Tuesday, March 31, 2015 

Labour stupidity cancelled out by the Lib Dems' lack of credibility.

Having set out where my vote's going this early, I'm obviously going to be spending the next 37 days grinding my teeth at every stupid, ignorant, counter-productive and downright indefensible leaflet and argument from the Labour campaign, all whilst still trying to convince myself I've made the right decision.  For instance, a sensible position for Labour to take on law and order would be to recognise crime has continued to fall in spite of the state of the economy and the cuts to the police.  It should therefore follow it is absurdly wasteful for the prison population to continue to be at a record level, and one of the very first things you could do to alleviate the pressures on the system would be to make clear no one should serve a short sentence for mere possession of drugs for personal use.

Except, of course, Labour remains anything but sensible on law and order, especially around election time.  THE LIB DEMS: SOFT ON CRIME, DRUGS AND THUGS screams a leaflet, the yellow peril having "made it harder" for the police to use DNA evidence, sent Anjem Choudary a pallet of hydrogen peroxide and given out crack to schoolchildren.  I exaggerate, but not by much.  You'd also mind less if the leaflet was clearer on where the Lib Dems have gone so wrong, only for the solutions apparently to be to scrap police and crime commissioners, which is fair enough but has nothing to do with the above, put "more bobbies on the beat", and "strengthen professional standards".  Jesus wept.  Responding to the complaints from among others the Transform charity, which quite rightly branded Labour's defence of jailing people for simple possession as "medieval", the party also said the Lib Dems "should explain why under this government drugs treatment has become much harder to access".  Or perhaps Labour can explain what help it is to a hard drug user to be sent to prison when they could instead be required to seek treatment.  That wouldn't be tough though, would it?

It's not even as though the Lib Dems aren't setting themselves up as a massive target elsewhere.  Their big promise today was to spend £3.5bn extra on mental health care should they be returned to government, only considering every single Lib Dem policy comes with a big question mark after it due to how we know they'll abandon a shedload of pledges for the slightest glimpse of power, who knows whether or not it would be a "red line".  To give the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg himself some credit, they have recognised mental health care has been underfunded for too long, whether you agree with their wider idea of a "zero" target for suicides or not.  £3.5bn, if it truly was extra spending, would be exactly the kind of money needed to help bring down the current waiting times for treatment, as well as help to address the chronic shortage of beds that has seen under-16s have to spend weekends in police cells rather than in hospital.

Only, as Kat explains in the video supposedly meant to support the party's commitment, the Lib Dems in coalition have presided over a NHS that has seen mental health become even less of a priority.  She was lucky in that her parents had private health insurance, so that on both occasions when she was overcome by her eating disorder she was able to get the treatment she needed on an inpatient ward.  On the second occasion this was only however after she had tried to get help via the NHS, which ended with the assessment deciding she wasn't sick enough to meet their criteria.  Predictably this led to Kat blaming herself for not being sick enough, leading to her starving herself further, to the point where she once again had to rely on private healthcare.  It doesn't exactly strike as an endorsement of the Lib Dem stewardship of the NHS, enlightened as they might be on mental health.  Why then should anyone trust them to put this right when they have made clear a vote for them is a vote for another coalition, with all that entails for the policies outlined in their manifesto? 

Answer came there none.

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Monday, March 30, 2015 

We need a Labour government.

You know what's always fun?  No, not that, get your mind out the gutter.  I meant, it's time to have a look back at just how amazingly wrong I could have been 5 years back.  You can quote me on all of these:
  

At the start of the campaign the Liberal Democrats were the least worst of the three main parties. On the 5th of May they are now by far the best of the three main parties.

[The Liberal Democrats are] the best possible mainstream option on offer in 2010.

Where the Liberal Democrats can win, vote Liberal Democrat.

To be fair to myself, I couldn't have known just how quickly the Lib Dems would abandon so much of their manifesto in order to grab hold of power, however fleeting and however illusory it turned out to be.  I could I suppose have looked at their record in local government, which might have tipped us all off as to how they would surrender anything and everything to retain power, but surely they wouldn't act like that nationally?  Right?

Oh.  And oh again.  And thrice oh.  We can all at least take some comfort from how the party has suffered since the decision to prop up the Tories was made.  Some opinion polls on the eve of the 2010 election had the party on 28%; most now suggest it to have the support of around 8%, behind the monomaniacs in UKIP and even occasionally behind the Greens.  The Guardian, in a typical example of not being able to see the wood for the trees gushes today about how coalition government can be stable, ignoring how the only genuine reason for why the constituent parts of the coalition didn't go their separate ways long ago is because they were hoping something eventually would turn up.  For the Lib Dems that meant a poll rating suggesting keeping hold of 30+ seats; for the Tories, a majority.  Neither happened.

We are then at last entering the "short" campaign, the long campaign having begun some time back in 1792.  The Liberal Democrats have in the space of 5 years gone from seeming the long sought after third option to being the choice only of those who vote blindfolded and scrape randomly at the paper.  Perhaps in constituencies where there's an especially foul prospective/incumbent Tory or Labour candidate/MP and the Lib Dems are, confirmed by local polls, the only viable alternative, you might just be able to justify marking their box, albeit with head covered and nose pegged lest anyone gets even an inkling of what you're doing, but that's not exactly going to be the case for many.  The party itself has after all completely given up even the slightest pretence of winning a majority: no, instead their pitch to you and me is they'll ensure the Conservatives are less brutal with their slashing and burning, as though we haven't just been through the last 5 years, whereas if they prop up Labour they'll make sure they don't borrow too much.  Inspiring stuff (look left, look right and then still get run over), and while you could make the case they're being realistic considering just how far they've fallen, it can also be taken as the party not realising how despised they've become.  Didn't you get enough of us these past 5 years?  Well, there's more where that came from!

Which, coincidentally, is almost exactly the Conservative message to the electorate.  After declaring on Thursday that he probably shouldn't have described Ed Miliband as "despicable and weak" and that the opposition leader does have some good qualities, it was straight back to making it "personal" for Lynton Crosby has decreed it.  It could well be that no previous PM has attacked their opponent in a way similar to Cameron did today while announcing the dissolution of parliament, which tells you both everything about him and everything about the way the campaign will play from here on out.  Expect Miliband to be monstered like never before, and since his old man has already been described as hating the country he fought for when he didn't have to new depths will be plumbed.  A vote for Labour is a vote for chaos, for extra taxes of £3,000, for the mass round-up and gunning down of entrepreneurs.  A vote for the Conservatives by contrast is for competence, decency and moist toilet tissue.

Yes, decency.  A party that refuses to explain where it will make "savings" of £12bn on social security, with leaks to the BBC suggesting the all but abolition of the carers' allowance and the taxing of disability benefits, that puts the massive rise in the number of food banks down to a change in job centres being allowed to promote them, that has imposed a system where hundreds of thousands of people have their benefits stopped for the most spurious of reasons talks of decency.  David Cameron wants to make this campaign personal, so let's make it just that: decency to him is being grateful for the gruel you're given, not complaining when you get punched in the mouth, accepting that economic competence is stalling a recovery for two years and then claiming everything's coming up roses despite wages and productivity still being in a slump.  A vote for the Conservatives is not for the chaos and uncertainty of a referendum on the EU, which because of his announcement he won't stand for a third term will turn into a proxy leadership contest, it's one for continuity, for what you know, for more of the same.

For most people of my age or thereabouts, this will be the first election where Labour isn't the incumbent.  Media bias against the Labour party in opposition is something we might only have read about; now we can see it, breathe it, imbibe it.  Both the Times and the Telegraph tomorrow lead on stories about how Labour's campaign is off to a terrible start; should the polls remain the same, let alone a Labour lead develop, it can only be a matter of time before Ed Miliband's head ends up in a light bulb.  A party leader who has for the most part refused to play the old games with the media, and they absolutely loathe him for it.

We shouldn't pretend Labour has made things easy for itself.  It continues to campaign in Scotland on the flat out lie that the biggest party gets to form the government, as banged on endlessly about by the SNP.  Considering Alex Salmond seems in all but alliance with the Tories to make things as difficult as possible for the Labour leader by issuing demands and carrying on acting as though he was still leader of the party, it's slightly easier to take but daft all the same.  Just as you can understand the party selling mugs about controlling immigration, or Rachel "boring" Reeves making clear Labour is not the party for welfare recipients.

Last time round, I voted Green.  Until recently, I was probably going to again.  I disagree with Green policy fundamentally in a number of areas, including nuclear power and GM crops to name but two, just as I disagree with Labour on lunatic foreign adventures and its general failure to make a stand on things like the living wage, to be radical enough.  A few things have convinced me this time to vote Labour beyond just hoping the end result is a Labour government of some variety.  First, my increasingly lack of patience with the claims Labour won't do anything different or will be austerity lite.  In fact, the difference between Conservative and Labour spending plans is massive, the choice stark, as both Cameron and Miliband have for once rightly said.  If you want a smaller, meaner state and to hell with the consequences, then yes, the Conservatives this time are your go to guys.  If you want the deficit paid down but not through swingeing cuts, Labour offers a real alternative.  Second, if by the same token you really think Labour under Ed Miliband will continue on the path that sees a dividing line placed between "strivers and skivers", with the poorest losing more than anyone else, with an ever tightening sanctions regime for benefit claimants, feel free to carry on zooming, or plump for Natalie Bennett.  There's no one to stop you.  Just count me out.  Lastly, when idiots with influence say either voting doesn't change anything or that the Labour party has left them, not the other way around, it only gives encouragement to prove them wrong.

Ed Miliband's Labour party is not a united one, a radical one, even a great one.  It does however this time offer the best of a very bad lot.  I'm not going to say don't vote tactically if you have to, or don't vote Green if Labour has no chance in your constituency, as that would be daft.  Equally daft though is to pretend that the Moon on a Stick Party gives a damn about Westminster, or that the Greens have a chance outside of a tiny number of seats.  We've seen what 5 years of a Conservative party in coalition has wrought; a further 5 when it no longer hides what it intends to do hardly bears thinking about.  And if I'm wrong again, perhaps I'll still be here in 5 years time to admit it.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015 

Just the 57 days to go, eh?

There was a rather telling moment during today's prime minister's questions.  After the never knowingly modest David Blunkett had said his piece, David Cameron took the opportunity to pay tribute to the former home secretary.  Blunkett is a remarkable, extraordinary politician (and man), and Cameron for one will never forget the strong leadership he provided after 9/11.  Dave was too kind to mention this leadership included ordering tanks to be placed outside Heathrow only a matter of days before the massive February 15th anti-Iraq war march off the back of a spurious terror alert, the introduction of indefinite detention without charge, struck down by the House of Lords, or how Blunkett, not entirely seriously, suggested dealing with a prison riot with the army if the prison service itself wasn't up to the task.  Cameron also failed to mention their mutual, likely former friend Rebekah Brooks, whom was dining with Blunkett the night she got a little too tired and emotional and ended up smacking her then husband Ross Kemp.

Prior to blowing smoke up the arse of the most right-wing home secretary of the last half century, Cameron was calling Ed Miliband "despicable and weak" for not ruling out an accommodation with the SNP after the election.  Certainly, any politician needing the support of another party to stay in power can only be damaged and reduced by the ignominy of being unable to govern alone, which must surely make it extremely likely Cameron is to be a two-time loser.  How the Tory backbenches will respond to their leader once again failing to win a majority, as the polls suggest is odds on we can't know, but it's not exactly going to further endear him to them.

That the Conservative strategy remains to portray Miliband as not capable of breaking the skin of a rice pudding even as Cameron refuses to go one-to-one with this pitiful excuse for a human being speaks of how increasingly confident they are of returning to power, whatever the make-up of the government turns out to be.  As has so often happened before as an election approaches, the opposition's lead appears to be falling away, with the Tories having gained a slender advantage over the past week.  


Of special note is this has coincided with Cameron making clear he intends to give the debates a wide berth, the latest attempt by the unholy alliance of the Graun, Telegraph and YouTube almost guaranteed to be a similarly forlorn one.  A great example of both the uselessness of opinion polls on anything more complicated than party support, and how the public doesn't know what to think is contained in ComRes's attempt to gauge feeling on the debates.  Apparently Ed Miliband is both right and desperate to challenge Cameron to a head-to-head debate at any time, while, somehow, 18% don't know whether or not the debates will be important in helping them decide how to vote.  You can only presume the same 18% don't know whether or not they like breathing.

Quite why Miliband then decided to spend today plugging away on the debates we can only guess.  Yes, most would rather like them to go ahead, but they don't care enough about them for it to change their vote.  Yes, it makes a mockery of Miliband being weak, but Cameron has the advantage of appearing prime ministerial by, err, being prime minister.  Cameron has long made up for what he's weak on, which is detail on policy, debating and negotiating through sheer chutzpah, almost charisma and the quality of looking vaguely credible.  He's always been a poor man's Tony Blair, but that seems to be good enough for most people.  Compared to Ed, who in the latest ill-advised attempt to fight back invited along the BBC to see just how normal he is, during which they went to his old school to speak to one of his teachers, the kind of thing most of us do rather than run a mile from, it's never going to be much of a contest.

Where Labour's "long" campaign has failed and where the Tories' has succeeded is that Labour has not despite the media cynicism kept banging on about their central themes.  All we've heard from the Tories day in day out has been long-term economic plan and competence not chaos.  It's utter bilge, but it seems to have worked, while Labour have tried and failed to take advantage of events like the disclosure of the HSBC files or the debates.  They've also made some bizarre if not downright foolhardy choices, such as deciding to reopen the tuition fees sore when the current system, fees of £9,000 or not, works pretty well overall.

This doesn't of course mean the Tories are going to gain enough support between now and May to be able to form a majority, especially when you factor in some of those currently saying they'll vote UKIP, SNP or Green will almost certainly return to one of the two major parties.  It does however make George Osborne's final budget next week all the more important, with the suggestion being he'll rein back the cuts even if only somewhat in order to stop Labour claiming they signal a return to the 1930s  We could nonetheless be left with a situation where the Tories are only one or two seats shy of the point where they can form a majority with Lib Dem and DUP support, and as they're in government they'll have the first go, whereas Labour's only realistic option is to govern in a vote by vote arrangement with the SNP, Liberal Democrats and lone Green, and even then the sums might not add up.  If Miliband wants to at least go down with something approaching dignity, he'll spend from now until May the 6th out on the road, not indulging in stunts or trying to cash in on events but campaigning like the weirdo he so obviously is.  He'll probably fail, but just imagine the smirk being wiped off Cameron's face when he is forced into resigning, the natural party of government still not having won an election since 1992.  That has to be a prize on its own.

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Monday, March 09, 2015 

Dear me.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Kill yourself.  It's all downhill from here.

(In all seriousness, don't kill yourselves kids.  Just don't believe life will necessarily get better, especially when you're told it will by some of the most vain, privileged and self-absorbed people to have ever lived.  They could for instance have asked their legion of followers what their problems are and given advice based around that, rather than believe their experience remains universal, although considering most of these jump-cutting preening narcissists are barely out of their teens themselves perhaps it will be.  But hey, it's for International Women's Day, so can't be too critical, can we?)
 

In other adventures in bullshit:

Matthew D'Anconservative in the Graun reckons David Cameron is not "afraid of scrutiny", not least because of his PM Direct events.  There is after all nothing quite like being asked the same questions over and over again in a controlled situation where the audience itself will no doubt have been carefully screened, as opposed to say, having monthly press conferences like both previous prime ministers did.

Which brings us to this week's example of how the Tory narrative so often becomes the media one.  Barely has the debate row simmered down before Cameron demands that Labour rule out any sort of agreement with the SNP in the event of a hung parliament.  This is nonsensical on a whole number of levels, not least that it's up to the voters to decide what the permutations will be on the morning of May the 8th, and why wiser heads should rule nothing in or out before then.  Second, Labour's response should be to mock how Cameron apparently doesn't believe he's going to win a majority, and that he seemingly doesn't trust the voters to know their own minds.  Then we have the latest ridiculous campaign ad from M&C Saatchi, really earning whatever fantastic sum it is they're getting for their 10-minute photoshop work, depicting Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond's pocket.  Presumably this means David Cameron has been under Nick Clegg's control this entire time, rather than having given away much for very little in return, as has been the reality.  Nicola Sturgeon has already said Trident renewal would not be a "red line" for supporting a Labour minority on a case-by-case basis, which by SNP standards is a major sacrifice on its own.  Lastly, as John Harris argues, playing off England against Scotland is precisely what the SNP's zoomers want, but seeing as ever since the referendum result was confirmed the Conservatives have seemed as determined as the nationalists to break the union that might be the point.

What then have the broadcasters asked every shadow minister since?  To rule out any deal with the SNP.  Jesus wept.

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Monday, February 02, 2015 

Who's winning the campaign before the campaign?

Most of you are probably familiar with Betteridge's law of headlines, popularised by John Rentoul as questions to which the answer is no.  Today's Graun front page for instance asks "Are insects the new sushi?"  This not only follows Betteridge's law, it asks whether something is the new something, which again, can nearly always be responded to with no.  To cap it all, if you bother to look at the piece, something I wouldn't advise, you'll find it's one of the Graun's sponsored articles, or in another words an advertorial.  Marvellous.

Every so often though you get a headline which doesn't adhere to the rule.  These I humbly suggest can nearly always be categorised as questions to which the answer is who gives a fuck.  The BBC, bless them, ask "Who won the social media Super Bowl?"  Is this, as a species, what we have become?  Where it's not enough to not care about the result of the most overblown and wretched sports event of the entire calendar, you also have to not care about who won the battle on Twitter and Facebook?  The Graun for some reason sent out a push notification about the Super Bowl getting under way; unless the mind's playing tricks, I can't remember them doing the same for the World Cup final.

Perhaps it's not surprising when one of the bigger news stories of last week was girlfriend of tennis player swears.  And then, ho ho, she responded to it yesterday by wearing a sweatshirt with the old parental advisory logo you sometimes got on CDs on it.  Everyone laughed.  Then cried.

Much the same ought to have gone for the comments of a certain Stefano Pessina, who until yesterday 99.9% of the country had never heard of.  He is of course CEO of everyone's favourite crap shop, Boots, a chain that mystifyingly continues to exist in spite of it how it does precisely nothing better than its rivals.  Its continued existence is no doubt helped by its tax arrangements, for which it has been hammered in the past.  You might then have thought Pessina, who naturally resides in Monaco, would have considered the potential consequences of launching the first attributable salvo from a business leader against Labour of the election campaign.  Not that Pessina could so much as put his finger on which Labour policies would be a "catastrophe", as he put it, probably because they're so benign they wouldn't make a scrap of difference, it was the mere intervention of such a titan of industry that really had an impact.

Stupidly wealthy man in not wanting to potentially hand over more tax shocker!  Except, such is the incredible bias against Labour, much as there was an incredible bias against Scottish independence, the merest utterance of an entrepreneur or chief executive of a fairly large company demands that anyone so much as thinking of voting for Red Ed or Yes should mull it over again.  Labour fighting back against such idiocy, which anyone even remotely fairly minded would consider to be par for the course, becomes "LABOUR'S WAR ON BOOTS THE CHEMIST".  Yes, because Pessina is Boots, isn't he?  There's always a danger in a mass employer commenting on politics, not least when most of those employees are likely to be young, female and low paid, and look favourably on Labour's catastrophic utterances.  Still, George Osborne clearly thought it was a great idea, so we can no doubt expect this to be just the first in a stream of wannabe John Galts denouncing the opposition's socialism.

The whole bash Labour as if they were an unstoppable political juggernaut and not an incredibly pusillanimous wee beastie campaign has undoubtedly commenced.  This is completely expected, yet still instructive for what it's distracting attention from.  Labour's re-running the 1992 campaign, sighs a man who ran a disastrous campaign of his own, and might just have a conflict of interest due to his private health interests, a message taken up not just by the right-wing press, but also by Newsnight.  Matthew d'Anconservative in the Graun says Miliband is ever more solitary, and it's true in the past the Conservatives have tended to make up lost ground in the last few months before an election.  Only, for everything supposedly in Labour's favour, little things like a growing economy, low unemployment (relatively, with the figures hiding a multitude of sins) and now also low inflation would normally signal a victory for the incumbents.

Instead they're still neck and neck, reduced to cringeworthy stunts like promising a return to learning by rote for the kiddies, presumably alongside compulsory semolina pudding at lunchtime.  Cameron can't even work out if the education budget will remain protected if they win, unsurprising considering the "colossal" cuts needing to be made to be able to reach a surplus and reduce taxes as promised.  There was almost no comment on George Osborne's refusal to spell out anything in his interview with Evan Davis, while Andy Burnham's frankly superior altercation with Kirsty Wark received far more attention.  The focus isn't however on a party that hasn't won an election for 23 years, and which at the moment shows no signs of breaking that record, it's on the one fighting to return to office after a single term out of power.

Only another three months to go.  Where's that social media Super Bowl article when you need it?

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 

Is it that time already?

Gosh, can it really only be 100 days until the election already?  The last 1,727 days have just flown by, have they not?  It seems only last week Dave n' Nick were consummating the coalition deal in the rose garden, except what if they didn't and it was all just boasting?  Perhaps if we end up with much the same result as last time we'll have Tory leader Boris Johnson renouncing the coalition mid-term on the basis Clegg really did have relations with Dave despite his denials.  Is that a convoluted enough non-gag that doesn't work referencing Wolf Hall and Tudor history for you?  I sure hope so.

We could do with a politician much like Hilary Mantel's depiction of Thomas Cromwell, that's for sure.  Ruthless but compassionate, dedicated to his masters yet ferociously independent, against lunatic foreign adventures and depraved and corrupted religious scroungers, what's not to like?  Well, you could factor in the real Cromwell almost certainly wasn't as enigmatic as Mantel paints him in her wonderful novels (I must thank a certain someone whose sort of recommendation finally persuaded me to stop my procrastinating and read them), more a brutal cove who introduced the first sort of intelligence service, enabling Henry to become a tyrant, but all the same.  He rather puts Dave, Ed, Nick and Nige in a certain perspective, doesn't he?  Son of a blacksmith, did a real job abroad before entering law, a man truly out of time.

Anyway, enough wishful thinking and putting off discussing our rather sadder reality.  In truth, no one except those paid to be have been remotely interested in the campaigning thus far.  This might have something to do with how dismal it's all been.  We've had the Tories release their don't vote Labour and drive advert, or whatever it was, which the Lib Dems have since parodied.  Without inserting a joke sadly, although some might say, ho ho, they are the joke.  Both Labour and the Conservatives are hoping to attract your attention with a set of themes, even though we all know it's going to be NHS, NHS, NHS from Miliband and pals and, economy, economy, economy from Dave and friends.  Ed was duly at the site of the first NHS hospital today, while yesterday dearest Cameron was explaining how thanks to them every man, woman and child can look forward to tax cuts, provided they're hard-working men, women and children, naturally.  If they aren't, and they're naughty workshy layabouts, the benefit cap will drop 3 grand almost immediately after a Tory victory, while unemployed under-21s will also be denied housing benefit.

The Conservatives are forewarning everyone at least.  Any questioning of just what sort of jobs have been created under the coalition is jumped on as being dismissive of "aspiration".  Heaven forfend for instance that a business leader of the future might have been able to launch their enterprise sooner if they hadn't been stuck on zero-hours work, saving the little they could, or indeed needed housing benefit to be able to escape a home life from hell.  The message from here until May the 7th will be we've sort of stabilised the economy, so just put all the unpleasantness of the past few years at the back of your mind and try not to think of the cuts to come.  Cuts which George Osborne in best infuriating fashion succeeded in not outlining in last week's interview with Evan Davis, falling back on the old no one thought we could achieve the cuts we have made argument, so obviously we can hack and slash without anyone suffering in the next 5 years also.

Nor would Labour under Ed Miliband be the party we've come to shake our heads about sadly without an old Blairite figure turning up and dripping poison.  Labour is running a "pale imitation of the 1992 campaign", says Alan Milburn, which is just a bit rich considering it was a certain Alan Milburn behind 2005's phenomenal "forward not back" Labour election campaign.  His warning of the party being seen as not in favour of reform and just putting in more funding would carry more weight if Labour was promising increased spending, except they aren't.  Only the Lib Dems say they'll find the minimum £8 billion NHS head Simon Stevens believes is needed, and they all but needless to say have not given the first indication of where they'll get it from.

Speaking of which, have the Liberal Democrats started campaigning yet?  One might assume if they have they're keeping a low profile due to how utterly ashamed they are over the party's strategy:  neither "reckless" borrowing or reckless cuts, you can rely on the Lib Dems to keep those wild crazies in Labour and the Conservatives on the straight and narrow.  This presumes the public give the party credit for reining in the Tories worst excesses, except they don't, nor has the experience of coalition led many to want the same thing again.  Or at least not with the involvement of the Lib Dems, who surely must be getting extremely worried they could end up with fewer seats than the SNP and back in the wilderness years of the 70s prior to the SDP-Liberal alliance.  That would be quite the legacy for Nick Clegg, to go down not so much marching towards the sound of gunfire as leading his party off Beachy Head.

One thing Cameron must be given credit for is just how successful his kill the debates gambit has been.  As soon as the broadcasters suggested including UKIP, as they simply couldn't resist the prospect of bar room bore Nige shaking things up, they ought to have known every other smaller party would say hang on.  Rather than just invite the Greens as Cameron insisted, and say it's daft including the nationalist parties when they don't fricking stand candidates outside of their respective countries we now have the SNP and Plaid Cymru involved.  Why not the DUP and Sinn Fein?  Why indeed?  While we're at it, why not also Mebyon Kernow, Britain First, the Monster Raving Loonies, the Natural Law party or any other gobshite?  Does anyone honestly believe a 7-leader or more debate or debates is viable?  Of course they don't, just as the "empty chair" threat is precisely that.  Without Cameron there aren't going to be debates, and so his terms with minor concessions, probably a couple of debates, one between him and Miliband, one also with Clegg, one before April and one during, will probably win out.

All in all, it's shaping up to be an extraordinarily tedious, long-winded and highly familiar campaign.  Much like something something you might add.  Except, I wondered, perhaps not.  Looking at today's Sun front page, could it be possible the paper had finally, genuinely opened up itself to the views of its readers as suggested?  Err, no.  Sun readers apparently want the BBC cut down to size, and also think politicians should ignore the Twitter mob, among other priorities that just happen to also be the paper's long-term concerns.  Interesting at least the Sun is so exercised about Twitter demanding attention; in the past of course it was the Sun politicians listened to.  Not everything remains the same.

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Monday, December 15, 2014 

Oh the joy (of the next 5 months).

There are a couple of reasons why l spend inordinate amounts of time slamming away at a keyboard instead of advising the Labour party.  First off, I'm not American, nor have I been parachuted into a safe seat, more's the pity.  Second, I cannot for the life of me work out why you would effectively launch your general election campaign in the middle of fricking December when most people's minds are even further away from politics than usual.  Presumably, and I'm really clutching at straws here, the idea is to get a head start on the other parties and begin the process of drilling the 5 key pledges Labour has decided upon into everyone's skulls.  Come May, all concerned will march to the polling station, their minds focused on controlling immigration fairly and cutting the deficit every year while securing the future of the NHS.

The words under and whelming come to mind, as they so often do when the topic shifts to Labour.  If you wanted to be extremely charitable, you could say it's an indication of just how spectacularly the coalition has failed that Labour seems to have pinched wholesale two of the Conservatives' pledges from 2010.  Alternatively, you could point out it's spectacularly unimaginative and an indication of Labour's chronic lack of ambition for it to be defining itself in the exact same way as the hated Tories did.  5 fricking years ago.

Again, to be fair, we're promised Labour is getting the less pleasant of its pledges out first, with the more unique ones to follow, defined by those all time classic Labour values.  Quite why Labour has decided upon the pledge approach in the first place is a difficult one to ascertain: presumably modelled on the 1997 pledge cards (and Christ alive, the photo of Tone on the card is easily as terrifying as this year's Christmas effort), is it meant to bring to mind the good old days when Labour could win a vast majority on the most vacuous of aspirations?  They're not even pithy, as the actual pledges amount to three sentences of deathly prose.  Cutting the deficit every year while protecting the NHS would be great, if the exact same message hadn't been plastered around the country accompanied by Cameron's suspiciously taut forehead.

Dear old Ed today gave what must rank as one of the briefest speeches of his career, outlining the second pledge, emphasising how he wouldn't repeat Cameron's promise of getting migration down to a specific point, only that Labour would control it, and fairly, that distinction apparently intended for both those pro and anti to interpret as they see fit.  Call me picky, but saying you'll control something you cannot still makes you a hostage to fortune in my book.  Miliband's audience helped by moving the debate swiftly on, similarly to how the campaigning against UKIP document leaked to the Torygraph suggested Labour candidates do when the topic is broached on the doorstep.

As pointed out by Andrew Sparrow, the briefing paper is about the most sensible thing Labour has said about immigration in months if not years, recognising they're not going to win over the virulently opposed while also suggesting for most immigration is "used as a means to express other concerns".  Except as it sort of implies people aren't steaming about immigration directly, and the party for whatever reason has decided to so much as suggest this is the equivalent of not taking legitimate concerns seriously, shadow ministers have all but disowned their own strategy.  It's also meant the media can talk about the distraction rather than a boring old policy Labour are only re-announcing anyway.

Still, what a jolly 5 month long general election campaign we have to look forward to.  Already the dividing lines are set between Labour, Tories and Liberal Democrats on the economy and the deficit, and they are of course the most absurd caricatures of actual stated policy imaginable.  Special marks for dishonesty must go to David Cameron, who managed to scaremonger about a difference between his party and Labour of about £25bn in borrowing terms in the most hyperbolic way possible.  Just imagine if there was another crash and Labour was once again racking up the debt!  Except, err, if there's another crash and borrowing is only falling by as much as the Tories are projecting it will, there will still be problems, although nothing as compared to elsewhere.

Labour meanwhile is making as much as possible out of the 1930s comparison on everyday spending, which is technically correct, again if the Tories mean what they say, just not particularly illuminating.  A better approach would be, as Ed Miliband somewhat tried last Thursday, to set out exactly what sort of state it is most people want.  If George Osborne carries through and magics into existence his surplus, parts of government will be left barely functioning, which really isn't to scaremonger: cutting the budgets of departments other than health, education and foreign aid (which surely won't continue to be ringfenced) by as much as needed doesn't look remotely plausible.  When the best minds are baffled by what the chancellor is up to, apart from mischief, it deserves highlighting.

Even if we look at Labour's plans in the most flattering light, Ed Balls is still promising to run a surplus as soon as possible, not because it's good economics but as a result of the way the debate has been framed.  Doing so is still going to require huge cuts, savings which the party has done the least of the main three to outline.  In the grand scheme of things, as Chris and Alex Marsh have so persuasively argued, this doesn't really matter.  The real issues affecting the economy are the collapse in productivity, and with it the decline in wages growth.  We are though operating in a climate where the difference is between "colossal" and merely "eye-watering" cuts, where the Tories claim to have succeeded on the basis they've more or less reduced the deficit to the level Alistair Darling pledged to, except they've done so on the backs of the poorest, and where it seems personal taxes will never have to rise again, despite government having apparently decided not to bother taxing companies properly either.

There's a third reason I'm not advising Labour.  I'd be even worse at it than the current lot.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014 

The speed of stupid.

It's hard to disagree with Chris when he writes of a turn away from politics.  Not in the sense of apathy, but in how so many appear incapable of seeing the wood for the trees.  Never has it been so possible to fully immerse yourself in politics, and yet many of those who chose to do so spend much of it squabbling at the margins.

Take just today's example:  Labour MP Emily Thornberry tweets a picture of a house in Rochester with three England flags adorning the outside.  There's also a white van in the drive.  Image from #Rochester is the message.  Almost instantly she's jumped on for her apparent blatant snobbery, veteran idiot Dan Hodges describes it as "an entire political movement defined by a single tweet", and those whom should know better like Anne Perkins are describing it as Labour's biggest mistake since Ed Miliband stabbed Myleene Klass live on TV (is this right? Ed).

Small things like how Thornberry had already tweeted a photo of a "vote Felix" sign and what ordinary voters had told her under a Tales from #Rochester hashtag obviously don't matter.  Her explanation, that she was surprised by how the flags were blocking a window entirely also makes no odds.  Clearly just a feeble effort from an Islington liberal to deny her own bigotry.  Right on cue, in calls a hopping mad Ed Miliband to reprimand Thornberry for not considering absolutely every possible way her tweet could be interpreted, and the inevitable apology is made.

Which is the key.  Being incredibly loud and not giving in works.  It's why #gamergate is still going on, despite everyone having long since forgotten what it was meant to be about.  It's why Sheffield United have now retracted their training offer to Ched Evans, Julien Blanc was refused a visa, and a real life Nathan Barley received far more attention than his alleged comedy had previously once he became the target for campaigners.  Both left and right can lead a monstering in this brave new world, where tribalism meets narcissism and threats are the most powerful currency.  Forgive me if nihilism seems ever more attractive.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014 

Bringing out the worst.

By-elections in marginal seats always without fail bring out the absolute worst in politicians.  They know full well that in the grand scheme of things i.e., as a guide to what might happen at the general election they're meaningless, and yet still they campaign as though it's the last ballot ever.  Every Conservative MP we're told has been ordered to visit Rochester and Strood 3 times, while cabinet ministers are expected to have made the journey 5 times.  Bizarrely, no one seems to have connected this swamping of the constituency with those lovable rogues from Westminster and the continuing rise in support for UKIP.  Can you imagine just how hellacious it must be to turn one corner and see Michael Gove in all his finery, and then discover Jacob Rees-Mogg further down the road holding forth on the iniquities of EU farming subsidies?  And this has been going on for a month.

24 hours before the vote and the campaign has predictably ended in a battle over whether it's the Tories or UKIP who are going to be nastiest to migrants.  For sure, it's being conducted as though it's truly outrageous Mark Reckless could ever have suggested Poles might be repatriated should the UKIPs' vision of leaving the EU become a reality, while the UKIPs for their part are feigning contempt for Tory candidate Kelly Tolhurst's letter-cum-leaflet which nearly suggests people might not feel safe walking the mean streets of Rochester because of uncontrolled immigration, but let's not kid ourselves here.  The fight over who can move closest to shutting our borders completely without being objectively racist or invoking the old policies of the BNP/National Front has been going on for some time now, and just when you think they've gotten near as damn it, they inch ever nearer.  The "go home" vans were just the start.

Because the by-election is obviously all about immigration, see?  It's all the Tories want to discuss, it's all Labour wants to broach, and err, are the Liberal Democrats bothering to stand a candidate?  Oh, they are.  That's £500 wasted then.  It's also the only topic the media wants to cover, as they can't seem to handle the idea a by-election might be about more than just the one issue, especially when they decided beforehand it was the only thing anyone was interested in.  As Frances Coppola writes, and she's unlucky enough to live in the constituency, even the BBC's local political editor says it's the immigration, stupid, and this in a piece headlined issues beyond immigration and in which she concedes the main topic of discussion on the doorsteps is the local NHS hospital.

Other reporters point towards concerns about the Medway as well and, staggeringly, this might just be why Mark Reckless despite being far less popular than UKIP itself seems to be winning.  It's also no doubt helpful the Conservatives haven't learned anything from the Eastleigh by-election, where it was decided their candidate should try and out-UKIP the UKIPs and came third for her trouble.  Tolhurst if elected will apparently "demand something be done" immediately, although seeing as David Cameron is yet to figure out exactly how to temper free movement without angering business and coming off the worst at the European Commission it's not exactly clear what the tactic will achieve.

Then we have the never knowingly unconfused Labour party.  Last week Ed made great play of how Labour wouldn't pander to UKIP, as once you looked "[at their vision] it is not really very attractive".  This week, first up was Yvette Cooper informing the world one more time it's not racist to be concerned about immigration as she announced yet another new border force, this time complete with shiny uniforms, and then yesterday it was Rachel Reeves' turn.  Apart from the heart sinking at the very mention of the name, it's an odd sort of not pandering to all but agree with the greatest myth of them all, that it's the welfare system attracting EU migrants and not the promise of better paid work, or increasingly, a job at all.

In the name of listening to real concerns people have Labour will prevent migrants claiming out of work benefits until they've paid into the system for two years, an arbitrary period of time if there ever was one, and also stop migrants from claiming child tax credits and child benefit for children back in their home countries.  Reeves also intends to look at migrants claiming tax credits in general, as "it is far too easy for employers in Britain to undercut wages and working conditions ... knowing that the benefit system will top up their income".  The inference seems to be it's fine if Brits have their income topped up in such a way as has become the norm, rightly or wrong, while for migrants it's a subsidy too far.

Quite apart from the obvious problem of basic fairness, one the EU isn't likely to peer kindly on, it once again makes you wonder if the logical next step isn't to extend the same restrictions on JSA to everyone. Small things like how claimants are sanctioned for the slightest alleged "infraction" don't matter, nor does the false economy of reducing so many to relying on food banks, a development Labour has never condemned too loudly, presumably as it has no intention of changing the JobCentre regime.

If as expected UKIP win tomorrow it most likely won't result in the reckoning or further defections some predict.  For a start we're getting too close to next May for there to be any point in more by-elections prior to then, especially when UKIP's real aim has always been to keep the Farage bandwagon rolling on.  Second, if more defections are in the offing, delaying them until nearer the election will damage Cameron and the Conservatives that much more.  Third, it'll go some way towards confirming a pattern: as we saw in Clacton, voters who already favoured their MP aren't too bothered if they move slightly more to the right, especially when most Tory voters are sympathetic to UKIP in the first place.  There was some anger locally at Reckless's betrayal, but if anything Tory support will likely hold up thanks to tactical voting.  Lastly, the sensible will point out how by-elections are always fought on local, rather than national politics.  No doubt however the media and parties both come Friday will be crowing on how it proves immigration is set to dominate next May.

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Monday, November 10, 2014 

The worst of it is Dan Hodges could be right.

There are two main factors behind the shadowy manoeuvrings against Ed Miliband.  The first is the party, riven by the competing personalities of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, has never attempted something akin to a proper reconciliation since.  In a sense, what we've seen over the past few days are the attempts made against Brown replayed 5 years on.  Sure, then it was far easier to define just who it was trying to get rid of Gordon, not least as first James Purnell and then Geoff "Buff" Hoon and Patricia Hewitt were all incorrigible Blairites.  They also in fairness to them had the courage to come out and say Gordon was leading the party to certain defeat.  The problem was both they had left it too late to change the leader again, and also there was no one willing to take over anyway, the attempts to get David Miliband to stand against Brown having failed.

When the favoured Miliband then lost the leadership contest to his younger brother, it was no surprise there were ructions from the beginning.  Ed wasn't the continuity Brown candidate, Ed Balls having taken on that role, but he wasn't seen as anti-Brown enough either.  More importantly, he hadn't just thwarted the obviously most electable prospective leader, he'd defeated his own brother.  This of course wasn't taken as evidence of Ed's ruthlessness, rather of his treachery.  Although, having now suffered under 4 years of Ed's leadership, ruthless isn't one of the first adjectives you'd choose to describe it.

Miliband hasn't been a weak leader by the most standard definition, just as David Cameron hasn't been a weak prime minister by the same measure.  Taking on Murdoch, Paul Dacre, speaking against "predator capitalism", calling for an energy price freeze, none are things a cowardly or spineless opposition leader would have done.  If anything, it's his luck that's been out: we are living through a time when the public itself doesn't know what it wants, so confused are the various poll findings, the rise of the UKIPs, the Greens, the SNP.  David Cameron is more popular than his party despite his kowtowing to its worst elements; Ed by contrast is less popular than his party despite embodying Labour's values.  Cameron has the advantage of being prime minister: it's easier to be thought of as being up to the job once you're in it.  That he often comes across as incredibly easy to fluster and wind up, exactly the qualities you don't want from the person set to renegotiate our most important trade relationship doesn't then matter so much.

Ed's biggest mistake has been to not attempt to properly unite the party.  Instead, he did the bare minimum, trying with his speech immediately after winning the leadership to dress old wounds.  He might as well have thrust in a salt coated finger for all the good it did.  The old Blairites hate him for not being David; the right-wing of the party hates him for not hugging closer to the Tories, for not copying their spending plans to the letter; Ed Balls and his supporters (are there any?) hate him for standing in his way; and the left-wing of the party, if there is still such a thing, can't work out why, having done the hard part of standing up to the press, he then hasn't pursued the coalition's beastliness to everyone below the middle.

Atul Hatwal's post over on Labour Uncut is fairly representative of why this is happening and now.  As from the beginning, it's the same complaints: Ed isn't seen as a potential prime minister, and the Tories lead on economic competence because Labour hasn't managed to convince the public they won't revert to tax and spend.   If it was one or the other rather than both, it would be different, but it isn't.  Quite what Labour is supposed to do at this point to try and win back trust on the economy, having apologised plenty of times despite the Tories claiming they haven't, and with Ed Balls promising to match the Tories' spending plans, just with some additional leeway on spending on infrastructure isn't explained, for the reason this isn't really about that.  Dan Hodges admits as much in his Torygraph piece: no one believed in Ed as leader from the outset, for their own specific reasons as summarised above.

The other factor then, 700 words later, is the sheer cowardice of all involved.  And I mean all involved, as neither side wants to do anything other than brief journalists.  None of the 20 shadow ministers desperate to get rid of Ed, if we're to believe the Observer, want to be the first to come out wielding the knife.  Nor do those within the shadow cabinet or even the parliamentary party want to visit TV studios and say I'm backing Ed, except for those forced to do so when confronted at camera point.  Moreover, if the strength of feeling has been running at this level for so long, why postpone it until now, when there simply isn't the time for a replacement leader to bed down, not that one has come forward anyway?  Yvette Cooper is a joke, Andy Burnham would be attacked mercilessly by the Tories over Mid-Staffs, Chuka Umunna isn't ready yet, and Alan Johnson, apart from having been a hopeless minister and shadow chancellor in the past, has enough brains to know a poisoned chalice when it's put in front of him.  That Johnson probably is the best alternative is indicative of the intellectual poverty, not to forget the absolute stupidity of doing this now.  Just as some tried to get John Reid to stand against Gordon Brown, so the moron tendency in Labour thinks all you need to do is stick someone certifiably working class into the leader's chair and everything will be awesome.

All that's changed to trigger this has been Labour's slip in the polls.  Ignore the nonsense about the conference speech as it's just that.  It was bad but ever since it's just been used as the excuse.  The same goes for the Heywood and Middleton by-election, where the Labour share of the vote held up.  Yes, Labour does have its own problems with the UKIPs, just not anywhere near to the same extent as the Tories.  UKIP is clearly not going to end up with the 15+% share of the vote the polls suggest come the election, nor is it likely the SNP will all but wipe out Labour MPs north of the border.  Just as the argument goes Labour can't win the election not trusted on the economy and with a useless leader, neither can the Tories when they need to increase their share of the vote to get a majority.  There is not so much as a smidgen of polling evidence to suggest they can.

2010 was meant to be a good election to lose.  Such has been the success of the coalition that 2015 is now being described in the same way.  Perhaps as Dan Hodges says Miliband needs to lose so Labour can move on.  The problem is whether the voters oblige.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014 

Extremely loud and incredibly close.

John Harris is without a doubt one of the best political commentators we have.  Unlike many of the others with a column and their name in a large font, he bothers to respond to the keyboard hammerers below the line, and he really does go beyond, indeed anywhere but Westminster.  Just though as not getting out enough leads to losing touch, so too can travelling to wherever the next by-election is being held make you think the hot topic of the moment is the most important issue in politics outright.  Add in a straw man, and you pretty much have his piece for the Graun today.

To say I'm bored out of my mind by the immigration debate in general doesn't really cover it.  It's taken the place of the Iraq war in being constantly talked about without anyone ever making an original point or changing their position.  These are the facts: despite claims to the contrary, we've been having a debate about immigration for over half a century now.  Yes, there have always been some people who've shouted racist whenever the topic is broached, mainly for the good reason that up till relatively recently the majority of complaints about immigration, rather than being couched in economic or social terms, were based around skin colour or culture.  This is to simplify massively, but Steve Bell captured how far we've come in his cartoon from last week: we've moved on from the days of "if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour" to "if you want a fruit picker from Romania for a neighbour, vote Labour".

Next, Labour did not try and transform the country into a truly multicultural society through immigration, as those who can remember back to the times when it was asylum seekers rather than eastern European migrants who were regarded as the biggest problem facing the country will know.  The mistake in 2004 was not realising the effect opening the borders to A8 states would have, especially when only Sweden and Ireland similarly didn't impose further restrictions.  Even fewer Poles speak Swedish than English, hence why so many journeyed here instead of to Stockholm.  Lastly, as it bears repeating, it's now almost been a decade since the Conservatives under Michael Howard used "it's not racist to impose limits on immigration" as a slogan.  Ever tighter limits have since been imposed, except of course when it comes to the EU.

Harris's piece could have almost been in response to my post on Tuesday.  He was though most likely thinking of the works of either Polly Toynbee or Richard Seymour, aka Lenin from the Tomb.  Without referring directly to Harris, Seymour has since tweeted this poll finding, which does rather underline his point.  No, people's worries and fears about migration writ large aren't racist, bigoted or down to prejudice; are however some of those fears at their most base down to as, Seymour puts it, entitlement and chauvinism?  Well, yes.

That topsy-turvy poll finding by ComRes does in its own way sum up the immigration, even the Europe debate in microcosm.  Do we still want the undoubted benefits of being in the EU, that past waves of immigration have brought here?  Certainly.  Are we as keen on the impact on public services, on how towns like Wisbech, Peterborough and Boston have been altered, and just how swift the pace of change has been?  Not so much.  At the same time, the poll makes clear those most concerned about immigration are extremely noisy, as a solid 36% still accept freedom of movement within the EU.  As Flying Rodent has argued, concern about immigration is one of the relatively few areas of public opinion which is pandered to.

And it hasn't worked, for the reason it hasn't addressed the fundamental right of freedom of movement, as politicians haven't had the guts to make the argument for why it's one of the few areas of EU policy they ought to be able to agree has been a success.  Chris answers Harris's question of whether free movement has been of most benefit to capital or labour, but that obviously isn't going to convince the people he's been listening to.  What might, and is something Westminster politicians have shied away from as it would reduce their control is, as we now know to a fair extent where the most pressures have been put on public services and housing, the targeting of extra funding to those areas.  This, finally, does seem to be where Labour is moving towards, with Ed Miliband today setting out 5 points around which an immigration bill from his government would be based.  We can quibble about the rights and wrongs of preventing migrants from sending child benefit and child tax credits back to their home nation when Brits working abroad can do the same, but if it helps to staunch public concern then so be it.

If some of the left has been blasé about migration, as Harris puts it, the reason is precisely because of the way we've arrived at this point.  Yes, public concern about immigration has been high in the past, and is high now.  Where though did the current mood have its roots, and is it all about migration or rather migration becoming the rallying point for a whole other myriad of concerns?  Easily forgotten is the way panic was whipped up last year over the looming ending of restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians coming here, with the media all but joining UKIP in predicting a movement similar to that of post-2005.  It didn't happen.  What did happen is the economy continuing to recovery, albeit without a similar recovery in living standards, the former leading to workers in western rather than eastern Europe looking for jobs further afield.  The fault is not with the migrants, but with the joint failings of late capitalism and politicians both here and in Europe.

For all the insults and asking of what the "modern left" would do, Harris himself doesn't offer a solution other than restricting free movement, despite how this both isn't going to and shouldn't happen.  We could start with being straight with the public rather than continuing to lie to them.  Who knows, it might just begin to have an effect.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014 

Farage's face, staring out - forever.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell through O'Brien offered as a picture of the future a boot stamping on a human face - forever.  It's a visceral, shocking image you want to turn away from, yet it's not as horrifying as the current vision of the future we are presented with.  It still involves a human face, only rather than it being stamped on, there's a rictus grin across its mug, the eyes bright, teeth being flashed for all their worth.  The face, all but needless to add, belongs to Nigel.

Future historians looking back on the coalition government will have plenty to examine and debate over.  They will wonder how a government which insisted it was dealing with a national emergency, the size of the budget deficit, could first choke off the recovery left by the previous government by cutting back capital spending and then conjure to provide a recovery of their own in which the deficit fails to fall.  They will try to reach conclusions over whether it was the emphasis on cuts to the welfare budget by this government that led inexorably to the dismantling of the system of social security as the country had known it post-Beveridge.  Most significantly, they will be forced to consider how despite presenting himself as a strong leader, David Cameron was in fact the embodiment of a weak prime minister, at every step giving in to the worst instincts of his party rather than pursuing what was right for the country.

The evidence for just such a finding is there in abundance.  Most fundamental will be the colossal error Cameron made in January 2013, announcing in a speech that if returned to power in 2015, his government would hold an in/out referendum on remaining in the European Union by 2017, after a successful "renegotiation" with the other member states.  Designed to win over backbenchers complaining about his leadership and the party's standing in the polls, it does for a matter of days.  Having succeeded in pressurising a leader they have never taken to and never will into making one promise, they quickly demanded he move sooner.  They make clear their displeasure at legislation not being present in the Queen's speech preparing for the referendum, and again, Downing Street soon gives in.

Not that it was only backbenchers taking the credit for Cameron's shift.  In another example of Cameron's reckless promises coming back to bite him, prior to the 2010 election he set out how a Conservative government would bring immigration down from the hundreds of thousands to the "tens of thousands".  At first it looked as though he might achieve his aim, only for the continuing economic woes in the Eurozone to result in a surge of migrants from the western European states most affected by austerity coming to the country.  Immigration duly becomes second only to fears over the NHS in people's concerns, not because of it having a personal impact on most, but as a catch-all complaint over the sense of drift, the general feeling of powerlessness most are experiencing as real wages fall and politicians refuse to offer anything resembling a vision of where the country is heading.

So desperate are the public they look anywhere for an alternative.  In any other circumstances Nigel Farage would be an incongruous figure, a deeply boring, petty man who covers up for his party's lack of policies and rigour with an overarching narrative: things ain't what they used to be, and it's all the fault of the European Union.  Nigel smokes tabs, drinks beer, and so delights a media starved by the blandness and sterility of the focus grouped out of existence political elite.  They can't get enough of him, and the publicity combined with the mood of hopelessness leads to his UK Independence Party winning hundreds of council seats, before it comes out on top in 2014's European parliament elections.  Rather than bother to submit Farage himself to anything resembling proper scrutiny, with a very few select exceptions, the media instead focus on those lower down the party structure.  All the while the personality cult of Farage continues to build, to the point where a former DJ imagines the UKIP leader at Number 10 in a calypso inspired song.  It seems and is completely absurd, and yet the main topic of debate is whether Mike Read's appropriation is racist.

Absurd is the word.  Cameron's weakness knows no apparent bounds.  Only a few weeks ago he offered to his party and by proxy the country the promise he would put freedom of movement at the heart of his renegotiation strategy.  He said he wouldn't take no for an answer.  The outgoing president of the European commission, José Manuel Barroso, points out the answer could only be no when the rest of the EU, imposing its own restrictions on benefits or not, has not the slightest intention of curtailing one of the EEC's founding principles and biggest successes.  Panicked further by the prospect of losing the Rochester by-election, and apparently fearing a leadership challenge in the aftermath, we now learn Cameron is set to announce some form of unilateral restriction on low-skilled eastern European migrants, most likely by refusing to issue them with national insurance numbers.  How this will affect the economy he cares not; nor does he worry over the legal implications.

Cameron's gambit has failed on all fronts.  His backbenchers, meant to be sated by his giving them what they want, now realise they have pushed to the point at which they are closer than ever to reaching their goal of getting Britain out of Europe.  Why on earth would they stop now?  UKIP, meanwhile, has had its every argument validated, continues to gain support and still can point out that the only way to truly control the borders is to leave.  All this, and the Conservatives remain behind Labour in the polls.  The only reason Cameron hasn't been called on this disaster is due to the majority of the press sharing the backbenchers' opinion on the EU, and how they can't imagine anything as terrible as Red Ed in Number 10.  I can.  It's another 5 years of Farage's fizzog staring out from every screen, every alternate sheet of newsprint, every billboard, the same silent laugh emanating from his gob.  You're the one he's laughing at, Dave.

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Monday, October 13, 2014 

The UKIPs are coming!

Last week's by-election results told us precisely nothing we didn't already know.  In Clacton, a popular local MP won back his own seat after resigning it as part of a marketing campaigning designed to keep the Nigel Farage beerwagon rolling.  In Heywood and Middleton Labour won back their safe seat, the party's share of the vote holding up.  Only of slight interest is how the party's majority was cut to just over 600 votes, as it shows how people vote differently in by-elections: the Tory, Lib Dem and BNP vote collapsed (the BNP, still in turmoil, didn't stand) and UKIP profited as a result.  Some Labour supporters no doubt switched to UKIP as a protest, with former Lib Dem voters going back to Labour making up the difference.  Moreover, apathy, non-interest or the pox on you all mentality were the real winners, with a turnout of just 36%.

And yet, and yet, because the former meant the UKIPs finally have a seat at Westminster, which hopefully means everyone can now shut up about it, and the latter obviously means the UKIPs could possibly, maybe, have a major impact on the outcome of next year's general election, even if they don't win more than a handful of seats, if that, all we've heard since has been the equivalent of the UKIPs are coming!  The UKIPs are coming!

Yes, just when you thought the why-oh-whying had withered slightly, the number of here's why UKIP is getting so much support articles and think pieces reaches 9,000 againThe same old points are made over and over: it's immigration stoopid; it's because the political elite are all professionals, never had a real job in their lives; they don't communicate in plain English, can't get their message across with descending into slogans and wonk-speak; they're all the same; and so interminably on.

The fact is there are clearly different explanations for why UKIP has gained support in some areas, hasn't in others and will most likely fall back substantially come next May.  I think John Harris has overstated at times the UKIP "surge", but his piece on Clacton last week nailed why Douglas Carswell was always likely to retain his seat, albeit for a different party.  Telling people just how right-wing Carswell was, the response was one of not caring.  UKIP has become a "safe" protest, an anti-immigration party that isn't racist, merely xenophobic, albeit one fronted by a former metals trader with a German wife.  Carswell's more out there politics were counteracted by his being a good constituency MP, while most former Tory voters were more than happy to support his shifting slightly further to the right.  If there was anger or doubts about the use of public money to stage an unnecessary by-election, those unimpressed stayed at home.  Clacton also fits, as John B has noted, the pissed off at the march of progress demographic as first identified by Lord Ashcroft's polling, and perhaps exemplified by Tilbury.  People who don't properly know why they're angry, who are opposed to change yet also don't want things to remain as they are.

Apart from opposition to immigration there's not much that unites them apart from contempt and a sense of being abandoned.  Hence the desperate search for just why it is they feel this way, with some of the reasons alighted upon saying more about the insecurities of politicians and journalists than getting to the heart.  Voters saying politicians don't understand their lives doesn't mean they want them all to talk like Farage, nor have they've developed an instant aversion to PPE graduates, as Owen Jones seems to believe.  An amalgam of the crash, the resulting austerity, continued anger over the expenses scandal, the belief that London and the surrounding area dominate everything, a "popular" media that focuses on the negative, while the "serious" puts undue emphasis on ephemera and identity politics as opposed to that of the everyday, along with just good old general alienation and the lack of difference between the big three parties is largely how the majority have reached this point.  They've been further encouraged by a media that is enthralled as much as some of it is appalled by UKIP, to the point where certain sections view the party almost as their creation.  The emergence of a fourth party is also exciting, or at least is in comparison with much else of politics, and so the hype feeds itself.

There's danger in both over and under-reacting to all this by the parties.  The Conservative response has been a mixture of not understanding it combined with appeasement: freezing in work benefits at the same time as promising a giveaway to the upper middle is almost precisely how not to win back working class UKIP defectors, while the moves on Europe merely demonstrate how there's little point in voting for a party that only goes halfway towards the exit and has encouraged the Carswells and Recklesses to make their move.  Labour doesn't really want to talk about immigration full stop, whereas it should recognise it made a mistake in 2004 while arguing in reality it's the least of our problems.  The Lib Dems meanwhile have just gone the complete anti-populist route, and it's not exactly won them many friends.

Should Mark Reckless manage to win in Rochester and Strood then it might be worth getting concerned.  The Tories are set to throw everything at it, while in normal circumstances it's a seat Labour should be taking in a by-election.  Even if Reckless fails, the announcement today that Farage has been invited to one of the leader's debates underlines how the media certainly doesn't want to let their little engine that could run out of puff.  If UKIP have won enough support to be represented, then surely the Greens and SNP should be too, especially when either or both genuinely would bring a different perspective to proceedings.  The Graun, lastly, also sounds an ominous note: taxes are going to have to rise after the election, and yet none of the parties have begun to so much as broach the subject.  Should UKIP fall back as some of us believe it will, it or something like it could soon be resurrected when it again turns out a harsh truth wasn't communicated.

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