boris johnson

Straw men, straw men everywhere


Witness the strength of the newspaper lobby as it brings it’s full might to bear. Even if you didn’t know that Lord Justice Leveson’s report is due out on Thursday (actually, since David Cameron finds out on Wednesday, we’ll probably know by the afternoon on previous performances), you could make an educated guess purely from how loudly certain elements are pushing the concept of “press freedom”.

See, for example, this advert in The Sun recently:

Terrifying, no? I certainly don’t want to live in a world where the British press is controlled by Assad. Perish the thought!

On a slightly more serious note, I don’t want the British press controlled by David Cameron. Or even, actually, Ed Miliband. But actually, I haven’t heard anyone suggesting that.

In fact, the most common suggestions I’ve heard for a new regulation regime are:

  1. The Press Complaints Commission, again. More self-regulation, but it failed last time because it had no power, and because the likes of Richard Desmond refused to take part.
  2. An independent regulator, backed by statute, and thus able to enforce it’s judgements. Along the same lines as Ofcom.

Neither of those gives politicians control of the press, and indeed the broadcast press are currently regulated by the statute-backed Ofcom. And that doesn’t seem to be politically interfered with.

I’m pretty certain that we need the second option. The press had systematically failed to regulate itself, and the Leveson Inquiry was set up because phone hacking and other infringements on rights by the press were rampant. And, actually, they had gotten away with it in party thanks to the interference of politicians.

And yet, the press is kicking back on this under the guise that they are somehow innocent and can be trusted to sort the mess out. Michael Gove — perhaps looking for press support for a future party leadership and Prime Ministerial bid — has talked about “a chilling atmosphere towards freedom of expression“. Boris Johnson told the audience at the Spectator Awards:

MPs, members of parliament and all the rest of it, don’t you for one moment think about regulating a press that has been free in this city for more than 300 years, and whose very feral fearlessness and ferocity ensures that we have one of the cleanest systems of government anywhere in the world.

This is the same Boris Johnson who met numerous times with News International bigwigs at the height of the hacking scandal — and tried to cover it up — and said of the emerging phone hacking controversy:

In other words, this is a load of codswallop cooked up by the Labour Party and that we do not intend to get involved with it.

I can understand why certain powerful elements of the press are keen to retain the cushy regime of unaccountable independence which has allowed them to get away with so much for so long. But why are senior politicians willingly participating in the construction of straw man arguments?

A cynic might think that they want to hang onto the previous arrangement, where they turned a blind eye to the sins of newspapers. A cynic might think that they want to still be able to curry favour in the courts of media kings, buying support for themselves and their parties in exchange for influence over key policies. A cynic might wonder why those politicians are so against an independent regulator actually able to regulate.

I don’t know, but I am always suspicious about over-the-top, hyperbolic, foaming-at-the-mouth arguments in favour of the status quo. I like to ask why they are so desperate for things to remain the same. I wonder if maybe they are simply trying to protect their own privilege.

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Glass Houses and Throwing Stones


Owen Jones — a man talking an enormous amount of sense in the debate on trades union and strike ballot thresholds.

There was an interesting moment on last week’s version of Any Questions, Radio 4’s political panel show (think Question Time, but on the radio and with a different Dimbleby), there was an interesting little exchange regarding strike ballots.

In response to a question about the PCS trade union calling a strike for the day before the Olympics begin, and coming immediately after a spout of reactionary, right-wing nonsense from Kelvin MacKenzie (if not the most insufferable and repugnant men in the media today, then certainly one of), the microphone came to Owen Jones. After he had corrected Kelvin on the reasons for the strike, and doing a sterling job explaining why the workers had no choice, Jonathan Dimbleby asked him this question:

JD: “Does the fact that only 20% were balloted, and only 50% of the 20% were in favour of strike action, weigh with you or not?

OJ: “That would strike out a lot of elected politicians in this country including Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.

Which, aside from being very true, is an interesting point. If we take practising what they preach as the standard that our politicians should be aspiring to, then the people calling for the introduction of strike ballot thresholds should, themselves, surely be commanding a majority of the overall electorate in their constituencies. Right?

So I decided to check. I started with the elected politicians in the cabinet, calculating how much of their electorates voted for them. I’ve put the turnout for each MP’s constituency there too, just for added context, and have colour coded the results: green for half or more of the vote; orange for less than half but more than a third; and red for less than a third. All results are rounded to one decimal place, and you are welcome — nay, encouraged — to check my maths:

Name Position

Turnout (%)

Support of total electorate (%)

David Cameron Prime Minister

73.3

43.1

George Osborne Chancellor of the Exchequer

70.6

38.5

Nick Clegg Deputy Prime Minister

73.7

39.4

William Hague Foreign Secretary

67.2

42

Iain Duncan Smith SoS for Work and Pensions

66.5

35.1

Vince Cable SoS for Business Skills and Innovation

74.8

40.7

Danny Alexander Chief Secretary to the Treasury

64.9

26.4

Theresa May Home Secretary

73.7

43.9

Michael Gove SoS for Education

70.0

40.3

Eric Pickles SoS for Communities and Local Government

71.9

40.9

Justine Greening SoS for Transport

64.4

34.1

Ed Davey SoS for Energy and Climate Change

70.4

35.1

Andrew Lansley SoS for Health

74.8

35.5

Ken Clarke SoS for Justice

73.6

37.7

Philip Hammond SoS for Defence

66.4

37.1

Caroline Spelman SoS for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

63.3

32.7

Owen Paterson SoS for Northern Ireland

65.7

33.8

Cheryl Gillan SoS for Wales

74.6

45.1

Jeremy Hunt SoS for Culture, Media and Sport

73.4

43.1

Michael Moore SoS for Scotland

66.4

30.1

Andrew Mitchell SoS for International Development

67.9

36.7

Francis Maude Minister for the Cabinet Office

72.1

38.0

Oliver Letwin Minister of State in the Cabinet Office

74.6

35.5

David Willetts Minister of State for Universities and Science

63.0

32.2

Sir George Young Leader of the House of Commons

69.6

40.6

Patrick McLoughlin Chief Whip in the House of Commons

73.8

38.4

Dominic Grieve Attorney General

70.0

42.8

There’s a distinct lack of green in that table, isn’t there?

And bear in mind that these are cabinet ministers, the leading politicians of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. Most of them represent “safe seats” where they far outstrip the nearest rival candidates. Backbenchers who represent more marginal constituencies are going to command even less support.

So, after this enlightening little revelation, I thought I’d do a bit more. Below is a second table, showing the same information with a number of other elected politicians who have called for or expressed support for introducing a rule requiring a ballot on industrial action to reach a threshold level of support in order to be valid.

(N.B. Aidan Burley is the chairman of the “Trade Union Reform Campaign”, an organisation dedicated to attacking the trades union, and staffed by a variety of comic characters, of whom Burley is by far the most tragically hilarious.)

Name Position

Turnout (%)

Support of total electorate (%)

Boris Johnson Mayor of London

38.1

19.6

Matthew Hancock MP for West Suffolk

64.6

32.7

Aidan Burley MP for Cannock Chase, Chairman of the TURC

61.1

24.5

Dominic Raab MP for Esher and Walton

72.0

42.4

Priti Patel MP for Witham

70.2

36.6

Nick de Bois MP for Enfield North

67.1

28.4

Conor Burns MP for Bournemouth West

58.1

26.2

Damian Green Minister of State for Immigration

67.9

36.7

Still no green. And a good deal more red.

Now, I actually agree that there’s a problem with the turnout in the PCS ballot. But the solution isn’t curbing the democracy of the unions, but trying to encourage better participation in the democratic process. Owen Jones himself went on to suggest a number of good, constructive ideas:

What we need to do is change our very stringent anti-union laws to allow workplace based balloting, to ensure as many workers can take part as possible. Text balloting, email balloting. At the moment the problem is with the postal ballot system, is that most people don’t get round to filling out their postal ballot and sending it off.

Maybe I’m just a dangerous lefty subversive, but I think there’s a certain irony in people who don’t have majority support complaining that the unions don’t have the support of the majority of their members. This kind of hypocrisy could be stemmed with the introduction of a more proportional voting system — but none of the Conservative politicians listed above supported such a move when it was put to a referendum in 2011.

There is a well-known proverbial saying, “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones“. And I think there are a lot of politicians on the government benches in the House of Commons who should think very carefully upon it.

Revealed: Boris Johnson’s Daring New Policy


The embattled Mayor of London has hit on an excellent Dalek-recycling idea, whilst in Brighton the Greens are welcoming them onto public transport

Spotted today at Tower Hill tube station, it seems Boris Johnson has found an excellent use for all those old, disused Daleks! Given the number of failed invasion attempts that the plunger-armed psuedo-Nazis have launched on the capital, by my reckoning there have to be a fair number of the things cluttering up London streets. Now, as a part of the Mayor’s re-election strategy, they are apparently to find a new lease of life as litter bins on the underground!

Meanwhile, on the sunny south coast, the Green administration of Brighton and Hove seem to be welcoming our alien overlords onto local buses. Perhaps “Dalek bus passes” will be featuring in the Green Party mayorship candidate Jenny Jones’ manifesto.

With all this Who-fever taking over the mayoral race, how long before Ken Livingstone pledges to return blue police boxes to the corner of every road? Only time will tell!