Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Column, April 3, 2007

IT’S not hard to see why people are cynical about politics today.
After all on a daily basis we are reminded just how much they can lie to us when our newspapers and TV screens are filled with images of sailors and marines captured by Iran .
If it weren’t for a few crucial untruths – such as the weapons of mass destruction Iraq was 45 minutes away from using on us – we wouldn’t even be anywhere near that benighted country and our sailors and marines would be in harm’s way elsewhere around the globe.
So when we’re engaged in a war that we were misled into fighting, the stock of our political leaders is going to be a little on the low side as a result.
From the ‘90s onwards we have seen a steady poisoning of political life in the UK as we all too readily followed the US example of using spin and counter spin to knock opinion poll points off one another.
It has reached the stage where those briefing and counter-briefing for their poltical masters care little about what people actually think, but presume that if the media take the bait they must be doing their job.
In the meantime successive elections see turnout figures that would have those who fought and died for our right to vote turn in their graves.
It is always the excuse of the intellectually bone idle for not voting – can’t be bothered, all the parties are the same.
And the party flunkies who contribute to this in turn blame the media for exposing the spin and counter spin that mars today’s political debate.
You only have to listen to five minutes BBC radio of a morning to realise that many of today’s politicians have some sort of genetic affliction which renders them incapable of giving a straight answer. It’s either jam today AND tomorrow or we’re all going to hell in a handcart, depending on which party is giving the answers.
I’ve used to have every sympathy with someone who looks at the cynical manipulation of UK politics and then washes their hands of it and spends polling day mowing the lawn.
But those of you who claim all politicians are the same need to revise that opinion in the wake of a couple of things that have happened in Wales this week
Firstly, the days when a quiet drink in your local resulted in you returning home smelling like an ashtray are over. Smoking has been banned in a public place from now on.
Of course, there will be a hard core of smokers who will not agree with me here and will dream of the day when they can light up their slim panatellas at the bar once more.
But for the majority the freedom not to inhale someone’ else’s cigarette smoke will be a welcome change and for 400 people a year it could mean the difference between life and death – that’s how many they believe die because of smoking related disease but who will be spared by the ban.
On top of that we’ve now got free prescriptions in Wales – which will help some people enormously. OK if you’re on limited income you might already get free prescriptions, but for those on average wages an illness which involved getting two or more medications could be a real drain, especially for chronic conditions that were not quickly cured.
And these two measures were achieved by our Assembly – you might not like them, especially the smoking ban, but you cannot deny they will affect people.
And unlike Westminster politics where the difference between New Labour and New Tories appear to boil down to which way the leaders part their hair, Welsh politics is still refreshingly party political and you have a choice between Oldish Labour, old Plaid Cymru, the Tories and the Lib Dems. And what’s more they seem to have a few ideas that are actually different from one another
So if come the elections in May you’re envisaging a gentle day sharpening the mower blades and giving the lawn another crop – think up another excuse, that one is wearing thin as your lawn.

PERHAPS they are saving it up for the anniversary of victory, but do you detect a slight reticence among the TV channels to mark the Falklands War anniversary?
Whatever your views on sovereignty now that Argentina is a democracy, back then the islands were invaded by a country whose military leaders dealt with opponents by dropping them from helicopters. So we were right to try to kick them out and the fact that we managed it is a tribute to the extraordinary talent, determination and courage of our armed services.
The Argentinians didn’t think we’d try, the Americans thought we would try but we’d never pull it off, but in what was a very close run thing which would have been turned by a couple more accurate Exocets, we won.
For many of us in this country it was as formative an experience as, say, living through the Second World War was for a previous generation. It was a cornerstone of our experience and it defined us as a nation.
And so, 25 years on, you would have thought a little more would be made of what happened back then – a more organised, higher-profile commemoration of what went on.
Instead we seem to be on an interminable and highly-publicised guilt trip about slavery, laid on us by the BBC, despite the fact that none of us, not a one, had anything to do with it, nor would we in any way condone it.
But the Falklands , which were liberated by a fair few Welshmen as I remember, seem to be passing us by a little. The odd documentary here and there buried in the schedules in the twilight hours, but little else.
Perhaps, in the words of Woody Allen, they’re saving it up until the end and giving it us big, and the commemorations of our victory will be slightly higher profile.
We don’t wear victory well unfortunately, which can sometimes leave those who made sacrifices for it feel that they have been forgotten. We ought to remember that, whatever the political back story, the Falkland Islanders were a free people and they remained free because of the ability of members of our armed forces to fight and willingness to give their lives for that freedom.
And that is something we should remember with gratitude.

No comments: