The irony was that he was never into the European thing at all. Sure, he gave the usual pro-EU lip service when he was in the national parliament, but it just didn’t really float his boat. Then he became a minister, just as his member state took over the presidency. This, he thought to himself, is gong to be an awful drag, chairing meetings, flying off to Brussels at some god awful hour.
But the strangest thing happened. He loved it. One thing that was always said about him, he was a people person, a deal maker. That was how he got ahead in the party at home, but now, out here, it all clicked into place. Haggling with the Austrian fella in the corner, leaning on the Belgian, sympathising with the Greek, doing a favour for the Portuguese guy on his pet thing on the agenda, he was in his element. And what’s more, the other guys and girls liked him too. He cut through the bullshit, got actual decisions made, and got everybody out before midnight most nights. One thing about him: he didn’t have airs or graces, and wasn’t above pointing out “Look lads, if you’re all going to repeat what someone else said will you just say I agree with what she said, so we can fucking move on!”.
When the presidency ended, he was sure. This was what he wanted, to be out here, doing the business. Of course, the money was good too, and with him and the wife having parted ways the parade of stunning parliamentary assistants and stagieres didn’t go unnoticed either. The prime minister owed him a stack of brownie points, mostly for beating the crap out of the PM’s enemies in the parliamentary party, and so, sure enough, he was sent on his way.
It’s a different life: no constituents, actually getting to bed at a reasonable hour, and within a few months he has his parliamentary committee eating out of his hand by treating them as his new constituents, taking them for coffee or something stronger, working out their pet issues, remembering birthdays and kid’s names (that stuns them), doing favours where he can. The grub’s good too, he notices as he needs to treat himself to a new suit (or three, sure, he can afford it) on Avenue Louise. This, he thinks as he lies in bed on Sunday morning with a German MEP and divorcee who looked at bit like Catherine Deneuve, whom he sparred with only a day ago over subsidies to something or another, is the way it should be.
I’ve recently started enjoying the “Bryant and May” series of books by Christopher Fowler, about two octogenarian detectives in the British Home Office’s Peculiar Crimes Unit.
The books involve the two men and their colleagues investigating odd happenings around London, allowing Fowler to weave in many of the often surreal aspects of the city’s history. For example, “Bryant and May off the rails” has them investigating a mystery on the Undergound, and allows for fascinating reveals about the subway system and its history, whereas “The Victoria Vanishes” centres on a mystery involving London pubs.
The books are very character driven, involving not just the two leads but the other oddball and plain worn out members of the PCU and their exasperated boss.
I’ve enjoyed them as audiobooks, where Tim Goodman not only narrates them but effectively performs them. They’re great fun, and well worth a go.
Fair play to Kildare FF Councillor James Lawless putting his position on Local Property Tax on the record. Makes some good points. There’s something bizarre about watching the hard left doing a Newt Gingrich over taxes whilst centrists are asking how public services will actually be paid for. Weren’t the People’s Front of Killiney et al only bitching recently about local services being cut? Yet now they can afford to cut LPT? Don’t get me wrong: I’m a tax cutter by instinct. But I want to see the sums first and I want to see what spending is being cut, not watching the rainy day fund get pissed away. It’s typical of the populists pretending to be lefties: All demanding Keynesian spending in a recession, but unwilling to save money for the long term and the next recession.
Check out James’ points here. By the way: He’s also to be credited for being one of the few FF people who uses the web well to put across his views.
One of the trickier issues to do with the whole Scottish devolution debate is what to do with England. The kneejerk reaction, to create an English Parliament or just let English MPs alone vote on English laws causes problems because of the sheer size of England. An English First Minister would arguably be more important than the UK PM on domestic issues, especially if the scale of devolution Scotland is expecting is extended throughout the UK.
Some suggest England be carved up into “regions” with old titles (Wessex, anyone?), but that in itself has an air of artificiality about it. There are some logical areas with their own recognised regional identity (London, which has a potential First Minister in its mayor) and the south-west, but it could still be tricky.
I can’t help wondering, as an outsider, whether this is a real problem or just a symbolic problem that needs to be dealt with as part of the Scottish thing. So here’s a mad thought: at the general election, let English constituencies vote, alongside their MPs, for a Lord Protector for England. Yeah, it’s a dramatic but historically remembered title (and not my first choice: I’d have gone originally for WitchFinder General!) for a broadly symbolic role. Give the Lord Protector the power to “hold” bills he/she feels to be unfair to England, and to require them to be voted on by English MPs alone. It’ll allow for English voters to see that the special place of England (as the biggest bit that pays for everything else) is recognised, without having to create a duplicate English assembly. In place, the UK government of the day will almost certainly make sure to work with the Office of the Lord Protector on draft legislation beforehand.
And it’ll be a bloody fun election, for the posters alone. Just a (mad) thought.
2024: As Scottish voters go to the polls in Scotland’s third general election since it voted Yes to independence in 2014, many will be pondering how things turned out in the Scottish republic after its first decade as an independent nation.
The fact that it is a republic will certainly have come as a surprise to those who voted Yes in 2014. The passing of Queen Elizabeth II in 2019 gave the SNP the moment to dust off their plan to complete the project, rushing through a bill in Holyrood creating the office of President, to be filled by parliament itself. After much negotiation, a beloved Scottish actor agreed to take the position, although only as a strictly non-party head of state. The headlines were variations of “President Who?”
Criticism of the SNP administration is rampant, although, for certain reasons, not as boisterous as one would expect. The decision of the government to create and generously fund a Scottish Broadcasting Service dedicated to “the promotion of Scottish culture and values” tends to ensure that the government point of view is always put across. That’s not to say that the opposition parties are denied access. They’re not. But casual remarks about them as “the English parties” by the odd presenter is not unusual. The fact that the majority of the board of governors of the SBS have SNP connections isn’t remarked upon too much.
Likewise, the decision of the Minister for the Protection of Scottish Culture and Heritage to generously subsidise private media organisations which promoted the culture also had an effect on how the media covers stories. Indeed, cultural subsidy of Scottish produced media, very much based on the French model, with requirements that a certain percentage of material broadcast be created in Scotland, is the norm, and is much welcomed by the Scottish arts community. The joke is that former “Taggart” cast members are getting very rich on the royalties. Once again, there are murmurings about journalists not being censored or directed as to what to write, but aware of what side their bread is buttered.
Then there is the Scottish Security Agency. Stating that the first priority of a state must be to protect its people, the post-vote government immediately moved to create an internal security agency, staffed initially by former Scottish MI5 and British Army intelligence operatives. The agency was given the mandate to fight crime, espionage and terrorism, but also to prevent threats to Scottish values. It’s this part of its charter which has been most controversial, especially when it emerged that the SSA had been keeping opposition MSPs under surveillance. The Director of the SSA, meeting with a parliamentary committee, caused both outrage and applause when he defended the practice, pointing out that the former unionist parties had actively fought the existence of the country, and so their loyalty to the country must surely be in doubt.
That attitude is more prevalent than many admit. Many former Labour, Lib Dem and Tory politicians in Scotland chose to move to England after the Holyrood Parliament made it illegal for Scottish office holders to hold UK passports. Likewise, only those holding Scottish citizenship alone can now vote in parliamentary elections. Indeed, to qualify for social welfare payments, a Scottish citizen is required to prove that they had voted.
The period between the Yes vote and Scottish entry into the EU and other international organisations allowed the SNP, almost uniquely without international restraint, to shape the state in their own image, pushing through constitutional changes with a slim parliamentary majority. As the president comes to the end of his term, Scots vote knowing that the next president will, under SNP legislation, have the power to assume executive power, an idea the SNP borrowed from the “staunchly democratic” Erdogan administration in Turkey.
Polls show that the outcome is balanced between the SNP on one side, and the Alliance for Change on the other, but questions must surely be asked as to the ability of the SNP to move the state apparatus in its own benefit, especially with the use of oil revenues to subsidise “strategic” industries, again with the proviso that the SNP government have a direct say in the hiring policy of those firms subsidised. In the universities, membership of the SNP is taken as a wise move, career-wise.
Writers note: this is a pisstake, not a prediction!
So, there’s a provocative headline, and deliberately so, but not for the reasons you’d think. There are some on the right who believe that Powell was right about immigration. I, for one, don’t, for the simple reason that immigration has made Britain a richer country. How that increased wealth has been shared out, or perhaps hasn’t, is another issue admittedly, but that’s not why I’m writing about Powell.
There’s an ugly fact about Enoch Powell that people don’t like admitting, and it is that he was genuinely popular at his height in the late 1960 and 1970s. Had he founded his own party, the cruel First Past The Post system would probably have strangled it at birth, but not before making both Labour and Tory leaders sweat. Ordinary people marched and wrote to Powell in their thousands after the “Rivers of Blood” speech. Many were undoubtedly what today we would call racist, but even more importantly, here was a politician whom many people, of many class and many tribal party loyalties, felt spoke for them and their values. Let’s not forget, either, that this was a time when the self-censorship of Political Correctness had not yet taken root, and where, for example, in 1964, a Conservative candidate had been elected in Smethwick on the slogan “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour”.
The reality was that Powell forced the main parties to engage on the immigration issue. Some of that engagement was ugly, but it was never to the degree that he wanted. More importantly, it was enough to destroy the rise of the National Front in the 1970s.
Which brings us to UKIP: is Nigel Farage the Powell of the day? Personally, he isn’t a racist, but then neither was Powell. Is he the candidate of choice of racists? Probably. But that raises another uncomfortable point. What’s healthier? Racists feeling that the democratic system at least recognises them and their opinions, if not actually acting on them? Or driving a very substantial section of the electorate out of the democratic system?
There is a body of opinion in Western society that calls for public debate to only be limited to an acceptable and narrow strip of opinions, normally in the centre and centre-left, with some opinions not just being distasteful but actually banned from public discourse. It’s almost impossible to raise the immigration issue without someone playing the racist card. I’m not convinced that is a healthy way for a democracy to evolve. Indeed, it’s possibly a guaranteed way of reducing the legitimacy of that very system. After all, British elections in the 1960s and 70s, where opinions of the hard right and hard left were far more prevalent, had a considerably higher turnout than they do today.