Monthly Archives: February 2013

Down and Out in Eastleigh

I commend the following thoughts to our esteemed Prime Minister. After the controversy of coming out on what this author sees as the wrong side of the “Mantel vs Middleton” issue, it would be advisable to check your fire for a moment. Take stock of the nature of half-informed, impromptu statements and learn the lessons therein. DO NOT, for example, under any circumstances, return from a goodwill trip to the subcontinent and immediately unleash another can of worms.

Too late. Taking to the hustings in Eastleigh with Conservative hopeful Maria Hutchings, it only took him a matter of hours to jump all over the BBC and the perceived slight surrounding this 5 Live radio debate, supposedly featuring the main party candidates. And UKIP. And the Lib Dems… Scorn for these two political rumps aside however, they actually managed to turn up. From such an important event, Hutchings’ absence was noted and questioned.

You’ve possibly read the details already. Cameron was very quick to attack the BBC on the grounds that Hutchings had not been informed of the debate and that yesterday was an impossibility for such an affair given that she was doing the public rounds with him. Which is to say, trying to take sustenance for her ailing campaign from all that public affection for the PM. Perhaps a less ineffective strategy than you might think, after a fairly successful international tour.

Accusations of political skulduggery abound. Hutchings has essentially been a litany of poorly calculated statements on anything from state education to how best to manage rioters and there was a sense that her date with Cameron was also a convenient excuse to avoid the heat of debate and potential embarrassment. The Conservative Party has hastened to paint the BBC as making much ado about nothing but I’m very sceptical.

For one thing, recent tarnishes aside, the BBC is in my mind the epitome of a fine broadcasting model and I’d go to war over it. Long after I’ve used the ashes of the NHS to choke the fires of every other inferno-consumed institution of repute on these isles, I’ll be defending the BBC. Sentimentality aside however, it seems plainly ridiculous that they would forget to invite the government candidate and they have every right to feel cheated by the Tories.

As do we. Open debates are hugely important to the democratic process and although Cameron and company suggest the BBC is being far too up itself, I would suggest the corporation’s indignation is rightly on our behalf. Given the much hailed importance of this by-election (the notional and relative importance of such a thing in this country raising an amused smirk), it is utterly laughable that the Tories have put up such a risky candidate, one who they can’t seem to rely on.

Political incompetence has been a serious threat to the health of government lately and this episode is doing little to improve things. It may sound cynical, but the least Hutchings could do is maintain discipline with a mind to winning. With Cameron leering over her for the better part of Thursday it seems order has been recovered to some degree but it’s probably too late. Eastleigh is a hard fought constituency between the Tories and Lib Dems, and polls predict a victory for the latter again.

This is despite the by election being forced by Lib Dem Chris Huhne’s disgrace and a broader feeling of that party as being somewhere between a death rattle and actual rigor mortis. I don’t yet buy into the notion that victory in Eastleigh will resuscitate the brand, but it would be a vaguely impressive sign of their desperation to survive. Not to mention a strongly condemning statement of the Tories’ boundless capacity for tripping over their own feet.

The curiosities of the exit polls will be there to dissect in good time, notably that of UKIP’s condition. Given that Nigel Farage exists in his own mind perpetually in the land of imminent political rampancy, it would be interesting to see how the public actually feel. And I’m looking forward to Labour’s jeering from the sidelines like one tends to look forward to a gut shot. Ah, the Great British by-election. Tickets are free.

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A Week in the World

Quite the week it’s been. Religion, politics, religious politics, meteorites and a public food scare have made for a fairly helter skelter division of attention. Irritating to me is that none of these issues are exactly a spark on the dry tinder of my imagination, but more generally curiosities. Ian Duncan Smith is engineering a date with the business end of a mob wielded pitch fork but that issue still needs to ruminate a bit. One more outdated comment from the DWP boss should do it.

I suppose the resignation of the Pope is the big fish, although oddly the one I care less about. Being as thoroughly detached from the religious world as I am, let alone the Catholic one, what was a seismic event to many was simply information to me. At most it makes me reflect on how strikingly ones world view can alter your perception of events. The look of shock and disbelief on the faces of many a Catholic was matched only by the scowls of those with a different agenda.

That agenda being the matter of Catholic abuse and the soon-to-be late Pope Benedict XVI’s various connections to it. Freedland eloquently summarizes this history for us, thus sparing me the effort, but for that matter so did many other news sources. As soon as the dust settled on the surprise of the announcement, the knives started coming out as those critical of the church’s awful record saw the opportunity for some questions to be answered.

Ratzinger’s alleged inaction, wilful ignorance, apathy or even outright complicity in the management of documented paedophile priests is not where the anger stops of course. As however beatified and revered this man was by the flock, many people indeed are more focussed on his regressive tenure with regards to gender equality and possibly most heinously, third world birth control. If I cared about the next Pope at all, it would be to hope that he will be less damaging.

That might sound quite uncaring about a figure or institution that wields so much global influence, and from one who supposedly cares about the impact of such things. But I’ve been trying for a long time not to wade into the issue of religion in too critical a fashion. If there is one thing I learned in this area, it is that ranting and raving about the backwards traditions of a religious organisation gets you absolutely nowhere. Change is sadly glacial and more internally propelled.

A similar pattern it seems for our beloved Labour party, although maybe in a slightly abstract sense. Or maybe this is just a bad segway. Several days ago Ed Miliband finally outlined a bit of what resembled detailed policy after months upon months of repetitively and solely bashing the government. This was a slight surprise given we were told by Labour sources that the speech would contain no new policies, but one could argue this was technically still the case.

The 10p tax rate is an old Labour wheel-greaser, scrapped only a few years ago by Gordon Brown, and the Mansion Tax is a problematic Liberal Democratic idea. Thanks be to Jenkins for highlighting some of the flaws in these grand plans. Though as underwhelmed as we continue to be by the junior Miliband, some are clearly impressed. Another clarion indication of that strange filter of world view is Poly Toynbee and her suggestion that here we have a new Lloyd George.

I profoundly disagree. Far short of visionary political radicalism, we have recycled and regurgitated policy and that only in the face of the desperate need to have something, anything, in the way of policy. That takes more wind out of the Tory sails than beating Osborne back to the 10p rate, as transparently expedient as the whole thing is. Have not the number crunchers already proved that lower income families do better out of the new 10k, eventually 12k, tax allowance?

Perhaps it was just Lib Dem Susan Kramer… well, she seems trustworthy, Baroness and all. I’m ashamed to say that really my economic chops end at the point my reliable information stops and what seems reliable to me is not Labour. That dastardly world view again, or maybe Labour really did screw the pooch on the economy and I actually legitimately don’t trust them. They’ll certainly need to do more than Ed’s speech.

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that no one can agree on who is to blame for all this horse meat we’ve all eaten. Yes, all eaten, mwuhaha. It seems likely that during the unknown number of years this scandal was being perpetrated, most of us would have chowed down on some trace equine scrapings. Charlie Brooker does a wonderful job of illustrating the hypocrisy of our aversion to this notion in his Weekly Wipe episode of last week. Do have a look.

It’s hard not to feel a little violated when being fed X and it actually being Y, but if half a thousand pure horse burgers a day is what it would take to cause any bute related damages then we shouldn’t be terribly concerned. As for who’s to blame, this is a circus I’d rather stay out of before someone even points the finger at me. Government blames supermarkets, supermarkets blame councils, councils blame suppliers, suppliers blame suppliers and George Galloway blames government.

Hardly a surprise that last one, and as a side note I wish that festering sack of hatred and diatribe would stop being sent invitations to Question Time, he’s boring. From my perspective, sometimes blaming someone is a poor use of time. In this instance it seems more likely that the chain of food custody, as it were, was violated by orchestrated criminal elements, and it’s fair to say that everyone was just hoodwinked. Embarrassing yes, but it doesn’t call for endless cycles of recrimination.

I’d eat horse. Maybe this saga will pave the way for a new product on our shelves, but god help you all if I find any cow in my mustang burgers. Ultimately, it’s all a moot point. Not just the meat scandal, but Miliband, the Pope and all. Even though I haven’t yet encountered a single conspiracy theory, and all indications suggest it was really just a meteorite, I’m going to say Russia was just invaded by aliens. You read it here first.

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Freedland on Ed

I’m pleased to say another contributor to the world of information has been filtered out for my entirely less qualified attention. Jonathan Freedland is to be the third writer under the microscope, although only after some deliberation, as Caitlin Moran was making a strong case for inclusion in this journalistic canon just the other day, with a piece ranging from the role of art in society to the effects of modern pornography on young sexual expectations.

Freedland edged the focus of this article by a nose however, given the combined events of today’s Prime Minister’s Questions and an article in the Huffington Post looking at Ed Miliband’s new Reaganesque angle of attack. The lead question from the opposition leader echoed that of the Republican icon in his day, “are you better off now than you were four years ago?”. These things are pertinent to Freedland’s recent article, asking what kind of leader will Miliband be.

A brief introduction though. Freedland is a regular contributor to the Guardian, like Jenkins, and also the New York Times, but with a more political focus and journalistic style. A bit less inclined to offer personal thoughts on a given issue than that other monolith of opinion, he is more likely to drive the cognitive gears by framing a discussion. Jenkins generally achieves this with a stronger position put forward for dissection and potential objection.

As to the aforementioned discussion of Miliband’s character of leadership, he actually puts things in more specific terms. “Will Ed Miliband be an Obama or Hollande?”, he asks. The question boils down to the potential manner in which Ed may one day ascend to power; with dynamic, inspiring visions of change, or quietly and inevitably on the back of repetitive Tory failings and subsequent dissatisfaction? I think today’s PMQ’s was a further hint of which.

From my perspective, Miliband has thus far been firmly camped out in the Hollande corner, and not to repeat the statements of several previous articles I shall only here label him the… endless font of condemnation not cut with a shred of evident constructive thinking. This from the alleged ideas man of the Labour Party. Perhaps as Freedland indicates, it has simply been far too difficult to resist the regular temptations of steady government incompetence.

Despite Miliband’s efforts in the Commons today, challenging Cameron on that issue of the voter’s changing fortunes, the Prime Minister had just enough politically viable defence at hand to resist. But his closing remarks to his assailant were something of a PMQ’s knockout, as he told the House of Miliband’s “major speech on the economy”. A speech, he gleefully added, which contains no new policy initiatives. Queue the Tory benches going ballistic.

This somewhat laughable omission would be damaging enough to the idea that the Labour Party are offering a reasonable alternative, but the matter is compounded by the manner in which the man was on the assault today. It was over two years ago that the media had put the notion that Ed could be Ed to the sword, his early tenure being veritably riddled with satire. It was, in all serious terms, quite hard to take him seriously.

Last year it seems that various oscillations of personal image management finally stabilised to some degree, as with the “One Nation” party conference speech he attempted statesmanship. Aside from famously pinching the central theme of that speech from famed Conservative Disraeli, it was only otherwise notable for painfully lacking in policy and detail. Worse however, it was the beginning of his steady evolution into a 19th Century style of barracker in the Commons.

But “One Nation” hasn’t made much of an appearance since early after the conference, and with his recent channeling of energy into the Reagan Question, it seems he is transforming yet again. Sadly for the state of healthy opposition, it is a transformation of image only and from Ed to Benjamin to Ronald the only consistent thing about Miliband and company is a lack of substance from the Labour front bench.

Freedland is right to indicate that Miliband’s tone of leadership will be more important come election time, and with a sustained healthy lead over the Tories in the polls, thanks to their masochistic tendencies, it can even be said he has no immediate reason to fill that void of usefulness. One can only hope that there is at least a semblance of a plan being squirreled away somewhere though, as an economically rudderless Labour government is a scary prospect.

I could easily be sold on a truly progressive and realistic agenda set out by Labour, admittedly due heavily to present disenfranchisement with the government, but that is not looking likely to appear from this set-up. Frankly the idea of Miliband conjuring a fervour comparable to Obama is a fantasy, with or without policy. But as Hollande aptly proved, and as the Tories are currently adding truth to the fact, all it takes is a really, really unpopular incumbent.

Earlier on in this government I had privately written off Miliband as a caretaker leader, possibly not even set to face a single general election. But Freedland’s article has reminded me of that slightly grim fact. In my defence, back then I could never have anticipated the scope of Tory blundering that led to his ascendancy. Prime Minister Miliband? Too much of a mouthful for me, but I’m not actually partisan… I just want someone to offer something truly appealing.

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The State of Governance: UK Edition Three

The long awaited Third Edition of this almost long abandoned series is here. It was my intention at the offset to write a regular article on the lesser machinations of Westminster and yet both initial attempts descended into angst and distraction. I like to think this is because I do care about the nation’s politics, however perilous a notion that is, but I’m also happy to invest plenty of the guilt in Westminster itself.

Where, oh where, oh where to start? Well, despite a recent wild assertion of Simon Jenkins that Nick Clegg is political mastery personified, and an article from Lib Dem president Tim Farron suggesting that the party is still a significant force not to be written off, Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem’s are now entirely written off. Attach any variety of expletives to the prefix “catastro-”, and you’ll be in the right descriptive area.

Both Jenkins and Farron were eviscerated for these outrageous views and rightly so, with polls showing Lib Dem support holding to their once familiarly weak 10% vote share. The minor surge in popularity brought to the party by Clegg’s 2010 debate performances has been trampled under the perception that they have done nothing to vindicate a single vote cast for them. The Mansion Tax, voting referendum, university fees and Trident spring to mind.

The truth is that Britain was briefly fooled into thinking there was a viable third party when the Lib Dems were given a platform at those debates, the first of their kind in this country. I can only imagine how small the minority of regularly engaged political junkies is in this country. Most do not take great interest in PMQ’s much less any other venue for occasional Liberal bleetings, and so the sight and sound of an essentially new figure who could complete full sentences was hard to dismiss.

I’m happy to call it now. Come the next election Labour and the Tories will strip the Lib Dem’s back down to their core base, however disenfranchised that lingering gaggle may be. But what of the main two parties, what are they doing to earn those votes? Virtually nothing at a glance. While the Lib Dem’s have been haplessly consigning themselves to ignominy, messirs Cameron, Miliband and all under them have also been resoundingly disappointing.

Labour first. I will admit to having a more sympathetic ear to the Tories, notably after a fairly destructive 13 years of Labour power, but that doesn’t make my present distaste for the front benches totally biased. Wednesday’s PMQ’s provided sound context for this claim, as Miliband stood up once again to try on the latest of his tactics, those currently being aggressive derision for the Prime Minister.

It may appeal to the hardline Labourites but I would think that to anyone to the right of even a fairly liberal disposition is going to be turned off. Speaking for myself at least, I have no time for someone who offers little beyond hugely hypocritical criticism, and in a fashion entirely lacking in deference. He and Balls sit at the dispatch box like some smug cabal, apparently ignorant of their responsibilities towards the current climate.

Labour are direly in need of some housecleaning, starting at the top. It should have taken place in the immediate aftermath of their 2010 defeat, the electorate having only disposed of so much chaff. As much as I may lean towards centre-right views, I passionately believe in a proper socialist alternative to act as a foil and provide a genuine spectrum of political discourse. Labour under this pairing are offering us nothing of the kind. I’ve said it before and will keep saying it.

The Tories, of course, are now also in need of a similar purging. I was for quite a long time pleased and impressed with Cameron’s “compassionate” conservatism, effectively a ploy for moderation while hoodwinking the right of the party into thinking there were still some traditional values politics therein. The game is now up though, and as last night’s vote on legalising gay marriage showed, at least half of the party is significantly behind the times.

As a side note, the legislation isn’t all it could be. I do not like that it explicitly protects religious freedoms as I feel these are already well enough protected. The state recognising the right of homosexuals to enjoy full marital status should have been the extent of it. Churches of any description in the nation can now hide behind the law, without further consideration for the progressive direction of society. Not that it matters to me, but this lack of debate within these religious bodies places their future at great risk.

But that isn’t why over half the Tories didn’t vote for it. Listening to the Commons debate it was the usual bewildered denial of marriage being anything other than the union of man and woman, and similar baseless propositions. The definition of marriage is whatever we what it to be, as made clear by the distinct evolution that the institution has gone through over the centuries. As with some of the stronger anti-European members of the party, I wish they were only a minority. Theirs being the prevalent position would not be good for the country.

Beyond this stark question of identity sadly lies the substance of the Tory’s successes and failures, and here there is little cause for celebration. Farce after u-turn after mishandling after farce, has bombarded my once rosy outlook on the party with so much doubt that I further seriously question the general competency of government. Botched contracts, botched policy and the metronomic presence of scandal does that to a young observer.

The absolute judgement is inexorably tied to the state of the economy, which is presently often labelled “anaemic” despite George Osborne’s regular insistence otherwise. But the signs of his over-optimism are apparent, as with Michael Gove today retracting his plans for an English Baccalaureate we have further proof that disorder is systemic within the echelons of the party. The likelihood now that Osborne stands alone in getting things right, if the Pasty Affair hadn’t already minimised it, is minimal.

Cameron bears plenty of responsibility for not guiding the ship with a firm hand, perhaps the result of trying too emphatically to return to cabinet style politics from the more presidential model of the Blair years. But this failing is clear outside of the cabinet, made visible by the increasing resurgence of the old Tory faction. I frequently allude to his balancing act of satisfying this wing while moving the party forward, and the act is in a more endangered state than ever.

It is unlikely, but heavens forbid he be ousted before the next election. Our political system is essentially one of cheques and balances, where one major party acts as counterweight to the other. Just as we need a worthy Labour party, we need a moderate Conservative party, in light of the fact that people prefer multiple incarnations of Labour to a harder right Conservative image. It was the inability of the Tories to find the middle-ground that allowed Labour so much unhindered activity from 1997 to 2010. After barely three years, it would be disastrous to go straight back to that.

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An Inexcusable Absence

Ladies and gentleman, it has been too long. Over two weeks since the last piece but in current affairs terms it may as well have been a lifetime ago. My apologies, as no doubt this house of reasoned comment has become part of your many dependencies and I dread to think of your sweaty convulsions of withdrawal.

It might have been a touch of writer’s block, or perhaps real world concerns took precedence for a time… but not wanting to appear anything but committed to this project, with a natural flair that excludes any possibility of a creative deficit, I shall say it was for this reason: sometimes there just isn’t anything worth writing about.

Events continued to simmer away. Simon Jenkins, Mark Mardell and many others continued to offer their own works for us to indulge in, but I have found little to really sink my teeth into. Bits and bobs at best. Domestically, our primary concerns are Europe, the gay marriage issue and a limited affray into Mali in support of the French. Abroad, the issues are still largely attached to events I’ve given temporarily appropriate attention to.

In my humble opinion these are all issues that just need sitting on for a while. The best I could offer at present is a rewrite of any respectable news source, or much worse, wild speculation or soapbox ranting. The gay marriage question is a particular risk for the latter concern but I’d rather save the best of my indignation for the possibility that the legislation will be defeated by that reprehensible Tory-right faction.

Even though I have criticised the legislation in previous articles, notably for its ratification of CofE canon with regards to homosexual union that further closes the debate within that church, it is just about a step in the right direction. To listen to many a socially backwards individual detail their homophobic concerns over the proposed laws is hugely disappointing, but my outrage is wasted until we have a result.

I may profoundly disagree with the MP who would fight equal rights and opportunities, but to get a little Voltaire on you, that MP has every right to maintain his position. I have every right to maintain mine, and if I really believe in the idea, should bear some responsibility to make it the majority one. I don’t terribly care about distasteful minority views providing they remain the minority view.

Of course, should the vote be lost from my perspective, I would technically be in the minority, but an ever-so morally justified and outraged one. It seems that despite the political division appearing scarily even, the public sentiment is broadly more progressive and should the legislation not pass it would be an indictment of the traditional element of the Conservative party’s disconnection.

As far as I can fathom, there is no logical or rational reason to oppose homosexuality, much less homosexual marriage. The often seen pained confusion and dissonance written on the face of someone trying to explain their objections to these things, says a great deal. Whether founded in religious or closed societal influences, it just boils down to a lack of understanding and a primitive fear of “otherness”.

I will say this much more for the time being. These are not difficult objections to circumvent or preferably overturn, and all the supporters of the legislation should be out in force making the best and most clear cases possible. Another notably inexcusable absence was that of David Cameron from today’s Commons debate. I’m sure Joe Biden was thrilling company but I fear that was rather a convenient excuse for once again not facing up to the right wing of his party.

I’ve said before that his balancing act between moderates and hard conservatives is unenviable to say the least. But I won’t reserve my criticism for him should his timidity here result in the wrong outcome on this matter.

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