Tag Archives: The Guardian

John Harris is right

You probably realise by now that I’m a Guardian reader. And you may have guessed that I like various of their columnists.

On Friday, September 8, one of them, John Harris, wrote a piece that’s almost beyond fault. It echoes some of what I said in my last blog; about we British are no longer willing to do the menial jobs done for us by so-called ‘immigrant labour’. How sad! Yet, how true.

And how prescient of Harris to conclude that, as he put it, “frozen into the brickwork of those newly built houses in Peterborough is a whole host of stuff – hard work, persistence, ambition, stoicism – that has played a huge role in keeping an increasingly fragile country in business”.

Would that anyone in charge today recognises this!

 

 

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Jazzin’ (and votin’) with Ken

Yes, he does wear suede shoes. And yes, he is overweight. And, to judge by the way he shambled onto the stage at London’s King’s Place last night, he’s not so much a big beast of British politics, but a wounded beast showing his age.
Ken Clarke, Britain’s former Secretary of State for Almost Everything, was in conversation with Michael White, the Guardian’s former political editor.
Although, to be more accurate, Michael White tried to have a conversation with Ken Clarke.
As ever, Clarke bulldozed his way through the interview, giving White few chances to intervene or guide the flow of words and ideas. He was like a small rock standing in the way of Clarke’s progress.
A ramble through a life
The evening had begun – prior to the appearance of the man who loves a pint, a cigar and good music – with a half-hour session from a jazz trio.
It moved on from there to a brief excursion through Clarke’s upbringing in Nottinghamshire, to his grammar school education and time at Cambridge (where he studied law) and to his years as an MP, government minister and member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet. “A bloody good government to have been in”, he said.
“People go into politics because they want to change things. That’s what Margaret wanted to do. When she left office, Britain was a different place. Not many Prime Ministers can claim to have done that.”
Few would argue with this view. Only, perhaps, with the manner of achieving the change.
The European question
Clarke is an avowed supporter of the European Union.
“Almost all the progress we have made in the last 40 years has been due to our position in Europe”, he said. “I believe that, if we were to leave the EU, we would be lost and diminished as a nation. No leading politician would bother to call the British Prime Minister for their view.”
He also believes that UKIP’s Nigel Farage has done Europe a great disservice by, as he put it, “conflating the immigration issue with Brussels and European Union reform”.
According to Clarke, anyone who suggests that the Conservative Party is “running scared” of UKIP is playing into Farage’s hands and, effectively, adding to UKIP’s dubious credibility.
“That’s a dangerous game to pay”, he says.
Overcoming voter apathy
As a Europhile, Clarke believes that, in order to overcome voter apathy, someone has to make the case for Europe.
“Instead of all the negativity, particularly from Farage, we need a positive message about Europe. Anyone who’s pro-Europe should be getting people enthused about the benefits of Europe, promoting the message of progress and giving them something to aspire to.”
But unlike me, Clarke doesn’t believe in compulsory voting.
“You’d get all sorts of riff-raff voting. Winos and reprobates. People who wanted to avoid the £25 fine, or whatever it might be. I’m against it, just as I’m against giving prisoners the vote.”
Instead, he firmly believes that politicians should give the voters something robust to vote for, a kind of take it or leave it approach.
In his day, he contends, politicians didn’t pay so much attention to their PR advisers.
“Margaret never read the papers or listened to opinion polls. She had her agenda and she stuck to it. Nowadays, our politicians worry too much about upsetting people and losing their vote. She didn’t care how many people she upset!”
Clarke doesn’t seem to, either.
As he left the stage, the jazz trio were reappearing, ready to serenade the man who who doesn’t care.
Or does he?
Asked if he’d have liked to have been Prime Minister, he almost roared “Yes!”
I don’t think that’s a man who doesn’t care!
I’d like to have jazzed with him.
Heck, I might even have voted for him!

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Brand’s voting values

Russell Brand has never shirked controversy.

Now, having gone head-to-head with Jeremy Paxman on the BBC’s Newsnight show, he’s really put the cat amongst the establishment pigeons.

Interviewed by Paxman, he had the temerity to suggest that “democracy is irrelevant” and to inform him that he never votes. In a follow-up piece in The Guardian, he said: “The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change”.

Lambasting the entire establishment – politicians, bankers, big business, the police and the church – for its disengagement from real life, he believes that all of us can “contribute ideas as to how to change the world”.

As an example, he cites his friend’s teenage son who, in a school essay, said he prefers the idea of spoiling ballot papers rather than not voting, because it shows the politicians that “we do care”, that we think the political system has no meaning or relevance to our everyday lives.

Suzanne Moore, writing again in The Guardian, backs Brand for his approach to what she describes as “a nexus of politicians, media and police” that currently dominates political debate in the UK, and for stimulating that debate.

She also points out that “it took a comic to do this”, going on to say that comedians often function as “our public intellectuals, wise and witty speakers of truth”.

No joke

Brand may be a comedian, but there’s nothing jokey or stupid about his basic stance.

He may very well have called for the impossible: a utopian ideal in which everyone’s voice can be heard.

But his point about the closed society of the establishment is well made.

The question is: How can we encourage ourselves to take more interest in politics; to give ourselves a chance of making the difference Brand endorses?

How can we break down the walls of the establishment citadel so that its occupants can see the world beyond their limited horizons?

Make us vote

One solution would be to make voting compulsory.

But what if we don’t want to vote for any of the parties on offer?

I don’t believe the teenager’s spoiled ballot paper is the answer.

Spoiled ballot papers don’t amount to anything. So far as the establishment is concerned, they’re just rubbish. Not worth the paper they’re printed on and certainly not worth counting.

Which is why, for years now, I’ve held that – not only should voting be compulsory – we should be given a slot on the ballot paper where we can put an X against NO CONFIDENCE.

Faced with a recognisable percentage of the population who have NO CONFIDENCE in any of the political parties or independent candidates, rather than a vague idea of the people’s disaffection based how many spoiled their ballot papers, the establishment would have to pay attention.

If nothing else, they would have a clear idea of how many of us they’ve alienated.

They think they know now, and that we can be disregarded, but the facts would take some refuting.

Anarchy or empowerment

The present system of voluntary voting and spoiled papers leads only to a deluded level of amateur anarchy.

Compulsory voting, and a guaranteed opportunity for expressing a resounding thumbs-down to the whole system, would lead to a greater engagement in politics in general, and – as Brand has suggested – an increased feeling that we could do something that might, just might change the world.

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