Politics.co.uk Blog

Friday, 26 November 2010

Who will rid me of these pesky peers?

Here's a guest post by one of our writers, Peter Wozniak, which will be appearing on the site over the weekend. It's a bit of a humdinger...


David Cameron's attempt to drag the Conservative party into the 21st century is far from complete - but without the odd eccentric, politics would be a much duller place.

Let's be honest. David Young and Howard Flight are not government ministers. They are eccentrics whose time in frontline politics has long since passed.

Their comments about the distastefulness of the poor "breeding" and scepticism about the "so-called recession" demonstrate a grotesque and unreconstructed view from the right that is anything but representative of the people now pulling the levers at CCHQ.

Labour synthetically rages about how this demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that the government is out of touch with Joe Bloggs on the street.

It doesn't. It shows that two ageing dinosaurs, each of whom could be plucked fully-formed from the politics of the 1980s, are out of touch.

And yet, I can't quite join in the chorus of rage that seems to want their heads impaled on a pike atop the Tower of London for being so hopelessly mistaken. My heart isn't really in it. This may be rather selfish from a hack's point of view, but without these eccentric nutters to liven up political debate our jobs would be an awful lot less fun.

It is only when politicians are immediately destroyed by public opinion for expressing daft opinions that we need worry. When that happens we end up with a political class so afraid of saying anything of value or interest that we are faced with a series of production line party apparatchiks capable of uttering only the most banal and meaningless platitudes.

For instance, I may (and do) despise the views expressed by Ukip leader Nigel Farage. I may find it depressing and faintly pathetic that if all the sheep in New Zealand were to suddenly die of blight, he would still almost certainly find a way to blame the European Union.

But I would defend to the death his right to spout such stupidity. What we do not want is a political debate paralysed (as I fear is happening) by an atmosphere in which no meaningful discourse can take place for fear of saying something 'out of touch' or untoward.

Argument and controversy ought to be fostered by proper political debate. That is the very purpose for which it exists.

Eccentricity and mistakes enliven politics. It is only polished perfection which is manifestly dull.

Observe 95% of political interviews these days and you'll see what I mean.

The suggestion that the only views allowed to be expressed are those which are 'in touch' raises worrying implications, of which the reaction to the Conservative peers is only a symptom.

What precisely are they supposed to be in touch with? If the answer is 'the public mood' then logically politicians should never do anything unpopular at all. That way lies the madness of basing policy on the focus group and the opinion poll, rather than on ideology.

It enfeebles our politicians to a state so excellently parodied in the film In The Loop, where a Cabinet minister gravely informs his Alistair Campbell-esque tormentor: "I might be forced to the verge of making a stand!"

As our prime minister should well know, appearance means a great deal for the purposes of elections. He still needs to quash the image of a Tory party implacably opposed to masses of the wretched poor.

David Cameron spent five years of clawing the Tories out of an age in the political netherworld.

The prime minister could be forgiven for tearing some hair out and sprouting a few greys at having two political non-entities threatening to scupper the immaculate PR image he has constructed.

It is quite possible to imagine a scene in Downing Street reminiscent of Henry II railing against Thomas Becket: "Who will rid me of these pesky peers?"

But the truth is there are plenty of Conservatives (and more than a few others) who privately agree with the sentiments of the two offending Lords, even if they condemn the language in which they were expressed.

It is a sign of the times that such people are far too concerned about the reaction from our 24-hour news cycle to raise their voices. Kenneth Clarke said last night that in today's media environment, "there are no problems, only crises". He wasn't far off the mark.

Howard Flight and David Young have expressed unpleasant and inaccurate views in foolish political language.

Criticise them by all means. Dismantle their arguments and pillory their antiquated notions.

But as the most radical government of modern times sets to its controversial work, the very last thing we need right now is a bonfire of the opinionated.

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