Politics offers few greater pleasures than watching a by-election candidate self-immolate. Not a day goes by without Maria Hutchings, the Conservative party’s prospective MP for Eastleigh (so plainly hating the whole thing), tossing another match on the pyre of her electoral credibility.
But beyond the enjoyable barbarism of democracy, an important question is emerging from Eastleigh for the Labour party: how ready are we for government? Because if David Cameron cannot win in true blue Hampshire, on the back of a Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister perverting the course of justice, then he is well and truly stuffed.
Monday morning. Grant Shapps, the enthusiastic Tory party chairman, is sitting in a people-carrier, putting the final touches to a scathing press release attacking his Cabinet colleague, the Deputy Prime Minister.
Press release dispatched, Shapps gets out of the car and embraces his candidate, Maria Hutchings, and the pair set off to canvass. On this sunny morning, Shapps and Hutchings are followed by a large number of photo-graphers, a couple of journalists, a few press officers and a camera-wielding Tory MP.
This week David Cameron lectured a business audience in India on how far Britain has yet to go in getting women into the boardroom. ‘My wife likes to say,’ he said, ‘that if you don’t have women in 50 per cent of the top positions you are not missing out on 50 per cent of the talent, you are missing out on much more than 50 per cent of the talent.’
The irony seemed to be lost on him. Here was the leader of a government which preaches equality every bit as much, if not more, than Tony Blair’s Labour party: the law has been changed so that employers can use ‘positive discrimination’ to manipulate the gender and ethnic balance of their staff; universities have been bullied and threatened with loss of funding if they fail to reduce their intake from private schools.
Pommies, in Australia, are famous for what the Aussies call ‘whinging’. Whether this is born of character or homesickness is debatable but, in the past, I have gone out of my way to resist the affliction. Returning to England this winter, however, my resolve was undone and I’ve been ‘whinging’ for Britain ever since.
My stepfather advised, ‘Never marry out of your class, it will lead to great unhappiness’, but, at the age of 24 and ornery, I promptly married both out of my class and country.
It might sound like an Ealing comedy. But it is not funny. It illustrates the fact that law-making in Britain has lost all contact with common sense. The town of Deal in Kent has a heraldic crest. Some local vigilante has pointed out that since the grant of arms was made, the local government boundaries have altered, so it is no longer technically legal for the town to use its current arms. But a replacement would cost the ratepayers tens of thousands of pounds.
When the writers John Esmonde and Bob Larbey came up with the idea for The Good Life, they were looking for a vehicle for Richard Briers, who’d just turned 40. He was well established but not quite famous — the other three actors even less so. Felicity Kendal and Penelope Keith were cast on the strength of their performances in an Ayckbourn play. Paul Eddington was a ‘first eleven light-comedy actor’ (as Briers put it) but he was hardly a household name.
A fundamental and enduring principle of the NHS is that it is ‘free at the point of use’. All major political parties subscribe to this mantra and none dare challenge it. Herein lies the problem. The consequence of such altruism — all at the UK taxpayer’s expense — is health tourism and abuse of the NHS by ineligible patients. The general public seem unaware of this deception despite being rightly exercised about other examples of similar abuse, such as benefit fraud.
Tim Price: In a normal market, maybe. But not in this one
UK base rate squats at 0.5 per cent, its lowest level in history — or since the formation of the Bank of England in 1694, which is much the same thing. With sporadic signs of inflation and patchy evidence of recovery, plus a new broom at the Bank of England who is expected to be boldly interventionist, the financial chatterati are transfixed by the prospect of the ‘Great Rotation’.
Why hasn’t Morocco had an Arab Spring? On the one hand, history; on the other, the vision of the present king, Mohammed VI.
Throughout the colonial era, when France and Spain each had a slice of the country, Morocco retained its identity, its cities, its culture and its monarchy — which stretches back for centuries, unlike the artificial monarchies created in the Middle East by the Europeans. It was never officially a colony of either France or Spain, but a protectorate.
Fleeing streets of slush, we touch down in a north African spring, where we are driven through the desert scrub outside Marrakech, passing dusty ochre expanses filled with old plastic containers and half-built hotels and the odd donkey before turning down a track which runs alongside a walled garden. Tantalising green fronds poke above the wall. The gates open (someone is posted to look through a gap in the wall to time it right) and reveal a lush complex of grass, palms, roses, figs and orange trees around a T-shaped pool.