Thursday, April 09, 2015 

Stabbing a dead horse in the back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

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.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

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.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

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.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, March 23, 2015 

Advantage Labour.

Baffling.  Alex Massie has it dead right.  Of all the mistakes Tony Blair made, what on earth has possessed David Cameron to repeat the one that guaranteed he most certainly would not serve a full third term?  At the time, Blair's declaration made something approaching sense: polling behind his party and as we now know having seriously considered resigning in 2004 at the peak of the why the fuck haven't we found any weapons of mass destruction imbroglio, making clear he wasn't going be around forever looked to be a way of placating his enemies and being straight with the public.  As it turned out, all it did was make Blair a lame duck, Gordon Brown and his (then) supporters went on manoeuvres, and the messiah was off to get ludicrously rich via his dictator frotting services not even half way through his "full" third term.

Cameron though is more popular than his party, something that itself can only be explained as being the work of alchemy.  Unlike Blair, he hasn't so much as managed to win a single election, let alone two.  Unlike Blair, he does not have an obvious successor.  Indeed, while Labour was half-bullied and half-sleepwalked into anointing Brown as leader, a Tory leadership contest promises to be hard fought and potentially bloody, not least when all three of Theresa May, George Osborne and Boris Johnson are proficient in the dark arts. There would almost certainly be other candidates too, including from further to the right, with all the baggage they carry.  Lastly, for all the distrust and hostility towards Cameron on said right of the party, he's managed to hold it together reasonably well in the face of the UKIP insurgency, and also kept it in the coalition for the whole 5 years, something that most certainly wasn't assured.  He is without doubt the party's greatest asset, yet he's effectively just admitted both that he doesn't expect to win this time either, and that his party will get rid of him as a result.

There is absolutely no other explanation for going public with his plans.  As the rest of the media are saying and has been discussed before, very few expected Cameron to serve a full second term anyway.  Presuming the promised referendum on EU membership survived any new coalition agreement, a successful renegotiation and yes from the voters would have provided a perfect opportunity to stand down.  The deficit all but gone, Britain still in Europe, say what you like but it would be something approaching a legacy, and subsequently be embroidered further by the sycophantic newspapers we so love.  Coming out and saying I won't be around come 2020, as well as specifically naming May, Osborne and Johnson as his potential successors is to set off that very contest before we've so much as entered the "short" campaign.

You could understand it somewhat if Cameron was facing a more onerous campaign, such as one featuring the same three debates as were held last time.  Except he managed to humiliate the broadcasters into all but accepting the precise format he wanted, so desperate was ITV to hold any sort of debate again.  Another possibility is he doesn't have any confidence in the campaign as it stands or in the manifesto, and so thought by making it about himself, as he undoubtedly has, it would distract from the other shortcomings.  Except, again, the Tory strategy up to now has been to repeat the words long, term and plan while ripping on Ed Miliband, which if nothing else hasn't seen the party go backwards in the polls.  It could be he's looked at the way the majority of politicians are tired of increasingly quickly, and felt that by making clear he's not destined to "go on and on" he'll avoid the kind of monstering Blair (deservedly) and Brown (less so) continue to receive.

It's a decision so bewildering, in the way it's clearly been planned, made in the softest of interviews with the BBC (Blair also set out his decision to the BBC, incidentally), and so presumably was signed off with Lynton Crosby as Matthew d'Anconservative writes, that makes it all the more difficult to get your head round.  At a stroke it opens up numerous attack lines for Labour (and the rest), whether they be vote Cameron get one of these jokers, or that Cameron is taking the voters for morons, both of which have already started to ring out.  Arguably, vote Cameron get Boris could be attractive to some, but that makes so many assumptions as to be moot.  It also blows a hole straight through one of the other Tory lines we've heard so often, of competence versus chaos.  Rather than provide certainty Cameron has just ensured the next 5 years will be a mess of plotting, skulduggery and infighting, instead of the strong leadership they're so desperate to project.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming.  The way the Conservatives demanded Labour rule out a coalition with the SNP smacked of a leadership that doesn't believe it can win a majority, a line that Miliband and the rest foolishly didn't respond with.  At the weekend the Graun carried a detailed report on how a "praetorian guard" would try to save Cameron for the nation in the event of the party failing to win a majority, a further sign of just how seriously the prospect of failing to be able to govern in any capacity is being considered.  This still doesn't explain why Cameron would make such an admission now though, instead of keeping it in reserve for later in the campaign if a breakthrough in the polls still fails to materialise.

To return to Alex Massie, it really is as though no party wants to win this election.  Surely, definitively, this has to give Labour the kind of fillip they could only have dreamt of.  Cameron makes clear his weakness, his party's coming self-destruction, win or lose.  And yet still you can't shake the feeling they'll screw even this up.

Labels: , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 

Just the 57 days to go, eh?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, March 05, 2015 

Still mass debating the debates.

It really can't be stated enough just how much of a blinder David Cameron has played from a position of weakness on the debates, or increasingly likely non-debates, and what a spectacularly craven one the broadcasters have from a position of strength.  For months before the first proposal sources made clear Cameron would do everything possible to avoid a repeat of what he and his advisers felt was a debacle last time round, when Clegg seized the advantage they felt was rightfully theirs.

Rather than adapt their bids accordingly, they walked straight into Craig Oliver's trap.  Dave debate with Nige? Not without Natalie there to snipe at Ed and Nick from their blind sides.  Instead of saying OK and calling his bluff, they came up with the completely ridiculous and unwieldy idea of also inviting Plaid Cymru and the SNP, and to two rather than just one of the showdowns.  Why then not invite the DUP as well, or Sinn Fein, the Natural Law party, the Pirates, the Real Elvis continuity wing?  There didn't seem to have been the slightest thought put into how a 7-leader debate could possibly work, presumably because they were expecting Miliband and Clegg to now say hang on, this is becoming a joke.

Only they didn't, apparently believing the pressure on Cameron to take part would become too much.  It hasn't, as was predictable considering there isn't as much demand for the debates as the broadcasters, heady from the belief the debates were the campaign last time, and the other parties have convinced themselves.  Then you also have to factor in the lack of pressure from the press, both as they have an interest in not helping out the broadcasters and as most have already dismissed Miliband as only slightly less weird than Arnold Layne, making anything that could prove them wrong extremely unwelcome.  If it was Miliband refusing to be involved you can imagine the uproar, the jibes, taunts, the multiple interns in chicken suits that would be following him around everywhere.  As it's Cameron he'll raise the ire only of the Daily Mirror, and their stock isn't exactly high at the moment.

Now we have Oliver and Cameron's "final" offer, and it's playing the broadcasters at their own game.  You wanted 7 leaders, you've got it, but we're only doing one and before the campaign proper gets under way.  As contemptible as this is for all the reasons the other politicians have spent the day outlining, you also can't help but admire the way it's been done.  It's been Campbell-esque in its evil genius, which is no doubt why it's annoyed the man himself so much.  Having a debate before the Conservative manifesto has been published is all but pointless, as Paddy Ashdown pointed out, as is one when the very presence of at least two of the leaders is completely irrelevant to most of those watching as they can't vote for the SNP or Plaid Cymru whether they like the sound of their policies or not.  Even if answers to questions were limited to two minutes, that's nearly quarter of an hour that's going to be spent on just each leader's opening gambit.  No wonder Cameron thinks he'd escape completely unscathed from such an encounter.

And so we are once again left with the broadcasters threatening to "empty chair" Cameron.  Only because of the impartiality rules the Conservative policy would have to be outlined regardless, quite possibly by a journalist, making the spectacle even more ludicrous, and leaving the one-on-one debate with Miliband presumably transformed into either a long-form interview with Paxman or a town hall style non-event.  The question is who comes out of such silliness looking worse, and Cameron will quite happily take a few negatives headlines rather than risk Miliband appearing prime ministerial a week before voting.  Channel 4 and Sky offering to move that debate forward yesterday was all the encouragement Cameron and Oliver needed to make a final mockery of the "negotiations".  What a mess, and for all the cowardice, cynicism and calculation of the Conservatives, the incompetence of the broadcasters has been just as remarkable.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, January 14, 2015 

Mass debating the debates.

Is there anything more thrilling, more guaranteed to get the pulses racing than a debate about having debates?  Does parliament get any more electrifying than when the back and forth is effectively the equivalent of two eight-year-olds saying I know you are but what am I?  Could the public, supposedly completely engaged and at one with the leaders demanding the debates take place, in fact be any less interested by this cavalcade of nonsense, from both the political parties and the broadcasters?  Is that enough rhetorical questions for an opening paragraph?  (Yes. Ed.)

Christ alive.  If anything, what I find most perplexing about this entire farrago is the insistence, best expressed by Roger Mosey, that "In a short time, television debates have become a vital part of our democracy".  To which I say: bollocks.  What they most certainly have become is very lucrative indeed for the broadcasters, especially when budgets have been slashed for news gathering in general.  Why bother to follow the party leaders around the country on the campaign trail when you can let a skeleton crew do that and instead concentrate on those heavyweight clashes between the big three, or indeed four, or even five?  David Cameron is of course prevaricating over the inclusion of the Greens when he just doesn't want to take part as there is no possible way he could gain from the debates unless Farage shoots Clegg and Miliband dead while a bodyguard takes the bullet intended for him, but all he's really doing is reverting back to practice before 2010.

What's more, there's a decent case to be made for having no debates at all, or just the one between Cameron and Miliband.  Everything about our political system makes the presidentialising (or infantilising, if you prefer) of party leaders problematic.  Just look at the outcome in 2010: "Cleggmania" led to the Lib Dems increasing their share of the vote, only for the way those ballots were spread across the country to mean the party in fact lost seats.  However you try to dress it up, come May we'll be casting votes not for a party leader, but a party's local candidate.  Only those lucky enough to live in Witney, Doncaster North or Sheffield Hallam will have the chance to personally support one of the big three. 

For all the uncertainties over the election outcome, there's also no doubt the prime minister will either be from the Conservatives or Labour.  Unlike in presidential systems, our party leaders also do regularly go up against one another, although the quality of their tete a tete's are not always as high as they could be.  True, they rarely face questions direct from the public, but it's also not as if they won't have answered the ones set to be posed dozens of times before.  There's something to be said for taking a leader out of their comfort zone and seeing if they get agitated or crumble under studio lights, and they clearly serve a purpose for all those smart enough not to follow politics or the news in any great depth, but otherwise they are supremely overrated and over analysed events.

Whether they suck the life out of the campaign as a whole though, as Cameron is felt to believe the debates did in 2010 is more open to question.  Also different this year is the campaigns have already effectively started; most people won't be taking any notice till around the start of April, it's true, but can anyone really say they're looking forward to Cameron then repeating for the umpteenth time it's a choice between competence or chaos?

Besides, this isn't for once a mess of the big three's making.  The broadcasters must have known the second they started making plans for Nigel every other smaller party would demand they get a hearing too.  Invite him and you surely have to invite the Greens; invite the Greens and you may as well get the SNP and Plaid Cymru in too, as otherwise they'll start whinging despite not standing candidates outside of Scotland or Wales.  As to whether this makes the entire thing even more ridiculous, or impossible to contain to 90 minutes, let's worry about that nearer the date.  Oh, except this provided Cameron with his excuse to back out.

Only now comes the call for the broadcasters to go ahead without Cameron should he continue to refuse to attend.  Really?  This isn't HIGNFY where Roy Hattersley can be replaced by a tub of lard with hilarious consequences, it would render the entire spectacle completely pointless, a bit like those wonderful debates between Clegg and Farage last year that no one watched.  If the incumbent doesn't go along with it, it snookers the entire process,  and would surely also be unfair to Clegg, who'll be left having to defend the coalition at the same time as he'd like to be distancing himself from it.  For all the half serious half snide remarks about how without Natalie Bennett the debate would be one between four men on the centre-right, it would also result in Clegg and Miliband ganging up on Farage, which if they sat back and thought it through is unlikely to help them much either.

Surely the best solution is as the Graun suggests, for ITV to call Cameron's bluff and invite Bennett regardless of what Ofcom's final decision is.  If they won't, and the wider media really is sincere about this being what the public expect now and the very essence of democracy and so on, they should step into the breach themselves.  Otherwise, is it really unimaginable for there to be a campaign which doesn't revolve around the leaders and instead is about, horror of horrors, policy?  Would it be possible for the manifestos to be somewhat gone over and compared with each other, for instance, or even a series of films on what the issues are in different constituencies across the four nations?  Are we back asking rhetorical questions again?  (Yes. Ed.)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 

The ghosts of Tory Christmas future.

There is one, and one comfort only to be taken if worst comes to worst and the Conservatives win a majority next May: David Cameron will continue to lead the party.

This isn't out of grudging respect for David Cameron's achievements as prime minister.  Having never understood the appeal of a man who seems to emanate insincerity, who is easily discombobulated and angered (see PMQs most weeks), and who can also express faux anger if the need takes him, about the only positive to be taken from his time as head of the coalition is he will have guided it through the past five years without it collapsing.  This of course has much less to do with Cameron himself and more with the Liberal Democrats staring into the electoral abyss, the Tories also unconvinced they could win a majority in the event of it breaking apart, but slight achievement it is nevertheless.

Cameron is however a titan, a veritable Alexander the Great as compared to those whom aspire to be Tory leader should he fall under a bus or that majority continue to be unobtainable.  Fighting like a sackful of rats and tomcats are George Osborne and Theresa May, with the latest skirmish resulting in Theresa May's special advisers being denied the safe parliamentary seats they believed they were entitled to, supposedly for refusing to do their bit in the Rochester by-election.  Their demotion was, according to the Mail, approved by Cameron, who for reasons known only to himself appears to favour his chancellor moving next door when the time comes.

As mysterious as the charms of Cameron are, those of Theresa May remain as hidden or indeed as illusory as the lost city of Atlantis, and just as cold.  May's rise seems to stem purely from how she's managed to last the full term as home secretary, which as with Cameron speaks much of just how many powers the Home Office has farmed out as it does about her competence.  If nothing else she's managed to stare down problems which destroyed past holders of the office: like the little difficulty with Bodie Clark, or more recently the various immigration reports she delayed publishing, not to mention how while it's unfortunate to lose one head of a child abuse inquiry, to have two resign isn't so much carelessness as sustained buffoonery.  Not having the right-wing press tearing lumps out of you merely for being a Labour home secretary also helps matters.

Dear old Georgie by contrast remains in the race if only due to his superpower of placing sycophants in various government departments.  Not content with having once smashed his party's ratings with the omnishambles budget, his autumn statement with its promise of "colossal" cuts seems to have seen resulted in blowback once again.  Admittedly, only some polls are showing a lengthening of Labour's slight lead, but considering how in the immediate aftermath the spin was about how Osborne had once again made a silk purse out of Ed Balls's scrotum, it's enough to suggest his great shrinking the state gambit isn't working out.

And then we have Boris Johnson.  Anyone who's read Just Boris will be all too aware of quite how unprincipled, hungry for power and determined to get it at any cost the London mayor is.  Hidden beneath the artistry veneer of being upper class twit of the year is a venal liar without scruples, and a libido that would embarrass Russell Brand.  All things considered, he's probably the least worst potential candidate.

Whether Cameron can hang on in the event of his party again emerging with the most seats but without a majority depends on whether the backbenches could be convinced to back a two-time loser for a third time.  Would Cameron really be capable of getting the fabled majority in a snap election following the collapse of a minority administration?  Would the alternatives be any better?  Can you imagine George Osborne helming the campaign for Britain to stay in the EU?  Theresa May being softened by the usual advisers in an attempt to make her likable?  Boris Johnson doing anything other than his Macavity act, one that would put Gordon Brown's in the utmost perspective?  Trust me, the horror could be only just beginning.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 

Bringing out the worst.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, October 23, 2014 

Extremely loud and incredibly close.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 

Farage's face, staring out - forever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 

Judge actions, not just words.

It's another of those days when you look down the headlines and think, is there really nothing else going on in the world than outrages about who said what to whom, and arguments over whether the threats of one side are more reprehensible than their opponents'?  Well, admittedly, there is, it's just the other big story continues to be Ebola, which is still failing miserably to gain a foothold in the West, whereas it continues to ravage West Africa, killing poor black people, who aren't quite as important.  Also we already seem bored about the siege of Kobani, for similar reasons.

We come then to Lord Freud's comments about disabled people and the minimum wage at a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference.  If you completely ignore the context in which he was speaking, then yes, they really are as bad as they look on the surface.  Minister says some disabled people aren't worth the minimum wage!  He must resign forthwith!  Look closer however, and it becomes apparent he was responding to a question from a Tory councillor who related an anecdote about a person who wanted to work but at the same time found it difficult to do so and keep the same entitlement to benefits.  The solution David Scott found was to set him up as a company director, meaning he could do some gardening, get paid for it and not be penalised for doing so.

The conversation is admittedly not conducted in language which everyone would use: Scott talks of the "mentally damaged" not "being worth the minimum wage" and goes on to speak of "them" in a more than slightly patronising, if not outright offensive way.  He is though describing the contradiction between wanting to help the sick and disabled either back into work or to be able to work, and how the system currently immediately ends support once it's deemed someone's capable of holding down a job.  Freud in response mentions universal credit, which to a certain extent is meant to be able to adapt to fluctuations in the number of hours someone works, then agrees with Scott on "there is a small, there is a group ... where actually they're not worth the full wage".

How far Freud is agreeing with Scott on his overall point and just repeating his words is obviously open to interpretation.  He has since apologised on precisely these grounds, saying he shouldn't have accepted the "premise of the question", while making clear the disabled should "without exception" receive the minimum wage.  Certainly, if Freud really does believe a group, however small isn't worth the full wage he can't remain in his position.

Always you should consider a person, or in this instance government's deeds alongside their words.  David Cameron, reasonably enough, said he would take no lectures on looking after disabled people; perhaps though he should take some responsibility for the coalition's woeful record on the work capability assessment and how Iain Duncan Smith insisted everyone needed to go through the system again regardless.  That's not to forget the botched introduction of the personal independence payment system, still causing misery, the closing of more of the Reemploy factories or the impact the "spare room subsidy" has had on the vulnerable.  Also needing to be factored in is how many disabled people have reported feeling under suspicion, such has been the change in mood towards anyone who might be claiming benefits.  The coalition can't take the blame for all the anti-scrounger rhetoric, not least as Labour first encouraged it while in power, but it picked up where they left off.  On your works ye shall be judged, and the Tories and indeed the nice, caring Lib Dems must be.  Harshly.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

About

  • This is septicisle
profile
Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates