The last day of 2001 and the last comment page of the year. I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy, peaceful and prosperous 2002.
The Oath of Allegiance and Sinn Fein
This really hinges around the question of what is meant by 'democracy'. Members of Parliament are required, before they may take up their parliamentary duties, to take an oath in which they pledge "true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and Her heirs and successors." If you don't happen to believe in "Almighty God" then it is permitted to omit mention of that. If you feel unable to "swear" allegiance, it is permitted to "solemnly, sincerely and truly affirm" instead. But there is no flexibility if you don't happen to believe in a monarchy, but would instead prefer a republican form of government, for example. Some MPs who would prefer a republican form of government do manage to take the oath, whilst couching their associated remarks in ways which make clear their true beliefs - fair enough, as they are prepared to work within the democratic system.
Whatever one may think of those elected as MPs under the Sinn Fein banner, and their supposed links with the IRA, their legitimate right (in my view) to discuss abolition of the monarchy and its replacement by a republic is denied them, as is the legitimacy of their electoral mandate to discuss reunification of that part of the United Kingdom which we call 'Northern Ireland' with the rest of the island of Ireland. Their links with terrorism (certainly in the past, perhaps more recently too) are pretty clear, however. On the other hand, many ex-terrorists have gone on to lead nations which have gained their independence from the United Kingdom. One or two have in fact become tyrants, but Nelson Mandela went on to become one of the world's greatest statesmen of recent times.
Personally, I see nothing wrong (or at least very little) with our monarchical system of government - I think it is pretty healthy for the Head of State to be 'outside' politics and for the Head of Government not to be the same person as the Head of State - it took many centuries to achieve this separation. Nor do I see any particular reason to split up what seems a perfectly satisfactory and workable constitutional arrangement. After all, both the UK and Ireland are members of the European Union and have very close ties at all levels - mobility of population between the two, deep family links, etc. Not everyone agrees, however - and some MPs have been elected under the Sinn Fein banner to represent this different view. It is undeniable that they have been elected legitimately.
There is nothing in the oath about pledging to uphold 'democracy', which seems strange. One has to ask - 'why not?' It seems to me that the refusal to allow Sinn Fein MPs to take up their places gives credence to their contention that the whole system is stacked against them and their legitimate views , with which I happen strongly to disagree - but then in a democracy that should not be a barrier, should it? Is the UK a democracy? Perhaps it is, but if it is then it is certainly not entirely a democracy.
Duncan Smith - a Secret Admirer of Tony Blair?
Duncan Smith's latest wheeze to try and persuade a sceptical nation that he wants to carry out a genuine modernisation of the Conservative Party is to decline an invitation to join The Carlton Club, which has been extended to all leaders of the Conservative Party since ..... well, for a long time. Even Margaret Thatcher, whose name sort of gives the game away that she is not a man, was invited to join as an 'honorary man' and she didn't feel constrained to decline. Extremely complex arguments are put forward, at least they are complex to a simple soul such as me, as to why it's not acceptable for him to join The Carlton, but it is acceptable for him to remain a member of The Beefsteak Club. Indeed, if he is so devoted to equality, why did he agree to join The Beefsteak in the first place?
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph on 30th December, Mary Kenny (a reactionary if ever there was one, and not generally one of my favourite people) takes what I consider to be a sensible and pragmatic approach - she is pleased that her own club (The Reform) now admits women on equal terms with men, but she nevertheless thinks that in a free society the composition of a club's membership should be a matter for the club's members alone to decide. Beyond this all, though, she states correctly that the subject of the membership of London's clubs is not a matter of mass popular interest.She sums up her article by categorising Mr Duncan Smith's gesture as 'patronising' and that Tories should know that there are far more important questions, concerning substance rather than style, in the political arena today.
A few weeks ago he was telling us he wanted to 'rebrand' the Conservative Party and to discourage the use of the word 'Tory' which, he said, gave too old-fashioned an impression of the Party.
One might almost believe that Mr Duncan Smith has decided to adopt the style of that other master of gesture politics, Tony Blair. It all smacks of desperation to me.