‘Honoured that you are writing my father’s biography’ the late Tony Benn, ‘...wonderfully written’ Hilary Benn

‘Sparkles with fascinating detail…a remarkable story of Liberal and Labour politics in the first half of the twentieth century.’ Michael Crick, Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News

‘Casts much light both on the evolution of British radicalism, and on the legacy which he bequeathed to his son, Tony. Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

‘Brilliant biography…wonderful reading about the father and...discovering more about the son.’ Steve Richards of The Independent

‘Well-written and carefully researched, this fascinating biography brings to life a major figure in British political history…an excellent job of weaving together the strands of a complex life…as well as filling in the background of the Benn family’ Richard Doherty, military historian

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Defections, riots, scandals - whatever next?

You might reasonably think that political defections, riots and scandals are all one-off events that cannot be predicted. However, historically there are patterns, and political leaders could do well to heed the warnings of history.

Defections are most common among wealthy, male, divorced, well-educated MPs, in election years and at times of rapidly fluctuating party fortunes.

Riots are most common in warm, dry weather in the summer months in cities under governments which are making cuts to services or raising taxes. Probably just coincidentally, riots also seem to occur particularly in years ending with a 1 – 1981 (Brixton, Toxteth, Handsworth), 1991 (Cardiff), 2001 (Oldham, Bradford) and 2011 (London, Birmingham, Manchester).

But, how predictable are scandals and how good are leaders at foreseeing them?

Long-serving MPs with safe seats are more likely than others to be caught up in scandals. It is also logical to expect that one scandal would make another of the same type less likely for quite a while. After the expenses scandal of 2009, which resulted in the imprisonment of former MPs, you would expect that current MPs will be very wary over their expenses and will avoid another similar scandal.

Tony Blair claimed to know little of the history of the Suez crisis and walked into a similar situation over Iraq. Gordon Brown failed to spot the expenses scandal. John Major inadvertently helped to create the ‘back to basics’ sleaze scandal.

David Cameron’s track record, however, is better and improving. Although he failed to foresee the 2011 riots, he did warn that the next scandal waiting to happen would be over lobbying. At least now, he now has the satisfaction of being proved right!

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