Since Nixon got hit with the description in 1960 as a man you wouldn’t want to buy a second-hand car from he was tainted, whilst George Bush Senior was seen by Conservative Texans as “the sort of man who steps out of the shower to take a piss”.
How you are perceived matters in politics.
Jim Murphy’s unctuous mewing about fracking and ‘nationalising Scotland’s railways’ with one face whilst attacking ‘populism’ and spewing Blairite orthodoxy with the others might make you squeamish, but it’s less important than the UK operatives. Murphy doesn’t matter. Let’s not focus on him or his personality, it’s a sideshow.
I was reminded of this by Douglas Roberston commenting on the Thatcher Museum piece – that people get confused by personality and miss the politics. He’s right in the sense that a lot of anger was allowed to boil on for decades about ‘that woman’ while people quietly embraced her economics.
In the same way David Cameron and his boiled-ham-face and Ed Miliband and his geeky-dork look are less relevant than the politics they share. It was the same with the arguments from people who said: “I’m not voting for self-government because I don’t like Alex Salmond.” It’s difficult (but essential) to heed Douglas’s warning and avoid character-analysis. Instead let’s look at the bigger picture of shifting sands in UK politics in the run-up to the general election.
One of the problems we have is we’ve stepped from the relative positivity of the independence referendum, shaped by endless possibility and mass-idealism to the closed and cloistered world of Westminster.
We’re entering the countdown to an election to a parliament we’d almost forgotten about. Now, having spent eighteen months imagining a better democracy we’ve got the dreary prospect of focusing on the one we’ve actually got.
If the terms for the indyref were ‘why do we do things like this?’ and ‘who holds power here and why?’ The terms at a UK General Election are ‘which of these hopelessly compromised political tribes do you hate the least’?
The Anglo-British Right is a coalition of billionaires and white van man stitched together by cultural anger. Whilst the rich focus on economic self-interest the rest of us are re-directed inwards to Benefits Street or outwards to Jihad. Like a Brittanic version of Bitter Lake – the right have been cultivating and festering cultural anger – a Tory Wahhabism – for years. Who knows when this harvest will be reaped? There’s more than a little hinting at institutional violence by the shrill voices speaking out after the Ashcroft Polls.
A Bankrupt Politics
Lord Fink’s inadvertent honesty about the fact they’re all on the fiddle is wonderful (‘Lord Fink backs away from Miliband threats: I’ve taken vanilla measures to reduce my liabilities‘), as an example of the sort of ingrained assumed casual fraudulence of the political elite. Ed Miliband’s milksop response is cheered as if he’s some sort of crazed Red Loon for pointing out the obvious immorality of the Tory donor’s actions.
It’s like we’ve entered a completely different sort of politics with a completely different set of standards and aspirations. Because we have. This is a two-horse race and they’re both donkeys.
But the venal unionist politics isn’t just about the Tories.
News yesterday that Sir David Garrard, who was embroiled in the “cash for honours” scandal under the previous government, is preparing to make a big donation to Jim Murphy in coming weeks.
The millionaire said he had not decided upon how much to donate, but said: “We’re talking tens of thousands”. He said he has “great faith” in Mr Murphy, and: “If I can’t help him, who is going to help him? He is very well known to me and I like to think of him as a friend and he needs all the support he can get.”
Is this the sort of doors that open when you have John McTernan on your team? Eight years ago, readers will recall, McTernan was interviewed by the police (‘Blair aide re-interviewed under caution’) as part of the cash for honours ‘crisis’.
Lucy Fisher in The Times reports: “Sir David was nominated for a peerage in 2005, but later asked for his name to be withdrawn from the list after he was engulfed in a “cash for peerages” row. The House of Lords appointments commission barred his ennoblement after it emerged that he was among 12 wealthy businessman who secretly lent Labour the collective sum of £14 million before the 2005 election.”
Whatever the truth of it, in the murky world of Westminster nobody’s an innocent.
So how do SNP and Greens and radicals operate in the underworld?
Second Class Citizens
The botched shambles of Cameron’s post-referendum constitutional settlement, sadly colluded with by both the SNP and the Greens, leaves little option for Scottish MPS. Having already moved the goalposts for naked self-interest dressed-up as ‘sticking up for England’, William Hague has rushed policies through that undermine the role and purpose of having equal MPs.
Having bawled their eyes out about the integrity of the union, they’re now breaking it further apart. It’s this half way house which offers minimal economic powers with a loss of voting rights that will turn the General Election from a farce into a debacle. ‘Here’s Devo Nano but you are now impotent in Westminster’ – it’s hardy an invitation to stay, is it?
More recently Michael Gove’s recent comments seem to be suggesting that any coalition between Labour and the SNP is ‘illegitimate’.
Speaking at the centre-right Policy Exchange thinktank, Gove said: “A Miliband-led administration reliant on the support of minority parties risks creating not a zombie parliament but a Frankenstein administration – a stitched-together creation capable of causing great harm.”
This is very dangerous territory. Who’s to say that the nascent UKIP rage coupled with the ridiculous EVEL posturing couldn’t erupt in an effort to threaten UK ‘democracy’?
Anyone who paid attention to the 70s Wilson Plots might not disregard this as too far-fetched. Scots and Scottish MPs have been put in a very difficult situation.
If polling is in any way reliable we can expect a slew of SNP MPs elected on the back of the wave of anger and energy still rolling out six months after the referendum failure.
These MPs are raring to go, but there’s a strong argument that what they should really do is stay at home, working in their constituencies and contributing to their communities. The tactic, adopted by Sinn Fein for many years, is one worth exploring. What, exactly are they going to achieve propping up a Miliband government or playing games with an already rigged Westminster? What would be the true benefit of propping up a listless Labour government lacking guile, policy or vision?
If we’re not careful we’ll give legitimacy to a Westminster politics that’s steeped in corruption, closed minds and a narrow vindictive economic outlook. The Irish party have long refused to sit in the Commons on the grounds that this would legitimate a constitutional settlement they oppose and require them to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen. It’s something Scottish MPs should strongly consider or we are in danger of giving succour to the unreformable, the cosy consensus between business and politics that runs Westminster.
Let’s not inoculate a system that needs put down.