September 17, 2010
This week, Pope Benedict launched an invasion of Britain with an army of paedophiles, on a mission to slaughter all gay people and destroy every last condom he can find. At least, that’s what you’d think from reading the ridiculous media coverage we’ve been subjected to. A bunch of celebrities have been saying the visit shouldn’t even happen. Last time I checked our country enshrined the values of free speech and respect for others – even if we disagree with his views or actions. If the Pope was here inciting hatred or violence, Stephen Fry et al would have a point. He’s not, so let him come and say what he has to say, and let his critics say what they have to say.
In more earthly affairs, Andy Burnham started complaining about the rules in the Labour leadership campaign. He doesn’t seem to like the prominence of MPs (they have a third of the electoral college votes), which apparently gives a boost to Westminster favourites over the people’s choice. It’s a compelling argument, but is it borne out by the facts? We’ll have to wait and see if any candidate gets the backing of party members but is denied victory by MPs – I doubt it will happen. One Member One Vote is a fine principle, but on balance I think the electoral rules should continue to reflect the triple status of the leader – as leader of the party, the labour movement and the parliamentary group.
Turning our attention to the coalition, the defence select committee criticised the breakneck speed of the government’s defence review. Hastiness is becoming the central charge against the coalition’s reforms. The same has been said about changes in the NHS, education and the police. Are they leaping before they look? Almost certainly. It could well be a deliberate attempt to minimise opposition – including from Lib Dems, who are bound to be reluctant about criticising within the first year of the coalition.
Something which hasn’t been so quick is the reform of banking regulations. On Monday, bank shares surged after the Basel Committee released new rules for the sector. Actually, the rules could have been tougher but will still mean significant changes to the way that banks do business. Questions have been raised about what a new, safer banking system means for the less well-off in society. New Labour pinned its hopes on asset-based welfare, with people able to make money from their savings (including the Child Trust Fund) and get themselves on the property ladder with a cheap mortgage. What happens now that banks are going to be playing it safe and, therefore, less ready to spread the cash around?
Finally, the ‘Tea Party’ movement in the US secured one of its biggest victories to date when Christine O’Donnell won the Republican Senate primary in Delaware. Some will see reason to rejoice in this, as evidence (like the Tories after 1997) of the Republicans making themselves thoroughly unelectable. Indeed, Barack Obama will probably breathe a huge sigh of relief if Sarah Palin is his opponent at the 2012 election. The downside, surely, is that in the long-term the progressive cause can only suffer by the presence of such an oppositional and irrational movement in public life – the bigger it gets, the less Obama will actually get done in office.