Rebel MPs are where?

We need a Parliament of rebels, and we need it now. The political class of this country are like the passengers of a Russian sled, hissing late at night through the moonlit forest. The ponies are exhausted, and behind them the wolves are in full cry. One by one the leaders of all parties are hurling their colleagues over the back, in the hope of placating the ravening pack. Tory grandees, Labour Cabinet ministers – no one is safe. Now, in an act of political brutality not seen for 300 years, the terrified MPs have turned on Mr Speaker himself, and with a fearful Glaswegian oath the substantial form of Michael Martin has thudded into the snow. [....] I have lost count of the number of times I have sat through debates, after which my colleagues have begun their speeches with the words, "This has been an excellent debate", and I have wanted to shout, "No! It hasn't been remotely excellent. "It has been a collection of cut-and-paste Lego-brick speeches in which people have been speaking not from the heart or direct knowledge of the issue, but because the whips have suggested it would be a good idea to speak." [...] If we had fewer MPs, and they were forced to concentrate on what they were actually doing, we would have much less legislation, and I can't think of a better way of saving us all time, trouble and money. [The full article can be seen as first printed in the Daily Telegraph on 25 May 2009]

Britain’s oldest mother-to-be

It takes quite a lot to knock MPs' expenses off the front pages these days, so I was amazed, as I grabbed a random tabloid while rushing for a plane on Saturday morning, to discover that the big news of the day was a story of impending motherhood. A British woman was pregnant, we learnt from the six-inch high headlines, and a pretty scandalous pregnancy the paper thought it was. Continue reading Britain’s oldest mother-to-be

MPs, free speech and British security

About 10 years ago my brother-in-law was giving me a lift through the early morning Washington traffic when he suddenly gave a whoop of joy. "It's Howie!" yelled Ivo, turning up the radio. "We gotta listen to Howie!" And it was with mounting disbelief that I listened to the next 20 minutes of the Howard Stern show, a shameless and cynical attempt to scandalise the ear. Continue reading MPs, free speech and British security

Margaret Thatcher’s political legacy

In praise of  Margaret Thatcher, the woman who changed politics forever, exactly thirty years after she became prime minister. In the course of researching this article I approached an intelligent 15 year-old girl. She had been born three years after Margaret Thatcher left office. She had never seen her in action. She had no personal memories of any of the great controversies of the Thatcher epoch. And, therefore, she struck me as a perfect source for an understanding of the full semiotic range of the words "Margaret Thatcher" in the minds of young people today. This schoolgirl had been taught by good left-liberal teachers. She had read the papers and listened all her life to the BBC, and she had the normal British teenager's range of cultural references. I tried a word-association test. "So what do you think," I asked her, "when I say the words 'Margaret Thatcher' "? She paused, and then she said: "Billy Elliott." Continue reading Margaret Thatcher’s political legacy