The Ballad of Brave Sir Iain

A few hardy souls who’ve braved the blogosphere’s equivalent of the Grimpen Mire will have noted that Iain Dale has rapidly backed off from his ‘experiment’ in open user feedback and switch comment moderation back on, on the back of some rather dubious claims of visitations by ‘New Labour Trolls‘ (at least he’s not claiming to have seen the image of Devil in the smoke rising from the embers of Praguetory’s political aspirations, but that’s a story for another time) and worse…

Well, it lasted for 16 days but I’m afraid I have decided to reintroduce Comment Moderation. This site is being targeted at the moment but lunatics who think it is quite in order to use the ‘C’ word and worse. I am not prepared to allow this to continue. For the benefit of everyone, let me spell out my Comments policy

1. Any poster who uses the ‘C’ word or similar will have their comment deleted
2. Any anonymous or named poster who is gratuitously offensive to other posters will have their comment deleted

Since I switched off comment moderation two weeks ago I had only had to delete three posts until yesterday. But a concerted campaign of anonymous posting has been launched – I’ll leave you to speculate who by – and I’m not prepared to be the focus of nasty smears by people who hide in anonymity.

The ‘C’ word, Iain? Which one?

Cameron? Conservative? Cant? Casuistry? Concealment? Chicanery?… Crap (as in talking…)???

Iain’s problem has been less about the ‘C’ word and more about words beginning with other letters… words like ‘Policy’, ‘Exchange’, ‘Trustee’, ‘Boles’ (the possible candidate for Mayor of London variety and not the water-dwelling rodent sort – that’s ‘Voles’, although an easy enough linguistic error to be making, certainly easier than mistaking Curious Hamster for Richard Gere) and especially the words ‘Awkward‘ and ‘Question‘.

(I’ll stop there before this all gets to sound too much like an episode of Sesame Street – and today’s episode has be brought to you by the letters I, D and T and the number 10).

Now, being of an essentially curious nature, one naturally has to find out just exactly what kind of things Iain is now censoring on his blog and noticed this post of Iain’s from yesterday, which seemed to provide the perfect opportunity…

Gordon Proves He’s As Good At Cronyism As Tony

Now it’s not often I just reprint a Tory Party press release, but I can’t really add to its content…

At a Treasury Select Committee hearing today, Sir Nicholas Stern revealed that it was Gordon Brown who appointed Labour MP Colin Challen to a high profile climate change taskforce – clearing the way for Brown’s close ally Ed Balls to stand unopposed for the new Morley and Outwood seat. Responding to a question from David Gauke MP, Sir Nicholas also admitted that he’d had no prior knowledge of the appointment until the Chancellor informed him he’d be working with Challen…

Now Iain, as one can see, has said that he couldn’t really add to the content of the press release… but it turns out that I could. So using my normal online ID, ‘Unity’, I popped over to Iain’s yesterday afternoon, about four-thirty-ish and point out, quite reasonably that the Tory press release he quotes so approvingly does rather neglect to mention that Colin Challon is the founding chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group and, therefore, seems eminently qualified for the task force role that he’s been offered (and has accepted). I also, politely, pointed out that as the press release neglects to mention this entirely, this rather seems to imply the opposite (i.e. that Challon lacks the knowledge, experience and credibility for such a position) and asked Iain if that was he was trying to imply also.

It would be nice to give you the exact wording of my comments, but I was in a hurry and didn’t take a screen-shot before hitting the ‘publish’ button, which is rather unfortunate as Iain doesn’t appear to have seen fit to allow through his newly reinstated all-seeing eye of Sauron comments ‘policy’ – for the record I too have a comments policy, which is…

‘Link-spammers can fuck off!’

It’s nice, simple and it works for me.

As for Dale’s charge of ‘cronyism’ over Colin Challon’s decision to stand down as MP, which looks very much like it will give Ed Balls a clear run at the seat and solve his little problem with the boundary commission, well let’s put this in its proper perspective.

It is not at all uncommon for political parties, and the leaders of political parties, to, on occasion, find sitting MPs something else to do in order to free up safe seats for individuals who are seen as ‘rising stars’ of the party and who the leadership want inside party ranks in the House of Commons.

Sometimes this happens in mid-term if there is a pressing need – usually one created by boundary changes – more often than not, this kind of thing happens right at the end of parliamentary term, just before a general election, at which time one will quite often see one or two long-serving, trustworthy but otherwise fairly unremarkable backbenchers reaching a decision to bring their parliamentary career to the close just that bit too late for their local party to carry out a full selection process, thereby allowing the national leadership to parachute in a favoured political son (or daughter) into a nice safe seat.

This happens. And it happens both in the Labour Party and in the Conservative Party (and I dare say other parties as well), and it happens as a matter of routine – it’s no more than one of this little unspoken political conventions that all parties indulge in and no one mentions too much because if it were widely publicised it might give the public the wrong impression.

Given the time and inclination, I could track back through the list of MP retirements over the last 10 years of Labour Government and find several examples of where this has taken place, almost certainly on both sides – track back even further, to the previous 18 years of Tory rule and I can be certain of finding several more examples of this practice in action. In fact the only limiting factors here are which party is in charge at any given time – as this limits the number of ‘something elses’ (often peerages) open to them and whether and how many senior party figures (i.e. ex-ministers) might be standing down of their own volition at an given election.

That’s part of how the honours’ system works and has worked, at least since the introduction of life peerages in 1958, and its one of key reasons why Jack Straw’s white paper on reform of the House of Lords is/will advocate that 30% of the membership of the future second chamber should continue to be appointed on the basis of the continued patronage of party leaders.

It’ll be interesting to see exactly what justifications, if any, the white paper puts forward the continuation of political patronage in appointments to the upper chamber but aside from the awkward matter of rewarding party backers – which has always gone on (and is also why the Tories have always refused to open up their books to full public scrutiny) the three mains purposes this patronage serves are:

1. A means for party leaders of getting important political allies and advisers into the legislature without all awkward and uncertain business of them having to win a seat in an election.

2. An incentive/reward for solid and unswerving party loyalty, and

3. A means of inducing backbenchers in safe seats to step aside at an opportune moment in order to grant a key ally or rising star safe passage into the House, or less often to enable a key ‘player’ to transfer from a precarious electoral position (either a loss of seat due to boundary changes or a dicey looking marginal) to a safe one.

That how the system works, and that’s how its been used by all parties over time – remember, although its the PM of the day who does the actual appointing, its the individual parties (and their leaders) who put the nominations for peerages forward.

You can call that cronyism, if you like – its certainly not something that the political elite talk about openly for fear that the public will see it as all a bit dodgy – but that’s how things work in practice and its something I know, many party members know and certainly anyone with an ‘in’ at the higher levels of any of the main political parties – like Iain Dale – know perfectly well.

Like so many of the Tory’s other recent lines of attack, the charge of cronyism is one that’s rooted in deep-seated and heavily entrenched hypocrisy, because they know perfectly well that they’re just as guilty as any other political party of doing the exact same things they’re castigating Labour for – and there is no realistic possibility of someone like Iain Dale getting to the position he’s in without knowing that.

And the moral of this story?

Well let’s all remember that Iain Dale is an active and high-profile participant in the project, Fox News Lite, that has been set up to circumvent existing regulations on political broadcasting in the UK in a calculated effort to introduce US-style ‘attack politics’ into the UK…

…and if the last couple of weeks demonstrate anything, its only that while Iain is more than happy to try and dish it out, he can’t take it himself.

And with that’ I’ll leave you with this little ditty (with apologies to Neil Innes and the Pythons), that I’m happy to dedicate to Iain…

Brave Sir Iain ran away.
Bravely ran away, away!
When danger reared its ugly head,
He bravely turned his tail and fled.
Yes, brave Sir Iain turned about
And gallantly he chickened out.
Bravely taking to his feet
He beat a very brave retreat,
Bravest of the brave, Sir Iain!

And finally… sorry, but of a Columbo moment here…

If Iain is less than keen on nasty smears by people who hide in anonymity, does that mean that Paul Staines is going to be coming of his Christmas card list?

Just thought I’d ask…

4 thoughts on “The Ballad of Brave Sir Iain

  1. ..but what if Iain means it? What if he does not like the way ‘the system’ has worked?

    You seem to be saying that he can’t come out with this view. I don’t see that it makes him a hypocrit.

    I understand you don’t see him a free and fair, which I don’t altogether agree with, but he ho.

    Surely the answer is to change this system which allows for overly indulgent political patronage at the expense of democracy through the ballot box.

  2. >>> Surely the answer is to change this system which allows for overly indulgent political patronage at the expense of democracy through the ballot box.

    It certainly is, but if you consider the system to be corrupt then attack the system and not just those using the system…

    …and especially not just one group amongst many who’re all up to basically the same things.

    It’s quite easy to lay claim to the moral high ground when you’re in opposition, quite another to stay there when its your own party with its grubby paws on the levers of patronage.

    It’s like this – once I have time to read and digest the white paper on House of Lords reform then I’ve no doubt I’ll have plenty to say on the subject and much of it will be rather uncomplimentary – if Jack Straw’s earlier discussion paper is anything to go by.

    That part’s easy.

    However, I also have very clear views on how the reforms should be carried out, to whit..

    1. 80-20 split between elected and appointed.
    2. Elections by PR – and I’ll happily be guided as to which system by the likes of Make My Vote Count who understand the systems and their pro and cons better than I do.
    3. No political appointments – appointments to be restricted to ‘cross-benchers’ with a verifiable record of political independence, i.e. not havign been a party member or donor for a defined period before appointment.
    4. Independent appointments commission with no party nominees.

    That kind of thing – I’m not saying my ideas are perfect, but I have a general plan I can put up for discussion and areas where I’m not 100% clear in my thinking – i.e. how power is balanced between the two chambers, are matters for wide-ranging public debate for which there are a number of suitable mechanisms, from a constitutional convention to a Royal Commission.

    And while we’re on, we can also take a look at federalism, regional democracy and an English parliament and see how all that may or may not fit into the grand scheme of things.

    Basically, if we’re going to do the job, let’s do it properly.

    So, when it comes to people like Cameron, Dale, the LD’s and anyone else who opens up on stiff like this, my first question is ‘what alternative are you offering?’.

    It’s all very well promising to change everything for the better, look at how much Blair promised between 95 & 97, but empty promises don’t cut it for me – I want to the see the plan and I want to see genuine commitment to the plan, not fake outrage, political point-scoring and empty bullshit.

  3. Well, the Tories can fuck off on this one. Hell, chicken-running an MP is one thing. Chicken-running a Prime Minister into office, well, that’s something else.

    (I refer of course to Alec Douglas Home, who had to first of all appeal to the Tony Benn act to get rid of his peerage, and then get a backwoods Tory MP in northwestern Jockistan to jump off the bus so as to get elected.)

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