Chris Bryant: Bradford shows that despite Cameron's failings, Labour still has a mountain to climb

A Political Life


Just about everyone has got it wrong in politics this week. For a start, all this obsession with class is way off the mark. Neither the Budget, with its cut in the 50p top rate of tax and the pasty tax and granny tax, nor the revelation that the Tory Treasurer offered private dinners with the Prime Minister for £250,000, nor even horsegate is really about class, however much we Brits are obsessed with it.

Yes, all these unforced errors are dangerous for the Government, because each scandal has so easily gained a name, because ridicule is always more wounding than argument and because they suggest in graphic terms that the Government is out of touch.

But the far bigger problem for Cameron is that people used to think of him as a change-maker. He didn't quite have a Clause Four moment, like Tony Blair, but he changed the face, at least, of the Tory party. There were a few more women and ethnic minority MPs, a little less banging on about Europe. So when he became Prime Minister, people expected great things of him and, oddly, the very fact that he did a deal with the Lib Dems added to that sense of a man who might break the mould. But the past fortnight has shown a government of "political business as usual".

When you add doling out dodgy dinner invites and inept petrol panic to the growing list of unfulfilled promises – on immigration, on the NHS, on Gary McKinnon, on rising unemployment – it feels as if Cameron's ability to change things is rapidly silting up.

Mind you, we in Labour still have a mountain to climb if we are to prove we can be the change-makers. A week of 10-point leads does not a general election victory make – as Bradford West made so abundantly clear – and, for all our achievements in office, the legacy of the Iraq war and the global economic crisis of 2008 are still with us.

Let the bishops go to their flocks

There's a lot of moaning in the Lords, and it's not just the threat of the Lords Reform Bill that is causing coronetted coronaries. There's also the matter of their lordships' recess as there is a threat that they will rise early before the new session. This is going down badly as peers lose £300 every day the House is not sitting. This includes the bishops, even though they are paid full-time stipends by the Church of England and are provided with rent-free palaces, cars and chauffeurs (or a chaplain).

Last October, for instance, bishops claimed £15,300 in attendance allowance, including the Bishop of Chester's £2,700, Leicester's £2,250 and most extraordinarily, London's £900. Which brings me to the joint committee on Lords reform, which has voted to keep 12 of the 26 bishops. I just don't get it. How can a national legislature have the representatives of just one church from only one of the four nations?

Wouldn't it be kinder to release them from their rochet and chimere duties so that they can tend to their dioceses? After all, the Catholic Church seems to make a far more effective political splash than the CofE and its clergy are not allowed to sit in a parliament.

Cross-channel influences

I know I have already complained about the hubristic reference to Westminster as "the mother of all parliaments". On Monday I hosted a lunch for a group of French lobbyists, who were here to learn how we do things. They were fascinated by the discussion about Peter Cruddas, but were kind enough to accept that Britain had invented lobbying.

Indeed, despite the famous precision of the French language, there is no French word for lobbying, which may explain why Bertrand Delanoë, the Mayor of Paris, complained so bitterly after losing the Olympics to London that it was because Tony Blair had outrageously and against all rules of nature done "le lobby". Bizarrely, though, the very elegant woman who introduced me at lunch said it was a delight to be "ici, chez la maison mère de tous les parlements". So now even the French think Westminster is the "mother house of all parliaments".

There is, as I pointed out, an irony here. For the first permanent home for the Commons was St Stephen's Chapel, which was built quite explicitly on the model of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, long and narrow, with seats facing inwards. So in reality, the mother house of all parliaments is the Sainte Chapelle.

My lunch guests, by the way, seemed convinced that Nicolas Sarkozy will lose the French elections, but were far more upset about losing his wife Carla Bruni from the political scene. I merely note that her second album was called No Promises.

The Lord speaks in mysterious ways

Palm Sunday, 1988. We used to start the service 100 yards up the road in the parish hall before following a donkey down to church while singing "All glory, laud and honour". The elderly and infirm, though, would wait for us in the church, which was so vast that we used radio mikes.

Because we had an actor (Douglas Hodge) reciting the Easter narrative that year, many more had turned up than usual and it took an eternity just to get out of the church hall.

Indeed, we had exhausted all the verses and were on a constant loop. At which point the vicar turned to me and said, "How long is this ***king procession going to last?" Unfortunately he didn't realise that the radio mike was on and he was broadcast down to the church where several dozen members of the congregation thought that the Lord had spoken. One burst into inconsolable giggles.

Twitter: @ChrisBryantMP

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'