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The record’s stuck, I’m afraid

Simon Campion-Brown picks up from where he left off

Any worthwhile study of how politics works should be grounded in an exercise in developing an understanding of the absurd and counter-intuitive.

Listening to the radio, reading the newspapers and watching current affairs television programmes over the weekend, one was forcibly reminded of the fact.

Exhibit 1 is this report upon an interview with Tory defector (turned new UKIP Member of Parliament) Douglas Carswell, as reported this morning upon the website of THE INDEPENDENT

Exhibit 2 was the appearance of chairman of outgoing EU Commission José Manuel Barroso on yesterday’s Andrew Marr Show on BBC1.

cameronExhibit 3 was the article written for The Sunday Telegraph by David Cameron, which attempted to summarise the forthcoming 2015 General Election campaign as a straight choice for the UK electorate between himself and Labour’s Ed Miliband as the country’s prime minister from 2015 to 2020 – see here – SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

By its very nature, the art of politics combines two very different – and in some respects incompatible (or is it mutually-exclusive?) – activities, viz. (1) actually having your hands on the levers of power and responsibility, and (2) the essential pre-condition requirement that – in order to get into power – you actually have to win an election first.

Most politicians are better at either one or the other and some of them are potentially hopeless at either or both.

No doubt, down through history, there have been many who would have made – or would make – great ministers of the crown, statesmen and/or political leaders who have been put off from entering politics because of their distaste for political campaigning … and/or their lack of ability at it, or unsuitable looks, manner and public likeability.

Similarly, there must have been – or are – literally thousands of individuals who are naturally excellent political campaigners, e.g. on the stump, in current affairs interviews or even televised debates, but who would be hopeless to the point of catastrophic if they (and their party) ever won an election and gained access to the ‘levers of power’.

I leave my readers to fill in with their own favourite choice(s) of the examples of each of these types.

Assuming, for these purposes, that matters of right and wrong can be reduced to black and white, it has to be the case that not all of the UK politicians and political parties can be right all of the time. Indeed, if any of them are ever right … on anything.

Personally, of course, I tend to the other extreme, i.e. the belief that nothing is ever ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ as such … and so, to some extent, any proposed solution is about as likely to succeed – or indeed fail – as any other. The depressing thing about this view, of course, is that it leads to the suspicion that, in the final analysis, whichever policy or solution is adopted, the ultimate outcome will be roughly similar anyway … and so it doesn’t matter who is in power, or what their policies are.

That’s why, thinking in terms of the medium to long term, whenever my right-wing father begins ranting about Labour’s Ed Miliband and Ed Balls being proven incompetents who by definition shouldn’t be allowed to become MPs, let alone run a government, I counsel him to keep his trap shut.

Firstly, because, if he’s right and there’s any justice in the world [which may be a leap to far to hope for, if as my Dad is, you’re a Tory], having ‘the two Eds’ as their offering to the electorate as an alternative government is akin to the Labour party writing the (second-longest after Michael Foot’s?) electoral suicide note in history.

Secondly, if the worst happens and the electorate, too stupid to notice the obvious, did happen to vote in Labour in 2015, five more years of Labour government (with the younger Miliband at the helm) should finally kill off Labour as an electoral force in the UK for the next thirty years minimum.

Ditto the other way around. In other words, if you’re a Labour party supporter, it’s arguable that the Tories somehow clinging onto power between 2015 and 2020 could be a secret triumph … because, if your analysis and theories are correct, by 2020 they’d have made such a horlicks of the country that they’d be out of office for a decade minimum.

As indicated above, if like me you take an extreme cynical view of British politics and regard the ability of politicians in power to affect anything as only passing and minimal, it doesn’t really matter which party is in power. Well, of course, it matters greatly to those who are involved (i.e. the politicians, activists and policy-wonks), but not to the rest of us.

BarrosoCue José Manuel Barroso, who yesterday again stepped into his familiar role as unhelpful EU loony.

With David Cameron and his advisers in a desperate flap about the potential rise of UKIP (like the proverbial Mallard duck, apparently calm above the surface but pedalling like fury beneath) – making jingoistic noises about sorting out Johnny Foreigner in the EU and dealing with the UK’s immigration problem as a minimum requirement of our impending EU renegotiation, Mr Barroso came out with both barrels firing on the Andrew Marr Show.

Firstly, he stated that any attempt by Mr Cameron and Britain to unpick ‘the free movement of peoples’, one of the key articles of faith and principle for the EU, was not only illegal but doomed to failure.

Secondly, he offered his opinion that, logically, the prospect of Britain leaving the EU was a no-brainer and never going to happen:

“Britain is stronger in the European Union” Mr Barroso asserted – pointing out (in relation to the Ebola crisis) that Britain would not have the same level of influence if it was outside the EU – “… David Cameron wrote to all of us about Ebola… What would be the influence of a prime minister of Britain if it was not part of the European Union? His influence would be zero.”

UKIP’s Mr Farage must have been laughing over his second pint and fag down at the Dog & Duck last night, for Mr Barroso’s intervention could have been scripted by the head of UKIP’s press office (if they have one).

I reckon Mr Barroso not only put at least 500,000 votes on UKIP’s 2015 election total by his 13-minute appearance on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday, he’s pushed David Cameron another two notches closer to humiliation on his attempt to renegotiate Britain’s EU terms and thereby also to having to recommend that the UK leaves the EU when the referendum comes around (if it does).

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About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts