A selection of the writing, wittering and viewing that has caught our attention over the past week.
► The government’s double defeat in the House of Lords over its planned cuts to tax credits, on Monday, has been simultaneously decried as a constitutional outrage (by Tory tribalists) and welcomed as a principled stand against cruelty (by Labour types). Of course, it’s possible it was both, or a case of a little from column A, a little from column B.
Before the votes Stephen Bush at the New Statesman took the time to explain what a statutory instrument is (a crucial detail), while the Hansard Society published a fascinating article suggesting the real ‘constitutional crisis’ lies in the creeping use of such instruments to push through policies that ought more properly to be enacted through primary legislation, with the greater Commons scrutiny that entails. Among the observations in the latter piece was this reference to the man now tasked by David Cameron with putting the second chamber back in its box:
Some have suggested that there is a convention that Peers will not reject an SI but this is not the case and indeed it was a Conservative Leader of the House, Lord Strathclyde who explicitly made this clear in 1999 when, following the decision to abolish the hereditary peers he declared the convention dead.
► After their lordships had declared themselves ‘content’ with the two motions, John Harris, writing in the Guardian, reflected on how the showdown had cast both main parties in a poor light; although the Tories seem to have come out worse in the short-term. Noting impresario and Conservative peer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s professed concern for the primacy of the Commons, Harris wrote:
To quote from Evita, what a circus, and what a show: a brazen instance of property kicking poverty, which in livelier times than ours might have seen the ghastly and guilty parties chased through the city by the mob.
► Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership doesn’t yet appear to be having a transformative effect on Labour’s electoral appeal. Opinion polls throughout October were remarkably consistent, with the Conservatives enjoying a six-point lead over Labour. Which seems like an opportune moment to remind ourselves of Margaret Thatcher’s poll performance, courtesy of an Ipsos Mori article. Here are some striking findings:
Compared in 2011 with other recent PMs, 22% said that Lady Thatcher was the one they liked most as a person while 26% preferred Tony Blair. David Cameron was most liked by 17%, Gordon Brown by 13% and John Major by 10%.
In a 2001 poll more people said they found her inspirational than Tony Blair or the Pope, behind only Nelson Mandela and Richard Branson.
►Last weekend saw the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt. Amid the expected verbiage on the subject was a good piece by Matt Champion, whose credentials as a historian are combined with an expertise in archery and the use of a longbow. He argues that:
The English longbow, the English archer and the English cloth-yard arrow, could NOT penetrate the high quality plate armour worn by the majority of French men at arms that day. It simply couldn’t do it. Not a hope. The image of the massed volleys of arrows turning the sky black and bringing down wave after wave of French knights simply couldn’t have happened the way most people think it did.
►Last week, the death was belatedly announced of the writer Christopher Wood, who was responsible – among much else – for the Confessions novels of the early 1970s, as well as the film adaptations of those books. In his memory, this is the theme song of the group Kipper (‘as mean as Jack the Ripper’) in Confessions of a Pop Performer (1975), ineptly capturing the moment when glitter pop got a whiff of the coming punk revolution: