. This happens perhaps once or twice a year (or with a nervous enough Prime Minister, once or twice a week) – yet over 2000 EDMs are tabled every year. (more…)

Is Environmentalism compatible with representative democracy?

Filed under: Environment,London Politics — Political Animal @ 3:51 pm
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Iceberg in Belsund, Spitsbergen (c) The Political Animal

Iceberg in Belsund, Spitsbergen (c) The Political Animal

If you or I, dear reader, stick with this thing long enough, we’ll both come to realise that when I put a question in the title of a post, it will invariably mean I don’t have an answer. It will also probably mean that I don’t expect anyone else to have an answer either, because if they did, well I’d just Google it, wouldn’t I?

I’ve been thinking quite a lot this summer about how the climate change and broader environmental agendas fit into the British political context. Partially this is due to a trip to the Arctic revealling to me, unsurprisingly, that shrinking glaciers and changing animal behaviour are a very real occurance; partially because of the results of the London elections in May; and in large part because I have a nagging feeling that environmental policy is about to take a back foot in the political sphere.

Perhaps the greatest setback for the cause of environmentalism was when it somehow, in the eyes of the Daily Mail and assorted other organs of the right, became ‘PC’. So-called political correctness is one of the great strawmen of our time: invented, promoted and blown out of all proportion by the losing side of the post-60s culture wars. Sadly, the myth of PC has had some success in building up and sustaining revanchists in the social sphere – to such an extent that it has managed to attach a stigma to the causes of equality and justice. (more…)

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