Tag Archives: Conservative

Outraged by the Outrage

White Van ManHere’s how politics now works in the UK.

A politician sends out an ill-considered tweet. It is insensitive but not criminal. Politicians, political journalists, bloggers and academics comment on it. Twitter comes alive. The politician realises she’s been a bit of a fool. Her hapless boss has a meltdown and forces her out. The established media and punditocracy go bonkers.

And the rest of the country says – Eh?

Of course Labour’s Emily Thornberry shouldn’t have tweeted a picture of a white van outside a house draped with English flags. It was way too open to interpretations of condescension or snobbery – which is exactly what happened.

But who did those interpretations come from?

Well, amongst the first 15 to tweet responses were: A blogger for The Spectator, a UKIP local party secretary, two self-described “libertarians,” a Daily Star journalist, a “media planner,” a Tory government relations consultant and two more who call themselves Conservatives (one of whom adds for good measure “anti-EU”) though it’s not entirely clear what they do.

Not, as far as I can tell, the supposedly offended flag-flying working class.

Westminster’s mischief-maker-in-chief was quick off the ball too. Guido Fawkes put the offending tweet on his blog and rapidly followed it with an update, “The internet reacts.”

A bit of the internet anyway.

The reactions selected (from twitter) were those of a leading politics academic, a Telegraph columnist, a Telegraph leader writer and someone who’s twitter profile is a little opaque but includes the phrase, “not a fan of the EU.”

And then the Internet really did start to react – most noticeably with anxious Labour MPs already aware of their party’s failure to offer anything constructive to its core vote. And then with political correspondents telling us “what it all means.”

A twitter storm in a tea-cup was brewed. Ms Thornberry fell on her sword.

Elsewhere in the country meanwhile, nobody seems to be taking much notice. This morning’s (internet) editions of the major regional newspapers barely cover the story – if at all.

Nothing in the Liverpool Echo or the Northern Echo. I can’t find anything in the Norwich Evening News. There are a couple of lines buried deep in the Yorkshire Post’s story about UKIP’s win in Rochester and Stroud. Sometime after 9am, the Manchester Evening news added two sentences on Thornberry in its Breaking News section.

The Sentinel in Stoke ran the story. It garnered one comment from a reader who couldn’t understand why the MP had had to resign her shadow cabinet post. The only other public comment was on a Bristol Post account of the fracas – though in that case, the reader was critical of Labour and its “Champagne socialists”.

I couldn’t find much anti-Labour white male wrath on quick flick through local radio either.

BBC Radio Norfolk’s morning phone-in was discussing a local row about skateboarding. In Leeds the host wanted to hear listeners’ “claims to fame.” I tuned to Radio Newcastle just as caller and host reached a peak of indignation over the film board’s classification of the Paddington Bear film. In Cambridge meanwhile, they were talking politics. A female caller felt UKIP was dividing the country with its anti immigrant stance.

None of which is to justify or defend Emily Thornberry and her ill advised tweet. We all do stupid things sometimes, on Thursday it was the turn of the Islington MP.

She demonstrated all too visibly the disconnect between politicians and voters for sure. But the general public aren’t up in arms about a daft tweet – it’s the navel gazers in Westminster who decided on our behalf we should all be outraged.

Meanwhile, most people are trying to get on with making ends meet. It would be good to see a similar level of outrage from our politicians and pundits about just how hard that is.

The Politicians We Deserve?

City Hall “Rubbish, rubbish, you’re talking rubbish!” cries the Mayor of the greatest city in the world.

“Boring, boring, boring!” chants an elected member of the assembly that’s supposed to be holding him to account.

Welcome to Mayor’s Question Time at London’s City Hall.

Labour leader Ed Miliband worries that the weekly bun-fight at Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament “subtracts from the reputation of politics.”

He should take a stroll eastward and cross the Thames. He’ll see how Mayor’s Question Time leaves that reputation in shreds.

The Mayor is of course, Boris Johnson who sits at the centre of a horse-shoe of desks. Behind him are the sloping glass walls of the City Hall chamber. Stunning views of the Tower of London, the Gherkin building and the river frame his famous blonde head.photo[2]

The subjects under discussion, including sponsorship of the city’s bike hire scheme and the budget for building new homes, are serious.

The debate, if one can call it that, is not.

Questions from the Labour members are often lengthy and repetitive. Answers from the Conservative Mayor are evasive at best. Attempts to get any firm information from Mr Johnson are met first with bluster and when that doesn’t work, with tired attacks on Labour. Amongst other things, he accuses them of being “consumed with hatred for the private sector” and of wanting to deprive the people of Lambeth of access to the hire bikes.

Ever the performer, the Mayor sprinkles his responses with mild insults (Labour members are like “passive Buddhas”) and belligerent clichés (“So put that in your pipe and smoke it!”)

When the audience in the public gallery, at least half of them primary school children, start to giggle, you can see the light go on in Boris’s eyes. Previously slumped, he sits up straight, his voice rises, a smile spreads across his face.

After barely half an hour, the Assembly Chair is exasperated. “When the Mayor gets found out he resorts to abuse of Assembly Members,” he exclaims.

He’s quite right. Tory members ask questions too – of the “would the Mayor agree with me that he is marvelous?” type. Another half hour passes and despite a couple of informed questions, we’ve learned nothing from the Mayor at all.

But incredibly, it’s about to get worse.

It’s the turn of Green member Jenny Jones to ask a question. She and the Mayor talk across each other. She accuses him of “making things up to amuse the audience.” So far, so predictable.

And then, out of the blue she describes Mr Johnson as being “a proven liar to Parliament.” Boris is completely unfazed and barely responds, even when she repeats it. But a Conservative member asks Baroness Jones to withdraw the accusation  – or substantiate it.

“I don’t have evidence to hand,” is her airy response. She then adds that the Mayor has accused her in the past of being a liar and “I don’t see the difference.”

Ed Miliband said last week that politicians give the public “the sense that their kids behave better than we do.”

The children watching from the public gallery in City Hall must have been wondering when someone would tell these two to shut up and behave. (Jenny Jones did eventually withdraw the accusation of lying to Parliament and later acknowledged breezily via twitter, “Oh god I think I shall have to apologise to Boris.”)

Soon after this unedifying exchange, low rumblings amongst a group of grown-ups in the gallery erupt into shouts.

photo“Homelessness isn’t a crime,” yells one. “Homes not jails!” they start to chant. They’re protesting against Operation Encompass, a police campaign to deal with beggars and rough-sleepers.

The most vocal are hustled out of the chamber. One young woman is grabbed by the wrists and ankles and carried to the door after she refuses to budge.

“Boris is a wanker!” is the parting shot from the last to go. The stunned children let out a collective gasp, then start to laugh before being hushed by their teacher.

I really do think London is the greatest city in the world. But it has some massive problems, of which a dire shortage of affordable housing is perhaps the most acute.

I saw nothing in the City Hall chamber to suggest London’s representatives are working together to deal with that, or indeed anything else.

Surely, we deserve better than this.