Thursday, May 12, 2016 

The prime of Master Dominic Cummings.

In the pantheon of spin doctors completely losing the plot, Dominic Cummings' (for it was surely he) freak out out late last night is rather special.  It's not quite on the level of Alastair Campbell storming into the Channel 4 News studios demanding to be put on the air (but then what is), nor is it Comical Ali denying the Americans had reached Baghdad as a tank was seen rolling past in the distance, and yet it still feels not that far behind.

It really does have it all.  Allusion to Goldman Sachs funding Remain, that if made by someone on the left in the current climate would probably prompt accusations of antisemitism and conspiracy theorising?  Check.  Implication that absolutely everyone and everything is against Leave, and yet still the polls remain at 50-50?  Check.  Naming of specific journalist with claim they are biased against Leave, with spurious allegation that Robert Peston campaigned to join the Euro, the same straw man Cummings and Leave throw at everyone?  Check.  Attempt at intimidation, with threat that ITV will face the consequences once Leave wins? Check.

Quite why the initial decisions about the debates caused Cummings to lose his shit quite so fantastically is a mystery.  What on earth made Leave think that Downing Street would suddenly decide to play hardball any less than they did last year, when they successfully bullied the broadcasters into acceding to their demands on the basis there wouldn't be any debates if they didn't?  Did they really believe that cowardly custard Dave would be willing to take on Boris or Gove when both intend for this to be their springboard to the Tory party leadership?  Far better to go up against Nigel Farage, with his record of being easily riled if the audience dares not to applaud his nonsense, than a fellow Conservative with slightly more self-control.

Not that Boris does have more self-control; he'd likely descend into muttering within 10 minutes.  You can though see Vote Leave's point: Farage is part of the Grassroots Out group, rather than Vote Leave, and Vote Leave is the official out campaign as designated by the Electoral Commission.  If there's going to be anyone sort of facing Dave, as the ITV "debate" would take the same format as Channel 4's non-debate between Cameron and Miliband did last year, then it ought to be someone from Vote Leave.  It shouldn't be up to the government to dictate whom it will or won't face, especially when part of the reasoning is that the Tories don't to further their impression they're at war with each other.  Sorry Dave, ought to have come the reply, it's a little late for that now.

The fact is the debates have become a prestige event for the different networks, caring far more about holding them come what may rather than whether or not they're in the slightest bit illuminating.  Last year's non-debates were absurdities that should never be repeated, and yet it would seem as though much the same is going to happen only a year later.  The referendum has already been one of the most over-covered and somehow still least informative media debacles in recent memory, principally for the reason that the two campaigns agree on almost nothing.  Each side accuses the other of scaremongering, and we have nothing remotely approaching an independent adjudicator to separate the complete bullshit from claims slightly more grounded in reality.  The debates as proposed would do absolutely nothing to change that.  Which, once again, would seem to be the point.

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Monday, May 09, 2016 

The banter years.

Those with long memories might recall that back in the 90s, in one those ill advised attempts the guilty occasionally make to prove their innocence, the gang suspected of the murder of Stephen Lawrence gave interviews to Martin Bashir.  Asked to explain their use of racist language and play acting with knives, as secretly recorded by the police, they said it was banter.  They didn't mean anything by it.

I am not of course suggesting that the likes of Michael Fallon and George Osborne describing Zac Goldsmith's London mayoral campaign as being all part of the "rough and tumble" of politics makes them akin to racist murderers.  It does though make you wonder exactly how far the rough and tumble of politics extends.  Implying that Sadiq Khan is an extremist and refusing to say London will be safe in his hands is clearly perfectly permissible.  Certainly not permissible, as we've learned, is the use of language Hadley Freeman considers to be antisemitic.

Where then exactly to draw the line?  If you're Atul Hatwal, then the only problem with the Tories' campaign was that it was incompetent due to how Suliman Gani was more allied with the Tories than he was with Khan and Labour.  On this basis, Labour could have spent the local election campaign proclaiming on how Cameron was a pig rapist.  Sure, there's no evidence Cameron has raped a pig or any other barnyard animal, but the Ashcroft/Oakeshott book claims he did pork a severed hog's gob.  Mostly everyone thinks it's a load of old toilet, but it's on about the same level of truthfulness as the various claims made about Khan.

Why then not go the whole way?  After all, we've just gone through a period where it seemed perfectly acceptable to speculate on whether or not mostly deceased former politicians could have been not just paedophiles, but child murderers also.  Most of these claims were made against former Tory MPs.  Would it be just the rough and tumble of politics to describe the Conservatives as the party of choice for child abusers?  Sure, the Met might have discontinued Operation Midland, yet why let a detail like that get in the way of the contact sport that is politics?  It would just be natural rough and tumble, all a part of the game.  If you whine about it not being fair, you're simply not cut out for being a true leader of men.

Atul Hatwal does admittedly have a point.  Extremism should be called out.  Generally though there needs to be actual evidence, and we all have different definitions of what extremism is.   To some, Jeremy Corbyn's brand of old school socialism is extremist; to others, the Tories' naked contempt for welfare claimants and the state in general is beyond the pale.  That much of politics and the whole of social media "politics" has descended into one great big condemnathon, where the sound and fury both signifies nothing and is also absolutely everything might well have made politics even more incomprehensible and alien to outsiders.  It's just far too much trouble to try and turn back now.

Not that the Tories were ever going to admit that Goldsmith's campaign had backfired, not least as portraying Ed Miliband as so unprincipled he'd stab his country in the back for power worked last year.  It's also how they intend to go on depicting Labour in general: as a threat to national and economic security.  Bearing in mind a decent section of the parliamentary Labour party regard their own leader as an extremist, how could they not?

When it comes to today's EU clashes between Dave and Boris you see an almost mirror image of the extremist battle, only it's about power within a party, with the country coming a distant second in their concerns.  If Cameron really feared Britain leaving the EU could destabilise the continent to the point of a return to war, he would have been irresponsible in the extreme to have set in a motion a process that was fundamentally about buying off his restive backbenchers.  Likewise, if Boris Johnson truly believed that leaving the EU is the liberal cause of the day, it wouldn't matter as much that he's also using the referendum campaign as a springboard to his inevitable Tory leadership bid.   That only two years ago he wrote in direct contradiction of what he said today about the EU and peace, and has no compunction about making a "liberal, cosmopolitan" case for leaving that at its heart involves further doom-mongering about immigration just sums up how infuriating our politics has become.  We are it would seem firmly trapped in the banter years.

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Friday, May 06, 2016 


Last night's results are pretty much the worst of all worlds for Labour.  When I went to bed it looked as though the fears the party could lose the 150+ seats predicted in England might come to pass; a few hours later and the losses at the moment amount to a not quite as catastrophic 26.  Going by that yardstick you have to expect Sadiq Khan will win comfortably in London, and coupled with Labour losing only one seat total on the Welsh assembly, despite having been in power since its establishment, the results excepting Scotland don't look too bad on the surface.

Which is the problem.  Labour was never going to win the 400 seats the party's slightly more subtle anti-Corbyn MPs were bringing up, not least as the 2012 results were the party's best of the Ed Miliband years.  At the same time, as the psephologists haven't been shutting up about, it's 30 years since an opposition lost seats at a local election.  To put a temporary stop to the muttering and plotting Corbyn needed to win in the region of 100+.  While the party has lost just the one council, Dudley, and to no overall control rather than an opponent, the only real crowing that can be done about these results is they aren't as bad as the doomers and same people who predicted a UKIP victory in the Oldham West by-election said they would be.  It's not much of a boast, all told.

But nor does it come close to proving that Corbyn is a big of a liability as his enemies in the party and other detractors have claimed.  Local elections are only ever an indication as to what's happening at national level: it's why for instance Labour has managed to hold on to councils like Nuneaton when the same voters send Tories to Westminster.  This said, when you consider that ever since Corbyn became leader the party has done nothing other than fight, with the press and political figures spending the last week denouncing Labour as disgustingly racist, that the party has managed to hold on this well still strikes as success.  As Tom Clark notes, this has also happened in the main because the party either consolidated or advanced in the south of England, where Corbyn's further to the left approach was meant to turn voters off, while in the north, where it was meant to appeal more, UKIP fought Labour all the way.

Much like the results overall then, what we have is a continuing stalemate.  A truly disastrous night would have almost certainly encouraged the plotters to either launch their coup now or after the EU referendum vote, regardless of whether it has a chance of succeeding; likewise, Labour defying all the predictions and winning seats would have made such a move impossible.  Instead, MPs on both sides are continuing to circle each other, not being prepared to go for the jugular, with the likes of Jo Cox and even professional idiot John Mann not being prepared to wield the knife in at this point.  For those of us who would like it to be settled one way or the other, it could hardly be more dispiriting.

Looking beyond Labour, the Tories excepting Wales have had a great night for a governing party.  You could say we're only a year in, and that a Tory majority is a still a novelty, but you still don't expect them to be gaining councillors at this stage, not least when the party has been tearing itself apart over Europe.  The result in Scotland is extraordinary: everyone thought it was possible they could come second ahead of Labour, but not by the margin they've managed to.  Credit has to go to Ruth Davidson, whom has clearly succeeded where past Scottish Conservative leaders failed in overcoming the hostility to the party.  She's obviously been helped hugely by how said hostility has transferred to Labour following the referendum, once again proving that it's the hangers-on rather than the main contingent that get punished by voters when it comes to unlikely coalitions, and yet clearly it's something more than just that behind it.  Whether it translates to Westminster at some point remains to be seen.

Considering some thought it was possible Labour and the Lib Dems could be wiped out at the constituency level entirely, it must be a relief that both did manage to retain such a presence.  Worth noting especially is how the Lib Dems increased their majority in Orkney, in spite of the SNP campaign against Alistair Carmichael.  Indeed, it's amusing in itself to see the SNP failing to win an overall majority this time round, hinting as it does that despite the attempt to create a personality cult around Nicola cracks are beginning to appear.  With the loss of the majority making it all the more difficult to call a second referendum, even if the SNP wanted to, those pushing for independence will almost certainly start looking elsewhere.

As for the Lib Dems, there's very little comfort for them to take from the results.  Sure, they've gained a few seats, but the days when they were the obvious option for a protest vote look to disappeared for good.  UKIP are now on the whole that option, and at the moment have gained the most local council seats overall.  Again though, they did pretty much nothing back in 2012, so for them to not advance on the level they must have hoped hardly suggests an undetected groundswell for the leave side.  Far more interesting will be to see what happens when the seats fought in 2013 and 2014 are up for grabs again, and whether UKIP can hold on or increase their tally then.  As for their grabbing of seven seats in the Welsh assembly thanks wholly to the regional top-up, it merely reflects what we already know: that UKIP have reached the point where their support ought to result in substantial representation at Westminster.  It helps no one that both they and the Greens have only one MP thanks to the iniquities of first past the post.

Sadiq Khan has duly strolled to victory in London.  It's worth restating here that Zac Goldsmith's campaign was not about winning; the Tories realised pretty early on their task was fairly hopeless, as evidenced by the result in 2012, where almost anyone other than Ken in a red rosette would have beaten Boris.  The dog-whistle campaign, which as two separate Tories have commented was neither dog-whistle as it was plain to everyone what Goldsmith was doing, nor were there any dogs to be whistled at, was about poisoning the well, to mix metaphors right up.  Whether it's so much as succeeded in doing that is extremely dubious.  If anything, it might have turned voters against the Tories across London as a whole.  Overall it only reinforces what we already knew: that Britain has fractured irrevocably, with the capital, England, Wales and Scotland all going their separate ways politically.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2016 

A politics we don't deserve.

We, and by that I mean all of us who contribute to the tenor of politics in this country, have a tendency to exaggerate.  Exploiting the differences between parties in favour of policies that are broadly similar requires focusing on the negatives.  Ferocious debate about issues that subsequently turn out to not amount to a hill of beans are often the order of the day; just look at our contribution to the military action against Islamic State in Syria, for instance.  What was the point of the weeks of arguments last December when the end result has been so negligible?

Bearing this in mind, I honestly cannot recall a week of politics that has been so unrelentingly stupid, self-defeating, obtuse and at the same time as instructive as the past 7 days.  Absolutely nothing of any real note has happened, and yet what has been established is we've finally, truly, entered the period where controlling the terms and structure of political discussion has become the be all and end all.  That this has been established not by the politically correct left, students or any other of the usual bogeymen of controlled thought and speech ought to be surprising, and yet it isn't, because this is the way it's been going for quite some time.

Labour as a party is antisemitic, it has been decided.  The newspapers of record in this country have decreed it to be so.  Labour, the party that only a year ago had a Jew as its leader, and who was pretty popular at grassroots level.  Said press you might recall had great fun in repeatedly printing those photos of dear old Ed failing to eat a bacon sandwich correctly.  Now, while a few people at the time muttered to themselves that this was whiffy and smelled vaguely of antisemitism, I didn't think it was and thought they were being overly sensitive.  Fast forward a year, and the same newspapers that on one page carry columns declaring that the Leave campaign should shack up with Marine Le Pen and the far-right in Europe, declare on the other in no uncertain times that Labour from top to bottom is riddled with racistsIt's a cancer.  Something has to be done.  Not an investigation by Shami Chakrabati though, that's not good enough.  Jeremy Corbyn should have announced all this yesterday, anyway.

Let's though just for a second digress from the quite believable chutzpah of the never knowingly under hypocritical British media.  Instead, let's consider the general level of prejudice in the country in 2016.  The picture, as always, could be better.  Prejudice still exists.  Racists might have to be more coded in the way they go about trying to incite hatred, but they still attempt to spread poison and take any opportunity that comes their way to do so.  For the most part though, I'd say taken as a whole the British people have probably never been as tolerant as they are now.  I don't mean that in the passive aggressive sense of tolerance, but in the general living alongside each other with a minimum of tension sense.  There are hotspots of disquiet and plenty of anxiety, sure, yet no indication that anything is about to go beyond that.

We then have a political party that in the main takes its membership from among the most liberal and open-minded sections of an already broadly tolerant society.  You would not expect that most such people would be hostile to one sub-section of that society on racial grounds, especially one that historically has been among the most mistreated and abused.  And indeed, all the evidence suggests that is the case.  The members and councillors identified so far have almost all been suspended on the basis of questionable tweets or social media posts, some of which have quickly been identified as taken out of all context jokes.  Others do seem to be more serious examples of potential prejudice, and need to be properly investigated, but most tread a fine line between being antisemitic and being critical of Israeli government policy.  Naz Shah and Livingstone we've hopefully already dealt with.

None of this is to downplay the disquiet a number of Jews have voiced as feeling.  Phoebe Ray makes an eloquent case on how Britain as a whole, not split down the middle between left and right, does antisemitism.  Both she and Jonathan Freedland voice the opinion that Jews are the only ethnic minority not allowed to define what they feel to be racist attitudes against them are.  The obvious problem here, one that requires great amounts of nuance, is that claims of antisemitism have long been used against critics of Israeli governments, a country that polls show a majority of Jews feel a connection to.  Not all Jews are Zionists, and not all anti-Zionists are antisemites, you could say.  Adding to the problem is that as Ray and others identify, there are a whole series of tropes and "modes of thinking" that creep into debate on Israel, both consciously and unconsciously.  We have for instance seen Israeli government figures criticising British cartoonists for using such tropes, whether they truly have or not.  When newspapers that are otherwise vehemently pro-Israeli are alleged to be carrying such imagery, it's hardly surprising that your amateur political tweeter, or even student leader, might slip into using the verbal equivalent.

As Ray also says though, "right wing politicians are only interested in addressing anti-Semitism when they see it as a weak point in an opponent’s armour".  You can add to that newspapers, and assorted others within Labour who are so determined to bring down the party's leadership they will sink to seemingly any depths, regardless of the wider damage it causes.  The last week has not really been about racism; it has been about power.  The power within Labour, power within the country, and the power to limit what is politically acceptable as a whole.  Jeremy Corbyn has a weak spot on antisemitism, not because he is antisemitic, but because he has made questionable if not condemnable alliances in the past.  He has had a long time political friendship with Ken Livingstone.  Ken has long been more harm than help, but he was one of the few well-known political figures who would defend Corbyn to the media.  He's also still on Labour's national executive committee, and has a role in the party's defence review.  Getting rid of him will help the party's moderates in the long term.

Then we have the power in the country.  Labour most likely wasn't going to do well in tomorrow's elections anyway: Sadiq Khan will triumph in London regardless, it's a toss-up whether or not Labour will come second or third in the elections to Holyrood, and the seats being fought locally were last up for election in 2012, when Labour did well at the expense of both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.  Things look different four years on.  Add in a whole week's worth of claims of Labour being racist, of a crisis, of Ken Livingstone making an arse of himself, and there is bound to an impact.  The Tories' main approach as made clear by PMQs today is to portray a classically left-wing as opposed to left of centre party as extremist.  This has involved focusing on Khan being an extremist purely on the grounds that he is a Muslim, to the outrage of much of the left but to very little from the right-wingers coruscating Labour for its supposed anti-semitism.  The newspapers have helped by getting comment from the likes of the Chief Rabbi, who says Zionism is inseparable from Judaism.

Finally, we have the attempt to define just what is and isn't acceptable as a whole.  David Cameron wasn't asking Corbyn to denounce Hamas and Hezbollah today.  He was asking him to denounce the idea of so much as considering they have a role to play in any eventual peace settlement.  This approach is summed up by Danny Finkelstein's piece in the Times today:

What is happening in the Labour party is not (just) the crassness of a few councillors and the odd MP saying some embarrassing things about Jews.  It is the abandonment of its identity as an Atlanticist progressive party.  And it cannot be stopped until this identity is reasserted.

In other words, this won't stop until Labour snaps out of its malaise and adopts the correct foreign policy.  The correct foreign policy according to this confidant of both Cameron and Osborne is the backing to the hilt of the Saudis in Yemen, involving the defence secretary making the feeblest of excuses for our allies to a parliamentary committee.  It involves acting as the media wing of the "moderate" Syrian rebels, as the Guardian reveals today, with the government underwriting their propaganda.  One of the groups named in the documentation, although the government denies it ever considered it moderate, is Jaish al-Islam, the group the Alloush clan control.  Its former leader, Zahran Alloush, called repeatedly for Damascus to be "cleansed" of both Christians and Alawites.  It involves putting a stop to even the most limited reaching out to groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, despite both being moderates compared to likes of the al-Nusra Front, which many of the "moderate" Syrian groups we're still encouraging to fight have no problem allying with.   It involves smearing a genuine moderate running for London mayor as an extremist while continuing to sell weapons to the biggest sponsors of Islamic extremism the world has ever known.

This was never truly about antisemitism.  Sure, it's been the excuse.  Instead it's been about reinforcing the boundaries.  You can want a foreign policy which is progressive, just not Atlanticist, but you'll pay for it.  You can want a party to be a genuine opposition to the status quo, but it'll be denounced as extremist.  You can want the MPs of a party to at least respect for a year the leader elected by the membership, but they'll do everything in their power to undermine him, regardless of the consequences in the long term.  Sure, it'll put politics itself in the gutter, alienate the public at large when the message they'll take is that the meres wrong word will result in opprobrium, discourage Muslims from entering politics if they have ever so much as sat next to someone with the vaguest of unsavoury views, and give the impressions to Jews they still aren't welcome anywhere, but it'll be worth it in the end.

I often used to agree when it was said we get the politics we deserve.  No one deserves this.

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Thursday, April 14, 2016 

Still got the Whittingdale blues.

Just in case the whole Whittingdale thing wasn't silly enough, here comes Nichi Hodgson in the Graun denouncing the culture secretary for in her view throwing Olivia King to the wolves:
But being scared for your own reputation shouldn’t be reason enough for you to sully somebody else’s. By stating over and over again that he had not known his former lover was a sex worker, and that he had ended the relationship immediately upon finding out, Whittingdale has thrown her to the red-top wolves, making sure to thoroughly shame her in the process. Unfortunately, Whittingdale seems blind to the fact that it’s not only his former partner he’s distanced himself from, it’s his own spine as well.
 Except Whittingdale hasn't stated anything over and over again. The only comment he has made was the statement released on Tuesday night.  When doorstepped yesterday morning he referred the reporters to the statement and said he wouldn't be saying anything further.  Hodgson does at least accept that if Whittingdale, as he says, was unaware of his partner's work then he
might have felt a justifiable sense of betrayal. But the fact that Whittingdale was so quick to drop her when the tabloid press revealed her identity to him, and is now so keen to stress that immediacy in his defence, doesn’t come across as the reaction of a hurt yet honourable man.
I'm probably one of the least qualified people to pass judgement on relationships, but keeping something like the fact you're a sex worker from a prospective long-term partner (if again that's what Whittingdale was looking for; we're all making huge assumptions here) must surely be considered a deal breaker, especially if active deceit was involved.  We can all comment on prudishness, shaming and hypocrisy, only to come to very different conclusions when it involves us personally.  It's similar to pornography; we might have no problem with consuming it, regard it as the canary in the free speech mine, but plenty would at the same time not want friends or relatives to be playing a starring role in it.  Such are our hang-ups.

In any case, the genuinely guilty of prudery here are barely so much as mentioned by Hodgson.  Yes, Whittingdale could well of said yes, I dated a sex worker, who wants to fucking touch me, only he's no doubt embarrassed by the whole affair also.  No one has disputed his statement as yet, more than suggesting that he was in the dark and ended the relationship because he felt he had been lied to.

Should we be making judgements on this as a whole in any case?  Just as with the other privacy story of the week, it's disingenuous to claim it isn't about that but in fact this for the reason there would be no story whatsoever had the tabloids not decided politician dates dominatrix was worth investigating, even if they didn't end up publishing it.  The irony here is the people who have truly shamed King are those who otherwise claim to be against press intrusion, or normally critical when sex scandals are played out by those whose natural habitat is the gutter.  There is a case for asking why it wasn't published, but it's been hijacked by those whose cause as Ian Dunt has said has degenerated far from where it started off.

All in all, a thoroughly depressing week.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016 

The Whittingdale blues.

Absolutely nothing about the John Whittingdale/dominatrix story seems to make sense.

Let's then take it one step at a time.  If we're to believe Whittingdale's statement from last night, he had no idea that Olivia King was an escort, let alone the proud keeper of a dungeon.  When he did become aware of that fact, he ended the relationship.  No one seems to be as yet disputing it or claiming Whittingdale to be telling lies, so presumably the culture secretary's claim that he met his girlfriend of a few months on is accurate.

Now, unless I was reading something into the original Byline piece that simply wasn't there, as my take from it was that Whittingdale knew she was an escort and presumably was paying for her to accompany him to events, this is even less of a story than it first appeared.  Even if Nick Mutch is not explicit in saying that was the case, he definitely does claim that "Whittingdale's relationships with prostitutes are said to be well known in the London underworld".  He also quotes an unnamed senior Labour MP as having seen Whittingdale in the Houses of Parliament with a prostitute, although he wasn't sure if she was King or not.

Next, we have the James Cusick piece from Sunday.  This has since been described by another writer on openDemocracy, where the piece has also been hosted, as offering "little to substantiate" a cover-up, while David Elstein points out a number of flaws in Cusick's reasoning.  All of the investigations Cusick details apart from the Independent's took place while the relationship was on-going, before Whittingdale became culture secretary, although he was chair of the influential media committee.  Cusick claims that the Mirror may have dropped its investigation because Whittingdale could have launched a new inquiry into phone-hacking at the newspaper group, although does so in a half-hearted manner.  Similarly, without detailing how, Cusick implies that a similar investigation at the Mail on Sunday was dropped because Whittingdale was "viewed as an asset" by the Mail group.  Finally, Cusick details how things went with the Independent's own belated investigation, attempting to widen out the justification for a rather basic salacious story to claims about expenses not being paid, then to possible hypocrisy charges over Whittingdale's membership of the Cornerstone group.  Again, it ended with the editor shutting it down without apparent explanation.

To some, that four separate newspaper groups all failed to bring the story to print is indicative of a cover-up.  It's also certainly true that equally lacking stories about the private lives of politicians have been printed of late, including Brooks Newmark flopping the old johnson out of his pyjamas for an undercover hack, and the unforgettable Lord Sewel, in red bra, snorting cocaine off the breast of the sex worker who stitched him up.  A far more prosaic explanation is that even by the standards of those two stories, Whittingdale's adventures in online dating were much less exciting.  He's divorced, he didn't know King was a dominatrix in her spare time, and the only evidence they had were some very unrevealing photographs.  Why would the papers other than Independent drop the story on the basis Whittingdale could be useful to them in the future when they couldn't be certain of his career trajectory?  The Mirror phone hacking explanation also doesn't stand up to the slightest scrutiny.

This isn't to take the claims of former and current hacks at first sightAs Francis Wheen quoted by Anorak has it, both the bizarre arguments being put forward by Hacked Off representatives that this was someone whose privacy should have been invaded, and the claims from the Thurlbecks and Wallises of this world are unbelievable.  Clearly the story was of interest to the tabloids, and the Independent; they just in the end decided it couldn't stand up.  I don't think Leveson is of any relevance here at all; the decision was simply made that MP unwittingly dates sex worker is a bit sad rather than scandalous.  You can see this in the way the Indie flailed around desperately for any justification long after the fact, as I described is always the way yesterday.  First you get the story, then you make something up to claim it's in the public interest.  Like Flying Rodent, I think this story would have been more in the public interest than the case the tabloids are up in arms about, but that's barely.  The reason why there's such a disparity is obvious, also: pop star up to shameless sexual antics sells papers; MP gets todger out on Twitter wins awards, if that.

Likewise, the cries from Labour that Whittingdale should stand aside from his role in directing legislation concerning regulation of the press due to his conflict of interest don't now really apply when, err, any conflict is out in the open.  The sword of damocles Chris Bryant lyrically brought up, even if we accept it was a thing despite there being no evidence, is now gone thanks to the exposing of the story.  As Roy Greenslade and others have argued, there does seem to be a lot of overstating of Whittingdale's role.  Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act shouldn't be imposed for the reason that it is grossly unfair, nor has there ever been a realistic suggestion it was going to be brought in; similarly, there is no appetite whatsoever among the Tories as a whole for staging the second part of the Leveson inquiry.  It's hardly just Whittingdale.  The same goes for bias against the BBC: the Tories don't like Auntie, simple as.  Whoever ends up being culture secretary you can guarantee will be just as critical as Whittingdale has been.

I can then understand why people think something stinks, agree this will certainly be something to bring up the next time a politician is caught with their pants down by a newspaper justifying their expose as in the public interest, and still think that on this occasion at least some are looking just that little bit too hard.  Which includes the BBC, Private Eye, et al, who now the story is out there are justified to ask the questions they have.  I also agree with Anna Raccoon when she writes on how Olivia King has every right to be thoroughly cheesed off with the press a whole.

Is that OK with everyone?

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Monday, April 11, 2016 

There's a word for what our democracy has become: oligarchy.

It's not often I disagree with Chris over at Stumbling and Mumbling.  You can chortle all you like at Charles Moore declaring David Cameron to have been caught in the wealth trap, but it's a useful phrase, he writes.  And of course to a degree he's right, you can be trapped by any number of circumstances of your birth, although it's a hell of a lot easier to dispose of the wealth you inherit than it is to escape being born into poverty.

While Moore may be pleading for understanding of Cameron's position, his not as bright colleagues elsewhere in the media and within the Tories are instead asking for sympathy.  Both the Mail and the Telegraph today ran leaders denouncing the iniquities of inheritance tax, the tax which as Moore himself points out was paid by only 17,917 people who died in 2012-13, out of the 500,000+ whom passed on.  Their real beef was that Cameron had received further criticism for having been given a £200,000 gift from his mother, another of those perfectly legal tax planning moves, described as an "equalisation" by Downing Street.  Joylon Maugham might have declared this to be tax avoidance, but practically no one else in the industry dedicated to just such planning does.  Funny that.

Here, finally, is what a week of coverage of the Panana Papers has been leading up to.  Most of the Tory press was happy to see Dave taking a beating at first as they believe it will damage him vis-a-vis the EU referendum campaign, where Dave effectively is the remain campaign.  Once it gets into the realm of all politicians having to publish their tax returns, which in turn leads to demands that those sneering from the sidelines also get their self assessments out for the lads, it's clear this cannot be allowed to continue.  When the questions move on to lump sums gifted in the expectation of income tax not needing to be paid, then the squealing really starts to begin.  Then we hear the cries about the politics of envy, about the enemies of wealth creation, that this is really about how "they hate anyone who has got a hint of wealth in them", and that if we're not careful, we'll have a parliament full of "low achievers".

Poor little rich people.  All they want is to look after their families.  What could be more natural than that?  Why should both they and their children be punished when bequeathing vast sums, property and all the rest when they go to meet their maker?  Isn't this income being taxed twice over?  Isn't opposing this in fact opposing aspiration?  Don't we all want to make good by our kids?  Why in short, does the left and Labour hate our freedoms?

Once the right was just as indignant about unearned wealth as the left.  Alan Clark might have judged another Tory sneering at Michael Heseltine as the type who had to buy his own furniture as cutting but snobby, yet there was also concern about what the passing on of vast sums and houses encouraged.  Not more hard work, but indolence, idleness.  Now David Cameron declares that there is nothing more natural than wanting to pass on your home to your children.  This only applies obviously to those who own their home, while everyone renting or even more shockingly, in what remains of social housing, should expect at any minute to be turfed out.  Earning more than you once did?  You're going to have to pay to stay.  Have a spare bedroom?  We'll deduct that from your benefits if you don't downsize, even if there isn't anywhere to downsize to.  Want to live near to where your family and friends are?  Tough luck if that'll breach the benefits cap; you'll have to move somewhere cheaper.  Unable to so much as put down a deposit thanks to the paradox of astronomical rents?  I feel your pain, says the prime minister renting out the Kensington home bought with the help of dad and a previous inheritance from an aunt for over 90 grand a year.

Over £90,000 a year just in rent.  Alan Duncan ought to be careful about who he describes as "low achievers", as Dave by many yardsticks would fall into the category.  About only one proper job, and that as PR for Carlton.  Remember that by the standards of Dave's set, he and Osborne are relative paups, George made to describe himself as a "despicable cunt" for having gone to St Paul's rather than Eton.  To most people this a world beyond imagination, where some will be lucky to earn in a decade what Dave pulled in from rent in a year.  This is the world that the Mail, Torygraph and Dave want to defend at all costs, where "aspiration", something the middle classes do, is pulled out to defend the ultra rich forever living in the style to which they have become accustomed.  The inheritance tax threshold might be rising to a million, to the point where practically no one will pay it, yet still at the smallest hint that gifts might come under suspicion the cry goes up.

Without using the word, what Adyita Chakraborty so accurately described in his Graun piece this morning is oligarchy.  Sure, we hear fine words every so often about social mobility, and of course a few of the best and brightest rise to the top while some squander their inheritance, falling down the pecking order, but otherwise when it comes to wealth the Tory party could not be more dedicated to conservatism in its truest sense.  Almost every move on the tax and welfare fronts since the Tories came to power in 2010 has been to screw the poorest, throw the odd bone or two to the middle to give the impression they're on their side, and ensure the top stay at the top.  

In this if nothing else the right-wing media is completely on side.  They too claim to be standing up for the middle while working, literally, for the top.  It was instructive whom the prime minister chose to mention in his statement today in a dig at the media.  It wasn't the weirdo Barclay twins hidden away at their flat pack castle on Brecqhou he dropped, or Jonathan Harmsworth, aka Viscount Rothermere, the non-dom head honco at the Mail.  No, it was the BBC, the Graun and Islington council who were brought up for investing in offshore funds.

The impression this is meant to send is clear.  Everyone's at it.  Nothing to see here.  Except we're not all at it.  Most of us do though dream of having enough spare cash lying around to be able to squirrel it away hidden from HMRC, so for plenty that will be enough.  The belief is those still not sated can be dismissed as simply jealous, envious, as so twisted in their politics that they would rather do right by the state than by their family.  Perhaps it will hold for a while.

Yet a crunch is coming.  A point is going to be reached when it becomes clear just how loaded the system currently is.  It might take another crash, but it's going to come, such are the frustrations that are without question building and every so often find expression in outbreaks of anger like the one seen over the past week.  And when it does, no amount of pleading, appeals to authority or media attempts to push back against it are going to quell the demands for fundamental economic recalibration.  A smarter political class would see what's on the horizon, and act now.  This for the most part is not a smart political class.

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Thursday, April 07, 2016 

Scream and scream and scream. (With added Dodgy Dave bonus!)

A long time ago before Channel 4 turned into the same wasteland as all the other main terrestrial channels it made an effort to put on some slightly alternative programming late at nightOne such show was Pets, a forerunner of BBC3's Mongrels, meant to be a sort of parody of Friends only not really at all.  I bring this up only because the entire Brexit campaign seems based around the line spoken by Hamish, after he, Trevor and the parrot are turned into living mummies by a curse.  "I think we have two options.  Option one: we continue to stay calm and think logically until we work out how to free ourselves.  Or we scream and scream and scream like girls until someone rescues us".

And by god, can the Leavers scream.  And whine.  And moan.  And complain.  Everything is a betrayal.  Every argument that points out there will be huge uncertainty and years of negotiations if the referendum results in a victory for the leave side, which is not a subjective conclusion but an objective reality is dismissed as scaremongering, Project Fear 2.0.  However dodgy some of the statistics and claims presented by the remain side are, it is absurd that more than a few on the leave side continue to pretend as the Yes campaign did in the Scottish referendum that everything will be swiftly sorted out amicably and business-like once a leave vote happens.

The latest outrage is, of course, the government's decision to send out leaflets to every household on why it believes we should stay in.  This will cost £9m in total, much to the faux disgust of Michael Gove, who exclaims on how at a "time of austerity" spending such a sum on "pro-EU propaganda" cannot be justified.  Others predictably are complaining about how the government seemingly promised not to put out such a document, although those promises covered only the main period of campaigning once the period of purdah has begun.  More whinging still focuses on how the money spent on this one mailshot is more in total than the official campaigns will be allowed to spend during the main campaign, and how this obviously gives the remainers an unfair advantage.

Then there's the outright paranoid tendency, that somehow the publishing of the leaflet has been timed to distract from David Cameron's Blairmore Holdings travails.  While it's certainly not beyond imagination that Lynton Crosby could have come up with a dead cat to help Dave, dead cat this is not.  The whole idea of the dead cat is to change the subject, not to add to the problems the prime minister faces, which this most certainly has.  This was planned well in advance to come not too early to be completely forgotten about, while not near enough to the date itself to outright break the aforementioned pledge.  (Indeed, if anything it can now be argued Cameron has produced his own dead cat to knock the controversy over this down the agenda, for which see below.)

Humbuggery doesn't begin to cover it.  Apart from Vote Leave sending out leaflets without branding claiming to separate fact from fiction, we've had the lovely spectacle of Nigel Farage cutting up rough over the prospect of Barack Obama making an intervention on his upcoming visit.  This naturally didn't stop him from sticking his oar into the Netherlands referendum on the EU deal with Ukraine, nor has it prevented the wider leave campaign from inviting those behind the referendum to the UK.

The irony of the leave side and newspapers alike complaining about the government attempting to redress the balance doesn't seem to occur, or rather does, they just cast it to the back of their minds.  That 80% of the press has not just spent the past few months but the last couple of decades spreading myths about the EU, with the result that the public, who aren't interested at the best of times haven't got an idea who is and isn't telling the truth is of no importance.  How can a government possibly justify such propaganda (not that it is propaganda as it seems for the most part to be somewhat objective), never mind the unfairness?

Not to say that there aren't unintentional hilarities over the mail out: the same government that has long disdained councils producing their own propaganda sheets suddenly feels very differently.  That hardly anyone reads such leaflets, and few will likely read this one, let alone make their decision to vote on the basis of it also doesn't matter.  It's the principle of the thing.  The principles of always having an excuse ready, accepting the will of the people except not, and forever holding out the prospect that a vote tomorrow under "fairer "circumstances will bring a different result.  The leave side have stolen all their lines from the SNP.  They'll probably lose the vote, but are without doubt hoping to win the argument in the same way.


4 days on, and after first describing it all as a private matter, Dave finally comes clean and admits he made £31,500 out of Blairmore after selling his "units" in 2010.  The whole interview was set-up and designed to make it look as if this was perfectly reasonable: Robert Peston all but made a defence of the PM in a Facebook post this morning, setting out how those who invested in Blairmore did have to pay tax when they sold their shares, while ignoring the obvious point that Blairmore itself was based in Panama so it didn't have to pay tax in the UK.  Peston then just so happens to be the chosen hack Dave decides to talk to about it.

To describe the entire thing as being very Shifty McGifty doesn't really do it justice.  Why if this was all above board, as it seems to be at least from Cameron's end, did it have to be dragged out of him?  Each successive answer has just raised more and more questions.  Has he really only ever profited by £31,500?  If so, did any of the £300,000 his father left him come from Blairmore?  Does his mother still have an interest in Blairmore, as the Graun asks?  If he thought it best to be "transparent" in 2010 by selling his units in Blairmore, shouldn't the same apply to the donors to the party he leads?  And hasn't this sorry spectacle demonstrated that while those lucky enough to get the start in life that Dave had shouldn't have it held against them, it has made very clear just how stacked the odds have been and remain in their favour?

If Cameron means what he says, he has the power and influence to level that playing field.  He won't obviously.  But the thought's there.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2016 

Questions still remaining, and answers not necessary.

According to Dan Hannan, in full Monty Python colonel mode, this is getting silly.  Likewise, Boris Johnson "cannot see what they are blathering about".

Presumably, neither could Downing Street.  On Monday, David Cameron's father's tax arrangements via his offshore investment fund Blairmore Holdings were deemed "a private matter".  Yesterday it became apparent this wasn't going to hold, and so in the present tense, Dave confirmed he was not benefiting from any offshore holdings or shares, nor did he have any.  Further to that, he then made clear neither did Samantha, apart from a few shares in her father's own onshore property holdings.  Come this morning, and still a further clarification was deemed necessary: now Dave is saying that he also won't benefit from Blairmore in the "future".

You don't have to go into a Jess Phillips routine to find this all a bit rum.  Yes, plenty of us to an extent benefit from investments exempt from tax through putting savings in an ISA.  Yes, plenty of us also want to limit our tax liability as much as we can.  No one likes paying tax, but tax in the aphorism is what we pay for a civilised society.  Clearly however there's a difference between begrudgingly paying what we owe, and going out of our way to avoid paying it, as was the aim with Blairmore.

The obvious question for Cameron now is, was his father right to establish an offshore trust for this purpose?  It's not that he needs to answer whether he benefited from Blairmore in the past, as it's apparent he did.  Cameron has after all been highly critical of individuals who have taken part in artificial tax avoidance schemes.  His not being forthcoming will hardly inspire confidence that he means what he says about cracking down on tax havens and those avoiding/evading tax currently, not least when the OBR's projections on reaching a surplus by 2020 are reliant on more tax coming in through the closing of such loopholes.  This is without even beginning to get into how reliant the Tories are now and have been in the past on funding from businessmen who have either been non-domiciled, or have taken part in similar avoidance schemes.

Nor is there really a parallel here between the anger when the Daily Mail attacked Ed Miliband's father for "hating Britain", and the questions now being raised about Ian Cameron's financial dealings.  No one is suggesting that what Cameron's old man did was illegal, and while you can get on your real high horse ala Phillips about it, there's little point.  Cameron has never denied his privilege, and Blairmore if anything looks to be on the mild end of the lengths some went to avoid paying their fair share.  The point now is whether Cameron will act in concert with other world leaders to prevent the rich and global corporations from paying what they owe.  If that means imposing direct rule on places like the British Virgin Islands, instead of pussyfooting around, then so be it.  It should mean that where a light has begun to be shone into the depths of the offshore world, such as with the Private Eye database of properties owned by overseas companies, this should not then be brought to an abrupt end by the privatisation of the Land Registry.  These are hardly radical steps, especially for a prime minister whom according to the spin has been leading the way already.

Something on the other hand that is very much not a scandal is the hubbub around culture secretary John Whittingdale.  According to Nick Mutch on Byline, in a piece unhappily published on April the 1st, Whittingdale was for at least a year in a relationship with a dominatrix by the name of Olivia King.  No documentary evidence is provided by Mutch to prove that the woman photographed with Whittingdale is an escort, let alone a dominatrix, but let's take that on trust.  If the fact Whittingdale might have been paying for sex isn't enough to make it a story, then Mutch has secondary and third angles.

First, King was apparently at the same time as being paid for her services by the culture secretary also making appearances with a "a member of the London underworld, who has a previous firearms conviction", potentially putting him at risk of blackmail.  Second, the press very much knew about all of this, and yet despite in the past running similarly weak exposes, has decided in this case that Whittingdale's apparent lack of luck with women isn't of interest to the public.  Could this possibly be because of Whittingdale's spoken aversion to the BBC, or his refusal to implement the double costs element of the 2013 Crime and Courts Act?

Or is it that the story is just a bit crap?  Are we really in 2016 pursuing the whole blackmail justification, especially on the remarkably spurious grounds that King was also going out with a "member of the London underworld"?  In the Profumo scandal there was at least a Soviet attache involved.  The idea that the press won't expose him because it's not in their interests doesn't really wash either.  The Tories as a whole weren't keen on the double costs recommended by Leveson, nor are they the BBC.  The Independent and Mail on Sunday might conceivably have factored Whittingdale's usefulness to them into their thinking, but at the expense of bringing a minister down, always regarded as a journalistic coup?  Pull the other one.  Not everything is a conspiracy, nor is every unmarried or single politician being seen out with someone a story.  It really isn't any more complicated than that.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016 

How many journalists does it take to get a story wrong?

The Panama Papers, then.  The biggest leak ever, went up the cry.  A massive team of journalists from around the world, working together on 2.6 terabytes of data, detailing the work of our new friends Mossack Fonseca, based in Panama.  The data goes back decades, with the law firm specialising in the setting up of shell companies for the rich, famous and elite, often based not in Panama itself but in crown dependencies like the British Virgin Islands.  Who then would be the first to be exposed?

PutinOf course.  His name doesn't appear itself, as Vlad isn't that daft, but his cellist pal and two childhood friends do.  Not really telling us anything we didn't already know though, is it?  Nor does it take into account that however much it is Putin has salted away, it will pale in comparison to the hundreds of billions stolen from the Russian taxpayer in the giveaway privatisations of the 90s.  You know, those same oligarchs that have since made London their home, buying up property left and right and fighting battles through the courts.  One name not given as big headlines was Petro Poroshenko, billionaire president of Ukraine, who was setting up an offshore company as the east of the country burned.

Indeed, the coverage as a whole has been stilted and highly fragmented.  To learn of practically any names other than those of the usual 2 minutes hate figures, you need to go to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism's own site.  There you can learn that apart from bag handlers for Assad and figures linked to FIFA, directly named in the files are the Saudi king, the president of the United Arab Emirates, and the former emir and prime minister of Qatar.  The Graun has now got round to featuring the daughters of Azerbaijan's ruler and their property dealings in London, as well as highlighting other potentially shady transactions, but already it feels as if the moment of maximum publicity has passed, possibly wasted.

We've been here before, after all.  The HSBC files from Switzerland were met with calls for inquiries, prosecutions.  The end result? 1 case ended up being pursued.  1.  Nor is the story about David Cameron's father new, even if some of the details are.  Back in 2012 the Graun revealed that Ian Cameron ran a "network" of investment funds based offshore, including Blairmore Holdings, based in Panama and we now learn administered from the Bahamas.  Blairmore was also explicit about the aim being to avoid paying tax  The fund's prospectus from 2006 said: "The Directors intend that the affairs on the Fund should be managed and conducted so that it does not become resident in the United Kingdom for UK taxation purposes".

You can't hold the son responsible for the sins of the father, of course.  Nor can you when the son is extremely careful in how he responds.  When asked by Faisal Islam if he had benefited from the fund in the past, Cameron said only that he didn't currently.  Nor did he expand on the point in a further statement, which did alert us to how Glam Sam Cam does hold shares connected to her father's land.  The subtext is fairly obvious: of course he benefited from the fund in the past.  That was the point.  That said, there is no suggestion anything illegal has taken place.  Mossack Fonseca may well have helped bust sanctions, hide the ill-gotten gains of dictators and had a hand in laundering the money from the Brinks Mat robbery, but plenty of their business is all about ensuring the rich pay as little tax as they can get away with.  Some of these masters of the universe then fund political parties, who in turn are then strangely resistant to doing much about cracking down on tax avoidance.

Oh sure, the government has been talking a good game for a long time, and there were further changes in the budget aimed at implementing the recommendations of the OECD action plan.  None of this is likely to have much effect though when HMRC remains deliberately understaffed, when the British overseas territories at the centre of so much tax avoidance activity are dragging their feet on disclosing the identities of the beneficiary owners of companies registered there, and when the City of London itself has become the equivalent of an offshore tax haven.  At the same time as he claims to be cracking down on tax avoidance, the chancellor continues to reduce corporation tax, due to drop to 17% by the end of the decade.  Osborne is playing a double game: knowing that companies will go on trying to pay as little as they can, his aim is to make Britain the new Ireland, and to hell with the other nations trying to get businesses based there in all but name to pay their fair share.

Will then the Panama Papers make the slightest difference to anything?  Pull the other one.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016 

It lies in the normies.

Picture the scene.  We're in the Tory communications bunker.  Someone's come up with a half-decent speech, the central thesis of which is that the young will be the most screwed over by a vote to leave the EU.  Up goes the cry: who can we get to deliver this fabulous lecture?  Who among the Tory ranks is the most down with the kids, the least likely to instantly cause the target audience to sneer and switch off?  Boris, someone shouts, the person responsible immediately taken into the next room and shot.  No one can come up with a name that doesn't seem inherently ridiculous.  Then someone has a brainwave.

And so it came to pass that education secretary Nicky Morgan gave a lecture to the younglins that contradicted every tenet of the Tory grand plan for election victory.  If the Brexiters get their way there's a risk of a "lost generation", the Tory party's answer to an unasked question said.  Never mind that Tory policy writ large is to soak the upper middle, the well off and pensioners and don't worry if everyone else sinks, it'll be leave, the uncertainty and the likely years of negotiation that'll do for the generation of "Instagram, easyJet and eBay".  In a further flourish of remarkable audacity, Morgan, the troll pencil topper for the 2010s, outlined how not voting can lead to a whole demographic being effectively dismissed.  As if this wasn't precisely what the Tory leadership has done, only to suddenly realise their favoured groups are the ones most heavily leaning against the exit and if only temporarily, they need the young.

If I could be bothered, we could take a trip down cutting off your nose to spite your face street.  We could agonise over all the variables of voting for or against the Cameron clique on this measure, but let's face it: whichever way the EU vote ends up going, the young are going to be taking it hard and fast.  Sure, it's beyond question that leaving the EU would make life even less tolerable than it already is for the sprogs, for the reasons Morgan lists.  Equally, let's not pretend that under Morgan's benevolence everything will be so much the better, that more young people will move into jobs befitting their skills, that more will be able to own their home, that more will be so much as able to afford the ever increasing rents in our buy to let paradise when so many Tory policies are focused on making life all the sweeter for the aforementioned groups.  We could get started on the insanity of forcing all schools to become academies and the effect that could have on the next generation if we wanted, but there aren't enough hours in the day.

According to Jackie Ashley, the remain campaign is failing.  This rather depends on what the remain campaign's goal is.  If the goal is to try to make a positive case for the EU, then yes, it certainly is failing.  If on the other hand the goal is to bore everyone senseless, to the point where only the most pro and anti can be bothered to turn out come June 23rd, then both the remain and leave campaigns are succeeding admirably.  Both sides accuse the other of being negative, with many toys chucked out of prams on Monday after the leavers had the audacity to bring crims from other EU countries who came here and committed further offences into it, without it apparently occurring to those commenting that both sides are equally guilty for the reason that conjuring up fears works.  This was never going to be a rerun of the Scottish independence referendum where one side made a case which for its numerous faults inspired the naive, the credulous and the dreamers to its cause, while the other, more realistic but deathly dull side won the vote but lost the argument.  Both sides in this case are dominated by pumping great bells who have nothing but contempt for every one of us.

What continues to baffle is quite why Ashley and others are so insistent that Labour should involve itself in this tussle of the flyweights, or what it would be meant to achieve.  No matter how inspiring or popular a personality, you cannot get an audience to be interested in something that simply doesn't move them.  No one other than politicos is discussing the referendum for two reasons: firstly that it's still 3 months away; and second that it's still an abstract subject.  Immigration we can never shut the hell up about, but despite the connection with the EU and immigration, the two in this case are failing to mix.  Nor is the EU, important as it is, going to stir both the heart and mind as much as nationality, patriotism and the sense of belonging always will.  For all the attempts by the leave mob to give the impression that we can't do anything without Brussels interfering, that we can't make our own laws or take a dump without falling foul of an EU directive, the vast majority have the sense to know such claims are nonsense, no matter how many times they are repeated.

None of this is to say that nearer the time the leavers won't have a good few weeks where it looks as though they could be on the brink.  They probably will, helped by an overall Europhobic press already dedicating itself to splashing on anti-EU stories day after day.  This idea of Ashley's however, that Michael Gove has made a yet to be answered case on sovereignty, or that the business names backing out are "impressive" is a complete joke.  The result of referendum after referendum, both here and from abroad suggest that votes against the status quo position are rarely successful.  It won't be support from the babbies among us that decides the result, but rather those who were never interested in the debate in the first place and find the way things are currently to be tolerable.  Praise them, for they will be the saviours, not the left, not the young, not Labour.  Here's to the normies.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016 

That leaked Lynton Crosby list ranking Tory cabinet members in full.

G'day Dave!

Lynton here.  Here's the list you asked me to draw up of members of the cabinet (and one additional), ranking them as to whether they're hostile, neutral or core loyalists.  Now don't be a drongo, keep this eyes only, we don't want this leaking like Corbyn's did.  Otherwise we will look like a load of great galahs.

George Osborne - Core, obviously.  You might want to think about whether or not you really want to him to take over though, as frankly he's not as smart as he thinks and if anything is becoming a liability.  Your choice though mate!

Theresa May - Neutral.  Colder than a penguin's dangler, none of us have ever managed to get a proper insight to her.  Has done a reasonable job as Home Sec, more down to so much of the bloody office having been split up by Labour than any real skill.  Came round on Europe, after you threatened to sic me on her.

Michael Gove - Core negative.  A worse traitor than Quisling, a bigger bum than the Queen, possible Maoist in Tory clothing.  I warned you about him, and did you listen?

Michael Fallon - Core.  What more is there to say about our premier dead cat merchant?  Always willing to talk absolutely bullshit on mine and yours behalf, we owe him a damn huge barbie one of these nights.

Sajid Javid - Neutral.  Another of your mates with higher ambitions, with a head that could double as a solar panel, such is the beam you get back off his bonce.  Another we just about managed to win over on the EU, in this case as we threatened the Sadiq Khan treatment on him.  How many times do I have to tell you you can't trust the bloody Muslims?

Stephen Crabb - Core.  Replacement for useful until he was no longer useful idiot IDS.  Has beard, will travel.  Decent background story we will make all we can off.  Great for neutralising all the stories about us doing in scroungers and cripples.

Jeremy Hunt - Core.  Complete idiot, first made a balls up at culture, now making an even bigger balls up at health, but is totally loyal.  The kind of bloke we like.

Nicky Morgan - Core.  Or as we like to call her, the Bride of Finkelstein!  How's that for two jokes in one?  Again, thinks she is far more intelligent than she actually is, is utterly hopeless on TV or under interview, but Gove has already done the damage at education.  Has leadership aspirations; obvious candidate for suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Justine Greening - Core.  Known for discussing Rwanda when she should be voting for you, otherwise she's no threat whatsoever.  Boring, really.

Theresa Villiers - Core negative.  Northern Ireland secretary, the job we give to those without a clue and who can barely find the place on the map, naturally wants out of the EU.  One to dump the first chance you get.

John Whittingdale - Neutral.  Brexiter, but is otherwise harmless as these Thatcherite throwbacks are, and useful.  Bit thick mind.

Elizabeth Truss - Core.  Ah Lizzy, our golden girl, a true Sheila.  Will do anything for you, except that.  Out of my league, know what I'm saying?

Chris Grayling - Core negative.  The half-wit's half-wit, I'm amazed you didn't sack this bloody galah before now, like I told you.  Yeah he reaches the base, but only because the base are know nothing bumpkins.  Can't do much damage as leader of the house, just make sure to get rid of him once the EU crap's over.

Priti Patel - Core negative.  Exceptionally stupid even by Tory party standards, thinks you poms are all lazy buggers, wants out of the EU.  What more can I say?

Boris Johnson - Core negative.  Biggest buffoon I've ever bally met.  Still managed to get him elected when that drongo Ken was his opponent.  Comes unstuck the moment anyone starts asking anything like a taxing question, untrustworthy, unreliable, thinks he's a comedian, would sell his grandmother, father, Sheila, ankle biters, anything or anyone if it would help him become PM.  Will be next PM.  Sorry Dave.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016 

Give me irrelevance, or give me death.

Appearances, as we know, can often be deceiving.  If you were to judge me purely by this blog, you would no doubt conclude I'm something of a politics obsessive.  And you'd be right.  But it doesn't run my life.  Part of the reason I've always resisted joining any social network is I know it would just lead to my spending even more time thinking and spouting off on the subject.  This might sound counter-intuitive, but if there's one thing the world desperately needs less of, as well as lawyers, it's politics.  There's a very good reason why most ordinary, sensible people eschew getting involved, and it's not just because they're not interested or don't have the time to spare to do so: it's often terminally dull and the same arguments occur over and over again.  The reward is minuscule in comparison to the amount of work you have to put in to get any real enjoyment out.

You can though understand why the most obsessed believe that their heroes, or representatives must involve themselves in every issue or campaign going, because otherwise why else should they do so themselves?  This isn't helped by how what was once rare has become so commonplace: debates between political candidates, if they happened at all, were usually one-off affairs.  Now, especially when it comes to choosing a party leader or a party presidential nominee, they happen practically every week.  Yes, this does to an extent weed out the also-rans, but it also has the effect of boring anyone who might have been paying attention and isn't an obsessive to death.  There are only so many times even the most anal of us can hear the same scripted lines without wanting to open up our arteries.  By the time the Democrat/Republican candidates finally face off towards the end of this year, the chances of even Trump if it is indeed he saying something original will be lower than Jeb Bush's ego.

Owen Jones then worries that Labour "risks becoming irrelevant in the [EU] referendum".  He says this despite writing of how Jeremy Corbyn "is in politics to change things, and voters know – if nothing else – that he is not there to defend the status quo or the establishment".  Jones attempts to avoid the contradiction of this anti-establishment figure arguing for the establishment position by saying that instead Corbyn should "make his own separate case", calling for a vote to stay in the EU "as a first step to the reform it so desperately needs".

It isn't clear exactly how this will work.  Most Labour supporters are it seems in favour of staying in, and yet how exactly will helping David Cameron to a stonking great victory help the party win the next election?  How will effectively signing up to Cameron's renegotiation, as a remain vote will clearly be taken as, be the first step to the reform the EU so desperately needs, especially when it will be the Conservatives in power for at least another three years?  Failing a Scottish "neverrendum" feeling taking hold, it's apparent this is going to be taken as the UK's settlement in Europe for at least a good few years.

Put it like this: irrelevance is by far the preferable position, if not for Labour, then definitely for Corbyn.  We all know he doesn't believe in the EU.  He said he voted for coming out of the Common Market in 1975, as you'd expect, and if you voted out then you have to go through a spectacular routine of verbal gymnastics to convincingly explain why you'd possibly vote to remain now.  Getting vigorously involved in a campaign to remain, even purely on a Labour platform, makes absolutely no sense.  Staying in the background and letting everyone else get on with it is by far the better bet.

Especially when it seems as though all involved are determined to send the public to sleep.  Quite why there needs to be three BBC debates, not including any held by the other broadcasters quite escapes me, especially when only one is likely to be attended by Cameron.  The right-wing press does of course regard this as the most important vote in the history of this septic isle, so naturally the BBC has to go one better, and yet Wembley Arena?  Build it and everyone other than the obsessives will find an excuse to switch the channel.  Irrelevance has never been such an attractive proposition.

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Monday, February 22, 2016 

Let them all kill each other.

Imagine, if you can, just what a vote to leave the European Union on June the 23rd would mean.  Not to us as a country, as that's all too easy, but instead to the tabloid press.  How on earth would they cope with their number one bogeyman vanquished?  Their favourite target for unvarnished often irrational hate, suddenly gone, and with no one else to blame but ourselves for just how awful everything is.  Then, you quickly realise, it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference.  Instead their fire would quickly be turned on the barmy bureaucrats tasked with negotiating our exit, then the self-same people who would be negotiating our re-entry into the free market.  Once all that was over, or rather before then, the bile would just turn ever further inward: the NHS, the BBC, the left, students, the poors, Scotland, all would get it in the neck more frequently than ever.

For the obvious irony is that for all the occasions the left or supporters of the EU are accused of lacking patriotism, not being proud enough of England, of putting the country down, for which see last week's response to Emma Thompson describing our glorious nation as a "tiny little cloud-bolted, rainy corner of sort-of Europe, a cake-filled, misery-laden, grey old island", it tends to be the right, the Conservatives, UKIP especially that have the biggest problem with the country as it is.  The Mail, if not so much the Sun, would normally nod sagely and agree with most of Thompson's sentiments, so long as they were shorn of her conclusion as to that's why we should remain in the EU.  The shouting down of Thompson pretty much amounted to yes, everything you say is true, but it's our cloud-bolted, misery-laden, grey old island, you stuck-up, out of touch, elitist, snooty luvvie.  You could if you wished compare how Thompson was told to "shut her cakehole" for speaking out, as compared to how Michael Caine was treated for saying it was time we left, but that would be too easy.

If only there was so much as a touch of glamour to the mechanical, hollow, shallow, fatuous process of phony differences and fantastical scaremongering we're about to experience for the next 4 months.  Calling politics showbusiness for ugly people has always seemed a cheap shot, but lord, how could anyone gaze on Saturday's get together of the cabinet members set to campaign for the exit and not think we have reached the absolute pinnacle of human evolution?  Not one but two bald men, chomping at the bit to fight over how many combs EU bureaucrats dancing on the head of a pin are allowed under directive 5291, the minister for Northern Ireland without an apparent care in the world for how her support for the exit would impact on her job, a supporter of the death penalty, the culture minister who barely conceals his contempt for the BBC, and an utterly deluded squit who somehow believes he could still be the next Tory leader and prime minister to the boot.

And these politicians, dear reader, are the sensible ones.  For over at the Grassroots Out party on Friday night came the unveiling of Vote Leave's secret weapon, Gorgeous George Galloway, who endeared himself to an audience made up of UKIP supporters, Tory right-wingers and the odd outright loon by declaring that he hated nationalism.  You couldn't help but feel for poor Kate Hoey, who had previously disassociated herself from all the other various out groupings on the basis they were controlled by individuals more intent on fighting each other than their opponents, only to find herself standing alongside not just Nigel Farage but a man who has alienated pretty much everyone he once associated with.  The pound-shop Donald Trump and the biggest twat in a hat since Jay Kay, together at last!

For the most ridiculous spectacle of all though you only need look at today's newspaper front pages.  Anyone would be mistaken for thinking that Boris was the second coming of Thatcher, rather than an utterly shameless opportunist who cares only for his lifelong goal of reaching Downing Street.  IDS and all the other monomaniacs you can at least respect for having always wanted to get us out; Gove and Boris are thinking solely of how this will position them, whether Cameron wins the referendum and leaves shortly after, or loses and has to resign as a result.  They believe they have nothing to lose: a remain vote might take the aura of being a winner/hugely popular away from Boris, but will gain him the respect he currently lacks with some at the Tory party constituency level.  If it's out, then he has the wind at his back and through his hair: what's to stop him from winning the leadership when his main opponents all wanted to stay?  Sure, it'll be a bit of a bugger needing to leave the EU when they must know in their heart of hearts there isn't going to be a better offer after a leave vote, more likely instead all the downsides of EU membership, open borders etc, with far less of the positives.  Who cares mind when you're the prime minister, and gaining more and more power is what your entire career has been about?

The only real joy to be had from what's ahead of us is, loathe personality politics or not, the Tories tearing chunks out of each other.  We got a taster from Cameron today in the Commons, who albeit in the language of the House, tore Johnson's arguments in his Torygraph piece to shreds.  When you have IDS talking the most absurdist nonsense about leaving the EU somehow incubating us against terrorist attacks, with Cameron and others repeatedly making clear how "secure" membership by contrast makes us, the assaults on their different positions are only going to increase.  As the attack lines become and more and more rehearsed, so in turn will the personal insults commence.  With the vast majority of the public bound to be bored senseless by the entire shebang already, all anyone's going to remember is just who called whom an idiot, who questioned whom's patriotism, who denounced whom as a Little Englander, and so forth.  All accompanied naturally by a media who seize on splits in Labour but will applaud them when they agree with the outers in the Tories.

But cry the usual voices, Europe is too important to be left to the Conservatives.  Well, it is and isn't.  There is absolutely nothing for Labour or the left as a whole to gain from joining forces with Cameron and pals, whether on platforms or off of them.  Cameron has from the beginning tried to paint his renegotiation as being the will of the British people, when it has had nothing to do with public sentiment, supportive of a referendum or not, and everything to do with the management of his party.  This is his bed, and he should lie in it.  Yes, if Cameron wins then he does have some sort of additional legacy, to have hopefully settled our place in Europe for a generation, but if he wants that epitaph when his party will forever loathe the EU and hold it against him then that's his choice.  If say it gets to June and it looks as though the Outers are in the lead, then perhaps it will be time to do something.  Otherwise, we should let Dave and his party bang heads together, watch their polling fall, and anticipate a change of leadership that will almost certainly result in someone less capable and less popular than Cameron taking over.  What's not to like?

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