Friday, 23 July 2010

Swapped at birth?

Musing on my previous post, I'm struck by the resemblance between two of the recent Westminster intake.

Almost as alike in their tousled and golden-haired celebrity-styled appearances as they are opposed in their behaviour - the one a raffish wag, the other earnest and bookish. One parachuted in to the exclusive millionaires suburb of Richmond-on-Thames, the twin parachuted into the more down-at-heel Stoke Central.

Let me introduce you:

Zac Goldsmith
Tristram Hunt

More satire

More rumblings on expenses

Did I say I got a letter in the Evening Standard under my avatar?

Well it was about the David Laws resignation over his expenses. Here's what was published:
"David Laws' resignation highlights a persisent gap between the aims of government regulation and the regulations as written. What he admitted to was in line with the spirit of the rules, albeit not in complete accordance with the actual rules themselves. Compare this with the dozens of MPs and ministers who escaped censure by arguing they were sticking within the letter of the law, even while flagrantly abusing the generosity of the taxpayer.

The bigger scandal is that the rules don't function as they should. They neither prevent confusion or deter the real criminals, nor do they ensure any trangressions are made good. Catcalls of moral indignation seemingly follow every revelation (petty or otherwise) about our elected representatives or other public figures, yet the true hypocrisy rests unmolested between the system of rules and a public mood which makes few allowances for preconcieved notions of propriety and regularly fails to account for the circumstances of the individuals concerned or the situation society faces.

Now that Laws has paid his price for an attempt at honorable discretion, I hope Cameron and Clegg will see sense and use this episode to move forward with an agreed position for proper reform of the expenses system which makes it about more than a hollow bureaucratic exercise in demonstrating an individual’s commitment to serving the public and actually starts enabling them to do the job they are supposed to do. The result will ironically prove whether the civil service is more interested in serving the public or supporting its own vested interest."

All well and good, but it seems from Channel 4's investigation into the potential abuses of the election expenses system that there are many more questions still to be answered.

And looking at Zac Goldsmith's performance when he was unapologetic in defence of his practice of creative accounting it would seem there is much for the coalition to get to grips with.

As I said elsewhere,
"I feel sorry for poor little Zac, creating such adamant, determined and vociferous enemies so early in his nascent political career is not an indication of a man with upstanding moral or intellectual resolution. Clearly it wasn’t these abilities which enabled him to reach his current position, so he will have to depend on those which did [in order] to stay there – that could turn out to be very expensive!"
Now, parliamentary expenses (the allowances reimbursed for what they do when they get there) are different from electoral expenses (the limit allowed to be spent getting there in the first place), but the excuses given that they are 'within the rules' are the same. It seems not to matter what the spirit of the rules are, just that you are capable of the contortions required to jump through the flaming hoops of compliance.

Frankly, from where I sit, for potential legislators to debase themselves in any manner of ways just to comply with something of popular outcry which their electors hope for them to sort out is a ludicrous reflection of their ability to do what we hope of them - they should not be defending their actions, but articulating how their actions reflect a more proper way of doing business and insodoing prosecute the case for reform.

Zac Goldsmith's indefensible stance in support of abusing the status quo over instituting proper reform undermines his party's mandate for government.


NB. It should be noted the Electoral Commission is investigating.

Michael Crick has a couple of questions to ask.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Mr Cameron goes to Washington

The challenges for an incoming PM are many and various, but one that has become almost a ritual gauntlet to run is the first official visit to see the incumbent US President on his turf.

But as Robin Niblett describes, it isn't just a ceremonial procedure such as the rounds of investitures and bestowances given by a new regime to reward favours rendered by friends who got them there and pay-offs to former combatants who tried to prevent the change-over. No, it is a defining moment which sets the terms and outlines the parameters for our foreign policy.

Ever since the lend-lease agreement was agreed during 1941 to underwrite the winning of the twentieth century's major conflict, British finances have been dependent on the credit-worthiness of the American consumer and the reliability of the dollar as the world's reserve currency. All overseas action by Britain needed to be given the once-over by the cohorts of analysts who populate the US defense establishment.

And so it was on occasions such as the invasion of the Falkland Islands by the Argentine military junta, when Ronald Reagan was convinced to reverse the initial inclination to turn a blind eye, providing logistical support to the British task force and refuse export permits to various arms the Argentines were depending on. The USA was then the decisive actor even while resting out of sight in the wings.

The combined financial muscle of Wall Street and Main Street continues to provide Barack Obama with the greatest platform among world leaders, but since the final repayment on that original Lend-Lease Agreement was completed at the end of 2006 the powers have been in increasing flux as relationships have awaited the coming new order.

Sole ownership of the 'superpower' tag has turned the US (and it's military-industrial complex) into the prime hate figure for terrorists and anti-establishment figures everywhere, while the emergence of the so-called BRIC economies is transforming international relations into a new multi-polar world which should have huge beneficial implications for global security and wealth.

Obama remains the leader of the free world only while he retains the ability to forge an agreed direction - and this requires the acquiesence of his international partners.

So talk about a 'special relationship' tends to be irksome for British and American leaders alike in the way it creates an implied artificial constraint on the freedom of action - and freedom to reach agreement - on both sides of the Atlantic.

Whatever the political relationship of the time (rare is it a leader who can rely on partisan coalignment throughout their term at the top) the shared cultural history does provide shared reference points which breaks ice faster than, well, an unsinkable mega-liner going down with thousands of lives (this struck me as all too easily overlooked when I read how the Japanese footballer and fully paid-up member of the international class Keisuke Honda was described by his Russian coach Leonid Slutsky as having a lot yet to learn: "he didn't even know who the band Queen was!").

So although many argue it is against all our interests for the US-UK axis to be joined at the head or the heart, there is an obvious connection which does ensure we remain bound at the hip and will be the first to stand 'shoulder to shoulder'.

Commentators will contend who needs the other more as global relationships develop and interests proliferate and diverge, but although they are paid to create controversy and sell papers that is so far from beside the point as to be an indictment on their whole industry. The single important fact for Prime Minister and the President to acknowledge is how the eternally shifting sands of international diplomacy changes the emphasis required within each of their mutually interdependent roles so that they can adjust their plays appropriately: our connection is not a commandment set in stone from on high, it is a dynamic testament scrawled in the blood of our casualties.

Tony Blair got into trouble because he was quick to pretend we are a partnership of moral equals, thereby leading to his perception as George W. Bush's 'poodle' when his claims for WMD and market economics were exposed as a fraud. A generation earlier Margaret Thatcher's relationship with Ronald Reagan was famously even more cosy as she propounded the illusory independence of our nuclear deterrence and the all-conquering good of deregulation. Both Thatcher and Blair succumbed to pressure to preach international economies with national defences. This created a natural friction which can be pointed to as the spark that lead to their implosion.

So the mood music surrounding David Cameron's appearance alongside Mr Obama was certainly remarkable. And it was remarkable for two distinct reasons.

The first was that he described the relationship between our two countries as a coalition, with Britain as the junior partner. And the second was how the choreography and familiar affability between the two men at the press conference was almost identical to the striking appearance of the Conservative leader with his LibDem deputy in the Downing Street Rose Garden when their coalition was presented to the assembled media.

Nick Clegg is noticably invisible from the trip to Washington, but the dynamic between Mr Cameron and himself is definitely a point of note whose public success the PM has clearly been studiously revising with a view to recreating a more healthy foreign policy environment.