Thursday, 26 June 2008

By-election news

This is getting silly. There are no fewer than 25 candidates standing against David Davis in his by-election. Of these, the only serious one is the Green Party candidate, and if I were an elector in Haltemprice I should certainly vote for them.

I still think Nick Clegg has made a tactical error in agreeing that no Lib Dem will stand.

Among all the other candidates, a colourful variety of cryptofascists, anoraks and crackpots, we find Ronnie Carroll -- Yes! the Ronnie Carroll, now aged 74 (younger readers may need to be told that he was famous as a popular singer in the 1950s).

He is standing in the "Make Politicians History" interest. Is this not rather depressing? We have apparently reached the point where politicians -- all politicans, apparently, of whatever creed or ideology or standing -- are now to be regarded as evil and to be done away with if at all possible.

According to Wikipedia (admittedly not always a reliable source), Make Politicians History actually exists as a party, and its policy is nothing less than the complete abolition of Parliament, to be replaced by decision-making by referendum.

Well, of course all this may well be meant as a joke, to be taken no more seriously than the Monster Raving Loony Party, but it feeds into the enormous cynicism about the whole political process that is now so widepread, even amongst some supposedly respectable commentators. I'm sure this is mainly fuelled by the tabloid press, which is now in permanent attack mode in this country. I believe it is terribly damaging to democracy as a whole, and that the majority of politicians do not deserve it.

Have people stopped to think what would actually happen if we did not have a parliamentary democracy, and everything was decided by referenda? You have only to look at the Irish vote the other day to see that this is not a sensible way of making decisions, as I wrote in my comment on the Irish result entitled Why referenda are a bad idea.

I was rather pleased with a Labour MP called Chris Bryant the other day on BBC TV's Daily Politics, who took Andrew Neil to task rather sharply for his relentless cynicism about MPs and their expenses. Neil, who privately must know better, was pushing the gutter-press Poujadiste line that they are all just in it for themselves, "snouts in the trough", etc. Everyone who has had even a passing involvement in politics knows that this is not just nonsense but dangerous nonsense: nobody hoping to get rich quick would think of entering politics.

Steve Richards produced a thoughtful piece the other day entitled Don't be fooled – these 'heroic campaigns' only make our democracy even more fragile, pointing out that both the David Davis by-election and the Irish referendum outcome were symptoms of a disaffection with established politics that has been whipped up by irresponsible and/or thoughtless forces with media access. Of Davis, Richards writes:

Cleverly, Mr Davis portrays his move as one that chimes with voters compared with the timid, insular preoccupations of the "Westminster village", always a location viewed with a lazy disdain.

In doing so, he fuels the stupid and dangerous "plague on all their houses" culture. Politics is a tough old business. It is about the resolution of disagreement through debate, manoeuvring, winning votes in parliament, persuading voters and the media to come on board. This may not sound especially romantic, but the alternative to resolution of dispute through politics is the use of force. Politics is better.

I agree with this, and I think the great majority of politicians -- those who are honestly engaged in trying to make the world a better place, according to their lights -- need to be much more aggressive and upfront about the purposes of politics and its importance as the only alternative to tyranny.

Respectable journalists, too, ought to be taking their more reckless colleagues to task. Apart from Steve Richards in the piece mentioned above, most hacks -- with the honourable and long-standing exception of Polly Toynbee, who often rails against the irresponsibility of the Murdoch, Mail and Telegraph presses -- seem inclined to play the game whereby dog is not supposed to eat dog.

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