Questions for Kelvin

June 13, 2008 at 12:46 pm | Posted in British Politics | 2 Comments
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Given that his infamy is based largely on the lies his newspaper spread about the worst stadium disaster in British history – slandering innocent victims as violent aggressors in pursuit of profit and a petty grudge against the people of Liverpool – it’s grimly fitting that Kelvin MacKenzie is considering running against David Davis in support of 42 days detention. Of this man’s squalid crimes against truth there is little more we can add, but if he does run it would be interesting to see if the press decides to scrutinise his past and ask whether a man responsible for one of the worst smears in modern journalism – a smear he still refuses to disavow, by the way – is of the right character and suitability for a job in Parliament. Whilst they’re at it, they might ask whether now would be a good moment to apologise to the families of the 96 for casting them, and everyone else who was in the ground that day, as a vicious, violent mob.

If nothing else, it’s only fair that the people of Haltemprice & Howden are made aware of the choice now before them. One is an illiberal Tory with stoneage values who just happens to be on the right side of a civil liberties issue for a change; the other is a contemptible, mendacious, fame-hungry sociopath.

A hold-your-nose election if ever there was one.

Update: I can’t work weblogs to save my life. No idea what happened, but I posted this a few minutes ago and the formatting turned it into a horrible, deformed mess – hence the deleting & re-posting.

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  1. Move over Wilkes – ‘Davis and Liberty!’

    A question: if you were a Labour voter/party member in Haltemprice & Howden rather than Barnsley West and Penistone, would you vote for Davis? Would you campaign for him, even? Would your answers to these depend on whether MacKenzie stands, or whether Labour fields a candidate? This Labour party member would vote for him if he could, and I’m waiting for the Internets to provide a means to donate to the otherwise unsympathetic Tory’s self-destructive crusade.

    I’m not sure I even think this should be a ‘hold your nose’ election for the voters of Haltemprice & Howden, or interested observers – by which I mean there may be a case for the Labour rebels to publicly, even enthusiastically, back him if no Labour candidate is put forward. What do you think? Perhaps Clegg should descend on the constituency as well, sex up the whole circus a bit.

    Unpleasant or politically disagreeable as Davis may be, there are important issues at stake and the complacent, horse-race manner in which his resignation has been treated within the Westminster Village only (rightly) reinforces his support.

    In addition to the obvious threats to traditional liberties, there are two other core constitutional issues Davis’s seemingly quixotic campaign will hopefully highlight regardless of his own positions on them, and which I’d be interested to read your opinion on. To my mind, even if these don’t motivate Lib Dem and Labour support for Davis, they remain salient concerns even if one doesn’t share the zeal of Henry Porter or the implacability of libertarians.

    Firstly, there are the relatively neglected West Lothian question-esque implications of the DUP providing the margin of victory in the Commons should be emphasised. This is all aside from the Bourbon-style inability of the DUP to forget anything when it comes to internment. It’s not exactly the same as the Tam Dalyell’s 1978 problematic, obviously, given that these measures will apply in Northern Ireland , I think, so call it the ‘Belfast East Question’. The member for Belfast East and DUP leader, Peter Robinson, not only led his party’s members in the House to vote for the perceived interests of their region (objectionable, but similar to the unionist role in the seventies), but he is also a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and First Minister of Northern Ireland who gets to direct the largesse promised to him: this compounds an incident of vote-buying (in Diane Abbot’s ‘bazaar) into something highly disturbing. In many ways it is worse than if Salmond was similarly ‘bribed’ in a West Lothian matter, say health, for there are fundamental liberties at stake. It also subverts the supposed reservation of fundamental liberties within Westminster’s purview: in so doing it strains the unity of the UK and the stability of the assorted devolution settlements.

    As he is not a minister responsible to Westminster in the conventional sense, Robinson is therefore (to go back to Wilkes) something of a placeman – of the executive in the same way as a minister, and yet not of it; not even a member of the coalition, with his executive powers open to suspension from London on occasions such as the recent near-impasse over nominating new members of the Northern Ireland Executive. This, formally at least, seriously undermines Parliament’s ability to serve as watchdog of liberties, and indeed seriously undermines our representative democracy itself. As well as a substantive blow to Britain’s liberal democracy, the 42-day vote is a structural blow as well. So in addition to positively, even enthusiastically, supporting Davis on the grounds of the ‘priority of liberty’, perhaps a case can be made for doing so on the grounds of needing to repair damage to the representative democracy part – and not just the liberties part – of our liberal democracy.

    Secondly, if the Prime Minister forces through 42-days via the Parliament Act he will be using it to override the Lords on an issue of civil liberties. Using it to restrict liberties in this way is, I think, unprecedented (I’m not sure about it’s 1991 usage over the War Crimes Act).It certainly adds a pointed reminder that if there is to be a bicameral Parliament, the Lords requires greater legitimacy to successfully serve as a chamber of sober second thought. This is deeply connected to the West Lothian/Belfast East question in that issues of the electoral mechanism (and the extent of regional representation) would undoubtedly arise – I was wondering what you thought about this thorny cluster of issues. They put me in mind of the need for something like the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but whilst this might help protect liberties, it won’t necessarily help the UK’s increasingly divergent democracies any more than Boumedienne helps solve the problem of Congress’s abdication of its oversight and liberty-protecting responsibilities.

    The seriousness of these broken elements suggests that the upcoming byelection is – to refer back to the seventies again – a question not of who governs Britain or who/which party represents a suburb of Hull, but how the UK is to be governed (or even if, as the UK of GB and NI it can be governed at all): is the UK a mostly liberal yet somewhat dysfunctional hybrid of authoritarianism and Murdochian mobocracy or a representative parliamentary liberal democracy (if one can be permitted serial infelicities of expression)?

    Obviously this is hyperbolic, and the result of the by-election itself isn’t as important in addressing these matters as it is in casting much-needed publicity and serious engagement on these fundamental problems. One is reminded of the fact that Wilkes ended his career as something of a reactionary failure whose politics were rejected by the partisans of liberty – but the circuses of his election campaigns, and his role as an icon survived and should perhaps be given some small credit for helping to push Parliament towards reform, and curtail the illiberal lurches of the British state. To do so they needed enthusiasm, and on issues that transcend the party politics for which they provide the foundation, perhaps even enemies of Davis need to forgo the nose-holding.

    Look what you did. Your blog done made me rant. Sorry!

  2. Y’know Wicky, less gracious hosts would describe what you’ve just done to my blog as graffiti! ;-)

    Thanks to boundary changes, it’s actually going to be Penistone & Stocksbridge in the next election – we’re losing any affilliation with Barnsley and joining forces with the good people of Chapeltown, Ecclesfield and High Green. True, it’ll be sad to longer come from Barnsley, but on the bright side I get to claim that I come from the same constituency as the Arctic Monkeys! Now all people everywhere will acknowledge how cool I am!

    Anyway, I’ve responded to part of your rant in a new post, but it clearly deserves greater attention than that. At this rate, I may spend all week responding to it!


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