Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Polls show a slight weakening in Tory support. This reflects my own anecdotal experience. Factors suggested include Conservative sternness about the state of the public finances and some Labour success in linking David Cameron on class grounds with the greed of bankers. I suspect there is a bit of truth in these explanations, but the refusal of the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is much more important. This is not only because a great many potential Tory voters feel strongly about Europe, and may now incline to Ukip, but also because the refusal goes against one of Mr Cameron's greatest strengths. As an individual and in policy approach, he has the ability to identify with what economists call the consumer rather than the producer interest. When he talks about the Health Service, for example, he speaks as one who has used it in many a dark hour, rather than as an administrator. The refusal of the Lisbon referendum may make sense in internal party terms - the Tories are terrified of a bust-up about Europe within weeks of taking office - but to most voters it has confirmed the 'they're all the same' idea. We were promised a referendum, by Labour and Tory alike, and now we won't get one. The why-bother-tovote argument grows dangerously strong.

So does the let's-try-someone-else argument. At the next election, three political parties are in with a chance of winning a parliamentary seat for the first time.

Reports suggest that the Greens may win Brighton, Pavilion constituency, that Nigel Farage for Ukip, aided unintentionally by the outpourings of Mrs Speaker Bercow, might beat Mr Speaker Bercow in Buckingham, and that Nick Griffin might win Barking for the BNP. Each victory would have a disproportionate effect on the rest of politics.

One reason people go on voting for the old parties is that they cannot believe that new ones could actually win. If they start to do so, the hollowness of much traditional party loyalty may be exposed.

The Serjeant-at-Arms, Jill Pay, famously allowed the police to raid the parliamentary offices of Damian Green MP.

Now she has described her meeting with the police to a Commons committee. 'It was not put to me that I could refuse my consent, ' she said. If she could not refuse her consent, why did she think her consent was being sought?

How did it come about that this senior officer of the House knew nothing about rules designed over centuries to protect us from arbitrary power? The wretched former esSpeaker, Michael Martin, tried a similar excuse about not understanding the rules over the same incident ('I was not told. . . ').

How did the watchdogs of our liberties turn into lapdogs?

When the government changed the name of the Department of Education to the Department of Children, Schools and Families, it was not merely trying to sound more caring. It was enunciating a different idea about its task. Education is no longer seen as having intrinsic value, but only as one of a number of 'skill-sets' for the public manufacture of a particular type of society.

Thus Ofsted nowadays inspects not only schools, but also child protection services provided by local authorities (as in the Baby P case). Thus education is no longer seen, as it has been for hundreds of years, as a charitable purpose in its own right: it is policed by the Charity Commission to make sure that it also provides 'public benefit', which only the Commission itself may define. …

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