Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Politicking politicians

'Tis not yet the season to be jolly, so I hope you will allow me some disillusioned observations before we're all ho-hoing down the supermarket aisles. They were sparked off when Jane read me an extract from the Humanitarian Aid and Relief Trust winter newsletter. In it Baroness Cox wrote this:

"After one visit to Karabakh at the height of the war (between Armenia and Azerbaijan 2011), I brought back photographs of children shredded by cluster bombs. I asked the then Minister at the Foreign Office if the British Government would make representations to Azerbaijan, concerning the use of cluster bombs on civilians – a violation of international conventions. The Minster’s reply was brief and brusque:
'No country has an interest in other countries; only interests – and we have oil interests in Azerbaijan' – and I was shown out of the room." 

I shared Caroline Cox's sense of shame at being British and disappointment in our political class. This augmented later by both our Deputy Prime Minister and our Prime Minister. 

It was started by David Blunkett, Sheffield MP and former Home Secretary, speaking about the newly settled Slovakian Romas in his home city. He said: "We have to change the behaviour and the culture of the incoming Roma community because there's going to be an explosion otherwise. We all know that."

Mr Clegg, Sheffield MP too and Deputy PM, adding fuel to the fire, weighed in with: "There is a real dilemma when you get communities that behave in a way that people find sometimes intimidating, sometimes offensive. I think it is quite right that people should say so. We have every right to say if you are in Britain and you are coming to live in Britain and you are bringing up a family here, you have got to be sensitive to the way that life is lived in this country." As the Western Morning News sensibly commented: "This might all sound quite reasonable, were it not for the fact that the Slovak Roma in Sheffield have done little that could be described as either intimidating or offensive. But when it comes to gypsies, the age-old prejudices are trotted out with impunity; from the Brothers Grimm to Enid Blyton, they have been insulted and scapegoated."

The politicians should both have listened to Professor Yaron Matras, an expert on Roma culture from the University of Manchester, who accused both Nick Clegg and David Blunkett of "ethnic profiling" gypsies and claimed their use of "medieval stereotypes" was likely to increase rather than prevent the likelihood of attacks on Roma, who would inevitably then retaliate.

"People who meet Roma personally have a positive experience," said Professor Matras. "Those who get their information from indirect sources, such as parts of the media, have negative impressions – but there is nothing in Roma behaviour that is inherently more offensive or intimidating than for any other group."

One doesn't know what talks David Cameron has had in China about human rights on his current trade mission, but his press office has been keen to tell us what a success it's been, generating in a week, apparently £6 billion's worth of trade. It was sad therefore that the photo opp which appeared on the news I was watching was of him with a lady entrepeneur from the "gaming industry" who's going to invest in Britain - yippee! More of our countrymen getting into debt chasing an illusion!

And only last week, Tsar Boris, aka the Mayor of London, in the annual Margaret Thatcher lecture declared that inequality is essential to fostering "the spirit of envy" and hailed greed as a "valuable spur to economic activity". Envy and greed used to be two of the seven deadly sins. The ambitious Mr Johnson clearly thinks he knows better. I'm not sure he does, any more than he understands the mathematics of the IQ test. "Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16% of our species have an IQ below 85 while about 2% …" he said as he departed from the text of his speech to ask whether anyone in his City audience had a low IQ. To muted laughter he asked: "Over 16% anyone? Put up your hands. 16% have an IQ below 85 while 2% have an IQ above 130. And the harder you shake the pack the easier it will be for some corn flakes to get to the top." Well, they would do, old chap, as the IQ test is a bell-curve based round an average of 100. That's the normal distribution  - get it? 

It is truly depressing when a politician tipped by many as a future Prime Minister lauds envy and greed as economic and social virtues, and attributes wealth to intelligence and poverty to the lack of it. "You're poor, because you're stupid."

I also found it depressing to listen to another potential PM on Desert Island Discs. I'm not able to judge Ed Miliband's musical tastes, since I shared none of them, but was interested to hear what he had to say about his political assassination of his brother, David, in the Labour Party leadership election. You may remember that Ed declared he was running after David and narrowly won only with the support of the big union votes. As I heard it, his justification was that he wanted to put party before family. It was an extraordinary insult to his brother's abilities, and seemed to me a weasel way of saying, "I wanted to put self before family." I'm sorry, Ed Milicain, I can't vote for someone who lacks both selflessness and transparency.

Finally, as you'll detect, I'm quite even-handedly disillusioned with politicians of all three mainstream parties. One omission from my scatter-gun seems to be women. In fact two of the outstanding political breakthroughs have been achieved by women. The MP for Walthanstow, Stella Creasey's unremitting pressure has at last led to a U-turn by the Government on capping the interest rates of Pay-day lenders, and, on the international stage, it appears that the interim agreement between Iran and the big powers over its nuclear industry was largely engineered by Baroness Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs. Women seem to be doing all right in politics.

So to redress the balance let me have a go at Cherie Blair, not exactly a politician but certainly a political figure. She was recently interviewed in The Independent. The headline was "Being a mother isn't a job. It's a relationship"  It sounds exactly like a politician's sound bite. So I looked at the article and came across what she said about being a mother. In a way it sounds unexceptionable. “Don’t say being a mother is the most important job to do because being a mother isn’t a job. It’s a relationship. The quality of the relationship is what matters . The most important thing is the relationship we have with our children.” And yet it does sound like the words of someone who can afford a nanny, someone like a... millionaire barrister, or someone... married to a prime minister, or even... better, both. You might not like to describe motherhood as a job, but whatever you call it, there's nothing more important to do well than bringing up children. And whatever else it isn't, it certainly is hard work. I would reply, "Don't say being a mother is just a relationship. It's much more than that." 

I know politics is what politicians do. But it doesn't seem to me that ours are doing it very well.

Now for the season of goodwill!

PS Here's hoping George Osborne doesn't come up with some madness tomorrow.


  1. 2 years ago our Grand Daughter wrote this for her Mother.
    Our daughter is a simply wonderful Mother. She works hard, very hard, at being a wise, courageous, encouraging, generous Mother and it isn't easy for her. She is a single parent with a demanding job. Anyone who says single parents are not good parents, doesn't know what they are talking about. In addition to being a wonderful Mother, our daughter is far more Christian than I have ever been or probably will be, even though she is not 'A Churchgoer'

    "My Mum.

    You are the sun on a rainy day,
    Beautiful and bright,
    You help me with work,
    You are my delight.
    You are my hero when I am afraid,
    Cheerful and funny,
    You make me smile,
    For you are the no.1mummy.
    You are the last rose petal
    still standing straight up,
    Elegant and jolly,
    You make me so proud,
    I would shout your name aloud.
    You are everything I wish for,
    So gentle and kind,
    Never thinking about yourself,
    Always in my mind."

    December 2011

  2. From the point of view of someone who relied on a wife and mother to bring up two children and more importantly be there for them when they came home from school or at any other time for that matter, Cherie Blair has got it entirely wrong. But then how can you expect such millionaires to possibly understand the importance and value of good close relationships founded on firm Christian values.

    They are so preoccupied with following so called careers and the aspirations of financially motivated husbands that they are totally out of touch with the common man. Their concept of success in life is very shallow and unconnected with the real world for they have no experience or understanding of how most people live, let alone how those who are financially very poor manage to scrape by.

    As for the Roma in Sheffield it is interesting to note that most of the criticism came from second generation British immigrants who now hold the status of British citizenship.