The Week in Review: Same-olds and surprises
Politics, like most things in life, is a mixture of the predictable and the unpredictable. Every week we get big stories which reinforce slowly shifting narratives – interesting and enlightening, perhaps, but about as surprising as an accountant's underwear. And then every week, too, some shockers appear from nowhere, bubbling up from the Westminster news swamp. And often emitting a thoroughly unpleasant smell. Here's three examples of each.
WE SAW THESE COMING…
– Ed Miliband: Not liked much
They elected him. He pretended to like them. He was embarrassed into trying to dump them. They now despise him. There you have it, the basic structure for a four-party melodrama which nobody watches. This week was the opening of the season finale, a simmering cauldron of resentment in which neither the husband nor the wife are quite prepared to admit a divorce is just around the corner. Miliband was neither booed nor heckled in his speech to the TUC conference in Bournemouth – he didn't even get the respect of a decent standup argument. Union members just listened, full of sullen hostility, while he explained exactly why he doesn't want to need them anymore. Someone should write a country and western song about this.
– The economy: To gloat or not to gloat?
George Osborne prefers the former, Vince Cable the latter. That is because the former Saint of Twickenham would rather take a long view than engage in the dirty scrabble for economic supremacy. It's only the issue which will, after all, decide the next general election. Cable would also rather get in another low dig at the chancellor in the process. Osborne should feel infuriated by the business secretary's comments, after the chancellor opened the week with a speech in which the facade of cautious optimism barely concealed the glee of victory. Cable is right on this, by the way – it's far too early to write off Ed Balls' economic critique.
– Nick Clegg: Told to quit by someone everyone will ignore
The week ended with a call by Matthew Oakeshott, that most troublesome of Lib Dem peers, for Nick Clegg to resign as party leader. The man has no shame – and, unfortunately for his credibility, everyone knows it. Clegg is actually going through a rather quiet period (which for him counts as a good one). No apologies to be doled out this year. No real rumblings about his leadership, even if Sarah Teather ended her political career with a strop earlier in the week. No, of the three party leaders it's the deputy PM who's looking strongest right now. Maybe this one should have been in the 'unpredictable' section, after all.
WE ABSOLUTELY DID NOT SEE THESE COMING
– Syria: Sometimes gaffes save lives
He didn't mean to do it. Probably. Regardless, the journalists attending a Foreign Office press conference with William Hague and John Kerry will have been surprised to have been present at the moment a possible way out of the Syrian chemical weapons impasse arrived out of the blue.
You know the score by now, of course. Kerry's rhetoric, praised immediately afterwards as slow, deliberate and considered, appears to have inadvertently paved the way for a climbdown which suits all sides. By the week's end it looks like there are some problems with the Russian proposal, as one of our writers has suggested. But at least this is an avenue worth exploring. It is most definitely better than nothing.
– An awkward resignation speech
After prime minister's questions this week something odd happened. Nigel Evans, the deputy Speaker, stood up to deliver a 'personal statement'. However popular he may be in the Commons, this is a man who is facing criminal charges, with rape among them. Proceedings are now active but he used parliament, which as a rule tends to steer clear of meddling with the courts, to outline in a thoroughly moving address, how difficult his current ordeal was. MPs listened in dead silence, sitting rigid with awkwardness. Many will have been relieved when Evans sat down and they could totter off for some lunch.
– Gove: Less intelligent than we thought
If you hadn't noticed, the education secretary is a Conservative member of the Cabinet. He is, therefore, well aware of the peril of making any kind of remark which will be seized on by lefties as evidence of the unfeeling, monstrous Tory tendency.
Which is why it is so surprising he let slip the suggestion, in education questions on Monday, that people living in poverty have only themselves to blame. Labour instantly seized on the comments and had a field day. So did large chunks of Twitter. Michael Gove's effort simply has to be our quote of the week:
I appreciate that there are families who face considerable pressures. Those pressures are often the result of decisions that they have taken which mean they are not best able to manage their finances.