GE2015 minus 46: Of course I remember whatisname…

Posted: 22 March 2015 in general election 2015, politics
Tags: , ,

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not often I feel sorry for politicians. And as others have suggested recently, so many of them think they’re in House of Cards, when in fact, they’ve a starring role in The Thick Of It. But from my experience, politicians – while wanting to do the best for their electorate, the people who put them into ‘power’ – have two overwhelming concerns: (a) getting re-elected, and (b) being remembered. Oh, and before I forget, that electorate I just mentioned? It’s only the voters when it comes to those who aren’t leaders of their parties. For the folks that have risen to that position, their electorate is the MPs or others who’ve put them into the job, and who can remove them easier than you might think.

By self-confession, I’m a politics junkie. I have been since at least my mid-teens, and there’s been no reduction of my addiction with the arrival of the internet, the twenty-four hour news cycle and the prefessionalism of politics to an extent that would have astonished me thirty years ago. If anything, all of those have combined to make it easier than ever to satisfy my need for additional knowledge. I’m always astonished when anyone says that the ubiquity of political coverage turns them off politics. I just don’t get it. The flip side of that is equal astonishment comes when anyone complains that a particular policy or politician isn’t getting enough coverage. What they usually mean is that they’d joyfully sacrifice scrutiny of ‘their’ side of the argument for more scrutiny of the other lot. 

And, yes, as should be obvious by now, I’m far more fascinated with the process of politics and government than the individual parties’ policies; mea culpa.

I mentioned a moment ago two motives; I’ll almost certainly write more about the first of those as we get closer to the election and we see the official manifestos* of the parties, but right now I’m fascinated by the second of them: the desire to be remembered. More about that in a bit, but a quick word about manifestos and elections. 

I’ve written about the manifesto process and how it’s no longer fit for purpose in the days of coalition politics; don’t be surprised if you see references to it cropping up again. But one thing is important to remember: no matter what they say, nor what the opposition is saying, the government isn’t standing on their record; they’re standing on their manifesto as to what they will do, once re-elected. Same with the Lib Dems; whatever you think of them, the 2015 general election isn’t about what they’ve done – or not done – while in office; it’s about what they will do if they’re part of another coalition government. Moreover, Labour isn’t standing on their record from 1997-2010, no matter how much good or ill you think they accomplished while in government. Hell, a large number of Labour MPs standing for election in 2015 weren’t even in the House of Commons 18 years ago.  33 Labour MPs are standing down in about six weeks; even if they were all elected, that’d be well over 10% of Labour MPs new to the commons. I’m not entirely sure they or any MPs elected in 2010 and 2005 should be held accountable for what their ministers did in office. Point being that every party is standing on what they will do in office, not what they have or have not done prior to the date of the election. And one more thing, no matter what a prospective parliamentary candidate – prime minister, minister, backbencher or new candidate, says they’ll do in office, if it’s not in the manifesto, question them as to why they’re saying it when it’s not there. 

Of course, the counter argument is that any party standing for election has to be trusted by the electorate to do what they say they’ll do, and if a party lied (a perjorative term, but sometimes it fits) or at the very least did something different than what they said they’d do, the party as a whole has to answer for that.

But that’s a larger topic for another day.

Back to wanting to be remembered. I’m pretty sure I could tell you who was Prime Minister in any year back to the mid-1850s, and probably mention two or three things they’re remembered for. (By the way, I thoroughy recommend Nick Robinson’s 16 audio essays on Prime Ministers. They’re just superb listening, and in the best traditions of the BBC, they educate and inform; that they also entertain is a bonus.)  And there are those even further back who are remembered for the good or bad things they accomplished in office. Robert Walpole, the first to be actually called ‘Prime Minister’ (as a less than complimentary description) but who denied the title and who didn’t even choose his Cabinet; Lord North 1770-1782, who lost America; Pitt The Younger, aged 24 and introduced the first income tax; Earl Grey who gave his name to the tea under disputed circumstances; Spencer Percival, the only Prime Minister to have been assassinated.

But Leaders of the Opposition, those who never became Prime Minister? Possibly I could remember those from the mid-20th century onwards. Cabinet Ministers? Only those who resigned in disgrace, a few who resigned for utterly honourable reasons, and some for what they actually did. Roy Jenkins, as Home Secretary in the late 1960s, refused to authorise the birching of prisoners; he was also responsible for the relaxation of the laws relating to divorce, abolition of theatre censorship and gave government support to David Steel‘s Private Member’s Bill for the legalisation of abortion and Leo Abse’s bill for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

What about the current House Of Commons? How many of them will be remembered in 20 years? 50 years? 100 years? Well, of course, some will be remembered for climbing the greasy pole to the very top. The next few Prime Ministers are almost certainly MPs already. So they’ll be remembered for decades. And Leaders of the Opposition will similarly be remembered… for a while. Everyone else? Well, it depends what they’ve done. And I don’t think many of the current crop of members of parliament will be easily remembered in 50 years. 

With one exception: Speaker John Bercow. I think he’ll be remembered for a few generations to come. I’m a huge fan of Bercow. Not necessarily the man, but the job he’s done as Speaker. And I’ll certainly be writing about him, and his tenure, in an entry before the election. 

Until tomorrow…

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