CIVIC REPUBLICAN NEWSLETTER
“Constructing a Humanist Politics”
Issue No 16 Friday 19 December 2008
· This is “The Criminalisation Of Politics” - Michael Portillo, Ex-Tory Cabinet Member and Journalist
What is happening now of interest to Civic Republicanism
From THIS WEEK. Broadcast on BBC1 11.35 pm on Thursday 4th December 2008. Discussion with Andrew Neil, Michael Portillo, Diane Abbot MP and David Starkey
In this week’s Civic Republican Newsletter we continue the transcript from this fascinating and revealing discussion where the “Criminalisation of Politics” is agreed by all present to be a feature of Britain today.
“THIS IS THE CRIMINALISATION OF POLITICS” – Michael Portillo
David Starkey A very interesting thing is that, including Jack Straw, how many leading members of the Labour party were very active in the NUS where this type of politics was really ….The other thing - I would like talk about Damien [Green] a little bit. The thing that’s really worrying about it is that we are now seeing not only the Central Committee, we’re seeing the political offense. What he [Damien Green] is really being accused of is a political crime, that is to say, that he would not be where he is now if a minister, a civil servant and a prime minister had not been cross with him. Nothing that has happened there (if anybody else had done it) would actually result in them appearing … It’s a political crime
Andrew Neil Is this really the criminalisation of politics?
Michael Portillo Yes. What David Starkey has said just now is absolutely right. And the most extraordinary thing about it all is that, whereas you can just about understand why a prime minister forgets that he is a member of parliament first and foremost, it is just not possible to understand how the Speaker of House of Commons forgets that he is a Member of Parliament first and foremost. How the speaker can be in ignorance, or say that it somebody else’s fault, or say that he didn’t ask a question. The Speaker is there to defend back benchers, to defend the sovereignty, the integrity, the privileges of parliament.
Andrew Neil But he outsourced it to the Sergeant at Arms. Then turned it on the Sergeant of Arms
Michael Portillo And he has failed completely. I don’t know what training is given to the Sergeant at Arms because of course these people come in from outside …
Diane Abbot Can I say a word?
Diane Abbot No let me say a word about the Sergeant of Arms
David Starkey You’re a woman, Diane
Diane Abbot Exactly. No, no, no, no let me say a word. Back in the old days the Sergeant at Arms were always former army officers (retired army officers) and that kind of old school Sergeant, whatever else was wrong with them, wouldn’t let the police come in and ..
David Starkey They knew the rules
Diane Abbot They knew the rules This poor lady is a very nice lady but what she came in as a head office keeper. In other words, she was in charge of the stationary, the cleaners and the post; she didn’t really know the rules.
David Starkey She’s a senior janitor, she really is a senior janitor
Michael Portillo But don’t janitors control the door?
David Starkey Orrr! We are playing with our Latin rather than our American usage
Andrew Neil Let’s move on from the janitor metaphor. How have we come to this?
David Starkey Well, we have come to it by the fact parliament nowadays is not what it used to be. Parliament, as I have said …
Diane Abbot People always say that
David Starkey No, no there has been an absolutely fundamental change. Once you started getting absolute whipping you’ve got the very strong modern parliamentary system. Parliament, it ceases to hold the government to account. It ceases to see itself as being anything but lobby fodder on the one hand or, if you’re ambitious, gobbling up there to become a minister. It’s run absolutely by patronage. What I think it shows …
Diane Abbot There are varieties of independence. David. But, yeah, you pay
David Starkey You pay for it.
Michael Portillo That is why you are where you are now [to Diane Abbot on the studio sofa]
Andrew Neil Were you in the House when the speaker made his statement
Diane Abbot Yeah I was
Andrew Neil What was the atmosphere on the bank benchers?
Diane Abbot Y’know I like the speaker, I really like the speaker but it wasn’t his finest hour
David Starkey He had one?
Andrew Neil You don’t have to take any notice of that question, Diane
Diane Abbot He was a sheet metal worker. My dad was a sheet metal worker
David Starkey My father was a shop floor engineer
Andrew Neil You were lucky. Let’s get off this
Diane Abbot The atmosphere was very strange. Because even people … Well, it was a very strange atmosphere
Andrew Neil Is his position now untenable
Diane Abbot You can’t get rid of the speaker!
Andrew Neil Why?
Diane Abbot Because it would take a vote in the House, I mean the House votes
Andrew Neil Let me finish the question. If the house is in the position that David [Starkey] is postulating and both of you seem to be nodding energetically in agreement, we seem to be pretty far down the road. Maybe a while before he hits the buffers but we seem to be pretty far down the road. Why shouldn’t there be a vote to get rid of him?
Diane Abbot Because it will become at that point intensely partisan and Labour people will vote to defend him. And even if they removed him they will put in another Labour speaker and the Tories know that. So they won’t move
Andrew Neil That means the house is the instrument of its own downfall more interested in being partisan than upholding the constitution
Michael Portillo When I first studied politics I understood it was …
Diane Abbot That was a long time ago, darling!
Michael Portillo Yes. . … It was quite common for the house to elect a Speaker of the party opposite to the party of government and that was very, very wise. And I was rather dismayed when in succession to the former Speaker who was from the Labour Party, another Labour Speaker was elected. It makes good sense to have someone from the opposite party and what Diane has said ….
Andrew Neil When Betty Boothroyd was …
Michael Portillo Exactly, It’s a great pity to hear Diane say that if the speaker was got rid of they would put back another Labour Speaker
Michael Portillo That is a sign of exactly what David [Starkey] is saying
Andrew Neil We are in our last minute here. I want to let David have the last word. We’re in the mess. All three seem to agree. How do we get out of it? How do we move towards a new constitutional settlement if that’s what’s required?
David Starkey We genuinely do. We need a proper constitutional convention. Under Labour there has been constant constitutional tinkering which has been done on a purely party political basis. I mean, surely, that everybody of good will can now see that something is utterly fundamentally wrong. I think we want….Let me give you Starkey’s prescription:
We want a directly elected Prime Minister the only way we can. We want a Cabinet which is not simply chosen from both houses. In fact I would introduce the American Separation of Powers. I would finally have the House of Commons and the House of Lords (preferably elected, a Senate), actually operating a genuine legislature, scrutinising ministerial appointments, doing exactly what the American Senate and the American House of Representatives do
I thought I would never say this. America is so much better governed than we are. Look at what’s just happened at the last presidential election. Here we prattle about change, there they get it. Here we talk about election there they have it. We have a Prime Minister with no democratic mandate, who wasn’t even elected as a leader of his own party
Andrew Neil Thank you, I’m afraid we’ve run out of time. There we have it. We finished with the Starkey manifesto. And we will no doubt come back to it
END OF DISCUSSION
This discussion makes very clear the extent to which the government under Labour has sought to undermine and dominate the authority of the House of Commons. All participants have a good claim to know what they are talking about from close contact.
David Starkey says; “Once you started getting absolute whipping you’ve got the very strong modern parliamentary system. Parliament, it ceases to hold the government to account. It ceases to see itself as being anything but lobby fodder on the one hand or if you’re ambitious gobbling up there to become a minister. It’s run absolutely by patronage.”
“We need a proper constitutional convention. Under Labour there has been constant constitutional tinkering which has been done on a purely party political basis.”
In addition, David Starkey, the historian of the British monarchy, has surprisingly revealed himself to be a closet republican. The last three paragraphs are pure republicanism even if he does not dare speak the name.
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…….due to the Christmas break the next Civic Republican Newsletter will be on Friday 2nd January 2009. We wish all our subscribers a happy festive season.