Friday, April 17, 2015 

Arcadia.

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What might have been.

Last night's debate was superior in every way to the first.  This was primarily for the reason there weren't as many leaders on the stage; who could have known that less would mean more?  Certainly not the broadcasters, who haven't been criticised anywhere near enough for the botching of the format.  That the BBC last night allowed the parties that claimed they hadn't been invited to be in the bullshit room afterwards was a disgrace in itself, albeit a request they probably had to accede to under Ofcom rules on impartiality.

David Cameron's refusal to as Ed Miliband put it turn up for the interview did at least finally become as much of a theme of the debate as the questions asked.  Miliband's decision to take part was also a major risk; it could so easily have turned into an hour and a half of Ed being assailed from both left and right, without either of the governing parties there to take a share of the flak.

Despite a rough first half hour where Nicola Sturgeon was as confident and comfortable as before, by the end the relative weakness of the SNP bargaining position regardless of however many seats they take off Labour in Scotland was much clearer.  If she means what she says about not letting the Tories in come what may, then her only option is to do a Polly Toynbee and get out a nosepeg.  She doesn't want a coalition, Labour doesn't want a coalition, leaving only a confidence and supply deal, which inevitably means even less will be on offer than otherwise would.

Rather than looking the establishment figure surrounded by insurgents, the opposite ended up being the case for Ed.  He gave straight answers to straight questions repeatedly, flummoxing Nigel Farage over his gotcha attempt on an EU army, and dare it be said, was prime ministerial.  As he was the only leader on the platform with a chance of being prime minister that wasn't difficult admittedly, but such was the opportunity he was presented with by Cameron deciding to spend the evening washing his hair.

Farage by contrast had a nightmare, although when 27% still think he won a debate any objective person would conclude he flunked he won't be too upset.  It has to be remembered everything Farage does is calibrated towards the UKIP base, such as it is.  Claiming the audience is biased when it's been put together by an independent pollster might go down badly in the hall itself and with everyone who isn't a UKIP, but will have likely struck a chord with the "real audience" at home cheering on the blaming of everything on immigrants and the EU, disgusted their leader wasn't being clapped along.  Such is the problem UKIP faces come May the 8th, whether Farage wins in Thanet South or not.  Their manifesto, based on fantasy figures as it is, espouses a respectable hard-right platform designed to appeal to wavering Tories.  The message however remains completely one note and simply won't maintain appeal indefinitely, especially if Cameron somehow manages to conjure together another coalition and holds the EU referendum promised.

After failing to make any impact in the first debate, Natalie Bennett had a much better night.  She repeatedly tried to steer the debate onto Green territory to her credit, whether she was wholly successful in doing so or not, and will probably have won a few more over.  Leanne Wood was once again a complete waste of a podium, only really getting a hit in when she called Nigel on claiming UKIP was being abused after he himself had insulted the audience.  Again though, when all she has to do is turn up and be vaguely plausible it's hardly going to make a major difference to Plaid's support.

The feeling I was left with was what might have been had this been the 5-way debate originally envisioned, with the Greens and UKIP alongside the main three.  Miliband is clearly gaining in confidence and building momentum, and yet hasn't been allowed the opportunity to face off against the main two in a format that allows for more detail.  All that remains now is the Question Time special, where the leaders will appear separately.  Ed could still shine, but any real danger for the Tories of a major re-evaluation of the Labour leader has passed.

If nothing else, the debate this time did offer a vision of a different politics.  In stark contrast, on Newsnight a couple of hours later the Northern Ireland leaders faced off against one another.  6 old white men in a room has never looked quite so out of date.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015 

Dirty cash.

"I always have challenged the establishment", says Richard Desmond, desperately trying to convince himself it was right to piss £1 million up the wall by donating it to the UKIPs.  Then again, it's easier to justify such largesse when back in 2004 the owner of the Express and smut purveyor Television X (choice title on offer currently: Ben Dover The Old Fucker 3) paid himself £51.47m out of his company Northern and Shell's coffers.  He also seems to have forgotten his dalliance with Labour, that enemy of the establishment, after giving the party a donation of £100,000 just as Stephen Byers decided not to refer his buying of the Express to the competition commission.  The long suffering hacks on his newspapers meanwhile, forced to cover Desmond's turning up to the opening up of an envelope just as Mirror journalists once did the adventures of Robert Maxwell, haven't received a pay rise in 7 years.  To judge from Nigel Farage's erratic at best performance in the debate tonight, Desmond might already want his money back.

P.S.  The Graun reports the notes made by the journalists allowed in to some of the secret portions of the Erol Incedal trial have been locked away in Thames House, apparently so dangerous are their contents.  The utter paranoia of the securocrats knows no bounds.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015 

The Liberal Democrat manifesto.

For the second day in the row, the Liberal Democrat "battlebus" broke down.  As metaphors go, they don't come much more obvious and yet all but impossible to avoid using.

Only it's probably too kind to how the party has gone about the campaign thus far to say it's merely having a few mechanical problems and will be up and running again shortly.  In actuality the Lib Dem campaign hasn't so much as got started.  The party has been all but invisible, and when it has succeeded in getting coverage it's been possibly to its detriment.  Clegg was anonymous during the leaders' debate, the party's reliance on their desperately unpopular leader baffling.  It's not as though the party doesn't have other communicators it could push to the fore when they have Vince Cable, Tim Farron or Jo Swinson to name but three they could choose from, and yet it's Calamity Clegg every time in front of the cameras.

The campaign's biggest misstep isn't the reliance on Clegg so much as the patently false, confused and deeply negative message they've decided can't be reiterated enough.  You see, the Tories, the party they've propped up for the past 5 years are heartless bastards, whereas Labour are economically incontinent.  Only the moderating influence of the Lib Dems can ensure the Tories won't bring back the workhouse, while if the numbers go in the opposite direction only the mellow yellows can ensure Labour won't immediately increase the deficit by eleventy trillion pounds.  This assumes firstly that everyone accepts there's going to be another hung parliament, which despite being highly likely isn't a certainty, and secondly that the past five years have been such a wonderful experience everyone will vote for the party that wants to do it all over again.  Precisely who this is meant to appeal to beyond past Lib Dem voters isn't clear.

It also assumes it's accepted the Liberal Democrats have been that moderating influence, when this is a view held almost only by right-wing Tories.  Yes, they did prevent the very worst instincts of the Conservatives from becoming reality, stopping the snoopers' charter, the repeal of the Human Rights Act, further cuts to welfare, but this has to be offset against their support for the immediate austerity that stalled the recovery, the imposition of the bedroom tax, the hardening of attitudes to those on benefits, the welfare sanctions that hundreds of thousands have suffered for the merest of infractions if that, and every other destructive policy the coalition has pursued.

This knowledge makes the party's claims that either the SNP or UKIP will hold their prospective partners to ransom all the more risible.  The UKIPs aren't going to win enough seats to be able to govern alone with the Tories full stop, while the SNP would have to extract a far better deal from Labour than the Lib Dems did the Tories, and they would be making demands not so much for a coalition as a confidence and supply arrangement.  It simply isn't credible, and that the party hasn't realised its pitch has failed to hit home and switched tactics strikes as being in denial.

Nor would it matter as much if the manifesto (PDF) had been written with the intention of being genuinely open to coalition with either Labour or the Tories.  Instead the policies on the front cover, declared by Clegg to be all but non-negotiable are almost a mirror image of the ones announced by their coalition partner yesterday, right down to the £12,500 personal tax allowance.  The only real sticking point would be Clegg's one other declared "red line", the further £12bn in welfare cuts, and that isn't too massive a stumbling block when few realistically expect the Conservatives would even as a majority government eliminate the deficit wholly through reductions in spending as they claim.  Dropping opposition to the Tory pledge of holding a referendum on EU membership all but gives the game away.

Which leads directly on to the other obvious problem: you therefore can't take seriously a single other policy set out in what is by far the most extensive but by the same token least enlightening manifesto of the main three.  Those who like me will cheer the promise to take the very first steps towards reforming our drug laws will at the same time know it'll be one of the first proposals to go.  Then there are the sections that are just embarrassing: the party that as Ian Dunt says went along with the disgraceful ban on sending books into prisons still claims it will put an emphasis on rehabilitation and reducing the prison population.  There isn't so much as a hint of the crisis inside as a direct result of the cuts and overcrowding the Liberal Democrats have to take ownership of, while the spare room subsidy, aka the bedroom tax, which the party belatedly discovered was cruel and unfair is relegated to the very last point on the unbelievably patronising "improving support for the hardest to help" page.

The decision to hug the Tories close, understandable as it is considering most of the former Labour-Lib Dem marginals have been written off as a lost cause with a couple of exceptions, has some especially perverse consequences.  The effective choice in the south-west for instance, likely to be the party's one remaining stronghold come May the 8th, is between the Tories and the Lib Dems.  Following today's manifesto launch that choice has effectively become a Hobson's choice, with all that entails for disenchantment and resentment.  Nick Clegg talks of being the alternative to a coalition of grievance, yet the Lib Dem decision to move to the centre-right when 5 years ago there seemed for the first time to be a real third party alternative is a manoeuvre guaranteed to create very legitimate grievances, with so many of those voting for a change left feeling abandoned and unrepresented.

Nick Clegg opens his introduction to the manifesto with the line "few people expected that many of the policies it [the 2010 manifesto] contained would be implemented by the next Government".  Least of all, the statement begs, the party itself.  We could also quibble on just how many of its policies have been implemented also (three quarters, Clegg claims, hardly any, the Graun answers back) but frankly my will to live is ebbing just thinking about it.  On this day back in 2010 I concluded my post by saying what was holding the party back was knowing when to go further and "most pertinently, their leader himself".  In 2015 the only thing motivating the party is holding on to the vestige of power, and that self-same leader is in a position where he could oversee the loss of half of his MPs and still remain deputy prime minister.  Funny thing, politics.  And by funny I mean hateful.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015 

The Conservative manifesto.

Some days, I don't have the slightest idea how to open these posts.  I doubt this is much of a revelation.  This isn't one of those days.  I thought for instance of something along the lines of today saw the publication of a manifesto written by people safe in the knowledge they'll never have to implement it, and it accordingly reads like the deranged wishlist of crazed fanatics.  And the other is from the Green party.  I could have gone with the more than faintly sinister overtones contained within the Tory manifesto, from the "plan" for every stage of your life, far more Stalinist than anything Labour have come up with in decades, a theme it carries on with through the centrepiece of selling off at a discount houses the government doesn't so much as own.  Then I could have made something out of "the good life" the manifesto is meant to usher in, so long as your vision of the good life is one that is so beige as to not be worth living at all.

We'll settle though for the sheer one-eyed monomania the manifesto confirms prevails within today's Conservative party.  Apart from the Thatcherite true believers, nearly everyone now recognises that right to buy has been one of the most destructive policies of the last 30 years.  The social housing stock has never been replaced, it kick-started the runaway price inflation we've seen since, and rather than creating the home owning democracy initially promised has instead overwhelmingly contributed to the situation we have now where only with the help of said home-owning parents can most of those looking to buy afford to do so.

A sensible party, rather than promising to sell off more would be pledging to empower councils to replenish the stock they've lost.  Raiding housing associations whether they like it or not is an act of wanton vandalism, utterly self-defeating and for the briefest short-term gain.  Indeed, it's not even remotely clear if there are votes in this latest cloth-eared Tory venture.  Many housing association tenants are the same people who've suffered the most under the coalition so far, unlikely to be able to get together the heavily discounted amounts mooted.  This might well be the point of the policy: meant to hark back to those glorious days when the party could win a majority, enthusing those who still believe the word aspiration means something, while at the same time not expecting it to be much used.  The reaction from those at the sharp end has been little short of brutal, for good reason.  Taken alongside the raising of the inheritance tax threshold, it speaks of just how narrow and stuck in the past the Conservative vision of what motivates the average person has become.

Apart possibly from the pledge to double the number of hours of childcare available to parents of 3 and 4-year-olds, there is absolutely nothing in the manifesto itself (PDF) that was unexpected.  By necessity, it's a very different document to the one of 5 years ago, which hilariously offered "an invitation to join the government", RVSPed only by a group of people no one is paying the slightest attention this time round as a result.  Gone is even a whiff of the experimentation of the early Cameron years, before the "green crap" was all cleared out, replaced with various shades of blue.  The cover, complete with its angled photo of the Tory "team", George Osborne's fizzog obscured to protect the young and innocent, Nicky Morgan on the far left struggling to remain in focus and with the usual expression of apparent shock on her face, is navy blue, while the fonts inside alternate seemingly at random from light to dark.  The photographs used are all but identical to the ones featured in Labour's manifesto yesterday, the portraits of Cameron the only shots of a politician, then the various images of Brits at work.  At least Labour named them; the Tories leave them anonymous.  Perhaps it was to hide their shame.

Certainly you couldn't pay many people enough to feature alongside such utter lies as are featured in the text.  I honestly don't think I've read a more mendacious official publication from a party in the entire time I've been writing this blog.  Apparently the UK was the fastest growing of all the major advanced economies last year, which must mean neither China or India fit such a description; the national debt was rising out of control 5 years ago, which is why it has gone up even further under the coalition; living standards will be higher this year than in 2010; those with the "broadest shoulders have contributed the most to deficit reduction", which is true only so far as the richest have contributed the most in cash terms, not as a percentage of their actual wealth, with the poorest having been hammered on that score; "International evidence and Treasury analysis shows that the only way to keep our economy secure for the future is to eliminate the deficit entirely and start running a surplus", the manifesto claims, a statement so patently absurd and false that no further comment is necessary; and, just to limit this to a single paragraph of semi-colons, "Under Labour, road and rail were starved of resources".  Yes, really.

The Great Recession then has given way to a Great Revival.  Our friends and competitors overseas look at Britain and see a country on the rise, perhaps even about to make a Great Leap Forward.  Except this Great Revival is fragile, and the slightest deviation from the Plan will result in things going Backwards.  This is why every single thing Labour did in power is blamed for why things still aren't Good Enough now.  Almost every individual part of the manifesto begins by outlining The Evil That Labour Did, even when it jars completely.  Labour for instance forgot that government is the servant of the British people, not their master, goes the introduction to making government work better for you section; it always knew best.  The current government of course doesn't, which is why one part of it has gone to such lengths to demonise its supposedly weak and useless opponent and seems fixated as much on how terrible things were and still are rather than on how it's going to fix them.

Some things go strangely unmentioned.  You won't for instance find any reference to either the bedroom tax or the spare room subsidy, a policy it seems the Tories are completely ashamed of but still won't do the decent thing and admit they got wrong.  You won't discover just where the proposed £12bn in cuts to welfare will fall, nor is there any detail on where the axe will be wielded outside of the protected areas of spending.  There's no detail on how the proposed rise in the personal allowance to £12,500 will be paid for, estimated to cost an eye-watering £3.2bn by the IFS, which again despite the spin of taking those earning the minimum wage out of tax (for those working 30 hours at least) benefits middle earners the most.  The higher rate threshold will also rise to £50,000, again paid for who knows how.  There'll be no increases in VAT, national insurance or income tax, but certainly not guaranteed is there won't be a further cut in the top rate of income tax.  There is, unexpectedly, a mention of food banks, not to promise a desire to reduce the need of such institutions in a country experiencing a Great Revival, but obviously as an example of the role played by the voluntary sector in the country's social fabric.  Absent is a promise to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, but Labour's Human Rights Act will be repealed and replaced with a British Bill of Rights codifying exactly the same things.

In so many places reality is completely absent, none more so than the hysterical Britain standing tall in the world section.  Labour's Great Recession apparently weakened Britain on the world stage, whereas the Conservatives have strengthened our influence.  Quite where our influence has been strengthened is a mystery; certainly not in Europe, not in the Middle East, where we remain beholden to authoritarian Arab regimes that Cameron spent much time fawning over in an effort to sell weapons to, nor in America, where the refusal to sign up to spending 2% of GDP on defence per NATO agreements and the various cuts to the military have been complained about.  We intervened to stop a massacre in Libya, which turned out absolutely splendidly, saw William Hague team up with Angelina Jolie to end sexual violence in conflict once and for all, and helped women and children who have fled violence in Syria.  That last claim is so egregious as to impress with the sheer chutzpah it must have taken to write it.

Then again, the whole manifesto is defined by such chutzpah.  The party that claims to be the new vanguard of the workers is determined to push forward with 40% turnout thresholds on strike ballots, a move which if applied elsewhere would see nearly every local election result declared null and void.  If you want to live in the most vibrant and dynamic country in the world, which is seemingly this one, a decent job is the best weapon against poverty.  The Conservative definition of decent is any job, regardless of the conditions, zero hours contracts meriting a single mention.  The principal reason immigration has not fallen to the tens of thousands is because of how wonderful the economy's been doing, and yet at the same time rather than being attracted to all these jobs the real reason migrants from Europe have been coming is to claim benefits.  Finally, we measure our success not just in how we show our strength abroad, but in how we care for the weakest and most vulnerable at home.

I could just leave it there.  I probably should.  There is though something exceptionally depressing, at least to me about just how limited and limiting the Conservative view of life set out by their "plan" is.  Be born.  Grow up.  Get a job.  Raise a family.  Retire.  Die.  Is that all there is?  Is that all we're meant to aspire to?  Nothing else?  What if I don't have, don't want a family?  What if I'm a hopeless loser?  Where do I fit into this?  I don't.  But then I was never going to. 

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Monday, April 13, 2015 

The Labour manifesto.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, April 10, 2015 

All the rage back home.

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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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