Second Chances

What is it about the loss of power that seems to improve politicians? It’s a phenomenon that I’ve been noticing more and more as I get older and witness more scum-bags turfed out of office. There seems to be something about the process that makes them more thoughtful.

For example, lets take Michael Portillo. When in power he was a loyal Thatcherite, with little to find appealing. However, once he left parliament, his policies took a notable shift towards social liberty. Suddenly Portillo had become a sensible centrist politician, totally at odds with his party, yet diagnosing the exact medicine they would need to make themselves acceptable to the public once more.

John Major, another politician I had little time for, has also been popping up telling his party the difficult truth it needs to hear. He was one of the first to recommend a pact with the lib dems (something most of the party found horrifying) and now believes that this coalition should last more than one term.

And there are more: Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke, William Hague, and already even some from Labour are starting to talk sense (such as Bob Ainsworth).

Yet it doesn’t seem to be just the absence of power that causes such sense, because Ken Clarke now holds the position of Justice Secretary and is as moderate as ever. It seems to be the process of the public rejecting you the first time, that forces a politician to reflect.. or perhaps it gives them a “who gives a damn” attitude that allows them to finally speak their mind, rather than pander to their grass-root supporters?

Whatever the effect, it can be seen the most clearly in Robert “Bobby” Kennedy. When in power as Attorney General to his brother, Bobby was decidedly average, in fact it could be argued he was detrimental, joining the cocky gun-ho clique that led to such missteps as the Bay Of Pigs.

However once he left office in the aftermath of his brother’s death, Bobby embarked on a process of rejuvenation, a bonding with the liberal left that saw him condemn the Vietnam war.

Bobby Kennedy could have been the greatest president the USA had ever seen, had he not been assassinated, but he never would have had that seismic shift in policy and thinking, had it not been for being suddenly removed from office.

Anything to learn from this? Perhaps we should give politicians second chances more often? We may like what we get.

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Of course, it’s not applicable every time. Some politicians such as Caroline Flint could never be made appealing… those cold soulless middle-manager eyes… uuuughh!

Two Households, Both Alike In Indignity

It’s been tough for the Liberal Democrats and Coalition supporters over the past few weeks. Many on the liberal flank of the unholy union have been getting jittery, talk of rebellion on the forthcoming tuition fees bill is rife and the party is openly mocked for renegading on their pre-election pledge.

But for those who have struggled to understand how a coalition works and are horrified by the Liberal’s concessions, they should keep a close eye on today’s announcement by Ken Clarke.

If free education is something close to a Lib Dem’s heart, then crime sits in every Tory’s gut. Before the election (and indeed, probably before any election) the Conservatives campaigned under a ‘tough on crime’ banner, promising more prisons, harsher sentences, and abstinence programs for drug addicts.

And yet, despite these promises to their electorate, the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has announced that instead of creating more prison places, there will be less. Less prison places, more community sentences. Why? Because the evidence suggests that prison does not work, and community punishments do.

“I think the prison system is not doing some of the things it’s meant to do. That’s stopping us preventing the rise of a criminal under-class who commit more crime when they are out.”

Ho ho ho. What a crazy mixed-up world this is, when a conservative party is proposing sensible policies on crime. He also wants to put more emphasis on putting drug addicts into treatment instead of prison and identifying inmates with mental illnesses.

This could all be straight out of the Lib Dem’s Big Book of Crimefighting and no doubt those of a liberal persuasion will be delighted. One significant delight is the dropping of the Tory pledge on mandatory sentences for carrying knives. On this Clarke said:

“Serious knife crimes will get serious prison sentences, but we’re not setting absolute tariffs.”

This will anger many Tories who campaigned under a ‘tough on anyone who looks like they could be a criminal’ stance, and indeed there is already talk of a rebellion from Tory back-benchers.

But this is the price of a coalition. Without the Liberal Democrat wing there is no chance Ken Clarke would be able to push this ahead. Indeed, it is doubtful such a sensible and liberal conservative could hold such a position in government at all. This will anger many conservatives, but the reply is the same as it was to the lib dems who are getting ansy about the tuition fees: you didn’t win the election so you have to compromise.

The fate of Ken Clarke’s proposals may well rest in the hands of the lib dems. If they rebel on Thursday over the education bill, then that will give an excuse to the Tories to rebel over crime. And this will cause a downward spiral to the end of the coalition, a snap election, and ultimately victory to Labour who will slime their way back into power without a shred of conviction between them.

We wait with baited breath.