We seem to be in danger of getting into a rut in which the media’s story at every Conference is “Ming vs the Party”. This really isn’t terribly helpful.
Last week I found myself sitting in a meeting which was discussing the details of a policy proposal which will come to party conference for approval this autumn. Various views on a particular point were expressed, and it was clear that opinion was quite divided.
But as everyone sat around having a very sensible and reasoned discussion about the best course of action, it struck me that whatever was decided, would be seen by the political world as Ming Campbell’s fixed position and a challenge to his party to support it. If someone else in the party were to put down an amendment to whatever position was finally agreed, arguing the other way, this would be seen by the media as “Ming’s leadership on the line” at the hands of conference representatives again, with everything that brings with it in terms of the leader’s authority over his party being questioned, party members determined to stake out their independence from the leader, and probably perceived threats that the party needed to back its leader or else.
In fact of course it would be nothing of the kind. I wasn’t actually even entirely clear which view Ming took on this particular issue - perhaps I wasn’t paying enough attention - but he most certainly wasn’t banging his fist on the table demanding a particular outcome on that issue, but participating in a sensible discussion about it.
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Next year it will be twenty years since Margaret Thatcher made her famous ‘Bruges speech’ . That event definitively marked the shift of first herself and then very soon afterwards the British public, away from being friendly to the European Community - in the wake of the 1975 referendum in which she played a leading part in the yes campaign - to the hostility to anything emerging from Brussels, to which we have become so used ever since.
And the following year it will be twenty years since the Berlin wall came down and the countries of eastern and southern Europe began their slow march towards membership of the EU which finally ended for most of them with accession in 2004 or at the start of this year.
Those two events have been the cornerstones of both the development of the EU, and Britain’s response to it, over those last twenty years.
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Miscellaneous May 25, 2007
I know Freedom of Information is an important and serious topic and all that - but I did enjoy the news that one of the ‘vexatious’ questions that has been asked is “How much does the Foreign Office spend on Ferrero Rocher chocolates”!
So it seems I spoke too soon in hoping that we could discuss issues related to immigration sensibly, without immoderate criticisms being thrown at anyone who raised the issue.
Margaret Hodge wrote in Sunday’s Observer that immigration can lead to tensions in some already deprived communities, and that politicians have a duty to listen to the concerns and fears expressed. “We need to question and debate whether our rules for deciding who can access social housing are fair and promote tolerance rather than inviting division.”, she wrote. “We prioritise the needs of an individual migrant family over the entitlement others feel they have”¦We should look at policies where the legitimate sense of entitlement felt by the indigenous family overrides the legitimate need demonstrated by the new migrants…We should also look at drawing up different rules based on, for instance, length of residence, citizenship or national insurance contributions which carry more weight in a transparent points system used to decide who is entitled to access social housing.” (emphasis added by me)
Well can we get two issues out of the way straightaway?
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Miscellaneous May 23, 2007
I’ve often been challenged about what the actual purpose of Facebook is - for example by Duncan Brack and Jon Worth. Apart from the ability to take up lots of time, I’ve tended to scramble towards an answer something along the lines of it being a good way to keep vaguely in touch with people that you don’t want to speak to every day, and that I guess it could come into its own as a way of linking up with people you used to work with, go to university with, etc.
Well now it’s started - I was contacted a few weeks ago via Facebook by someone who I must have last seen when we were at school together in 1987. And then last week two people I knew at university but hadn’t seen since got in touch, and yesterday someone else I knew at school in the late eighties poked me. I don’t plan on revolutionising my life to incorporate these people into my circle of most intimate friends, but I’m glad to have heard from them.
Of course it does bring one of the perennial Facebook dilemmas closer. If people I used to get on with well ten years ago can track me down, then presumably so can those I didn’t”¦Of course there’s no reason why you have to sign people up as your friend if you don’t want to, but I find how to handle political antagonists a bit of a challenge. I don’t mean people in other parties, plenty of whom are my friends, but I have plenty of political acquaintances who I’d be quite happy to go for a drink with, but don’t particularly wish to share details of my latest status updates with. Social minefield, this social networking business”¦
Miscellaneous May 22, 2007
It’s so unfair. There are some people in politics that I find comfort in not taking seriously - and then John Humphrys goes and gives me some reason to feel sorry for them.
He had Mr Cameron on his programme this morning to tackle him about his announcement about grammar schools (which the Today programme had decided - not necessarily wrongly, I suspect - was intended to be a deliberately-engineered “Clause 4″ moment. However if it is that then I think Cameron has mis-played it: Blair portrayed the change to clause 4 as a battle of principle and never attempted to belittle the depth of belief of those in his party he disagreed with; Cameron has been going round personally attacking his dinosaurs, for example saying this morning that they were “splashing around in the shallow end” of policy by supporting it).
But that wasn’t what annoyed me. Humphrys was on what he no doubt regards as fine form, ranting away, peppering his style of “neutral questioning” with side-digs at Cameron, with no attempt at a question or opportunity for DC to respond, and, of course, interrupting his interviewee constantly.
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However I would normally expect to approve all comments posted, and have not rejected any of the 30 or so posted so far, including some which have directly attacked me or said that I have made unfounded or wrong statements.
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For a long time it was impossible to have a serious conversation about immigration into Britain without being accused of racism. This wasn’t just over-sensitivity by the political correctness police - it was because many attempts to raise the issue did indeed have at least undertones based on race.
But discussion of the impact of immigration by councils who are responsible for working with those who need help when they arrive in this country seems, along with other factors, have to helped to change this - for example in today’s story about the difficulty of counting immigrants.
The Councils concerned have been quite clear that they are not opposed to immigration, and seem to have a genuine sense of the causes of immigration and the benefits it brings. They simply think the processes for counting them and subsequently assisting them, are inadequate.
This is an extremely welcome change - because what sort of immigration we want, and how we manage it, has become an extremely important issue and as a country we need, without racism, to be able to discuss it.
The issue is a real one for local authorities and they are right to raise it. However conceivably it is not a coincidence that the man fronting the current campaign, for example representing it on the Today programme this morning, is Sir Simon Milton, the leader of Westminster Council. Sir Simon is currently campaigning for the leadership of the Conservative group at the Local Government Association (LGA) and therefore to be Chairman of the LGA and I don’t suppose showing that he can front a campaign of this kind will have done his chances any harm…