Saturday, June 24, 2006

First Anniversary Post: Margaret Thatcher, breasts, favourite alcoholic beverages, next Labour Leader, and West Lothian Question

A handful of a title, but the various subjects on which I have been asked to blog on for Mars Hill's first anniversary.
As there has been no majority suggestion, I will try and do one blog on all of the above, only right now I am kind of mulling over whether to make it into all one subject or as a series of short subjects?
Oh heck, I will just make it into one subject.

(Press Association)
There is a strong dislike on many of the left (and even among One Nation Conservatives) towards Margaret Thatcher. This is understandable given her aggressive assault on all on the Unions, the economy, and, put basically, anyone and anything that stood in her way. Perhaps given the loathing many in the Conservative Party feel about Tony Blair, they may get some idea of the depth of feeling many Labour people felt towards Margaret Thatcher (Conservative readers and Thatcher affindos please note, I am talking purely about emotions there, not policy or rationale). Loved and loathed in equal measure it is not for nothing that the late President Mitterand of France said of her that she has the eyes of Marilyn Monroe and the mouth of Caligula.
But, to paraphrase Shakespeare in reverse, I have been asked not to bury Thatcher, but to praise her. Bit difficult perhaps, but not when you realise that she was not the worst British politician we have had, or even the worst Prime Minister of the Twentieth Century (For various reasons I have less of an opinion of David Lloyd George, and Neville Chamberlain for all his well meaning platitutes, was not exactly helpful as Britain approached it's finest hour).
So, to put the question in another perspective, what do I like about her? Well she came from Grantham (as did my maternal Grandad, who incidentally used to help deliver groceries to a certain Alderman Roberts), she helped develop the first soft frozen ice cream when she was a research chemist, she has a lovely daughter called Carol, and beat the odds to get to the top of her political party. She is tenatious, determined, resourceful, and tough. Qualities that are needed in a senior politician. She also sometimes reminds me of my paternal gran, who was a member of the Conservative Party, and I got on well with Grandma). In fact, on the one or two times I have found myself completely agreeing with Thatcher, I can see (as I have found with Tony Benn on the rare occasion I have completely agreed with him) why her supporters hold her in such high esteem.
I think she was right about the Falklands War, and the First Gulf War, and whilst I disagree with her monetarist aims, she had a role in ending Keynesian orthodoxy, although whilst her supporters would welcome that as a route to privatising almost everything in sight, I would argue that, whilst I dearly wish it happened another way, it gave those of us on the very centre to rethink our approach to economics, in particular inflation and unemployment, and to redefine Kenynesianism. A problem that Callaghan noticed, but only too late!
In face she is almost seen as an Iconic figure, almost to the extreme of being seen by some as a Madonna. Although personally I liked her better in Evita and didn't think much of her book sex, which I thought had a bit too much, well, er.. sex in it!

All those bums and breasts, too graphic I suspect as to be boring. Those old forties and fifties movies, much more stylised!
But the golden era of Hollywood was something in itself wasn't it! If there was anything they were pornographic about it was smoking! All those film noir moments with people lighting up for each other. But then I am one of those who doesn't smoke and is not a fan of smoking. I do drink on occasion though, although not much as I am not keen on the strong taste. But some I do like, such as red wine (particually French and South African), Kilkenny Beer, DarkStar (discovered courtesy of Neil Harding), as well as smirnoff ice. Favourite tipple! Possibly whisky and lemonade or whisky and soda, as I don't like drinking spirits neat.
Of course whisky has a particular Scottish feel to it! Maybe it's the iconic tuff like Loch Lomond (as immortalised by Captain Haddock in the Tintin books), but then again I have a love of things Scottish. Perhaps it is because I have ancestry from my mothers' side. The Heitons, who were allegedly accused by Sir Walter Scott of being noveau riche. But I like Scotland. I like the tartan, the countryside, the history, the accents, Edinburgh, the Western Isles etc.. In fact I like Scotland so much I want the next Prime Minister to be Scottish.
No, not Menzies, the other guy, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

(BBC Online)
Well I am lying a bit here. The bit about wanting Gordon to be the next PM and Labour Leader because he is Scottish. I want Gordon to be the next PM because he does a sterling job (no pun intended ;) ) managing the economy, has done much to help with regards to fighting third world debt and has the experience, in opposition and in government, as well as the expertise, to lead our country into a fourth general election.
Of course some argue against Gordon becoming PM. Either it's personal dislike, or fear, or ideological differences, or the simple fact he is Scottish, thus raising the West Lothian Question. I don't think that this in itself is a barrier for Scottish MP's in Westminster seeking high office (In any case the Conservatives, the main critics here, have very few MP's representing Scottish constituencies in Westminster), but the West Lothian Question does raise some pertinent and legitmate causes of concern. This has been redressed for now by lowering the amount of MP's from Scotland in Westminster, but something more definite needs to be done.
The main, and indeed simplistic answer is to have devolution in England, whether that is to bring forward regional assemblies (although that seems to be unpopular) or an English Parliament! In any case time will tell how this question will be resolved and resolved it will be. Our unwritten constitution may take time to develop, but rarely leaves untidy loose ends. My own personal view is that an English Parliament, with deference to Westminster, is feasible, but that is up to popular consent and I don't see much of that and the mainpoint of our legislative assemblies in this country is that they serve Queen and Country.
Phew! Think I will be a bit frivolus and blog on Doctor Who next time. ;)


Andrew said...

Nicely done :-) Congrats on the one year blogging anniversary - long may it continue!

Neil Harding said...

A couple of points;

Thatcher was incompetent over the Falklands. The war needn't have happened. A cynic might even contend it was 'arranged' to distract from domestic economic meltdown (and widespread inner city riots). Thatcher was heading for electoral anihilation. I will explain further.

Thatcher ignored intelligence of the imminent Argentine invasion in 1982. Under the prevous Labour government in 1978, David Owen had acted on similar intelligence and threatened a taskforce that averted an Argentine invasion.

Thatcher's response was to show disdain for the 'cost' of the island and sanction the scrapping of the only warship down there. Also Argentine overtures to Thatcher's defence minister Nicholas Ridley about the importance of the Islands had drawn disinterested responses leaving them with the impression that the Tories wouldn't care less about an invasion. So the invasion happened and conveniently the Tories and Thatcher rode a wave of jingoism to a landslide victory from a previously impossible position.

As for Gordon Brown and the economy, sadly I suspect the economy is built on sand.

GB cleverly managed to avoid a 2000ish world recession by opening the taps on public spending just at the right time thus insulating us perfectly. But alas, boom and bust is inevitable. GB has made the same mistakes as the Lawson credit boom in the late Eighties. There are massive levels of personal debt and housing is overpriced.

I have been predicting a recession every year now since 2001 and every year I have been wrong. But I know why I was wrong, the missing trigger is the US dollar. The bubble has finally burst, the dollar is in freefall, stock markets will inevitably follow, interests rates will be cranked up and unemployment will force an overvalued housing market to 're-adjust'(collapse). The longer the delay in recession the harder the fall is what I fear is coming.

GB should have joined the Euro (although the political risks were massive so I understand their cowardice). Foreign direct investment has flooded away to Euroland because we didn't join. The Euro was weak and it would have been a good time for us to join (although like in Ireland we might have experienced inflationary pressures due to lower interest rates). Now with the Euro strong, the Euro countries will power past us economically. Just you wait and see. Plus GB is boring and he will lose heavily because of his dour image (I know these things shouldn't matter but we all know they do).

Labour can only save itself fromn defeat by radical change (and GB ain't up to the job in my humble opinion). I also think most Labour party members are with me on this.

Everybody thinks it's going to be a shoe-in for GB, but polls show LP members woudl prefer something more radical. I don't think GB can win the leadership election. Alan Johnson (whatever his merits) looks like the obvious candidate to defeat him.

By the way, glad you still like Darkstar.

Paul Burgin said...

Andrew. Many thanks


I agree that Callaghan and Owen handled the Falklands better, and the removal of HMS Endurance from South Atlantic waters was just plain wrong, but once the Argentinians invaded we were right to go in and kick them back out again.
As for the economy! Well there may well be a recession, such is the nature of the economic beast, but hopefully that will be later rather than sooner. As it is we have had nothing like 1987's Black Monday and so long as we hold tight and don't do anything reckless or stupid we should be okay for now!

Paul Burgin said...

PS: DarkStar is a Lt General amongst beers, how could I not! ;)

Shaun (ed.) said...

Good post and happy anniversary.

A few comments:
Thatcher is a political hero of mine, but she was by no means perfect. She had the right medication for Britain, but the wrong communication approach (very much like Doc Martin - the ITV drama about a Cornwall GP) in that 'I do not need to explain myself' attitude was very polarising. Also, in her quest to fight Communism she wrongly backed anti-Communist regimes like Chile and South Africa. But one cannot fault her for her 'what you see is what you get' honesty, something totally absent from 'spin to be seen as nice' Blairism.

As for the West Lothian Question, the Labour Party's denial of it is understandable, since it would rob them of majorities in many parliamentary votes, especially with Labour MPs rebelling, and after the next general election when the Tories might very well win a majority of seats in England.
The four solutions to this problem is:

1. Go back to the pre-1997 situation: One UK parliament governing over the whole of the UK without any devolved parliaments. If we see ourselves, the UK, as one nation, then it is the system best suited to guarantee the union’s future. As a British unionist with more Scottish than English blood this is why I look back at and agree with Scottish conservatives’ anti-devolution stance.

2. Only English votes on English matters in the UK parliament is the official Tory stance, but it causes some impracticalities. What if Labour wins a majority across UK seats, but the Tories win a majority among English seats? In consequence the Tories would control English legislation without being in charge of a governing executive.
3. Devolved English, Welsh and NI parliaments + executives would be a fair constitutional settlement, but questions about the balance of power between the devolved and UK governments needs answering and do we really have the appetite for four layers of governments if we include local and EU governance?
4. Scotland gains independence from the UK. I cannot really gauge the Scottish sentiment on this. My relatives (admittedly rural Tory supporters) in Scotland are very pro-UK and see themselves as British, but it is clear to see that an anti-English sentiment dominates larges swathes of the Scottish population and that they would love to seek independence were it not for their economic dependency on England. The decline of Scotland is quite sad really. Scotland used to be such an enterprising, innovative and positive contributor to British engineering, literacy, education and empire-building. It is depressing to see that the country that gave birth to Adam Smith has given in to the dependency excesses of socialism. That is why I want to see the leftist hegemony broken for the good of the Scots themselves.

As for Gordon Brown, his mythical reputation for economic prudence is at last being seen through. His lack of political judgement and instinct will make him a definite vote loser. He has been this administration’s backroom boy and his skills as a frontman has yet to be tested.

Paul Burgin said...

Well I think we can agree that her support of Chile and South Africa was not exactly among her finest hours. To me that is Thatcher at just about her most contemptible, and comparing Maggie to Doc Martin is interesting! ;)
With regards to West Lothian, it should be borne in mind that Scotland voted for devolution by 63% in a 1997 referendum. That should be respected and it was right to give Scottish people a choice.
The problem now is how one can deal with West Lothian in a realistic way which preserves the Union and keeps the Scottish Parliament's autonomy. The only realistic option for me is to make the UK what it more or less is already - a federalist nation with four states. That means either arranging for regional assemblies (unworkable for now) or an English Parliament (which is an idea I am attracted to). Time will tell however and it is a policy which the English people will decide themselves in time.
Gordon has been a very good "backroom boy" and is a good leader. Obviously it is up to the Party to decide the next leader, but if Gordon stands I will likely vote for him. Not because he has a sophisticated image and looks good for the cameras, but because he is straightforward and sincere. I have met Gordon Brown a few times and I can tell you that he strikes me as a man with whom you know exactly where you stand and also that he is a man who knows what he is doing.

Neil Harding said...

An English parliament is a bad bad idea.

The current situation is unacceptable, it is a total mess, but the solution is regional parliaments not an English parliament.

What was rejected in the North East was a pointless talking shop. If they had been offered real devolved power (like they have in Scotland or London), they no doubt would have took it.

Let's not forget that a part of England already has a devolved parliament - London, so to set up an English parliament would straight away be overriding Londoners wishes.

You cannot compare a Scottish parliament (pop 5m) and a Welsh assembly (pop 3m) with an English parliament (pop 50m). An English parliament would skew power so much that a UK parliament would be effectively redundant.

Although they are countries, we should think of Scotland and Wales as regions of the UK. Equivalent size regions of England are the most effective way to devolve power.

The Tories would prefer a UK parliament that allows them to ride roughshod over Scottish and Welsh wishes (just like Thatcher did). Their power base is the rich South East. This eventually caused such animosity in the Celtic regions that the clamour for devolution was inevitable.

These parliaments are now so popular that the Tories (much as they would like to) are unable to reverse devolution, so the English Parliament has been put forward as a way of the Tories gaining as much power as possible.

An English parliament would cause the same resentment in the North of England as a UK parliament did in Scotland and Wales. i.e the North would consistently vote against Tory policies but have them imposed anyway by a dominant Tory South. This would eventually lead to resentmetn and calls for devolution by the North just as Scotland and Wales asked for.

The sensible way to avoid all this trouble is to have proper devolved regional assemblies from the start. London does not know what is best for Rotherham or Birmingham or Manchester.

Paul Burgin said...

Neil, as those villains say in the movies, we meet again! ;)

I am open to there being an English Parliament partly because it doesn't patronise the Scottish and Welsh assemblies.
As for Conservative domination, that should not be why we should be against an English Parliament, in any case such a Parliament does not have to work under the FPTP system, there is AV which would give strong favour to Labour or the Lib Dems in enough areas.

Shaun (ed.) said...

The Tories would prefer a UK parliament that allows them to ride roughshod over Scottish and Welsh wishes (just like Thatcher did).

Thatcherite policies may have been unpopular in Scotland and Wales, but this system was constitutionally fair and proper. A majority UK government governed over the whole of the UK. If we accept your argument I might as well say that it is unfair for the Labour government to implement their policies in my consituency, because our consituency doesn't have a Labour MP.

The sensible way to avoid all this trouble is to have proper devolved regional assemblies from the start.
If these regional assemblies have the same powers as the Scottish parliament it would bring back constitutional fairness, but as I say, does the English population have the appetite for another layer of government (although an English parliament might be more popular than regional assemblies)

These parliaments are now so popular that the Tories (much as they would like to) are unable to reverse devolution, so the English Parliament has been put forward as a way of the Tories gaining as much power as possible.

No, the current official policy of the Tory party is "English votes on English matters" - I do not really see Cameron wanting an English parliament - but the idea is being discussed among Tory grassroots as well as many others from different sections of the political spectrum. But I do not really care what system favours what party - it should about constitutional propriety.