Monday, July 27, 2015 

Too sensible by half.

Something politicians often fail to understand, as is being demonstrated all too well by the Labour leadership election, is that the public doesn't expect them to be serious all the time all of the time.  Indeed, as demonstrated by Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson to name but two, not always being serious can often work spectacularly in their favour.  It probably won't lead to Downing Street, all things considered, but you might as well have some fun failing to get there.  It's certainly better than being permanently on message, permanently miserable as a result, and still failing.

When a member of the House of Lords is then caught in flagrante, snorting cocaine off the breast of a lady whose services he has procured for the evening, someone they have never heard of from an institution they don't care about, the immediate reaction is not to descend into bilious outrage, but to laugh.  And for damn good reason: regardless of what you think about drugs, prostitution, politicians, privacy, newspaper hypocrisy and all the rest, to see an old fart wearing a red bra and being wonderfully indiscreet, not realising he has been absolutely gloriously stitched up by the women he's paid a miserly £200 to essentially own for a couple of hours is hilarious.  Of course, the justification for exposing him isn't just that he's breaking the law while being in a position to alter said laws, it's also that he brings shame on parliament as a whole by acting in such a fashion, but most people aren't bothered in the slightest by such considerations.  The assumption, like it or not, is the majority if not all politicians are hypocrites and adulterers and moochers, and someone being confirmed as such in fact does relatively little to alter perceptions.  Acting like a maiden aunt after the fact is pointless: those disgusted were disgusted and disgusting anyway.

Which brings us back to said leadership contest, I'm afraid.  As evidenced by Tristram Hunt's article for the Torygraph at the weekend, the Blairite tendency's solution to everything is to be serious and sensible at all times.  One of a friend's most withering criticisms of someone we knew at school, one that has always stayed with me, was this person was too sensible by half.  They went through life not so much living it as doing what was expected of them at every turn.  This person is no doubt more successful than either of us, and we couldn't give a rat's cock.  Perhaps that just confirms we're both idiots.  Or, it might be there's more to life and also to politics than permanently doing what the serious people recommend you do, especially when it ought to have become self-evident that carrying on in such a fashion has not resulted in the benefits you were told it would.

Jeremy Corbyn's lead in nominations from constituency parties is not then because Ed Miliband, on whom everything and anything is being blamed, brought in a load of leftards convinced that if he won he'd immediately create a socialist utopia.  It's because they look at Corbyn, then they look at Burnham, Cooper and Kendall, and realise that if that's the best the supposed sensible, moderate, election winning centre of the party can come up with, they can keep them.  The reason that Diane Abbott got only 20 nominations from constituency parties 5 years ago and came dead last is because the alternatives were far, far more attractive.  The Blairites never forgave Ed for being just that little bit to the left of his brother and appealing to the heart as well as the head, and spent the rest of the parliament simmering with bitter resentment, convinced they were right and everyone else was wrong.  The defeat in their minds proved they were 100% right.

For them to be confronted now with Corbyn apparently in the lead, destined to win, only increases their rage and their determination to carry on, unwilling to consider if they might be wrong or if another approach is needed.  Not all of this is out of sheer bloodymindedness: the Graun for instance is not running all the anti-Corbyn pieces it has because it's a den of Blairites.  If it was it wouldn't have so strongly supported Ed.  When new recruit Matthew d'Anconservative writes saying he doesn't think a Corbyn win would be the disaster everyone thinks and would move the Tories back towards the centre, clearly there is mischief afoot.  For Corbyn to win the leadership and then the election in 2020 is A Very British Coup territory.

The odd thing is Labour knows full well the Burnham, Cooper, Kendall platform looks awful.  This hasn't led to the soul searching it should have done, Hunt's call for a "summer of hard truths" being about only what the serious and sensible people in the party declare to be "hard truths", but rather a simple increase in the factions insulting each other.  It doesn't matter that Burnham appears to suffer from the same problem as the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, that Cooper has even less personality than a wet sock and Kendall's strategy of telling anyone minded to vote for her they are idiots results only in the same back with bells on ("Fuck Kendall" is about the most effusive endorsement she has received thus far), the problem is everyone else, not them.

Like Atul Hatwal, I don't think Corbyn will win the leadership.  This won't however be a result of the serious and sensible people realising they've screwed up spectacularly and that they can't go on treating the party's membership like dirt, while regarding the electorate as always being right however contradictory their urges.  They've gone so far down that route now it would be far too jarring to do an about turn.  It will be because the idiots and morons at the grassroots will do the rethinking instead.  Sadly, this almost certainly means that the serious and sensible people will conclude they were right and everyone else was wrong.  Even worse, it means the party will be saddled with either Burnham or Cooper.  Plus ça change.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015 

"It's not difficult, Manuel. This is not a proposition from Wittgenstein."

"It should not have been complicated to oppose the bill."  No, it shouldn't.  Absolutely nothing about Labour's meltdown this week has been complicated.  Jeremy Corbyn, who said those words about the welfare act, is not complicated.  Nor is his appeal.  He's a left-winger daring to say left-wing things to a left-wing party.

Remarkably, this has been enough to expose Labour for what it has become.  Mary Creagh on Newsnight last night said it was "nostalgic, narcissistic" that a few MPs donated their nominations to Corbyn to get him on the ballot in the interests of a wider debate.  Chuka Umunna says some are acting like "petulant children" for even considering supporting Corbyn.  John McTernan said the MPs who got Corbyn on the ballot are morons.  Tony Blair says anyone whose heart leads them to support Corbyn should get a heart transplant.

A left of centre party that finds itself this discombobulated, this angry, this self-righteous about a socialist deigning to broaden its leadership contest is in danger of digging its own grave.  It seems absolutely nothing has been learned from the party's all but demise in Scotland.  There an upstart party that is on most measures to the right of Labour stole its clothes, struck a left-wing pose and swept the board.  Rather than consider why the country came so close to voting for independence or understand that not distancing itself from the Tories had been an incredible error, the response was to do the equivalent of say no you can't, and vote in a right-winger as the new party leader.

You can't go on saying no you can't and keep expecting everyone to demur.  Labour's membership has been told no you can't for over 20 years now.  In 2007 it didn't even get a choice.  In 2010 it wouldn't have made the slightest difference if the vote had swung David rather than Ed Miliband's way.  The end result would have almost certainly been the same.  Maybe there would still be a Tory-Lib Dem coalition or a Tory minority government rather than a small Tory majority, but Labour would not have won.  In 2015, a membership once again told by the Very Serious People at the top of the party that they are idiots, morons, children for even thinking of taking the party back to the 80s by making a left-winger the leader are saying fuck you, yes we can.

The lack of self-awareness, the lack of self-doubt, the lack of the slightest consideration of whether they might be in the wrong rather than it being everyone else is staggering.  I could understand it more if rather than just abusing Corbyn, repeating the back to the 80s non-argument and insulting all and sundry who think Labour should be better than this (hah), the rest of the leadership candidates were making a distinctive case for themselves.  I could respect the ridicule if at the same time they were admitting the party needs to think long and hard about where it has gone wrong, to listen and learn from both the grassroots and voters in general, to realise that the only way to recover from this position is to have as wide-ranging a debate as possible.  Instead, what's happened has proved John Harris exactly right: a week after the defeat he wrote that he doubted the Labour elite had "the wit or the humility" to accept it needed to do precisely that.

This is in fact to be unfair to Liz Kendall.  She and Corbyn both have a position.  She would make the best leader out of the four, and almost certainly feels compelled by the vacuum on offer from both Burnham and Cooper to play further to the right than she really is.  She too though won't take Corbyn on directly, won't argue her case on her terms, and instead mouths the "disaster" mantra.

It really is as simple as this: if you can't convince the party's own membership that you have a better chance of winning than a socialist stuck in a time warp, as the Blairites are so insistent on portraying Corbyn as, how on earth do you expect to convince the wider electorate?  If you're this scared of debate, this averse to so much as accepting a socialist should be on the ballot on 2015, you should be asking yourself not just what you're doing in the Labour party, but doing in politics at all.  When Frank Field, Frank Field of all people, while still not accepting Corbyn has widened the debate by being on the ballot, says that he hopes one of the other candidates "has actually got both the physical courage and the intellectual clout to start that debate", you know the party is in trouble.  Kendall, and I hope it is Kendall despite everything, still has 7 weeks in which to actually do something other than carp and indulge in ad hominem attacks.  It might just be an idea to get started right away.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015 

Much like pulling teeth.

For the last two days I have had raging, agonising toothache.  You might have thought that by age 30 I would have reached the stage where my gnashers are all present and correct, and the only way from here is down in numbers rather than up, but no.  One bastard wisdom tooth is still determined to burrow its way up through the gum, only it's coming through with a massive hole in the centre.  Whether it's the pain from its continuing journey, as I've been suffering from pangs on and off for a few months now, or it's finally decided to get infected, as the previous one also did, I don't know.  What I do know is that it's coming through in such a position on the lower left side of my mouth that it has to be removed at the hospital, rather than my dentist being able to do so.  This will most likely mean a wait of around 6 months.

You can hopefully appreciate then just how little my mood has been improved by Labour's progress through the 5 stages of political ineptitude.  Different individuals within the party are at different stage, with some still being stuck in the denial phase, while others are as far along as depression.  John McTernan is most definitely in anger, while relatively few have so much as considered bargaining.  Acceptance, well, no one's got as far as that yet.

This would all be very much easier to take if the analysis of political journalists wasn't also so skewed, or just dead wrong.  Rafael Behr in a generally not that bad piece in the Graun turns once again to that old canard about the left preferring purity to governance, regarding victory as being only one step away from betrayal.  Bollocks.  Yes, there are a tiny number on the left that would rather be holier than thou than in a position to effect change, but they are most certainly not within Labour itself, nor are they for the most part out and out Labour supporters.  Sympathisers, definitely, but just as likely to vote for another party when it comes to it.  It's also complete nonsense to say that Ed Miliband's legacy will be to have rehabilitated this tendency after Blair turned Labour into a party that won elections.  The idea that Labour under Miliband was not serious about winning, that it didn't try its damnedest to win is laughable.  The reason the shock was so great, remains so great is that everyone, the media, the other parties, also believed the polls to be accurate.  As we've seen before, once the facts change most people then claim they were always against something now seen to be a disaster, or in this instance never believed Labour could win.

Behr's other mistake is to again repeat the argument that Labour regard those who voted Tory as not being good people, or not having good motives.  This is absurd.  As he himself sets out in his intro, the main reason the Tories won is they had a strong message well communicated by someone regarded as a plausible leader.  They also however relied heavily on the scare tactic of a Labour-SNP coalition/minority government, which while not necessarily the game changer many think, definitely had an impact.  The real problem, as evidenced by this week's scarcely believable stupidity over the welfare bill, is that the "realists" are convinced the Tory win is proof voters are overwhelmingly supportive of Osborne's "new settlement", or at least large parts of it.  The evidence for this is sketchy at best.  In any case, as pointed out by Dean Burnett, to think a vote in parliament now is going to affect how those good people vote in 2020 is ludicrous.  It has though driven traditional Labour supporters who are paying attention into paroxysms of despair, as well as delighting the other opposition parties who can't quite believe their luck.

We must then come to the latest sighting of our Tone.  No one knows quite where he descends from, or quite where it is he goes once he's put in an appearance, but whenever there's a situation to be made even more disagreeable, up he turns.  You might remember that just before the election campaign proper got going he told the Economist he believed that in a battle between a traditional left-wing party and a traditional right-wing party there could only be the traditional result.  This was an incredibly incisive piece of analysis, just slightly undermined by how describing Ed Miliband's Labour party as traditionally left-wing is to make clear you are an utter nincompoop.

Which has always been the problem with Blair.  He's often right, but when he's wrong, he's wrong to the power of eleventy stupid.  Labour lost in 2010 not because it had been exhausted by power, as all parties are eventually, but because Gordon Brown in Tone's eyes had stepped back from the modernising agenda.  Ed Miliband rowed even further back, although Tone kindly says he came to have "great admiration" for Miliband's refusal to back down.  Miliband thought the centre ground had shifted to the left, whereas Tone doesn't believe "it shifts in that way".

Blair is in many ways just like the rest of us.  We don't like to admit when we're wrong, so we often double down instead.  Only when convinced of our righteousness do we in fact put up a fight.  Blair therefore doesn't think the centre ground can ever move to the left, when the reality is it can only ever be shifted left or right through argument, winning debates and the majority accepting the case made.  Blair is explicit that he thinks nationalism is retrograde, the politics of the caveman, just as he also thinks to be against immigration is foolish, stupid.  Both stances should therefore be fought for regardless of whether or not doing so is a winner strategy.  The many things Miliband fought for by contrast were a rejection of the modernising zeal he thought he had inculcated in the party, and therefore bad regardless of whether they won votes.  Indeed, even if he did think "an old fashioned leftist platform" was the route to victory, Tone wouldn't stand on it.

Anyone detecting something of a similarity between the supposed attitudes of the lefties who prefer purity to power and the Blairites at the opposite end of the scale are of course barking up the wrong tree.  Tone doesn't really mean it; if the politics of Jeremy Corbyn were the route back to power, he'd be all over them.  Blair was always, has always been less of a Blairite than the Blairites themselves, as shown by his five pieces of advice for the party.  These are in actual fact rather good, if somewhat obvious.  Embrace technological change he says; do not accept the argument that Labour caused the crash, even if it could have done things better; learn lessons from Labour councils; develop a dialogue with business, especially on productivity and skills; and lastly, reform how the party itself operates, taking cues from organisations abroad.

Regardless of its merits, we've long passed the point at which an intervention from Blair is a welcome one.  For all the sniping at Corbyn, Blair like the others in the party doesn't seem to realise the reason he's doing is well is not because he's the answer.  Barely anyone truly thinks he is.  He's doing well because the rest are so shockingly awful and because their arguments, when they bother to make them, are neither one thing nor the other.  Even Blair recognises that Corbyn is "Labour through and through".  Liz Kendall isn't doing badly because she really is a crypto-Tory, it's because she and the others have failed to convince so far that their answers are better, or any more likely to lead to victory.  When given the choice between someone who is Labour, and three others who don't have the courage of their convictions, what choice is there?

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015 

Violent sexual imagery: the only way to respond to that abstention.

There's an episode of The Thick of It where, enraged by that day's disasters, Malcolm informs Nicola and Terri that he will be using an awful lot of "violent sexual imagery" in order to make them fully understand the level of his unhappiness.

Labour at the moment needs a Malcolm.  It needs someone to set out in the most uncompromising terms just how suicidal yesterday's decision to abstain on the welfare bill was, and how incredibly, mindblowingly fucking stupid it is being in general.  Some at the very top of the party have been so mindfucked by the combination of losing the election, the glee of the right-wing press at that loss and their analysis as to why, and George Osborne's frankly pitiful efforts to "trap" them that they seem to have forgotten the very reason the party came into existence.  If Labour does not stand up for the interests of the ordinary working man, it may as well announce its dissolution.

The party leadership has no excuse then for its failure to vote against the welfare bill.  The act explicitly redistributes money from the working poor to the wealthy in order to pay for the all but abolition of inheritance tax.  It paves the way for the social cleansing of not just London but whole areas of the country, as the new lower cap on benefits makes those places unaffordable for the low paid and temporarily out of work.  It breaks Cameron's twin promises not to cut the benefits of the disabled and sick, as it reduces the payments of those in the work related activity group of ESA to the same as JSA, and to not touch child tax credits.  It makes clear that the end result of these changes will be a rise in child poverty, as the government is at the same time abandoning the target to reduce it by 2020.  It demands sacrifices only from those of working age, rather than asking any from those whom most of the social security budget is spent on, pensioners.  It makes clear the Conservatives don't wish only to play divide and rule between the unemployed and those in work, but between the working poor whom have their wages topped up by tax credits, and those in work who are lucky enough not to need to claim anything.  It says some families are worth less than others, that having a third child is always an active choice, and so it's perfectly acceptable for that child to be denied the same support their siblings received.  It is one of the most regressive, most reprehensible pieces of legislation to go through parliament in a very long time.

You might have thought yesterday's op/ed by George Osborne in the Graun would have concentrated a few minds.  Rarely is there a piece by a government minister that is quite so brazen in the number of outright lies, distortions and misleading statistics it contains.  Cutting an "unsustainable" welfare system is according to the chancellor a progressive measure, and welfare reform is not just about saving money, but transforming lives and social justice.  Let's be clear: this isn't a trap, this is one step up from the very lowest grade of trolling.  You don't respond to trolling, you ignore it.  If you must respond to it, what you most certainly don't do is accept the troll is making a legitimate argument.

And yet somehow, unconscionably, only 48 Labour MPs went through the no lobby last night.  Whatever it was Harriet Harman tried to achieve by saying Labour couldn't afford to ignore what she claimed was the will of the public in both giving the Conservatives a majority and twice rejecting her party, to act in such a cowardly, incoherent way is near to being unforgivable.  The Democratic Unionists, yes, some of the most unpleasant and antediluvian of all the MPs in the Commons, voted against it.  The SNP voted against it.  The Liberal Democrats, fresh from propping up the Tories for five years, voted against it.

Abstaining when you know precisely what a bill will do to those you were supposedly sent to Westminster to represent is a betrayal.  That's what it is.  Not only is it a betrayal of those who will suffer as a result, it's a betrayal of everyone who argued that a vote for Labour still meant something.  That Labour was a vote for a fairer, more equal society, in spite of all the snide remarks, disbelief and cynicism.  It's a betrayal of those who faced down the SNP, with all its claims of being the true progressive, radical force, or who criticised the luvvies who say Labour left them, not the other way around, and did so right at the moment the party needed them the most.

If anything was ever going to legitimise the SNP's claims of being the official opposition, prove Mhairi Black right, or drive those who have long flirted with the Greens fully into their arms, this was it.  Those currently leading the party, or rather not leading it have convinced themselves that only they have the answers, that only they are the responsible ones, and that to merely oppose for the sake of opposing is to not listen to "the very strong message sent by the electorate".  They have convinced themselves that elections are not won or lost during the last year of a parliament, but by how the opposition responds in the immediate aftermath of a defeat.  This is to completely misread what happened in the summer of 2010, as the coalition set out to prove the size of the deficit and the state of the economy were entirely the fault of Labour, rather than a global economic crisis.  This was achieved not through acts of parliament, but by how the message dominated everything the coalition did.  Labour's failure was to not respond ferociously, to fight the accusation, to debunk the lie.  Instead they accepted it.  The party leadership is repeating the mistake.

Only this time it's far more serious.  Labour has never seemed more divided between the "realists", epitomised by Chuka Umunna describing those disagreeing with his and the "modernisers" analysis as the equivalent of petulant children, and those daring to believe that Labour has to be, must be more than just the Conservatives with a kinder face.  The view that nothing can be achieved without power is spineless rubbish.  Rare is it that a government just falls apart, and even when they do it's not certain the opposition will automatically benefit: nothing more affects a government's authority than a failure to be able to pass legislation.  To give up even the pretence of opposing a government's worst excesses this early is an astonishing act of capitulation, a failure of belief that demands those responsible be held accountable.  That no one has said Harriet Harman has clearly lost the confidence of her own MPs in a matter of weeks is equally surprising.

It's not as though any of this is difficult.  The welfare bill is about making the poorest poorer, the working poor poorer, and the sick and disabled poorer.  Indeed, it's about making anyone who claims tax credits poorer.  This is not in dispute: Osborne is painting it as being fair and fixing a broken system but not denying the end result, whatever the claims made about the increase in the minimum wage.  Labour has somehow managed through sheer incompetence and the beyond moronic idea that being "sensible" at this stage will win dividends later to make the story not about the Tories doing what the Tories do, but about Labour being split over the most basic of issues.  As Flying Rodent has it, Labour is more afraid of not being shitty and vindictive enough, so convinced has it become that you only gain respect and win back votes through being "tough", than it is of going too far.  The leadership still seems to believe that it can ignore the wishes of its supporters and core voters as they have nowhere else to go.  The election results, the same ones that have apparently convinced them of the wisdom of this masochism strategy, prove the opposite is the case.

So yes, Labour needs a Malcolm to get through the otherwise most impenetrable of skulls just where such an approach will lead, and it most certainly isn't to victory.  It also though needs someone to soothe it, to reinforce that its heart is in the right place, and that it hasn't lost its values.  It needs someone like, oh, Alan Johnson, to play more of a role, to argue against the more out there ideas some on the left do have, like how an EU exit wouldn't be all that bad really.  Failing that, it's difficult to see where the party goes from here.  Under siege from all sides, some prefer surrender to carrying on the fight.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015 

The Tories' new settlement: much the same, just even more dickish.

Following the budget, George Osborne boasted of what he described as "the new settlement".  A pay rise, but only once the wasteful merry-go-round of tax credits had been curtailed.  A budget for the workers, but only for those the Tories deem to be workers.  If you claim any sort of in work benefits, you're not a worker.  If you work in the public sector, you're not a worker.  And if you're a trade union member, regardless of whether you work in the public or private sector, you're also not a worker.

Sajid Javid could not have made this any clearer in his comments on the Trade Union Bill.  "Trade unions have a constructive role to play in representing their members’ interests but our one-nation government will balance their rights with those of working people and business," he said.  Working people simply cannot be trade unionists.  Trade unions cannot have the same interests as working people.  Such is the Tories' new settlement.  Think you knew divide and rule before?  They haven't even got started yet.

If the motives behind the Tory attempt to define Labour as the party of welfare rather than work and to make striking as difficult as possible are obvious and ever so slightly more calculated.  To start with, if they hadn't been tipped off to it before, the near 4 million votes for UKIP at the election have alerted them to the benefits of acting like an entitled bunch of shits just for the sake of it.  Do things that are utterly pointless, even self-defeating, but which appeal to those who are very much impressed by such things, especially if they involve active cruelty or harm to people they detest.  Why else would the Tories have tried to "reform" the ban on fox hunting, which has never been any such thing?  It's not going to win them any extra votes; they're already more than sown up.

Attacking the trade unions then serves multiple purposes.  It appeals to all those people who complain as though their lives will never be the same as a result of a single day of industrial action, having to cycle to work instead of taking the tube the equivalent of being waterboarded.  All but needless to add, it's also completely unnecessary: the number of working days lost to strike action remains historically low, in spite of the huge amount of job losses in the public sector post-2010, with more still come, not to forget continuing wage restraint.  Trade unions are however one of the few vehicles for opposition to austerity and the government, even if said opposition has not exactly led to a change of policy.  The less effective unions are, the fewer members they will have, and in turn the less money likely to go towards funding the Labour party.  The mooted change to the political levy, asking all members if they want to pay it regardless of whether their union is affiliated to Labour or not is nothing less than a direct attack on the party's existence.  The Tories are not satisfied with Labour's current enfeebled state, without a clue as to where to position itself; they want to destroy it utterly.

Except in its current form the bill is almost certain not to pass.  Having been forced to row back on votes on English votes for English laws (EVEL), the Human Rights Act and yesterday a simple free vote on an amendment to the Hunting Act, the chances of getting it through parliament, let alone the Lords are slim.  A bill as draconian as this is hardly going to sit well with the moderate Tories, nor is it guaranteed the Democratic Unionists will support it, lack of DUP support for EVEL having lead the government to postpone the legislation until at least September.  If the Tories did somehow manage to get it through the Commons without concessions, they might just be able to get away with using the Parliament Act to bypass the Lords as imposing a threshold on participation in strike ballots was in their manifesto, ala the Salisbury convention, but only at a second attempt.

Not that this may matter much in the end, bearing in mind how the vote on fox hunting was abandoned.  In an act of the utmost cynicism and opportunism, the SNP made clear it would vote against the amendment, regardless of how it would all but bring the English law into line with the Scottish one.  Nicola Sturgeon justified the SNP breaking its usual rule of not voting on English only matters on the grounds David Cameron had not shown enough respect to the party on the day of its daughter's wedding "party's mandate".  The only plausible response to this ought to be "aw, diddums", but it's difficult to mock when the SNP and Tories are so clearly set on fracturing the union and stuffing Labour at the same time, such have been the tit for tat manoeuvres on EVEL and now hunting.

It took some chutzpah for Mhairi Black to then "reach out a genuine hand of friendship" to Labour in her unbelievably overrated maiden speech, the reaction to which seems more attributable to the dog walking on its hind legs principle than due to its actual quality.  If that's barnstorming, I sure wouldn't want to see barn-entering.  Black of course knows full well there is no chance whatsoever of a relationship she neither expects nor wants, such are the wounds that have been left by the independence referendum, not so much the election result.  Nor is there any point to opposition for opposition's sake: if she and the SNP want to waste their time trooping through the same lobby as Bill Cash in an attempt to defeat the government on a motion that would have made winning a referendum to stay in the EU that bit harder, that's up them.  Such though is the way otherwise pointless acts have come to mean something to SNP supporters and those who see themselves as ignored and discriminated against alike; such is the way Labour is being squeezed from both sides, unable to find a way to escape from the closing trap.

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Monday, July 13, 2015 

Voters are often wrong. Politicians need to tell them so.

There is, I would argue, an extremely big difference between being exceptionally cynical about almost everything, and just straight up indulging in conspiracy theories.  Would the government really for instance suddenly declare Tunisia to be a no-go area just to distract attention from how the budget was falling apart, especially when it had been received in such raptures from the press?  Would it really decide to wreck the holidays of thousands of people on completely spurious grounds, and not come up with a better explanation than saying intelligence suggested there was a very high chance of another attack, despite there err, being no specific intelligence?  Would it really send the message that in actual fact, terrorism does pay, and that already struggling countries should buck their ideas up, despite it being you know, sort of our fault Libya is now a failed state?

Probably not, but never underestimate a government's propensity for being completely and utterly stupid.  Tunisia it seems should follow our lead: hold a few more training exercises, put a few more bollards in front of buildings to prevent a truck or car bombing, despite jihadists' major problem long having been their failure to obtain explosives in any sort of quantity, and you're laughing.  There's not much you can do to prevent an attack by a lone gunman with an assault rifle and (possibly) some grenades other than putting more armed police and security guards on the streets and increasing surveillance, policies that might in fact cause more problems than they solve, but such measures are not apparently good enough for us Brits.  Fine for the French and Germans, but not us.

Was then Harriet Harman in fact being rather sneaky in her interviews yesterday, saying the party she is temporarily leading could not oppose cuts to child tax credits and the new lower benefit cap, as to do so would be to ignore the voters who have now twice rejected that party?  Again, probably not.  It has though had the twin effects of riling up the usual people on Twitter who spent plenty of time during the election campaign complaining about that mug, and has also redirected attention onto the interminable leadership election, with yet another hustings held today.  The Liberal Democrats, incidentally, are to announce whether Tim Farron or Norman Lamb is to be the party's new leader on Thursday.  The reasoning behind Labour going for a longer contest was supposedly about confronting why the party had taken such a mauling, only for all  the candidates to have concluded why within hours of the defeat.  The "debate" since has focused on repeating those positions, and predictably there's been nastiness happening behind the scenes as a result.

You can of course if you want interpret the Tories' win as being a thumbs-up for their policies as a whole, just as if you like you can believe people voted UKIP because they wanted a referendum on EU membership, or SNP because they thought Nicola Sturgeon was a fresh, inspiring leader.  Except, oh, that last one probably is something approaching the truth.  Equally, you can take Labour's defeat however you want, and if you really want to believe it was because Labour wasn't either left-wing or right-wing enough, that's fine too.  The real lesson of the election was in fact what happened to the aforementioned Lib Dems.  The party that had previously meant all things to all people, acting as both a protest vote that wasn't entirely wasted and as a leftish alternative to Labour collapsed once everyone realised there was little to no difference between them and their coalition partner.  This doesn't mean they wouldn't be making something of a difference if they were still in government, as they almost certainly would.  They wouldn't though alter the overall tenor, just as Osborne stealing the best melodies from Labour's song book can't cover up the discordant screeching of his compositions.

The most convincing overarching reason for why Labour lost is Ed Miliband was not seen as a realistic prime minister and in turn was not trusted with the economy.  It's as simple as that.  Could Ed Miliband have been seen as a realistic prime minister and trusted with the economy had the party fought harder against the caricature of spending too much, crashing the economy and leaving behind no money?  I think so.  Then again, I still think Miliband would be a better leader than any of the 4 now on offer, and that time will prove him to be another of those best prime ministers we didn't have, so you can safely ignore me.

This is not to deny there is an awful lot of seething, if not outright detestation of benefits claimants.  If there wasn't there wouldn't be those TV shows, there wouldn't be the support for the cap which takes absolutely no account of exceptional, temporary, individual circumstances, or for little things like a family having lived for generations in an area they are now told they can't afford.  All that's seen is that figure of £20,000 or £23,000, rather than how a hefty proportion of that will be going straight to a landlord rather than for the family to spend on huge screen TVs or iPads.  Those women who apparently told Harriet Harman and the others that they didn't think they could afford to have more children while those less careful just had them anyway, which is to put about the nicest possible gloss on it, seemed to be more justifying not having more children to themselves rather than making a realistic case about the state rewarding the feckless instead of the striving.  When the cuts start affecting real people though, as we've seen with the bedroom tax, or when they specifically target children, it doesn't take much for what was once seen as sensible to begin unravelling.

Politicians cannot however tell voters they are wrong, unless it involves bombing yet another Middle Eastern country.  They can tell their own parties they're wrong, but never that the public is.  It doesn't matter how wrong the public is: whether it be the obvious lesson to take from the tube strike, which is that stronger unions and collective bargaining result in higher wages, while moaning and complaining about how because you don't want to waste time with that nonsense no one should results in nothing; or in Greece, where the people want to stay in a currency that condemns them to unending, self-defeating austerity, rather than face the temporary uncertainty of a default and return to the drachma; to argue with the apparent reached consensus is a sign of madness.

Arguing against something that has become an orthodoxy is all the harder when you're faced with a media so unutterably biased against you, it's true.  When the press either swallows its pride about Osborne's further restrictions on non-domiciled status, having denounced it as leftist lunacy when suggested by Labour, or actively welcomes policies it criticised in the harshest terms mere weeks ago, it's always going to be a struggle to win back the initiative.  This doesn't mean it can't be done.  If Labour had any sense, they would be contrasting the manifest unfairness of the raising of the threshold of inheritance tax with the losses of income those on tax credits will face under Osborne's plans.  They should be making clear how companies that already do their best to avoid corporation tax are being rewarded for doing so with a further cut while the working poor are having their benefits raided to fund it.  They should be making short YouTube videos about it, hiring billboards, running poster campaigns.

Instead, the party keeps apologising, or drawing the wrong lessons.  Andy Burnham today accepted the deficit was too high in 2007; it wasn't.  Even if it was, these cuts are being made out of choice, not because they are necessary to reduce the deficit.  Not opposing the harshest budget in a generation out of the belief it's what the public voted for is nonsensical.  Osborne thinks he has Labour trapped; Harman's response is the equivalent of jumping straight into a spiked pit.  The only people who will remember in 2020 whether Labour opposed the cuts are precisely those it cannot afford to lose.  If the party truly is existentially threatened, and the lesson from the continent is traditional centre-left parties are, the worst thing it can possibly do is tell its sympathisers and supporters they're wrong.  Take on the public, not the grassroots.  It might just work.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015 

This post summarised: I don't understand social media.

If there's something that never fails to raise a chuckle, it's just how many right-on folk suddenly discover they don't mind in the slightest receiving a honour created by royalty and given out by royalty making them a member of something that no longer exists.  That most would also normally blanch at the merest idea of being connected with the empire, for good reason, it's remarkable just how soon they decide otherwise once offered the chance to put some more letters after their name.

Yes, the Queen's birthday honours list was as delightful as ever, if not more so than usual.  Most of the fun comes when Private Eye bothers to look at the list in detail and finds just how many of the recipients owe their awards to their political affiliations, donations or other brown-nosing, or alternatively, to how despite or indeed down to their being bent as a nine bob note they managed to make the grade.  Some names do though jump straight out at you, like Paul Kenny, leader of the GMB union, essentially receiving a knighthood for being extraordinarily useless at representing his members.  Simon Hughes is also rewarded for his services to the coalition by getting a K, a reminder of how brilliant the next round of nominations to the Lords will also be.

Then there are the straight up juxtapositions of worthiness.  Will Pooley, one of those who volunteered to help fight Ebola in east Africa and nearly died after contracting it himself, is justly recognised with an MBE; awarded an OBE is Caroline Criado-Perez, for getting trolled on Twitter.  Alongside her is Laura Bates, behind the phenomenally successful Everyday Sexism project, who receives the resurrected by Cameron British Empire Medal.  Considering the major triumph of Everyday Sexism has been to make self-hating, insecure men even less likely to give the merest of compliments to the opposite sex for fear of it being seen as harassment while the actual sexists carry on as they always have, who could possibly object to the award?

Getting the nod for an honour is in essence the establishment recognising the recipient as not representing a threat.  At opposite ends of the pool are Benedict Bandersnatch, who complained previously about posh-bashing, getting the CBE, while Lenny Henry's push for proper representation in the media was no obstacle to his knighthood.  The awards for Criado-Perez and Bates meanwhile are just the latest evidence that the fourth-wave of feminism, if it can really be recognised as such, has been co-opted entirely by those it supposedly targets.  When Waterstone's has a specific table set aside for the works by the aforementioned and others like Caitlin Moran, as my local has, while also at the same time encompassing Bryony Gordon's fucking everyone in a pair of trousers memoir The Wrong Knickers, appropriation has mostly certain taken place.

This not being a threat doesn't mean the public at large are any more receptive or impressed by identity politics, mind.  I'm with Paul when he responds to Sunny Hundal's piece for LabourList that recognises the left-wing social media echo chamber most likely contributed to Labour's loss, in that he says speak for yourself pal.  We don't all obsess over mugs with controls on immigration plastered on them, or imagine that activism online can replace activism offline.  I've been critical of politicians beating themselves up over not talking like the public, when in fact what the complaint is about and Sunny gets is it's not how they sound and the phrases they use, it's the content.  He's wrong about Blair getting non-Labour voters in as much as Blair's great success was to come at the precise moment the Tories utterly self-destructed, but he is right about the cultural deficit.

Not that hardly anyone outside said echo chambers pays much in the way of attention to Twitter subcultures, let alone your average voter.  When issues of identity do reach the mainstream however, as they have recently with Caitlyn Jenner, Rachel Dolezal and Tim Hunt, it's far from clear it's to the benefit of those who are always the first to comment.  Jenner's transition invites cynicism because of who she is, regardless of the exact circumstances, as should the way it was presented to the world in a way those welcoming it would normally flinch from.  Rachel Dolezal is an almost perfect example of the double standards associated with racial as opposed to sexual identity, while you don't have to take the Daily Mail line to think Hunt harshly treated if still stupid, as plenty of commentators have.  Despise the way a phony image of the "metropolitan elite" has been created and instilled, as we should, it all feeds into it.  This is hardly helped when so often the sites and media associated with the left do their best to be a parody of themselves.  Some have for too long celebrated difference for its own sake rather than thought about what makes us belong, unites us.  Most pertinently, class has often been overlooked in favour of every other distinction.

It's not just the left who have given in to the lures of the echo chamber, of course, and this doesn't mean those ideals are the wrong ones.  For every person who banged on about immigration mugs, there are also those who don't think what ostensibly remains a centre-left party should have someone of the left so much as stand for leader, as that by itself shows the party is still not "serious".  They would seemingly have preferred the contest to be between three candidates with all but identical policies, none of whom seem to understand that Labour faces threats from both the left and right, with the potential for things to get worse before they get better.  Equally misguided are those who see fit to comment on the alleged hypocrisy of supposed radicals for cuddling up to the establishment, and then see fit to advise a party of the establishment and its supporters on where it's going wrong.  Oh.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2015 

Trying to out bonehead each other.

Why in the name of all that is fucking holy is the Labour party holding leadership hustings, not only when parliament is sitting, but when a bill as important as the EU referendum act is being debated and voted on?  Why are so many hustings taking place at all when the vote does not take place for another 9 weeks?  Why can the party seemingly not make up its mind as to whether it should have a short or a long contest, and instead apparently wants to have both?  Is it down to how it's far too obvious and therefore far too silly a concept for the opposition party to um, act as an opposition when the government shows just how laughably split it is over Europe?

All these questions and frankly dozens more pass through my head as the two main political parties in this country try to out bonehead each other.  The most sensible time for Labour to conduct its leadership election would be during the parliamentary recess.  Let everyone go on holiday for two weeks and then spend the next month debating, husting, rutting and all the rest of it to their little hearts' content.  The leader will be ready for when parliament returns, giving them time to work on their first conference speech, a conference vital for the party in all sorts of ways.  It needs to be about what the new leader, whoever he or she turns out to be stands for, and what the Labour party under their leadership will represent.  It needs to be about how the party rebuilds itself and how it can win back the support of those it has lost in every corner of the country.  It needs to be about how the party can once again learn to listen rather than just waiting for its chance to speak.

Why the hustings can't then wait till the recess don't ask me.  Apparently it was necessary for the 5 contenders, who might shortly become 3 should neither Mary Creagh or Jeremy Corbyn manage to win the ludicrous 35 nominations needed from MPs to be able to stand to journey to Dublin for the GMB conference on a Tuesday in June, just to deliver mostly the same answers as they've given since the mauling the party received at the ballot box just over a month ago.  The differences between Burnham, Cooper, Kendall and Creagh are almost entirely cosmetic when it comes down to it, it's just Kendall has been branded the "moderniser", and you don't want to be against modernity do you, while Burnham and Cooper are more the "continuity" candidates.

At least today all 5 agreed the manifesto wasn't too left-wing.  Only Burnham and Corbyn had anything positive to say about it, mind.  Not that any of the 3 who can win have as yet given the slightest indication they understand just how massive the challenges facing the party are, even if they have moved away from the more out there reasons they at first gave for why the party lost.  If I have any sort of preference, it's for Kendall, and for entirely personal and spiteful reasons.  Should Kendall win, I'll no longer have to feel as though I should practice what I preach, as the party will have abandoned me just as other luvvies have said when decamping.  It'll also be quite something to see how those on the right of the party explain it when Labour loses just as miserably, if not more so in 5 years.

Labour's various problems with reality are nonetheless as nothing when it comes to the Tories and their inexorable delusions over Europe.  Here we are, barely a month after Cameron's "sweetest victory", and he already can't so much as rely on the support of his own cabinet ministers when it comes to his ability to negotiate a "better" deal for us in the EU.  There he was, imagining he could bounce those who owe him for still having their jobs into supporting a yes to stay in vote come what may, only for a mutiny to break out within minutes.  No, no, no said Dave, you idiots in the press got the wrong end of the stick; I only meant ministers would be expected to support me during the negotiation process.  Which is why a minister was put up on the Today programme to defend the principle of his colleagues needing to supporting the government line come the referendum, obviously.

Arguing for the exit is then to be the equivalent of an issue of conscience, a dispensation only usually extended to ministers when it comes to votes where the influence of religious faith rears its head.  To your "Conservatives for Britain" and those within the cabinet who will ally with the no lobby when the time comes, to get out of the EU is a question of morals, to which to transgress against is to deny theological teaching.  Brussels may as well be the antichrist, the whore of Babylon, Jezebel herself.  To the more deranged, like Bill Cash, nothing less than a rewriting of history is necessary, nor will do.  We fought and died in two world wars for our parliament, our democracy, not their parliament, not their democracy.  We saved Europe from itself.  Churchill was one of the first to come up with this mad little idea called a United States of Europe, but he never imagined Britain as being a part of it, let alone drawn into "ever closer union".

Just as with Tory objections to the European Convention on Human Rights/the Human Rights Act, so much of the argument is not with the institutions themselves as the way the statutes are interpreted.  We are clearly not going to be any part of an ever closer union when we are outside of the Eurozone and have no intention of joining it, and yet we must have "explicit recognition" of our opposition and "explicit protection" of our interests.  The rest of Europe meanwhile sighs and snorts at the haughtiness and self-importance on display, but will most likely agree to something that will allow Cameron to claim his renegotiation has been successful.  He clearly won't get any change on free movement, but probably will get something on the payment of in-work benefits to migrants, and something he can say does mean we're exempt from the "ever closer union".  Germany could of course drive a hard bargain if it wanted, asking for something in return like the removal of the veto.  The veto is worthless in any case, as Cameron's previous wielding of it showed, but then so many of the complaints about the EU are imaginary that it doesn't really matter.

Essentially, what the out right this instant people care about the most, beyond the tiny few who really are convinced we've sold away our sovereignty, are things like the working time directive, which helps ensure student doctors who would otherwise work 72 hour shifts don't kill more patients than they save.  I exaggerate, but only slightly.  They seem to imagine we'd have all the benefits of the single market with none of the drawbacks, only we'd need to negotiate a better deal than either Norway or Switzerland, as both are subject to the same free movement of people rules as members; indeed, both are also signed up to the Schengen agreement we opted out of.  That we'd be Norway without the oil and Switzerland without the banking secrecy and skiing seems of little concern, unless the point is to turn London fully into an offshore city state where the rich and famous can hide their loot and come and go as they please.

Cameron it has to be remembered gave in to these monomaniacs in the hope of fending off UKIP and buying himself some time.  As it was he was saved by the collapse of the Lib Dems, not UKIP defectors returning home.  All it's done is encouraged the headbangers, as it was always going to; already we've seen in the debate today the excuses being made should the vote not go their way, with the complaints about the usual period of purdah prior to elections not applying.  This is despite EU residents being denied a vote, as apparently what they think of all this is irrelevant.  Now sacrificed has been unity within the cabinet itself, a sign as sure as any of a government destined to be torn apart by the obsessions of the few rather than the many.

According to Philip Hammond in the Commons, "an entire generation" has been denied the chance to express their view on our relationship with Europe.  Merely voting for parties that are pro-EU doesn't count.  Should said entire generation come the plebiscite decide by a 55 to 45% margin we're better off in, there's no reason to think we won't be voting again come 2022, 2027, just as the Scottish referendum has made a repeat more rather than less likely.  Another referendum on electoral reform though, to deal with how the votes of nearly 7.5 million people, the combined total of UKIP, Green and Lib Dem support, added up to 10 MPs, while the 1.5 million votes for the SNP added up to 56?  That truly could be a generation away.

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Monday, May 11, 2015 

I'm not working.

I hurt myself yesterday / To see if I still feel

I've written before about self-harm.  It's not cool, kids.  Do as I say, not as I do.  I didn't expect yesterday to be lying in a field, listening to a bird singing barely 10 feet away, giggling away to myself.  I didn't expect that my brain would react to the absurdity of a 30-year-old man scratching at himself with a blade in such an incongruous setting by being precisely that, triggering a laughing fit that didn't stop for 10 minutes.  I thought I remembered that hurting myself before hadn't done anything except leave scars.  Perhaps it didn't then.  All I can relate is that for a good few hours yesterday I felt euphoric.  I couldn't wipe the smile off my face as I walked home.  Grinning, laughing.  Then once I was home it quickly wore off.  The pain remained, still does somewhat.  It pulses, burns slightly, like your skin does when the heat of the sun on it becomes too much.

Doctors will tell you there are a number of tell-tale signs to depression.  Loss of appetite, or rather you all but stop eating.  Loss of enjoyment of everything, or rather you return to what you know best, to comfort yourself.  You listen to that music, you watch that TV show or those movies, you listen to that man rant about those things.  Inability to sleep, which thankfully doesn't concern me as I've been on medication that helps me with that for umpteen years.  Alternatively, and this does apply to me, sleeping more.  Where before you were getting by on 6 hours you can now go for double that.  I speak in a monotone.  I stop finding attractive people attractive.  I shake.

Petrified for the millionth time / Slowly my soul evaporates / No parachutes no dismal clouds / Just this fucking space

You don't expect these things.  You do expect other things, but you do it anyway, because you've got no self-control, or you use that as an excuse.  Let's put it at best, that you're an annoyance, rather than something more visceral, that you disappoint rather than bring someone else down with you because you're such a fucking imbecile.  You beat yourself up about it, but that's not the real reason you turn against yourself, is it?  You can't leave well alone because you don't know anything else, isn't that it?  Can't you admit that you do this because you want to, that it's no one else's fault, despite you saying over and over again you're the only one to blame, do you really mean it?  Because it sure as hell doesn't seem like it.  Haven't you just proved you're a masochist, and that at root that has something to do with it?  You like the pain.  You might not want it, but when it comes as it always will you secretly enjoy it.  You tell yourself you can't change, and when you demonstrate just that, or think you have, it just reinforces your spectacularly immature world view.  There is only one solution, and you're still far too cowardly to let it envelope you totally.

It's worse than you think.  Yeah, thanks Guardian, tell me something I don't already know.  You see all the old barely human faces, the skin not as thick as it once was, stretched tauter over bone.  What this proves is I was right all along.  These people can't even wait until the corpse is cold, their glee total at what has transpired.  Had it been the opposite they would have been nowhere to be seen, muttering to themselves about how it couldn't, wouldn't last.  Aspiration.  The centre ground.  Working hard and getting on.  Wealth creation and cultural affirmation.  Those words coming just after the writer tells us that politics has to be emotional rather than public policy seminar or data collection exercise.  This, friends, is what awaits us in the next Labour leader.  It doesn't matter that no one has come up with a prescription so far on how you can win back voters in Scotland that went to the "left" while convincing those in England that went to the right that you aren't going to launch a pogrom on white van men, clearly where Labour went wrong was in not remaining on the centre ground.  Like the Lib Dems, who clung to the centre because Nick Clegg decreed it and were duly squashed flat.  Labour was just slightly to their left, and apparently that was enough to seal their fate.  Pull the other fucking one.

This is not evidence Britain is a "fundamentally conservative country", says Matthew d'Anconservative, as if it were neither the NHS or BBC would exist.  No, Britain in the era when both were created was not a fundamentally conservative country.  It was a fundamentally social democratic country.  Then it stopped being such and the only reason we retain both is because they remind us of what we once were, that and no one has come up with a better alternative.  You can't replace an entire health system.  You can get rid of the BBC though, and don't be surprised if that process begins under this glorious government.  The Tories would be quite wrong to interpret the election result as a green light to cut welfare, Matt goes on.  Why not?  Rather than deploring the politics of heartlessness, a good percentage of the public seem to have embraced it.  They've displayed a very funny way of saying they disagree with the bedroom tax, for instance.  As the inestimable Flying Rodent has repeatedly said, no one makes people watch Benefits Street or all these other gawping documentaries on the poors.  See, that's where Labour went wrong: too much emphasis on the poors and the riches, not enough on the middle.  Because Labour didn't spend years going on interminably about the squeezed fucking middle, did it?

Half of me wants to scream that Labour needs to have the shortest leadership contest possible, regardless of whom comes out at the end of it, because it was during the navel gazing of the contest last time that the Tories banged on endlessly about the crash being all Labour's fault.  With neither a Labour or Lib Dem leader in place, although hey, thank heavens for small mercies that Nigel Farage has been preserved for the nation, we can expect the same again.  The other half of me though just doesn't give a shit.  This result has pretty much proved there's only one thing that does for the Tories, and that's a disaster like Black Wednesday followed by the party obsessing over itself.  Even then Labour can only win by going one foot to the left of the Conservatives, and as the more perceptive have pointed out, it wasn't Ed Miliband that screwed Labour in Scotland, it was a certain Mr Blair.  It was a very delayed reaction, but reaction it was all the same.  Hunt, Kendall, Umunna, Burnham, Cooper, whoever wins they look set to accept in full the prevailing message already dictated.  None of them look quite as weird as Miliband did, although Burnham has some especially sensual eyelashes, but you think they're going to be fellated like Blair was by all comers?  There's no one, and they have nothing to say.

All that's left, all I have left is to point and criticise.  I'd like to think I'm reasonable at doing that, I'm dedicated at least if nothing else.  I'm also always unexpected.  Dedicated and unexpected.  What a fantastic epitaph.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2015 

A campaign of failure.

"All political careers end in failure," we often hear, a slight misquote of a line from Enoch Powell.  These might be exceptions that prove the rule, but few can claim with a straight face that the careers of either Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan ended in failure.  Thatcher was ditched by her party, yes, and arguably the Tories have never recovered from that singular moment of trauma, and yet who can deny that the legacy both she and Reagan left the West has not proved resilient since then?  Not even the great crash of 2008 has led to a break with neoliberalism; if anything, quite the opposite, regardless of the rise of a few opposition movements.

Barring a complete shock, tomorrow's election results will demonstrate there are times when political failure is absolute, whether it ends careers immediately or not.  The last polls all point either to a dead heat between Labour and the Tories, or a lead for the latter well within the margin of error.  6 weeks, or rather nigh on 5 months of campaigning by both has failed to shift opinion in any substantial way.  All they've succeeded in doing is consolidating their support: that might not strictly be a failure in that it's just as important as winning over undecided voters, but it speaks of just how limited the terms of engagement have been.

Nor is it as if the main two haven't tried: the Conservatives have thrown every conceivable bribe at those they consider "their people" possible.  The all but abolition of inheritance tax, the expansion of right to buy to housing associations, the promise of tax cuts to come, paid for by a brutal slashing of the social security budget, none of it has worked.  Labour meanwhile affected to pinch the Tories' clothes on deficit reduction, pledging it would fall every year, guaranteed by a "budget responsibility" lock, the forerunner to the 6 pledge tombstone.  The parties battled over whom could deny themselves the most potential revenue: the Tories would legislate to make raising income tax, national insurance and VAT illegal, while Labour said they would only put the top rate of income tax back to 50p.  If this was meant to make voters believe just how serious they were about sticking to these fine words, it hasn't worked.  Why would it when everyone can plainly see there's going to be a mass bartering session come Friday afternoon when another hung parliament is confirmed?

The failure has not just been political, however.  If the 2015 election becomes known for anything, it will be as the one where newspapers confirmed they are as good as dead.  This is not to say they no longer have any influence, as some risibly claim: quite the opposite.  They might not have a direct impact on how people decide to vote, but they can define perceptions and shift attitudes fundamentally.  Ed Miliband would not have been considered a complete no-hoper little more than a month ago if it had not been for the way he was persistently caricatured as a weird leftie nerd from almost as soon as he won the Labour leadership.

What has changed is the abandoning of all pretence of being the voice of their readers as opposed to the voice of their owners.  The Sun straight up admitted its contempt for Ed Miliband was based around how the fiend hasn't ruled out breaking up Rupert Murdoch's continuing stranglehold on the media, something it would have never done in the past.  Most egregious though has been the Telegraph, once respected by all for the dividing line between its news and comment, reduced by the Barclay brothers to prostituting itself without the slightest shame to the Conservatives, time and again turning its front page over to missives issued directly from CCHQ.  Peter Oborne's exposing of the paper's sycophancy towards advertiser HSBC seems to have led to it straight up throwing in the towel, not so much as bothering to hide its bias.  The Mail meanwhile with its non-dom owner Lord Rothermere savages Miliband as a "class war zealot" who will "destroy the nation", although when the paper has already described his deceased father as "THE MAN WHO HATED BRITAIN" it's barely possible to go any lower.

It wouldn't matter as much if there was the slightest evidence the monstering of Miliband and Labour was working, or if there was something resembling wit in the constant attacks.  Putting Neil Kinnock's head in a light bulb and asking the last person in the country to turn out the lights if he won at least had the semblance of originality, of being a wounding attack.  Reprinting the photograph of Miliband eating a bacon sandwich in a slightly comical fashion alongside a whole load of puns on pork is pathetic, nowhere near cutting enough and worst of all, obvious.  The Sun of Kelvin MacKenzie's era, of Rebekah Brooks's era for goodness sake would have come up with something better.  If nothing else, the Sun once knew how its readers' minds worked.  As with the rest of the popular and indeed right-wing press, those days are gone and they're not coming back.

That at this point the right-wing media rather than eulogising about Cameron and his party is spending all its time attacking Miliband and questioning his party's legitimacy to govern itself demonstrates their and the Tories' abject failure.  When all they've got is a year-old photograph, a five-year old joke of a letter and the prospect of a party in power that hasn't won an election, after 5 years of precisely that, little could be more pitiful.

Not that Cameron or the rest of the leaders have been held to account by the media as a whole.  All the attempts to trip them up, to get the Tories to say where they'll make their cuts to welfare or how much Labour will borrow have been brushed aside.  The interrogator who has caused politicians the most discomfort, Andrew Neil, has been doing so to an audience of politics nerds and the barely compos mentis, while tinsel tits Evan Davis was given the job of interviewing the leaders in prime time, bringing his brand of less tenacious and less insightful technique along with him.  All the emphasis on trapping the parties in a gaffe has only had the result of making them risk averse above all else.  The campaign as a whole has suffered from that choice.

If anyone's failure has been total, it must though David Cameron's.  He's had every advantage a prime minister could hope for: an utterly servile media; a divided opposition with an unpopular leader; a growing economy; and the collapse of said opposition in its Scottish heartlands.  The threat on the right from UKIP has subsided somewhat, helped by another failure in the shape of the wheels coming off Nigel Farage's bandwagon, and still Cameron hasn't been able to shift the polls in his favour.  From the outset he's displayed every sign of not being interested, from the interview with James Landale where he said he wouldn't serve a third term, instantly starting the Tory leadership contest, to the cringe-inducing showing of "passion".  If any other politician had claimed to be "bloody lively" and "pumped up" the ridicule would have been absolute, as it would if it was Miliband addressing empty cowsheds or dropping in on farmers for a spot of breakfast, or if the Labour leader had made the slip that the election would be "career defining".  Calling him the poor man's Tony Blair doesn't really work any longer; not only did Blair win elections, Blair at least believed in things.  Cameron as the profile by Matthew d'Aconservative in the Graun demonstrates believes in absolutely nothing.

Indeed, the only thing saving Cameron is Labour's collapse in Scotland.  This isn't so much down to the success of Nicola Sturgeon as it is the carry on from the referendum and Scottish Labour's helpless flailing around trying to work out why it is this has happened now.  There is a point to wondering why it is voters who've come to the conclusion they've been abandoned and ignored by the party they previously backed en masse would then transfer their allegiance to one single party en masse and think there'll be a different end result, but only as far as it goes.  The only thing to be done now is to appeal to voters' better instincts: that every seat Labour loses in Scotland helps David Cameron regardless of what the SNP says about "locking the Tories" out.  It also has to be emphasised that just as Nicola Sturgeon says Scotland and the rest of the country will never forgive Labour if it refuses to work with the SNP, it's also the case the SNP will never be forgiven if it refuses to vote for a minority Labour government's Queen speech on the specious grounds it doesn't end austerity.

5 years ago, the British people conspired to ensure no one won the election.  Five years later and they seem all but certain to produce a result that adds up to the same thing, only with bells on.  If this doesn't result in the political class considering just why it is they've become such failures and what to do about it, then they've missed the real message of this campaign.  The same goes for a media that has never seemed more out of touch, talking to itself and only itself.  Regardless of which party wins the most seats or manages to form a government, there's a reckoning coming.  It's not going to be pretty.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015 

We still need a Labour government.

So here we are.  With less than 48 hours until the polls open there is just the one thing that can be said for certain about what's going to happen once the votes start being counted: that absolutely no one has the first fucking idea about what's going to happen once the votes start being counted.

Obviously, we can make a few informed assumptions based on the polling evidence up to now.  The SNP are going to win a lot of seats in Scotland; the Lib Dems will in all likelihood be left with around 30 seats all told; UKIP will be lucky to win 3 seats, but their share of the vote could still wreak havoc on the Tories in the marginals; Caroline Lucas will in all likelihood hold on to her seat in Brighton, but it will take a miracle for the Greens to win anywhere else, with the possibility their share of the vote could also hinder Labour in some seats; and just to keep this somewhat wieldy, tactical voting will almost certainly be more important than ever.

Everything else is cast in doubt.  Without exaggeration, this is the first election in a generation where so much is uncertain.  In 2010 it was fairly apparent there would be a hung parliament and the Conservatives would be the largest party.  While a hung parliament remains all but certain this time, and it's also probable the Tories will end up with the most seats and the most votes, Labour could well be close enough on the former measure at least for the question of "legitimacy" to not rear its head in the way Cameron and friends, including Nick Clegg, imagine it will.  Alternatively, and as some have began to argue, the polls could as in 1992 be wrong.  The Tories might be within touching distance, not of a majority, but enough seats to govern in a coalition with the Lib Dems alongside confidence and supply from the DUP.  Many are also still to make up their minds, or will be doing so now.  Generally, the incumbent gets the benefit of the doubt.

Or it could be the exact opposite and we might be stuck in a situation come Friday morning where neither Labour or the Tories can make a minority government, let alone a coalition work.  The Conservative strategy should this happen seems to be, with support from their friends in the press, to do absolutely everything in their power to remain in government, right up to the point of defeat on a Queen's speech.  Gordon Brown had the decency it should be remembered to accept the numbers simply weren't in his favour in 2010, and resigned sooner than he perhaps constitutionally had to.  If the Tories fail, Labour will invariably try and govern in a minority relying on SNP, Plaid and Green support as and when it comes, and may well persuade the DUP also to vote in their favour.  Minority government as some have also reminded us is not just about persuading those nominally on your side, but also those on the other side; would the Tories vote down a Labour Queen's speech or budget that didn't give in to SNP demands for instance?  Would the Tories really vote down a bill on replacing Trident as one of their MPs suggested?

One thing that can be said with certainty about the campaign as opposed to the outcome is that it has not once captured the imagination of anyone, let alone the country at large. Nor has the gap between the two main parties, which is also larger than it has been for a generation, been communicated to so many of those struggling as to how to vote.  Labour and Conservative spending plans, while seemingly not that different, with both saying austerity will continue, in fact diverge massively.  Labour's plans allow it to borrow £25bn or more a year to invest; the Tories promise a slashing of the state so big that it's frankly inconceivable they would go through with itAs passed judgement on by the IFS, none of the plans on offer as explained in the manifestos are truly credible, but the Tories' are the most outlandish by far.

With the result so unpredictable, it's slightly premature to pass full verdict on the campaigns.  Nonetheless, to judge the Conservative campaign on how Lynton Crosby kept insisting there would come a "crossover" point, with the Tories taking a decisive lead, both he and David Cameron have clearly failed.  Such has been the dismal fare served up by the Conservatives over the past six weeks, a campaign that was meant to focus on two things, the economy and Ed Miliband has finished up instead focusing on just one, the danger of a Labour government propped up by the SNP.  The personal attacks on Miliband that promised to define the campaign ended within 2 weeks once the party realised they had stopped having an effect; the economy followed suit shortly after.  A party that on the surface has a respected leader with a good story to tell on a growing economy has been reduced to little more than pointing at a "dangerous" Scotswoman to stay in power.  Even more depressing is it might yet work.

The Labour campaign (outside of Scotland, at least) has by contrast made only slight missteps, like the spectacularly ill-judged "Edstone" unveiled at the weekend.  Considering the thin meat of the pledges on that (mill)stone, Miliband has consistently played a weak hand well.  Anyone surprised by how he hasn't been a complete disaster fell into believing the bullshit spread not just by the right-wing media but also from some within his party, convinced Labour can't win if it tacks even slightly to the left.  Labour won't win outright, but anyone who claims with a straight face that his brother, Alan Johnson or someone in the shadow cabinet would have done a better job is lying to themselves.  Labour alone out of the parties has kept campaigning up to the last, has tried to do things (slightly) differently, whether it be Miliband agreeing to be interviewed by Russell Brand or even today appearing on a fashion vlogger's channel, and has at the very least attempted to be positive.  Trying to return to government after a single term out of office is always going to be a struggle, especially when Labour's exhaustion in 2010 was so total, the Tory narrative of the crash and the recession accepted without question by so much of the media and the public.  If Miliband's last 5 years should be judged on anything, it ought to be on whom the high priests of capital have declared for: the FT and the Economist both want a continuation of the coalition, despite the impact an EU referendum could have.  Indeed, in the media at large it seems only the Mirror and Guardian will end up supporting Labour, with the Indie also calling for a coalition: Miliband has scared the right people in precisely the right way.

If plenty of voters are still undecided, they can hardly be blamed for being so.  The campaigns at large have for the most part been ridiculously safe, neither the Conservatives or Labour wanting to be seen to have committed a "gaffe".  This is in spite of the one truly electrifying moment of the campaign being last week's Question Time debate, although contrarily I'd still say the opposition debate was better in quality overall.  All three of the leaders stood up well to a barrage of hostile questioning, precisely the kind they have spent so much of the campaign trying to avoid lest it be judged they screwed up or were secretly recorded insulting their interrogator.  David Cameron's debate avoiding gambit has undoubtedly paid off, but certainly not to the extent the Tories must have hoped; by the same token, Ed Miliband's personal ratings have improved, but not to the extent Labour must have hoped had the one-on-one debate Labour demanded taken place.  Whoever leads the next government, something has to be done to make sure the prime minister of the day is not able to both prevaricate and dictate to the broadcasters over the debates in such a way again.

As I wrote at the end of March, and nothing since has happened to change my mind one iota, in fact quite the opposite, we need a Labour government.  Whether it's a Labour minority government, a Labour-Lib Dem coalition, a Labour government with an extremely slim majority, whatever the outcome, what's on offer from Ed Miliband's Labour party is preferable to that of David Cameron's Conservative party.  This is not always down to Labour's policies being superior, although they nearly always are, so much as the Tories' being destructive, cruel and discriminatory.  When the party can't so much as bring itself to include the "spare room subsidy" in its manifesto, at the same time as it proposes to cut a further £12bn from welfare while refusing to say where, the lack of honesty ought to be causing far more ructions than it has.  Such has been the Conservative way of denying their policies have affected anyone who isn't a scrounger or a work-shy layabout: food banks haven't expanded because of the astronomical rise in benefit sanctions, but as the JobCentre can now refer people to them.  Pensioners have been protected as both the working and unemployed poor are told "we are all in this together".  To the Conservatives a job, any job, is a way out;  Labour under Miliband has recognised that work increasingly doesn't pay.

How we then get to a Labour government is the real question.  To start off with the easy stuff: if, like Chris, you live in either a rock solid Tory or for that matter Labour seat where the nearest challenger has no hope, feel free to vote Green, TUSC or however you feel.  From there on it gets trickier: fairly obviously, if you're in a marginal where Labour has any chance, with the one exception of the sitting MP being an utter cock, vote Labour.  I'm fairly certain the sitting Tory in my constituency will hold on with a reasonably comfortable majority, but I'm voting Labour just in case.  Where the choice is between the Lib Dems and the Tories, it's a far more difficult decision.  The best possible remotely plausible outcome to my mind will be a Labour-Lib Dem coalition, but for that to happen both parties need to do better than the polls suggest.  It would almost certainly require in addition for Nick Clegg to lose in Sheffield Hallam.  When Matthew d'Anconservative says Clegg retaining his seat is key to the Tory clinging to power strategy, it's evident removing the Lib Dem leader is vital.  The problem is not knowing if yesterday's ICM poll suggesting Clegg will win fairly comfortably is more reliable than the Ashcroft polling saying it's too close to call.  Those in the Tory-Lib Dem marginals may well have to play it by ear and vote Lib Dem despite every instinct screaming they're boned whichever way it goes.  Much the same goes for those few seats in Scotland where it's either the SNP or the Lib Dems, although we can make an exception for Danny Alexander.  Finally, in Brighton Pavilion a vote for Caroline Lucas so long as you can separate the MP from the underperforming Green council ought to be a gimme.

Lastly, if the UKIP and Green shares of the vote hold up, voting reform will surely have to be looked at again.  If the SNP win 40 or more seats on the back of a 5% share of the vote while UKIP win 3 or less on a percentage that could be double that, something will have to give.  It will hopefully also finally get through to the blockheads in the Tories that the way things are going they might never win a majority under FPTP again; no reason then to continue blocking a system that has the potential to make every vote count.  Until that happens, it's a question of holding our noses and voting for the least worst viable option.  And even if you disagree with everything I've wrote here, voting regardless of who for is always better than the alternative.

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