Monday, January 31, 2005

Reasons To Be Cheerful #5

(If you’re wondering what this is all about, click here.)

Clare Short MP

As I’ve said here before, one of the many things I loved about living in Nottingham was knowing that my local MP Alan Simpson was very much one of the good guys – vocal in the House of Commons, prompt and informative in his responses to correspondence and enquiries, a firm believer in the principles of social justice and a keen supporter of unfashionable left-wing causes.

For Alan Simpson in Nottingham, read Clare Short in Birmingham.

The appearance of the Labour MP for Ladywood at Aston University last week encapsulated all that is admirable about her – her visible passion for what she believes in, her opposition to narrow-minded and short-term thinking in politics and perhaps most of all her refreshing honesty. She branded Prime Minister’s Question Time "contemptible" and "a stupid circus", and referred to the invasion of Iraq as a "spectacularly awful" decision.

It’s this obstinate refusal to pussyfoot around and pull punches that endears her to those sick of spin and glib sloganeering. Unlike many of her colleagues in Parliament, she readily accepts that much of the blame for the currently widespread epidemic of public apathy with politics lies squarely at their door.

In the course of Thursday’s talk she discussed her former role as Secretary of State for International Development, the way in which her department was created and then kept in a state of near powerlessness, and the sheer enormity of the challenges that face the world, for which a truly global strategy is needed. Blair’s deception over Iraq, the dangerous unpredictability of the current American administration and the role of the UN were all on her agenda.

Perhaps most compellingly, she took the opportunity of reminding us on Holocaust Memorial Day that genocide has not been consigned to the past; on the contrary, it is very much a spectre that still haunts the present. Even after the horrors of Auschwitz and the other Nazi concentration camps, valuable lessons still remain to be learned.

She may have incurred the wrath of some constituents for the delay in offering her resignation over the Iraq affair, but she openly and vehemently criticises Blair’s leadership and decision-making – she agreed with one questioner that our dear leader and his buddy Bush should be tried for war crimes – and very often refuses to endorse the official party line. Why, she was asked, does she (like Alan Simpson) still remain a member of the New Labour machine? Because, she said, she believes in the history of the party, and hopes that she can be one of those who helps return it to the rightful path from which it has strayed under Blair.

A futile hope? Perhaps. But we desperately need politicians who’ll stand up and speak out in plain terms for what they believe in, and who are prepared to put principles before their own self-serving ends.

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