A Political Life: Authority must be earned, and Cameron loses his each time he presumes it

The PM doesn't get that we need to be convinced before any intervention

Share

On our way back to the hotel after dinner in San Sebastian, the path, which was maybe 10 metres wide, took us along the seafront past the town hall. Suddenly we were confronted by a police officer. “Not this way. You have to go round the town hall.” There was no sign of any other police activity and his proposed route involved walking three corners round the large block, so we asked why. “Because I tell you.”

Like good citizens we did what we were told and soon found ourselves 30 metres along the seafront watching the officer from behind as he redirected people the long way around the town hall. Few questioned him, even though he looked about 18. Yet what he was demanding was completely illogical, since while he was forbidding people to walk down the path in one direction, dozens of people walked straight past him in the other direction.

The officer’s blockade would not have lasted long in modern Britain. Bruised by the repeated discovery that the government, Parliament, the church, the press and the police have lied, cheated or failed, people prize authority so little they actively distrust anyone who says “Trust me”. Authority has to be earned, and not just once, but repeatedly. Even American presidents now have to bend the knee.

That’s what Cameron fails to twig. Leaving aside the inept Tory whipping, he just didn’t get that we needed to be convinced. He presumed Tories and Opposition alike would simply follow his lead and now says those who voted against chose “the easy and political path” as opposed to his “right path”. But such moral certainty is precisely what makes us doubt. We see the glint in the eye and worry that a politician has lost his marbles when he sets up such false, Manichaean choices.

Of course, it’s not a question of action or inaction, but of what action – and whether military intervention would improve the lot of the people of Syria and the wider region. Unless the Government recognises the genuine disagreement about where the national interest lies and what might help bring about a ceasefire and lasting peace in Syria, there is little prospect of the PM earning the authority the public are reluctant to grant out of mere deference.

The young police officer at least had a uniform. Cameron, by contrast, denudes himself of his little brief authority every time he petulantly presumes it.

More sound and fury to come

I said in one of my earliest columns that I thought this would be a fractious Parliament. I hadn’t reckoned with Michael Gove puffing himself up like an angry robin redbreast and spitting abuse at his own colleagues, but he was not alone in venting his anger.

The Tory MP for Ipswich, Ben Gummer, and I hurled charges at each other as we stomped through Westminster Hall after the Syria vote. We have now apologised to one another (I was certainly out of order) and even Cameron was on his best behaviour on Wednesday for PMQs, having obviously been told that he should on no account succumb to the crimson tide of fury.

I used to have an office next door to a prominent Tory who is now a Cabinet minister. So regular and so loud was the barrack-room shouting that we bought a radio to drown out the expletives. So I predict more tantrums before the year is out, especially from those blessed with moral certainty.

A ghastly building

Colleagues huffed and puffed when I spoke against the lobbying Bill (which even the Government thinks is so flawed that the minister in charge has tabled 23 amendments), because I called the Palace of Westminster “this ghastly building”. Sharp intake of breath. Momentary checking of hearing aids.

But it’s true. Yes, it’s a landmark, with the redundant pinnacles and buttresses rendering a crenellated effect along the river. Lit up at night it looks imposing, too, though the radical Victorian MP Joseph Hume complained that it looked like the Red Lion in Brentford. But its mock-Gothic style is cumbersome and fake.

So divorced is form from function that set-piece settings like the central lobby have a false ceiling suspended below a much higher dome. The space in between is full of dust and pigeon droppings. The ventilation is so ineffectual that the palace swelters in the mildest sun and freezes from October to April. The chamber has virtually no natural light, there are too few seats, and so poor are the acoustics that without the 100 or so ugly microphones most members would be inaudible.

There are truly beautiful elements – the Great Hall and the cloister garth of St Stephen’s – but overall it is ghastly.

Cloaks, and rather fewer daggers

First day back and we were all bewildered by the new arrangements in the cloakroom. We each have a named coat hanger, with a little pink ribbon, supposedly for suspending our swords.

Until now we have been ranked in alphabetical order by surname. But some busybody has decided that this leads to too much work whenever there is a by-election. When Emma Lewell-Buck, pictured, replaced David Miliband at least 10 members’ name tags had to be moved.

So we are now ranked by our constituencies. This has one pleasant effect. I’m in a little gay enclave of Reigate, Rhondda and Ribble Valley with Crispin Blunt and Nigel Evans.

More irritating, though, is the sense that the officials think of MPs as the here-today-gone-tomorrow ephemera of Parliament. They really run the place. We are just a rather tedious legal necessity.

React Now

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

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
The number of schools converting to academies in the primary sector has now overtaken those in the secondary sector – 2,299 to 1,884 (Getty)  

In its headlong rush to make a profit, our education system is in danger of ignoring its main purpose

Janet Street-Porter
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee