It’s a silly question in many ways: how personal is your vote? Well, in one way, of course, it’s nothing but personal. You go into the voting booth yourself and it’s no one else other than you that’s putting that cross in the box, or spoiling your ballot paper deliberately or otherwise. Or it’s you that’s put the cross in the box of the postal ballot. I suppose it’s less slightly personal if you’ve appointed a proxy, but in the last thirty-odd years, I’ve only met one person who did that. And I suspect there aren’t many reading this who plan to appoint a proxy in May. Sao, it’s a persona vote, i.e. it’s you the person who are voting.

But there’s another meaning when I ask “how personal is your vote?”  

I know some people – quite a lot actually – who just can’t and won’t vote for a Conservative candidate. If the candidates for election were Ghenghis Kahn, Darth Vader, Death, or a Tory, I’d start hearing them say “Well, Vader’s not that bad, you know…” But like switching off the light in a room when you leave it to go to bed, it’s not a genuine consideration of whether or not to vote for them. Neither does the decision in any way take into account the candidate that’s being offered to you as the Conservative PPC; the decision not to vote for the Conservative candidate is by now automatic, like flushing the loo when you’ve finished.

It’s not personal at all; it’s just a flat out NO. This isn’t limited to the Tories of course; there are people right now who have sworn never again to vote Lib Dem under any circumstances, and equally, I know people who’ll never vote Labour because of this thing or that. Plenty of people of people I know – including me – made up their minds long ago never to vote BNP nor UKIP nor pick-a-party-of-your-choice.   

Thirty-seven days to the general election and I’ve yet to make up my mind who’s going to be the lucky candidate to get my vote. There’s so much to think about: “who do I want to win the general election?” is one factor of which I have to take account, but it’s not necessarily the determining factor in who I want to be my constituency MP.

About six months ago, while writing about how I’ve little sympathy for the unsympathetic, I wrote the following:

I can’t think of a single election in the past thirty years where I’ve agreed with even the vast majority of any single party’s manifesto. I can’t really speak on how they’ve acted as a constituency MP, on the other hand, with one exception. My Member of Parliament for some years was Sir Sidney Chapman, a man with whose politics I fervently disagreed. Yet, I never heard a single complaint from across the local political spectrum about his activities as a constituency MP. He seemed to be that apparently most rare of species: someone who believed, once elected, he owed a duty to everyone in his constituency, whether or not they’d voted for him.

What I didn’t add then was that even though his politics and mine were far apart I had no hesitation in voting for him because of his reputation as a first class constituency MP. The decision was, I have to say, made a lot easier because there wasn’t one chance in a thousand that his party would form the government, let alone let him be part of it.

This was in 1997 and 2001. There was no chance that Labour weren’t going to win, and win big. So, Chapman was my MP and I was pleased he was. His personal politics aside, he worked for his constituents as a constituency member of parliament is supposed to. I met him just the once, in Barnet High Street. He was charming in his way, I suppose, but I didn’t take to him personally. But he got my personal vote in the elections.

There’s also the small but rather inconvenient fact that in some constituencies, they effectively don’t count the winning party’s vote; they weigh it. It’s highly unlikely, say, that in Hemsworth, they’ll ever elect anyone other than a Labour candidate. It’s been held by Labour since 1918 and at the last election, the winner had a majority of almost 10,000. Same thing applies in Horsham, a Tory held seat since 1880; if they put up a donkey wearing a blue rosette, it’d be elected. (I’m minded to check whether at certain periods, they’ve tested that out, but I’m worried what I might find.)

In those and other constituencies, it really doesn’t matter who you vote for, the only satisfaction you’ll get from viting for someone else is the satisfaction of looking in the mirror and knowing you did the right thing. And sometimes, that’s enough.

But in all seriousness, what if you like your constituency MP, or at least you like the candidate, and you’re in a marginal seat, but you don’t like his party and in a close election, every seat counts. One could argue that you should look at the bigger picture, that no matter how much you like the candidate, you do not want his or her party in government and if you have to make sure the nice candidate loses, then so be it; can’t take a joke, shouldn’t play the game. 

But isn’t that hypocrisy writ enormously large? We implore the young to vote, to get interested in politics, to check out the people who have the temerity, the sheer audacity to say “vote for me so I can go to the House of Commons on your behalf”. How much more interested can they get than learning about the candidates standing in their own constituency? How hypocritical is it to tell them no matter who they want in parliament representing them, they should vote against that person to stop other people they’ve never met and will never meet in the same party forming the government. 

And how hypocritical is it of us to do the same, to vote for someone we don’t actually want in Parliament to stop someone else we don’t want forming the government. We don’t have a presidential system; we elect individual members of parliament and it’s a blatant abdication of responsibility to vote tactically.

We tell our politcians that we’re fed up of negative campaigning, and then do it ourselves by saying “vote tactically, so the vote is against someone, not for someone.” 

I’m more than fed up of the hypocrisy that seems inherent in the British political system; at 50 years of age, however, I’m only just beginning to realise some voters are as hypocritical as the politicians.      

“The most important election since… [insert notable event]”. I’ve heard this said by oppositions, and governments, and political pundits as long as I’ve been aware that general elections take place, and have been able to vote in them. In my adult lifetime, I’ve been through seven general elections so far, and taken an interest in eight. I’ve mentioned before that I was too young to vote in the 1979 election and had to limit myself to a mock election at school and watching the results on the television that evening. The most striking memory of the results evening – and the one that’s stuck – is the opening titles to the election broadcast. I was interested in computers; indeed, I was taking ‘Computer Studies; as an o-level, and the opening titles were basically ASCII art, (for any of those reading who remember that as a thing) combined with an homage to Doctor Who, I think.

      

But the phrase “the most important election since…” and the equally ubiquitous “most unpredictable election since…” irritate me for lots of reasons. For a start, despite what many people seem to believe about the unreliability of opinion polls, they’re usually pretty much on the mark. There have only been two elections I can recall where the polls ‘got it wrong’ to an extent that was material, and both involved Margaret Thatcher. The first was her 1983 win where the boundary changes, the Falkland Islands conflict/victory, and a Labour Party riven by internal disputes combined to increase her majority more than had been predicted. Thatcher had come to power in 1979 with a working majority of 44 seats, out of a total House of Commons of 635 seats. By the time of the 1983 election, the boundary changes meant there were now 650 seats, and a joint excercise by BBC and ITN reported that had the boundary changes been in effect in 1979, the majority wouldn’t have been 44 seats; it would have been 68 seats.  

The Labour party was going through a horrendous set of internal divisions, which only became obviously transparent (as opposed to obliquely known) when three four senior members of the party, previous Labour cabinet ministers, left to form a new party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1981. At the 1983 election, they formed an alliance with the Liberal Party, then led by David Steel, and for a time were a genuine threat to Labour. And of course, there was the Falklands… (huh. I just typed Flaklands instead of Falklands. Given what happened and its effect upon the election, that’s probably just as accurate.)

Anyway, Thatcher was returned to power, increasing their majority to 100, from 44 (or really 68 – see above). Labour was hit hard; their total number of votes was only 3/4 of a million higher than the alliance and many blamed both the leader and their manifesto, memorably described later by a Labour MP as ‘the longest suicide note in history’.

And while the polls had predicted a return to power, they hadn’t predicted the Tories’s majority would almost triple.

The other election in which I recall that the polls got it wrong, this time spectacularly, was the election that took place nine years later, in 1992. Although she was no longer Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher’s shadow loomed large over the election, and indeed the campaign. John Major’s government – he’d taken over in November 1990 – had staggered on for the full five years (five year terms were fairly rare back then) and no-one expected his return with even a working majority. For the first time since 1974, people were talking about – and the polls indicated – that there’d be a hung parliament, and even if that happened, it was anybody’s guess which would be the resulting biggest party. Labour were consistently, albeit narrowly, ahead of the polls despite the public seeming to have a problem with the very idea of Neil Kinnock as a potential Prime Minister; such feelings weren’t helped by a presidential style campaign by Labour that did no favours to Kinnock and a right wing print media that expressed contempt at the notion of Prime Minister Neil Kinnock.  

Well, he did return as Prime Minister, the government’s majority slashed to 21. What happened? Well, I think the initial responses were the correct conclusions: when it came to the opinions polls, after thirteen years of Conservative government (eleven under Thatcher), a government constantly at war over the UK’s membership and Europe a Labour party that was only just hauling itself into the late twentieth century… people were ashamed to tell the opinion pollsters that they were voting conservative. There’s also some truth in the idea that as far as the public were concerned, the 1978 winter of discontent was still a relatively fresh memory, and before the Labour party could get real votes, they needed to lose from their top echelons those who’d been in senior party positons during that period.

By now, also, the Liberal party had merged with the remnants of the SDP and had become the Liberal Democrats. This was their first election under that banner and they did… “all right”. They lost a couple of seats, but given the other results that night, no-one was much paying attention to them… which was kind of the theme of their fortunes during much of the the next five years. I’m still of the view that the Lib Dems sneaked in under the radar in the final couple of long, horrible-for-John-Major years of the 1992-97 parliament and somehow, almost by accident, the Lib Dems more than doubled their seats in the 1997 election.

The 1997, 2001 and 2005 election results surprised no-one and, given the polls leading up to the last election, nor really did the 2010 results. What did surprise people was what happened next, not only who formed the government, but what each party had to give up to get there. I’ve said before that anyone who thinks the Tories got the better deal out of the coalition agreement is almost certainly right and those who think the Lib Dems got nothing are certainly wrong.

And so we’re now in the campaign period for the 2015 election and the polls are screaming out, even moreso than last time, that it’s going to result in a hung parliament. They’re probably right. And what happens next? Well, that won’t really surprise anyone; it’ll shock them. We’re still unused to coalition government and minority government in Westminster (you can’t extrapolate from one example) although it both happen all the time in regional and local government. Everyone will learn from the mistakes of last time and won’t make those mistakes.

I’m entirely sure, however, that new mistakes are waiting to be made on 8th May, 2015. And 9th May 2015 and… all the way through to 2020… or at least 2019 if someone does the sensible thing and reduce the term to four years. Now that’s a policy I could get behind.

Until tomorrow.

The past few entries in this countdown to the 2015 general election have been fairly heavy, so let’s make this one a bit lighter in tone. 

In fact it has to be lighter in tone because if I wrote this while letting my true feelings out, I think I’d have to go and lie down in a darkened room to calm down. What has brought me to this level of calm-calm-calm-forfuckssakestaycalm? An interview conducted by Andrew Neil with Lucy Powell, the vice-chair of Labour’s election campaign.

Some folks on social media have described it as a ‘car-crash’ interview; I don’t think it’s awfulness goes that far. It’s just a bad, bad interview, with Neil asking questions and wanting answers, and Powell trotting out a presumably agreed line, while at no point actually answering the questions asked. She continually objects to Neil’s not letting her answer the question, and then goes off into the wild blue yonder to.. well, I’m sure she’s answering a series of questions, but they’re certainly not the questions that Neil is asking.

Here, take a look.

And so, to prevent my blood pressure rising any further than it should do (there’s only so much Ramipril can do, you know) here’s a selection of political interviews which are definitely not the interviewees’ finest moments.

Let’s start with the infamous one: Jeremy Paxman and Michael Howard. In May 1997, after a report into a series of prison escapes had criticised the home office, Howard, then Home Secretary, blamed the Prison Service. Asking whether Howard had intervened when the head of that service sacked a prison governor,Howard repeatedly ducked the question asked. Watch Paxman’s face, throughout. (Later, Paxman admitted that he had to pad for time, but that Howard’s obvious reluctance gave him a way to do so.)  It took Howard some time to recover any personal authority. 

Coming closer to recent times, here’s Andrew Neil again, interviewing David Aaronovitch and teh American shock-jock, Alex Jones. Suffice to say, Neil is not impressed with the latter.

And finally, my personal favourite. Step forward, Chloe Smith. At the time this was recorded, June 2012, she was a treasury minister, the youngest minister in the government. There’d just been a U-turn on something announced in the 2012 Budget. Now, this budget held and holds the record for the most things announced upon which there were later u-turns. It destroyed George Osborne’s credibility for a couple of years, and anyone seeking to defend any part of it had a tough job. But this particular change? Well, everyone knew it had been made without any serious consideration, and there was no way it could be justifiably defended. And so it turned out to be…

See you tomorrow with something more a lot more serious… 

Every so often, it occurs to me to wonder about the current state of our political parties. Not that they’re untidy or anything (they are), nor that they’re disorganised (they are), nor even that they’re comprised of the most incompetent politicians of my lifetime. By that last, I’m not talking about various politicians’ performance as ministers. There have been competent ministers in this government, and indeed, in every government I can remember. There have also been some who’ve been incompetent, some who’ve been dishonest and some who’ve just been too out of their depth to make a difference for good or ill.

No, I mean competence as politicians, in persuading other people that they are right and other people are wrong. The forthcoming election is going to be one lot asking you not to let the other lot ruin the country, while the other lot beg you not to let the first lot ruin the country. Rarely these days do you get a politician, through strength of argument, try to persuade someone that you should vote for them because of what they’ll do; it’s all about not letting “the other lot” screw things up, or continue screwing things up.

But, back to how I opened this. I wonder about the state of the parties mainly because I’m genuinely unsure which previous leaders of the parties would recognise the current iterations of their parties least

Let’s go back a fair distance. Say 40 years, March 1975. Back then, of the three main parties, you had the Labour Government led by Harold Wilson, the Conservative Party opposition led by a new-to-the-job Margaret Thatcher (she took over in mid-February) and finally the Liberal Party, led by Jeremy Thorpe.

Let’s take them one at a time.

 

The Labour Party: It’s certainly arguable that Harold Wilson was the most successful politician the UK had had since Churchill, and that he remained that way right through until Tony Blair’s emergence as a political force. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Wilson, in common with those other two, had few party political principles, and was more concerned with what could be done while in office than ideally what the party ideologues would have wished had been done. However, the ten months between the first and second 1974 elections certainly allowed Wilson to campaign on what successes there had been while in office. It’s also noticeable that his previous experience as Prime Minister between 1964-1970 meant that when he got back in, he didn’t have a ‘period of adjustment’ while he actually got used to being Prime Minister. But even Wilson, let alone those far more to the left in the party would have fallen off his chair at what the Labour party is today. During his time in office, the top rate of income tax was 83% on incomes equivalent to today’ money of about £180,000 per year. His government repealed the 1971 Industrial Relations Act, which among other things outlawed wildcat strikes and limited justifiable strikes. Wilson’s government enacted a raft of positive legal rights for union lay representatives and full-time officials, including paid release from work to undertake training in industrial relations and health and safety. Inflation increased (not necessarily as a result of this; as always, the global economy was blamed) and the economy took several years to recover. 

I’ve no doubt that Wilson would have recognised Blair as similar to those who occupied the right wing of Wilson’s Labour party. It would have astonished him, however, how the party itself had moved to the right during the 1990’s and 2000’s. And he would have been contemptuous, I believe, at the overwhelming number of MPs whose lives since school have been solely about politics, whose careers have been pushed forward because of their role as party and ministerial Special Advisors.

He’d have cringed at the egregious nature of what the Labour Party now regards as left wing policies.

 

The Conservative Party. It’s important to remember that when Margaret Thatcher took over as leader of the Conservative Party, she wasn’t anywhere close to being as right wing as she became in the next few years. But by the late 1970s, she completely gone over to the anti-Keynesian monetarist lot. She had been to the right economically of Ted Heath, certainly, but to be fair, that wasn’t difficult. While in Cabinet, as Education Secretary, she was derided as The Milk Snatcher for removing free milk from school pupils. Cabinet papers released much later revealed she had been against the policy but had been forced into it by the Treasury and went along with it because of the doctrine of collective cabinet responsibility. But in the early days of her leadership, she wasn’t looking to privatise everything in sight, and it’s forgotten than even when in power, there were real increases year on year in NHS funding, at a rate which would astonish today’s generation of labour, let alone conservative politicians. Unlike Wilson, however, she was an ideologue; it was just that her ideology moved to the right between 1974 and 1979, and even further to the right thereafter.

So what would the Margaret Thatcher of 1975 think of 2015’s conservatve party. To say “not a lot” would be to hugely understimate her contempt, I suspect. Again, like Wilson, she would have been surprised at the growth in special advisors, at the sheer naked greed of some politicans, and at the emptiness of the party’s offering in 2015. Unlike Wilson, Thatcher’s policies were ideologically driven; whatever you say about Thatcher (and let’s face it, most of it would be expletive laden), she knew what she wanted – even if that changed over the years – and could muster a decent argument about why it should happen. She’d be sickened by the lack of intellectual rigour and integrity in today’s Conservative Party, and would view with utter derision the mendacity and self-delusion to which some cabinet ministers aspire.

 

The Liberal Party. Nope. I’ve got nothing. The idea that the leader of what the Liberals became would not only go into government with a right-wing led Conservative Party, but would defend policies like the Bedroom Tax, the welfare butchery and the collection of personal data would so disgust Thorpe that I suspect he’d take to his sickbed and never recover.    

It’s 2015. Do you recognise your political parties? Because none of the leaders of 1975 would. At all. 

So, last night we had the first leaders’ debates, interviews, question and answer sessions, event. I’m not sure if I can quite communicate my contempt for what actually ensued with the paltry vocabulary I own. Indeed, to fully express the disappointment, I’m pretty sure I’d have to make up new words: “fuckleness”, maybe, or “prickdoodle”, or even “stucuntedly” might work as a suitable adjective, I guess.

Sigh.

OK, OK … let’s see what went right about last night’s fiasco.

erm…

No, that’s not fair. In brief, the Paxman bits , interviewing David Cameron and Ed Miliband separately (very important that) were excellent viewing, but taught the audiences nothing other than supplying an unnecessary reminder that politicians really don’t like answering questions.

As always happens with political broadcasts by party leaders shortly before an election, the format was a compromise, which was only appropriate since the contents of the television programme turned out to be full of compromises as well.

What was supposed to happen, and what the politicians expected to happen, was that first off David Cameron would be interviewed by that master of political interviews, Jeremy Paxman, leading to the viewers learning something they didn’t know before. The Prime Minister was no doubt sure of his facts and certain of his ability to answer any question Paxman asked that he liked… and easily bat away those he didn’t like. Then he’d face a studio audience and he’d ‘connect’ with them, charming the pants off them. And of course, he’d charm the host of this bit, Kay Burley. (Even those politically opposed to Cameron have stated – often through gritted teeth – how damn charming the man is in person.) He was certain that he’d not only hold the studio audience’s attention, but more importantly, those of the watching millions. He’d convince them that not only does he personify Prime Ministerial authority, but that it’d be patently obvious that he should be allowed to continue in the role. And of course, according to the Conservatives’ plan, Ed Miliband would be out of his depth in both venues when it was his turn.

I’ve no doubt whatsoever that Ed Miliband, on the other hand, thought David Cameron would do well during his bits, but he’d come over as too authoritarian, too posh and completely out of touch with ‘normal’ people. Whereas of course he (Miliband) would have that ‘common touch’, that the passion for his views would first impress Burley and the studio audience, and then without doubt, he’d be able to handle whatever Paxman had in store for him.

Well, they were both wrong. Spectacularly, horrendously, astonishingly wrong. But wrong in a way that neither of them could have anticipated.

Whatever else one can say about David Cameron, he’s rarely short of an answer. Were ‘stalling so he can gather his thoughts’ to be an Olympic event, he’d stand a good chance at bringing home the gold for Great Britain in Rio. But the moment Paxman started asking questions of David Cameron, it become stunningly obvious that the Prime Minister just hadn’t prepared properly – or at all. It was almost painful, watching Paxman eviscerate Cameron, layer by layer. Cameron was so bludgeoned by the questions, let alone the style in which they were asked, that he never recovered. I’ve never seen the Prime Minister so out of his depth. It was like watching a World Cup level penalty taker shooting at a primary school goalkeeper. It wasn’t that the shots went in; it was that Cameron never had a clue how to stop them. It was a painful twenty minutes to watch, but at least it was gripping television, in the same way you can’t take your eyes off a motorway accident as you drive past it.

Would that the same could have been said about the Q&A with the studio audience.

Public Service Announcement: If you’ve been suffering from insomnia, cue up the Prime Minister’s Q&A, and you’ll soon get the benefits of its soporific effects. It was even more astonishing than the interview in that we learned that David Cameron can be boring, hugely boring, foolishly, absurdly boring. But he shouldn’t shoulder the blame himself. Not when the audience asked such trivial and meaningless questions. Kay Burley helped and did her part by ensuring that if the boredom level was in danger of lessening, stamping on such a dangerous likelihood at once!

There was a moment of genuine pleasure during this latter bit. It happened at exactly the point when they broke for an ad break and millions were shaken out of a coma-like state.

After the break, came the leader of the official opposition, and David Cameron’s only challenger for Prime Minister after the election, Ed Miliband. Yeah, I know that kind of implies a presidential system rather than a parliamentary, but you know what I mean.

Unlike Cameron, Miliband chose to have the Q&A part first, and face Paxman later. Turned out to be a smart move, because even had he been as boring as Cameron, he must have known that the interview with Paxman would be remembered… for good or ill.

Again, the questions were trivial and meaningless; an obvious question as to the ‘rift’ with his brother, though I’m at a loss to understand what that has to do with Labour’s policies or Ed Miliband’s suitability to be Prime Minister. However, with a couple of rare exceptions, at least this part wasn’t as boring as Cameron’s stint. To be fair, that was a low bar, but then turned out to be the unspoken theme of Miliband’s appearances. The bar was set low and as long as he didn’t throw up on stage, he was likely to exceed expectations. He even showed passion at a few points; the problem was that I didn’t believe that the passion had anything to do with what he was talking about. It just seemed that an alarm clock went off inside his head, so he was passionate at that moment.

One thing that was very noticeable was Kay Burley’s stronger interventions; she definitely gave Miliband a harder time than she gave Cameron. There could be many reasons for this, but I don’t accept the suggestions that it was politically biased. I think David Aaronovitch had it about right:

 

After that, Miliband sat and was quizzed by Paxman. Well, I say quizzed; I think Miliband would have done better had it just been a quick question and answer pub quiz. He was – to me at least – entirely unconvincing, did as much question-dodging as Cameron, and his attempt to convince Paxman that he could be tough in negotiations came off as over-rehearsed, at least to me. It’s perhaps worth noting that Miliband didn’t cock up on anything else really, which put him head and shoulders in front of Cameron.

I’d score it:

PAXMAN
Cameron: 1 out of 5
Miliband: 3 out of 5

Q&A
Cameron: 0 out of 5 (soporific)
Miliband: 3 out of 5

So, all told, Miliband ‘won’, but in what I suspect will be the  theme of this election, he didn’t win… he just lost less well.

I did say at the beginning of this run of blog entries counting down to the general election on 7th May that although most of the entries would be about the runup to the election, that there’d be some less politically based posts. This is the first.

Ten years ago. What were you doing ten years ago today? If you’d asked me a week ago the same question, I could probably only have answered by looking up my blog entries at the time. Sure, I was employed by a company as their director of finance, and enjoyed the job. Laura and I were still together – for a few months anyway – and our son Philip was not quite ten years’ old yet.

A week from now, the same applied. Not sure exactly what I’d have been doing at this precise moment on 2nd April 2005. But right now? At this time on 26th March, I was absorbing the pleasure of having just watched, with my lad, the first episode of Christopher Eccleston’s run as The Doctor.

As Mitch Benn (about more of whom in a moment) has pointed out, it’s weird to think that at ten years, Doctor Who – in its new, er-hem, incarnation – has outlasted many other television serials, let alone other science fiction television serials. Battlestar Galactica? Four seasons and 75 episodes. Longest of the Stargate franchise (save the first)? Five seasons, 100 episodes. Doctor Who, from 2005 to date: 116 episodes. And if you include the original run, we’re at over 800 episodes, with 253 separate stories.

It’d be easy to say I’ve had a complicated relationship with Doctor Who. Easy, but untrue; I’ve always had a very good relationship with Doctor Who; I’ve watched it when I wanted to, and stopped watching when I wanted that as well. I don’t really remember Patrick Troughton in the role; I was only seven when he handed over the reigns to Jon Pertwee, and I’ve faint memories of Pertwee’s first episodes. The autons – or rather the plastic dummies that walked and shot people at that – scared the hell out of me. But I was lucky on three fronts. 

First off, and most importantly, as a young child, I watched it with my big brother. Mike was a huge fan of the show, though not as big a fan as I turned out to be, and I have dim memories of watching the show cuddled up to my five-years-older-than-me brother. So, although they were scary, they weren’t too scary. I think the only disagreement we had about the show was that he regarded Jon Pertwee as an interloper, as he’d grown up watching Patrick Troughton play The Doctor. (Not for the first time, I’m terribly sorry that I never got to introduce Mike to Neil Gaiman. I think they’d have liked each other a lot.)

Secondly, just as I was beginning to think that this Doctor Who thing was something special, they introduced The Master. Roger Delgado was a stranger to me, but instantly he grabbed the screen and made it his own. Of course, Delgado had been around for ages, appearing on television shows that I was too young to watch, although I later remember him in a rather good guest appearance in The Zoo Gang, another favourite of mine. But having an arch-enemy was great for me. There was a baddie, and out and out baddie. Yay.

The third stroke of luck I had was to fall ill. No, nothing overly serious: a bad dose of mumps. But it confined me to bed for a while and a neighbour, knowing I liked Doctor Who, bought me some novels that had just been published. These three:

     

And I devoured them. I’ve still very fond memories of them them and still remember individual bits of each. My favourite, however, was the first. The other two may have been novels about The Doctor, but as far as I was concerned, the first – written in the first person, from Ian Chesterton’s point of view – was THE Doctor Who novel. The definite article, as the Fourth Doctor might – and did – say. 

I read. And I read. And I read some more. I watched companions come and go, monsters come and go… and come back again. And I saw Jon Pertwee’s Doctor regenerate into Tom Baker’s Doctor, and then I saw him regenerate into Peter Davison’s Doctor, and then I saw… well, I didn’t really. I kind of lost interest towards the end of Peter Davison’s run, and when I dropped back in a little while later, when Colin Baker helmed the TARDIS… well, I wasn’t impressed. Now, decades later, I’m quite prepared to agree with Mitch Benn that Colin Baker wasn’t the worst Doctor; he was just the unluckiest. I kind of missed out on Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor first time around, and I regret it enormously as the character probably went on a longer journey within that regeneration than within any up until that point.

The Doctor Who telemovie in 1996? Again, an unlucky outing for Paul McGann. Superb actor, with a bad script that made little sense. I was so pleased that circumstances in 2013 allowed him to appear onscreen for only the second time, and in that 6 minutes he made up for everything. just flat out superb, and it didn’t surprise me at all that many called for some episodes featuring The Eight Doctor. 

And so… 26th March 2005… 7pm. And showrunner Russell Davies delivered in spades. This was a Doctor that I recognised, fun, dangerous, wild and silly. And utterly, utterly different. And utterly, utterly the same.

And despite some dodgy episodes since then, every regeneration has ‘worked'; every actor inhabiting the role has unquestionably made it their own.

Of course, the show is about time. Well, no it isn’t; it uses time to tell stories. And that’s good enough for me. It usually has been, and long may it continue. Happy 10th Birthday, nuWho.

Meanwhile, I’ve waffled on for too long. In the days leading up to the first episode of the relaunch, Mitch Benn had a very special message for friends and family…

With Twitter and other social media completely swamped today with reactions to the BBC’s decision to fire Jeremy Clarkson (ok, ‘not renew his contract’), it’s easy to forget for a moment that there’s an election in 43 days. And, although the words are overused, it’s an important one that, right now, the results of which are entirely unpredictable.

There are only two predictions as to the result which I feel fairly confident in making:

(a) no party will get an overall majority.

(b) David Cameron will be Prime Minister on the morning of 8th May.

Note that I don’t say that he’ll be Prime Minister by the close of play on that day, but of course he’ll be Prime Minister. Indeed, all current ministers will be still in office until and unless David Cameron can tell the Monarch that he is unable to command a majority in the House of Commons and also recommends his successor. The Queen, you see, while theoretically able to choose her Prime Minister, won’t ever do it. For her to do so would be to excercise a power that, as I say, she theoretically has, but can never use.

One of the quirks of our constitutional settlement and the consequences of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act is that while every member of parliament ceases to be a member of parliament the moment parliament is prorogued, the offices of the Prime minister and all his ministers remain in existence at all times, and someone must be there to fill the office. So, David Cameron is Prime Minister, George Osborne is Chancellor of the Exchequer, and all the rest of the ministers remain in their positions until or unless someone new ‘kisses hands’ with the Monarch and is formally asked to form a government as Prime Minister.

 There’s only one MP who, while not being an MP after Prorogation (see above), remains a servant of the House of Commons during the interregnum between one parliament ending and the moment a new one is formed: the Speaker of the House of Commons. Strictly speaking, he ceases to have any obligations as Speaker, but he’s not kicked out of the Speaker’s House until either he loses his seat (rare, but it has happened) or he is not re-elected as Speaker on the first day of the new Parliament. The Speaker is elected (or re-elected) in a ceremony that goes back hundreds of years but by a process that has only existed since the fallout after the the fiasco of Speaker Martin’s election. Speaker Bercow was the first to be elected under the new system in 2009, and he was re-elected in 2010. I have no doubt whatsoever that he’ll be re-elected this time around. But if the House of Commons is actually sitting during his election, who presides? The Speaker can’t, because officially there’s no speaker. Who actually presides is the “Father of The House”, the MP with the longest consecutive service as an MP (That consecutive is important; if they’d been in the House for 30 years, but were unseated in the 1997 election only to be re-elected in 2001, they’ve only been in parliament for 14 consecutive years…) The current Father of the House is Sir Peter Tapsell, a man whose presentation and speaking voice seem to come from anther age. Indeed, when he talks about The Crimean War, one suspects that he might be talking from experience. However, he’s standing down at this election, so all things being equal, the next Father of the House is likely to be Sir Gerald Kaufman who was first elected in the 1970 election. But, I hear you cry, what about Kenneth Clarke, Dennis Skinner and Michael Meacher, who also took their seasts after that election. Well, the rules say that when members have the same length of service, it comes down to whoever actually took their oath first. And Kaufman was first, followed by Clarke, Meacher and finally Skinner.

Speaker Bercow is admired (or detested) rather than liked, and his personal qualities are well known to be less than idea; to describe him as ‘abrasive’ is probably understating it, but I’m a huge fan of him as a Speaker. He’s hauled more ministers into the Commons to answer urgent questions than many of his predecessors and he’s definitely paid more respect to the idea that the purpose of the House is to hold the Government to account. And I like the idea of a Speaker who’s not worried about telling members they’ve spoken for too long without reaching a point, including the Prime Minister on one notable occasion.

His immediate predecessor was a disaster; Speaker Martin’s tenure was marked by deserved disrespect towards his office and he was so wrapped up in the idea of being Speaker that he never quite seemed to come to terms with the actual job. But his predeccesor was one of the best in my lifetime; Speaker Boothroyd was respected by all and liked by many, and if you have some time and want to enjoy her at the peak of her Speakership, fortunately, YouTube has many examples.    

Until tomorrow…