After 2,500 years, it’s time democracy grew up


May 14, 2010

THE trouble with being a political commentator is that sometimes you invent a clever phrase and cannot bear to let events stop you using it. We’ve all done that.

The national newspaper columnist who wrote that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg wasn’t so much the hand of history as its finger puppet must now herself feel like a nail clipping.

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett, who said on Monday this week that Mr Clegg was “behaving like all the harlots in history”, has also been bitten by his own clever soundbite.

OK, so the coalition government put together over the past few days may not succeed, but I reckon it has a lot more chance than any one of the parties working alone — so long as we give it half a chance.

Between them Tories and Lib Dems garnered 59.1 per cent of the votes in the General Election, which is a lot more of us than the 35 per cent won by the last Labour Government.

When they feed us the bitter medicine we’re likely to need to recover from this financial fever, we’re a little bit more likely to take it without screaming the house down.

I’d much rather have the Cameron/Clegg hand of history tickling the back of my neck than Gordon Brown’s ‘great clunking fist’ in isolation.

Both men will have to work hard to persuade the reactionaries in their own parties, but democratic politics should be about compromise and consensus, and not dishing out orders.

Gary Streeter, the Tory MP for South West Devon, is no curmudgeonly country squire when it comes to electoral reform. He gave the new coalition a warm welcome. “I do approve,” he said. “We have to act in the national interest, and maximum stability is the order of the day.

“You don’t get much more stable than this. It’s a good framework, and it’s great to be part of it.” He added loyally: “A majority Tory Government would have been fine as well, but the people didn’t vote for that.”

The public mood has changed: we are angry at the betrayal of trust by politicians and bankers alike and should not tolerate a paternalistic authority ruling from a sofa in Downing Street. If Cameron and Clegg fail, we fall. We’ll go the way of Greece, but without the backing of the Eurozone countries to pull us out of the quagmire. Like Greece, we’ll almost certainly see violence in the streets.

Politicians left out in the cold, and headline-hunting political columnists, will look for any chink in the armour, but attempts to undermine this coalition unless and before it demonstrates that it isn’t up to the task should be seen for what they are — self-interested sabotage.

IN THE spirit of New Politics, I suggested to my boss a system of coalition management at The Herald. It’s an onerous task, I said, but being the self-sacrificing sort I’m prepared to take on the portfolio for pay rises.

“Hah!” snorted Bill Martin, editor of The Herald. “You’ll be lucky: all pay rises are frozen.”

Come, Bill; surely that’s no way to tackle a financial crisis?

WHEN Cllr Jim Flashman, chairman of Cornwall’s miscellaneous licensing committee, answered my call on his mobile there was the distinctive noise of a cowshed in the background. “This isn’t a convenient time,” he said. “We’re in the middle of milking.”

The national tabloids are milking the latest twist from Cllr Flashman’s committee debating whether to visit Union Street’s strip joints.

The council has been given new powers to reclassify lap-dancing clubs as ‘sex encounter establishments’ and allow communities to oppose them.

The 12 councillors on the licensing committee had decided to visit strip clubs to see what goes on, but after a fuss in the Sunday papers they’re getting cold feet. At a meeting today they’ll be having a rethink.

Either way, they can’t win. A group of councillors in a lap-dancing club is meat and drink for the red-top tabloids: but if they don’t go and then make policy on clubs, they’ll get a pasting for being out of touch.

BARRY FOSTER, a manager at the election count in Plymouth Guildhall, took off the tip of his finger with a pair of secateurs while opening ballot boxes. He went off to hospital, where they applied an unwieldy bandage.

“The show must go on,” Mr Foster said (or words to that effect). He refused orders from council chief executive Barry Keel to go home, and instead returned to his post.

That’s the spirit, Barry, and one in the eye for ridiculous health and safety nonsense.

THE NEXT local election campaign has already started, I see. A piece I wrote this week about the shortcomings of the projects started by Paul Carroll, former boss of the Plymouth City Development Company, have been quickly hijacked by local politicians.

Comments on the piece in The Herald lay the blame squarely at the door of Vivien Pengelly’s Conservatives. They conveniently overlook the fact that the PCDC was dreamed up by a Labour administration, following Labour Government policy, and that the PCDC board has cross-party as well as non-party representation.

I don’t much care who is in power … but I really hate the way politicians brazenly attempt to hoodwink us.

Based on a column in The Herald May 14, 2010

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