Tuesday, June 09, 2015 

Trying to out bonehead each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, May 06, 2015 

A campaign of failure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015 

We still need a Labour government.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015 

Me and Stephen Hawking we laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, April 27, 2015 

Can you feel the passion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015 

Politics fails psychology 101.

Without wanting to come over all who are the Beatles, I hadn't until a couple of weeks ago heard of the band All Time Low.  Giving your band such a name does rather seem to be asking for it, just as the groups Fuck Buttons, Holy Fuck and Fucked Up don't really expect to get much in the way of radio play.

Then again, the basics of psychology seem to allude many.  For instance, you might have thought people would have realised by now that the one thing obviously self-hating, self-publicising individuals feed off is attention.  When you've been on one reality television show after another, it's not that great a leap to deciding what the world really needs is semi-outrageous political commentary.  To such shit-stirrers any publicity is good publicity; to get Grauniad columnists comparing your output to that of the hate transmitted by Rwandan radio prior to the genocide is to have won big.  To have over 250,000 people sign a petition demanding your sacking is to have gone above and beyond what the Sun could have imagined when it signed you up.  That the former petition will almost certainly end up with more signatures than the one demanding something be done about the situation written about speaks volumes of the way things work now.

The same could be said of the Conservatives ramping up even further their Nicola Sturgeon is the devil made flesh rhetoric.  The thinking behind it seems two-fold: first, that it will encourage more people in Scotland to vote SNP because so many north of the border react in a Pavlovian manner to Tories saying no you can't; and second, that English voters will be terrified at how a Labour minority government will be pushed even further to the left as a result of the Tartan loons holding Red Ed to ransom.  Wheeling out John Major to make this exact argument is a classic old campaign trope: an ex-PM couldn't possibly be as partisan or stupid as the current leaders of the party, therefore he should be listened to.  Labour already tried this tactic with Tony Blair, to indifferent if not negative results.

It nevertheless remains striking just how much nonsense journalists will regurgitate when ordered to by their bosses.  Older readers might recall the Sun's attitude to John Major after Black Wednesday, with Kelvin MacKenzie informing the PM he had a "bucket of shit" he intended to pour over his head and into the newspaper.  Now, according to the Sun's current political editor Tom Newton Dunn, Major is a "party legend, a successful former Prime Minister and a modern day political saint".  Such hyperbole is the order of the day on SunNation, the paper's deliberately and hysterically biased free site designed to help, or more likely hinder the Tories' return to power.

Whether this is the second dead cat on the table of the campaign or not, designed as much to distract from Labour trying to make this week about the NHS as it is to be taken at face value, it again seems based on extremely dubious reasoning.  Banging on and on about the SNP being in a position to prop up Labour is almost certain to lead people to look and see firstly whether they can, and second if it really would mean the immediate end to Britain as we know it.

After all, the SNP surge has almost nothing whatsoever to do with policy.  It's a combination of the zoomers carrying on zooming from the independence campaign, the switch from a Salmond personality cult to a Sturgeon personality cult and the apparent winning over of many people to the SNP faith, where facts come second to sheer belief.  On the BBC News last night Robert Peston pointed out that while spending on health and education had risen under the wicked Tories in England, in Scotland under the SNP (who are in power at Holyrood, though you'd never realise it) spending on the NHS hadn't kept the same pace while on education it had actually fallen.  And yet the leader of SNP is the one demanding an immediate end to austerity and promising to pull Labour to the left.

Indeed, as the Graun points out in its analysis of the SNP manifesto, the party's apparent determination to hug Labour close has in fact seen this great progressive force be pulled leftwards itself.  Gone are the former promises to cut corporation tax and not reinstate the 50p top rate of tax, both overturned at the recent SNP conference, both of which just so happen to have long been Labour policies.  Subtly altered too is the party's attitude to "full fiscal autonomy", which rather than being a key demand is now merely an aspiration.  This is despite Nicola Sturgeon condemning as smears Labour pointing out the Institute for Fiscal Studies had calculated this would lead to a near £8bn hole in the Scottish finances.

Such things matters little when the SNP has so successfully managed to conflate itself with Scotland as a whole.  During the independence campaign Alex Salmond characterised Yes as "Team Scotland" while Better Together were "Team Westminster"; now Nicola Sturgeon doesn't so much as mention the SNP as she does Scotland when apparently the two are one and the same thing.  It's no surprise then when a poll finds 51% would take criticism of the SNP as criticism of them personally, a percentage far beyond even that of the 35 and 36% of UKIP and Greens who said the same thing.

As argued before, what this adds up to is the SNP not having much in the way of bargaining power come May the 8th.  A coalition is both not on offer and not wanted, and as Sturgeon has made so much of keeping the Tories out come what may she can hardly renege on supporting Labour, even if on a vote-by-vote basis rather than confidence and supply.  Ed Miliband could offer the SNP nothing and still come out as prime minister.  As it is, the pledge of a slightly higher minimum wage in the SNP manifesto seems calculated to be that one policy the party could point towards as pulling Labour leftwards.  The SNP would obviously prefer the Tories to win for their own purposes, to claim once again the wishes of Scotland have been thwarted, but a minority Labour government wouldn't be the worst of all worlds.

The Tory and media fearmongering relies on the assumption that as May the 7th edges nearer minds will be concentrated and the lack of trust in Labour on the economy will become crucial.  The SNP factor is meant to intensify the effect.  The problem for them is the polls seem deadlocked.  They could of course be wrong; there could, of course, be that last minute switch of undecided voters to the Tories, or a large scale return of those lost to UKIP; David Cameron could, of course, finally decide he wants to win a second term rather than coast to defeat.  Time, however, is surely running out.

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Thursday, April 09, 2015 

Stabbing a dead horse in the back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015 

An "unprecedented intervention", and the Incedal denouement.

There are some things we are destined never to understand.  Caitlin Moran's popularity.  How Grant Shapps' resemblance to Edd the Duck isn't remarked upon more often.  Why it is so many people can dish it out but not take it when they eventually face a backlash.  And, integral to this post, that ever present election campaign set piece, the letter from business leaders to a newspaper.

When said letter happens to appear on April the 1st, you also can't help but wonder if the joke isn't on all of us.  Quite what effect an endorsement from a bunch of people the vast majority will have never heard of and never will again is supposed to have is a mystery all of its own.  Presumably the aim, at least this time, is to underline further just how wonderful the coalition's long-term plan has been and will remain, and if you don't believe us then that bloke off that TV programme says so, as does that woman off that other TV programme who is, err, also a Tory peer.

This seems to rather overlook how most people are cynical sods, who will note all 103 wealth creating heroes are not doing a lot more than agreeing they would like to pay less tax and draw their own conclusions.  As it's corporation tax they want to pay less of, the tax plenty of companies try their best not to anyway and which in turn means the shortfall has to be made up elsewhere, mainly through more people going into the higher rate income tax band, it doesn't instantly follow they'll conclude Labour are lunatics for saying they'll put it up a whole penny to support smaller businesses.

Nor has it ever been clear what the businesses themselves get out of their CEOs making such endorsements.  The letter is after all effectively a list of companies those so inclined can from now on avoid if they so wish, which is why most likely why they're attempting to have their cake and eat it, signing the letter in a personal capacity.  Thankfully the Graun has stepped in with some further details on said bosses, and so we learn alongside the Tory donors and usual suspects is one Mark Esiri, good pal of the Camerons and the person who helped coordinate the sale of Smythson, netting Glam Sam Cam a cool £430,000.  Also on the list are such non-fat cats as head of Prudential Tidjane Thiam, who earned a mere £11.4m last year, up from £5.3m in 2010, so clearly another victim of the cost of living crisis.

George Osborne is then surely right to declare the letter an "unprecedented" intervention.  Still, it's odd as Nils Pratley notes that previous Tory letter signers are notable by their absence, including such an obvious name as Lord Wolfson, a Tory peer no less.  Also curious, beyond the stupidity of releasing the letter to the Torygraph on April Fools' Day, is why they've done it this early in the campaign at all: surely it would have served the party better nearer polling day itself, as let's face it, the majority are still barely paying attention even as the nerds among us are fed up to the back teeth of the same old soundbites.  It couldn't be that failure to achieve "crossover", the point at which the Conservative lead consolidates and which Lynton Crosby said would have arrived by now, combined with a solid start by Labour on the campaign front has spooked them, could it?

Something that should spook us all is the denouement to the Erol Incedal trial.  Mr Justice Nicol has ruled the public cannot be allowed to know why it was the jury decided Incedal, despite the apparently highly incriminating evidence against him, was not in fact plotting a terrorist attack.  His defence, that he had a "reasonable excuse" as to why both he and his co-defendant had a manual containing instructions on how to make "viable" explosive device cannot be reported, and yet it was this defence that put enough doubt in the mind of two successive juries, resulting first in a retrial and then in acquittal.  For possession of the manual Incedal was sentenced to 42 months in prison, a term that seems far beyond that ordinarily passed for possession of similar documents, again without any wider explanation.

The whole situation frankly defies description.  You want to call it Kafkaesque, except the point of The Trial is K never knows what he's been arrested and charged with, whereas with Incedal we aren't allowed to know what his defence was.  Moreover, the state attempted to have the entire trial held in secret, which not even the bureaucracies of Kafka's nightmares did.  Then there's the paradoxes at work, whereby the CPS continues to claim the trial could not have been brought if more details were made public, and yet as Incedal has now been cleared the opinion of the jury was the case had never been strong enough anyway.

Mr Justice Nicol's reasoning for why the in camera sessions attended by the accredited journalists must remain secret are also, naturally, far too sensitive to be made public.  His ruling additionally makes said hacks effectively complicit in secret justice, or rather injustice, raising the question of whether if a situation like this occurs again they would go along with it a second time.  Why on earth would anyone?  Their notebooks locked away, crosswords also confiscated lest they be an attempt to smuggle out a record of what was heard, they've just wasted weeks of their time.  Indeed, it makes you wonder if that was the point, until you remember that cock up is nearly always a better explanation than conspiracy.

Precisely how national security could possibly be so drastically affected by the public knowing Incedal's defence you can't even begin to surmise.  It seems of a piece with the literal sledgehammer response to the Guardian's reporting of the Edward Snowden leaks, when the most ridiculous excuses were come up with as to why the copies of the files in London had to be destroyed.  It was utterly pointless in the sense of preventing the reporting from continuing, but it was very much pointed in the message it was sending.  Anything that might prove embarrassing to the intelligence agencies has to stepped upon, and if that means denying an innocent man the right to truly clear his name, as Incedal most certainly has been, the ends justify the means.  That the state on this occasion has so involved the fourth estate in its machinations could yet prove its downfall.

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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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Tuesday, March 24, 2015 

What you could of won.

I don't know about you, but I never took David Cameron for a wannabe Frank Carson.  You see, according to Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, George Osborne and a whole host of other Tories sequestered to explain the unexplainable, it's all in the way he tells 'em.  Cameron in saying he didn't intend to be around for a third term was just answering a straight question with a straight answer, a highly admirable thing in a politician.  What's more, it's not arrogance to set out where you intend to be in five years time when the public will be deciding your fate in just over a month.  No, it's the exact opposite; it's humility, it's knowing when to get out, being a true public servant rather than wanting power for its own sake.  And if you don't buy any of that, and frankly who would, it was just a statement of the obvious, dismissing the impossible, nothing more.

Being as absurdly presumptuous as the prime minister was for reasons we are no nearer to understanding in turn necessitates equally absurd defences.  All Cameron had to do was say I've got to win this election before I start worrying about the next one, and yet he didn't.  That he then expressly set out the frontrunners to succeed him rather than try and row back makes clear how calculated it was.  You can only guess at what the calculation was, and so too it seems can his allies, but at least we don't have to claim that black is white to incredulous journos.

The aforementioned Gove wasn't scheduled to be on Newsnight, but there he was doing his bit.  Not so long ago he might have hoped to be among the names reeled off by Cameron, and yet now his task was to try and provide some clarity.  He did so by constantly referencing the American system, as though it's worth emulating a model where a two-term president has essentially four years in which to achieve something, the other four years taken up with campaigning for re-election and then as a lame duck.  The introduction of fixed term parliaments has on its own meant we've been anticipating the election now for over a year, a situation which hasn't turned out to be an immediate improvement over the one where it was up to the discretion of the prime minister as to when to dissolve parliament.

That Gove had to be wheeled out in any case was evidence by itself of the Thick of It style panic which must have descended following the Cameron interview, although considering his way of putting it in perspective was to go all West Wing, most likely Crosby and pals wished they hadn't bothered.  By morning the message was at least slightly more coherent, if still utterly transparent.  When the AgeUK conference laughs at the prime minister repeating the I was being a pretty straight kinda guy line, it's fairly apparent just what a self-inflicted wound this has been.

Perhaps the Tories will console themselves that it at least knocked the Afzal Amin disaster down the news agenda.  Dealing as we are with absurdities, the story of the prospective Tory MP for Dudley North making a deal with the EDL whereby they would announce a demonstration then call it off following mediation with Amin, along with an exchange of hard cash to make it worth their while has to rank up there.  As well as Amin claiming that he was drawing on his experience of "dealing with the Taliban", having served in Afghanistan, although whether his claims about counter-insurgency are bullshit or not is anyone's guess, Alex notes that Amin's company succeeded in wrangling a contract out of the Department for Communities and Local Government to giving inspiring talks on Commonwealth soldiers who fought in the world wars.  Whether Amin might perhaps have a case for being stitched up, as he claims, is open to question: we are after all relying on both the Mail on Sunday and Tommy Robinson himself, who secretly recorded and filmed their meetings, as to the veracity of what went on.  Speaking of Robinson, considering he was supposedly meant to have put his EDL days behind him thanks to the work of the Quill.i.am Foundation, that he was negotiating alongside the new EDL chairman with Amin raises the question of just what, if anything, their "deradicalising" of aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon amounted to.  Quilliam hasn't as yet commented on their
protégé's latest attention grabbing exploits, oddly.

They have though welcomed Theresa May's speech on how a majority Conservative government would deal with extremism, which seems to amount in practice to more schemes like those provided by Amin's Curzon firm with a further blurring of the lines between what's considered to be Islamic conservatism as opposed to extremism.  Purists, i.e. people like me will also take issue with how on the one hand we must be robust in our promotion of "British values", those intrinsically British virtues such as participation in and acceptance of democracy (presumably meaning 35% of eligible voters are extremists based on the 2010 turnout) and respect for minorities (no further comment necessary), and at the same time deny extremists who aren't quite extreme enough to fall foul of anti-terrorist legislation their right to freedom of speech by extending banning orders.

Then there's how despite British values being so universal and unquestionable they also need to be promoted by a "positive" campaign.  Like the superb Britain is great one presumably, and not like the one telling Romanians and Bulgarians how awful it is here.  You could also question the commitment of governments past and present to the self-same values now deemed to be non-negotiable, such as respect for the rule of law, not utmost on the agenda of Iain Duncan Smith, or equality, which is so wide a concept as to mean something different to almost everyone.  When British citizens are imprisoned for making offensive jokes or posting riot "events" on Facebook you also have to wonder just which definition of freedom of speech it is we're deeming to be a "British value".  Not the American one, that's for definite, despite this seeming to be the first step towards an American-style drilling into kids of just how exceptional their country and its values are.  Seeing as May also ended the speech with a you're either with us or you're with the extremists flourish, last employed by a certain former president, it's not as far-fetched as it sounds.

Not that it makes much odds as there isn't going to be a majority Conservative government, therefore rendering the entire speech all but completely pointless.  Here's what you could of won: a prime minister who doesn't, repeat doesn't believe he was born to rule, a prospective MP who would have got away with it if wasn't for the meddling EDL, and a home secretary who fought against Michael Gove's "draining of the swamp" only to then decide it needed dredging after all.  What fools we all must be.

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