Sunday, 23 May 2010

A Thankless Task for 5 Years?

One of my favourite political stories is that of the new MP in the 1950s who shuffled nervously into the Chamber and, looking across at the Opposition benches, remarked to the great Winston Churchill, "At least you get a good view of the enemy from here." To which Churchill replied, "That, my boy, is the Opposition. The enemy are behind you."

This kind of thought must be going through the minds of David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, John McDonnell, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott right now as they jostle to get their nominations for leadership of the Labour Party. (And there surely can't be any more candidates. They need 33 MPs as backers so mathematically, allowing for a few who will not back anyone at this stage, we must have reached critical mass.)

Leader of the Opposition is a strange job in a way. Everyone knows - as David Cameron once acknowledged in an interview - that it isn't really the job you want. The whole thing is one massive application process for the job of Prime Minister. There have been eight full-time Leaders of the Opposition in the last thirty years - but only two of them (Blair and Cameron) have gone on to the top job.

Sensible people must be hoping for a strong Opposition this time round. The insipid nature of Labour's opposition in the 80s and early 90s, and the limp and ineffectual Tory opposition under William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard, contributed to their adversaries' victory as much as any strengths of the government did. Voters didn't really care much for either of these long-running governments after 8 years or so, but the alternative didn't appeal much either.

Labour Uncut has the lowdown on the latest state of play with nominations.

And this looks like an interesting conference...

Thursday, 13 May 2010

You Can't Always Get What You Want

...all democracies are based on the proposition that power is very dangerous and that it is extremely important not to let any one man or any one small group have too much power for too long a time.

Aldous Huxley, interviewed by Mike Wallace for ABC in 1958.

Here at X Marks The Box we are not politically tribalist, and positively encouraged the "floating voter" to get out there and find someone whose box they could mark last week.

We ascribe to that philosophy, which can annoy many dyed-in-the-wool supporters of one party or another, that a change in government is good for democracy, regardless of your personal opinion of the result. We'd have said the same in 1997.

There's been a lot of tin-tack-spitting and raging over the installation of the Liberal Conservative coalition (much of which presents itself as disapproval of the process of coalition but which may, in fact, just be sour grapes that the Lib Dems went the "wrong" way).

But a first-past-the-post democratic system such as we have - for now - means that a lot of people don't get what they want. That, unfortunately, is life.

Those of us who were children during the 1970s first became aware of governments being in power in a sort of perpetual pendulum move - John O'Farrell describes this vividly in his excellent book Things Can Only Get Better. It was Conservative (Heath), and then Labour (Wilson), and then Conservative again (Thatcher). And then the Conservatives went and upset the apple-cart by winning again. And again. And, er, again... And then Labour did the same thing, winning three times over.

One has sometimes had the impression, over these unusually extended periods of record-length government by one party or the other in the last 31 years, that there's nothing some hardcore party activists would like better than the opposing party/parties simply to implode, or just vanish like the morning dew. All sides need to realise that this simply isn't going to happen any time soon.

And surely a period in opposition does every party good from time to time? The Labour Party could emerge renewed and invigorated under one Miliband brother or the other, and sweep to victory in 2015 with a radical agenda for reform. Who knows?

We'll be keeping an eye on things here.

A link to the Huxley ABC interview is here if anyone is interested.

And we encourage everyone to read the (in places surprising) Coalition Agreement, the full text of which the BBC have put up on their website here. It helps, after all, when being vocally For and Against things, to know exactly what one is For and what one is Against.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Dave Agrees With Nick

So, what a pickle, eh?

The first hung parliament since 1974, and we're still no closer tonight to knowing who the Government will be. Or are we?

Anyone interested in knowing how things panned out from hour to hour last time - complete with hilarious detail of Jeremy Thorpe tramping across farm-fields and the sitcom-like escapades of the Carringtons - should go and take a look at the formerly secret memo here which sets it all out in detail. Thanks to the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, it's now all public. And if you want a useful summary of everything that happened back then, you'll find it here.

As for today - many people are getting very hot under the collar about the current piece of Realpolitik in which the Lib Dems find themselves engaged. What, exactly, should they do instead? Refuse to talk to anyone? How grown-up would that be? Is it the principle of 'consorting' that the objectors don't like, or the fact that their own party isn't being represented?...

Like it or not, a Conservative minority government is not being offered at the moment. The current position is that, as the sitting PM, Gordon Brown has every constitutional right to sit tight unless and until the other parties show that they could produce a stable Government.

At least, I believe he does. Where is that British Constitution exactly?...

Thursday, 6 May 2010

FAQ for voters

Some questions I've been asked by first-time voters.

Can I vote at any Polling Station?
No. You have to vote at the one you are "called to", i.e. the one on your card.

I've moved since getting my polling card. Where do I go?
Still go to the Polling Station on your card. You don't have to tell them you have moved but you will only be registered to vote at that Polling Station.

Do I have to take my polling card in?
No. Just give your name and address to the person on the desk.

Can I take my children into the Polling Station with me?
Yes. They may not see or write the cross (or other mark) on your paper though.

Do the ballot slips have just the candidates' names on, just the parties, or both?
They have both.

What do I do if I've forgotten to post my postal vote?
You can take it down to the Polling Station. It will still count.

I've heard there are people in party rosettes outside the Polling Stations asking for names and addresses. What's the deal with that?
They are "tellers" - activists for the various parties who are keeping track of who has voted. This is perfectly legitimate but you don't have to give them your name and address if you don't want to. The only people who need to know it are the staff on the desk inside the Polling Station itself.

What time do the Polling Stations shut?
10 o'clock pm.

Can I vote late?

Friday, 30 April 2010

A Quick Round-Up

Would you like to let the Guardian website know how much (or little) political activity there has been in your neighbourhood? Well, then you can do so here.

UK Polling Report has an excellent FAQ about polls - or rather a TFAQ, as it is the questions which are asked all-too-frequently. Go here for a run-down on why people get the wrong end of the stick about polls.

Latest voting intentions in the Guardian poll of polls.

The Indie's Deborah Ross goes out on the stump with the BNP. With hilarious consequences.

The BBC reminds us what life was like under the last hung parliament. It's 1974 and they're having hoops.

And finally, in another echo of elections past, The Daily Politics interviews the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Did I Say That Out Loud?

It’s not surprising that the advice given to today’s politicians is to err on the side of caution, treat every microphone as if it’s a live one, and always remember – someone, somewhere is watching and listening. Gordon Brown's little indiscretion with a radio mike today wasn't the first such incident, and it won't be the last.

How about a quick look at some other occasions when our politicians revealed maybe a little too many of their human foibles?...


John Redwood was a pretty unpopular Welsh Secretary, and he is increasingly irritated these days to see the clip replayed of the time in 1993 when he very obviously didn’t know the words to the Welsh national anthem. Like someone in church suddenly confronted with one of those ‘modern hymns’ with the awkward tunes, John bobbed his head from side to side and mouthed something which he hoped resembled the noises which were coming from the people around him. Sadly for him, the cameras’ close-up revealed it all.

Bombing Russia

Ronald Reagan – the man who said with a straight face that there could be a ‘limited nuclear war in Europe’. He believed literally in the Biblical prophecy of Armageddon and cheerfully asserted, during his 1984 re-election campaign, that our generation could be the one to see it. Not surprising that lots of us just wanted to hide under our duvets with a can of spam and listen to Frankie Goes To Hollywood. But his best-known gaffe is perhaps the one which sealed many people’s opinion of him for all time as a dangerous warmonger. On a radio soundcheck in 1984, Reagan declared, ‘My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.’ So that’s what you get, people said, for putting an actor in the White House. We can laugh now, but at the time we thought this was as bad, as frightening, as stupid and as cringeworthy as an American president could possibly get. Which just goes to prove Karl Marx’s aphorism that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce...

George and the ‘asshole’

While seeking election in 2000, cutting-edge world intellectual and campaigner for peace George W. Bush caught sight of a New York Times reporter he didn’t especially like in the crowd. Dubya muttered to running-mate Dick Cheney that the reporter, Adam Clymer, was a ‘major-league asshole’, to which Cheney responded, ‘Yeah, big-time’. All caught on camera and microphone.

Life’s a beach

Labour Leader Neil Kinnock started his reign with a little walk on Brighton beach for the media with wife Glenys in 1983. All well and good, until he tripped and fell at the water’s edge, getting a good soaking and giving TV folks a classic piece of footage to replay at each subsequent Kinnock ‘stumble’. However, it doesn’t end there. Twenty-four years after his tumble in front of the cameras, the now Lord Kinnock took a wander down to Brighton beach again. This time, he received a four-letter barracking from the pensioners described later as ‘semi-clad’ who were protesting there about the government’s ineptitude over pension schemes. Gritting his teeth afterwards, Lord Kinnock asserted that the protestors were ‘very decent people’ and had been ‘dreadfully let down by the system.’

Master of the entente cordiale

In 2005, before Jamie Oliver had started to pull apart school dinners, another critic of the British menu came bounding on to the scene – France’s President Chirac, who remarked in what he thought was a private chat with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that, ‘The only thing that [the British] have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow disease… You cannot trust people who have such bad cuisine.’ This was said while waiting for the decision on which city would host the 2012 Olympics, so maybe Jacques went for some fish and chips afterwards to cheer up. Or some vintage wine, made with sour grapes.

Don’t cross the Mersey

The ever-diplomatic Boris Johnson, the man who now runs London, wrote an infamous Spectator article in which he accused the city of Liverpool of ‘wallowing in its victim status.’ He should have known that hell hath no fury like a Scouser scorned, and within the week his leader Michael Howard had packed the wild-haired Shadow Culture Secretary on the train up North – off to the land of Brookside, the Albert Dock and the Cavern Club to apologise in person. Radio stations, TV studios, local papers – all were collared for Boris’s penance as he tried to pour oil on a troubled Mersey. It seemed to do little good. ‘I think coming here makes things worse. It's not the right response at all,’ said Mike Storey, leader of the city council.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the House of Commons

There's a brief lull in the campaign. Labour are gearing up to try and win more votes by... making Gordon Brown more visible. (Strokes chin.) We don't want to point out the flaw in that plan, but... Nick Clegg is having a day off to spend with his family, who unfortunately ended up stranded in Spain. Serves them right for taking a holiday outside term-time. And David Cameron is saying something about unelected PMs having to hold elections within 6 months, no doubt with the odd Blair-esque "y'know" and with his sleeves rolled up.

So, it seems an opportune moment to allow ourselves to round up a little satire.

First, remember Gordon saving the world?

Then we have a bit of fun at the expense (no pun intended) of Mr Clegg.

After that, David Cameron goes all Jarvis Cocker for three minutes.

And let's not forget the Greens trying to be taken seriously.

We are nothing if not even-handed here at X Marks The Box.

(We realise we haven't linked to any UKIP satire, but there is nothing we could find which is funnier than their own manifesto.)