Saturday, August 27, 2011

Whatever became of the August Silly Season?

In my last Saturday column three weeks ago, I highlighted the absence this year of what has hitherto been an almost annual feature of the summer political scene – the July Cabinet Reshuffle.

But as it turned out, that has not been the only thing missing from this strangest of summers. What on earth, I ask you, has happened to that other great British political tradition - the August Silly Season?

Gone, it seems, are those lazy, hazy days when all we political pundits had to write about at this time of the year was John Prescott finding a baby crab in the River Thames and naming it after Peter Mandelson.

No, this year's political close season has seen the worst rioting in English cities since 1981, the recall of Parliament, the fall of Tripoli to the anti-Gadaffi rebels and all the while the phone-hacking affair still simmering away in the background.

Prime Minister David Cameron must be wondering whether he is ever going to get a "normal" summer break again.

Last year, his August reveries were interrupted by the unexpectedly swift arrival of baby daughter Florence Rose Endellion during the family's holiday in, er, Endellion, Cornwall.

But if that was doubtless an unequivocally joyful experience for the Prime Minister, this year's riots represented an altogether grimmer intrusion into his family time.

For a day or two, indeed, it had looked as if the UK was sliding into anarchy, before Mr Cameron and the rest of the political establishment belatedly woke up to the danger and headed home to Westminster.

There was a brief hiccup for the Prime Minister when he came under fire for appearing to blame the police for not having responded quickly enough to the developing situation.

The evident anger felt by the boys in blue over this slur was understandable in the light of the ongoing cuts to police numbers which, though they may be intended to reduce police 'bureaucracy,' almost always seem to end up hitting frontline policing more.

This aside, though, the general consensus of opinion over the past fortnight has been that Mr Cameron has performed well in the aftermath of the troubles that briefly turned our city centres into no-go areas.

It has been an easier wicket for the Old Etonian premier than might ordinarily be supposed. It was, after all, he who bemoaned the 'broken society' when Labour under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown denied any such fracture existed.

Mr Blair probably would have done well to keep out of the debate, but predictably the temptation to pontificate proved irresistible for the increasingly ubiquitous former PM.

His argument that the riots were more the result of a disaffected underclass rather than a wider social breakdown or 'moral decline' begged more questions than it answered.

For starters, as Mr Blair himself was good enough to acknowledge, it contradicted his own assertions at the time of the James Bulger murder in 1993 that society was becoming "unworthy of the name."

Mr Blair now describes this intervention as "good politics but bad policy" – a telling admission that New Labour was always more about political positioning – or to give it another word, spin - than it was about policy substance.

As for the so-called underclass, they are hardly a new phenomenon, having been with us at least as long as the original English riots of Margaret Thatcher's day, and probably longer.

Alas Mr Blair had little time for them during his ten years as Prime Minister, preferring to focus his energies instead on more electorally important swing voters of Middle England.

Perhaps sensibly, the current Labour leader Ed Miliband has largely eschewed sociological analysis and spent most of the past three weeks agreeing with the government.

But this is always a difficult gig for an opposition leader, as Iain Duncan Smith found in 2001 when up against Mr Blair in the wake of 9/11.

Mr Cameron's wider difficulties with the economy, phone-hacking and above all the relationship with the Lib Dems have certainly not gone away, and will doubtless continue to loom large when politics resumes in earnest next month.

But as is almost always the case at times of national emergency, the overall political impact of the riots thus far has been to strengthen the government's position.

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1 comment:

G Eagle Esq said...

".... political impact of the riots .... to strengthen the government's position .... "

Really ?


What of the "Olifant in the Room"

Mr Brown & his acolytes did not express any doubts about this reckless over-spending


what of these acolytes who still aspire to bestride the Labour Party like Colossi ... or (in these enLightened times) should that be ColossAE

eg Mrs Yvette Cooper or her Young Man or their friends, the brother Ed & Dave