Read more : Read more : Ryan Shorthouse: February 2008

Thursday, 21 February 2008

The Good Old Days

Hillary is in trouble. After victory in the Wisconsin and Hawaii primaries, Obama has ten wins under his belt since Super Tuesday. It's “do or die” for Hillary on 4th March, where she has to win both Ohio and Texas to keep in the race for the Democratic nomination.

What is very surprising is that Britons prefer the New York senator while the Germans, Italians, Spaniards and French prefer Obama. A recent Financial Times/Harris Poll showed that 28% of those surveyed in Britain would vote Clinton. Only 23% would vote for the Illinois senator. 45% of voters in Italy, on the other hand, would vote for Obama. And 35% of Spaniards would.

It is not surprising that the Democratic candidates are much more popular than the Republicans in Europe. Many Europeans just perceive Republicans as anti-abortion, anti-homosexual, and generally illiberal. And they hate this.

I want to put my finger on why Hillary is more popular here. Perhaps it the British thing of liking to be different. We drive on the left while most drive on the right. We’ve kept our feet and inches, whereas the rest of Europe has gone metric. Everyone's voting for Obama so I'm going to vote for Hillary.

Maybe it’s our scepticism of radical change. Yes, we want Bush Jnr out. But someone who's only been a senator since late 2004 and wants US troops to be withdrawn from Iraq immediately? The French do revolutions; we do evolution. Hillary is a reliable choice: she's done this 'being in the White House' thing before. Best to settle with the safe option, especially in times of economic turbulence.

Yet, I actually think it is to do with Clinton's association with the early Blair years. Britons see Labour's first term as a good time. Economic stability, no disastrous wars and no Islamic terrorism. A tired Conservative Government had ended and the disastrous Bush-Blair years had yet to begin. The start of the Blair ascendancy was so much better than the Brown years of economic uncertainty, dodgy donations and Government incompetence we are currently suffering.

Britons are nostalgic for the good old Clinton-Blair years. That, I think, is the reason why Hillary is so popular.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Valentine's Day

Today has not been good: my daily jog around St James's Park, which re-started on Monday for the first time since October, was suspended because of the return of winter weather. And, of course, it's Valentine's Day. I belong to the 48% of the population who are single. You know the ones, queuing in supermarkets this evening with a bottle of red wine, a Whitney Houston CD and a ready meal for one.

The libertarian type’s boast how good being single is: freedom, freedom, freedom. A chance to try something new, to spend more time with friends, to focus on the all-important career. Let’s face it: this list of so-called benefits is an elaborate sales pitch. Most of these things can be done whilst in a relationship. Having someone special is a bonus.

People in relationships are generally happier than singletons. Psychologist and Nobel-laureate Daniel Kahneman did a study showing we derive, on average, more happiness from interacting with a partner than we do from being alone. In fact, being alone derives similar happiness levels to spending time with your boss.

Let's not pretend singlehood is somehow better than being in a happy relationship. Queen got it right: ultimately, we do all need somebody to love.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Restoring trust in politics

Using public money to fund their children's lavish lifestyles at university, receiving money in brown envelopes to ask Parliamentary Questions, taking donations without registering them: recent revelations reinforce the perception that politicians are corrupt.

Politicians are trusted less than any other profession. Whereas 29% of the population believe the ordinary man or woman on the street does not tell the truth, a frightening 72% believe politicians do not tell the truth.

This is incredibly bad for democracy. Fewer people will be engaged, politics becoming the domain of a handful of politicos, unhealthily unrepresentative. The sleaze of the Major years and New Labour era has contributed to the record low turnout in the last two elections, with four in ten eligible people simply not bothering to vote.

Scepticism of politicians also means fewer talented, thoughtful and proactive people find politics worthy of interest or a respectable profession to enter. The likelihood positive change will be implemented is thus reduced.

All politicians need to recognise that they have a responsibility to change the minimal confidence the public have in their integrity. David Cameron was right to take the lead in insisting frontbench Conservative MP's publish the number of staff they employ, the names of the staff they employ, and a breakdown of the costs of running their office. After all, constituents should know what they are voting and paying for.

The insistence that MP’s give a detailed account of how they spend taxpayer's money may well prevent the abuse we have recently seen. Get rid of sleaze and the appalling image the public has of politicians may begin to change.