Sometimes, it’s apparently minor decisions in politics which can annoy the most. Here is my list.
1. Lords and Ladies
Peerages for Nicky Morgan and Zac Goldsmith but not Ken Clarke. Eh? There are many arguments for having a different second chamber to the current House of Lords but surely, while it exists, those joining it should be politicians with experience and knowledge to contribute. Whether you agree with Clarke’s EU views, he has – since the referendum – played an absolutely straight bat, despite his personal views. He also exemplifies a type of Tory politician who used to be much more common and may, who knows, be again, especially after the election changes to Tory MPs: a politician rooted in and proud of his provincial background. As for Morgan and Goldsmith, they are ennobled to keep their jobs until a rumoured reshuffle in February. Weren’t junior Ministers available? Why should a retired politician and one who lost his seat (for the second time) with relatively little experience be given a lifetime role in our legislature just to cover a short-term HR issue?
2. Parliamentary #MeToo
14 months after the damning report by Dame Laura Cox into a culture of bullying, harassment and abuse of staff by MPs and senior Commons staff, including the former Speaker (allegedly), it has disappeared without trace. No follow up. No action. No clear guidelines for the new Parliamentary boys and girls and their staff. Not so much kicked into the long grass as buried deep in quicksand. Staff will simply have to hope that their bosses behave well, put up with the intolerable or leave. How very 19th century. One to remember the next time an MP opines on bad employment behaviour in the world outsideWestminster.
3. Russian Enigmas
The Intelligence and Security Committee Report has a strong record of issuing thoughtful reports, most recently on the security services’ responses to terror threats, particularly IS (currently regrouping and as dangerous as ever, according to those same services). But its report on possible Russian interference in British politics was not published prior to the election and may now not be for months. Commentary has focused on its Chairman (Grieve) or whether it reveals some nefarious link to the PM but it is surely more important than that. Russia’s willingness to interfere in British politics, in British life – through its money, investments, its social media use – is something which needs to be aired, understood and discussed, if we really want to understand the new background against which democracy will be practised. Russia is unlikely to be the only foreign state seeking to extend its influence in unorthodox ways, after all.
4. Rewards for failures
It’s not always easy to define what differentiates a professional from other craftsmen and trades. But one characteristic is surely this: professionals should take what they are charged with at the start of their career and hand it on in as least as good and – ideally – better state to those following on after. By this standard, Alison Saunders has hardly distinguished herself, certainly not to the extent of being worth a Damehood. The CPS’s recent record during her period in charge has been lamentable. Rather than improving it, it has led to further apparently serious and endemic problems going to the heart of the criminal justice system to embed themselves more deeply. Her successor will need to spend energy correcting those problems. Improvement seems a long way off. But, apparently, she is to be rewarded for years of service, as if she worked for nothing all those years, did not build up a munificent pension and get herself an even more well paid private sector job at the end of it. Why are we so accepting and tolerant of the second-rate? Why don’t we try expecting – and rewarding – excellence?
The new Bank of England Governor, Andrew Bailey, is perhaps a more difficult case. His work at the BoE and the PRA has been fine. But his most recent period of leadership at the FCA has, frankly, been undistinguished, marked by feebleness in enforcement (failing to stand up to Barclays’ Board when its CEO blithely ignored his Bank’s own whistleblowing rules), in supervision (Woodford conducting regulatory arbitrage in plain sight, while exhibiting all the characteristics so common in a poor culture: arrogance, hubris, a myth of indispensability with the FCA’s CEO tut-tutting on the sidelines when finally asked what was happening), in taking seriously its obligations to protect consumers. Was he really the best the BoE could do? Or is there the teensiest suspicion that the safe, won’t rock the boat option was chosen with the FCA experience quietly ignored or explained away?
5. Rigging the Jury
Control the process and you go a very long way to controlling the outcome. A lesson the government has learnt well in its response to the Henriques report on the Metropolitan’s failures in the Carl Beech sex abuse cases. Those failures stemmed in very great part from guidance that allegations must be believed as true. And who wrote that guidance? Why – Sir Tom Winsor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary. And who is to conduct the further inquiry into the Henriques report recommendations. Yes. You guessed right! Sir Tom Winsor. Why bother. The police will continue as before, there will be blather about lessons being learnt, no-one will be responsible, nothing will change and when some future miscarriage of justice arises from a similar cause it will only be the old and those with memories like encyclopaedias (remember them?) who will remember. Who cares about due process?
6. Standing By
Alderton Park Primary School finally got a permanent exclusion order against those protesting against LGBT lessons. An important victory for the school, its indomitable headmistress and staff and Birmingham Council. Where, however, was the Secretary of State for Education in all this? Where was the public support, the signal – not just to this school – but all others and all those with an interest in ensuring that religion should not be used as a pretext or justification for ignoring the law, for unkindness, hostility and intolerance, that this sort of bullying simply will not do in Britain in 2019?
Small irritations maybe but ones relating to Parliament, Select Committees, the police, prosecutors, our financial regulators and our educators: the institutions which make a democracy, a free society work. We should cherish them more.
Finally, two plaudits:-
Reportedly, the Home Secretary has been trying to allow HK protestors with British overseas passports to get the right of residence in Britain, against the wishes of the Foreign Office, which does not want to upset China. Here’s hoping she succeeds. It is one small thing which Britain can do for those fighting for freedom. (If Boris is looking for a role for Steve Barclay, replace Raab with himtin the Foreign Office. If we must have senior politicians whose main quality seems to be how smart they look in John Lewis casual wear, at least Barclay looks pleasant rather than mulish and arrogant.)
The final plaudit also goes to Priti Patel for personally visiting the Dunn family to tell them the process which will be followed now that Mrs Sacoolas has been charged. It was a very human, very kind gesture. It showed that Ms Patel understood that grieving parents need to be listened to, need to feel that the government is on their side, that it will try do their best for them. Contrast this with the irritated way their plea was dismissed by Raab. The Dunns may well never get the justice they crave but at least they can feel they did their most for their son. Ms Patel deserves credit for taking the time to give them some time.
Who’d have thought I’d end the year praising Priti Patel.
Still sometimes it’s good to surprise oneself.