Saturday, 15 May 2010

A few final (?) post-election reflections

The commentators seem to agree that, contrary to expectations, this was a television rather than an internet election. But in this peculiar post-election week, when the political landscape has changed from hour to hour, the web - and Twitter in particular - has come into its own. I've been a Twitter sceptic until recently, failing to understand our teenage offspring's compulsion to tweet at regular intervals, and certainly unable to see its relevance for myself: what one earth would I tweet about, and who would be interested?

But this has been the week that micro-blogging has come into its own, especially for political obsessives like me, as journalists have used Twitter to provide minute-by-minute updates on the coalition talks, and commentators have exchanged instant reactions to events. I signed up for Twitter last Friday, and already I can't imagine doing without it (mind you, the appeal might wear off as British politics settles into something like a normal rhythm again). It's hard now to imagine getting by without my regular updates from the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg, tweeting and twit-piccing even as she broadcasts to the nation from outside No. 10. The woman is a force of nature - US readers should try to imagine NBC's Savannah Guthrie with a Glasgow accent. (Speaking of whom: Savannah interviewed the BBC's Matt Frei on The Daily Rundown the other day. He claimed he'd flown over to Washington with a senior female member of Nick Clegg's party who was on the phone with the Lib Dem leader, urging him not to cut a deal with the Tories but link up with Labour instead: it must have been Shirley Williams.)

I guess the whole thing must look very odd from the other side of the Atlantic. Barack Obama, with his constant struggles to get key legislation through Congress, must envy the powers of the incoming British government to use its parliamentary majority to push through major reforms. Fixed-term parliaments might be a good thing, and everyone's now saying that the 55% needed to unseat the government is not as undemocratic as it sounds, but still: one could wish for a few more of the US constitution's checks and balances to restrain the executive from simply imposing this kind of change by fiat. There's something a little Chavez-esque about a new administration immediately changing the rules by which it can be kicked out. Tony Benn always used to say that, when he met a foreign leader, his first question was 'How do I get rid of you?' (Mind you, I don't recall him raising that issue in his infamous interview with Saddam.)

Turning to Labour: I still think refusing the temptation of a cobbled-together rainbow coalition was the right thing to do, morally and politically. I think Polly Toynbee and others were wrong to see refuseniks like John Reid and David Blunkett as tribalists. If anything, it was the pro-coalitionists, with their unwillingness to accept the public's verdict and desperation to hang on to power by their fingernails, by offering unrealistic concessions to assorted nationalists, who represented the old politics.

Now Labour has a chance to refresh its policies and its leadership. As regular readers will be aware, I've long been a partisan for David Miliband, though I wouldn't be unhappy if his brother, Ed (who has just declared his candidacy) were to win. You can already imagine a David vs. Ed divide opening up across progressive dinner tables across the land. Certainly most of my lefty academic colleagues, among whom disappointment with New Labour and dislike of Blair is de rigueur, are going for Ed, while to speak up for David is to mark yourself out as a hopelessly Blairite centrist. I'm sticking with David, but offer him a word of advice: for goodness sake shave off that half-moustache, it makes you look like an overgrown schoolboy - and get yourself a decent haircut.

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