Thursday, 14 July 2011

Since when did MPs decide a company's executives?

Is the PM's insistance Rebekah Brooks resign a sign of 'social market' euroconservatism?
I'm beginning to worry about how much I despair at the direction our political culture is going. I keep thinking I'm getting steadily more like Tom Travers from P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves books; ranting and raving about civilisation at the dinner table and blaming everyone from Disraeli to Magnus Maximus for its decline.

But what 'interesting times' we live in. Only five years ago the idea of a US debt default would have been inconceivable. Yet now, twenty years since its victory over the Soviet Union, the great colossus may finally be crumbling under the weight of its own gargantuan public spending.

The European project, too, has reached new levels of insanity. Whole nations are being offered as sacrifices to the Jovian euro in a vain attempt to save that doomed currency; all the while Brussels demands austerity-stricken member states cough up not only for Greek, Portuguese (and, soon, Italian) bailouts but for an increase in the EU budget itself.

Can you blame a man for thinking the west is going to the dogs?

So it was with another sigh of despair that I witnessed yesterday's PMQ's. Tim Montgomerie may have judged Mr Cameron's performance to be 'prime ministerial' (presumably he means for a change) but all I saw was the leaders of two parties swinging their penises around over an issue which, as far as I understand the constitution of this country, has absolutely nothing to do with them.

The prime minister is a consummate actor and his faux anger over Rupert Murdoch's sheltering of Rebekah Brooks came in stark contrast to his performance last week in which it was only the leader of opposition who was calling for her to be issued her P45.

This is a position I can forgive from Mr Miliband. He is, after all, a Labour politician - a left-wing one at that - and socialists have always had great difficulty distinguishing the pale of their authority. But to hear a Conservative prime minister call for the resignation of an executive from a private company worries me.

It is not because I disagree with him - personally I see it as disgraceful that Ms Brooks remains in her position while News of the World journalists lose their jobs - but because it is entirely inappropriate for him as a legislator to be calling for such a thing.

Perhaps MPs still feel giddy from calling for the resignation of bailed-out bank execs - a position they were fully entitled to given the banks were all but nationalised - but this is an entirely different situation. This is not China and legislators have no place interfering in the internal affairs of a private company.

Even where a crime has been committed, as it clearly has by someone in News International, this is firmly within the sphere of the courts and law enforcement agencies. This separation of powers is the cornerstone of our constitution, the guarantor of our liberties, and what gives business owners the confidence to trade on these shores.

This whole argument may seem petty - after all, Mr Murdoch is perfectly entitled, and highly likely, to ignore the hot air escaping from the country's top legislators. But, if the demands are toothless, what was the point in making them?

'I've made very clear she was right to resign that resignation should have been accepted,' Cameron said. 'There needs to be root and branch change to this entire organisation'. 'He is right to take the position that Rebekah Brooks should go,' Mr Miliband follows. What is the point of this conversation? Other than to erode the most sacred boundaries of our constitution? It's like two old women chuntering over the price of beef.

A frequent criticism levelled at PMQ's of late is that this most important duty the Commons performs - holding the executive to account - has lost all substance and has descended into 'Punch & Judy' politics. Yet, even though the two leaders are in agreement here, it is just as bad. It may not be a slanging match but it would be difficult to argue it is anything more than idle, hyperbolic, gossip.

That is not what we pay our legislators for and they should stop overstepping their mark with populist chit-chat and leave business to businessmen and criminal investigations to the law.

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