Keith Rossiter: Plymouth gets a custard pie from London politicians
FOR fun, we political journalists spend our evenings watching politicians jumping through hoops. It used to be like a circus, but without the clowns … until this week.
This week the clowns turned up too when Italian voters elected a political party led by a stand-up comedian.
Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement took 25per cent of the vote in the country's General Election – more than any other grouping.
British politics is equally comical, dominated for the past year by two absurdly contradictory positions.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Borrowing the "double whammy" slogan, perhaps they can be known as the Double Wha...?!
Labour says "austerity isn't working, and by the way it isn't really austerity because the Tories are borrowing more than we did".
And the Tories are borrowing more and simultaneously insisting that they will stick rigidly to their austerity agenda.
That was the background for Monday's debate on Plymouth City Council's 2013/14 budget. It hardly matters how seriously we take the economy, Westminster politicians are going to throw a custard pie in our faces. Ha ha.
Up in London it's all knockabout slapstick, like Chris Huhne, the former Lib Dem Energy Secretary, getting his wife to take his motoring penalty points.
The (now ex) wife, Vicky Pryce, took the penalty points and then used the fact to destroy Huhne's career, apparently taking down with her Constance Briscoe, one of Britain's most famous female judges.
The past year has been a succession of fiascos, designed to take our minds off the economy.
Remember the Leveson inquiry into Press regulation? Do you really want people like Chris Huhne being in a position to decide what newspapers should print, because that's what these clowns would like?
How about the Libor fixing scandal, where the banks were caught fiddling with the official interest rates? The potential damage ran into the billions, and yet no one has gone to jail. Just like circus clowns, the more outrageous the behaviour, the more the audience laughs.
The taxpayer-owned bank RBS lost more than £5billion last year but still paid its investment bankers more than £600million in bonuses.
THE slapstick has been a cunning feat of prestidigitation. Since well before David Cameron's General Election victory in 2010 the Bank of England has been printing money, something like an extra £350billion to date. They call it "quantitative easing"; we know it better as devaluing the pound.
Where did all that money go? Like stage magicians, the banks have been making it disappear – poof! – into their own vaults.
They certainly have not kick-started British business or loaned money to house-buyers. All it does is push up prices, cut living standards, and clobber interest rates.
The Tory dogma was about slashing and burning in the public sector forest and then relying on the private sector to guide us to safety, and it's true that bureaucracy had become obese. But the diet isn't working.
If the last Tory administration at the city council had not pushed ahead with the Life Centre, things would be worse than they are.
Now Labour has taken that baton and accelerated into an impressive sprint, with proposals to improve the West End, create a restaurant quarter, and stimulate house-building by selling off swathes of city land to housing associations.
Plymouth University and Plymouth College of Art are throwing up new buildings, as are some schools. We are about to get a new University Technical College.
But where are James Brent's developments at Home Park and the Pavilions? Where is Lawrence Butler's Oceanique development at Derry's Cross? Where are Sherford and Plymstock Quarry? Where is the promised redevelopment of the old Woolworths store?
If Cllr Mark Lowry, the Cabinet member for finance, hadn't made the decision to borrow to invest at historically low interest rates, the prospect of anything happening in Plymouth over the next couple of years would have been remote.
Perhaps the Italians aren't so daft: would clowns do a worse job?
THE old gags are the best. At this week's full council meeting Cllr Bill Stevens (Lab, Devonport) trotted out his regular call on Cllr Vivien Pengelly, the former council leader, to apologise for her trip to the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010.
Cllr Pengelly said she would apologise when Cllr Stevens apologised for a visit to Barcelona made by Labour councillors when the previous Labour council wanted to study how the Spanish go about building a – what was it?, "Tradium". Custard pies all round, boom boom.