Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Shut Yir Puss, Yi Haverin Bastirt

Michael Ancram
Nae Mair Pish Michael
I don't usually bother to stir myself over an issue like Michael Ancram's deeply unhelpful contribution to the policy debate within the Conservative party, because I know long before I get round to it someone will have done a better job of it than I, usually with more inside knowledge.

I will make an effort though in the case of the the 13th Marquess of Lothian, not only since he is Chieftain of the clan from which my Scottish roots descend, but also because I've usually found him someone who brings forth more useful offerings to debates, even if they do not always follow the party line.

It was a very disappointing effort to say the least. While delivered in his normal calm, thoughtful style I don't think much of what he said would have been especially damaging, he certainly would have been, or at the very least should have been, aware of the feast he would have been offering up to the Labour spin machine, and its coterie of ever ever helpful assistants, especially in the BBC Radio team. To be fair, I don't think even he could have fully expected Broon's ludicrous attempt to portray himself as the 'New Thatcher'.

It's getting increasingly hard to understand where Ancram is coming from these days. To me, it almost seems like he is suffering some kind of political identity crisis, as he adopts a series of positions that seem to be contradictory, either internally or to principals he himself has stood through throughout his political career.

Each in of itself can seem reasonable, even principled, even if one may disagree with his position. I remember his measured opposition to renewal of the Trident independent nuclear deterrent. I disagreed with much of what he said in the recent Parliamentary debate, however he delivered his speech calmly and with a rational explanation of why he felt the need change his life long position. Even though I thought his analysis was flawed, his speech was one of the highlights of what was one of the most mature and considered debates I've ever heard in the Commons.

This was though, not a one-off volte-face. Ancram was one of the principal signatories to the Henry Jackson Society principles, including the acceptance of military intervention as being occasionally necessary in the defence of, and promotion of liberal democratic values, but more recently became one of the principal Conservative voices against military action in Iraq. He has never seemed to be a particularly hard-core Thatcherite, yet now seems to be unable to grasp the reality of the need for the reforms David Cameron is trying to make, where others much more closely associated with the core of Thatcher legacy have managed to make that leap.

I was tempted to use the better known Scots phrase Sleekit Bastirt, however 'sleekit' implies slyness and cunning, and I don't think that this fits the bill for Ancram. If I was to be kind I think 'naive' comes closer. Nobody doubts Michael Ancram's intellect, but I don't think that as of now he has a coherent view of the political landscape, and to advance his half baked ideas and not anticipate the damage it will cause was decidedly foolish.

Some of the indisciplined behaviour by leading Conservative figures in recent weeks have been a particular tragedy, as parts of the media unsympathetic to the party have leaped on their contributions with delight, allowing them to push a series of very interesting, and to many appealing, policy announcements way down the news agenda.

I've just been listening to Tim Montgomerie, and (I think) Matthew D'Ancona on Radio 4. They made a valiant effort to draw attention to the Conservative's proposals for Education, including a very sensible commitment to restoring confidence in the 'A' level system. Half way through the programme it's looking pretty much as that this might be the only focus these sensible proposals will receive today, as the reporting team revels in the Ancram news, and delights over Ashley Mote's jailing. The fact that there were also very Thatcherite proposals over housing policy today also seems to be very far from the headlines.

Well done M'Lord.

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