Friday, December 12, 2003

What European politics needs is a really good fight

As Tony Blair toddles off to Brussels, one can only hope that someone in the entourage has remembered to pack the red biro.

Frankly, I’m surprised that someone hasn’t used that as a stunt. Will someone please tell David Hill that I’m available for a short term contract?

This silly stunt brings me to my theme. One of the problems of Europe (of many) is that it is just too respectful. It is a good sign for Europe when various leaders clearly wish to bitchslap each other. Frankly, to build a stronger european community, nothing would be better than a no holds barred brawl.

Think about it. If British politics was conducted with the restraint, the gentle diplomacy and careful choreography on Euro-summiteering we would not only be asleep, but we would be far less alive to the vital issues of the day.

This is why I cheered when Silvio Berlusconi made a tasteless joke about a German MEP, and why I cheered louder when Schroeder then cancelled a holiday in Italy. I can’t wait for Blair to liken the Franco-German alliance to two drunks staggering down the street (c. Bill Clinton) or for Chirac to tell the Poles that they don’t have a right to a veto because they should be jolly grateful not to still be communist.

This stuff isn’t just trivia, or froth, or yah boo politics. It’s a sign that passions are engaged and that politicians need to speak to their people, not just to each other.

The demotic and the democratic voices are the same. They are loud, energetic, rough, vicious and full of life. Courtly language, diplomacy and soft speaking are the language of the elite, of the few, of the exclusive.

The intelligent and the discerning may despair when the important question of sub-clause seventeen is lost to the din caused by the Greek PM calling the French a greasy casanova, but when he does, it will be a sign of life for popular european politics, for the reason he needs to be so aggressive is because of a need to show he stands up for his voters.

So if you are a Europhile, rejoice when Berlusconi threatens to punch Schroeder on the snoot- this is truly the vox populi, and a sign of a real and growing political spirit of Europe. Personally, I’m looking forward for the first really interesting, vicious, abusive, offensive and angry row in the European parliament between MEP’s. That’ll do more to prove it’s importance in the public mind than a dozen treaties.

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Thursday, December 11, 2003


(from the Gallery report on today's lobby briefing.)

Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman moved to clarify earlier comments
about the possibility of a euro referendum being held on the same day as
the general election.

He pointed to comments made by Mr Blair on the way to Kuwait on May 28
when he said: "I have not had the idea of holding a referendum on the
same day as the general election."

The spokesman said, "That remains the position."

I admit it, I'm scratching my head about what that means.

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Oh, and for those searching for clues to my identity..

I was one of the people holding up the chattering teeth. Though I thought it was in '93.

I also remember being reproved by the Chair of NUS conference with the immortal line "Will delegates please stop holding up chattering teeth on sticks".

Tom Watson and Paul Richards were probably giggling in a balcony somewere nearby.

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It’s good to be back…

After one of my semi-regular disappearances from the weblog scene, it is an unalloyed delight to have returned from my stint as Chris Bryant’s spin doctor. On that, admittedly hilarious story, I have to say who cares? So a single MP likes having sex with other consenting adults. Best of luck to him. Who’s he lied to? Who’s he deceived? No-one.

Still, much as I am consumed by trivia, I suppose I should turn my laser eye to issues of import, like the Pre-Budget report. How the heart soars at the excitement contained in that little phrase.

Now, there’s been the usual predictable outcry about debt. We are apparently, according to the press, walking into a black hole of debt. Ooo-eerrr. Now as far as I can work out from reading my favourite conservatives, a really big National debt is a good thing if it is caused by massive tax cuts for the wealthy (see Bush, G W), but a smaller national debt is a disaster of awful proportions if caused by investing in our national health service, education and protecting poor children.

See, the former will stimulate the economy and lead to soaring growth that will pay off all the debt, while the latter, by doing things like employing teachers, nurses and so on, and preventing our youth from a future of slack jawed yokeldom, will drag the economy to the abyss. Simple, really.

So, what we should clearly be doing is sacking all the teachers and nurses we can find, and giving a big cheque to those earning over £200,000 a year. This will boost consumer spending and protect the economy in the long term. Or something. You work it out. Maybe it will stop Conrad Black having to steal money from his own companies.

All in all, I liked the PBR. More money for Children’s centres and nurseries. Jolly good.

But really, the central truth about the economy is that economic growth is good, interest rates are low, unemployment is low and inflation is low, while at the same time, we are investing more in schools, hospitals and all the other things that make life a little less nasty and brutish. As far as I can see, as long as all those things are working, you can have whatever borrowing levels and tax rates you like and things are hunky dory.

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