Tuesday, March 31, 2015 

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

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

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

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

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

Answer came there none.

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Monday, March 30, 2015 

We need a Labour government.

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

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

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

Where the Liberal Democrats can win, vote Liberal Democrat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, March 27, 2015 

False hope.

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Theatre of the absurd.

There's not much point doing a great big analysis of last night's flyweight tussle, not least because you'll have read much the same elsewhere, not that it ordinarily stops me.  Just a few thoughts then:

1. The utter absurdity of the event.  Presumably both audience and presenters were prevented from pointing out the obvious, that as Miliband and Cameron were in the same studio it was ridiculous they couldn't debate each other face to face.

2. Cameron won.  Not in the event itself, where on points I would suggest Miliband edged it thanks to his really strong performance towards the end against Paxman, but in his demands being acquiesced to by the broadcasters.  Around 3 million watched the event last night, a truly pitiful number compared to the debates last time.  Obviously things have changed since then, more will have watched it online or followed live blogs, the campaign has barely started, there was practically no publicity about it happening and so on, but Cameron will be pleased his discomfiture to begin with as Paxman asked about food banks, zero hours contracts and his rich friends will have been seen by so few.

3. The questions posed to Cameron by the audience were a joke.  The AgeUK conference earlier in the week gave him a harder time.  Only when the lady towards the end asked with emotion about being let down by the coalition's NHS reforms was Cameron taken out of his comfort zone.

4. The format just didn't work.  Each section was roughly 18 minutes, which wasn't long enough.  Paxman couldn't properly demand answers from either of the leaders, forced to move on just as he might have been getting somewhere, and so while Cameron defended his decisions on Stephen Green and Clarkson he wasn't pressed on Andy Coulson.  Miliband also was exceptionally shaky in his opening exchanges with Paxman, and the fact he came back at his interrogator with such vim was partially down to the moving on to territory he and his team had gone over time and time again.  Doesn't alter how impressive his responses were mind.  Extending the event to two hours and making each of the four sections 30 minutes would have made a big difference.

5. It all bodes spectacularly ill for the "real" debate next Thursday.  7 leaders in 2 hours when you don't really get anywhere with 1 in 40 minutes?  Well played Cameron, well played.

6. Katie Hopkins promises to leave the country if Miliband wins.  Are there any better reasons to vote Labour? (Yes. Ed.)

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Thursday, March 26, 2015 

Just who are the domestic extremists?

Back in the 70s, Ted Heath was not exactly complimentary about MI5's way of working. "They talked the most ridiculous nonsense, and their whole philosophy was ridiculous nonsense.  If some of them were on the tube and saw someone reading the Daily Mirror they would say - 'Get after him, that man is dangerous, we must find out where he bought it.'"  Predictably, Christopher Andrew in his official history of MI5 claimed the reality was often the government itself asking MI5 to keep tabs on MPs they had suspicions about, rather than MI5 becoming convinced various left-wingers were serving Soviet and not British interests.

By the 1990s the bad old days of MI5 and Special Branch keeping tabs on any vaguely left-wing group were meant to have passed.  When it's subsequently revealed Special Branch apparently left their files open on such notorious subversives as Harriet Harman, Jack Straw and Peter Hain, by this point all ministers in the Labour government, it does make you wonder just who they deemed to not be worthy of monitoring.  Frank Field, maybe? Gerald Kaufman?  Or were they too secretly meeting behind closed doors to plot and sing the Internationale?  Considering that Jenny Jones, the Green member of the London assembly recently discovered she was on the Met's current database of "domestic extremists" perhaps we shouldn't be that surprised.

It also brings into sharper focus the Erol Incedal debacle, the first trial to be heard in such a high degree of secrecy since the war.  Despite being found guilty of possession of a document on bomb-making, the jury at Incedal's retrial (the jury at the original trial failed to reach a verdict) was apparently convinced by his explanation as to why emails the prosecution claimed to refer to the Mumbai attacks and AK-47s were nothing of the kind and so cleared him of plotting some sort of attack.  I say apparently as this was part of the trial held in complete secret, with not even the posse of accredited hacks allowed into some of the behind closed doors sessions ordered out.  Further on the surface incriminating details have emerged as a result of the judge's summing up in the second trial - Incedal apparently met with a British jihadist known only as Ahmed on the Syrian border, who allegedly suggested carrying out an attack.  The bug planted in Incedal's car additionally picked him up praising Islamic State commanders.

Just as intriguing is how Incedal came to the attention of the police in the first place.  Arrested for speeding, the BBC reports he "made demands" the police couldn't accommodate, and they also stopped an interview so they could "digest" a written statement.  Whether it was this which prompted the police to make a thorough search of his car, finding the home address of Tony Blair on a piece of paper hidden in a glasses case we don't know, but it seems to have disquieted them enough to plant the bug in his car.  Incedal maintained at both trials he had a "reasonable excuse" for having the explosives manual, an excuse which caused the jury enough reasonable doubt for them to decide to acquit on the more serious charge.  We can't however know what the excuse was, such is the apparent impact it could have on national security.

Or at least we won't unless the judge decides tomorrow that the reporting restrictions on the sessions when the accredited hacks were allowed in but the public wasn't can now be made public.  Both the Graun and the BBC quote Sean O'Neill, the Times's crime and security editor, known to be the kind of journalist memorably described by EP Thompson as "a kind of official urinal in which ministers and intelligence and defence chiefs could stand patiently leaking", as saying there was a lot heard that should not have been secret.  Surely then we can expect the judge to throw some light on the subject?

Except the fact the security services, ministers, the CPS and the judge himself all initially felt the trial should be held entirely in secret, with Incedal and his co-defendant identified by initials, something only prevented by the media challenging Mr Justice Nicol's ruling at the Court of Appeal, more than suggests that avoiding further embarrassment is likely to be order of the day.  The QC for the media at the Court of Appeal hearing argued that "the orders made involve such a significant departure from the principle of open justice that they are inconsistent with the rule of law and democratic accountability".  As Theresa May reaffirmed on Tuesday, the rule of law is one of those British values that is non-negotiable, and to reject it is one of the definitions of extremism.  The law is though there to be changed, especially if meddling judges decide that letters from a prince preparing to be king to ministers must be revealed, as David Cameron has said.  And when the security services and police are so often a law unto themselves, the rule of law is very much what the government of the day decrees it to be.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015 

Two reports and an attempt to link them.

For today's post, shall we compare and contrast two cases which on the surface have absolutely nothing in common but I would argue in fact do speak of the way power operates in this wonderful nation of ours?  Not like I can sink much lower, nor have I anything better to do with my time.

First then to the Independent Police Complaints Commission's report into the shooting of Mark Duggan.  Back in January of last year the inquest jury reached a verdict of lawful killing, based on how the officer he was shot by, known only as V53, was justified in the belief that Duggan was armed and about to fire.  This was despite also finding that Duggan was in fact not armed, and had thrown the gun over the railings near to where the taxi he had been in was stopped as soon as he left the vehicle.

This apparent cognitive dissonance raised the ire of Duggan's family, quite understandably.  The publication of the IPCC report has had much the same result, despite it reaching a slightly different, arguably even more inflammatory conclusion, based on its own investigations and the various legal proceedings.

When it comes down it, the entire dispute about what did or didn't happen between Mark Duggan getting out of the taxi he was in, subjected to a "hard stop" by CO19, and his being shot by V53, concerns 4 seconds.  The IPCC finds that within 4 seconds of getting out of the car he had been fatally shot (finding 12, page 450 of the report), with V53 firing two rounds.  They also find that in the space of these 4 seconds, the other officers most likely did inform him to stop, although there wasn't enough evidence to conclude they identified themselves as armed police (finding 14, page 458), that Duggan moved from the side of the car round to the back, that he did move his right arm in a way that made V53 believe he was getting ready to aim the gun at him and fire, and that this movement was in fact Duggan throwing the gun away.

Essentially, after nearly four years of investigating, the IPCC has accepted nearly in its entirety the police account of what happened.  As it all but admits, it was almost impossible to reach any other conclusion as there were no independent witnesses to the shooting itself, or at least none who had a clear view at a short distance.  The taxi driver changed his account of the shooting itself, and could only see Duggan's back.  Despite the CO19 officers refusing to be interviewed, with them conferring together on their account, the IPCC declares there to be no "objective evidence which undermines the account of V53" (page 476).  That there was "no DNA attributable to Mr Duggan on the firearm or sock" is dismissed as it's possible to handle an item without leaving such material.  The IPCC also declares that as another officer was behind Duggan, this "tends to support V53’s assertion ...as W42 could have been seriously injured or killed if the bullet had not fortuitously embedded itself in his radio".  This would seem to this layman to be an entirely subjective conclusion based on an assumption of V53's professionalism, but it most likely wouldn't have made any difference if W42 hadn't been behind Duggan.

As to how the gun got to where it did, we're still none the wiser.  No one saw the gun being thrown by Duggan, not V53, who thought it was being moved in his direction only to find it had disappeared once he had fired, nor W70, the only other officer to say he saw Duggan with the gun.  The IPCC suggests most of the other officers were distracted by the shots and the "explosion" of the "plume of down feathers" from Duggan's jacket (page 486), and they didn't have the best line of sight anyway.  


Again, the IPCC makes some eyebrow-raising suggestions as to how the accounts given by the officers suggest they're telling the truth: while "it is surprising that none of the officers saw the firearm leave Mr Duggan’s hand and travel to the grassed area ... had the officers ... been in collusion to provide corroborative evidence linking Mr Duggan to the position of the firearm, it is likely that they would have claimed to have seen this".  Also, had Duggan not in fact had the gun in his hand at all, "there is no sensible reason why they [the police] would have opted to plant the firearm on the grass such a distance away from Mr Duggan thereby giving rise to the various doubts which have inevitably arisen about this matter".  This to the IPCC is "implausible" (page 485).

None of this is to suggest that the IPCC was wrong to reach the only possible conclusion based on the evidence they had.  The most likely explanation for why Duggan, instead of surrendering, probably did go to throw away the gun is that he didn't realise the officers following the taxi were from CO19.  The report sets out he sent a Blackberry broadcast which mentioned "Trident" officers (page 459), who are usually unarmed.  The only person who knows what really happened in those 4 seconds between Duggan leaving the taxi and his being fatally shot is V53, and on his conscience it must lie.  You do however recall how differently the police acted when called to the scene of the murder of Lee Rigby, with his attackers proceeding to run towards the officers.  Despite being well aware of how dangerous they were, neither of the men were shot with the intention to kill.

To give the IPCC some credit, it does recommend that all radio communications during covert firearm operations should be recorded, as should all armed response vehicles be fitted with in car data recording systems, while the "feasibility of fitting audio/visual recording devices in covert armed response vehicles" should also be explored.  That said, it's surprising this isn't already standard practice, and surely the issuing of armed officers with headcams would go a long way to clearing up any disputes.

And so, far more briefly, to the other major report of the day.  Yes, the sad demise of Mr Clarkson, as prompted by the investigation by Ken MacQuarrie (PDF).  Clarkson's fracas was we learn more of a 20-minute tantrum, involving the strongest of language and various insults directed at Oisin Tymon, ending with a 30-second assault that resulted in the producer going to hospital.  That Clarkson in effect grassed himself up, apologised profusely and repeatedly, including in person quite rightly made no odds.

Unlike it seems most lefties I've never minded Clarkson and even more shocking, I quite enjoy the Top Gear specials.  The show proper I'm indifferent towards, but in feature length format Clarkson, May and Hammond acting like children in foreign climes passes the time, cleverly scripted or not.  That I feel this way and can still absolutely adore Stewart Lee is to apparently be very odd indeed.

As is so often the case, it's the fans that are worse than the act.  When you get over a million people signing a petition demanding the immediate reinstatement of someone in a position of authority alleged to have punched a junior colleague, you can both dismiss some of it as larking about and a bit of fun, many of whom now probably accept the sacking of Clarkson is the right decision in the circumstances, as well as also conclude that an awful lot of people think it's perfectly fine for someone in power to act like a dick so long as they like them.  Except it's not just that: because Clarkson is "politically incorrect", a "dinosaur" as he described himself, the BBC were never going to be satisfied until such a person was expunged, nor were his critics.  We even had, lord preserve us, David Cameron passing comment just hours after he had criticised Ed Miliband for demanding to know why he wouldn't debate him as "focusing on the future of a television programme".

It's this concentration on the ephemera, the apparent belief that some should have impunity on the basis of who they are, and a sense of entitlement that leads many to believe they are being persecuted as not everything is always about them that says much of why so little has changed since the riots prompted by Mark Duggan's death.  Duggan himself probably wasn't a pleasant man all told; those who rioted initially might have been outraged by his death and the initial police response, but you can hardly claim what followed was a political response; and besides, the police have been found twice now to have acted properly, discrepancies or not.  


The above is probably accurate, but even if it wasn't there would have been politicians, pundits and public alike lining up to defend the police's right to shoot dead someone they believed to be dodgy.  It's why despite all the deaths in custody, the Irishmen with chair legs in plastic bags, the Brazilians who "leapt the barriers" and those in the wrong place at the wrong time, no police officer has been convicted of murder or manslaughter in nearly 30 years.  It's not just we're brought up to respect authority, or that some people apologise for, even take pleasure from others acting viciously so long as it's against those they don't like, it's also that more people than we care to admit are just unpleasant and have really unpleasant, repellent opinions.  And far too often, rather than being challenged, they're indulged.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015 

What you could of won.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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