28 July 2010
26 July 2010
"On the day after the 1979 general election, I remember being flabbergasted by a letter to 'The Guardian' that seemed completely out of touch with reality. Signed by Tony Benn and a group of like-minded colleagues, it attributed Labour’s defeat entirely to the fact that it had failed to pursue policies that were left-wing enough. The authors conveniently ignored the fact that the Callaghan government had only managed to stay in power because of a pact with the Liberals. And they were undaunted by the complete lack of evidence of any widespread support for left-wing policies from an electorate that had just voted Margaret Thatcher into office.
"With the price of ignoring the preferences of the electorate as high as eighteen years in opposition, the party ought surely to have learnt its lesson. But calls from Labour malcontents to replace Blair with Brown are beginning to sound like the first drum beats of a renewed retreat from political reality. It’s not just that the anti-Blair agitators have apparently forgotten that bickering and division are a sure-fire recipe for damaging a party’s fortunes. They also seem to be assuming that the electorate would be happier, or at least just as happy, with Brown at the helm as they are with Blair.
"What harks back so resonantly to 1979 is the fact that the change being pressed for by the siren voices within the party once again seem to have more to do with internal party feuds than any rational assessment of Labour’s wider electoral appeal" ... (continued HERE).
1979 Revisited again?
Now that Ed Miliband has won the backing of the big unions, whose support Ed Balls had been hoping for, the question is: can Labour afford to back Ed Miliband on his journey back to 1979 and the wonderful world of old Labour?
And, in case you think I'm being a bit alarmist, try this sample from one of the video clips posted yesterday:
Although I know nothing at all about his mother's values, I do know that his father, the late Ralph Miliband, was a militant Marxist and a highly influential member of a generation of sociological theorists who (in my opinion) contributed towards undermining the credibility of a once respectable discipline and, more indirectly, towards the Labour Party's disastrous lurch to the left in the early 1980s.
I also know that, if I were Labour Party member hoping for better things to come, I wouldn't be putting my money on a leader so willing to associate himself with the Marxist values of his father.
Down with New Labour and down with markets!
The discontinuity candidate?
Too young to remember?
The problem is that Ed Miliband is too young to remember what happened to the Labour Party during the 18 years of decline and recovery between 1979 and 1997. He was only 9 when Margaret Thatcher came to power and 13 when Foot led Labour to the disastrous defeat of 1983.
- In 1980, Labour turned its back on the moderate Denis Healey and elected left-winger Michael Foot as party leader.
- In 1981, left-winger Tony Benn came within 0.8% of ousting Denis Healey as deputy leader.
- In 1981, four senior former Labour cabinet ministers broke away from Labour to form the Social Democratic Party.
- Labour's 1983 election manifesto, described by Gerald Kaufman as 'the longest suicide note in history', included withdrawal from the Common Market and unilateral nuclear disarmament.
- At the 1983 general election, Labour's popular vote was only 2% ahead of the combined vote for the SDP and the Liberal Party.
- Had the SDP not attracted so many 'moderate' Labour voters in 1983 and 1987, subsequent Labour leaders would not have been forced to move their party towards the centre.
- In 1995, Labour removed Clause IV from its party constitution (the commitment to 'the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange') - the official birth of New Labour.
- Blair and Brown worked very hard in opposition to win the confidence of business, the City and middle class voters before Labour's general election victory in 1997.
25 July 2010
23 July 2010
Will former MP's home get your vote?
David Heathcoat-Amory had been the Wells constituency MP from 1983 until this year's General Election.
He was one of the MPs dragged into last year's parliamentary expenses scandal when the Daily Telegraphrevealed the individual receipts and invoices of MPs.
His expenses bills for his Pilton home made it on to the front page – especially the revelation he had charged the taxpayer for 550 sacks of horse manure – part of the £5,877 bill he submitted to parliament for gardening, £3,173 for food and £2,371 for cleaning the Pilton home in the previous year.
The House of Commons expense review, headed by Sir Thomas Legg, ordered Mr Heathcoat-Amory to pay back £29,691.93 of tax-payers' money wrongly given.
Critics claim that it was the publicity over the expenses that cost Mr Heathcoat-Amory his seat earlier this year.
Mr Heathcoat-Amory has decided not to stand again for parliament at Wells and with the loss of his £64,766 parliamentary salary, the Pilton home that was the subject of such controversy is suddenly surplus to requirements.
Mr Heathcoat-Amory, and his family, use their London home as their main residence and he no longer has reason to travel to and stay regularly in mid-Somerset.
So Beales House, Pilton, has gone on the market with Wells estate agents Carter Jonas, with a price tag of £1.5 million.
Mr Heathcoat-Amory said: "Yes, I am selling the house, it has always been my second home."
The particulars for Beales House reveal many of the features for which the upkeep, up until the expenses row, taxpayers had helped to fund: £10,000 was claimed over four years for gardening alone.
Special mention is given by the agents to the "well-established gardens and grounds with an extensive range of plants", a small waterfall and a croquet lawn.
Many of the invoices submitted for tax-payers to pay for over the last four years were for mowing and watering and Mr Heathcoat-Amory once submitted a bill of more than £50 for a spring weed-and-feed treatment, moss killer and herbicide to his lawn.
Similarly the house, according to the agents, has been "carefully maintained and extended by the owners", with the "most recent addition" of a garden room.
Prospective buyers can be reassured that Mr Heathcoat-Amory's expenses claims would appear to back that up: one bill was submitted for £363.43 of damage caused by squirrels to the electrics in his loft, and by mice in the kitchen roof.
The house has three reception rooms and five bedrooms and anyone thinking of purchasing the property will have to consider the cost of heating such a large property: a £986.17 bill for heating oil was submitted to parliament in January 2008. An earlier claim totalled £858.
Much is made of the kitchen, which includes a built-in larder/wine store, which perhaps helped to house much of the £3,173-worth of food purchased by Mr Heathcoat-Amory and charged to tax-payers in one year.
There is also a range of outbuildings, including an artist's studio house in the old groom's quarters.
Asked by a reporter if he had any thoughts on leaving Pilton, Mr Heathcoat-Amory said: "I don't really have any. It is just one of those things."
19 July 2010
3rd tallest: Ed Balls
1st= tallest: David Miliband
1st= tallest: Ed Miliband
16 July 2010
Height (on which see also Presidential Heights)
My past attempts to analyse charisma have concentrated on the speech-making and communication skills of politicians. But there are clearly other more subtle and elusive factors that are more difficult to pin down. This was highlighted by a study of US politicians, from presidents down to the lowest levels of local government, that identified the two most powerful predictors of electoral success in American politics as being the candidate’s height (the taller the better) and record of athletic achievement (the sportier the better).
But there’s some evidence that another, even more trivial, physical attribute has become a key component of charisma since the age of mass television began – namely that successful male politicians need a good head of hair. When radio was still the main form of broadcast media, how much or how little hair you had was not as visible to the public. And, even if you were out and about, it was a time when men routinely wore hats in public, which kept baldness conveniently concealed from any passing press or film cameras.
It was a consultant dermatologist who first got me thinking seriously about baldness. He claimed to have transformed some of his patients’ careers by the simple device of prescribing a wig. Bald men, who had been repeatedly rejected at for jobs as diverse as head chef and leader of an orchestra, enjoyed immediate success as soon as they appeared at an interview with a good head of hair.
Shortly after being told about this, I appeared on a television programme about the problems former Labour leader Neil Kinnock was then having with his public image. I had no qualms about discussing how his theatrical style of oratory tended to come over as too manic when transmitted to the small screens in people’s living rooms. But I also confessed to the producer that there was another possible cause of his difficulties that was far too delicate to mention on air, namely that he was bald.
Bald Tory leaders
Since then, we saw the leadership ambitions of Conservative party leaders William Hague and Ian Duncan Smith come to grief in double quick time. And, even if you never joined in the chorus yourself, it’s a sure fire bet that you heard others making snide remarks about their lack of hair.
In fact, if you want to find the last British prime ministers who were bald, you have to go back more than fifty years to Attlee and Churchill, both of whom were elected to office before the age of mass television. After them, the only ones with even slightly thinning hair were Sir Alec Douglas Home and James Callaghan -- but both of them only became P.M. when their predecessors resigned in mid-term, and both of them went on to lose the first general elections they fought as party leaders.
It’s much the same story on the other side of the Atlantic, where the last really bald president was Eisenhower. After that, the long succession of presidents with plenty of hair was only interrupted by Lyndon Johnston and Gerald Ford. And, like Home and Callaghan, they were far from being completely bald, they too came to power without winning an election for the job and neither of them survived much longer than Home and Callaghan: Johnston declined to run for a second term, and Ford lost to Jimmy Carter.
Two intriguing patterns emerge from this. The first is that, apart from Churchill, Attlee and Eisenhower, the only bald or balding leaders who got to the top in Britain or America since then did so because of the death or resignation of their predecessor, rather than by the popular vote of their parties or the electorate at large. The second is that those who did fight a general election were promptly defeated.
Obama v. McCain
If voters really do prefer candidates with a good head of hair, the main political parties in the UK have made all made safe choices for the next election. But in the USA, the Republicans have arguably taken quite a risk by pitting John McCain’s receding hairline against Barack Obama’s full head of hair. When it comes to sport, there may not be much to chose between them: McCain apparently excelled at wrestling and boxing and Obama still plays basketball. But the other big risk the Republicans have taken is to have selected a candidate who is a good six inches shorter than his rival.
15 July 2010
This is going to make life much easier for those of us who like to be able to post examples illustrating whatever it is we're blogging about.
To celebrate, what better way than to embed the first clip on which I noticed that this is now possible, namely an interview in which Lord Mandelson explains (?) why his loyalty to the Labour Party is unaffected by washing so much dirty linen in public via his memoirs and their current serialisation in The Times:
So it was the cash!
- To put the record straight?
- To assert his own importance in the history of New Labour?
- Or to collect as much cash as possible while the going's good?
13 July 2010
Today's news that Fidel Castro has given his first TV interview since his 'retirement' reminded me that he was one of them.
It also reminded me of a rather obvious point I'd made in a heading above a picture of the young Castro in my book Our Masters' Voices (1984, p. 4):
'Skillful public speaking can be readily recognized even in those whose politics we may disagree with, and whose languages we do not understand.'
What fascinated me then - and still does - is the fact that we don't have to be able to understand Spanish or German to be able to see and hear that speakers like Castro and Hitler were highly effective orators.
In this first clip, we don't actually get to hear anything of what he says, but the ancient newsreel does provide a vivid reminder of the kind of mass rallies the Cuban leader used to address after coming to power - not to mention his PR skills in allowing himself to be filmed playing baseball.
In this next one, we do get to see and hear him in action, this time at the United Nations - where his style of delivery is very different from that exhibited by the Queen last week.
If, like me, you don't understand a word of what he's saying, a useful exercise is to watch, listen and take note of what it is about the way he's speaking that leaves you in no doubt that this is a passionately delivered speech that certainly isn't 'politically neutral':
12 July 2010
P.S. The embedded video from YouTube that was originally posted here suddenly became unavailable. Could it be, I wonder, that FIFA was so embarrassed by Blatter's behavior that they removed it? Luckily, I'd transferred it to a blog-friendly format that means it can still be seen here.
8 July 2010
When I saw his tweet, I shared his frustration about declining standards of English grammar. But I was rather disappointed to see him using this to launch a generalised attack on 'progressive' educationalists on his blog - because I don't think it comes from 'progressiveness' so much as from the way news from the frontiers of different disciplines (e.g., in this case, linguistics), get watered down over a period of time before it reaches the syllabus of 'applied' courses like those provided for trainee teachers.
In a limited way, I know this from my own experience, because I saw some of my own early research into the sociology of suicide being 'watered down' to the point of being included in some of the 'A' level syllabuses - and never quite knew whether to be annoyed by the 'oversimplifications' or pleased to see my work reaching a wider audience.
7 July 2010
I believe I was last here in 1957.
Since then, I have travelled widely and met many leaders, ambassadors and statesmen from around the world. I address you today as Queen of sixteen United Nations Member States and as Head of the Commonwealth of 54 countries.
I have also witnessed great change, much of it for the better, particularly in science and technology, and in social attitudes. Remarkably, many of these sweeping advances have come about not because of governments, committee resolutions, or central directives - although all these have played a part - but instead because millions of people around the world have wanted them.
For the United Nations, these subtle yet significant changes in people's approach to leadership and power might have foreshadowed failure and demise. Instead, the United Nations has grown and prospered by responding and adapting to these shifts.
But also, many important things have not changed. The aims and values which inspired the United Nations Charter endure: to promote international peace, security and justice; to relieve and remove the blight of hunger, poverty and disease; and to protect the rights and liberties of every citizen.
The achievements of the United Nations are remarkable. When I was first here, there were just three United Nations operations overseas. Now over 120,000 men and women are deployed in 26 missions across the world. You have helped to reduce conflict, you have offered humanitarian assistance to millions of people affected by natural disasters and other emergencies, and you have been deeply committed to tackling the effects of poverty in many parts of the world.
But so much remains to be done. Former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold once said that ‘constant attention by a good nurse may be just as important as a major operation by a surgeon’. Good nurses get better with practice; sadly the supply of patients never ceases.
This September, leaders will meet to agree how to achieve the Millennium Development Goals when each nation will have its own distinctive contribution to make. New challenges have also emerged which have tested this organisation as much as its member states. One such is the struggle against terrorism. Another challenge is climate change, where careful account must be taken of the risks facing smaller, more vulnerable nations, many of them from the Commonwealth.
I started by talking about leadership. I have much admiration for those who have the talent to lead, particularly in public service and in diplomatic life - and I congratulate you, your colleagues and your predecessors on your many achievements.
It has perhaps always been the case that the waging of peace is the hardest form of leadership of all. I know of no single formula for success, but over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal, and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration, to work together.
Since I addressed you last, the Commonwealth, too, has grown vigorously to become a group of nations representing nearly two billion people. It gives its whole-hearted support to the significant contributions to the peace and stability of the world made by the United Nations and its Agencies. Last November, when I opened the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago, I told the delegates that the Commonwealth had the opportunity to lead. Today I offer you the same message.
For over six decades the United Nations has helped to shape the international response to global dangers. The challenge now is to continue to show this clear and convening leadership while not losing sight of your ongoing work to secure the security, prosperity and dignity of our fellow human beings.
When people in fifty-three years from now look back on us, they will doubtless view many of our practices as old-fashioned. But it is my hope that, when judged by future generations, our sincerity, our willingness to take a lead, and our determination to do the right thing, will stand the test of time.
In my lifetime, the United Nations has moved from being a high-minded aspiration to being a real force for common good. That of itself has been a signal achievement. But we are not gathered here to reminisce. In tomorrow’s world, we must all work together as hard as ever if we are truly to be United Nations.