Oh my Lord, it is more than a month since I posted a blog, the morning after the Scottish independence referendum. That has to be the longest – yes, it definitely is the longest – I have ever gone without sticking a few thoughts down here.
Lots of reasons. Been working overseas a fair bit. Also trying to finish my next book on Winners, and getting the next batch of GQ interviews done. But the main reason, to be honest, is because of how hacked off I have been about political debate since the referendum.
The referendum actually posed a huge opportunity to harness that amazing energy that came from two sides having a passionate argument about something that matters. Instead, what did David Cameron do? Come out and launch a silly, short-term self-serving, long-term self-defeating ploy about ‘English votes for English laws.’
There he stood, having just managed to win the referendum largely thanks to non-Tories, and he comes up with a short-term plan to inflict more long-term damage on the Union.
Then there has been the debate on Europe and immigration as a result of a couple of Tory MPs defecting to UKIP. More pandering to the Little Englanders. More narrow, small-minded politics. More evidence that Cameron will sacrifice any national interest to Operation Pander. It is pathetic, and it all started when he gave in on the referendum thinking it would silence UKIP, when what it actually did was put booster rockets under them. This was, as I and many others said at the time, blindingly obvious to anyone who knows that Strategy begins with S, and Tactics begin with T.
Then there is the debate on the economy, where as several economists and commentators but alas too few Labour politicians have pointed out, the Tories are setting out their latest big lies about debt they have not controlled, a deficit on which they have failed to meet their own objectives, justifying their massive cuts to public services on the basis of a recovery that few outside their own gilded circle of bankrolling bankers and hedge funders actually feel.
So there you go. I was down on politics. And I want to thank the young people in the BBC Free Speech audience last night for getting me back up again. Well done BBC3 for having a programme which in terms of energy, and quality of contributions from the audience, was streets ahead of BBC1’s Question Time. The programme deserves a transfer.
Janan Ganesh in the FT had a brilliant piece in the FT yesterday about the ‘miserablism’ that drives so much of political debate in the UK. Last night restored my faith that when it comes to young people, they have lost none of the passion for debate that politicians are meant to inspire rather than drown.
The entire audience was made up of young people with an admitted mental health condition. That in itself created a fantastic energy. Young people, in a world where mental illness still has so much taboo and stigma attached to it, prepared to be open and proud of themselves, and in so doing every single one of them is helping bring down the walls of taboo and stigma.
The panellists – Zoe Hardman, writer Jon Ronson, Sarah Wollaston (fast becoming my favourite Tory MP) and I – also had mental health issues, and mental health was the main focus for over half the programme. There were some sad cases, but it was wonderful to be in a place where these youngsters could talk so openly, so movingly, so articulately about their conditions and what they thought of the way adults in the health services and political world made of them. At one point, virtually every hand in the room was raised as the entire audience tried to get involved.
I got a bit of a kicking when we got onto the subject of convicted rapist Ched Evans, and whether he should be allowed to play again, and I was defending the fundamental principle of restorative punishment. Even my daughter who had come along for the evening was howling me down. But the kicking was worth it just to feel that energy and passion for debate once more. I had to run out to rush to a dinner for my son’s birthday, but frankly Grace and I could have stayed all evening to talk to these young people from South London who made the programme so fresh, so different to the miserabilism that abounds whenever the middle ages and over are in charge.
Nick Clegg is on next week. He is bound to get a tough time over tuition fees and much else besides. But I bet he leaves the place feeling glad he went. Those at the top in Britain, whether in politics, business, media or whatever, tend to a caricatured view of the young as a problem. Whether the 16 and 17-year olds who energised the debate in Scotland, or the audience last night, it is pretty clear to me they are the solution.