Tuesday 27th July (part II)

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Paul Waugh, the Deputy Political Editor of the Evening Standard, reports that Andrew Rosindell, the fantastically right-wing Tory MP for fantastically right-wing Romford, is campaigning to repeal the Dangerous Dogs Act, citing his Staffordshire bull terrier Buster as a model of canine rectitude that should not be discriminated against by this breedist legislation.  Frankly, the odds would be better if Buster cited Andrew Rosindell in the case for repeal, though the MP’s campaign is not a new one. Google the subject and you turn up a video from last year’s Crufts where Rosindell waxes eloquent about the kind and loving family pet that is your average Staffy. Much tickling of tummies on display; of the dog that is.

At the time Rosindell was shadow minister for animal welfare, a bizarrely narrow choice since you can see him standing up for bull terriers or Dobermans or maybe even tarantulas, but unlikely to champion the cause of doe-eyed kittens or endangered species of fruit bat.  Needless to say, this particular ministerial gaff was nabbed by a Liberal Democrat when the coalition came along, leaving Mr Rosindell to kick his heels on the foreign affairs committee – or perhaps that should be kicking foreigners – and in charge of the splendid All Party Flags and Heraldry Committee.

Rarely photographed more than ten feet from a Union Jack, Mr Rosindell is passionate about flags – well one flag anyway – but I would love to know who are the other MPs who share this particular fetish.  As to his Committee, it sounds like the body to whom Peter Mandelson might want to apply to design his coat of arms.


Tuesday 27th July

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It is very rewarding listening to politicians inveigh against democracy, as many of them did yesterday when Theresa May announced to the House her proposals to make the police accountable to elected commissioners. This said Caroline Lucas, Parliament’s token Green, could lead to police officers being chosen not for their ability but for their party allegiance. It is true that there are probably not a lot of Green policemen, so Ms Lucas might have a biodegradable axe to grind, but for pity’s sake, we have a House of Commons full of people making laws chosen not for their ability but for their party allegiance. Why should the concept applied to those charged with the lesser task of enforcing those laws be so outrageous?

The answer so far as Alan Johnson is concerned, the Shadow Home Secretary,  is that he never thought of it when in power, or, if he did, was probably too lazy to do anything about it during the three and a half hours or so a day he used to turn up at the Home Office. If you are a democrat there are simply no good arguments against electing police commissioners, or fire chiefs or park keepers or swimming pool attendants for that matter.  Of course this type of reductio ad absurdum immediately exposes the multifarious flaws of democracy, but MPs generally look weird going down this path. My own view – that the way to solve the glaring disymmetry of our bicameral parliamentary system is to have an unelected House of Commons – never found much favour.

It is odd that Johnson should have gone for the elected commissioners idea when there was so much else in Mrs May’s statement to oppose.  For a start, all her language about radical proposals and reconnecting the police with the people is just cover for cuts or, as the Daily Telegraph quaintly puts it this morning, a return to “1950s policing”.  How wonderful, just when ITV has finally got round to axeing Heartbeat,  the coalition wants to bring it back. Last of the Summer Wine is on its way out too, which gives us a clue to IDS’ latest thinking on pension reform.

This then is the bold new policing. Lots of “special constables” riding round on bikes or, if they are lucky, in old Ford Anglias while the public are licensed to go after rabbit poachers with their walking sticks. The Home Secretary’s press release announcing these changes reads like every press release on police reform has read since the time of Sir Robert Peel – bobbies on the beat, an end to form-filling &c &c (“c” in this context, stands for cliche) – and there is even a reference to an exciting new idea called “neigbourhood watch”. (Actually we all know that this is just an old idea, given a lick of paint.  The only difference you will notice is that the window-sticker you are given to display will say “Big Society” and if you catch a burglar Eric Pickles will come round and sit on him.)

Even the cuts look dodgy though. For instance, a whole quango – the Serious Organised Crime Agency – is to bite the dust. And be replaced with something called the National Crime Agency. Tough times in the Home Office: acronyms reduced by a whole 25%. It all seems rather week and woossy to be honest. As if we can no longer afford as a nation to take on the broken society, but we’re going to have a damn good crack at the brokeback society.

There is one innovative idea, however. Not only will there be new police commissioners, but crime commissioners too. In our new participative democracy even the felons get to be elected. Marvellous. Can’t help thinking though that it’s wrong to choose our low life not on their ability but according to party allegiance.

Elsewhere, Jeremy Hunt, who is anxious to win the award as Danny Alexander’s most eager little helper, says that he is going to scrap the National Film Council. This says Mike Lee, a Northern film-maker, is “like abolishing the NHS”. I can’t agree. It will be tricky, however, when the Government does finally get around to scrapping the NHS and we won’t be able to turn round and say “but this is monstrous. It’s like doing away with the National Film Council”.

Saturday 24th July

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David Davis, the grey-haired, tangerine-faced old gentleman who is Her Majesty’s Leader of the Unofficial Opposition, denies calling the Government of David Cameron and Nick Clegg “the Brokeback Coalition”. In making this remark – or perhaps not making it – Davis is at least guilty (or perhaps not guilty) of being unoriginal, for the bon mot is supposed to have originated with Lord Ashcroft, who still hasn’t forgiven Cameron for what he sees as the lousy return for the five million quid he pumped into the Tories’ election campaign.  Lord Ashcroft, so far as I am aware,  does not deny crafting the comment in the first place, though given the noble Lord’s languid record in clearing things up, it may be towards the middle of the decade that we get to the truth of that.

Anyway, the faux outrage over the alleged comment derives from the reference to the film Brokeback Mountain, a charming Hollywood fable of a few years back about a couple of gay cowboys. This therefore raises two possibilities: that Ashcroft/Davis meant to cast aspersions on Cameron/Clegg that they are gay; or that they meant to cast aspersions upon them that they are cowboys.  Most people seem to think that the slur – if slur there was – was about homosexuality, though I thought that these days being gay and in politics was perfectly respectable, if not de rigeur.  It seems more damaging to imply that they are cowboys of the type who arrive, whip up some jerry-built scaffolding around your structural deficit and then disappear from the face of the planet leaving wires hanging from the ceiling and the roof still not fixed.

I don’t suppose that anyone seriously thinks that Cameron and Clegg are secret homosexual lovers in any physical sense and both of them are, after all, married men (though the same became true of the two protagonists in Brokeback Mountain). Yet there is something undeniably gay about their relationship, rather as there was between Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson.  For this they have only themselves to blame ever since they chose to put the coalition on such a romantic footing back in the Downing Street Rose Garden.  Mr Davis may be being wicked drawing attention to this fact, but he is hardly being unfair.  Personally, however, if I were looking to tar somebody with the deviationist brush I’d be inclined not to do it in a pub called the Boot and Flogger.