Pandas, Lesbians and Scottish Tories

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Scotland – a profoundly left wing nation where you’ll find more pandas than Conservative MPs.

On the face of it, the omens are not good for the centre right in Scotland. Only one MP – David Mundell, who helpfully manages to also be the Secretary of State – a declining share of the vote and a dominant SNP that has changed the game and removed Scottish Labour’s reason to exist.

Even Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP alluded to the party’s perceived unpopularity north of the border when she said she wasn’t sure what was harder, coming out as a Tory or as a lesbian.

However, I suspect Ms Davidson – one of the right’s brightest political talents – was cleverly portraying herself and her party as underdogs.

In truth, she knows the political picture in Scotland is more complex. For a start, social attitudes surveys consistently show that people north of Hadrian’s Wall are not particularly left wing. On most issues they either match what the English think or are only slightly more progressive.

And the idea that Scots had an undying hatred of Mrs Thatcher doesn’t hold up to scrutiny either. Polling shows she was relatively popular during the first part of her term, and in 1987 almost a quarter of the electorate voted for the Iron Lady and her party.

That share actually went up in 1992, and that’s despite the poll tax and the enduring myth that somehow Scotland was used as a Guinea Pig for the hated tax.

There’s been lots written on Conservatism in Scotland but this piece from Spiked is one of the best.

It underlines what many English commentators forget – partly because the Scottish political narrative is currently devoted to one issue – there is a deep strain of fiscal and social conservatism north of the border.

And Labour’s collapse gave Ruth Davidson the opportunity she needed to stress her party’s unionist credentials. Cannily, she argued that the Scots Tories wouldn’t win, but they were the best credible opposition to nationalism.

If you wanted the UK to stay together – there was only one realistic alternative to the SNP.

Hence the Scottish Parliament election result earlier this month, which saw the Conservatives become the second biggest party North of the Border.

Of course, the big disruptive factor is still the rise of the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon’s party remains miles ahead while Labour struggles to define itself in an era when the question of nationhood dominates Scottish politics.

 

 

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Expensive Mistakes and What To Do About Them

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If there’s one lesson from King and Crewe’s in-depth analysis of the great mistakes of post war British politics The Blunders of Our Governments it’s that administrations of all political colours make messes.

Indeed, sometimes it is the fixed ideologies of both left and right that lead to blunders like ID Cards and the Poll Tax.

But to be fair to our politicians, it’s not just dogma that results in almighty cock-ups. The reasons for political car-crashes are complex and systemic, often rooted in the way we organise our governing system, group think and the ‘gap’ between ourselves and our political class.

And it’s important to say that no-one has hit on the ‘perfect system’, some get it more right than others but even the Nordic countries – held up as an ideal of brilliant policy and implementation – make their fair share of mess-ups.

Our system may have its faults, but for every Child Support Agency and Individual Learning Account there are policy successes like the banning of smoking in public places or the minimum wage.

However, what should worry us most about the disasters outlined by King and Crewe is the lack of scrutiny and accountability.

I had no idea that some of the mess-ups documented in this book had even happened.

For example, take Metronet, the New Labour Government’s attempt to introduce a new PFI-style contract to upgrade the London Underground.

Insanely complex, over budget and flawed from the start Metronet collapsed in a pile of debt and confusion in 2o07. King and Crewe estimate it cost us all a minimum of £2.5bn, but possibly in the region of £20-30bn. To put that in context the upper end of that figure is actually more that the UK’s ENTIRE transport budget for 2015/16.

But the worrying thing is that I’d never heard of Metronet. I suspect you may not have either.

It was a massive blunder that cost billions and and none of the ministers involved face censure or sacking. Indeed, one went on to the highest political office in the land.

“None of those listed suffered politically or in any  other way for initiating what proved to be…an incredibly costly shambles. Apart from transport experts and a handful of political columnists, few seemed to notice that Brown and Prescott had, between them, cost taxpayers billions, and Brown went on to become prime minister…”

There may be some relatively simple things we can do to avoid blunders – for example reforming our process of pre-legislative scrutiny, talking to those who will be directly affected and involving more ‘outsiders’ in Government.

But the key reasons for some of our most heinous mistakes – dubbed ‘Horror Stories’ by King and  Crewe – lie in blind ideology, both political and within Whitehall itself.

Reforming this and therefore reducing the numbers of political blunders, could decades to achieve.