Tuesday 4 April 2006

A new use for the Lotto

It’s like a Greek tragedy, isn’t it? The embattled Prime Minister, mired in sleaze, desperately clinging to office. A decade ago it was Major, today it is Blair, and the only real difference is that under Major the sleaze involved a few relatively junior members of his team. Whereas in the present Government’s case it appears to have become party policy at the very highest level.

At the time, we all thought that John Major had been hopelessly over-promoted, and that he was terminally, mind-numbingly dull. Subsequent revelations by Edwina Currie helped to clear up the latter misconception. I don’t hold out much hope of similarly racy disclosures about the current incumbent of 10 Downing Street (well, at the time of writing, anyway). First because of a due regard for the laws of libel. And secondly because he shows every sign of being happily married. I just can’t imagine how.

John Major’s legacy is the fiasco of Black Wednesday, which destroyed confidence in the economic competence of the Tory party for more than a decade, and perhaps for a whole generation. Never mind that it laid the foundations for an unprecedented period of national prosperity, which even Gordon Brown’s relentless meddling and tax-raising hasn’t yet managed to bring to an end.

No matter how much he bleats about schools ‘n’ hospitals, Tony Blair will be remembered chiefly for leading this country into wars which served no obvious British interests, and which made bad situations worse. And for attaining office by denying nearly all the principles on which his party was traditionally based.

In this he has set a trend. Dave Cameron is to traditional Toryism what Tony Blair is to Old Labour. We old believers can’t stand his tieless matiness, his relentless political correctness and his right-on green credentials, but we’ve despaired of getting elected on the sound old platform of cutting taxes, stringing them up and sending them back.

On the strength of his past career in corporate communications, Dave has been described by a noted right-wing columnist as a ‘PR spiv’. While his expected opponent at the next general election is variously described as ‘dour’, ‘obsessive’ and ‘borderline autistic’. What a stimulating choice!

When one thinks back to the mood of optimism that genuinely seemed to grip the country in May 1997, what can one feel but sadness, pity and despair? Surely no-one can believe that we are represented and governed by our brightest and best people? Or that most of them have attained their present positions because they felt deep convictions, or a selfless desire to serve, rather than because they were personally on the make?

In the age of the career politician, experience of real life is too narrow. Instead of focusing on efforts to make Parliament ‘more representative’ – which is to say younger, more ethnically diverse and more feminine – we should be trying to fill it with people who are there out of duty rather than ambition, even if they happen to be white and male.

We used to have men of no great intelligence on both the Tory and Labour benches – the ‘knights of the shires’ and their trade union counterparts. Whatever their defects, they were generally there to serve their people rather than to feather their nests.

We had an even finer example of a system that brought people into Parliament who had nothing to gain from their presence - the hereditary House of Lords that was destroyed by Tony Blair without any idea of how to improve on it, other than by allegedly providing seats in exchange for non-declared loans.

Now they tell us that the only way we can stop them being sleazy is to fund their party political activities from our taxes. I say no. Personally, I’d rather be represented by the Duke of Northumberland than by Alan Beith. And if bringing back the real House of Lords is a step too far, let’s choose our representatives by lottery, like jury service. What could be more democratic than that?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

No comments: