Fixing Democracy

Teacher: “What does your father do, little Billy?” “He plays the piano in an opium den”. Teacher calls home. Father: “I lied: but how can you tell an eight year old boy that his father is a politician?” In polls, more than eighty per cent of the public feel ‘politics is broken’. When strangers discover I’m […]

The Great Game: A personal view

This Monday and Wednesday, at 9pm, BBC 2 is showing a documentary I made about the Victorian and Soviet invasions of Afghanistan.  I’m not sure I’m ever going to make a documentary again.  I began it before I was elected to parliament.  The editing was finished last year. And it was cancelled just before it […]

The Acquisition of Knowledge

Things are becoming slicker and more professional, but also, at times, more second-rate. Businesses and governments boast of their new professional management. But poor documentaries are coming from good TV companies, dangerous drilling decisions from major oil companies, idiotic investments from leading development agencies. There are bad planning decisions in market towns, bad environmental policies […]

In Praise of the Civil Service

A secret: politicians don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t mean that we are all stupid, or lazy (I can sense my father’s arched eye-brows, as I make that claim). But I mean that it is impossible for politicians to know enough. The most successful ones, of course, are brilliant at concealing this: they […]

On Restoring National Confidence

The Financial Times yesterday suggested that the recent success of Asian economies could be the result of a young population, and as average age rose, growth would fall. Behind this, and a hundred similar theories, is the belief that a nation’s future is determined by statistics. We peer at the world through a cage of bar-charts – on productivity, literacy, […]

Marie Colvin, 1956-2012

Last Summer, the Corinthia hotel in Tripoli was filled with reporters and photographers. They had propped their laptops on tiny marble tables in the lobby. Waiters brought Turkish coffees but the reporters’ eyes flicked only from their screens to their phones, checking for messages about Gaddafi’s whereabouts, a recently discovered palace, prison, or press conference. […]

on constitutional reform

Britain has faced over the last twenty years a blizzard of constitutional change.  In most countries it would count as a revolution. It is driven by a theory called ‘the separation of powers’. This is an old obsession of political theorists, derived from a French philosopher’s misunderstanding of the British system in 1748. It has […]

on judicial sentencing

What is the point of a parliamentary debate? It isn’t about changing MPs’ minds or their votes. It wasn’t, even in the mid-nineteenth century. In the 1860s Trollope describes how MPs almost always voted on party lines. But they and he still felt that parliamentary debate mattered, because it set the terms of the public […]

home rule for cumberland

It is easy to see Cumbria as the North-West frontier. Our land seems marked by frontiers. Even Rome, which merged and melted what is now most of the European Union, and the Arab League, had its border here. You could ride from modern Iraq, through Romania and Belgium, on fine roads, using a single language, […]