Have passport, will travel, won’t legislate

I’m no fan of Nadine Dorries, the Mid Bedfordshire MP whose time in the Australian jungle on prime-time ITV was meant to teach the basics of abortion law to an audience ignorant of politics via the processes of eating an ostrich anus. (I could at this point say ‘she was lying with cockroaches rather than sitting on the backbenches with them, but let’s not go there….)

Her inappropriate trip abroad rightly saw her punished and stripped of the Party Whip, the significance of which might filter down to her when she’s stopped catching up with her constituent’s emails whilst lazying in a luxury hotel.

And then, from the other side of the Commons, along comes a man to usurp the scourge of abortion clinics and horny teenagers everywhere in the pursuit of passport-stamping.

Hendrick has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons by way of the hitherto obscure “All Party Parliamentary China Group”, who seem to promote on their website press-releases from other government departments whilst not doing anything themselves. The MP for Preston is called “an officer” of the Group, but one seemingly without portfolio.

Well, the former MEP for Lancashire Central has found something to do without a portfolio, and has found it to the great cost of £43,211. He has spent four months  – FOUR, count them Nadine, you amateur! – away from his Preston constituency, presumably acceptable to his Labour colleagues on Preston Council because they’ve chosen not to say anything against him in public. (At least Nadine’s party colleagues grumbled to the press; Preston’s Labour Group have been silent.)

Oh wait a minute, maybe they have said something about his conduct. Earlier this year they had to grumble and groan because he’d forgotten that his constituency has something called a Guild once-every-twenty-years, calling his decision to wander back to Preston on a whim an embarrassment. An MP since the year 2000, he should by now have been told that it’s tradition for Prestonians to mark the Guild from the start.

There’s nothing on his personal website or the APPCG site which explains why Hendrick has to take so much time away from being an MP for Preston. It’s reminiscent of the worst days of arrogance from parliamentarians, who considered a safe seat (majority 7,733 in 2010, down from 12,268 in 2001) to be a platform from which they launched a totally separate career. At least Nadine said she was leaving her constituency duties to talk about politics (or at least try to, good job ITV editors). What does Mark Hendrick say? Well, from what I can see, nothing.

His predecessor as Labour MP was Audrey Wise, for whom the term ‘firebrand’ might as well have been her given first name. The difference between them is beyond comprehension. From being the MEP for the area, Mark has now become the MP for jollies and junkets, so distant from the Ribble that he almost forgot about the Guild. Is it any wonder that his share of the vote has plummeted in the ten years between first election and the most recent? Voters are aware of his jet-set lifestyle even if he isn’t aware of them.

Even if the ‘zombie review’ does get voted through, Preston’s constituency boundaries give any Labour candidates a headstart. Hendrick could spend four weeks out of every five drinking at Ambassador’s parties without suffering much at all. It’s this complacency and arrogance which marks him out the most. There’s no justification for his absence or the connected costs. There’s no justification for his jetting off to China without any reason or result published on-line. Preston already has very strong relations with China and elsewhere in Eastern Asia through the University of Central Lancashire and from their website it appears Mark Hendrick’s jet-setting adventures have no place in their achievements.

Safe seats foster ‘ownership issues’, and boy does Holidaying Hendrick come across as having those. Preston is not supposed to be the hotel he checks into every quarter whilst clocking up the airmiles. But it seems to be, and that can’t be something on which the local CLP can be silent on for much longer….can it?

Labour Balls Up

Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Cushions and Soft Furnishings, is a notorious arm-twister, class warrior, and in the running to be solely responsible for Labour’s forthcoming defeat the General Election.

His latest wheeze is a £300m Broadband Bribe, with the intention of giving any Labour leaning voter even less incentive to aspire to a better life. As often happens with Labour after a few years in power, they’ve retreated into very safe territory; promote the ‘dependency culture’, label all opponents as ‘toffs’, and take it from there. With the country suffering from the longest, deepest recession in history, you’d have imagined somebody at the Treasury would have at least coughed a bit during the Cabinet meeting to discuss handing out free broadband to people in marginal constituencies, but I understand the idea of saying “No” to Ed Balls brings up combinations of genitalia and vice-grips.

Balls’ bullying tactics will doubtlessly see this scheme rolled out just in time to shore up support in time for the election. Never before has “shameless” been more appropriate a word. If this scheme is all about helping the lowest earners, helping children do the best in school, why has it taken 12 years for the only solution to be the giving away of easier access to Facebook and Bejewelled?

If the worsening state of education is not enough – and there’s plentiful examples of the GCSE system becoming mere window dressing for Labour’s doubtful education ‘claims’ – Ed Balls is of course riding a leadership bid horse all the way to the summer. In another desperate move, MPs from smaller Northern constituencies are being arm-twisted against the idea of moving from First Past the Post to Alternative Vote in time for the General Election. This is Balls’ aim to keep as many on-side MPs returned to the Opposition Benches, without the hassle of a fairer voting system or cut in MP numbers getting in the way.

It doesn’t take a flick through a GCSE Politics textbook to see where this idea comes from.

There really is only one shot at getting education right. My personal view on the state controlling schools has been coloured ever since the National Curriculum appeared to clip the wings of every decent teacher in my school – “What, the Romans
again?”. Now education policy has become overtly politicised, school building programmes wrapped up in debt-laden schemes, children forced to take too many exams and generally under achieving. Children unable to even write their own name after 5 years of a Labour government (and this hasn’t got much better) is one of many ‘milestones’ currently along the route leading to Ed Balls’ door.

“Class war” is a tired and extreme tactic often used by desperate members of the left-wing looking for some mud to throw in times of trail. Given the state of school education in this country, I suppose it is not surprising that Labour have not learned the lessons of such electioneering…

Vote for Songs, Vote for Change

Someone have a word with Simon Cowell. If he of the high-trousers wants an international X-Factor, he’s better off saving his money. There already exists a multi-national amateur singing contest, it’s called Eurovision and at almost 60 it’s had ten-times the life span of most talent show careers.

But…all the same, Cowell knows when he’s onto a winner. Not that the “final 4” in the current run of the X-Factor is exactly over running with talent. The main prize has rarely been given to someone who deserves it (see, for that matter, most talent shows, namely Eurovision and the fancy dress contest at a hotel in Split back in 1991. I’m not bitter but damn it, all the winners did was wrap themselves in out-of-date Beano comics……)

Sorry, back to the X-Factor. The apparent favourite is Daryl, who has the satisfied arrogance of a libel lawyer with an ability to add extra long notes to the end of everything he sings like some form of computer character “special move”. He’s up against a one-time contestant on Deal Or No Deal, called Olly Murs, who has been forced to warble the same old selections from The Greatest Copyright Free Swing and Blues Album…Ever! while being talked about as “one of the lads”. When he was made to perform (and/or murder) George Michael’s “Fastlove” in a tight shirt and AIDS awareness ribbon I wonder exactly what had happened to the “one of the lads” demographic. Maybe Simon had been off that week. He often is.

A squat gnome-faced 12 year old called Joe, who should have never been allowed near a microphone on pain of death, has been consistently voted through despite the (very) annoying habit of turning every song into a theatrical pastiche. You know Mitch Benn? You know how everything Mitch Benn does is a) unfunny, and b) forced, and c) unfunny and forced and annoying and unfunny? Joe is RIGHT up there with the forced, annoying, unfunny Mitch Benn. He’s likely to win. It’s just not right. If Simon Callow wants a winner – and it’s likely he doesn’t really give two-hoots now there’s the opportunity to reinvent the Eurovision wheel – then Stacy “Essex girl who actually lives in the London Borough of Dagenham but why ruin a USP” Soloman is the one on whom a fiver should be placed at the bookies.

Okay, Stacy does sound like an over polished Hazel Dean, but compared with the other three – Mr Arrogant Warbler, Mr Ambiguous, Mr Mitch Benn – she’s the only one who has a singing voice worth hearing more than once. Just.

Voting for any of these potential one-hit wonders is not something I am likely to do, all that said. My real focus is on actual voting and actual democracy, with long-term consequences and all that stuff. I am annoyed to the highest limits with the news that chicken-scared Labour MPs are attempting to force Gordon Brown into rushing changes to the Westminster voting system through Parliament to trap the Conservatives into looking like “status quo stick-in-the-muds”. In short, Labour MPs who may well lose their seats in 2010 (and so they should) hope that switching to AV will a) keep them in a cushy job for a few more years, and b) stuff the Tories ever ruling with a working majority ever again.

As a liberal, a democrat, and a Liberal Democrat, my life-long dream has been to see the introduction of a fairer voting system for Westminster. AV is not my first choice by any stretch. I would much prefer STV. But of course, STV means Labour are not likely to keep the big bad Tories out of office. And for some robotic ultra-loyal Labour MPs, they would rather keep their careers nice and feather lined (so hence this cynical attempt to force through a Tory blocking measure before March 28th), than actually deal with the inadequacies of the FPTP system.

Using “politics as usual” techniques to suggest “politics is really changing” is the lowest form of Westminster game playing. It’s little wonder Yes, Minister and Thick Of It make me cringe so much; they are so much like the real goings on inside the corridors of power they may as well be broadcast as news.

It’s enough to make me give up on politics all together and become a talent show judge.