Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Was it really an 'own goal' for 10 Downing Street to invite people to petition it on subjects of interest to them, and then find more than a million people saying that they opposed road pricing? It was information worth knowing. Politicians should not be frightened to look at new ways of getting people to participate in democracy. One reason that fewer people vote now is that voting has become, compared with other forms of choice, so 'clunking'. A single decision on who should be your MP for four or five years does not feel very empowering.

The Our Say campaign, headed by Saira Khan, advocates a system by which the signatures of two and a half per cent of the national voting population -- or the equivalent within a local jurisdiction -- could trigger a referendum on their chosen subject. And a pamphlet called Supply Side Politics from the Centre for Policy Studies by Matt Qvortrup (who sounds like the first line of the keyboard but makes more sense) illustrates how well comparable schemes work in Switzerland, 24 of the American states and various other countries. As Europe takes power away from Westminster and focus-group politics narrows differences between the main parties, voters need better means of being heard.

Efforts to damage David Cameron over his 15-year-old experiment with cannabis do not seem to be working. But opponents believe that the class aspect of the story could discredit him: the weed may not matter, but the pictures of jeunesse dorée and Bullingdon coats do. So let me add my smoking tale of decadent privilege to the pile. Italics mark each class-sensitive word at first mention. A few years ago, we were staying at a castle in Ireland owned by a lord for a shooting party. David and Samantha Cameron were present. Because the castle is historic, it has state-of-the-art smoke detectors.

Driven by his love of food to take over from the staff, Cameron cooked breakfast, and burnt the toast. The fire alarms went off and the local fire-brigade swept up, knocking down the security barrier on the drive in their haste. I possess incriminating photographs of Dave standing outside the great hall with half a dozen firemen, our excited children, and an embarrassed expression. Later we went for a walk on the estate. Although it was November, Cameron was prepared to do penance: he stripped to his boxer shorts and plunged into the burn. As with most stories about Cameron, this one is slightly annoying for his critics, because it illustrates the genial toughness which enables him to come out on top.

Despite more than a quarter of a century of moving in Conservative circles, I have never been to the party's Winter Ball, an omission of which I feel quite proud. Now I never shall, because last year it became the Black and White Ball, and moved from hearing aids and dinner jackets with frilly shirts to tieless Cameronian modernity. The first Black and White Ball was reported to be quite a success, but this year's, I gather even from hardened modernisers, was an ordeal.

It took place in a perma-tent in Battersea Park. The music was deafening. A gay Tory candidate in a white suit and a Madonnastyle headmike compered as if on daytime TV. Someone dressed like a Russian prostitute sprawled on a bar playing an aluminium guitar (does this make sense? …

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