Along the Yellow Brick Road

Last week, I took a break from writing to recruit some new guest contributors, one of whom is a certain Theo Penn. Here’s his first article – it’s a sanguine perspective on the political equivalent of John Cleese’s parrot. Hopefully it’ll rise like a phoenix from the ashes sooner rather than later! NK 

Since their mauling in May 2015, the Liberal Democrats have gained 20,000 new members, become a trending hashtag on Twitter (#LibDemFightBack), held a remarkably upbeat autumn party conference and successfully elected a bright and shiny new leader, Tim Farron. It would, however, be unwise to conclude the Lib Dems are back in the game, or the “comeback kids of Britain” as Nick Clegg put it. Without tarnishing their reputation any further, they must differentiate themselves from the Tories and Labour as much as possible, but be sure not to go back to becoming a movement of protest.

The General Election of 2015 was a pollster’s worst nightmare. The outcome: a stunning Conservative majority that shocked the Tories as much as the country at large. Perhaps more predictably, the junior partner in the former coalition lost seats – but Friday morning revealed the defeat of 49 MPs, a terrible drubbing which not even the most anti-liberal advocate could have forecast. Their election campaign was categorised by a “stronger economy, fairer society” slogan, trying to achieve, as ever, the ‘umbrella’ party status. But it was always felt they were fighting a losing battle after mistakes during the first few days of their incumbency (dare I say tuition fees?).  After the May 2010 coalition deal was made, it soon became clear that divisions lay within the party ranks.

British politics is, at present, extremely fluid. Jeremy Corbyn’s rapid elevation and the SNP’s domination across the border prove that much. As Britain’s traditional third largest party, the Lib Dems have always tried to hold the liberal centre ground. However, this holy grail upon which elections are supposedly won is constantly on the move, seemingly in the opposite direction to the government. After the Conservatives became the largest party in May 2010, it was felt that David Cameron had inherited the centre ground as the self-professed ‘heir to Blair.’ Nick Clegg spearheaded a right-leaning ‘Orange Book’ faction within his party, but many of his backbenchers would rather have formed an alliance with Labour. Defined centre-left MPs, like the late Charles Kennedy, would even have gone as far as saying that his leader had betrayed the party’s values and supporters by joining a Conservative-led coalition.

Of course, you can’t dwell on the past. The Lib Dems must be unified. And the man they have turned to is Tim Farron. An Anglican father of four and a graduate of Newcastle University, Farron is a politician who occupies the centre-left of politics. He has already held prestigious roles both within the party and Parliament, becoming Lib Dem party President from 2011 to 2015 and a remaining a member of the Education and Skills Select Committee since his election to the Commons in 2005 by his Westmorland and Lonsdale constituents. One would expect Farron to seek policies which will achieve egalitarianism. By August 2015, Farron set out seven top priorities for his tenure:  rural affairs, the EU referendum, mental health, immigration, civil liberties, the green economy and housing.  All are fairly straightforward liberal hopes, designed in part to attract wavering Labour voters and, with some luck, defecting Labour MPs.

Despite these lucid objectives, it’s crucial for the Lib Dems to keep a strong economy high on their agenda. Clearly, the General Election 2015 was fought and won over the issue: voters were swayed by the Conservative’s promise of finishing the job. Crucially, a growing economy provides greater job security for the electorate, and social climbers just fled from Miliband’s weak grasp of basic fundamentals. Although the Tories offered a better economic strategy, at the end of the day, their vote share only bettered Labour’s by 6.5% – but more worryingly, it only bettered UKIP’s by 24.3%. We can conclude that they were saved by the outdated First-Past-the-Post voting system – something the Lib Dems have always campaigned against. It is then obvious that partisan dealignment is happening in the UK. The Lib Dems must ensure that they take full advantage of this and remain Britain’s third largest party outright.

The Lib Dems will also play a key role in lobbying against the government in extremely important debates over the next five years. Most notably, Brexit. If Cameron fails to achieve his EU reforms, many in his cabinet have declared that they will vote in defiance of their leader in the coming EU referendum.  Staying true to the liberal free trade, and free movement of people, the Lib Dems will be at the centre of the fight to keep Britain in the EU. It has been suggested that, to bolster Labour’s opposition, a new Lib-Lab Pact will emerge. From 1976 to 1978, it was agreed that liberal spokespersons had the right to be consulted by ministers on policy issues before legislation was introduced. If a pact were agreed, and if it acted similarly to the original, the Lib Dems would be rebuilding their party while being plunged back into the political frontline. It would be likely that further blocking on Conservative measures such as Tax Credit Cuts would arise (a motion defeated by Labour and Lib Dem peers). Consequently, the Lib Dems would risk abandoning the equidistance needed to revitalise a battered party.  However, it should be noted that a pact remains extremely unlikely: very few MPs would want to be associated with Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Did the 2015 election signal the death of British liberalism? Why do you need a liberal party when a Conservative-led coalition will pass measures such as Gay Marriage? Yet recent terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere, the migrant crisis and the rise of the Front National in France have highlighted the need for a cogent and muscular defence of liberalism more than ever. This includes the defeat of groups which impose hate and suffering through violence, but also helped show the need for compassion and nurturing in communities which need support financially or an acceptance to integrate successfully. Globally, Liberal parties have made gains. Recent elections in Canada saw a triumph for Trudeau; in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi defeated a powerful military dictatorship. So, with some optimism, I look into my crystal ball and see 35 Liberal Democrat MPs in Parliament after the 2030 election. I sincerely hope that the counteroffensive is well and truly underway.

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Dead Party Walking

I never liked BBC Three. It always seemed like the loutish cousin in the extended family of our public service broadcaster. Through this temperamental media conduit, the middle-aged, middle-class, middling executives of middle-England attempted to forge a connection with the “yoof of the day,” the consequences of which were often a mixed bag. For example, the channel’s just finished “getting under the skin of racism” via a few documentaries and an over-obvious pun which it took me rather too long to fathom. Britain First and the KKK glided across bleak screens, whipping boys for the sort of scorn which I’d previously directed towards the neon logo in the top-left of the picture.

But we mustn’t forget that old bastion of such sentiments, alive and kicking in the British Isles whether we like it or not. Hopefully, it will suffer a slow and painful death – almost as agonising as BBC Three’s long march to the scaffold for crimes against good taste in television. I’m invoking the waning spirit of the BNP, a pellucid apparition with which I take issue on two fundamental matters besides those which immediately spring to mind. The first is the frequent misuse of the term ‘far-right.’ The second is the not inconsiderable number of people who take Griffin and his bigoted mates seriously.

From the off, I’ll make my thoughts and feelings unambiguous: the chauvinistic nonsense which the BNP has made it its mission to spout whenever a good opportunity rears its ugly head is absolutely deplorable. But that doesn’t exactly make them ‘far-right.’ Occasional belches of tactless propaganda espousing the joys of a great, omnipotent Britain, a brave new world fuelled through a few wish-list policies such as the renationalisation of the rail network, a position actually supported by sworn enemies in the shape of Labour and the Greens – none of it falls into line with a predominantly economic term which should come to be associated with struggles against excessive taxation and radical minarchism.

Whether these free-market causes are righteous or misguided is a question completely external to the equation. The point is that they’re legitimate positions, often well-reasoned, don’t imply extremism and are a pretty safe distance from the true BNP. So ‘far-right’ isn’t a byword for ‘socially authoritarian,’ and the last remnants of our new favourite joke fit only the latter description in reality. In fact, they’re much more hilarious than the unfairly derided Nick Clegg.

More to the point, ‘far-right’ suggests a sound, coherent ideology. I’m not so certain. To me, it seems more like a few loose strands drawn together in a crude, populist vat; the result is a desperate attempt to forge some kind of electable values which fall flat on their decidedly pallid faces when subjected to any kind of rigour. In go the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, gratuitous campaigns which place British lives on the line. If public opinion hadn’t said so, I’m sure a crusade against those pesky Muslims would have been in order instead.

Rising to the top like a brazil nut in a glass bowl is this weird form of watered-down xenophobia which they’re so keen on. Publically, at least. Privately, I doubt there’s much progress on that particular front. So this melting pot is actually a front for the unaffected racism which still defines the party. And yet such a party is elected on its principles, and those are hardly feasible or lucid on any level. It’s an utter farce.

Why I Admire Starbucks’ Tax Avoidance

Essentially, GCSE Business Studies is a trouble-free guide to advanced commonsense. If you know the difference between interest rates and inflation, you can probably get through the first test with ease and emerge with a pretty good grade at the end. Part of that’s due to the simple fact that inflation isn’t actually mentioned, but the content of that particular paper is probably the predominant factor – it’s bursting with multiple choice questions, and ‘x’ marks the spot.

The second test is a bit more difficult, largely because it requires a certain mastery of the other twenty-five letters in the English alphabet. Indeed, some business decisions may consist of little more than a choice between seemingly lucid options, but the depth and complexities of each require a bit of explanation from time to time. In fact, this year’s Unit Three paper was out to prove it with an especially taxing question on the American high street giant that is Starbucks. Therein we find a carefully placed adjective which might be applied in every sense of the word.

Starbucks seems to have taken something of a battering recently, particularly in the UK. Once, a coffee shop stood proudly on every corner, trumpeting the joys of Tony Blair’s ‘Café Society.’ For a few glorious years, it was a favourite haunt for the ethically-minded hipsters of Jesmond and all the other outposts of decidedly middle-class tyranny. But now, things have changed: each new drive towards a happier, glossier world finds itself at the receiving end of a savage bombardment from the press and social media. Even the lovely Victoria Coren Mitchell took to the BBC and set her sights on Starbucks Coffee. In the middle of a hilarious tirade, she deviated from the matter in hand to make a serious (but spectacularly irrelevant) point. Oddly, it was about tax.

Perhaps it may be useful to quantify this. It all started with a Reuters investigation which unveiled its findings in October 2012. Reportedly, Starbucks paid just £8.6 million in corporation tax in the UK over a fourteen year period. This provides a stark contrast to sales figures, which stood at over £3 billion. It didn’t impress Members of Parliament when the powers that be were put before the Public Accounts Committee. It didn’t impress Britain’s youth democracy circuit – this I discovered as I first became involved when the story broke. It didn’t impress pressure group UK Uncut, who staged huge demonstrations in December to express their vehement disapproval. Most prominently, it didn’t impress the great British public, and a YouGov survey suggested that Starbucks’ brand image had been damaged pretty badly. As a result, the world’s largest coffeehouse company is still picking up the pieces.

But all of those groups, none of them amused, seemed to be forgetting one crucial aspect of the equation: legality. Unlike tax evasion, tax avoidance is very much above board, although it’s not abundantly clear to everyone. Loopholes in the system are difficult to locate and even more difficult to close. Seeking them out is, therefore, a tactical matter, and whether to go ahead with the whole operation is nothing more than a calculated risk. The golden coffers will prosper if it pays off, but the brand might get well and truly roasted if it doesn’t.

In the case of Starbucks, it didn’t go to plan, hence the aforementioned media crusade against the most good-natured of attempts to embrace multiculturalism and spread the Christmas spirit. But that backlash should never have happened, and it certainly doesn’t make any boardroom judgments morally reprehensible. They merely saw an opportunity and grabbed it, which shouldn’t be considered an offence. In other words, Starbucks should never have been laid out on the rack for a crime it didn’t commit. And now, through the wonders of what GCSE English Language would doubtless refer to as a ‘topic loop,’ I’ll get back to the point from which I started.

As that Unit Three paper implied, it’s all a matter of business decisions. Exploiting those loopholes was a business decision. Announcing plans to pay more tax was also a business decision, as the brand needed rescuing and the option was open. That doesn’t make the presence of that option any less of an error on the part of the Government, but making use of the opportunity might be considered resourceful, even admirable. Now some people are tasked with closing the loopholes, others are tasked with finding more, and we can all return to our Caramel Frappuccinos without the fear of getting mobbed by angry protestors. Assuming, that is, they see sense.

Ask Joe Public whether he’d like to utilise a legitimate method of paying less tax, and you can imagine the answer. As my last article on this subject spelled out in no uncertain terms, turkeys don’t vote for an early Christmas. The sitting ducks of multinational chains wouldn’t think twice either.

The Sound & the Fury

In the last fifteen years, the threat of Islamic Terrorism has loomed across the globe, an unstoppable force colliding with an immovable object, an all-encompassing shadow of unadulterated evil. Once again, the West looked on in horror as cataclysmic events unfolded at home and abroad. World leaders sipped figurative glasses of brandy in figuratively darkened rooms, plotting their counter-strike. But as they let slip the dogs of war, the proletariat ranks found a voice, swelled into something truly formidable and crushed any hopes of a patriotic assault on the strongholds of tyranny. Evidently, this was going to be a very different sort of conflict.

From the ashes of the old order, extremist groups on both sides of the frontier rose to a position of newfound prominence. To the chagrin of anyone with an iota of commonsense, the BNP became the foremost standard-bearer for white nationalism in Britain. The ranks began to swell, slowly but surely. Illuminated by faint candlelight in a corner of the aforementioned chamber, Nick Griffin’s expression of consummate superiority left a marked impression on the assembled company, aided in no small part by a certain, familiar adage: “we were right all along!”

Eventually, the prospect of a place on a flagship BBC programme beckoned, and that self-righteous figurehead of intolerance and hatred grasped it with both hands. But he received a taste of his own medicine, and wasn’t very happy when the press came knocking: damning accusations had been directed towards the defenceless leader, forming a tapestry of intense interrogation which spanned an entire hour.

Soon, the BNP crumbled into the depths of political insignificance. Griffin’s now out, expelled in a cloud of ‘financial mismanagement’ for which the modern party has also become famed. Now budgets are measured in the pennies retrieved from the bowels of cut-price sofas. But the acceleration of this tragic fall was just one of the outcomes which emanated from the Question Time controversy. Discussions over the apparent gulf between the competing freedoms of speech and religion also swept British media outlets, exemplified by a backdrop of extremism and hostility. Earlier this year, a deplorable raid on the headquarters of left-wing satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo breathed new life into the debates of 2009, and, once again, the BBC found itself at the very epicentre.

Right-leaning historian David Starkey emerged as an ardent supporter of emancipated expression and defender of the controversial French publication. With clarity and flair, he argued that any lines in the sand “should be drawn as narrowly as possible,” using the example of holocaust denial to justify his view: watertight assertions might sway the ignorant or deluded, but concrete laws will just add fuel to the fire. So perhaps Griffin’s humiliating television appearance as the previous decade drew to a close wasn’t the greatest of noble stampedes after all.

It’s impossible sway the deeply prejudiced panellists or audience members of a Question Time studio within the space of an hour; even if you fling a few irrefutable arguments in their direction and make them look a bit stupid, it’ll all fall on deaf ears in the end. But a few allegations of corruption and fraud will send them scrambling for the lowest bidder.

I’m not suggesting we should have the BNP back on primetime television in the foreseeable future: that’s meant to be a timeslot for the prominent, the influential, the high-flyers. But if the grubby little scoundrels rise to that level again, have them back on, by all means, and don’t even skew the debate against them. No, give them a fighting chance and see them fail on national television.

So let’s steer clear of racism for a change: it’s a charge which won’t get us anywhere. I’d even advise avoiding those golden allegations of corruption and fraud. Instead, let’s do something completely out of the blue and focus on concrete policy instead. Watch them flounder when the Tories take them to task over nationalising the railways, for example.

“You support public ownership? Don’t you realise that would be a massive expenditure for the great British taxpayer, how insignificant the reward would be? Oh, so something more gradual, then. Yes, these are tough times. Line by line? What, like the Labour Party? So you’re crawling into bed with your accursed foe, then, the proponents of mass immigration and the multicultural experiment?”

That’s rather a poor line of reasoning, I know. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure it would do the job. And now that the attack on Charlie Hebdo has happened all over again, now that Paris has become the keystone of terrorism in the Western World, now that a new threat has revealed itself, it’s a strategy more relevant than ever.

First Among Equals

I take up my pen to write these few paragraphs before my previous installment is unleashed upon the famished beavers of the internet. But, with the benefit of careful preparation, I anticipate a pretty large chorus of fury directed against my aimless ramblings. With the UK Youth Parliament’s 2015 Parliamentary sitting coming to a television set near you, it might be worth finding out exactly which motions are set to be proposed. Accordingly, here they are.

Mental Health rose to prominence on the youth politics agenda recently, invigorated by a number of high-profile campaigns and news stories: it appears that this aspect of personal well-being has been downtrodden by the NHS, with adolescents bearing the brunt. To challenge this hidden menace, stereotypes could be confronted through education and services improved with the aid of young people themselves. Despite the sheer scale of the crisis, I fully support the UK Youth Parliament crusade to tackle Mental Health head-on.

The prospect of a Living Wage was a welcome feature of George Osborne’s most recent budget, one which will enable many more hardworking Britons to live comfortably and impose fewer demands on the Welfare State. But this new level of minimum earnings may still be inadequate, and it only applies to those for whom the threshold of adulthood is seven years in the past. So though I might dispute the precise level of this new lowest income for the gainfully employed, and feel that it should not be applicable in all circumstances, I agree that the Living Wage must take effect at an earlier age in the name of fairness and equality.

A Curriculum to Prepare Young People for Life is a cause of which I was a loyal supporter throughout my years in youth politics, and I rally behind that metatextural banner to this day. For too long, schools have peddled the agenda of endless examinations and tedious Citizenship Education without due care and attention for the aptitudes and abilities which truly matter. Finance, politics and employment should feature in a new, comprehensive curriculum of life skills to ensure that young people are sufficiently equipped for the trials and tribulations of modern society. Once again, I hope this issue finds favour in the Commons and forms the backbone of UK Youth Parliament activities in 2016.

Tackling Racism and Religious Discrimination, particularly against people who are Muslim or Jewish, is the somewhat convoluted title of the penultimate motion, and I feel troubled by the apparent focus on two faith groups rather than a broader spotlight under which all may be united. Furthermore, the absence of striking originality in subject matter may render any distinctive campaigning extremely difficult. Therefore, in spite of my support for the cause in general terms, I don’t feel it will translate into a suitably impactful topic for the UK Youth Parliament to cover. The final issue to be discussed is Transport, soon to be the subject of an exciting new movement in Tyne and Wear which I’ll discuss in a later article.

This balanced diet of themes will, most certainly, fuel an exceptionally productive year for my old teammates, and I’m positive they’ll pick the right ideas in the end. Be sure to tune in for a fantastic hour of political discussion!

See the Conquering Hero Comes

While the 55th British Parliament debated motions and challenged Her Majesty’s Government, an extraordinary development occurred: Buckingham MP John Bercow became the darling of up-and-coming political activists across the land. His memorable anecdotes, progressive outlook and willingness to attend each and every UK Youth Parliament sitting endeared a happy few to the House of Commons’ charismatic Speaker. Myths and legends thrived in the great man’s shadow, and many persist to this moment. For instance, it has been claimed he invented the wheel, mapped the Heavens, saved the dodo and single-handedly destroyed the Berlin Wall. Once, he even triumphed in a bare-knuckle match against John Prescott – but that particular assertion is somewhat disputed.

Campus universities and lecture theatres have played host to his orations, a prelude to the yearly UKYP sessions conducted within the hallowed halls of Westminster. But attaining this privilege for elected young people was a difficult battle for our intrepid protagonist, forming the basis of perhaps his best-known yarn. It is a speech loved and cherished among his disciples. It is a speech held in greater esteem than any other he has given. It is a speech which quotes directly from the backlash against equality and righteousness, and one which has sent a chill down the spines of an entire generation of Youth Parliamentarians.

“You mark my words, Mr Speaker: as those teenagers leave the Chamber, you will find chewing gum fixed to the green benches which I love. There will be litter strewn across the floor and the marks of pen knives etched into leather. This House is for the use of Members of Parliament only.”

I can only assume that the remark concerning “litter strewn across the floor” was something of a self-referential point, a final gasp emanating from the iota of wit which remained. Ripostes to this display of unadulterated prejudice have since become a battle cry for the rights of the next generation, rising up to make their voices heard. Indeed, the last few years have seen the UK Youth Parliament go from strength to strength, defying all doubters and retaining its privileges in a ballot earlier this year.

On the rather unfortunate date of Friday the 13th, the day of reckoning will come once again. Following a national consultation which returned nearly a million ballots, droves of young people will descend on the Palace of Westminster and set about the issues of the day, live on BBC Parliament. First, a dialogue on the significance of the Magna Carta, but that’s just the beginning. Five potential campaigns are laid before the House as topics of intense debate and discourse, each proposed and opposed at the Dispatch box before a decision is finally reached. An accomplished display of democracy in action: of the people, by the people, for the people. And Members of Parliament can but look on with envious eyes.

An exception to this rule is the noble ‘Johnny B’ himself, who watches over proceedings with the relentless joviality and good humour of a King at court, calling his merry citizens to the hot seat as they bob up and down for his pleasure like deluded whack-a-moles. It’s an experience I’ll never forget, from a rousing rendition of ‘The Blaydon Races’ at King’s Cross Station to the furious waving of handkerchiefs which marked the conclusion of debating. Once again, I wish my successors the very best of luck – I’m sure it’ll be marvellous.

Why Ask Why?

To wade through discussions concerning the recent crisis on Europe’s borders appears somewhat futile at the moment, as any symposium ends in a quagmire of terminology, cross-questioning and accusations of media bias. A beautiful sense of inevitability pervades each and every debate, from the sublimely eloquent to the ridiculously short-sighted, hence my willingness to clear up any issues of this kind before the next few paragraphs present themselves further down the page. Unfortunately, this simple piece of clarification takes an entire article to justify and explore.

Displaced from their war-torn home and fleeing the land of their Fathers, fatigued Syrians who cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of a new life are, unquestionably, refugees. Their bravery should be commended, their needs met, their treatment free from the shackles of bureaucracy and intolerance. Conversely, when this flock pitches tents at Calais and embarks on nightly raids to thwart our borders and enter Britain illegally, reclassification becomes necessary. Across the English Channel, a tidal wave of migrants pushed security to breaking point by means of criminal damage and a callous disregard for the nation state, threatening the prospect of asylum in the prosperous continent which encompassed it. The determination to travel from developed country to developed country, and the contrast between these environments and those of desolate African cities, fuels this change of language.

However, such assertions must be handled with great care, and there’s another basic question which the media never quite got to the root of: why here? More specifically, why did the prospect of life in France appear so awful that a score of prospective immigrants risked limb and liberty through the Channel Tunnel? Perhaps the British should turn their backs on this curious demonstration of resolve, wave the Union Flag and utter pride in their status as prominent standard-bearers. But exactly why migrants would express such a firm desire to find themselves in one particular first-world democracy rather than the somewhat more geographically convenient options of Continental Europe still isn’t very clear. Blissful ignorance is hardly the way forward.

It would seem there’s a wide range of reasons. The questionable legacy of the Empire and our more recent military actions must feature somewhere among them, a burden that must be shouldered forevermore. It’s also conceivable that Britain’s pitiful intake of asylum-seekers was badly misjudged: five-million human beings need a new place to call home, but the Essential Relationship binding Cameron and Obama appears to have paid attention to only a tiny fraction of these desperate pleas. And while they talk the talk of international cooperation, a widespread, comprehensive strategy seems as distant as ever.

Nevertheless, the two most significant motives which spring to mind ring a little too true of the Daily Mail for comfort: “the evils of excessive benefits and the dangers of health tourism brought on by the NHS,” as that tabloid might well put it. Within these foremost aspects of state Socialism, it may be possible to decipher part of the solution to the elusive conundrum with which politicians and journalists alike have been faced. It’s true that British welfare claimants receive two to three times what their European counterparts would, and that a publically funded healthcare system opens loopholes for shady misuse. But they’re also terrific institutions to be proud of, and certainly don’t provide the whole picture. Nothing does.

The significance of asking “why” must never be underestimated, nor the power of questioning all that we see or hear. It’s also a principle which appears to be lacking in the age of spoon-fed opinion and received wisdom, and one which we must recapitulate to gain a lucid perspective of life, the universe and everything.

I found myself seated in the stalls of the Barbican a few days ago as one Benedict Cumberbatch immersed himself in the trials and tribulations of Hamlet. The emotive brilliance of his portrayal was matched only by an unexpected plea for solidarity and compassion in Europe which closed the matinee: this inspired me to pen the article above. While in London, I was informed that the new transport campaign which was set to feature in last week’s article was facing teething problems, and I’d have to delay publication. That’s why it all went silent for a while, but I don’t intend to make it a habit in any sense of the word! NK

The Rage Against Rumour

In a moment of glorious irony, the Iron Lady once praised a certain William Whitelaw, faithful Deputy and Leader of the House of Lords, with the phrase “Every Prime Minister needs a Willie.” But in recent days and weeks, it seems this gem of Parliamentary wit may have more relevance than ever before. And certainly not in the way Mrs Thatcher would have expected – the British People’s biggest beef with their premier appears to be a small matter of pork.

This unsubstantiated rumour must be music to Bernard Cribbins’ ears, but, in keeping with the honest, sincere style of leadership now infiltrating Westminster, his somewhat discordant Labour Party hasn’t made capital out of it. To do so would dig an even larger hole for himself, and to avoid the jaws of farce is at least slightly commendable. But the media have delighted in tales of Bullington Club antics of late, and it’s coming perilously close to the sort of received wisdom which shrouds Tony Blair’s largely noble premiership and Mother Teresa’s rather suspicious rise to international fame.

It’s all the more sickening when the source of this cheap gossip and cheaper satire is considered. In fact, he’s the exact sort of exorbitant donor despised by Corbynites across the land: one who pours money into the Conservative coffers, sulks for a while about the supposed insignificance of his reward, then publishes an unauthorised biography to claw a bit of cash back from the indiscriminate cesspool outside his realm and embarrass the top of the party he’d given so much to. Apparently, PigGate found its way in as “it would make people smile.” Yes, the great British public who’ll believe anything they’re told are yet again the target of good old-fashioned backstabbing. It’s pathetic.

And yet the sort of people who call for transparency and decency in affairs of state, the new wave of radicals and free-thinkers, the deeply moral individuals who yearn for a political culture in which opponents are treated with honour and respect – it seems that those who would apply such labels to themselves are also the main propagators of profoundly unpleasant fairytales, ones which will leave a generation of schoolchildren unable to look at William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ in quite the same way again. All this with a blissful, self-imposed air of absolute ignorance which dispels any hint alluding to self-centred distortions of the few self-evident particulars.

In truth, this whole business is a fantastically trivial one. However, the wider issue which it illustrates is considerably more substantial: an unprincipled, hypocritical and frankly dangerous form of double-edged criticism pervading British politics like mayonnaise in a shop-bought sandwich. It isn’t even justifiable in the face of perhaps the most nauseating claim Ashcroft’s made in his new pot-boiler, even more disgusting than that which has received the greatest amount of tabloid attention. The prospect of our Prime Minister exposing the homeless to Thatcher’s monetarist crusade head-on is one with truly serious ramifications, but there’s absolutely no reason to believe it’s anything less of a porky-pie than his brief encounter with a pig, no doubt set to a tuneful blast of Rachmaninoff on the gramophone.

Essentially, there’s a decision to be made here. Either ‘Call me Dave’ is innocent of all charges, or the word of a controversial Tory politician is to be taken at face value. The choice is yours.

Nicky for the Nation

This week’s Tory conference put the party squarely in the centre of British politics – exactly where it needs to be. Despite a somewhat bombastic speech from Teresa May, some questionable remarks from ‘Call Me Dave’ and the best efforts of the loony left, it seems the Blues are back in business, perhaps a little sanguine and pretty self-assured. But, as previous articles have no doubt explained, the job description for next decade’s leader is looking rather lengthy.

“Heir to Thatcher and Cameron legacies wanted. Obliged to win election and inspire confidence. Must appeal to left, right and floating voters with a sizable dollop of backbench appeasement. Corbyn-thrasher, absolutely non-negotiable. Charm and appealing personality vital but must remain genuine. Most difficult post in the UK up for grabs. Experience essential. No gaffes please.”

Personally, I’d prefer a socio-economic liberal from the moderate wing of the party, and such an applicant would be much better suited to eat into an inevitably stronger Liberal vote and distribute an effective vaccination to Socialism. Though any future Prime Minister should be judged on their abilities and not their gender, it would also be rather good to have a woman at the head of the operation, giving the centre-right a fine opportunity to play their ‘Iron Lady’ card without acquiescing to some of her more divisive policies. An impossible job? Step forward Loughborough MP Nicky Morgan.

Since entering Parliament in 2005, Nicky has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the Conservative ranks, colleagues noting her competence, skill and determination. Ascending through the Whips’ Office and Treasury, she was finally appointed Education Secretary in 2014, taking over from the controversial Michael Gove with a deliberate air of freshness and light. Following the surprising General Election – in which she stood and fought for her marginal constituency rather than taking the easy road of a safe seat on the other side of the boundary – she’s kept her key brief and impressed with regular appearances on Question Time and her involvement with the Bright Blue think-tank, responsible for many of the best and most optimistic ideas influencing the modern Conservative party. Tuesday’s conference speech was of her usual, high standards.

If you’re thinking she’s too good to be true, I’ve dug up two small blemishes, just to address that concern head-on. The first little error of judgment was implying that STEM subjects which have lucid career paths are superior choices compared to artistic fields which reap the rewards of overemphasis; it’s conceivable that a point may be found there, but I don’t think it was a great choice of words. Secondly, the issue of same-sex marriage manifests itself before the court. Morgan voted against this bill of equal opportunity as “on the day of the vote, I had 285 people who had written asking me to vote against it and just 24 asking me to vote for it; at that point, it was clear to me that people in my constituency wanted me to vote against it.”

She also cited her Anglican faith and a few technicalities in the proposed legislation which led her to oppose the motion, but it’s the inference that letter-writing is the best method of determining public views which really bugs me. At risk of descending into the realm of lazy stereotypes, it seems much more likely that supporters of Equal Marriage will attend Pride Rallies, sign petitions or celebrate equality over social media than pen a letter to their Tory MP. The opposite’s probably true as well. Morgan failed to recognise how the diversity of the electorate is reflected in their methods of expression, which are equally varied and wonderful.

It wasn’t much of a surprise, therefore, that the ‘Women and Equalities’ brief was sliced in two during the last cabinet reshuffle, with Morgan getting a brief which I’d rather see go down the pan and the latter half going to rising star Sajid Javid. However, when the repentant Education Secretary voiced her change of heart, the posts were promptly recombined and she holds all of them today. But let’s face it: I’m nit-picking, really.

In Nicky Morgan, the Tory Party has its best shot at an election-winning figurehead who will see them extend their time in Government to at least fifteen years and oust the noble Mr Corbyn from the Labour frontbench. Under her leadership, I’m sure the Conservatives will go from strength to strength and might well exceed the unbroken streak of power which they enjoyed in the 1980s. I’d even suggest that the British people may have no better future leader in the two main parties of Westminster’s hallowed halls than her. But that probably isn’t a huge compliment with the Commons in its present state. Even so, she certainly has my vote.

Most of my ‘featured images’ are scrounged from a dingy, Public Domain corner of the internet. But this one’s from my own collection. In February, I was honoured to meet the Education Secretary as runner-up for the Lord Glenamara Memorial prize, a fantastic event in University College London which bookended my year as an MYP. NK

The Conservative Catch-22

In the wake of the silence which followed my commentary on the future Tory leadership, I decided I wouldn’t write a sequel to spell out my thoughts that bit more clearly. Here it is.

With the Conservatives reinvigorated by two successive terms in Government, it’s inevitable that some elements of the Parliamentary party will look to leave David Cameron’s mark on the country beyond 2020, much as Thatcherite backbenchers proved to be a persistent challenge for Honest John. But the Iron Lady wasn’t ever seen as replaceable; her fourth son most certainly is. While there wasn’t any clear successor in 1990, there’s definitely a viable contender in the next few years: George Gideon Oliver Osborne, our long-serving Chancellor who’s rapidly becoming the Brown to Cameron’s Blair. Perhaps he always has been.

Unfortunately, rather like the ill-fated heir to New Labour, Osborne lacks his compeer’s relaxed charisma or appeal to floating voters, an issue compounded what many view as decidedly right-wing sympathies. Even though his Dispatch Box performances have seen something of an improvement recently, he may well struggle when confronted with Corbyn’s calm, compassionate style. Most importantly, he’ll have to win an election before thinking about legacies or consolidation. And somehow, I doubt he’s the right man for that particular job.

Similar problems plague the foreseeable candidacies of Gove, May or Javid, who would almost certainly be able to run a whelk stall with perfect organisation and efficiency – but only if the town crier were paid a pretty substantial fee to draw in the punters. Certainly, the perception which asserts the contemporary Tory Party to be led by non-entities and ciphers for each other’s egos would hardly be alleviated by most of the potential leaders who spring to mind, however misguided the foundation.

Boris Johnson provides a welcome exception to this view, but another foul dust of sleaze and distrust floats in his wake. In many respects, he suffers from the opposite problem to that which Osborne is facing: voters might crack a smile when he appears on stage, but some wouldn’t trust him to run the country or thrive on the diplomatic circuit. To put it another way, Westerners will be wondering what their little world has come to when the blonde bombshells of President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson are sat side by side at an international peace summit. Marching into the conference hall to the Peter Gunn Theme, no doubt: the Conservative Chums, the Blue Brothers, Partners in Crime.

There’s just one certainty about the next few years in British politics: they’re uncertain. It’s the only certainty, really. And that, I can tell you, is for certain. But anyway, we live in interesting times, and there are quite a few people who might have a stab at power come 2020. A mirror image of Corbyn’s sudden ascent to prominence, perhaps. I can just imagine the day when Peter Bone is greeted by rapturous cheers at a special Conservative conference, ready to lead his party into the upcoming election and beyond. What a horrible thought…