Tuesday 23 June 2009

Hello again

Belatedly...a few comments on one of the most active months in UK politics since I last blogged. Holidays and golf are my excuse.

Election results

The results of the European and Local elections can't really give good guidance to a general election, partly because the turnout was so low and partly because there were clear signs of a protest vote. Labour's neglect of its traditional constituency explains the BNP's success in getting two MEPs. Like UKIP for the Tories, their vote was a cry for attention from the disenfranchised. The Tories did well but if the results were applied in a General Election, projections suggest they would only have a majority of 28.

The almost universal acceptance that Cameron will be the next PM does not take account of the enormous swing that the Tories need because of the massive bias in constituency allocations to Labour, with Scotland being the worst example. (Something that must be sorted out after the next election). Two other factors: with the general bias in Scotland, Wales and N Ireland, events in the devolved areas could have an exaggerated impact on the outcome. And if the chips are down, the Lib Dems are more likely to support labour, partly because most of their activists are left leaning and partly because they know the Tories will actually do things to get the economy straight again.

So although a Conservative Government is the most likely outcome of the next election, I wouldn't put much money on it. They aren't helped from not having coherent economic policies at the start of the recession, which gives them a weak base to comment on the economy now. They have a year to become coherent - or to hope Labour continues to implode.

A couple of local comments:

- my friend didn't win his local council seat. But he did hold off the NIMBY party to be second.

- in Northumberland there was a low turnout, but the Tory vote was up and the Lib dem vote down - albeit a little. This increases the chances that Berwick upon Tweed could become Conservative again. Which would be good: we need an MP who can actually do things for the area.

Aftermath of the Moat

So much has been said about MP's expenses. A couple of thoughts from a different angle..

a) second jobs. One of Brown's responses to the scandal was to introduce a new set of rules about second jobs, with the intention of discouraging them. This was partisan - I suppose most Labour MPs couldn't get a second job which is why they disapprove of them. Seriouusly, it is surely better to have some MPs with experience of the real world rather than just being political clones or media tarts. I hope a new administration would actually promote second jobs for MPs.

b) creating an independent parliamentary regulator. The trouble is that an independent regulator means that no-one will be responsible for anything. The culture of "it's within the rules" will be emphasised; the regulator can't be that independent because it will be appointed (even if indirectly) by the Government; its members will likely want future quango roles. This approach is typical of so much delegation of miniterial responsibility to outside agencies. It means the buck is eternally passed.

Much better to have full disclosure of payments and to make MPs responsible and accountable. I repeat my earlier view: a closing Parliament should set the salaries for the next parliament - as the MPs would immediately be facing election. Expenses should be radically simplified to be consistent with normal overnight stays in business. Salaries should be increased, but to compensate there should be fewer MPs. And they should have a normal rather than a supernormal pension scheme to help them understand the real world.

The reshuffle

The weekend speculation over Brown's future clashed with a golf weekend so much of it passed me by; my impression was that however bad the election results Brown would not go voluntarily and the Labour party could not finance an early election and most MPs would not want to lose their seats so it was unlikely he would go. And so it proved, although his eventual reshuffle proved he has little control over his party.

Cameron must be pleased: he needs Brown to stay in office to increase his chances of success. I asked a Labour supporting friend of mine to name one capable thing Brown had done in the last 12 years; I couldn't, and nor could they (well, they said his control, of the economy until the recent crash but early successes were the legacy of Ken Clarke's Chancellorship, and the later apparent success was merely a debt fuelled boom before the inevitable bust).

There's one problem of a weak PM, however: the risk of lots of badly thought through initiatives to make it look as though the Government has ideas and enwed energy. The track record is that most intiatives are announced and then fade away - but there's always a risk some may become policy. Like MPs expenses.

Meanwhile, elsewhwere in the world...

As we contemplate our relatively minor problems there are two major events in the Middle East, in Iran and Pakistan. No-one based here can understand what's really going on. But the outcome will have a major impact on the world's stability and the economy. In Iran, I hope the groundswell of disgust against an obviously faked election result will lead to a loosening of the regime's control and a normalisation of life and realtions with gthe rest of the world. Iran is a country of civilised intelligent people: it should be our friend. Pakistan's army is at last taking action after decades of being in thrall to fundamentalism mainly because of an irrational fear of India. Too little? Too late? Again, who knows, but its a problem the West has helped cause and we must hope Pakistan can resolve.