Friday, January 11, 2008

Pakistan and Kenya from a distance

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Telescopic philanthropy

Governing is such an easy business. Not in the UK, you understand, where we have intractable problems like invalidity benefit, the credit crunch and teenage gangs. But governing in far off places like Pakistan and Kenya. In fact, the further you are from a situation, the easier it is to know what should be done.

Take Pakistan. On Monday David Milliband, the Harry Potteresque foreign secretary, praised Benazir Bhutto’s courage. That quality "is now required of others as they take forward the drive for democracy and modernisation".

Yes, courage is a virtue and it was shown, for instance, by politicians from both communities during the Northern Ireland Troubles. Some even gave their lives to keep representative democracy alive.

But if Milliband had looked up he would have seen the floor-to-ceiling glass screen that walled him off from the public gallery. Not much sign of courage there. And when MPs did face a threat - in the shape of a couple of Father 4 Justice activists with a bag of flour - the Tory chief whip drove his troops from the chamber in a way that brought letters of complaint from headless chickens.

Crossing the Indian Ocean, Milliband praised the conduct of the recent election where "millions of Kenyans queued for hours, peacefully and with dignity, to cast their votes for parliamentary and presidential candidates".

Yet dignity is precisely the quality Labour has leeched from elections here. The push to increase turnouts by encouraging postal voting has led to serious doubts about the conduct of British elections for the first time anyone can remember. And a government commission recently suggested that people who vote in local elections should be entered into a draw with cash prizes.

The Tories find politics easier from a distance too. William Hague said "Kenya’s leaders have a clear responsibility to compromise and work together". This from a politician whose reputation rests on his mastery of the Punch and Judy show that is prime minister’s questions.

In Bleak House Charles Dickens created the immortal Mrs Jellyby, who worries about the natives of Borrioboola-Gha while her own children fell into the grate. Dickens described her attitude as "telescopic philanthropy". It is rapidly becoming the hallmark of British politics.

1 comment:

dreamingspire said...

Unexpected bitter gall, Jonathan.