The Mayor, The Speaker, His Wife and The Bloggers

Across the web, not least at the <em>NS</em> online, the London Mayoral election is raising temperat

With just two months until the London mayoral election, the campaign trail is picking up pace in the blogosphere.

Earlier in the week, Mike Smithson at Political Betting called the election “by far and away the biggest political betting event in the UK this year is,” despite the lack of polls. But later that day Anthony Walls at UK Polling Report resists the bendy bus analogy to announce: “After waiting months for a proper poll on the London mayoral election, two come along at once.”

The first of the two polls Walls refers to shows Ken Livingstone 5% behind Boris Johnson, and Smithson senses a whiff of politicising with the release of the second. “My understanding is that Labour and Ken knew about the MORI poll almost as soon as it had been completed,” writes Smithson, “but it was deemed to be a deadly secret because of the closeness of the finding.”

The mayoral election also attracted a great deal of interest on these very pages, as NS political editor Martin Bright criticised prominent Lefties for signing a Compass letter in support of Livingstone. Anthony Barnett at Our Kingdom reveals the frank conversation he had with Bright over his decision to sign, while Oliver Kamm offers Bright his support.

Also this week, Commons speaker Michael Martin found himself the subject of the latest sleaze allegations. The Daily Pundit, with tongue firmly in cheek, asks: “What’s a working class Scot who didn’t go to Oxford and knows what a day’s work is when he sees it doing with friends? It’s a disgrace.”

While, The Remittance Man takes a different view: “Michael Martin’s working class origins are not the issue here. Both George Thomas and Betty Boothroyd have been from working class backgrounds and both served the Labour Party prior to election as speaker, yet both managed to perform their tasks with reasonable fairness and retain the respect of MPs of all parties and the public. Martin has singularly failed to do the same.”

It doesn’t make for great reading for Martin at Iain Dale’s blog. In a poll of 1,122 readers – of whom, somewhat tellingly, only 46% are Conservative supporters – 91% believe Martin should step down as speaker, and 82% rate his performance as either poor or dreadful. Betty Boothroyd comes out as the best speaker of the past 30 years, with 49% of votes; Martin comes in with just 1%.

David Osler also joins the debate: “It is unclear if Martin has technically done anything wrong in pocketing the money from such a generous scheme for a property on which there no mortgage; perhaps Peter Mandelson or Tessa Jowell - given their special expertise in the field of how to finance home purchase the New Labour way - could advise?

“But whatever the rulebook says, this action is morally equivalent to housing benefit fraud, without the ability to claim poverty as a mitigating circumstance.” So there.

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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The real question about George Osborne and the Evening Standard? Why he'd even want the job

The week in the media, from Osborne’s irrelevant editorship to the unrepentant McGuinness and Vera Lynn’s stirring ballads.

The big puzzle about George Osborne’s appointment as the editor of the London Evening Standard is why he wanted the job. The Standard is now just a local freesheet, a pale shadow of its old self. In Tube carriages, discarded copies far exceed those being read. Its columnists are lightweight [Ed: as an occasional columnist myself, thanks, Peter] and its news stale, mostly written the previous day. Critics of Osborne’s appointment describe the Standard as “a major newspaper”. It is no such thing. The idea that the editorship will allow the former chancellor to propel himself towards the London mayoralty is laughable. In last year’s election for mayor, the Standard, according to University of London research, ran twice as many positive headlines about the Tories’ Zac Goldsmith as it did about Labour’s Sadiq Khan. The latter won comfortably. The paper was so supportive of Khan’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, that it became known as “the Daily Boris”. But Johnson, with a high profile from television, hardly needed its backing to beat a tired and largely discredited Ken Livingstone.

If Osborne believes that the Standard offers him a significant political platform, it is just further proof that he belongs to an ignorant elite.

 

Violent legacy

More than anyone else, Martin McGuinness, who has died aged 66, represented how the IRA-Sinn Fein combined uncompromising violence with negotiating charm to achieve its aims. Unlike Gerry Adams, McGuinness admitted openly and proudly that he was a senior IRA commander. In Londonderry on Bloody Sunday in 1972 he carried a sub-machine gun, but apparently without using it. Later that year, he was among a delegation that held secret talks with British ministers and officials. The following year, he was arrested near a car containing prodigious quantities of explosives and ammunition.

Like many who recall the IRA’s campaign in mainland Britain – three huge bombs detonated less than half a mile from me – I could never quite accept McGuinness as a government minister and man of peace. Whatever he said, he did not renounce ­violence. He just had no further use for it, a decision that was reversible.

 

A peace of sorts

When I hear politicians saying they could never contemplate talks with al-Qaeda, I smile. They said the same about the IRA. The idea of negotiation, John Major said, “turns my stomach”. A month later, news leaked of secret talks that would lead to a ceasefire. You can call it hypocrisy but politicians have no practical alternative. Significant terrorist campaigns rarely end without deals of some sort. Even then, dishonesty is necessary. The parties to the Good Friday Agreement with Sinn Fein in 1998 never admitted the true terms, perhaps even to themselves. In return for a role in government, the IRA ceased attacks on the British mainland, army, governing classes and commercial interests. It remained in control of working-class Catholic enclaves in Northern Ireland, where it continued to murder, inflict punishment beatings and run protection rackets. Not a pretty bargain, but it brought peace of a sort.

 

Real war anthems

“We’ll Meet Again” and “The White Cliffs of Dover”, sung by Dame Vera Lynn, who has just celebrated her 100th birthday, are the songs most closely associated with the Second World War. This, when you think about it, is peculiar. Most wars are associated with stirring, patriotic anthems, not sentimental ballads. Even the First World War’s “Keep the Home Fires Burning”, before it mentions hearts yearning for home, stresses the noble, manly instincts that drove soldiers to fight: “They were summoned from the hillside/They were called in from the glen,/And the country found them ready/At the stirring call for men.” Lynn’s songs had only the wistful sadnesses of parting and reassurances that nothing would change.

Their “slushy” tone troubled the BBC. It feared they would weaken the troops’ fighting spirit. Despite Lynn’s high ratings among listeners at home and service personnel overseas, her radio series was dropped in favour of more virile programmes featuring marching songs. Unable to sing to her forces fans over the airwaves, Lynn bravely travelled to the army camps in Burma. A BBC centenary tribute showed veterans of the war against Japan weeping as her songs were played back.

The wartime role of this unassuming plumber’s daughter makes me – and, I suspect, millions of others – feel prouder to be British than any military anthem could.

 

Ham-fisted attempt

After his failed attempt to increase National Insurance contributions for the self-employed, Philip Hammond, it is said, will have a £2bn hole in his budget. It will be more than that. Thanks to the publicity, tens of thousands more workers in regular employment will be aware of the tax advantages of self-employed status and hasten to rearrange their affairs. Likewise, newspaper accountants of old, after circulating memos imploring journalists to reduce lavish claims for “subsistence” while covering stories away from the office, would find a sharp rise in claims from hacks previously unaware that such a perk existed.

 

Battle of Hastings

My fellow journalist Max Hastings, attending a West End play, was once dragged on stage by the comedian James Corden, told to help move a heavy trunk and slapped on the bottom. Ever since, I have approached plays starring comedians warily. I dropped my guard, however, when I bought tickets for a contemporary adaptation of Molière’s The Miser starring Griff Rhys Jones, and found myself drenched when Jones spilled (deliberately) what purported to be fine wine. It was of course only water and, unlike
Hastings, I shall not demand a refund.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution