On Friday November 18th 1910, a group of about three hundred suffragettes from all over Britain travelled to Westminster to protest outside parliament. They were protesting because they were justifiably angry that the government of the day had decided not to give any more time to debating an important bill which would have finally granted the vote to at least some of Britain’s then wholly disenfranchised women. This bill was, admittedly, a compromise, but it was seen as being a necessary starting point in obtaining the wider female suffrage that many groups up and down the country like the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), led by Emmeline Pankhurst, had long been campaigning for.
They (whoever they are) say that a week is a long time in politics. And this last week or so has indeed been both long and eventful – as far as the general election campaign is concerned anyway. Thursday night saw the second of three televised leaders’ debates, this time on foreign policy issues. To this observer at least, the debate seemed to be more fiery and bad-tempered than that of the week before.
Voices were raised, impatient interruptions were made, very little of any actual substance was said, and there was much less agreeing with Nick this time – David Cameron publicly accused a sneery Gordon Brown of scaremongering and being an out-and-out liar, and they both laid into Nick Clegg in a seemingly pointless effort to flatten ‘Cleggmania’ before it can become truly politically dangerous.
It is interesting to see Brown and Cameron (as well as certain parts of the media) so obviously threatened by a man previously as politically anonymous as Nick Clegg. Both Labour and the Tories always knew that this was going to be a close-run election campaign, but the (perhaps not entirely unexpected) emergence of the Liberal Democrats has got them rattled now – the fact that the old two-party system is now being blown wide open can easily be read as further proof that the electorate is heartily sick and tired of the current, broken political system.
So it’s May 6th then. Now there’s a surprise.
In exactly a month’s time, the polling booths will be open and the British people will be casting their vote for a new/old government, but, finally, today Her Madge gave her consent to Gordon Brown dissolving Parliament – which means the election campaign really, actually, finally, officially starts now (despite the fact that some candidates have been at it for months already).
And what an exciting morning it’s been for all us armchair election followers!
I’m not entirely sure what was most (least?) thrilling about this morning’s frankly mindless media coverage. Forced by Freeview to choose between Sky or the BBC, the telly ended up being muted when my brain started dripping out of my ears. I did catch Gordon Brown’s thoroughly tedious speech – although I was slightly distracted by the phrase ‘as dull as ditchwater’ bouncing round what little brain I had left by this point.
Other media lowlights included David Cameron’s unpleasantly smug speech to the rapt party faithful, complete with its mysterious (hmm) omission of the same two words (“gay” and “straight”) which were so heavily emphasised in the draft version revealed yesterday.
Regular readers will be aware that I’m not a great fan of politicians generally. However, there are the odd one or two who somehow manage, against all the odds, to stick to their principles and hold firm in the face of our deluded political system, and it is they who have my respect and (in some cases) even grudging admiration.
Michael Foot, whose death at the age of 96 was announced today, was one such who fell into that latter category. A left-wing politician of the old school, who – unlike today’s rabble – was an idealist and a principled man, Foot was one of those rare politicians who did genuinely manage to stick to those principles, right until the end of his long and eventful life.
Like a lot of Labour politicians and commentators of his generation, Foot came from a relatively privileged background. Born into a Liberal and non-conformist family at Plymouth in July 1913, politics were almost a part of his genetic make up; his father was twice elected MP for a Cornish constituency, his three brothers were all involved in Liberal politics, and Foot himself became a Socialist during his time studying at Oxford.
The importance of those Socialist beliefs were forcefully brought home to him after his graduation when he spent some time working as a shipping clerk in Liverpool; an experience which exposed him to the realities of contemporary poverty and the social inequalities that were part of many ordinary people’s everyday lives. It was here, in 1934, that he joined the Labour Party and determined he would stand for Parliament.
This evening, while faffing about on the UK Parliament website looking for something I couldn’t actually find, I came across this.
In its entirety, ‘this’ is actually a snappily-titled document which goes by the name of The Code of Conduct Approved by The House of Commons on 13 July 2005 together with The Guide to the Rules relating to the conduct of Members Approved by The House of Commons on 9 February 2009.
Basically, this is school rules for MPs. And, as we know, they have a tendency not to follow those.
I can assure you, if you have never encountered this document before, that it’s a truly thrilling read (not) – in fact, it should probably be prescribed on the NHS as a cure for insomnia. However you can, should you so desire after all that, download it here.
This particular passage, which comes from section IV (General Principles of Conduct), immediately jumped out at me for obvious reasons. I reproduce it here without comment, mostly because I don’t think it needs any:
A good day to bury bad news again?
The saga of Trafigura, Carter-Ruck, The Guardian, Twitter Power and an indignant government, which broke messily all over the internet yesterday morning – well, that quite neatly eclipsed the latest installment in the MP’s expenses scandal, which had been rumbling on apace for most of Monday, and looked to be building up a good head of steam towards another day of revelations and unseemly bickering in Westminster.
We certainly got the revelations, and plenty of unseemly bickering at Westminster and beyond, just not on the subject of expenses; which slightly annoyed me, considering that I had started Tuesday morning with the aim of writing another ranty blog on MP’s expenses high on my ever-expanding To Do list for the day.