The definitive ranking of European legislative chambers don’t @ me

So some good soul has compiled together a picture gallery of all of the European legislative chambers, you can find the original here. This has inevitably ended up in Twitter arguments between correct people and the idiots who think hemicycle debating chambers are a good thing. Now because I have too much time on my hands I figured I would rank them. All of them. This took my entire afternoon.

67. Germany – Bundestag

How they managed to make a chamber so utterly dull it could manage to suck the life out of a Dennis Skinner v. Jacob Rees-Mogg debate on inheritance tax in one of the world’s most iconic buildings I do not know. But the Germans did it.

66. Belarus – Council of the Republic

This isn’t a Parliamentary Chamber, it’s the set of WarGames.

65. Bosnia Herzegovina – House of Peoples

Underlining the fact that Bosnia-Herzegovina isn’t a real country this looks like an EU or UN meeting room at best, and that of a university’s new build at worst.

64. Slovenia – National Council

I genuinely think this is one of my lecture theatres.

63. Estonia

Oh Estonia. I like you Estonia. Tallinn is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But this isn’t a Parliament it’s a classroom.

62. Montenegro

Not only is the chamber of Montenegro’s Parliament cramped, but the building it’s in genuinely looks like a dirty block of flats.

61. Poland – Senate

If nothing else (and there really is nothing else) this also just looks awfully cramped.

60. Bosnia-Herzegovina – House of Representatives

It begins. The seemingly unending collection of boring, light wood, hemicycle chambers. Utterly devoid of life and charm. But what’s with the oppressively low ceiling?

59. Lithuania

Lithuania makes the ‘built from a kit’ Parliament look worse by having a flag tackily on the wall.

58. Slovenia – National Assembly

You know what’s worse than a hemicycle? A full circle.

57. Monaco

Micro-states don’t even really count.

56. Netherlands – Second Chamber

The Netherlands gets docked points for two reasons: Naming their Lower House the Second Chamber, and their First Chamber easily proving that they can do better than this.

55. Scotland

Not only does the Scottish Parliament use a boring light wood hemicycle, but it also loses point because the Holyrood building itself is absolutely hideous.

54. Germany – Bundesrat

Not even kidding, I genuinely think the European Parliament drawing the bulk of its inspiration from the Germans is why the British hate it so much.

53. Sweden

In line with national stereotypes it looks like an Ikea. Nobody ever had an impassioned political argument in an Ikea. And I am now going to have to travel to Leeds to prove my point.

52. Andorra

I’m losing the will to live.

51. Croatia

Do you reckon they all get these from the same supplier?

50. Slovakia

When your actual coat of arms isn’t very good I suppose there’s only so far you can go.

49. Macedonia

Like at this point you’re just admitting you lack originality as a country.

48. Wales

Another circle, but gains point because the Senedd is a nice building. Even if it leaks.

47. Austria – National Council

Austrians, if you want people to stop saying you’re Germans, try making an original chamber.

46. Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein’s chamber is really weird, it’s arranged in a circular ‘Doctor Strangelove’ configuration, and genuinely is contained within a building that reminds me of the Stonecutters’ Temple from the Simpsons. Nevertheless it’s certainly unique.

45. Ireland – Senate

Let’s be honest, this could be a room in pretty much any stately home. But at least it’s a nice room.

44. Czech Republic – Senate

Okay this doesn’t look like my lecture hall, but I’m sure it would for somebody at Oxbridge.

43. Cyprus

I don’t like this, but it gets bonus points for looking like it would suit SPECTRE.

42. Russia – State Duma

We know the Soviets can produce good architecture, so why has the State Duma ripped off Europe’s Parliaments and not the Moscow Metro? At least the White House itself looks quite good.

41. Russia – Federation Council

Ditto.

40. Ukraine

The Soviet ones are all a bit dull, but I do like the pale yellow.

39. Latvia

Yes Latvia’s Parliament looks a bit like a British council chamber, but it would make a perfectly fine council chamber. Which is about the best you can expect I guess. They’ve beaten the other Baltic States by a mile.

38. Moldova

Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, and they’ve managed this very nice ceiling design. If you’re a large country below this point on the list you should hang your heads in shame.

37. Poland – Sejm

I don’t think this colour scheme quite works, but it’s interesting at least. Very large room too.

36. Denmark

Again this would make a very nice British council chamber. But it’s held within a very beautiful building.

35. Czech Republic – Chamber of Deputies

Quite a nice room, but what on Earth is that seating arrangement?

34. Switzerland – National Council

This is a perfectly respectable, grand even, lower chamber. Except that painting does look a bit DPRK-ish. Sorry Switzerland.

33. Georgia

I should dislike this. But the way the very light wood and red reflects the Georgian flag pleases me, and they’ve managed to be the only country to do the ‘big flag on a wall’ thing without it looking too tacky.

32. Iceland

Reasonable room, about as good a seating arrangement as you’re going to get in Europe. Passable.

31. Armenia

Nothing spectacular, but some nice panelling and the arch makes the room suitably grand.

30. Albania

Large room, nice pillars, good colours, and Albania has a nice coat of arms.

29. Serbia

Suitably large room, nice pattern on the wall, and the inset is nice.

28. Bulgaria

Manages to be light and airy without being Ikea-ish. Not a hemicycle.

27. Belarus – Chamber of Representatives

In line with Alexander Lukashenko’s ability to freeze time this Chamber looks exactly the same as I imagine it did in 1987. Still the best of the ex-Soviet ones.

26. Malta

It looks a bit more like a Sushi restaurant than a Parliament. Yet it weirdly works?

25. San Marino

Yes this is also a council chamber, but the micro-state has shown some actual countries how you bloody do it.

24. Turkey

Like Georgia, but the white and red is even more striking. It has a flower bed in the middle of it, which is unique.

23. Switzerland – Council of States

Solid ornate chamber, could do with being a bit longer though. Looks somewhat cramped.

22. Romania – Chamber of Deputies

You have to respect its immense size if nothing else.

21. Luxembourg

Small as you’d expect, but still fairly regal. Good seating arrangement. Loses points for its low ceiling.

20. Finland

Manages to be plain, yet simultaneously grand.

19. Ireland – Dáil Éireann

Semi-adversarial chamber. Modelled on the Commons, which is clearly the right thing to do. Bit plain though.

18. Norway

The first of the chambers to aim for Imperial splendour. Doesn’t quite manage to pull it off though. At least they tried.

17. Greece

Grand, ornate, and reflective of the finest of Greek architecture. The first on this list to truly get what being a Parliamentary chamber is about.

16. Spain – Senate

Grand and ornate, now we’re entering the big leagues.

15. Northern Ireland

But first a brief detour to Northern Ireland, where we see the Irish setup, but better.

14. Romania – Senate

Large, grand, and ornate. Proof if ever it were needed that the only people who can still make great Parliaments in the modern age are psychotic dictators.

13. Portugal

The furniture might not be anything special, but that barely matters when surrounded by such outstanding masonry.

12. Spain – Congress of Deputies

Spain’s Chamber of Deputies has grandness, colour, intricate, detail, and is steeped in history.

11. Netherlands – First Chamber

 

One of the few European chambers with a good seating arrangement, and looks like it’s come straight from the era of the VoC.

10. Belgium – Chamber of Representatives

The Belgian Chamber of Representatives is plainer than many others this far up the list, but still suitably impressive.

9. France – Assemblée nationale

We’re getting into the stage now where it’s difficult to rate them against one another. The French National Assembly is immense and beautiful from every angle.

8. Italy – Senate

The Italian Senate has excellent woodwork and a rich colour.

7. Belgium – Senate

Looks more like a church than a Parliamentary chamber. The chairs in particular are excellent.

6. Italy – Chamber of Deputies

Okay, if you can’t tell by now my favourite colour is red. But c’mon that is magnificent.

5. Hungary

The chamber may be good in of itself. But it’s also contained within the second most beautiful building in the world.

4. Austria – Bundesrat

Austria, when you can produce something as utterly stunning as this, how is your lower chamber so dreadfully dull?

3. France – Senate

Well here it is, officially the best hemicycle Parliamentary Chamber. You know what that means.

2. UK – House of Commons

Okay obviously national bias was going to win out here. But the Commons has politics so adversarial they have to demarcate the length of two swords. The despatch boxes. The mace. The bombed out entrance. Iconic.

1. UK – House of Lords

Does your chamber have a massive golden throne? No. Because it’s worse. Deal with it. What you don’t see in most videos from the Lords is the upper half and ceiling of the chamber, which is absolutely magnificent.

Well there we go. I’m fairly sure I’ve offended a few nations and I definitely spent more time on this than is healthy. I think the biting question we should all be asking ourselves is how are Empires and Communists so much better at building Parliaments than democracies?

 

 

 

 

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My Take on GE 2017

Note, this was written on Saturday for the Yorker, but as it’s still not been published there I may as well throw it out now because I guarantee it will be out of date by the end of the week.

From the election of Donald Trump, to Brexit, to the great victory of Emmanuel Macron, it seems the West’s electorate’s greatest disdain is held for the predictions of the pundits. The 2017 election has certainly been no different in the shock of its result. We can welcome a high turnout; this is an election that like 1992 may well have proven that negative motivation encourages voting more than positive motivation. While we won’t have credible numbers for youth turnout until the publishing of the British Electoral Study if reports of a high turnout among young people are vindicated then we should welcome the news. The intergenerational social contract was under strain as the result of an aging population and an apathetic youth; David Cameron’s entire electoral strategy was centred on handouts to the grey vote while withdrawing support for the young. Now we may have more clout.

Labour can be pleased it avoided the crushing defeat that had been so long predicted, and which had been indicated by the results in Copeland and the May local elections. Now those Labour moderates who had always claimed to oppose Jeremy as a point of principle and not just because he was unpopular are scrambling to acclaim him. The Labour selectorate’s decision to elect him may well have been proven the right choice. Across Europe we’ve seen traditional social democratic parties atrophy while the radicals, from Podemos to SYRIZA to the Front Gauche, have been ascendant. Yet it is still a result only comparable to that achieved in 2010. While Labour made some advances in Scotland, it was eclipsed in many old strongholds by the Conservatives. Labour needs to recognise that without its former seats there it has almost no prospect of gaining a majority. Labour may have only been behind by 2.4% of the vote but they lag behind by 8.7% of seats, and that’s on relatively favourable boundaries. It’s long past time for the party to endorse electoral reform.

Though her remaining loyalists will shout that the Conservatives won the most votes and seats it is Theresa May who is the clear loser today. Out of a mix of laziness and sexism the papers instantaneously declared May as the new Thatcher, ignoring the fact her temperament is much more reflective of Brown. Her secrecy and lack of consultation with party colleagues no doubt led to CCHQ’s unpreparedness for the election and plainly unpopular manifesto commitments like the dementia tax. As a result of this I saw a number of Conservatives members flatly refusing to vote for the party in their own seat, and campaigning only for preferred individual candidates. The Tories walked into this election expecting a majority of 100 and came out with a minority government.

Thus Theresa May’s time as Prime Minister is limited. Conservative backbenchers are legendarily willing to commit regicide when facing a poor leader. The only question is who will next wear the crown? Whoever it is they are left the legacy of having run to the DUP for a deal. The public of Great Britain, who barely regard the politics of Northern Ireland as even a sideshow, are unlikely to take well to the extremely socially-conservative party. More than that their direct involvement in Westminster government right as power sharing is breaking down should worry us all.  Such an unstable situation is unlikely to last, and we should all be preparing for another election in the near future.

As for the Lib Dems? Objectively it was a reasonably good night for us. We saw 4 gains taking us up to the 12 seats I had predicted and we go into the next election with a great deal more realistic targets than we entered this one with; Fife North East was lost by an infuriatingly tiny 2 votes and Richmond Park by only 45. With the collapse of UKIP and the Greens we are, as was traditionally the case, the only other party to achieve over a million votes and are clearly again the third national party. We managed to achieve this despite the fact the election was held much earlier than we might have liked, leaving us only two years to rebuild from the crushing electoral defeat of 2015.

Yet I and many activists come out of this campaign with something of a feeling of melancholy. Partly this was because of rather overambitious initial expectations but largely it was due to the loss of Sheffield Hallam and with it Nick Clegg. Just as, to use a Doctor Who analogy, everyone has their Doctor, people also have their leader, and Nick Clegg was my leader. That is true of many of my fellow activists. From that first leader’s debate in 2010 at which he spontaneously caused Cleggmania, to his heartfelt resignation speech that spurred tens of thousands to join the party, Clegg was the inspiration for an entire generation of liberals. He put party before country and took us into coalition when the economy was on a precipice, still managing to secure billions of pounds extra for education, taking millions of the lowest earners out of paying tax, securing same-sex marriage, a green investment bank, parity of esteem for mental health and so much more. For this he has taken his fair share of knocks and bruises, he has been vilified and mocked. Most tragically his loss was just as the Europe debate had reinvigorating him as a man with purpose and drive. I will remember him as the finest politician of his age and have no doubt the country will be worse off without him in public life.

There are some calls for the Lib Dems to enter into Coalition now. We have been clear that we will not. This election was not just a battle about managerial policy details, it was a clash of entire worldviews. The Liberals, Conservatives, and Labour are once again offering different, and incompatible, visions for the country. This is why we were clear during the campaign that there will be no deals. Any deal to prop up the Tories would be unworkable in any case; there was enough policy crossover with Cameron-Osborne liberal Conservatism to make a Coalition doable, though even then there was greater discord than most detractors appreciate. A deal with the authoritarian, illiberal, UKIP-esque Conservative Party of today would not only see us crushed again, this time we’d deserve it.

 

Why I think Sajid Javid could be the next Tory leader

Since David Cameron said during the election campaign he’d resign before 2020 I’ve been asked by several of my semi-political friends who I think his replacement will be. I always declined to answer due to the seemingly-inherent difficulty in predicting Tory leadership elections. Hence my rather noncommittal “could” in the title. After the summer budget the prevailing narrative was that George Osborne would be handed the leadership. My gut reaction then was sceptical (not least for the folk wisdom of ‘the front runner never wins the Tory leadership’), and my gut reaction to Boris Johnson is the same now. Both have pissed off too many people in a competition where the question is largely who’s pissed off the fewest people?

 

I finally committed yesterday – before Ian Duncan Smith resigned by kamikazeeing Osborne – that I think Sajid Javid is the most likely person to be the next Tory leader. There are several reasons for this. He’s nominally in favour of staying within the EU out of loyalty to the leadership, while his heart leans more towards Brexit. He is thus expected to keep a low profile in the campaign, something which should bode well post-referendum. He is supposedly George Osborne’s protégé, and when the current ruling duo realise that Osborne will not be able to take over seems to be the most obvious person for their subtle endorsement. He is a true believer in Thatcherism, something likely to go down well with a membership alienated by the relatively unideological Cameron & Osborne duo. His background could also prove beneficial in distinguishing him from the top two, BoJo, Goldsmith, and other senior Tories. Being the son of a bus driver, BAME, and self-made in finance, he’s an example of the ‘hard work pays’ mantra that modern Conservatism espouses. It would give the party an opportunity to pull out the old John Major posters, as well as making them appear rather modern at a time when Labour is led by a grey haired white man who’s fighting the battles of the 70’s. Most importantly of all he doesn’t seem to have greatly antagonised any large groups within the party, an advantage few others tipped for the top role have. I’ll also point out that the 12/1 it’s a pretty good value bet.

 

tories

 

I could well be proven wrong, quite possibly by a rebellious membership. The Tories have a significant role for their MPs in shortlisting only two candidates, however after a vicious referendum campaign an angry army of backbenchers could well force a radical candidate through to the membership. The Conservative membership who overwhelmingly support Brexit will have had to put up with their Prime Minister and Chancellor espouse the necessity of the EU. They’ve had to put up with their government (now a majority one of course) try to appeal to the centre ground with measures such as a £9 minimum wage. They may also tell themselves that as Corbyn won’t win the election anyway they can freely install someone who truly reflects their wishes, rather than compromising to attain votes. For what it’s worth I think this is a fool’s logic, why risk an election that you can certainly win with a moderate? Yet as with Corbyn, Trump, and ironically Ian Duncan Smith himself, it is impossible to predict who may be the eventual recipient of an unhappy membership’s nomination. I don’t want to contemplate the absurdity of a Bone v. Corbyn contest in 2020 or anything similar, yet it is strange political times we’re living in.

AWS & the Electing Diverse MPs Motion

I can’t say I’ve been looking forward to when this would come up. Mostly because the argument surrounding AWS has a tendency to become fractious, most farcically when you see things like female members of the party who oppose the measure getting shouted down by middle-aged men.

I’m not going to repeat the merits and flaws of AWS in much depth, that’s been covered more eloquently and with more knowledge by other people, here I want to briefly give my thoughts on some of the specifics of the motion we’re being presented. Given the past rather botched first introduction of OMOV and the Deputy Leadership changes it is good to see that this has been well drafted; there is merit in the motion submitted. I also have to consider the Liberal Youth amendment, which in line with LY policy removes AWS specifically but retains the other measures.

Original Motion

1. Any local party should be able to vote for an all-women shortlist or an all-disabled shortlist, or reserve some spaces for candidates from other under-represented groups.
2. As a minimum the three state parties should follow the Canadian Liberal Party practice of requiring the relevant Local Party to provide documented evidence to their region or state (as relevant) of a thorough search for potential candidates from under-represented groups before being granted permission to start their Westminster selection process; this should apply in those seats where the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate received more than 15% of the vote in the 2015 General Election but the seat is not held by the Liberal Democrats.
3. In Scotland, Wales and each Region of the English Party, take measures to move towards a slate of candidates that reflects the diversity of the state or region, in line with the Leader’s ambition of having at least 50% women candidates and at least 10% BAME candidates across Great Britain.
4. If any sitting MP elected in 2015 decides not to contest the next General Election, his replacement should be selected from an allwomen shortlist.
5. In Scotland, Wales, and each Region of the English Party where there are two or more non-held seats which gained 25% or more of the General Election vote in May 2015, the regions should designate as a minimum of one seat not held by a Liberal Democrat MP to select its candidate from an all-women shortlist. Where these seats are affected by boundary changes, the party’s rules on re-running selection processes will apply.
6. In addition to the one seat identified in 5. above, where the Liberal Democrat parliamentary result at the 2015 General Election was in the 10% of seats which had the highest percentage vote without returning a Liberal Democrat MP, the selection shortlist for the 2020 General Election should, subject to sufficient applications, include at least two candidates from under-represented groups.

Motion with Liberal Youth Amendments

1. Any local party should be able to reserve some spaces on its candidate shortlist for candidates from under-represented groups.
2. As a minimum the three state parties should follow the Canadian Liberal Party practice of requiring the relevant Local Party to provide documented evidence to their region or state (as relevant) of a thorough search for potential candidates from under-represented groups before being granted permission to start their Westminster selection process; this should apply in those seats where the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate received more than 15% of the vote in the 2015 General Election but the seat is not held by the Liberal Democrats.
3. In Scotland, Wales and each Region of the English Party, take measures to move towards a slate of candidates that reflects the diversity of the state or region, in line with the Leader’s ambition of having at least 50% women candidates and at least 10% BAME candidates across Great Britain.
4. If any sitting MP elected in 2015 decides not to contest the next General Election, his replacement should be from an under-represented group, subject to sufficient applications.
5. Where the Liberal Democrat parliamentary result at the 2015 General Election was in the 10% of seats which had the highest percentage vote without returning a Liberal Democrat MP, the selection shortlist for the 2020 General Election should, subject to sufficient applications, include at least two candidates from under-represented groups.

Firstly what I am most disappointed about is that while there is mention earlier in the text of those from “low socio-economic backgrounds” neither does anything to address financial barriers to selection and standing. This is particularly problematic in large area selections such as the GLA list and was talked about at length within the Deputy Leadership debate at Bournemouth. The typical response to concerns being raised about this is that ‘succeeding shows good fundraising skills’, an argument undermined by the use of personal wealth. This presents a problem both in itself, in that our Party remains dominated by those with an above-average level of wealth and from careers not representative of most of the population, and is intertwined with the issues this motion seeks to solve. When on average the BAME population of the UK is significantly less wealthy than the white population can we really hope to address our lack of BAME candidates without confronting the financial barriers to selection and standing?

Anyway to the texts as given, points 2, 3, and 6 from the original motion I take no issue with, and that in 3 the impetus is put on the regional parties is desirable. Point 1. I could potentially be persuaded to support. Though I generally lean against AWS there are some good arguments for it, and a system whereby local parties could decide at their AGM’s to use AWS for an upcoming election is something I would seriously consider supporting.  However points 4 & 5 (and the system used in Scotland) include imposing the rules on local parties, and that is something I am not comfortable with. Labour’s use demonstrates that when you introduce such systems it can work to increase the power of the central party in such activities as parachuting. It could also prove damaging if it means that former-incumbents who desire to re-run are denied the opportunity, when with their local history they have the greatest chance of rewinning the seat.

The Liberal Youth amended version is not without flaws. I can only assume 4. is little more than an ambition, given it provides no clear method by which they will achieve the stated goal.  It is however likely I will be supporting their amendment, as while over the past few years I have gone from vehement opposition to AWS itself to merely being disinclined towards it I am unable to support something which would so infringe local party control over selection.

If I were to be given a motion where 1. was retained with specific reference to the decision being for local party AGMs I could perhaps support it, as things are I can’t.

The Best British Political Speeches of the Past Five Years

This has perhaps been the most politically eventful half decade since the early 80’s; we’ve seen the first peacetime coalition government of modern times, two new parties get over one million votes, the SNP sweep Scotland and almost tear the United Kingdom apart, their party’s greatest rebel became Labour leader, and much more besides. So I felt that to conclude this year I would compile a list of some of the best speeches of the past five years (though they mostly hail from 2015), starting with my own three favourites and then some suggestions from other members of Liberal Youth.

 

Nick Clegg’s Resignation Speech

After the devastating election result it was inevitable that Clegg would step down, however as his parting gift he gave us one of the best performances of his career. He inspired existing members in a way that we hadn’t been over the campaign, and furthermore prompted many thousands of people to join the party. He reminded us why we are liberals.

The cruellest irony of all, is that it is exactly at this time that British Liberalism, that fine noble tradition that believes we are stronger together and weaker apart is more needed than ever before. Fear and grievance have won. Liberalism has lost. But it is more precious than ever, and we must keep fighting for it.

 

Gordon Brown’s Defence of the Union

We’ve become rather unfortunately used to the idea that our United Kingdom may well break apart in the near future. Yet if we go back to 2014 it seemed on the brink of becoming an immediate reality after a surprise poll showing Yes in the lead. Westminster scrambled north, however it was one of Scotland’s own former Prime Ministers who gave the true barnstorming speech of the campaign.

We fought two world wars together and there is not a cemetery in Europe that does not have Scots, English, Welsh, and Irish lying side by side. And when young men were injured in these wars they did not look to each other and ask if you were Scot or English, they came to each other’s aid as they were part of a common cause.

 

Charles Walker’s “Noble Fool”

I found it humorously indicative of just how action packed this last Parliament was that even on the very last day prior the dissolution drama was afoot. William Hague as a rather ignoble end to a long Parliamentary career had plotted to introduce a secret ballot for the re-election of the speaker, a move designed to make the removal of John Bercow in the next Parliament more likely. His concealment of this from the Chair of the Procedure Committee brought forth a powerful and emotional speech.

I have been played as a fool. And when I go home tonight I will look in the mirror and see an honourable fool looking back at me. And I would much rather be an honourable fool, Mr Speaker, in this and any other matter, than a clever man.

 

Mhairi Black’s Maiden Speech

Not content with being an inspiration (or inducer of fear depending on one’s inclination) to paper candidates everywhere by unseating one of the most senior Labour figures and becoming the House of Common’s youngest MP in over 100 years she also gave one of the most widely hailed maiden speeches of recent times.

In this budget the Chancellor also abolished any housing benefit for anyone below the age of 21. So we are now in the ridiculous situation whereby because I am an MP not only am I the youngest, but I am also the only 20-year-old in the whole of the UK that the Chancellor is prepared to help with housing.

 

Margaret Beckett on Syria

Margaret Beckett’s had a long and distinguished history in the House of Commons, serving as Foreign Secretary, Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Leader of the Opposition and acting leader of the Labour Party after the death of John Smith. In one of the best speeches of the debate her thoughtful considerations took into account the valid concerns of many people while concluding that inaction would have worse consequences than action.

There are those not opposed in principle to the action who doubt the efficacy of what is proposed. A coalition action they say that rests almost wholly on bombing will have little effect. Well tell that to the Kosovans, and don’t forget if there had been no bombing in Kosovo maybe a million Albanian Muslim refugees would have been seeking refuge in Europe. Tell that to the Kurds in Kobani, who if memory serves pleaded for international air support without which they felt they were losing control to Daesh.

 

Rory Stewart on Hedgehogs

Who says great speeches need to be on grand issues of state. Rory Stewart managed to let leash his great oratory ability on the important issue of the declining hedgehog population, with a speech whose breadth ranged from history, philosophy, literature and theology to the Conservative 1992 general election campaign.

It tells us a great deal about British civilisation that my hon. Friend has raised the subject, because the hedgehog is a magical creature. It is a creature that appears on cylinder seals in Sumeria, bent backwards on the prows of Egyptian ships. The hedgehog has of course a famous medicinal quality taken by the Romany people for baldness and it represents a symbol of the resurrection found throughout Christian Europe.

 

Hilary Benn on Syria

While the Syria debate was nominally about sending a couple more jets across what is now a largely imaginary border there was the clear undercurrent throughout it of the battle for the heart and soul of the Labour Party. In an unprecedented act the shadow Foreign Secretary stood up at the end of a debate to give a differing opinion to that which his party leader had given at the debate’s start, and he made great use of it. Yet it’s also a speech he may well now find himself purged for.

As a party we have always been defined by our internationalism. We believe we have a responsibility to one another. We never have and we never should walk by on the other side of the road. And we are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this chamber tonight and all of the people we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy, the means by which we will make this decision tonight, in contempt!

 

Liz Barker on Equal Marriage

I admit I rarely watch Lords debates, though I suspect that will change over the coming Parliament as ever more showdowns take place within that chamber. In a personal and provoking speech she called for the passing of the same sex marriage bill as a matter of justice, ending with a powerful quote from Desmond Tutu.

My Lords, I declare an interest. Many years ago I had the great good fortune to meet someone. She and I have loved one another ever since – apart, that is, from the occasional spectacular argument, usually about driving or DIY. As the slogan on T-shirts in the 1980s said: it happens in the best of families.

 

Honourable Mention: Liz Truss at 2014 Conservative Conference

I hope none of my farmer friends will be too insulted if I say that getting people excited about pork production is an unenviable task. Nevertheless Liz Truss took to the stage with enthusiasm in her then recently appointed role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs. The ensuing speech was interesting, and that her more recent speeches haven’t had quite the same vigour has left politics weaker, or at least less humorous.

We import two thirds of our cheese. That. Is. A. Disgrace.

I hope you all have a great 2016.

Hermione and the Internet’s Culture Wars

What’s Christmas without a good controversy eh? Well I’d question whether the Hermione controversy is actually a particularly good one given it can be summarised as ‘person has different interpretation of book’, but it reflects an online trend.

I’ll be honest here, when I was reading these books I was in a rural primary school where there was not a single black pupil, indeed I actually knew nobody in the village who was anything other than white. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that unless explicitly stated I would assume characters would be white. That’s clearly not going to be a universal thing. Which is one of the important things about books compared to the mediums of films and television. While in the latter it’s true you have varying interpretations and areas of focus they don’t really compare to books where so much is filled by the personal experience informed imagination as to make each reading unique to the individual reader. It’s not surprising then you so often hear cries of ‘the books were better’ whenever a story is adapted to film, and it makes me glad some of my favourite novels have never been adapted, because I’m certain anyone other than me would get it wrong. Of course the Harry Potter movies are well made and came across as authentic enough that for a lot of the readers the lines between book canon and movie canon became blurred, as is fairly common with good adaptations. When that happens someone reinterpreting a story in another media in a different way can be a surprise, though it really shouldn’t upset.

I don’t actually care that Hermione’s black, and certainly have no objection to it, as I think is true of most reasonable people. Actually what struck me far more was that they were adults. Seeing as Harry Potter is a classic coming of age story the natural ending was them becoming adults, defeating evil, and going on to lead boring lives of mortgages, marriage and children. However it’s not exactly unusual for a series to continue past its natural end point, and it’s quite simple to just ignore it when that occurs (did you know there are only two Terminator films?).  But one of the things that makes the backlash weirdest about this is that it’s a play. Plays are inherently doubly transient. Each individual play is unique to each particular audience, maybe an actor’s performance was unusually bad on the day you watched, maybe it was unusually good. Maybe on the day you went one of the actors was sick and a completely different actor stood-in. Furthermore once a play’s run is done you can no longer see it (in that form at least). Chances are I’m not going to see Cursed Child, and after a while I will never be able to. The same is true of the vast bulk of the haters.

Except we all know full well this isn’t an isolated occurrence. From the all-female Ghostbusters cast to the ‘Black Stormtrooper’ controversy these outcries have happened before. It’s because some people, mostly white men headed up by the likes of Milo, have developed what can only be described as a siege mentality; viewing harmless acts such as this casting decision as essentially a personal attack on them. This conspiracy is reinforced by the conflating of perfectly reasonable voices with nutters such as Bahar Mustafa, who do tend to show up to yell from the opposite side whenever these controversies arise. Not to mention the trolls who are little invested in the arguments but enjoy throwing about fuel so they can watch the ensuing flamewar. As is so often the case those shouting loudest end up at the forefront and before long we find ourselves in a state of polarisation without nuance, where insults and death threats are thrown about with reckless abandon.

So how does one deal with this? Well perhaps it’s just best to remember that generally this is done by a minority of people. Hell, the whole International Men’s Day controversy at my own university managed to end up on national media before I even noticed it. Perhaps, as with Katie Hopkins, the best thing to do is just ignore them?

The Fiscal Charter is a Fiscal Con

Rather belated repost today, the Uni of York Lib Dems are one of a number of societies which will now be running a regular online column with Nouse, one of our student newspapers. This will cycle between three of us from the society. I kicked it off with an article about the fiscal charter and the surrounding fiasco. You can read the original version here.

“Embarrassing, embarrassing, embarrassing”. So summarised John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, of his own party’s response to the trap of Osborne’s fiscal charter. With a surprise commitment to back it announced at Labour’s conference, followed by a predictable u-turn, he has orchestrated a shambles. Yet due to our constitutional principle of Parliamentary sovereignty it is impossible to bind future Parliaments so this shouldn’t really matter. The fiscal charter can be ignored quite simply by including within a future budget bill a provision for its repeal. In short it’s a stunt. However it’s a stunt which will have negative consequences for the country.

This is because Osborne has imposed upon himself a constriction to an overall surplus as opposed to a current budget surplus as is right and proper. The restriction to an absolute surplus is economic foolishness when record sustained low interest rates present the prime opportunity for investing in infrastructure that will provide a return for the taxpayer. Modernising our railways for the 21st Century and expanding broadband coverage to help rural businesses are just two vital undertakings this will hinder. Both undertakings we championed in coalition.

Osborne’s economic narrative, even where plainly wrong, now goes unchallenged as Labour have left the land of fiscal responsibility, making estimations of recoverable evaded tax many times those of reputable sources and having the Bank of England print money to fund spending. But there is an alternative progressive party that is economically credible. The Lib Dems’ plan included eliminating the current deficit by 2018/19 (a task made easier by not having to carry through base-appeasing commitments like an inheritance tax cut for millionaires) and recognising the role business, particularly SMEs and the self-employed, have to play rather than dismissing them. We are able to credibly say that Osborne’s neglect of capital investment is economically illiterate and will deny the country a secure grounding for future prosperity.

However as the official opposition is in chaos the government will continue without proper scrutiny on these crucial issues. Governing a party ridden with factions – Runnymede Tories, Eurosceptics – should have been challenging for Cameron given a majority smaller than John Major’s. Yet due to Labour incoherence, from the Welfare Bill onwards, their effective majority has more than doubled. With that comes the possibility that even the most damaging of Cameron’s policy agenda, such as the repeal of the Human Rights Act, may succeed.