A GLITTERING PRIZE

In the hysterical babble that passes for political debate in the 2015 election campaign, a blizzard of figures, distortions, evasions and lies has obscured the growing possibility of electoral reform, as a consequence of a hung parliament. What are the prospects?

It was the eminent legal philosopher Sir Neil McCormick (who died in 2009) who applied the terms “existentialist” and “utilitarian” to the concept of Scottish nationalism. His view was “anything but narrow, xenophobic or anti-English. It was generous and outward-looking, inspired by the best traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment and the democratic intellect”; in other words philosophical, utilitarian, rather than existentialist.

In the hubbub surrounding the Scottish Referendum last year, little attention was given to which form of nationalism we were (principally) dealing with. Many (including the writer) would argue that it was the growing divisions in political philosophy that powered the Scottish sense of outrage with Westminster policies, rather than a desire to exist “alone and apart” as a Scottish nation. Pragmatism, after all, has never been in short supply in Scotland.

It is as a consequence of this that we have seen the startling swing in the polls in Scotland in recent weeks, away from “Tory lite” (Labour) towards the more left-inclined SNP: it is a totally utilitarian driving force. Bentham defined happiness as the measure for utility, by saying that “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”. It is the Scots’ anger with the “wrongness” of Tory policies that drives their nationalism, more than a cultural desire for segregation. The election babble has heightened this difference, and it has highlighted the Tories’ mendacious portrayal of any Labour/SNP “arrangement” as being somehow undemocratic. The only way they can (almost) sustain this argument is by saying that support for SNP will result in the destruction of the UK. This can readily be debunked if we look at matters logically.

The rise of the SNP is partly, but substantially, driven by loss of faith in Labour, which thinks it cannot stay electable and embrace a more progressive programme: the SNP can present such a programme and be Labour’s “true” voice. The election of a minority Labour government, supported by SNP, can pave the way towards a more progressive programme and the Fixed Terms Parliament Act will allow its policies to be embedded. That done, the SNP “threat of secession” will simply be defused, because Scots, already frightened by the volatility of the oil price, will be sufficiently mollified by a less right wing Westminster to veer away from separatism: pragmatism will rule, dreams of independence will die for at least a generation – and perhaps for ever.

There is another, more mundane, reason why the SNP “threat” is far from imminent. Much has been said recently about the possibility of another Scottish referendum, if there is a Labour/SNP “arrangement”. But it was Cameron who agreed to the first one, safe – he thought – in the knowledge that it would be lost.

“I felt, as the prime minister of the UK, I had a choice. I could either say to them ‘well you can’t have your referendum, it is for us to decide whether you should have one.’ I think that would have led to an almighty and disastrous battle between the Westminster parliament and the UK government and the Scottish government and the Scottish first minister. So I did what I thought was the right thing, which was to say ‘you voted for a party that wants independence, you should have a referendum that is legal, that is decisive and that is fair.'” (May 2014)

(That word “fair” again!) In his frantic scrabbling for arguments to support his present struggle for re-election, he has now conveniently forgotten that it is Westminster which has to agree to the granting of another referendum. In any event (as has been pointed out by Nicola Sturgeon) it is up to the Scottish people to demand a referendum, through a parliamentary mandate – not Nicola Sturgeon or any other leader. And even if that were forthcoming, and Westminster demurred, it is hard to envisage matters being so grave that there would be a “disastrous battle” between Edinburgh and Westminster.

That said, It is not coincidental that Cameron’s assault on the SNP and its legitimacy may well result in more votes for him – but his election would do little to preserve the Union (quite the contrary). The resumption of normal right wing service in Westminster and/or the threat/reality of the UK quitting the EU would assuredly rekindle the independence debate. High stakes and a high-risk strategy that seems at odds with his avowal to keep the Union intact; but all’s fair in party politics and self-preservation. In summary, referendum ructions are much more likely under a minority Conservative government than a Labour one, for a further reason.

Mention has been made in a previous article about the inability of those to hear, who will not hear; we now have the inability of those who will not read to see the writing on the wall: to wit, that the political system of two major parties  – Tweedledum and Tweedledee – is broken. A new order is possible, although the turkeys will have to vote for Christmas.

That new order – the advent of proportional representation in Westminster- can become much more probable if it is Labour who form a minority government. Clegg thought he had scored a point in getting the subject on to the agenda, when he negotiated with Cameron – until he found out that such a concept is alien to the Tory mind (how could he have thought otherwise?). Indeed, the Labour leadership might be little different, so how can either of the two turkeys be persuaded to vote for PR? How do you turn turkeys into statesmen?

SNP are already comfortable with PR through the Additional Member System, Lib Dems ought to be be overjoyed with any form of PR, were it to be resuscitated (but see Clegg’s comments today regarding his refusal to do any deals involving SNP!); UKIP would join the party, as would the Greens and Plaid Cymru. What’s not to like, for the minority parties?

But is there sufficient support within Labour and Tory ranks to put the subject back on the political agenda? Can the SNP at least postpone the dream of independence, in favour of a progressive programme and the assurance of the dustbinning of the monstrous first-past-the-post Westminster system? Might they, on the other hand, see this change as being contrary to, rather than in support of, the more “existentialist” form of their nationalism?

Although he is less in thrall to his left wingers than Cameron is to his right wingers, it is hard to see Miliband and the Labour Party voting for a reduction in their own power – even if that would be the statesmanlike thing to do. But it is impossible to see the Conservative Party doing so: the future, unless it deals with preservation of entitlement, has less relevance for them than the past.

Which is why a hung parliament, with Labour charged with forming a government, once the Tories (who look like having the largest number of seats) have failed, holds just the possibility of far-reaching change. The glittering prize of eliminating the first-past-the-post system and implementing some form of proportional representation could just be within the nation’s grasp. SNP might hold the key but they also have to hold their nerve; if given the chance, they could negotiate hard for a prize that could go to all of the UK. If only Clegg and Sturgeon would, together, force through a real PR agenda with Miliband…

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TIME FOR STEADY NERVES

Is it not time for some political commentators and not a few Tory politicians (as well as a few Labour ones) to stop reaching for the panic button, and turn down the hysteria volume? It now seems inevitable that there will be significant SNP gains (at the expense of Scottish Labour) on May 8 but it is quite unlikely that the gains will be in line with current polls; more likely that SNP gains will be of the order of 25 or 30 instead of the 45 being mooted by the most panic stricken.

Nevertheless, whatever the number turns out to be, it is still very likely that the SNP will have a part to play in the events from 8 May onwards. And who would be agitated by that prospect, apart from Tory nannies warning their charges of the imminent arrival of the Big Bad Scottish Bogeyman? Recently, Alex Salmond might have chosen his words more carefully, to avoid frightening the horses – but what he said (“whoever controls the balance, controls the power”) is of course true –  but speaking truths has never prevented hysteria.

Tories, however, do have deep cause for concern, for the simple reason that the SNP’s progressive policies are what Scottish voters would have welcomed from a Labour government. Consequently, there is little likelihood of major disagreement between SNP and Labour, on a supply and confidence basis. Not only that, but the fear many have south of the border of the Scottish tail wagging the English (Labour) dog is unfounded. SNP’s freedom of action would be tightly circumscribed, even without any desire on their part to play an ethical part in re-orientating British politics and building a society based on a progressive political programme . (SNP have already heralded that approach by their utter rejection of the possibility of their working with the Tories.)

To begin with, the recent huge drop in oil prices has confirmed many Scottish voters that – as far as the eye can see into the future (certainly beyond the next Westminster Parliament, assuming it runs 5 years) – the independence question should stay on the shelf. Fewer Scots would now be inclined to take a punt on going it alone: another referendum within 10 years seems unlikely. Secondly, once negotiations start (assuming a hung parliament) it is inconceivable that Miliband and Salmond (if he is elected on May 7) cannot reach agreement on a range of policies which – if truth be told – Miliband would enunciate now, were it not for the fear of those making Labour unelectable on May 7. Many Labour voters south of the border are longing for a manifesto that is based on a progressive programme – and that is what could, and can, be delivered by a Labour/SNP “arrangement”.

The sting is in the tail however. If the SNP do gain “power” as Salmond suggests, then it opens Pandora’s box. Minority parties – SNP Lib Dems, Greens, Plaid Cymru will see the possibilities of PR opening up, and an end to the grotesque first-past-the-post system the country is increasingly suffering under. They will be revitalised and their numbers will grow. Both Labour and the Conservatives will (and should) become increasingly unattractive to centre ground voters and will have to moderate their policies accordingly. It is more than likely that neither of them will ever again poll more than 35%, once voters can see other, viable alternatives in coalitions, alliances and minority governments.

MIliband is quite right to reject a coalition with SNP (if only to silence Tory rants) and he is also quite right to keep open the door to a working relationship. He, Sturgeon and Salmond (and all left-leaning voters) should keep their nerves. Better times are just around the corner. The quandary Miliband might then find himself in, however, is aiding and abetting the inevitable re-visiting of the Scottish independence question and the move (very slowly) towards PR. In a sense, he would be participating in the eclipsing of Labour (as well as Conservatism) as one of only two ruling political forces in our society. Most Brits want much the same things. The middle section of the electorate can and should be calling the political tune and any steps we can take towards PR are to be welcomed. Time for us all to bite the bullet, keep our nerves and vote with our consciences -and let the results fall where they may.

ON THE SCOTTISH ELEPHANT

In all of the hullabaloo and yah-booing on the question of the SNP winning a significant number of Labour seats on 7 May, much attention has been focused on the possible ramifications of voting SNP, thus depriving Labour of the chance of winning an overall majority and putting Cameron back into No 10. But that’s not the point.

As has already been pointed out in these pages (31 December 2014 and 21 January 2015 ) the risk of returning the Tories to power is worth taking, because of the potential for an overarching historic change in UK politics. That is the only point worth thinking about.

It is purely by happy chance that the Scottish Referendum incentivised a generation of young Scots to the extent that – as lucidly described by Kevin McKenna (Guardian., 8 February 2015), they are challenging the weary acceptance that we have to put up with me-too politics in Westminster and the loss of our moral compass. Occupying what McKenna calls the “fast lane” of Scottish politics. they have become politically engaged – and how! What a second prize!

“Why are there food banks? Why is the gap between rich and poor so vast? Why do so few people own half of Scotland? Why are 250,000 Scottish children living in poverty? Why do we treat our elderly and our infirm like animals? It happens, yet it shouldn’t happen, so why did we all allow it to happen?”

Scottish youth are the flagbearers of a move to “consign to the dustbin” (this column, 6 January ) the outdated and timorous politics of Labour and the swingeing, society-destroying venom of the Tories. That can only be done by creating a flying squadron of independent MP’s  who will force through a social democratic programme to reverse the damage done in the last 15 years. A win by either Labour or Conservatives will move us further down the road to a two class, 1/99 society. This potential prize dwarfs the risks, so let’s stop dreaming up all sorts of other combinations as bogey men, to frighten us into more of the same rubbish politics we have had to endure for the last 15 years. And forget about UKIP, long term: the young have already rumbled their vacuity; others will, later.

The Tory party has 149,800 members, Labour 190,000, Liberal Democrats 44,000 in a UK population of 65 million. The SNP has 93,000 members in a population of 5 million; proportionally, that is 3 times as many as the other three put together. If the prize is won, and the SNP and friends such as the Greens and Plaid Cymru gain control of the balance of power, perhaps English youth and English social democrats will get oft their collective backsides and bury, once and for all, the notion that there is no point in voting  “because they are all the same”. Engagement can bring change.

Such change can only be effected by radical moves and radical risk-taking. It is incumbent on the Scottish electorate to lead the way, to gather its courage and to point towards a better society. Time for a second Scottish Enlightenment, exported to Westminster.  England didn’t have one, first time ’round: perhaps they will pay more attention 300 years later.

All else pales into insignificance. There is only one elephant in the room – and it’s Scottish.

WEALTH…AND JOHN RUSKIN

Over 150 years ago, John Ruskin published four essays on “the first principles of political economy” encompassed in “Unto This Last” (which has recently been re-published by Pallas Athene). An introduction by Andrew Hill, City Editor of The Financial Times, puts it into better focus for us, to help us see how relevant Ruskin’s strongly held (if sometimes erratic) views resonate in today’s world. One is left wondering how many times humanity has to re-invent the wheel.

Despite describing himself as “a violent Tory of the old school” Ruskin held honesty and fairness to be above any political stance. Stating that “the poor have no right to the property of the rich”, he added that “the rich have no right to the property of the poor” so one wonders how he would have viewed today’s politics of selfishness. In his world, there was need to have honesty in the nation’s leaders, as well as allowing “affection” between masters and servants (yes, he did prefer order and hierarchy in society, despite calling himself at one point a communist!). How much affection would he have been able to discern in today’s society? Of course, he was implying a paternalism which, despite its overtones, would be eminently preferable to the hate-filled dismissal of the working class (identified in Professor John Carey’s study “The Intellectuals and the Masses”), practised by the bulk of today’s elite in Britain, and graphically described in Owen Jones’s “Chavs”.

Wealth bothered Ruskin quite a bit in these, and other, writings. He recognised that wealth was “power over men” while at the same time asserting that there was “no wealth but life”. His realisation that the accumulation of wealth for wealth’s sake was useless, 150 years before Lord Turner, chairman of the FSA, happened to notice that some financial activity was “socially useless”, is as relevant today as it ever was. And when Stephen Green (an ordained Anglican priest, no less, as well as being a past executive chairman of HSBC) intoned that “capitalism for the 21st century needs to rediscover a fundamentally renewed morality to underpin it” we have to ask ourselves which planet he inhabited. He moved on from there, of course, to a peerage and a minister’s job, presumably as recognition of his public spiritedness. Never mind all that current stuff about tax dodging revelations in Switzerland, investigations of which HSBC are now fighting on a dozen fronts. Ruskin could argue for morality in his day, as individual conduct was ever-so-slightly capable of modification, by thin social convention. For Green to suggest a change of course, based on morality, in today’s capitalism and in the light of his recent role in the organised larceny in Switzerland is grotesque. And all from an ordained priest, a minister of the Cameron government and a lord of the realm. There ain’t no “affection” out there, nor much integrity, and precious little paternalism, come to think of it. There is certainly none in Green’s world of globalised capitalism in general and banking in particular.

Ruskin saw wealth as being capable of mobilisation in doing social good. He might well have said today that, instead of there being no wealth but life, that there is no wealth but society (that human construct that the arch-destroyer Thatcher is reputed to have denied the existence of). In today’s world the vast majority of wealth is privately controlled and we should not hold our breaths, waiting for the arrival of Green’s “renewed morality”, far less Ruskin’s “affection”. Only sovereign governments – properly controlled by a better-educated people – can hope to bring any kind of morality to the control of wealth, no matter how badly those governments may administer that responsibility; they are the only hope – not “the markets”.

At present, we are told, the richest 1% of the world’s population control half the world’s wealth. Is that wealth being utilised to effect social – as opposed to material – improvement? (Please don’t raise any “trickle down” Reagan/Thatcher theory/nonsense: the short answer is “no”.) Multinational companies are sitting on a cash pile of anywhere between $700 billion and $1 trillion (half of the world’s cash reserves) unwilling to repatriate it (as it would be taxed) and unable to invest it (“until the economy begins to recover”). Meanwhile, sovereign nations stand on the brink of bankruptcy. How bizarre is all this, where globalised capitalism holds sovereign nations to ransom and seeks further powers via the proposed TTIP!

How could Ruskin possibly conceive of a situation so grossly distorted, where there are 710,000 empty homes in Britain and “only”(!) perhaps 100,000 homeless people, where there is £380 million of empty mansions in Hampstead and where new multi-million pound properties are bought by overseas investors, and kept empty, purely as “investments”? Where all such investors pay little or no taxation towards the common weal (the what?) in the southeast of England? Where property is being built to allow rentiers to increase their wealth, on the back of the state subsidising the rent paid to them, to house the working poor . How could we, Ruskin might wonder, how could we have lost our moral bearings so badly?

Britain’s “wealth” is a mirage, floating on a sea of selfishness, where the only perceived aim of much so-called wealth is to increase itself, with no regard for investment in society or humanity. Not even Frankenstein could have created such a monster. That “wealth” needs to be brought to heel by society, as we have lost sight of the manifest need to re-adjust our perceptions of social justice. The idea of re-distribution of wealth, (primarily by taxation) should be rehabilitated in polite (and political) conversation as a proper and morally justified method of pursuing the achievement of a more equitable society. Only when consequent changes have been made can we pursue the goal of a society more at peace with itself than it has been these last 30 years. Then, and only then, might Ruskin’s idea of wealth being life itself be realisable.

BETTER LUCKY THAN GOOD … OR BETTER BOTH?

There is an old saying in golf that it is better to be lucky than good and it is entirely appropriate that the home of golf should be the recipient of good luck (as well as being “good” of course).

Lucky, in the sense that, had Scotland won independence last year, Scots would be in a bit of a financial pickle, due to the plunge in oil prices (“be careful what you wish for” also springs to mind)… but let us put those matters aside for the moment.

David Cameron may well feel that he “won the first prize in the lottery of life” in being born English (or so said Cecil Rhodes) but that same lottery has thrown him into his position at a time of rapid and significant change in British politics – so he may have mixed views on his lottery success. The more so when, today, he is engaged in devolution discussions with a doughty Scot by the name of Nicola Sturgeon, who may feel fate has smiled just as benignly upon her, for different reasons.

One is the fact that she is a graduate of Glasgow University, which has unparalleled success in the Observer Mace (renamed the John Smith – another Glasgow graduate – Mace, for obvious reasons). Glasgow has won the Mace no fewer than 15 times, out of a total of 57. Sturgeon’s debating skills are manifest, as are those of her predecessor, Alex Salmond.

Today’s discussions should therefore be interesting (oh to be a fly on the wall!). Cameron should be in little doubt that the yah-boo circus tactics of PMQ’s will serve him ill. Striving as he is to avoid debate with Ed Miliband (just as he avoided any debate with Alex Salmond), he will find Sturgeon just as daunting (she seems to have an implacable faith in logic, rather than evasive hyperbole). Her logic is well exemplified by her statement yesterday on the question of Scottish MP’s voting on any “English” NHS legislation that might appear after the next election, despite attempts by others to distort the logic of her argument. A well-timed shot across the bows.

The forthcoming election, its possibilities and its threats to the established parties are all becoming clear to nearly all, although some are still in denial about the very real threat of several little tails wagging two big dogs (an entirely fortuitous choice of metaphor). An example (today) of how yesterday’s logic no longer applies was MP John Woodcock’s assertion that there could be no possibility of SNP and Labour working together because of the nuclear “problem” on the Clyde. His reference to “nuclear security” (sic) demonstrates how hidebound some MPs’ thinking has become.

When will they wake up and begin to prepare for a new political reality, one which features greater power to minority parties? Opinion polls at the moment probably exaggerate the likely shift from Labour to SNP in Scotland but there must be a very real possibility that (say) 20 seats will change hands. Coalition and cooperation could well be the new order, not the exception, if, as seems increasingly likely, the Greens also increase their share.

And there is little point in Jim Murphy and his Westminster colleagues trying to make the case that “vote SNP and you will get a Tory government”. So what, Scottish voters say? They have secured significant devolution (protecting the NHS in Scotland and education) and see the way open to gain more, no matter who is in power in Westminster. First prize would be balance of power, either alone or in concert, second prize would be a minority Labour government, third prize a minority Tory government The logic set out in a previous post (22 December 2014) seems to hold good: running the risk of an outright Tory victory seems worthwhile.

Progressive forces are also at work in Lord Oakeshott’s donation of £200,000 in swinging Labour and Liberal seats and it was interesting that Sturgeon’s comments yesterday included the word “progressive”. The SNP has created the template for change. Minority, progressive parties have the keys to the future, voting for them is a step forward, not marking time with more of the same, if Labour were to have an outright majority. Might the Lib Dems also (re)assume the label of “minority, progressive”?

JE SUIS…NOT SO SURE

In the aftermath of the violence in Paris, considerable heat and just a little light have been generated; paradoxically, it has taken the deaths of well-intentioned journalists to show – by worldwide revulsion, reaction and support – that their work is (perhaps) worth the effort; but at what cost?

For over 500 years, philosophers, reformers and satirists have sought to bring about change in religious practice; in the case of Christianity, from the Reformation onwards, through the Enlightenment, down to the ordination of women bishops, change has been effected and most would say Protestant Christianity is none the worse for those changes. (The Catholic Church nevertheless remains more firmly fixed in the sights of the satirists, by reason of its hierarchical and more dogmatic structure.) Over some centuries therefore, Christianity has morphed into a less directive, more assisting “guide to life”, combining humanist principles with religious guidance on worship (principles, it has to be said, that are common to all religions as well as to humanism itself). Such has been this transition that “christian” with a small “c’” has been adopted into the language as meaning “decent, respectable, kindly”, with no religious connotation. In addition, there has been a growing acceptance of the non-literalism of the Bible and its use by Christians primarily as a part-allegorical moral guide.

Over nearly 1400 years, however, there has been neither an Islamic Reformation nor an Arab Enlightenment (yet some would argue that their religion is none the worse for that). Islam is highly directive, the Koran’s infallibility subject only to the interpretation of imams and scholars. This inflexibility and immutability have been constant – but have produced relatively few and/or minor problems until the present age, when the conflation of religious extremism, globalised capitalism and communications, the accessibility of sophisticated weaponry and relaxing moral “Western” standards have helped widen divisions. The vast majority of European Muslims had nevertheless lived in relative harmony with their non-believing fellow citizens for centuries.

Secularism, as in France, requires freedom of religion for all. The modern state allows freedom of expression for all. The Paris violence has arisen from the confrontation between these freedoms. One has heard several times in recent days that many Muslims love Mohammed more than their wives or their children and this is something that non-believers have great difficulty taking on board – but there it is. So satire directed at Islam in general and those who love Mohammed more than their families in particular has to be examined in that light.

The aim of iconoclasm and satire has usually been to effect change by ridiculing the targets and making them change their ways, for the (perceived) benefit of all. Otherwise, surely, it is gratuitous and pointless. It could be argued that one must exercise a right to test the system – but should one do so, whatever the cost?
The cost in this instance was the lives of 12 courageous and principled journalists. The marches in Paris and elsewhere were a huge endorsement of civilised societies’ determination to live in harmony but the question remains – what will be changed? Will there not always be a tiny minority of armed, criminal, deluded Muslim extremists who will continue to resort to what most see as unwarranted and illogical violence? Is there not a case to be made for compromise, by which we gain more mainstream Muslim support? Do we have to sacrifice lives on a regular basis just to prove our case? Do we have to beat our chests just to show we shall not be cowed? Does not a rapprochement between religious communities require compromise?

In an increasingly complicated world, there are fewer and fewer absolutes.

THE WRONG KIND OF CHANGE

It is one of today’s truisms that the only constant in our lives is change. We see it everywhere we look, whether in technology, communications, travel or our very society. Curiously, change is not always synonymous with improvement.

Our political masters have seen to it that we have had more than our fair share of change when it comes to health, education and social security, where we have seen almost unprecedented change over the last 5 years, for what some might argue are obvious reasons. What of those changes, and their champions?

History has taught us that here is nothing quite so dangerous as a clever fool; although we are spoiled for choice, as we look around the political landscape, to whom do our eyes turn?

It was an un-named Tory MP who recently observed that the convulsions the NHS has been thrown into over the last 4 years was ”the worst blunder we have made in government” but that merely confirms what the rest of us had already worked out – that Cameron had no idea of the extent of Lansley’s organisational fantasies prior to the 2010 election (the only plausible excuse – ie cockup rather than conspiracy – for it not appearing in the Tory manifesto) because, in November 2009, Cameron said “there will be no more of the tiresome, meddlesome, top-down re-structures that have dominated the last decade of the NHS.” So he left matters to a clever fool, so clever, he has been promoted to Leader of the House (!), before a position being sought for him, “in international public service” (no irony intended) away from Westminster.  Unpicking Lansley’s £4 billions’ worth of changes – the most destructive and costly programme seen in 70 years – will take more than a generation to repair, provided the Tories do not get re-elected in May (in which event the NHS will be damaged beyond any repair).

Michael Gove, Lansley’s erstwhile colleague in Education (in addition to favouring a privatised NHS) shared his deluded view that he knew better than all the educational experts in the kingdom. Despite limited knowledge of, or experience in, education, Gove set in train changes that will also take decades to remedy. Prime among these are his great love of “free” schools, faith schools and academisation. What has gone largely unremarked is that the cost of these policies not only robbed the general educational weal but also set up organisations which will feel the winter wind of reduced funding when the initial enthusiasm and funds are spent. But, worst of all, the atomisation of the educational process in England and Wales (heaven be praised, he did not get his hands on Scotland) has created a pig’s breakfast of regimes that – far from producing the best of all possible worlds – will produce the worst. His arrogance on educational matters is beyond satire. Bullying opportunities presented by his promotion (sic) to Chief Whip should appeal greatly to him. But all is not yet lost – he has been replaced by a rabbit caught in the headlights, who sees her role in Parliament as being not only to serve her constituents, but “to remember the Word of God and serve the Lord.” Good advice might be to stick to the day job.

And, finally, we come to social security, presided over by another not lacking in arrogance, who sees a vast reorganisation of IT systems (the ages-old graveyard for political aspirants) as being a natural undertaking, presumably one which would result in a more easily trimmed social programme. That someone with Duncan Smith’s (shall we say) chequered and colourful educational achievement could be let loose on such a project rather defies belief, but it was indeed so. While the jury is still out on the possibility of his all-singing, all-dancing system ever seeing broad daylight, smart money is surely on massive write offs, come May 2015, no matter who is in power.

The purpose of these three vignettes is not character assassination but, rather, to try to show that drastic change has been permitted in three vital areas of what is left of our society – and all at the whim of out-of-control, deluded individuals, appointed and (not) controlled by another individual, to wit, David Cameron.

Everyone will be droning on for the next 4 months about matters economic. “It’s the economy, stupid” seems to have gained such traction with us that we fail to see the equally great cultural and social cost of the optional changes being visited on us all, without our consent.

The real problem is not change but lack of change – in our political system. The two major parties are even more incapable of making a silk purse out of a pig’s ear than the rest of us, bound as they are by left or right ideology, so that we get battered from pillar to post and back again. Yet most of us want the same things in our society; we need to be protected from extremes of left and right.

The consigning of the 2 major parties (as periodic absolute controllers of our fates) to the political dustbin is overdue. Gather your strength, Scottish Nationalists, stick with it, Lib Dems (but don’t be suckered into thinking you can wrest a PR system out of either Tories or Labour without a lot more stick). The central ground belongs to neither of them but to those who would – and should – form an adequate power base to allow the creation of centrist forces which should never again permit the random unleashing of ideology, driven by clever fools, on our institutions.