Saturday, 12 April 2014

The end of the Miller's tale

When Maria Miller went, she went with the dignity and gravitas that befitted a friend of David Cameron.  The early-morning announcement that she had given up her attempt to emulate a morally-challenged barnacle was hardly a surprise, although the hubris with which her defenders had demonstrated was disproportionate to the merits of any attempt at throwing her a lifebelt.  Cameron and his cronies now look both stupid for having tried to rescue her, and suspicious on the basis that if she could have been defended for this, the other little unpleasantnesses that are lurking in journalists' pending trays to emerge between now and the General Election may be truly amusing.

Miller epitomises the reduction of the political process to grasping and self-interest, dressed up as a refusal to be accountable to the media.  I am awaiting the first Tory apologist to argue that she was not given as fair a trial as Nigel Evans, whose acquittal this week raises questions over the effectiveness of the judicial system.  This will be the cue for a sharp intake of breath and much spluttering, but no surprise, given the extent to which the political class now believes itself to be free from all constraints of decency, probity and accountability.

The political system is, probably, no more discredited now than it was a fortnight ago, but this is not a proud boast.  The continuing ramblings of Farage and his retinue demonstrate this - picking up the anti-establishment vote that may fuel triumph for Salmond in September.  In any case, the idea that people who have demonstrated themselves untrustworthy should be able to determine any sanctions against them is now undermining Cameron, for which we should be thankful.  Labour and the other opposition parties should be stoking the fires now - not just around expenses but around the democratic deficit that allowed Miller to survive and for the continued erosion of voter trust, visibility and engagement.  Root-and-branch reform and accountability should be at the root of the questions that are posed to politicians.

What is the point of Jeremy Browne?

It takes someone with the idiocy of Jeremy Browne MP to make me feel anything other than sad contempt towards Nick Clegg.  Mr Browne, whose drift to the right is now providing salutary reminders of such statesmen as David Owen and Oswald Mosley, has spent a great deal of time telling Rupert Murdoch's organs how much Clegg is a lefty whose purpose is to block the more dribbling exemplars of Tory malevolence.  For that he has to be thanked, as for most people Clegg is seen much more as a quisling in the pocket of the other professional politicians who put self-advancement before even party, and couldn't work out the difference between "principle" and "principal" even if locked into a shower with Michael Gove.

Browne was, as should be remembered, a singularly unimpressive Home Office Minister, pandering to the xenophobic populism of the ridiculous Home Secretary and supporting the anti-immigration hysteria beloved of his client group.  For someone with his monstrous ego, to be supplanted by Norman Baker must be seen as humiliation on a grand scale.  The fact that Norman understands that Liberalism is about the rights of the citizen rather than the enforcement of the state's iron fist implies that Jezza will join Nigel Farage in lauding Putin before the year is out.

Browne has also recently gone on record as wishing to cut the top rate of tax yet further, indicating both economic illiteracy and his desire to crawl up to Tories in places that they may well be feeling uncomfortable about.  A progressive tax system is the mark of a civilised, liberal society, but not the slavering neo-liberal perversion espoused of the far right.  So, why does he bother continuing even to pretend to be a Liberal Democrat?

This is a reminder that the left should wake up and recognise that much of the platform on which the Liberal Democrats fought the 2010 election remains intact, and that it is a broadly progressive, socially-driven manifesto that remains to challenge Labour's political framework.  For the naive and the malevolent, who work purely on triangulation, the implication that the Liberal Democrats have been pushed to the right by coalition is simple to spout, but actually difficult to prove.  There is now space on the centre-right vacated by the Tory festering back to the margins of Thatcherite misanthropy, but Labour seem more inclined to occupy the socially-authoritarian arena.

Browne forgets that Liberals, for over a century, have been people who believe in the freedom of the individual with an enabling state, which should be questioned but not condemned as a reflex action.  This puts us in conflict with some social democrats of all hues, whose believe in the magnanimity of the state is a little too uncritical for libertarian comfort, but it does not either position liberalism as being tied to free-market ideology and an antipathy to any state involvement.  Perhaps he should spend some time reading Mill or Hobhouse before he starts whining that Clegg is tied into a left-wing ideology.

As a footnote in history, he is clearly trying to make a name for himself as the man who pushed the Orange Book agenda to its limits.  Or at least securing a Tory seat...  This is a disgrace from a man who is now so far off the mainstream radar that even Cameron might find him too extreme - perhaps he will end up with the fools and poltroons of UKIP, where self-publicising inadequates find a natural and congenial pit of despond.  An irrelevance, whose intellectual and political credentials are so shoddy as to make even Clegg's naiveté and fellow-travelling pale into insignificance.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Maria Miller and the perversion of politics

To agree with Norman Tebbit is either the mark of a drift into senescent fascism or an indication that we are living in the last days.  Watching the casuistry surrounding the barnacle-clinging to office exhibited by the risible Maria Miller is reminiscent of a cross between Kafka and a third-rate farce, a reminder of how Cameron is a prisoner of his own party and as devoid of moral compass as his political heroes in New Labour.

No rational person would expect their politicians to be devoid of human frailty.  This would make them even more unrepresentative than they are already.  One expects Tories to be grasping, venal and contemptuous of those outside their self-interested circle.  One expects them to be so devoid of honour that they need to be ejected by force when proved beyond doubt to have misbehaved, even when a reasonable observer needs to hold their nose to exclude the stench of moral turpitude.

Miller's behaviour is only explicable through the hubris of the deluded.  Her perfunctory apology to the House of Commons for what amounted to the receipt of corrupt payments undid all the good work that has been done over MPs standards - not a admission of culpability or even stupidity (which would be a perfectly plausible explanation) but a sulky adolescent caught smoking behind the bike sheds.  An insult to Parliament, and an insult to the electorate.

Recognising that this was already a watered-down sanction, compared to a more meaningful repayment recommended by the independent standards watchdog, Miller's hubris has unleashed a defining moment in the modern Tory party.  To listen to Cameron's defence, and that of her neighbouring nonentity MP Steve Brine, you would have thought that Miller being detected in the act of breaking the rules condemns those who investigated and proceeded to reveal this, as it shines an unwarranted light into the morals and motivations of the self-regarding mediocrities who make up the majority of the political class (in all parties).

However, there are a number of further, more fundamental problems coming to light.  The fate of a third-rate over-promoted Minister is only interesting insofar as it further weakens the Tories.  What is much more concerning to anyone with a belief in representative government is the use of Special Advisers to intimidate and threaten those on her case.  The Special Adviser is the Trojan Horse of politicising the civil service - a further example of weakening and undermining both the integrity and status of government which allows more to be outsourced and democratic accountability to be watered down.  To make clear links between, let it not be forgotten, the Tory press investigating corruption and the potential for further media regulation is at the very least distasteful, at worst a sanctioned abuse of power that should see both Miller and the Cabinet Secretary, the ridiculous Francis Maude, seeking the solace of the backbenches.

No wonder, in the context of Major and Osborne's crony capitalism and naked cynicism promoting inter-generational strife, that the Miller issue has resonated in much the same way that the "back to basics" trope undermined John Major (a figure who looks more and more statesmanlike in the context of the current shower of spivs).  Former Labour MPs were jailed for their corruption - but Miller's tax avoidance and sophistry appears not even to merit the slightest sanction from the Tories even when proven to the point where a reasonable person would admit to its likelihood, and where a sceptic or paid apologist would be brushing up their CV.

Miller's presence in government is a reminder that the Tories don't and can't change.  As a wounded administration limps on, the onus is on the opposition and the Liberal Democrats to keep the issue in the spotlight - so Danny Alexander's idiotic support for her was completely unnecessary.  Clegg, for once, hit the right note by pointing out that these appointments were entirely in Cameron's gift.  Labour need to go for the jugular - it will drive decent Tories away from supporting the party, because it is clear that the venality and hypocrisy in this case is a demonstration that there is no change in the political and moral corruption sanctioned by the imperative to cling on to office and deny any culpability.