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.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

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.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

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.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

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.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

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.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Friday, May 01, 2015 

The Sun Says: Vote SNP, get Tories.

If I was running Scottish Labour's campaign, and let's face it, I could hardly do a worse job, I'd spend the next 6 days doing one thing and one thing only: ensuring that absolutely every voter has seen the juxtaposed front pages of yesterday's Sun and Scottish Sun.  There, encapsulated, is the lie of the SNP's progressive ideals.  The same voters who have decided that now is the time to reject Labour over its shift to the right can reflect on the knowledge that just as the Sun backed the New Labour project, so today it deems the SNP to pose so little threat to the paper's values, Scottish edition or otherwise, that it can back the party without fear.

Murdoch in truth has long flirted with the SNP and especially Alex Salmond.  Salmond for instance went as far as to lobby the UK government over News Corp's attempt to swallow Sky whole, as the Leveson inquiry heard.  As this week's Private Eye also noted, prior to the Sun's endorsement hitting the streets, the SNP's manifesto had nothing to say about levels of media ownership, while the party's support for a splitting up of the BBC into its constituent regional parts is exactly the kind of thing Keith yearns for.  The Indie's report that while in town Rupe demanded more attacks on Labour for daring to suggest they might now do something about his stranglehold on the media meanwhile tells its own story.  Murdoch and the Sun are not so much coming out for Cameron, utterly bizarre and really creepy IT'S A TORY front page or not, as trying their darnedest to keep Labour out.

Supporting the SNP in Scotland therefore makes perfect, cynical but not contradictory sense.  The English edition can rage and moan about Nicola Sturgeon giving her sister's doll a savage haircut, proof if any were needed of her ruthlessness and dedication to shafting everyone south of the border, while the Scottish one can declare the same person A NEW HOPE, despite this new hope having been in power for just the past 7 years at Holyrood.  So long as it works against Ed Miliband, seen as the real threat to business as usual for Murdoch, what does a little thing like consistency matter?

That Sturgeon has backed herself into a corner over locking out the Tories does seem to have finally dawned on a few of the less boneheaded SNPers.  Ed Miliband's remarks last night on Question Time were nothing more than a repeat of what, err, both Sturgeon and Salmond have been saying about doing a deal with Labour.  A coalition isn't on offer, nor is confidence and supply, leaving only a vote-by-vote basis relationship.  If Sturgeon means what she says, then she has little option other than to support a Labour Queen's speech and budget regardless of how little there is in either designed to mollify the nationalists.  All the talk about Scotland never forgiving Labour if they let in the Tories by refusing a deal is equal parts guff and bluff: the onus is on the SNP to support Labour, not the other way around.

Besides, at this point Labour has absolutely nothing to lose in Scotland precisely because, err, the polling suggests it's going to lose everything.  It can't get any worse; Labour could spend the next week saying everyone intending to vote SNP is a traitor and still not end up doing worse than many now expect.  More likely is the party will manage to hang on to between 5 and 10 seats, still an utter disaster, but considering the total landslide the polls imply will be regarded as akin to a miracle.  In such circumstances, putting the prospect of another referendum centre stage is just about all Labour can do.

In his interview with Russell Brand, Ed agreed this time people didn't want euphoria but rather a party that means what it says.  Voters in Scotland might one day think back on that, just as many of those who voted Lib Dem last time ended up doing.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 

The party that cuts off its nose to spite its face.

It always happens.  Just when you think a point of no return has been reached, something comes along and proves there are always new depths to be plumbed.  Yes, politics really has just got even stupider.

Why it surprises each time is a mystery considering the way politics has been conducted over the past 5 years.  As Paul Krugman in the Graun today set out, the entire defining media discourse of the last parliament has been based on assumptions that don't stand up to scrutiny.  Yes, the deficit does have to be reduced, but the time to do so is the boom, not when the recovery has barely started.  Britain has never been in a position even remotely like Greece's, nor is it any danger of being so when we control our own currency.

By the same measure, the Tories' entire pitch to the country is built on a lie.  They claim to have rescued the country from Labour's Great Recession, and yet as yesterday's GDP figures made clear, the recovery, such as it is, has been built mainly on continued consumer spending rather than the rebalancing away from financial services originally promised.  Despite record low interest rates the economy has not bounced back in the way it has from past recessions, suggesting this time might be different.  This could be partially down to said austerity, or it could be what has been called secular stagnation, where the economic growth we were previously accustomed to becomes all but impossible due to various factors including a decline in the working age population and technological advances no longer leading to improvements in productivity.

Either way, to be proposing now is the time for "colossal" cuts as the Tories are, especially when growth is threatening to come in lower than forecast is at best daft and at worst positively dangerous.   Up until today most economists and commentators had concluded they didn't, couldn't really mean what they say.  It's to keep the hardliners onside.  It's to be negotiated away come the talks on forming a new coalition.  Osborne relented once he realised austerity was having the precise opposite effect to the one he claimed it would.  It would be impossible to make the "savings" they're proposing without putting up taxes.

Only, such is the apparent Tory desperation at how their message doesn't seem to be getting through, now the promise not to put up VAT, income tax or national insurance will be enshrined in law if they win the election.  This is so completely deranged it takes a while to sink in.  We've previously had Osborne trying to "trap" Labour by legislating to cap benefit increases for those of working age to 1%, and they've since put in law the very outline of their spending plans.  This though is something else: quite apart from how it seems to be the Tories admitting there's so little confidence in their ridiculous sums they need to make it illegal to not follow their pledge to get people to believe them, it leaves Osborne with next to no room for manoeuvre in the event of another crisis and closes the door totally on much in the way of alternatives to the mooted cuts.

Laws can of course be repealed, but that wastes time that might be of the essence in a genuine emergency.  As a gimmick, which is exactly what it is, it's a self-defeating one.  The obvious assumption is it would be something else negotiated away in coalition talks, which again raises the question of why you would make such a promise only then to drop it at the first opportunity, exactly the sort of move that invites cynicism.  Are the Tories that panicked by how the polls still aren't shifting, with the most likely outcome remaining a minority Labour government into thinking something, anything that convinces a few more people of their sincerity is worth it, regardless of the all the downsides of such a bill?

Apparently so.  Why though do such a thing when it finally looks as if the Tories' bluff on their proposed £12bn in welfare cuts is being called?  The IFS, as exasperated at the main parties' lack of candour in their manifesto as it ever gets, outlined to get anywhere near that figure (PDF) at the same time as protecting pensioner benefits would mean the absorption of child benefit into universal credit, which would save £5bn, while requiring housing benefit recipients to pay at least 10% of their rents could save a further £2.5bn, still leaving a £2.5bn shortfall.  Labour, in what has been a pitifully underreported press conference this morning, overshadowed somewhat admittedly by Miliband's soiree with Fey Guevara, put out their own take on where the axe would fall, deciding cutting tax credits was just as likely, saving £3.4bn along with the aforementioned child benefit cuts.  Tonight Danny Alexander in an apparent valedictory move ahead of the likely loss of his seat to the SNP has given the Graun Iain Duncan Smith's "Welfare Reform Quad Summer Reading Pack" from 2012, when the coalition was arguing over whether to carry on with Plan A.   Again this focuses on child benefit, with IDS having suggested limiting it to two children, removing the higher rate for the first child, removing it altogether from 16-19-year-olds, and finally means testing it, which all told would save £8bn.

The IFS was far from complimentary about Labour's own failure to outline cuts that would save money as opposed to the equivalent of pennies in government spending terms, but then Labour's plans are such that as the IFS has said, they've left themselves enough room for manoeuvre as to barely cut spending at all if they so choose.  The Tories have now had 2 years to come up with something resembling an outline of where they would make their savings, only to respond every time they should be trusted to do so based on their record.  Their record, as we've seen, has been to sell the country the biggest of lies.  That they've gotten away with it, while an indictment of Labour and a servile media, only makes it all the more remarkable they've now been reduced to one of the most idiotic and cutting off their nose to spite their faces gestures in recent memory.  It will be nothing compared to the effect on the country if we end up with a Conservative majority that governs as it says, mind.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 

Me and Stephen Hawking we laugh.

You can't help but be struck by the Tories' lack of serendipity.   The economy is meant to be their trump card, their "jobs miracle" an unquestionable fact.  Of course, the recovery they stalled for two years would be put in jeopardy if Labour were to get in and rack borrowing up again, whereas there wouldn't be any negative effects from the Conservatives front-loading their proposed cuts in the first years of the next parliament in their quest for a surplus.  You know all this.

How desperately unfortunate then that the GDP figures for the first three months of the year are so disappointing.  They are just a snapshot, based on incomplete data and may well be revised up.  All the same, that without the boost provided by the drop in oil prices and corresponding low inflation the economy would be all but flatlining is not the news the Tories were expecting at this stage.  Their response, the only possible one, however counter-intuitive, has been to say this just proves the last thing needed is a change of government or the instability of an inconclusive outcome next Thursday.  Clearly what's needed isn't just the certainty of a Conservative majority, but the impact the further austerity proposed would have on growth.  This is assuming the Tories mean what they say, which is open to doubt considering Osborne slowed the retrenchment programme in 2012 when the economy was double-dipping (since revised away to mere stagnation rather than a second recession), in spite of all his denials of adopting a Plan B.  We can though only go by what they say, rather than what a government not hell bent on an ideological shrinking of the state would do in such circumstances.

The further evidence this was precisely what the Tories weren't banking on is this is their designated "economy" week.  They would have known all too well today would see the ONS publish the latest statistics, and so clearly went ahead presuming their boasts of having rescued an economy on the brink would be further reinforced.  Oh and dear.  

Not that it will likely make much difference when actual news is the last thing on the mind of a press that has long gone past the point of embarrassment when it comes to serving up what's given to them by the Conservatives: the Mail today dredged up a two-year old story on Miliband somehow being a Stalinist for daring to suggest more use of compulsory purchase orders to help get more houses built.  The Times meanwhile declared there are 10 days to save the union, just as there were however many days in the past to save the pound, save the NHS, save Jennifer's ear and so on.  Considering the Conservatives have been going out of their way for the past two weeks to suggest a vote for the SNP is somehow illegitimate, with the two parties almost in cahoots in their attempt to squeeze Labour even further in Scotland, it's an odd line for Cameron to suddenly take.

Equally strange is Cameron feeling entitled to say who his opponents should or shouldn't be interviewed by.  Considering Dave's idea of an interrogation is less Paxman and more Philip Schofield, such is his preference for the sofa of This Morning as opposed to the rigour of appearing on say the Today programme, not to bring up the whole avoiding anything resembling a debate that wasn't a waste of time, it's a bit rich to declare Ed Miliband a joke for agreeing to an interview with Russell Brand.  Apparently Cameron hasn't got time to hang out with Brand, although he did find room in his schedule for the chuckleheads at Heat magazine to ask him a few truly important questions, such as whether Sam prefers pink or brown.

Brand, it cannot be said enough, is a gimp.  He goes after the easiest of targets, has no interest in anything beyond the shallowest understanding of what he talks about, does so in the most infuriating way imaginable and has, up to now, undermined any good he has done by supporting causes like the Focus E15 mothers and generally raising awareness by telling those about to shafted the most by a Conservative government not to vote.  As soon as he gets bored or gets a better offer than spending his days making money from Google via the YouTube partners programme for the Trews channel he'll be off doing something else.  

For Miliband to agree to be interviewed by Brand is nonetheless exactly the sort of thing he should be doing: he has absolutely nothing to lose at this point, and, if as the Graun is suggesting it's finally got through Brand's thick skull that not to at least offer a suggestion as to whom his viewers should vote for if they're going to would be a betrayal, then all the better.  Moreover, detest Brand's way of expressing himself as I do, I'd much rather listen to him and Miliband having something resembling a normal discussion on how to tackle tax avoidance than the cringe inducing falseness showcased in Labour's abominable "Ed Miliband: a Portrait" political broadcast.

Still, if tomorrow's front pages are anything to go by, we've reached the stage in the campaign where cries of anguish about what supposedly isn't up for debate, as exemplified by the Mail last week having the gall to claim immigration was the great unmentionable, have given way to straight ad hominem attacks.  Do you really want this clown ruling us, asks the Mail, the paper owned by the non-domiciled Lord Rothermere.  Oh for the chance, the mere possibility, of being able to say it was the right-wing media wot lost it.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, April 27, 2015 

Can you feel the passion?

Election fever has finally reached my humble rotten borough.  Not in the form of canvassers obviously, as the place was written off as Tory bastion many moons ago, although UKIP may well have made some recent inroads.  No, with the delivery today of a leaflet from the Green party candidate, we have now received literature from all of the big five parties.  This is an improvement over last time, when I don't recall getting anything from either the Lib Dems or the Greens.  Considering the wider constituency could be just about said to be marginal, in that on a very good day Labour should be taking it from the Tories (Labour held it from 1997 until 2005), that you could quite easily pass through the area without seeing anything to suggest there's an election on ought to tell you the nation's mood hasn't exactly been captured by the campaign thus far.

This isn't exactly surprising considering just how controlled and traditional the approach of the main parties has been.  No chances are being taken of either a Sharon Storer or Gillian Duffy moment occurring, despite all the evidence suggesting that Gordon Brown's description of Duffy as a "bigoted woman" had absolutely no impact whatsoever on how people voted.  If they could both Labour and the Tories would conduct all their set-pieces for the cameras in hermetically sealed temporary constructions, accessible only to friendly media and the activists/extras recruited to act as background props, and then only once they had been carefully disinfected.  The other slightly different approach, the one George Osborne has been stuck with, is to do a Hugh Abbott and spend the entire campaign touring friendly businesses.  Any unpleasant behaviour by employees, such as asking questions not provided by Osborne's advisers and minders will no doubt be noted and reported back to the person who invited them in the first place.

Cameron, responding to the criticism of how he's spent the campaign thus far in a barely interested torpor, has duly rediscovered his passion.  Passion to David Cameron is getting slightly flush in the face and saying the same things only louder.  Only with the odd vaguely rude word thrown in.  It's also pretending that what really excites him is not just how much more time he'll have to chillax once he loses the election, but getting that all important childcare place, that workfare placement, that bedsit.  If you want excitement, go to Greece!  If you want showbiz, go to Essex!  If you want Boris, go to Barking!  If you want insincerity, you've come to the right place!

At this point it's worth remembering that David Cameron's key objection (beyond his realisation he was on a hiding to nothing) to taking part in the debates was he believed they had overshadowed the campaign last time.  They did, but that's because as we've seen, strip them out of the equation and all you're left with is two sides fighting a battle against the opponents they would like to have.  The Tories are stuck back in an age, if it ever existed, when letters to a newspaper mattered.  Seeing the Mail, Telegraph and Sun act as an adjunct of CCHQ for a leader they and their owners don't really believe in invites pity more than it does fear.  At least Richard Desmond has been honest with everyone on that score.

Unspoken is how both parties have all but come to terms with the fact there's going to be another hung parliamentEven if today's outlier poll from Lord Ashcroft which shows a 6% Tory lead became reality, on an uniform swing it would still deny the party an overall majority by 4 seats.  This hasn't stopped Labour from trying, with the various pledges over the weekend on housing, but there's little to suggest promises that have been made before and gone unfulfilled are going to swing many votes at this point.

Little wonder that whether it comes in the shape of Russell Brand patronising schoolchildren or Nicola Sturgeon promising to end austerity by being less radical than Labour, it's that something different however silly or based in falsehood that cuts through.  The Institute for Fiscal Studies' verdict on the SNP manifesto ought to have been damning: what little difference there is with Labour's plans would be for the worse, the reality being it's Labour pulling the nationalists to the left rather than the opposite.  And yet still the SNP share of the vote in the polls edges upwards, to the point where you suspect some are now saying they're voting SNP for a quiet life, in a reversal of how in the past Tory voters were embarrassed to admit they were going blue.  I still can't quite see how the SNP can overturn a majority of 17,000 in Douglas Alexander's seat when their candidate is a 20-year-old who has twice called no voters "gullible", to take just one snapshot, and yet such is the apparent mood, in spite of everything that should be screaming the SNP are interested in just two things, themselves and independence, it would be a brave person now that bets against a SNP whitewash.

If nothing else, Cameron and Miliband have little to lose from adopting the Sturgeon approach at this stage.  Just turn up at places, don't bring the entire retinue along and listen to some real people rather than bussed in party hacks.  Go off script, stop repeating the same lines we've heard a bazillion times now and Ed, please stop saying "...and let me explain why", as though you're talking to an especially dull and dim child.  At the weekend the ever brilliant Marina Hyde characterised this as the Jose Mourinho election, with both parties waiting for their opponents to make a mistake, indulge in the utmost gamesmanship and most certainly not try and win through expansive flair and attacking dexterity.  No one wants to be Jose Mourinho; not even Mourinho wants to be Jose Mourinho.  As someone might have said, surely we can do better than this.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, April 13, 2015 

The Labour manifesto.

"It's about values," said George Osborne yesterday, as David Cameron outlined his dream.  Even by the standards of other people's dreams usually being extraordinarily tedious, Cameron's was stupendously dull.  One of the most basic human desires is to take care of your children, and this instinct remains whether they're 5 months or 50.  Why then should the taxman demand a cut when it's completely natural to want to leave your home to your kids?  What difference should it make if they've already got a home of their own, or if the house is worth £374,000 or £999,999?  To object to this intensely natural order is the politics of envy, plain and simple.

George Osborne was right, of course.  It is all about values.  Alan Clark wrote in his diaries of how "the trouble with Michael [Heseltine] is that he had to buy his own furniture," the kind of attitude that was once so prevalent in the Tories.  Most though at the same time would never have dreamed of suggesting that death duties or inheritance tax as it has become should be all but abolished, for the reason being there is moral virtue in taxing unearned wealth.  Clark might have sneered at someone needing to buy their own furniture, but would have equally sneered at someone in his position not going out into the world and making their own money.  As far as the modern Conservatives are concerned, home ownership is an end in itself.  The how and why doesn't enter into it; so long as the home was acquired somehow and it's worth less than a million it should be able to be passed on.  The effect this will have on the housing market is completely immaterial, or rather is absolutely integral: almost every Tory policy post-2010 has been to boost house prices and to hell with the consequences.  What's good for those lucky enough to have got on the housing ladder is good for the country.  There could not be more difference between a party making such a promise and the others pledging to introduce a yearly tax on properties worth over £2 million.

Which brings us to today's Labour manifesto launch.  Little remembered now is a certain Ed Miliband was the principal author of the last Labour manifesto, not so much the longest suicide note in history as it was an immensely elongated acceptance of fate.  Where that manifesto promised a "future fair for all", illustrated by a family burning out their retinas by staring into the sun, today's instead informs us all that "Britain can be better".  Well, quite.  Britain also only succeeds when working people succeed, which doesn't instantly follow; bleeding working people to the bone might well give the impression of the country succeeding also, but maybe we shouldn't be splitting hairs.  Where the last manifesto's cover was garish, this time the entire document is austere (PDF), the cover simply white with red text, while inside apart from the single full page photo of Ed and multiple images of said hard-working Britons, the design is remarkably minimalistic, or if you prefer, plain.

And that, frankly, is what the manifesto is.  It almost reminds of the semi-witty advert Labour ran at the time of the changeover of power: not flash, just Gordon.  There is very little flash contained herein, and that presumably is exactly the point.  It doesn't so much say there's still no money as it does suggest any there is we're not going to splash on frivolities.  Indeed, everything has been costed, or so it says on the second page, and locked in also.  Not a single commitment requires additional borrowing, and in future Labour will legislate to require all manifestos be audited by the Office for Budget Responsibility.  The deficit will be cut every year, the national debt will fall, dogs and cats will live together, but there won't be mass hysteria.

From not mentioning the deficit Labour has decided it can't be talked about enough.  It's difficult to judge precisely why the party has decided at the last minute to invent this budget responsibility lock, or for that matter what the point of it is.  As the IFS has been pointing out for some time now, Labour's economic plan is broad enough to allow for no further cuts whatsoever after 2016, which would still allow for a surplus come 2020.  The manifesto doesn't enlighten us as to what cuts there will be, beyond the fact there will be cuts outside of the protected spending areas of the NHS, education and international development.  We can obviously expect them not to be as severe as the ones promised by the Conservatives, yet at the same time the areas designated for cuts are those already slashed hardest.  How much more in the way of savings can be found from the Home Office budget, the local government budget, the welfare budget?  The manifesto also restates the commitment not to mess with the taxes that raise the most revenue, beyond putting up the top rate of income tax back up to 50p, further reducing room for manoeuvre if such promises are to be kept.

If this is meant to reassure those convinced it was Labour's profligacy in the first place that resulted in the crash and the deficit (pro-tip: it wasn't) it's both far too late and just not airtight enough.  The Tories might have spent the last few weeks throwing money around, but you can promise ridiculous things like the all but abolition of inheritance tax when, regardless of whether it's deserved or not, the Conservatives are trusted on the economy.  More than anything else the emphasis on the deficit and the triple lock has distracted away from what is the manifesto's greatest strength: not the policies, which are for the most part underwhelming, but the message that work isn't paying.  While not specifically stating there's a crisis of productivity, it sets out how it's the quality, not the quantity of jobs that really matters, and the party will not accept Britain becoming a low-wage economy as the Conservatives are prepared to.

Naturally, saying this when so many are ready to accept secular stagnation as the new normal and doing something about it are two separate things.  All the manifesto really pledges to do to improve productivity is via "a long-term investment culture", while "encouraging small businesses to grow".  An National Infrastructure Committee will apparently achieve this, making recommendations and holding government to account.  Short-termism in business is also fingered, but how much of a difference will really be made by giving additional rights to long-term investors when takeover bids are mounted and by requiring remuneration committees to have worker representation is open to question.

Still, there is radicalism or something approaching it hiding beneath the utilitarian wrapping.  The big six energy companies will be separated into generation and supply businesses, required to open their books and sell their electricity through an open exchange, while the water companies will have to sign up to a national affordability scheme.  The rail franchising system will be reviewed, a public sector operator will be allowed to take on lines and challenge the private firms and city and country regions will be given more power over the bus operators.  Less immediately helpful will is the proposed repealing of the Health and Social Care bill, which will surely necessitate another NHS reorganisation, and the new "Directors of School Standards", which sounds remarkably like a way of allowing free schools just under a different guise.

The one thing more than anything else that seems absent, despite there being few policies to violent disagree with (it's hopefully indicative that I gave the biggest snort of derision to a throwaway line on building resilience in young people through the use of mindfulness) is anger.  Or even a general sense of real concern for what the next five years could bring should we again have a Conservative-led government.  It's not as though the Conservatives are hiding their intentions, as they did last time: they want to spending two years banging on about Europe, and could possibly even lead us out by mistake; they want to cut everyday spending to 1960s levels; they want to all but deny benefits to the young, while feather-bedding the old; they want to repeal the Human Rights Act and leave the European Convention on Human Rights; they want to make life as unpleasant as possible not just for those on benefits, but also those on low wages via universal credit.  The list could go on.

Despite all this, you don't get the sense from Labour or the manifesto that 5 more years of the Tories will be that bad.  We are it's true in this new territory where another coalition or some variety of moderating influence on the Conservatives seems all but a certainty, and with that in mind we've had pithy remarks about the launches of the manifestos being about the beginning of the bartering as anything else.  5 more years could mean the breaking of the public services as we know them.  Britain can be better, but Labour doesn't seem to believe in itself, let alone the country.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, April 09, 2015 

Stabbing a dead horse in the back.

There's a reason why, up until today, we hadn't heard the old Ed stabbed his own brother in the back therefore he can't be trusted line in a while.  Quite apart from how it implies the Labour leadership was David's birthright, which it most certainly wasn't, there's the obvious problem of how Ed's decision to stand was hardly the action of the weak, pusillanimous loser of Tory and right-wing media construct.  Instead it speaks rather of a ruthless streak, even if that doesn't necessarily instantly translate from being a personal quality into one of leadership.

Just the two weeks into the "short" campaign then, and the Conservatives are panicked enough to have gone nuclear.  Yesterday's pledge from Labour to abolish non-domicile status was apparently judged by Lynton Crosby to be damaging enough to justify bringing out the first "dead cat" of the battle so far.  This is when a politician does something daft enough to completely distract attention from everything else, akin to chucking a dead cat into the middle of the dinner table.  It doesn't matter how stupid the intervention is, so long as it serves its purpose in the short-term.

Grudging credit duly must go to Crosby and pals, as they came up with an absolute doozy, so magnificently idiotic that everyone has been temporarily blindsided by it.  Poor old Michael Fallon was tasked with taking one for the team, and what better outlet than the Times for an article so inherently contradictory and confused?  You see, if Ed Miliband was prepared to stab his brother in the back, why wouldn't he also stab the country in the back?  And because he's so unutterably weak, able only to lead a government with the support of the SNP, the very first thing he'll sacrifice is our independent nuclear deterrent, the one so loathed by the irrational nationalists.  Nicola Sturgeon has said we'd better believe it's a red line, so who wouldn't take her word for it?

Describing it as contemptible purely on that basis doesn't properly do it justice.  Rarely does a politician dare make an argument based on such a bizarre mixture of interpretations of their opponent's qualities, as while journalists can swallow extremely hefty amounts of bullshit in the right circumstances, to expect the average punter to do so also is to stretch credulity.  When even Fallon seems unsure whether Miliband is weak or ruthless, the obvious question is which is it?  Either he's so spineless yet power hungry he'll put our national security at risk, or he's so without scruple he'll do anything to get into Downing Street.

The whole thing is complete and utter bollocks.  Quite apart from how Miliband gave a straight no to the question of whether he would barter away Trident when asked by Paxman, Sturgeon herself has all but said any confidence and supply agreement with Labour would not fail due to disagreement on Trident.  The SNP would just vote against any renewal bill, and any such bill would get through the Commons regardless because of Tory support, whatever the make up of the next government.  Besides, as Andrew Sparrow points out, the Tories themselves delayed the decision on replacing Trident in the face of Lib Dem pressure.  Getting into the hair-splitting over whether or not Labour would support a like-for-like replacement of four submarines rather than the Lib Dem policy of dispensing with one and not always having the "deterrent" at sea is to be transported to a country where, as Fallon insisted, the replacement of Trident really is the most important issue facing the nation.

This is after all one of the few SNP policies grounded in something approaching reality.  Trident isn't independent, nor is it a deterrent, or at least isn't to any of threats we currently face.  You could almost make a case for renewing it at great expense vis-a-vis the uncertainty surrounding Russian foreign policy, but it's difficult to believe a complete return to the days of the cold war is on the horizon, as it's not in anyone's interests.  There's no reason whatsoever why we couldn't move to the same policy as Japan, so called nuclear latency, retaining the ability to produce a nuclear weapon quickly if the world situation changes.  Only to do so would obviously be to reduce ourselves further on the world stage and further annoy the Americans, neither of which can possibly be countenanced.

I have though been thoroughly distracted, as was the point.  Thus far, the Conservative strategy of campaigning almost solely on Miliband being a joke and on their economic record just isn't cutting through, unsurprisingly it might be said considering they've been doing so since the turn of the year.  Rather than shift to the themes suggested by say, Tim Montgomerie (also behind the Times's paywall), the response from Crosby and friends has instead been to double down.  It could quite possibly still work; we remain just two weeks in, with a month to go.  Getting excited over polls today either showing Labour regaining the lead or narrowing the gap is then more than a little premature.  It might be the start of something, or it could just be sampling errors.  A better guide is probably Lord Ashcroft's latest marginals poll, that shows in the main a consolidation of support for the party in the lead at the turn of the year, and a fall in UKIP support. 

What is apparent is the Tories are on the backfoot, and with the latest rabbit from the hat being the promise of a freeze on rail fares, rather undermining all the arguments we heard against Labour's energy price freeze, they still seem more concerned on shoring up their vote rather than trying to win over the undecideds.  Whether throwing the dead cat onto the table will have had the desired effect, as opposed to just showing the Tories up as running a one note campaign we'll need this weekend's polls to confirm.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

About

  • This is septicisle
profile
Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates