But amidst all the gloom there are encouraging signs for Gordon Britishness Brown, as the green shoots of a nascent British nationalism appear on the picket lines of oil refineries, construction sites and power stations the length and breadth of Britain. Bonds of belonging, common purpose and shared values are all evident in spades, and the decision of Scottish and Welsh workers to come out in a display of British solidarity with their English counterparts, and to Gordon’s clarion call of “British Jobs for British Workers“, is a delicious irony.
As someone who has lost about 50% of his colleagues to an Indian call centre over the past year, I have a certain sympathy for those British workers fighting to protect their livelihoods, and I will shed no tears for a prime minister hoist by his own petard.
But are there any lessons for Gordon? Yes, I think there are.
1. Don’t steal BNP slogans.
2. Leave British nationalism and economic protectionism to the BNP. They are more left-wing than you, and for all their faults they have a clear idea of what it means to be British - when they say “British Jobs for British Workers” they mean it.
3. Put emphasis on a pragmatic unionism: economic, not cultural, solidarity.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): It seems that Tom Nairn, Peter Oborne and our own Anthony Barnett were on to something with their suspicions that Gordon Brown would seek to shore up his authority with some kind of cross-party pact.
The Fabian Society's Sunder Katwala offers just such a proposal in this week's New Statesman:
A Lab-Lib deal is possible - but only if a pre-emptive progressive coalition is formed soon. By the time Barack Obama leaves these shores in April, Gordon Brown should invite Nick Clegg to be deputy prime minister with Vince Cable as chancellor. The coalition would govern for a year - announcing the date of the next election, and legislating for fixed-election dates, too. This year it would focus on the response to the recession, while agreeing on core progressive priorities for the next four-year parliament in both party manifestos.
It has been rejected by the dominant unionist DUP; Sinn Féin are unhappy with the truth recovery proposals; one of four members of the Commission for Victims and Survivors, former newsreader Mike Nesbitt, suggested it “was likely to divide families;” the Ulster Unionist leader has called for the proposals to be withdrawn; even the cross-community Alliance party were outraged, though leader David Ford acknowledged “many positive recommendations.” Not a great reception then.
It's been a week that has highlighted the state's interest in diverse areas of our private lives, especially our online activities. There's good news for file-sharers though, as long as they're not dowloading comics...
Ben Wellings (Australian National University, Canberra): Monday was Australia Day and this provided the opportunity to have tea with members of the Australian Republican Movement. ARM’s members are a small but committed group of individuals drawn by-and-large from the left of Australian politics and so the invitation to tea – well in fact Australian chardonnay and beer from Adelaide – was significant. The significance lay in the change of strategy which signalled a new phase in the Republican Movement’s campaign to remove the Queen and her representative as head of state in Australia.
As of Australia Day 2009, the ARM has moved into a more grass-roots oriented set of activities. Part of this new confidence is related to the Labor government which came to power in 2007 and which, in 2008, was encouraged by a citizens’ idea-fest held in Canberra to re-visit the issue of turning Australia into a republic. More confidence came about in mid-2008 when the former chair of the Australian Republican Movement, Malcolm Turnbull, was elected Leader of the Opposition. This meant that the political stars were in alignment given that no referendum in Australia’s one hundred and eight year history has passed without bi-partisan support in Parliament.
John Jackson (London, Mishcon de Reya): In his post yesterday, Stuart Weir referred to the ruling classes ‘self- defeating insistence on the great merit of a flexible constitution’. That insistence is also self-serving and depends on a strange and disingenuous circular argument.
By definition a flexible constitution contains uncertainties and is not definitively written down. But, say its advocates, we also embrace the rule of law and that does require certainty. And, given that we have a flexible constitution, that certainty can only be provided if somebody has the last word. That is the justification of the concept of parliamentary sovereignty encapsulated in the phrase ‘The Crown in Parliament can do anything it wishes except bind its successors’. Parliament – these days a Parliament which is largely the captive of government – has the last word and can insist on what it wants.
The SNP's £33bn plans fell on the casting vote of the presiding officer after being tied at 64 votes to 64.
The government won the support of the Tories but the two Green MSPs withdrew their backing shortly before the vote.
Finance Secretary John Swinney said he would bring the Budget Bill back to parliament "within days".
Labour and the Liberal Democrats voted against the spending plans, saying they were inadequate to see Scotland through the economic downturn.
The Tories, who won a £60m concession for their town centre regeneration scheme initiative, backed the budget - and blamed Labour for its rejection.
Independent MSP Margo MacDonald also voted against the budget.
High drama, but given the close margin the Scottish Government will surely be able to get an extra vote from somewhere in the coming days.
Stuart Weir (London, Democratic Audit): Guy Aitchison's very interesting post on Nick Clegg's speech to mark the publication of Unlocking Democracy, part history of Charter 88, part re-visiting Charter's themes today, focuses first on the dominant rhetorical themes that the ruling classes have used to submerge and disparage those of us who have been seeking democratic reform for half a century now. There is of course the notion of the 'chattering classes'; there is the idea that what we 'chatter' on about doesn't matter 'north of Watford'. There is the self-defeating insistence on the great merit of a flexible constitution, even though it is only the executive that benefits from this vaunted flexibility in amassing overweening powers that allow our governments to blunder on through political, economic, industrial and social disasters. As Nick Clegg pointed out forcibly, constitutional reform is vital to finding ways through the consequences of the series of blunders that have led the country through a new period of gross inequalities and greed to economic and industrial collapse.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): With Labour peers facing growing scrutiny over cash for laws revelations, the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency couldn't have hoped for a more propitious backdrop for its meeting at Westminster this morning.
Among the speakers were MPs Kelvin Hopkins and Gordon Prentice of the Public Administration Select Committee, which has made the case for a register of lobbyists in its report Lobbying: Access and Influence in Whitehall.
"I think we have a big chance now because of the things that are happening in the House of Lords, and the new revelations in the newspapers today involving Martin O'Neill," Prentice said. "Now is the moment to insist that we get these changes and at a minimum, I would say, a mandatory register."
Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics suggested Britain could learn from the experience of the US, where such a register has long existed."The UK has the opportunity to create the world's most transparent system for tracking lobbying of the government, starting basically from scratch, which is a huge advantage," she said.
Guy Aitchison (London, CML): Reading Anthony Barnett and Stuart Weir’s opening contributions to Unlocking Democracy: 20 Years of Charter 88, which deal with the early history of the organisation, one can’t help but reflect on the remarkable talent the political class in this country has for self-preservation. Over many years it has evolved a number of rhetorical techniques the aim of which is to marginalise anyone who dares challenge the basis of its authority. One favourite technique is to dismiss any concerns with the legitimacy of its power as those of the“chattering classes”, nothing that the average voter “gives a shit about” as Alasdair Campbell bluntly put it.
If that’s what constitutional campaigners are up against under normal conditions, it’s not surprising that during a time of economic crisis it’s even more difficult for them to get their message across as things like electoral reform and civil liberties are brushed aside as “luxuries” we can do without.
I am writing this in the United States where people are confronting with some discomfort aspects of their country’s recent past. Their new President when announcing the end of waterboarding and the closure of Guantanamo has reminded them that the US will have and deserve little moral influence if it does not hold to its founding ideals. At the heart of those ideals is ‘liberty’. My friends are asking themselves what ‘liberty’ truly is and who should enjoy it.
What strikes me again and again is that when discussing some of the less fragrant events of the recent past they do not ask ‘Was it legal?’: instead they ask ‘Was it constitutional?’.
Holding to the Constitution is an important part of being American. It is part of the glue which holds American society together.
We have nothing similar in the UK. We are almost discouraged from thinking about our Constitution. We are the poorer for that.
The truth is that the BBC has become afraid of its own shadow. It has become so cowed by accusations of anti-Israeli bias that it has become unsure of what impartiality even means. It has become so cowed by sniping from the Right that it has lost conviction in the integrity of its own journalism. The anti-BBC brigade in the press and politics will use any excuse to undermine the corporation. And to assauge those critics, the corporation has sacrificed its own understanding of impartiality.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I was down with the Lurgie last week and missed Georgina Henry's stirring call to arms at the launch of the Liberty Central website in Comment is Free. It is well worth a read and gives you a sense of the Guardian's tremendous commitment to the growing range of issues that link connect to liberty today.
At the same time, it touches something quite fundamental. Tony Benn says how. His CiF article today is a little scoop and deserving of the print edition, Benn reveals that he was stopped and searched under by the police under the anti-terrorism powers.
(By the way there is also a fascinating interview with him by Iain Dale in the current issue of Total Politics)
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): The Erminegate, kickbacks-to-cronies story brought back an old memory to me, from the days of "sleaze" when cash for questions tainted the Conservative government. This too involved undercover journalists trailing round the most likely suspects until they got some of them drunk, greedy or off-guard enough to agree to a deal. In the process many more were asked. This time, according to the Sunday Times, ten Lords were approached and four agreed. Some of the others refused robustly. Others simply never get back to them with anything they could go on.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): The first edition of the Carnival on Modern Liberty, compiled, by James Graham, is now up at Liberal Conspiracy. It covers a very busy week which includes the Obama inauguration, the Government's u-turn over Freedom of Information and the launch of the Guardian's Liberty Central.
Next week's blog carnival will be hosted here on OurKingdom. If you would like your article to get a mention, you can submit it via this page.