Direct Democracy…?

Recently I wrote about the need to vote because of it’s exclusive significance to political responsiveness. There are presently no better means by which to ensure your interests are paid due deference by the political class, because the vote is the only mechanism that has a binding impact on the futures of our politicians. Simply put, their careers depend on the vote. I didn’t say, however, that this was right.

I think I might have even said that this is quite wrong and a strong root cause of disenfranchisement, but unfortunately it’s one of those harsh realities that has to be directly engaged with if there’s ever to be a hope of change. Vote, vote and vote some more, be politically relevant, then make your demands. Though as it happens that word, change, has been dogging my thoughts for the past week or so. Not for any particularly grand reason, but simply because of the excellent tool, change.org.

You may well have signed a petition on the site, pertaining to any matter ranging from the important to the trivial. Currently running petitions include a bid to prevent the evictions of hard-hit families from their homes in the New Era Estate, a noble cause courting nearly 350,000 signatures. There is of course also the latest infamous Jeremy Clarkson debacle, attracting nearly a million signatures in favour of the man’s salvation. Popular causes apparently outweigh serious ones, but the point is that it’s a tool people use in meaningful numbers to express themselves.

Unfortunate as it is to link this back to the futility of relying on such forms of expression in the strong expectation of political action, that’s what has to be done here. Change and similar sites, like Avaaz and 38 Degrees, do not actually guarantee anything, as even the most highly subscribed petitions only offer the tangible outcome of public pressure. While this can be very hard to ignore, particularly for corporations, even governments, and have in notable cases achieved their aims, they remain in any official capacity limited in function.

However in at least the UK, there is of course the nigh-on identical tool of UK Gov e-petitioning, which possesses the significant advantage of actually putting any agenda that attains over 100,000 signatures directly onto the plates of our esteemed politicians. By law, they have to “consider” the issue for debate in the House of Commons. It’s an important distinction, however meek a proposition it is that MPs might debate something, especially when you consider that even if it goes that far they could happily debate an issue straight into the ground.

Regardless, UK Gov e-petitioning does represent an important step in the right direction, insofar as it possesses even a minimal degree of genuine direct democratic representation. Assuming you can build sufficient consensus, it is more effective than going through your local MP to raise an issue. In that scenario you would first have to successfully engage your MP, hope they take the issue to parliament and then hope yet again that your lone MP’s voice might be heard amidst that baying, pantomimic scenery, which occasionally enforces the notion that faith in elected representation is madness.

I don’t quite believe that, and however puerile the Commons can be sometimes there is an obvious logic in allocating the nation’s decision making to a group of, hopefully, informed and responsible individuals who can conduct the affairs of state while we get on with our own livelihoods and concerns. That’s not to say we couldn’t perhaps better harness the increasingly available and effective tools of direct democracy to much better effect. Referendums in their traditional format are messy and fairly expensive things to organise, but looking forward, perhaps even now, they clearly needn’t be.

It would hardly take a technological leap of the ages to implement a function similar to e-petitioning, but with the added democratic clout of being, say… e-voting. While some issues will always be beyond the remit of the broader populace to be entrusted with, requiring varying forms of heightened expertise, that’s not to say there are many issues, some extremely important, that aren’t. One critical issue on the horizon is the question of Britain’s involvement in the EU, and while what I think about that doesn’t matter a jot, it’s a question that among others speaks to the heart of the character of the nation and has been denied to the people for generations.

Nowadays, nigh on every person and their dog as some form of device and internet connection, or access to these things. With a little imagination and desire towards getting the systems up and running, we could fairly say there are few excuses in terms of the logistics of regularly putting important issues to the people in a binding capacity. Although I’ve been banging the drum for voting in general elections up to this point, I would entirely support this kind of change. Whatever enfranchises the people and helps them engage, can only be a good thing.

The only slight irony being that in order to achieve these changes… we’d have to vote in politicians that would enable them via the general elections. Reality bites again.

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May 2015

Dusting off the old blog again… always a curiosity to go back to old writings, and I’m pleased to say I’m not altogether ashamed of some of it. But being that I was graciously published by the New Statesman’s election-dedicated subsidiary May2015 last month, I figured I’d give my enterprise a tentative lease of life again.

If you do somehow find yourself reading this and have any kind of interest in UK politics and the upcoming election  you should check out May2015.com. Self-serving as I am, why don’t you explore it via the article I wrote, a small impassioned plea to actually get yourself up and go to the polling stations next month. I’m not being airy and idealistic about voting, quite the opposite, as frankly you’re a daft bugger if you can, but don’t. So read.  “If you don’t vote, you don’t matter

More to follow….!?!?!?!?

May2015 appears to have had a hosting issue or two lately, so just in case, here’s the piece:

As we stumble day-by-day towards the 2015 general election, the intensity of analysis and opinion from every conceivable perspective grows. The issues that matter to the people of Britain are made clear via so many polls: priorities crystallise, sentiments entrench, lines are drawn.

It’s all important of course, everything. The NHS, the economy, inequality, education, foreign policy, energy… they all matter. The complication is that they matter in unequal measure when put to one individual or the next. And from the analytical perspective there is no other recourse but to define these groups so as to make sense of it all.

Praise be to the good folk who have done the hard work, the collation and interpretation. Yet what their efforts reveal is the harrowing continuation of an already desperate and unfortunate theme. The “young”, broadly, haven’t got the message. Or perhaps, the young fail to recognise the clean gulf of daylight between their expectations and desires, and the system they’re confronted with.

A fairer voting system makes all the sense in the world. A government that listened to all concerns in fair proportion sounds completely reasonable. Democratic representation outside of the context of elections should matter. Herein is the crux. None of it amounts to a hill of beans.

Hardly a galvanising thought, albeit true. What the young voter needs to understand is that the ideals of politics are removed from reality, the system doesn’t necessarily make sense, doesn’t seem fair and certainly doesn’t appear to serve everyone. So what to do? Disengage? Accept that things are as they are and carry on in the microcosm of your life in hope that the winds of politics don’t inadvertently rattle your tub too much?

Maybe it makes more sense to change the dynamics? Statistics show that increasingly the younger element of society believe more direct forms of democratic expression should count for more. Social media campaigning, petitioning, demonstration. Surely with enough voices singing loud enough no issue can be ignored by the political class? Nope.

The vote is everything, even in a system where the value of the vote seems diminished by structural factors like ‘First Past the Post’. Forget about that. Forget about every one of your electoral gripes. There is only one form of political currency that the people of this country can spend with any hope of true recognition, and that is the vote. The vote is binding. And all the votes together are the sole unimpeachable expression of the people that we have at our disposal.

Ask yourself these things. What did the march of millions achieve before the outbreak of the Iraq War? Nothing. What did the tear-soaked pleas of the deprived and their defenders achieve before the tenets of austerity kicked in four and some years ago? Nothing. What did so much outrage against such deplorable corporate contempt for society achieve? Nothing. I could go on.

This all may seem like fair cause to imagine that your input counts for little, that the greater movements of the world will proceed unabated by your opinion or needs. Well maybe that’s true. No one ever did say life was fair now, did they? You know this, you’ve probably lived it to some extent. But even if so, and I suspect it doesn’t have to be, the correct response to all this is so completely in your hands.

Engage. That’s your responsibility. This is a democracy, the mechanisms are in place. Stop waiting for that political angel to waft down from heaven and deliver the world that appeals to you, figure out what it is that you care about, and fight for it. Above all, vote for it, or near as damned as you can. Make others believe it so they vote for it too. Elder generations and their concerns are paid such deference by our politicians, because they vote. Take the hint.

If every young person of age voted in May, there would be change. Any career politician with two brain cells to rub together would but glance at the demographics and experience a strange and sudden recalibration of focus. All the logic and justice and common sense at your collective disposal, with regard to any issue, doesn’t constitute a moment’s concern in the politician’s mind until they recognise you as an electoral force.

I’m not preaching who you should vote for. And by all means hold your own council in the sophomoric halls, wax lyrical over how the world should be. But my god, never come complaining about politics and governance if you never bothered to hit the polling station. You have no right. You left yourself out of the critical conversation.

It may be that none of what’s been said here sounds right to you, that we should be able to demand the kind of politics, politicians and ideas that we want, up front, so that engagement would seem like a less wasteful thing. I’m sorry to suggest this is entirely not the case, unless you plan on running yourself and setting your own terms. Perhaps it could be, one day, but not yet. The vote comes first.

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Indyref Scotland

So it’s 3 in the morning. What else to do other than start rattling out thoughts for a blog more or less abandoned since the advent of having… an actual job. Obviously. But my fellow countryfolk north of the wall just made a fairly bold constitutional statement, which I’m eminently pleased to say fell favourably for those with any vestige of a rational mind.

The Union will remain.

Clearly, this issue isn’t over however. Crass chancers like Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon are two a penny and if it’s not them in five or ten years time, it’ll be the next generation trying to lead Scotland by the nose into a cataclysm of redundant sentiment and needless division.

As emphatic as the results of yesterday’s referendum are currently appearing to be, albeit with most districts still to declare, this rankling little agenda of nationalism isn’t without some vigour. Something I think is a shame, because I might go so far to say that it’s all bull. Not the notions of self-determination and democracy, or giving Scots the opportunity to express an opinion on their nation’s fate, but the actual substance of the SNP and the frankly nauseating dishonesty of their campaign.

I wasn’t allowed to vote. I live in London, although my father still lives in Edinburgh and I have lived in Scotland in the past. The first black mark against the basic integrity of the Yes campaign. Salmond can publicly rationalise his decision to exclude non-domiciled Scots all he wants, but the truth of the matter is clear. The numbers never panned out for him were I and the hundreds of thousands of other outward looking Scots included.

But this vague form of gerrymandering wasn’t enough. So the SNP had to include voters over the age of only 16 in the hope that undeveloped minds would be easier to appeal to in the manner they knew would be most effective in advancing the cause. Emotion and the leveraging of dissatisfaction.

To hell with complexity and empirical evidence to back the raft of claims that Scotland would undoubtedly thrive, despite the raised voices of concern and caution against basically every one of those claims. Westminster isn’t implicitly serving every one of Scotland’s professed needs in terms of political and social identity, so let’s just piss off into the sunset, undoing over three centuries of a union that unquestionably brought stability and a long era of prosperity to the Isles.

What Salmond and company have done is so audacious that it might actually be impressive if it weren’t also preposterously reckless. Asking a nation to take a leap of faith into the unknown is… insane. It was insane. Romanticism be damned, this is the lives and livelihoods and well-being of millions of people potentially at jeopardy for the sake of a politician’s gambit.

Currency union? We’ll figure it out. Lifespan of the resource that would theoretically underpin the Scottish economy for generations? Inflate it, how can important can that be. Can we realistically and adequately fund our own healthcare and education systems based on an independent Scotland’s tax haul? Errr, sure why the hell not! What about the sensitivity and logistical and diplomatic burden of, say, redistributing shared military assets including Trident? And so on…

Like a petulant adolescent Salmond swatted away these legitimate questions as pessimism, sure signs that the institutions of the UK and broader global community had it out for the dreams of a small nation that only wanted to govern itself. It still utterly astonishes me.

So why am I ranting after the fact? And why I am being so entirely negative, you might wail? Or not, as who the hell is reading this anyway. Because the issue isn’t dead and buried. I daresay Scots independence is a bit like our favourite Black Knight, and likely can’t be killed whatever murderous blow it’s dealt. I would also counter that far from being negative, I’m simply being ruthlessly pragmatic. I mean, as mentioned… it’s only a nation we’re talking about here. Recall momentarily that thing called cruel reality would you? Hate to say it but the world at large doesn’t necessarily give a shit about Scotland and it’s dreams. Sink or swim chum.

Moreover though, it may surprise you to know that I rooted my hope that Scotland would stay in the United Kingdom out of a sense of optimism and pride. The No campaign may go down in the history books as a pathetically conceived beast as far as strategy went, and yes John Oliver nailed it when he said “Better Together” sounds like the anaemic rationale of a couple who haven’t the energy to bother breaking up, but they were pretty exclusively in the right as far as I was concerned.

The UK is a good thing. I won’t launch into an impassioned speech in support of it, see anyone from Gordon Brown or Bob Geldof or any number of public figures who have done the rounds this last week. Anything that closely and positively ties nations together, especially over existing bonds of culture and history, is worth defending.

Don’t call it rigid or antiquated. It has in fact just evolved yet again. The coming months will see further powers and control divested into the Scottish parliament, if the party leaders weren’t speaking total lies. I’m a happy chap for now. Although I hope that Scotland stays with the team for as long as the course of history permits, I would say that the next time the conversation arises, and it will, all Scots deserve a more honest, and plainly better, enterprise than the SNP to lead the charge.

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The Brandian Revolution

Oh hi there! It’s been a hwee hwhile. The last thing I wrote a little over a month ago was lending relative praise to British politics when compared to US politics as they were in the midst of the shut-down crisis, which was itself comprised of so many farcical elements that I haven’t the energy to go through them again now. It turns out this was a little ironic, as within days, if not hours, I descended into a murk of cynicism regarding all forms of politics everywhere, at all points in time, past, present and future. Eloquently I say, I stopped giving a toss.

Thanks to Twitter I even have a record of how exactly this happened, my various tweets prior to this sophisticated number, “Temporarily lost all interest in the world, politics and society. Total cynicism attack. Socialists, liberals, conservatives… #suckmyballs,” telling me that it was the Tory party conference wot did it. Or at least, the last of several apathy inducing conferences that served to me precisely the opposite effect of being politically energised. Add a dash of Richard Dawkins taking another pathetic jab at religion completely devoid of intellectual value and the looming final of the Great British Bake Off, and one can see why I might have switched off from matters of import.

There’s just too much diatribe sometimes, whether it’s fronted by big dick intellectuals, warriors for justice, cold and robotic government suits or populist ranters, and that’s hardly not the case at present. Strange that I’d wade back in now when a month ago I was even getting completely sick and tired of my own cognitive involvement in whatever bollocks it was, Miliband vs Cameron vs the energy sector vs the people or Greenwald and the Guardian vs… Christ, everything it seemed at certain points. As a side note, and although I do profoundly care about security services acting wildly beyond the brief, the less I see of Greenwald’s endlessly and eminently affronted person, the better.

So along comes Russell Brand, encapsulating precisely the reason I think I shut down in the first place, with another impossibly unanswerable dilemma for us all to chew on. Nothing so well contained as the Big Six making us choke on our winter porridge as we digest our energy bills, or the issue of the NSA or GCHQ or whatever, but actually the dilemma of… everything. It’s all crap apparently, the whole system and all of its enablers, and we ‘the people’ are in dire need of a wake up call to arms to turn it all on its head in, I kid you not, a “utopian revolution”.

I’m not going to go off on one against this bewildering comedic figure and all of his loquacious eloquence, that’s just kind of tired and Mr. Robert Webb and a thousand other commentators already had a fairly well-rounded crack at criticising most of Brand’s semi-constructions of politico-socio-economic dissatisfaction in his interview with Jeremy Paxman. I won’t even comment much on the “live chat” that Brand had with The Huffington Post’s Mehdi Hasan last week or his various articles penned lately, as it was all essentially more of the same thing, eliciting more of the same kind of varyingly disapproving or admiring sentiment.

What makes me grind my teeth more than any commercially golden posturing (if you choose to see it that way, the Brand brand is growing increasingly lucrative with so much attention) is the broader complaint of the global movement that at least here in the UK has temporarily and slightly unwittingly anointed Brand as its guru. Not just the Anonymous hactivists with their trite Guy Fawkes mask, (references to V for Vendetta aside, the history behind Fawkes and his movement speaks very little to the desires of these people today, Papist Catholic hegemony I’m sure not being the intended destination), but also Occupy and the entire anti-establishment family.

It’s not that I don’t sympathise to some small degree, my own aforementioned disillusionment being hypocritical otherwise, it’s just that the conclusions these folk reach and their employed means of promoting these conclusions are just so… f@cking immature! Just because the system isn’t currently working for them, or us, or indeed many, many people, is the practical response really to want the whole thing to come tumbling down? Really? Are you going to rebuild it? With your masks and twinkling fingers of democracy? Oh that’s nice of you, because there for a second I thought you were all full of shit and couldn’t provide the change you seek even if you were endowed with the power to do so. Why? Because there isn’t a fully fledged concept among you to speak of, beyond your points of criticism, rampant as they are.

To quote a representative of the Million Mask March, regarding the weekend’s slew of anti-establishment demonstrations across the globe, “It was a march against many things; political corruption, capitalism, the global dominance of the financial services industry, austerity, the democratic deficit in people’s lives, the assault on the welfare state, soaring bills and falling wages.” Flipping hell… while in this fully loaded statement are the fractured pieces of the narrative that the majority of people in the world aren’t adequately reaping the benefits of global systems, they, the protesters, heinously fail in forcing these elements to coalesce around a single actionable goal.

Silly me, why should it when you can just launch a few fireworks at Buckingham Palace, hug Russell Brand and go home feeling like you were a part of something. You were a part of nothing, I’m afraid, you are not organised enough, you are not disciplined enough, not concise enough and no where near representative enough of the sort of changes that most people would be happy with, which are largely simple and achievable. Living with some degree of comfort, as far removed as possible from the economic desperation that many today feel. Forget sea-changes, revolution or uprisings, most of us aren’t so contrived as to call for anything that grand.

The most important aspect, however, of the miserable failure that is or will be this movement, is the fact that its constituents have situated themselves squarely outside of, and in opposition to, any recognisable manifestation of the establishment they want to change. Beating on the windows or doors as loudly or as violently as you care to won’t change the fact that you’re out in the cold while the grown-ups are inside making all the decisions. This may indeed appear to be a symptom of exactly the problems you are railing against, but in truth the only way to have a reasonable impact on the conversation is to be a legitimate part of the conversation. That is, short of breaking down the doors and causing the sort of drama that no-one should ever wish for (see the details of… every genuine revolution that ever was).

Mr Smith went to Washington and stayed there, he didn’t rock up, shit on the doorstep and run off to high-five his mates, or start taking heads for that matter. While it would clearly be delusional to hope that in real life one would ultimately claim victory with something akin to Paine’s climactic mea culpa, the point stands that we already have this wonderful mechanism for change called elected government that is only further neutered by calls to reject the system, (allowing the corruptible, invested and entitled to dominate affairs) instead of becoming involved and enriching it and being a part of the change you want to see.

Don’t tell me politics are just an inaccessible bastion of hereditary elites, as despite whatever lingering strain of that we still see, politics are in fact just about open enough to those who are passionate and committed to them. It’s defeatist to claim otherwise, a guaranteed lease of life for this status quo that you find so terrible. Simon Jenkins threw down the gauntlet to Brand. Serious about your own message? Why, there’s an upcoming race for Mayor of London, what a perfect opportunity to enter the system in a substantive fashion. But I doubt it will be seized upon. When offered the chance to support his critique with some solutions, Brand has simply said, “It’s not my job.”

Whose is it then? The people he wants chucked out of the doors of Westminster and onto the streets… what’s wrong with this picture? It seems to me that a surge of fervour for the current system, as it should be, would take us further towards desirable change. Active democratic participation is actually what makes politicians serve you. Younger voters get a raw deal because they don’t vote and political jobs aren’t threatened by ignoring their interests. How on earth can we expect the government we want if we’ve only just in 2010 crept back up to 65% eligible turnout after 2001’s pitiful 59%, and are already hearing calls to reject voting altogether?

The Liberal Democrats provide the best case I can think of for putting the shaft up that argument, having inspired some of the spike back to a lukewarm turnout and then appearing to consummately betray or fail their base with anything from tuition fees to social welfare reforms and much more. But then being on the verge of a hung parliament that forced the current coalition dynamic and all this unsavoury compromise is itself a symptom of democratic laziness and indecisiveness. We’re waiting for the political class to serve us up with something fresh, getting all worked up in a huff for not getting it, when all the while that something has to come from us.

This is a democracy, the political class is us, you, me and everyone who resides on the Isles. The sooner we remind ourselves of that fact and inject some enthusiasm back into the system, rather than embracing anything so Brandian* as saying, “Bugger it all,” the better. As disenfranchised as I felt this past month, which is a perfectly acceptable thing to feel from time to time (we can’t all have one eye on the state of affairs all the time), it is beyond important that we occasionally renew in ourselves at least some sense of constructive involvement in our political process and never reject it wholesale.

Also ironically then, I could perhaps thank Brand for providing what to me are some heavily objectionable opinions and for forcing me back to the keyboard. At least one of his stated goals in all of this was to get people thinking and talking, which I daresay he has achieved to an impressive degree. I just hope people are thinking practically and independently enough not to prescribe to the other specific points of his strain of wisdom, or rather the strain of wisdom that is prevailing among certain circles.

And by the way, if you didn’t hear much about the Million Mask March, it’s probably just the corporate media conspiracy keeping it all under wraps, but don’t worry. The established media is to be the next target of ire for these masked crusaders, further proving they have less focus than an addled puppy that can’t choose between eating dinner and licking its own balls. I would say to them that the established media probably lost interest in their ilk back in 2011 when the best they could elicit from the grimy hippies of Zuccotti Park were statements of lesser cogency or coherence than the aforementioned addled puppy could provide.

Methinks the protester doth protest too much. Or too painfully ineffectually. Right then, enough. Fin.

*Brandian, phrase coined courtesy of Suzanne Moore of The Guardian, who shall be paraphrased to provide the definition of, “endlessly see-sawing between braggadocio and yoga-ed up humility”

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Politics and the Transatlantic Chasm

A brief thought. If you had lamented recently that British politics were stale, broken, corrupt or whatever you could take some solace from the fact that they are not US politics. This notion hearkens back to one of the first pieces I wrote discussing news media but the theme has currently expanded. Here we are dueling things out over the matter of austerity versus… austerity lite, and it’s undoubtedly a feisty one, particularly where discussions are taking place among normal folk who either hate the Tories for being heartless bastards or still despise and distrust Labour’s legacy on the economy. The political rhetoric is comparatively meek… “Britain can do better,” for example.

Whereas the US government is quite literally on the verge of a very real and very serious meltdown. Within 24 hours it will have its funding suspended courtesy of House Republicans and their hellbent mission to bring down Obama’s flagship policy, the Affordable Care Act. The what what which now, you ask? Sorry, Obamacare, as per the toxic branding that America’s hard right wing have given it. Their current position is to suspend its implementation for a further year if the Federal government wants a single red cent come Tuesday morning to pay wages and generally allow the whole system to function at all.

Stunning brass neck if you ask me and only more so when you consider the shameless fashion in which the Republicans are going about this. You might have heard about Senator Ted Cruz’s laborious 21 hour speech the other day, the intention of which was to speak his piece in opposition to the impending healthcare start up, but was in fact a vacuous and self-infatuated bit of grandstanding that probably contained less substance than the odious little gremlin’s gleaming hair piece. The claims are just remarkably sensationalist… “people are suffering under Obamacare, it’s the greatest job killer in America, a nightmare, a disaster.”

A disaster for who exactly? People who are going to finally have a semblance of a modern and civilized healthcare system? Republicans have been bashing on about how the provision of care under the ACA means employers will seek to give workers short shrift to avoid having to pay the insurance premiums to the providers, but this is a lonely cry of vaguely realistic opposition amidst the raging gale of, “We hate Obama, and will do anything to make his administration unsuccessful in its primary ambitions.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has basically said as much in the past, why should we believe now that the Republicans are acting in the people’s interests?

Well we shouldn’t really. Or rather Americans shouldn’t, I don’t really have a dog in this fight and yet the principle of giving one’s people sufficient access to affordable healthcare is such an obvious one that I frequently slip into a defensive attitude on behalf of Americans. The ACA isn’t great, and I think most folk who backed a more universal model in America really wanted a single payer system like the NHS, but it’s better than nothing. Other than trying to wreck Obama’s legacy, one suspects Republicans were aware of the electoral issues that would arise in allowing the Democrats to implement something that would secure them more than a few votes.

The right wing of America is already losing minorities and women at a startling pace and 2016 would be looking like an entirely lost cause if they couldn’t heavily narrativize something in their favour. So now they’re playing on the extraordinarily dangerous gamble of trying to convince the public that the ACA is really something dreadful instead of a hugely positive step in the right direction, and they have to win. Losing is now so completely not an option for the Republicans that they are pushing the country to the brink of serious, serious trouble. If the government caves in and suspends the ACA, it will be a political coup unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

It’s not even a smart gamble if the Republicans should win. Polling shows that most Americans would identify a government shut down as the Republican’s fault and most seem to take the Democrat’s position that the hard right is holding the nation hostage. And if the ACA is ultimately revoked there is no question where ire should and will be directed as regular people continue to feel the pain of ever more expensive private healthcare. More proof that as far as partisan lunacy goes, the USA maintains a brand that we in the UK can praise the heavens doesn’t exist here.

The world looks on aghast at the puerile, apocalyptic antics of Boehner, Cruz, McConnell et al that make American politics look like a farce. I’ll be watching the next session of Prime Minister’s Questions with a renewed sense of respect for our legislators, even as they heckle and barrack each other with pantomimic vigour.

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UK Party Conferences 2013

My disdain for the transparency and excessive aspiration of the party conference season was close to shutting down any thought of writing much about it, beyond the last article’s brief showing of a lack of deference. I thought to wait until the whole lot was over next week, when the Tories had said their piece, but I’m going to jump the gun on that. After the Lib Dems, UKIP and Labour there is surprisingly already quite a lot to say. Less surprisingly, none of it too good.

Quickly then. The Liberal Democrats once again set the bar for pitiful desperation, with notable speeches coming from Vince Cable as he went on the attack against their coalition partners for being the “nasty” party. Presumably this makes the Lib Dems the nice party. And Nick Clegg was almost popping an aneurysm as he screeched into the microphone, “We’re not here to prop up the two party system, we’re here to bring it down!” I have many problems with both sets of approach.

First, despite the occasional bleating threat from the catamites of coalition that they might cede from the agreement and leave the Tories to a minority government, the likelihood of this happening, at least until the most expedient moment in time prior to the 2015 elections, is minimal. Clegg himself stated with wild abandon that the Lib Dems simply must stay in power as otherwise Labour or the Tories would surely take us down the road of communism or fascism respectively. So Cable’s attacks on the Tories are little more than self-flagellation as his party are inexorably tied to them for the foreseeable future.

It won’t serve the Lib Dems one bit to paint the Tories with the nasty brush, because they have largely towed the line with the same power-hungry eagerness that has utterly annihilated their support base up and down the country. In this sense, they’re a bit like the school yard bully’s pathetic underling, the one who hides behind the big lad and supports his loutish behaviour but then runs to the teacher later to discreetly rat everything out, hoping to gain supremacy via treachery.

Frankly, Clegg’s entire speech smacked of, “If we say it loud enough and often enough, then it must be true.” It’s sort of an effective political strategy except for the fact that it was barely half a wink after the Rose Garden two or so years ago that those once loyal had forever written him and the party off as crass operatives lacking any scruples. I don’t think anyone believes the Lib Dems are around for any other reason than to serve themselves, and the notion they form a critical mechanism against main party excesses will only ever again fall on deaf ears.

Moving on, UKIP… ah, UKIP. Thank you for vindicating the avalanche of criticism I levelled at you some months ago after the aberration of your success in Eastleigh. There have been various things between that by-election and last week’s conference that have steadily delegitimized them, and so my expectation of a dearth of joy for them come 2015 is on track. This is only helped when central party figures like Godfrey Bloom not only depart the reservation, but actually go stratospheric with their patent deficiencies of character and credibility.

Do I even need to detail his infringements? Never mind the fact that his name is now popularly “Bongo” after his incredibly tactless comments on foreign aid some weeks ago – throwing around the term “sluts” and bashing up CH4 journalists with party pamphlets is a new kind of crazy. Bloom already lost the whip and is now also quitting the party in Brussels, but the damage has already been done. I can’t remember a single policy point or anything from, say, Farage’s keynote speech. So thanks Bongo! Enjoy the wilderness, but I don’t think you’ll be alone for long. UKIP really is a gift to satire.

As for Labour, well, the opposition has been having a very tough time of late. As if sliding poll numbers during a prolonged government austerity drive wasn’t enough of an indictment of their own quality as a group of politicians, Damian McBride’s dagger to the soft flank of his former comrades speaks further volumes. I would say first that I do not believe for a fleeting microsecond that Balls and Miliband weren’t party to McBride’s actions during the Labour years, as they themselves were staunch Brownites. The launch of his book was callously timed to take advantage of the Labour conference and deliver maximum sensation against Labour’s front pair.

As for the conference itself, we’ve had fairly empty promises of a return to socialism in the form of repealed taxes, increased benefits, more social support, bank levies… all of which screams of a reaction against criticism for Labour being only able to promote an austerity-lite model that was received with particular derision after nearly three years of lambasting and rejecting everything the coalition was doing. It’s a feature I particularly despise about the Labour party at present, but what really miffs me here is that all of these things that Balls and Miliband have promoted are barely even socialist.

It’s just classic New Labour. Big spending promises, which have largely already been called out as unfunded and impractical, and only a short while after they came close to financially sinking the nation. They have slipped straight back into bad habits after a few years in opposition left them completely floundering for an idea that was even remotely dynamic. It is really appalling. Miliband just gave his big speech, and although I’d usually reserve some words for how laughably uncharismatic he is, being as stiff and obviously coached as any useless public speaker I’ve ever seen, I think it would only distract from the more pertinent point.

If Labour went to the elections in 2010 saying of the Tories, “You can’t trust them on the NHS,” after 13 years of Labour government and a distinct shift in Tory culture and personnel, then how on earth does Labour expect we could trust them on the economy? It will have only been five years come the election and the people at the reigns are still very much the same that were central to Labour’s abysmal failings pre-2010. They haven’t learned and they haven’t listened. The Treasury reports a funding gap in Labour’s proposals of around £27bn, and I take Labour’s denial of this with absolutely zero faith. I think they are dangerous.

The Tories will probably repeat something along these lines during their conference, which I expect will be a fairly confident affair. The more the economy grows, the more their poll deficit will decrease and this will only be helped by Miliband’s beleaguered position. They should be careful however, because one thing Labour did accurately identify is that the recovery isn’t yet being felt by the majority of voters, and the cost of living has taken a sharp upturn. If in the next couple of years they can provide more than what amounts to Labour’s rhetorical dogfarts, they stand a decent chance.

Without wanting to sound too much like a right-wing sycophant I could suggest you read past articles where I liberally criticise the Tories and coalition for their various amateur errors, and surely they will produce some further points of consternation. But I guess at the moment the strident river of tripe emanating from the other parties actually puts the government in a reasonable light. If only they ditched the moronic bedroom tax and lowered VAT a bit. The narrative is there for the taking. I guess I should actually wait and see what their conference reveals…

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Another News Crisis

I think I have to move off Syria for a brief spell, no amount of my raging against the geopolitical machine is going change a single thing. To the home front perhaps? No… party convention season is little more than high times for pure banality and political delusion, as we can currently witness in the Lib Dem conference and surely will for the other players to follow. One keen observer, who I forgot to note the name of, recognised that these affairs have moved away from grass roots energising and devolved more into political class backslapping sessions with a dash of lobbying thrown in for good measure.

Rame. I might even have talked about the terrifying shooting incident at a Washington DC naval yard yesterday, but for the implicit futility in doing so for any subsequent event to Sandy Hook last December. If that tragedy couldn’t change the tide of public or legislative opinion on having gun controls possessed of an element of sanity, what could? The NRA publicity machine was probably already preparing its diabolical sophisms before anyone even knew exactly what was happening. And I can’t even think about American right now without a sense of shame descending on my perception of Western dignity after the outrage of Obama’s deal with Russia over Syria.

Evidently I’m otherwise just floundering in the sea of middling current affairs issues, whether it be the propriety of Muslim veils in UK courtrooms and broader society, or the disconcerting clusterf@ck over the release of GTA5, including one life-imitates-art violent mugging of a proud new owner of the game. Dribs and drabs really. Wasn’t the Costa Concordia salvage quite the feat of engineering? If there’s one worthwhile reflection I had for this article it would be that the mainstream media appear to share in this occasional sense of narrative fatigue. All eyes and ears that were on Syria are now resting or looking for things of lesser import to alleviate the strain.

Oh, how I pray for an alien invasion, or some other event of such magnitude that all matters of existentialism and morality and gravity are called into play. But wait a minute… I just remembered something. I have a second blog. If I can scrape something out on an Edinburgh University’s student association decision to ban a pop tune because it struck some as a bit too “rapey” then the world is my scrutable oyster. Next on TranquilSigh, the mystery of the Nazi cat! Or maybe something slightly less ridiculous. The Huffington Post does rather continue to set the mark for confusing news with social media trollop.

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