The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘honesty in politics’

Life Before Politics

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 10, 2010 @ 09:35

OK, this photo has no relevance to the article, but it's still good...

The Stuart MacLennan fiasco has got me worried.

Not about him in particular but about all of us.

Let’s face it, he was axed because the media would never let it go until the pound of flesh was extracted. The opposition parties, sensing endless free-hits, would also keep bashing away. Labour had no choice but to stop the gangrene by amputating the limb.

Amusingly, the other parties then continued to attack. The Tories hilariously quipped, “Why wasn’t he sacked sooner?”. The SNP, naturally, were in deep joy, seeing, as they do, Labour as the big target in this campaign.

So far so predictable.

But there is a big issue behind this. Yes, maybe Mr MacLennan was still posting silly comments to Twitter even recently, but the main source of the controversy was regarding posts made over a year ago.

Is it possible to have a life before politics now?

It seems not. I realise with each passing day that the more I write on here, the less likely it ever is that I will be allowed to enter the political world sh0uld I choose to do so in the future. And that’s because I have a huge and growing paper trail, filled with my honest beliefs, contradictions, mistakes, and general uninformed tedium.

The same is true of most of my generation, and will be true of the next one. We’re almost all on Facebook. Some of us have Twitter. All of us will post something at one point that we shouldn’t do, and could be embarrassed about in the future.

A tiny few will go into politics. And will they be held to ransom by something they may have said many years ago?

In Sarah Palin’s words, “You betcha!”

This is disastrous for political life. It seems now the only way to ensure a smooth passage into the political realm is to make sure you take a monastic vows of silence and abstinence.

The day you enter secondary school.

And don’t bother getting drunk at any point. Or taking any drugs. Hell, don’t bother with partners either. They’ll only end up selling their story to the Daily Mail or the News of the World.

Don’t join any societies. Don’t get involved in the community. In fact, just don’t speak to anyone. They may be laying an elaborate sting to set you up.

In short, just don’t bother living.

We are in grave danger of only allowing those who have lived an extraordinarily sanitised existence into politics. We are in grave danger of being represented by people who know nothing about life because they have never lived a single day of it.

Yes, we need our politicians to be beyond reproach when they’re in power. And they need to be showing some signs of that level of trustworthiness before they get there, but let’s not risk having a political class of grey nobodies with zero charisma and zero character by denying people a private life before politics.

Because if you think the current lot are bad, wait till you see who’s waiting round the corner.

Never mind Tory Boy – say hello to Anodyne Boy.


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Chris Grayling & The Peter Principle

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 5, 2010 @ 09:36

There's only room in the Shadow Cabinet for one bald guy, and that quota was reached with William Hague

The fuss over Chris Grayling’s off message comments regarding homosexuality and the potential refusal of goods/services is rather interesting to me for two reasons reasons: the man himself, and what it says about the party.

The latter point is rather simple. One cannot help but feel that what Mr Grayling said has deep resonance within the heart of the Conservative Party. I’ve no doubt at all that that Tory core vote agrees fundamentally with what he said. In that respect, he is more in tune with the Party than his leadership.

However, this issue was settled back in 2007. I can’t find now whether the Tories made any Parliamentary moves against it, but one assumes by the tone of the coverage over the past few days that they didn’t. I guess it was all part of Cameron’s plan to make themselves look a little less like “the nasty Party”. One of these issues that the leadership sweeps under the rug on pain of death, hoping that once it’s gone away no one will even remember the difficult situation it caused at the time.

It worked, of course. Actions such as that have meant that the Tory brand has been detoxified in the eyes of most floating voters. And since Cameron’s plan has indeed delivered Tory success, and a sure fire victory at the election, the Party have tolerated it.

All parties do such things. They have to to stick together. There’s always give and take. That Cameron managed to make the Tories more socially liberal on an issue like this is to be applauded, but let’s be under no illusion, the Grayling faux pas proves that appearances can be deceptive. Skin deep, indeed.

Meanwhile, Chris Grayling has never struck me as a good example of what the Conservatives should be promoting. His rise to the Shadow Cabinet has been stellar, perhaps advanced by David Davis’ bizarre resignation, but this little incident clearly proves why they might have paused before backing him.

He’s always been known as an “attack dog”. As a back-bencher and shadow junior minister, he was always available for rent-a-quote, and biting quips about the opposition. Perfect to be unleashed from time to time, in controlled doses.

But his appearance, his demeanour, his lack of charisma, and gaffe-prone nature seemed to be overlooked. Someone in High Command obviously thought he was doing well enough to keep promoting him, again and again, until he reached Shadow Home Secretary. You can’t get much higher in opposition. The doses were no longer controlled.

Last night on Sky News it was amusing to hear Shane Greer, of Total Politics magazine, talking in such a negative way about a former star. It’s clear that Grayling had already peaked, even before this incident. A minor ministerial position will be all he’s afforded, and if he makes a hash of it, the door will be shown.

Grayling is yet another example of The Peter Principle in action. Buyer’s remorse has now clearly set in.

Politics is a brutal and cruel business.

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(Belatedly) Asking The Chancellors

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 31, 2010 @ 09:43

Vince got lucky to get the centre podium...

Because I was crazy busy on Monday, I spent Tuesday in catch up mode. One of these things included watching Monday’s excellent “Ask The Chancellors” debate on Channel 4.

I have a lot of time for Channel 4, in spite of their eternal quest for the yoof demographic that, by now, doesn’t give a shit for TV. But I have respect for them because, every now and then, they pull out a show of real quality, like this, even if it was watched by less than 2m people, while EastEnders, on at the same time, got at least 9m…

It was also a crafty piece of television. Channel 4, excluded from the Prime Ministerial Debates, got the second prize. After all, any show with Vince Cable in has to be worth watching. Better still, by getting in first, they have been able to set the bar for what the debates should be like. There’s no doubting that the rules of the Prime Ministerial Debates are going to make them much less engaging than this one.

My verdict on “who won” changed throughout the show. Partisan hacks on spent the entire show bashing whoever they hated the most; at times I wasn’t sure I was watching the same show as them.

But doing my best impression of a dispassionate observer, I thought a case could be made for all three of the participants. Alistair Darling was his usual self: dry, solid, dependable. He also fired a few salvos at George Osborne when he got the chance, which muddied the waters on tax and tax credit policy a little.

George Osborne, meanwhile, had a decent night. I can’t bring myself to say I could ever like him – there is just something about his demeanour that makes him feel untrustworthy – but in spite of that, he seemed on top of his brief, with plenty of good lines of attack to undermine Darling and the Labour government. He doesn’t “look” like a Chancellor, and probably never will, but sounded like he would be confident enough in the job.

Vince Cable was his usual self: affable, relaxed and clearly in command of his portfolio. In terms of apparent engagement with the audience on set, he was by far the most successful. And, as we know, people don’t always vote on policies. His actual performance was sharp, full of witty barbs and very honest, frequently the only one to directly answer the question.

Darling didn’t attack Vince all night. Perhaps he knew there wasn’t much point. Osborne got extra credit for being prepared to take on The Cable, and did his best impression of being ganged-up on, but Vince always had at least a decent response.

It probably isn’t a shock, then, for me to say that I think Vince “won”; I am a Lib Dem after all. But I like to think it doesn’t blind me. I genuinely think Vince just edged the night, but the other two did very well. Especially George Osborne, who withstood and deflected attacks from the Darling-Cable tag team.

In terms of what effect it has on the voters, it was probably minimal. But it was good spectator sport, and for those of us who enjoy politics, a very tantalising appetiser for what’s on the way.

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The Worst Year For Politics Since Last Year

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 31, 2009 @ 10:23

Yes, Really...

It’s funny how, as the years go by, the reputation of politics continues to decline. Year after year of disaster on top of another has that effect, I suppose.

But this year really did take the biscuit. The obvious thing has been the long-running expenses saga, which now threatens to become an annual event unless Parliamentarians really get to grips with the matter.

The problem about it this time is that it wasn’t the huge fiddles – like “flipping” the designation of your primary residence to avoid capital gains tax on taxpayer subsidised houses – that caught the imagination.

Unfortunately, it was the little ones. The hob nobs. The trouser presses. And yes, none other than the famous duck house.

All of this changed the way we view politics and political behaviour. We’re more cynical now than ever of the motives of anyone who wants to engage in the process. In many ways, it wasn’t the greed that did it. It was the fact that many of the headlines could never have been imagined in even the dreams of the most imaginative satirist. Allow me to illustrate.

“Politicians are corrupt, manipulative, lying bastards” – completely unshocking. Film at 11.

“Politicians are such grasping, cheating shits that they claim for poppy wreaths, 88p bath plugs, moats, bell towers, domestic servants, duck houses, packets of biscuits, presents for relatives, and even porn” – SHOCKER!!

You see? It’s the specificity that does it. Those little details are like the tiniest brushstrokes that mean nothing at close view, but there are so many of them, and once you step back you see they spell the words, “YOU’VE BEEN HAD”.

This extremely damaging bandwagon started with the merest snowflake and turned into an avalanche. Drip drip news is always more dangerous than the big exposé with no follow-up.

And the sad part is that this one still has a long way to go. 2009 will remain in the memory for a very long time for how it started the “cleansing” of the system. It will continue to reverberate into 2010 because of the impact of the forthcoming general election, which will provide a chance to the public to sweep this sorry lot under the carpet. Whether it carries on beyond that is down to the politicians themselves, but if it does, expect the negativity to sink to new, unrecoverable lows.

2009 simply has to be the worst year for politics ever. And there have been some bad ones lately.

Personally, I don’t think it can take any more. This has to be the last one. It has to be the absolute bottom of the trend, or we really will be calling on Simon Cowell to save the day.

Fingers crossed for a better 2010.

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Did Darling Deliver?

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 10, 2009 @ 10:05

Poor Darling. What a crap hand he was dealt. Thanks, Gordon.

A few days ago, when talking about the then forthcoming Pre-Budget Report, I confidently predicted

I fully expect Alistair Darling to be fairly specific. After all, it makes no sense to be about to legislate for a halving of the deficit if you have no real plans to save money. If they don’t, it’s tantamout to sticking yet another “Kick Me” post-it note on the back of Gordon Brown’s head.

Well, it seems Mr Darling has done just that. Perhaps he is looking forward to the Labour government going down in flames at the next election, and wants to be the one that finally does for Gordon Brown.

Yesterday’s PBR was an exercise in procrastination. Lots of tinkering at the edges, lots of remarkable statistics – such as Darling only apparently being £3bn wrong on this year’s borrowing figure despite the economy falling 1 percentage point more than he thought it would – but the key issue was avoided.

The country’s current spending window runs to the end of 2010/11. This is most fortunate for the Labour government, as it means the overall spending limits for the next financial year are already known to government departments. As a consequence, it means Alistair Darling can dodge the issue.

Clever. Labour, seeing that the Tories are ascending to government without telling anyone what they actually want to do with it, are wanting a slice of the action.

Rather than being a responsible government, and trying to claim the mantle of honesty and fairness for themselves, they have instead deferred. The hot potato has been thrown up in the air, and it will land in someone’s lap some time after May 2010. I’d be utterly amazed, though somewhat delighted, if the possibility of a March 25 election actually happened, but I don’t think it will.

Too clever by half, in fact. But that’s politicians for you. There have to be cuts. It’s simply not possible to sustain such enormous and continued borrowing without eventually upsetting the markets. If Britain loses its top-tier credit rating, which may happen, the cost of further borrowing will rise even more, making cuts have to go deeper still.

But once again, what are the political alternatives on offer? Can we credibly believe George Osborne, who will not spell out his spending plans, even though we will be getting an emergency budget within weeks of a Cameron victory? He must have some idea where the axe is going to fall.

Does this leave scope for Vince Cable to come up with a gigantic masterplan, outlining in great detail what the country needs to do to relieve this burden? Or will doing so be just too much honesty for the British public to take?

We are in danger of having one great enormous lie as our election campaign. More so than usual! Politicians will be afraid of being too negative, for fear of scaring the country half to death.

We need them to be honest, however, or we’ll never face up to the terrible mess this country is in.

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“Il Cavaliere” Or Why We Shouldn’t Always Trust Democracy

Posted by The Futility Monster on November 23, 2009 @ 09:54

The picture says it all...

Our friends over in Italy have the pleasure/misfortune (delete to taste) of being governed by the formidable Silvio Berlusconi. An ageing lothario, botox-filled, with hair and teeth that can’t possibly be his own any more. Some of us forget that he’s now 73, but still a slip of a lad when compared to the “thrusting” Ming Campbell.

Sorry, Ming. That was unfair. He is, after all, only 68. Anyway…

Berlusconi is now into his third attempt as Prime Minister. The first one was a short-lived disaster. The second one a much longer period of disaster. And the third? Well, that’s also a disaster.

However, I’m biased. Seriously biased. I am, after all, a liberal, yoghurt-knitting leftie. I despise Berlusconi and everything he stands for. The man is seriously corrupt, and has spent all his periods of office attempting to cover his tracks, shield himself from prosecution and, worse, legislating to further his businesses and passing immunity laws to thwart investigations into his activities.

As for his personal life… his taste in women is indeed fine, but to be continuously in the headlines for it must make it rather difficult to concentrate on real matters of state in this modern media age.

But perhaps that doesn’t matter. Berlusconi has never been about anything other than feathering his own nest. The Italian people seem to appreciate that level of honesty in their politicians. They know they’re all crooks, so why not elect someone who is rotten to the core, but at least has fun with it and keeps everyone entertained in the process.

Meanwhile, Berlusconi’s media empire, enhanced by years of legislation in its favour, keeps the populace distracted with an agenda that is almost unceasingly in his favour. And where his media organisations lead, the rest of them follow, even ones that are apparently neutral as they are owned by the state.

Berlusconi’s presence is such that any kind of attack on him now is brushed aside as a mere inconvenience;
the usual suspects “in the establishment” once more trying to get one over an old enemy. He has this marvellous way of diminishing his opponents by accusing them of trying to settle old scores and turning everything personal. It usually works.

The sad part of all this is that there is almost nothing anyone can do. This is democracy. It isn’t easy. It throws up results we don’t like.

The last refuge of the left is usually to say democracy isn’t always right. Even more so now in the modern media age, where celebrity, personality and trivial facts are what’s important to the media. Like it or not, Cameron will win the next British election largely because he is seen as “more in touch” with the British people than Gordon Brown. More likeable. More personable. Less aloof.

And so it worked for Berlusconi.

Democracy is distorted by such manipulation of the agenda. Even more so in the case of Berlusconi because of his media empire.

There is, however, one saving grace.

Maybe the Italians are – finally – starting to see the light.

Let’s hope that democracy gets it right in the end.

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Cable, So Able?

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 28, 2009 @ 19:41

Somehow the glasses make this picture even better...

Somehow the glasses make this picture even better...

What makes being a politico so difficult is how hard it is to be honest with the mass public. A certain sense of this is understandable. Half the time journalists ask questions which are impossible to answer directly, because they’re obviously designed to make a fool of you.

But other times, politicians take this natural wariness (cynicism?) of what journalists are up to and extend it to ridiculous proportions. Gordon Brown is a fine example of this. But I think I’ve done enough of a hatchet job on him lately.

Instead I’m going to turn my attention to a certain Mr Cable. Yes – that prophet of modern politics, the man who correctly predicted the housing bubble, the overleveraging of debt on business, and, in my humble opinion, has consistently made the right call on what the best response should be to the financial crisis that has been with us for almost two years now.

He has become something of a go-to man for the media, whenever they’re in need of a bit of rent-a-quote to stand up a reasoned critique of a government policy, in stark contrast to when George Osborne is wheeled out… with normally something straight from the “How To Win Elections” PR guidebook. In other words – it sounds good, and is specifically targeted at this 800,000 key people who live in the only constituencies that matter (more on that some other time), but I always get the sense there’s something missing.

This morning, Vince Cable was on The Andrew Marr show talking about the thorny issue of public spending: you know, the one that’s been boring us to tears for the past few weeks over 10% this, 10% that.

Us Lib Dems often have a little more freedom to talk about what we want. If the opposition is being unkind that’ll be because they say we’ll never get in power – so it doesn’t matter what we say. Touché. But, at the same time, as we saw over the Gurkhas issue – if enough people are prepared to stand for what is right – the Lib Dems can indeed have influence.

And since we now have the luxury of a figure with the reputation of Vince Cable, we have to spend it wisely. Unfortunately, this will probably mean the electorate is provided with yet another politician who steps back from the brink of telling the truth.

He talked today about cutting ID cards, the NHS IT project, even Trident. All very good. But I think in his heart of hearts he will know that it’s just not enough. Not with the ageing population and the huge and rising costs of not just public sector pensions but the state pension too.

Everyone knows the economy is well and truly buggered if current spending and borrowing continues. A spending slash is required at some point. Maybe not next year – as to do so would significantly undermine the tentative steps towards recovery. But the following year and then for a very long time beyond… we’re going to have to pay off the debt somehow.

But to talk in such stark terms, that health, education, defence, transport… even welfare benefits… are going to have to be pegged back significantly. That’s political suicide.

To sum up: on the one hand, you have a public that complains about their politicians not being able to give them the truth. But, do you think for one second that the public would reward a politician talking as if the world was about to end, and that you really do need to pay more taxes – oh, and by the way, we’ll be cutting your benefits and public spending?

Of course not.

Unfortunately, I don’t think even the Able Mr Cable can square this particular circle.

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