Category: "Idle thoughts"

Lord Coe for Prime Minister

by Nick  

So, I wrote a tweet at the end of the Paralympics the other evening:

After ages of not blogging, I thought there was enough of a point in that flippant tweet to be worth expanding on.

The London 2012 Games have been a spectacular, and profound, success. After the shadow cast by the 7/7 bombings, there were years of questions about the logo, the spiralling costs, and whether we'd even be able to build the venues on time. In the past 12 months, there was cynicism about the ticketing process, the impact of Zil lanes and overbearing corporate sponsorship. In the immediate run-up, there was the diplomatic gaffe by Mitt Romney and the failure of G4S to provide the security staff they'd promised.

But that cynicism was largely swept aside by Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony. For the people with whom I spoke, and saw writing on social media, the reaction was near universal, spontaneous, and immediate. Britons have a tendency for self-deprecation and cynicism, but the ceremony managed to combine an unashamed positivity with an honest representation of where our nation have come from. For me, it was like seeing a reflection in a mirror for the first time, and truly loving what I saw. Far from leftie multicultural crap, it accepted that Britain's past is not blameless, but said that we have a lot to be proud of, from universal suffrage to James Bond, from the NHS to the World Wide Web. It also managed to avoid many of the clichés of Olympic ceremonies, with a staging that successfully managed to span the theatrical and the televisual. By comparison, Kim Gavin's closing ceremonies and the Paralympic opening ceremony, directed by Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings, were much more traditional in structure and form, and correspondingly less epic.

The opening ceremony set the stage for a Games which exceeded all expectations for British sporting achievement. The ticketed audience was vocal and engaged, and thanks to the BBC, viewers at home in the UK were able to explore sporting events with unparalleled freedom, both on- and offline. The sun came out after a washout early summer, enhancing a feel-good factor which was already growing after the Diamond Jubilee and the Torch Relay, which saw people take to the streets across the country in a way which I don't remember since the Silver Jubilee of 1977. It was the perfect precursor to the Paralympic Games, which saw unprecedented numbers of visitors, and coverage which was nearly the equal of the earlier Games. I was lucky enough to get tickets to two days at the Paralympics - one at the Olympic Park, and one at the Excel arenas - we saw wheelchair rugby, wheelchair tennis, boccia, and wheelchair fencing. All were great sporting spectacles in venues which managed to avoid theme park tackiness. Transport was seamless, fast, and well organised, and the volunteer 'gamesmakers' lived up to their reputation for making the whole experience fun. Among all this, the fact that the athletes had disabilities was frankly irrelevant, and I suspect this was true for many, if not most, of the spectators.

Which brings me back to Sebastian Coe. I tweeted after the Opening Ceremony that they'd have to make him King - as he's already a life peer and KBE, there's no higher honour  for him to get (yes, I'm deliberately ignoring Knight Grand Cross - after all in reality, he could conceivably become GCMG, or possibly even KG). After the close of the Paralympics, it feels to me that the office of Prime Minister might be better suited.

It's a challenging position, providing leadership to the country, whilst having to respect and command the confidence of the broad  spectrum of peoples that make up our nation. Whilst not directly elected, as would be a head of state in a republic, it is a political role, which means that the incumbent must also command the respect of our elected representatives. Too often though, we seem to expect our Prime Ministers to be more than this - people who command all the decisions that affect us. This is plainly ludicrous, yet we (well, the media, and us by extension) chastise the politician who fails to master every brief and every piece of news. Even in good times, this is difficult - consider the 'golden' premiership of Tony Blair in a time of economic boom and humanitarian intervention of NATO in Kosovo, which became mired in Iraqi WMD and Afghanistan. Yet in difficult times - and these are certainly difficult economics times - the job is tougher still.

Which is why I find myself looking at Coe. He has political experience as a former MP, and can evidently schmooze with the best of them, as evidenced by his success in the initial Olympic bid. As a former athlete, he is clearly driven, having won four Olympic medals, including two golds, and set eight outdoor and three indoor world records. He is an accomplished orator, having spoken eloquently to billions in the Games ceremonies. He is respected nationally and internationally, with an aura of statesmanship, despite being unafraid of the vernacular. Britons have given him enormous personal credit for delivering the Games, particularly given the cynicism at the outset. And evidently, he did not achieve all this by himself. He is clearly capable of leading a team which can deliver. And for a leader to be effective, he or she must be ready to give direction and take counsel in equal measure.

Coe is a leader of people. And leadership is what we need now. Economically, the western world continues in a bubble of denial, which may only need a small shock to cause an even worse slump that we've seen in recent years. The coalition government is in a state of tension which throttles sane policymaking. As a Lib Dem supporter, it's depressing to see that the current government is only marginally less half-baked than the Gordon Brown administration. The Opposition is in the wilderness, with a 'leader' who unfortunately suffers from a yawning charisma deficit, and no clear policy for change - after all they recognise the truth that the economy remains precipitous. The depth and breadth of cuts we've faced has failed to drive growth in the way it was promised by Cameron and Osborne. Personally, I fail to understand why we haven't used low-cost sovereign debt to jump-start infrastructural investment, and thereby create the growth environment that will increase tax revenues and reduce structural deficit by increasing income rather than solely cutting expenditure. Talk in recent weeks about the construction industry and Heathrow may mean the tide here is changing, even if the specific proposals are not necessarily the right ones.

And this is where we need leadership. I don't see it coming from Nick Clegg - his decision to join the coalition was toxic to his personal brand, and his position as Deputy PM means he will not be taken seriously. In the Conservative party, the prospect of Gove is almost as terrifying as Osborne, and whilst Boris would undoubtedly be entertainingly charismatic, he lacks the statesmanship and gravitas that a PM needs. Cameron has been a reasonable caretaker (given the rabidity of many Tories), but I'd argue that it's time for a person that people across the country and around the world will respect. So, let's have a nice, British, bloodless coup, where the cabinet choose to step down in favour of someone who can assemble a government to take the country along with it, in unity through challenging times. Arise Lord Coe!

(and yes, I know he's standing for the BOA instead...)

I think the world needs more ducklings

by Nick  

There. That's better.


They say that in life it is important to focus on the big picture...

by dr-nick

They say that in life it is important to focus on the big picture...
Originally uploaded by Vimrod1

I subscribe to the daily dose of Vimrod. Today's cartoon made me laugh rather too loudly...

Bird strike

by Nick  

I read, not long ago on the BBC News site, about a plane taking off from Manchester which suffered a bird strike. I didn't know that someone caught it on video...

Watch it at

Just shows how twin jets can manage fine on just one engine, even at critical times. Oh yes, it did land perfectly safely by the way!

Road pricing & ID cards

by Nick  

There's a proposal by the UK Government to introduce road pricing nationwide, with pilots planned for seven regions including the West Midlands conurbation.

In some ways, adopting a pay as you go approach to road use seems fair, and an 'opportunity' for the government to offer a direct intervention to reduce congestion.

However, I use the word 'opportunity' cautiously, as that immediately raises a question of liberty - should government intervene in how and where people travel, particularly in a way which inevitably penalises poorer people in society? One can argue that duty on fuel already acts as a disincentive to road use which is proportional to the amount of travel, and is arguably a greener tax, as it penalises less efficient vehicles more.

Also, the information out there doesn't suggest that the revenue from road pricing would be hypothecated to improve public transport. So, who really gains here?

Personally, I'm fairly ambivalent about these arguments - I don't find them that compelling either way. What does worry me is the proposal to enforce this by satellite tracking every car movement. Privacy is actually something I have a very strong belief in. I'm happy to talk about all sorts of things (yes details of my daughter's poo habits included), but equally, I'd like the right to go about my daily life without the government storing information about when and where I do it. Like with ID cards, I have an innate mistrust of the motives of government in such data-gathering - arguments about security and terrorism seem entirely specious to me. I honestly can't see how tracking the movements of every individual in the country will do anything to make the government govern us better. Maybe it's simply because I've relatives who lived under totalitarianism and now have the freedom of democracy that I dislike the signs that authoritarianism is coming to my country...

Anyway, Alice at work prompted me that there is a petition on the No.10 web site against road pricing. There's also one against ID cards. If you are inclined, even a little bit, to agree with me then I suggest you exercise some people power:

I'd be interested to know what you think too.

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