Friday, July 15, 2005

The week after the week before

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Pause for Thought

It has been the week after the week before. On Monday the Commons heard prime ministerial statements on the G8 summit and the London bombings. Then his opponents were unusually complimentary.

Michael Howard paid tribute to the “calm, resolute and statesmanlike” way the government had responded to the bombings. Charles Kennedy said Tony Blair was “to be congratulated on what was, for the best and happiest of reasons as well as for the most dreadful, an extraordinary week”.

Blair was certainly doing his best to sound statesmanlike. He did not use his choking-back-the-tears voice that leaves you wishing there were a grown up in charge. Instead it was his slow delivery. with. very. long. pauses.

I once heard a tape of a Blair speech in this style with all the pauses edited out. It still made sense. If anything it sounded better. But his approach seemed fitting on Monday even if it was odd to hear the prime minister talking about “our way of life”.

If anything has defined the New Labour project over the years it has been an impatience with the British way of life. Tradition is suspect and everyone and everything has to be modernised.

This attempt at modernisation went on after Blair’s statements with the third reading of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. Or the Muslim Voters (Reclaiming for Labour) Bill as it should be called.

This is one of those proposed laws that gets less impressive the more it is examined. In countries where such legislation has been enacted, it is chiefly used by warring religious groups to take each other to court.

To avoid this the government now says the attorney general will have to approve every prosecution. “Pass this law and we promise not to use it very often” is an argument no legislature should fall for. Ours has.

Monday also saw questions on culture, media and sport. And it was clear what the next seven years are going to be like. Already getting the 2012 Olympics has become a government achievement. And the games will be used as an argument in support of every backbench obsession, no matter how loopy.

We are going to pay a heavy price for the fun of upsetting M. Chirac.

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