Apologies for the absence of posts this week.
Even the most sympathetic of commentators about David Davis's resignation to fight a by-election on the issue of civil liberties regard his stance as quixotic. Peter Hoskin on the Spectator "Coffee House" blog writes:
For myself, I think there's something sublime about Davis' actions. They're so far-removed from what we normally expect of politicians that it's hard not to applaud. But it's this quality that makes it difficult to offer further comment – when the unprecedented comes along, who knows what will happen next? As I wrote yesterday, I do think the odds are against Davis succeeding as he wants to. But perhaps we'll only be able pass judgement in two years time. Or beyond.
I may be proved wrong, but I don't think it's premature to pass judgement on the act or its likely consequences. Resigning to force a by-election on an issue of policy has precedents. The one that seems to me most apt, though it was in municipal rather than Westminster politics, was the resignation of Ken Livingstone and three of his Labour colleagues on the Greater London Council in 1984, in protest against the abolition of the authority by Mrs Thatcher. On paper, they had public opinion on their side. In practice, the by-elections they then won - without Tory opposition - were hollow victories. The turnout in every seat was below 30%, and in one case (Edmonton) it barely reached 20%. The most potent image of the campaign was a smirking Kenneth Baker, then Minister for Local Government, describing the results as a prank and a stunt. So they were.
At best, Davis will show himself as a man who thinks like an Opposition politician. Against a weak government, and with plausible hopes to be at last a party of government once more, the Tories can do without this.
Charles Krauthammer has a provocative and convincing piece in the Washington Post on why John McCain should make Iraq his central electoral issue. McCain has the distinction of having urged long ago the course that has at last provided an effective counter-insurgency strategy, to the immeasurable benefit of Iraqis and our own security.
Stephen Pollard is taking part in Any Questions? on Radio 4 this evening. I've never done the programme or its television equivalent, Question Time. I did once advise Martin Bell when he was an MP and about to appear on the latter programme, and the experience has stayed with me.
Martin deputed me to anticipate what questions would come up. The big story in the news that week - it was in January 1999 - was turmoil on world stock markets after Brazil had devalued its currency. (Memories were fresh of the Asian currency crisis of 1997-8.) I was sure the question would come up, and I felt professionally close to it, so I gave Martin what I considered to be a cogent and detailed model answer. This being the UK, the programme turned out to be devoted instead almost exclusively to the issue of fox hunting. Martin is unflappable in private as he is in public, but I have never lost the suspicion that it was at this point he concluded my advice was something he could live without.
Speaking of one-member political parties, I am as usual indebted to my readers who have kept me informed of the progress of the British People's Alliance. The Alliance is a party established by a blogger, David Lindsay. As regular readers will recall, the party supports biblical Creationism and a military coup to sweep away our decadent political class; it opposes contraception, abortion, immigration and the European Union. One of my readers, Michael, posted an interesting comment on an earlier post, in which he drew my readers' attention to a development revealed by Mr Lindsay on his blog. It certainly puts the whole affair in a different light. Here is Mr Lindsay's announcement, which is clearly not the last we shall hear of his party:
I know that the British People's Alliance is being viewed very favourably at or near the top of the Catholic Church in this country; I arranged that myself. I am frequently told by people whom I trust that Rome itself is keeping a benevolent eye on us. And I am also now informed that the great and the good of the Church of England are doing likewise.