Friday, February 9, 2007

Second Front (or double face) NOW!

Malcolm has, until now, studiously eschewed any notice of Diddy David Cameron. Then, an acquaintance insisted he wake up to the full horror.

[Murmurings of elves off: "No! Here we go. Oh, dear."]

Wednesday evening, the Tories held their Black and White Ball at Vauxhall. This, presumably, was an attempt to recreate the frisson of media attention a similar function managed a year ago:
Politicians sometimes make sartorial statements about their intentions and this week David Cameron, the new leader of Britain's opposition Conservatives, resolved to do just that with what was called the "Black and White Ball," a supposedly hip event studded with velvet suits, open-neck shirts and celebrities in d├ęcolletage, held in place of the Tories' traditional, tuxedoed Winter Ball.

David Cameron's promise to change the look of the Tories took a leap forward this week when the party came together for its Black and White Ball.

The event replaced the Conservatives' annual Winter Ball, usually held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane. And with a chic young crowd, a dashing leader and a tangible buzz in the air, this year's ball, held at Old Billingsgate, the site of the former fish market in the City, played brilliantly against the old perception of the Tory Party at play.

Mr Cameron, in a black velvet suit, open-necked white shirt and slicked-back hair, couldn't have looked more different from his predecessors William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, both of whom wore black tie. He was dressed more like a visiting movie star than the traditional Tory leader.

That was a year ago. Wednesday night was ... well, for want of a better word ... Vauxhall [horrified taxi-driver's voice off: "Sarf o' tha river! Wotcha reckon, guv? This time a-night? No chance!"]:

It doesn’t look much from the outside. A recent paintjob has smartened up the walls but can’t alter the impression that this is the last pub standing, the only venue in the area not to be redeveloped or turned into a Starbucks.

But behind these doors lies a wealth of gay cultural history. The Royal Vauxhall Tavern is London’s longest-surviving gay venue. It endured the Blitz, and the devastating impact of AIDS. It even survived the defection of its greatest star, Lily Savage, to the world of daytime television. And like all true survivors, the old girl is currently enjoying a bit of a comeback. Walk past any night of the week and you’ll hear music, laughter and possibly even the sound of a man in a wig singing ‘Maybe This Time’ by Liza Minnelli.

Oops, that's the infamous Royal Vauxhall Tavern

Oh well, says, Malcolm. Same difference (particularly since the entertainment was flamboyantly camp).

The highlight of the Tories' evening was an appearance by said Davy Boy. He made a speech. But first: the swimsuit round.

It seems our Dave turned up, open shirted, to harangue the troops. Now, let's remember this is an Old Etonian, a descendant of the late (if unlamented) Sailor King—albeit, wrong side of the blanket, and (Malcolm finds this even far more impressive) a tutee of Vernon Bogdanor.

Now, Malcolm tends to be, well, small-c conservative. When he first began being useful, behind the bar of his parents' pub, he was made abundantly aware by his father that the merest farm-labourer expected, and deserved a collar-and-tie with his evening pint. The Tories have dropped all their other standards, so this is just another debasement.

So, to Dave's speech.

It came down to the Tories being for local government, but against regional and devolved authorities. This, presumably, is the substance of one of the few positive policies enunciated by the Tories:
David Cameron has unveiled new Conservative plans to "reduce the reach of Whitehall" and transfer powers from central government to local communities.

Publishing a new Sustainable Communities Bill, which has been drafted in conjunction with Local Works - the campaign for stronger local democracy - the Conservative Leader declared: "Councils should be the collective instrument of local people rather than the local outposts of central government."

He said: "Conservatives will give greater powers to local councils, by reducing the reach of Whitehall, unelected quangos, and the new regional bodies."
Hold on, says Malcolm, this feels like Kawasaki's idea of a "new model": gussy up last year's, with added alloy. This is, of course, the commercial implementation of Santayana's principle: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." And, says Malcolm, you can watch the alloy corrode as you ride it home from the show-room.

So, let's reconsider the Tory record on local government.

Well, we don't want to go back to the London Government Act 0f 1963, which got rid of all the excellent (and some less so) London boroughs and the historic County of Middlesex. Of course, the Tories were in part motivated by the assumption that grafting the leafy outer suburbs onto the LCC would give them hegemony across London. Pity about that.

Then, in 1972, Ted Heath's Tories had another go. They went against the evidence of the Redcliffe-Maud Report, and imposed two-tier authorities. "Were you paying attention?" asks Malcolm: our Dave does not like such a separation of powers (see above).

Now we come to the ferrous female. Having imposed her diktat on the Falklands, she then turned to London, which had turned dissident:

The Conservatives regained control [of the GLC] in May 1977, winning 64 seats under their new Thatcherite leader Horace Cutler to a Labour total of just 28. Cutler headed a resolutely right-wing administration, cutting spending, selling council housing and attacking London Transport. In opposition the Labour party continued to fractionalise: Goodwin resigned suddenly in 1980 and in the following leadership contest the little-regarded left-winger Ken Livingstone was only just beaten in an intensely tactical campaign by the moderate Andrew McIntosh. However the Labour left were strong at constituency level and as the 1981 election approached they worked to ensure that their members were selected to stand and that their ideologies shaped the manifesto. The eventual manifesto topped out at over 50,000 words.

The May 1981 election was presented as a clash of ideologies by the Conservatives - Thatcherism against a 'tax high, spend high' Marxist Labour group, claiming that Andrew McIntosh would be deposed by Ken Livingstoneafter the election. McIntosh and Labour Party leader Michael Foot insisted this was untrue, and the Labour party won a very narrow victory with a majority of six. At a pre-arranged meeting of the new Councillors the day after the election, the Left faction won a complete victory over the less-organised Labour right. McIntosh lost with 20 votes to 30 for Ken Livingstone. Livingstone, dubbed 'Red Ken' by some newspapers, managed to gain the guarded support of the Labour deputy leader Illtyd Harrington and the party Chief Whip and set about his new administration.

Livingstone was able to push through the majority of his policies and became surprisingly popular (only 16% of Londoners wanted the GLC abolished). The increased spending of the council led the national government to reduce and eventually end the GLC's central government grant as punishment.

It was the use of a hoarding that enumerated Thatcher's fall-out, the London unemployed, that did it. We were given the crooked (Lady Tesco-Porter) blue-rinse of a White Paper, Streamlining the Cities: the coup-de-grâce was then swiftly administered. And the late, great Tony Banks ensured this disgraceful act remains incised in granite along the side of County Hall.

Nor, says Malcolm, should we forget the imposition on Scotland of "unitary authorities". In 1996 John Major's Government got rid of Heath's two-tiers of 1975. [So consistent, these Tories, Malcolm observes.] So, you no longer hail from granite Aberdeen but, like the bonnie laird o' Moray, from pasty "Grampian". The red-wine-drinking king no longer sits in Dunfermline toun but in Fife. And word has gone to Mary Hamilton that she is now Mary Strathclyde.

And what about devolution to Scotland and Wales? (Or even, God help us, to Northern Ireland.)

Good question, suggests Malcolm, as he asks us to deconstruct this:

I do strongly believe that England should be treated fairly within the Union and that we need new democratic arrangements to deal with all the English issues that are currently being put to the United Kingdom parliament...

However, while I agree we need to do something to remedy the anomoly whereby MPs elected for English constituencies cannot vote on many matters affecting Scotland, and MPs elected to Scottish constituencies can vote on everyone else’s legislation but their own, I do not favour the establishment of a new English Parliament in a new building at enormous cost to the taxpayer away from Westminster.

What I would like to see is the return of the English Parliament to Westminster. Everything which is an English matter, including health, education, local Government, planning and law and order, should be considered only by English Members of the Westminster Parliament meeting as the English Parliament. This would give England the same devolved powers as enjoyed in Scotland, create a stronger sense of English identity around the traditional Parliament of England, and avoid any extra costs and hassles associated with devolution in Scotland and Wales.

My view is that all of us elected to the Westminster Parliament for English constituencies should perform a dual role. We should work with colleagues from Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland on Union matters for part of the week, and for the rest of the week, the Westminster Parliament itself should be the English Parliament, where we, English representatives, settle all the matters that are devolved ... without the help or interference of our colleagues from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The English Parliament at Westminster would therefore create a much more fair and balanced United Kingdom.

So much for the "Conservative and Unionist Party".

So, what is Cameron saying? Malcolm suggests this is the game-plan:

  1. There simply are few Tory gains to be made in Scotland, Wales or the further fringes. For which see Peter Ridell's comentary on the poll in the Times this week.
  2. And that presumes the Tories regard the imminent Scottish Parliament Election as a dead loss. Since the "first preference" Tory vote is around 15%, that's no surprise. Labour is about twice that: not spectacular, but not bad in a Proportional Representation situation, at this point in the electoral cycle.
  3. So. already, the Tories need to discount the Scottish situation, and look elsewhere...
  4. Which means the places where suburbia shades into aspirant working-class (i.e. "Essex Man"), where their main competition could easily be UKIP.
  5. Now, here's the really curious thing: it seems as if (with one exception, for which see later) the Tory policy on local government is being written by UKIP. Here's last year's UKIP local government manifesto:
    • Create an English-only Parliament of English MPs sitting on English-only days at Westminster
    • Dismantle regional government and return powers to traditional county and borough councils
    • Return control over local matters from Whitehal to the Town Hall
    • Let local people call a binding local referendum on any major local issue
  • Well, now. What a surprise: don't frighten the horses, and simple to the point of being the village idiot.
UKIP have one further (and, Malcolm thinks, not totally stupid) suggestion: restore the business rate and allocate it to local authorities. The younger element may need a quick update here:
  • Once upon a time local businesses and shops paid a local-authority rate, just as did residential hereditaments (Malcolm insisted on our using that term).
  • It was significantly higher then the rates paid by households, and was a substantial factor in the local authority's income.
  • The argument against it was that it was "taxation without representation"; and Margaret Thatcher (the grocer's daughter) saw it as an onerous imposition.
  • So, when the Poll Tax was introduced, the business rate was "nationalised", fixed and collected by the Inland Renue, and then paid back to the local authority at the behest of the central authority.
  • The result of this change (and Michael Heseltine's subsequent back-pedal) was that local authorities, who had been dependent on government grants for just 60-odd per cent of their income (the rest being rates-based) became 90-odd per cent dependent on national funding.
So, says Malcolm, do we await the next Cameron announcement that business rate will be restored? Or that historic councils (Middlesex?) and boundaries are restored?

Then we can expect a formal merger of Tories and UKIP at local level? (And what, after all, are their hard-and-fast differences over European policies?) Beyond that, the only difference would be whether the annual fund-raiser could equally accommodate the properly-dressed, and the louche lounge lizards.

Malcolm adds that, furry as Kawasaki alloy rapidly becomes, he has tremendous respect for the GT55o shaftie. Yes, rust gets the rear mudguard and (eventually) the tank. It has been around since Adam first cocked a leg. But that four-in-line powerplant could rev forever. And, heh, heh, the whole apparatus is long-legged (160 miles on a tank-full) and can (or could, pre-Gatso) shift. Malcolm took one through several years and some 70,000 miles. Lovely stuff. Sphere: Related Content

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