Saturday, December 26, 2009

Review of the Year 2009

With the possible exception of 2001 and 9/11, seldom has any political year in recent history been dominated by a single story to the extent that the MPs expenses scandal dominated this one.

Most people have a fairly cynical view of politicians, casually and sometimes wrongly assuming them to be in it for what they can get.

Few taxpayers however imagined that they might be footing the bill for the cost of cleaning MPs’ moats, mowing their paddocks, and doing up their second homes to enable them to make a killing on the property market.

The scandal that broke over the summer will, quite literally, change Parliament – and the nature of the relationship between the public and their elected representatives – for ever.

The sad thing is, it could all have been averted, with a little foresight and some courageous leadership on the part of the Prime Minister and his fellow party leaders.

If Gordon Brown really was the strategic political genius his admirers have always claimed him to be, he would have seen it coming a mile off and pre-empted it by introducing measures to clean up the place.

Okay, so MPs would probably have voted him down – but that would have left him in an even stronger position when the storm finally broke.

As it was, Gordon’s inability to regain the political initiative was another of the themes of a political year that seems likely to be Labour’s last full 12 months in office for some time.

At one point, it looked as though Mr Brown’s handling of the continuing economic crisis, and in particular his role in brokering the global recovery plan, was winning over the public.

But his difficulty is that when it comes to the economy, too many voters see him as part of the problem rather than part of the solution – thanks largely to his hubristic claims to have “abolished boom and bust.”

It all threatened to come to a head in May when the sequential resignations of Hazel Blears and James Purnell seemed to herald the start of a Blairite counter-revolution against his leadership.

Had South Shields MP and Foreign Secretary David Miliband followed them out of the door, it would have been – but Lord Mandelson saved the day for Gordon by talking him out of it.

Mr Brown’s troubles were by no means over though. Another long-running story that caused big problems for the government over the summer was its alleged failure properly to equip British troops in Afghanistan.

It coincided with a terrible spate of British casualties as soldiers embarked on a perilous mission to drive back the Taliban in order to allow elections to take place.

And the year ended with startling revelations about another war – the 2003 Iraq conflict which is now the subject of a wide-ranging inquiry under Sir John Chilcot.

The disclosure that former Prime Minister Tony Blair knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq ten days before the invasion seems likely to further sully his already tarnished reputation.

But to return to MPs’ expenses…one consequence of the saga is that it adds an extra element of unpredictability to the election which must now be held this spring.

More fringe party candidates are certain to be elected. The incumbency factor which traditionally favours sitting MPs may go into reverse. And the turnout may well be lower, leading to more volatility in outcomes.

Some believe that the scandal will ultimately lead to a better, more diverse House of Commons, a political culture in which MPs genuinely see themselves as the servants of the people rather than their masters.

Others, and I have to say I am one of them, take a more jaundiced view: that it’s an ill wind that blows no good.

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Robert said...

Well after 40 year in labour, voting labour, it's time for me to change, I think I'll join the ranks of cannot be bothered, the choice of Cameron or Brown does nothing for me, so I'll sit at home.

Barnacle Bill said...

Robert - "don't let the bastards get you down".
Try to find a decent independent candidate you can support, or even stand yourself! A possibility I am looking into here.
The next general election promises to be the one where we, the voting public, can put ourselves back in charge of our political destiny.
It may end up messy, hung parliament, second general election in the same year; but from it all I'm sure if we all try a better system will emerge.
Don't waste your chance to make political history at the next general election - vote!