In the week when 25% of Italians voted for a comedian in their General election one might expect more humour in politics, but not at Westminster.
Liberal Democrat supporters have been discombobulated by allegations against their former Chief Executive, Lord Rennard. Up to ten women are accusing him of inappropriate touching at least five years ago. They claim the incidents were reported to senior party officials but no action was taken. Nick Clegg admitted he heard rumours in 2008 and asked Danny Alexander to investigate. He now says that he actually told Rennard to resign in 2009.
The Metropolitan Police are now investigating whether criminal activity has taken place and Alastair Webster QC will lead an internal party inquiry, including 3 women. Meanwhile allegations about another Lib Dem MP are now in circulation and it all comes out as the party fights to hold Eastleigh in the by-election to replace Chris Huhne, who resigned after pleading guilty to perverting the course of Justice.
The downgrading of Britain’s credit rating from triple A to AA1 was bad news for the Chancellor who has made maintaining the triple A rating a priority. The Opposition attacked the Government for failing to stimulate economic growth but were dismissed by the Prime Minister for offering no alternative that does not include more borrowing, spending and debt which would trigger a further downgrading. That would mean higher interest rates on Government borrowing and householder’s mortgages but without growth the deficit will not be paid off and austerity will continue.
The Children and Families Bill, debated in Parliament this week, offered an example of Parliament at its best. The Bill seeks to speed up the adoption process, break down the barriers and delays potential adopters experience and provide more support for children, especially the most vulnerable. It also addresses the right to request flexible working. Instead of the usual partisan wrangling that characterises Prime Ministers’ Questions the Second Reading debate saw positive endorsements of much in the Bill and only selective disagreements that will be addressed at the Committee Stage.
The votes for Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy were not votes for more laughs but against the political establishment. Hostility to the political establishment and politicians is found in Britain too. George Galloway’s success last year in the Bradford by-election was an example. Experienced observers are predicting a similar result in today’s Eastleigh by-election. A UKIP victory that consigned the Conservatives to third place and Labour to fourth place would leave Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband with a wake-up call and nothing to laugh about.
It would be a grave mistake to leave the matter there. Negative voting and abstaining makes sustaining stable government much harder. If we want the fruits of good government we have to communicate to the politicians the sort of society we want them to realise and the policies that will achieve that. That calls for constructive involvement, not negative opting out.