Monday, 23 January 2012

Betrayed: or will Clegg win on obedience at Cruft's?

I have yet to be reminded to renew my subscription to the Liberal Democrats.  As a grumpy old Liberal this is a dilemma - my long-standing desire for liberty, opportunity and democracy appears to be thwarted by the way in which the leader of the successor party prostitutes himself in front of David Cameron, looking for approval from a parental figure warped by the self-belief of bloated capitalism, Eton and the Bullingdon Club (Clegg being a Cambridge man won't help his limited comprehension of the subspecies).  Let's emasculate the NHS and bring in more opportunities for crony capitalism - and Nick will endorse it.  Let the evil little toad Gove pass the blame to Dr Vince for the tuition fees increase - Nick's quite happy.  And anything crass Georgie Osborne dreams up while avoiding tax is enthusiastically endorsed by Beaker, clapping his hands fervently while waiting to go up into the Fifth Form.

In the last eighteen months, whatever Clegg says in e-mails to his diminishing band of faithful, Liberalism and the policies it has stood for have been prostituted.  Our most consistent desire - to reform the constitutional muddle - has been ridiculed, defeated and criminally gerrymandered to allow the Tories to redefine constituency boundaries.  Push the Scots into independence (Cameron's clear objective, no matter how much he wraps his pitiful body in the Union Jack while twitching like a hamster on amphetamines) and you have effectively condemned England and (probably) Wales to backwards drift and neo-conservatism ad infinitum.  Puffed up by the hysterical vacuity of the Tory press, and a BBC whose mission to explain diminishes in inverse proportion to the number of overpaid corporate drones leeching off the licence fee, Cameron must be feeling ineffably smug by now.  We're all in this together, apart from the capitalists and experts who have creamed off illusory profits while continuing to allege that we ought to be grateful for their brilliance and should really pay them for the privilege of tugging our forelocks while they rape the pensions system and destroy workforce rights.

So what has Clegg been doing?  Claiming to offer a moderating influence over the Tories is about as far as he will go - assuming that the role of the Liberal Democrats is to be a nice little centre party whose role is to temper the excesses of whoever pushes out a few crumbs.  This was never my reasoning for supporting the Liberals - more the need for a libertarian left alternative that reasserted that relationships in society are not solely based around the relative economic power and that the values of the Enlightenment might continue to be expressed through the political system.  Labour's drift into the authoritarian right, and Blair's abandonment of the traditional social democratic platform, created a vacancy for critics of the neo-con Altanticist settlement.  And don't start me on Europe...

There is now a real need for common cause to resist the orthodoxies being touted by all three parties - or social breakdown is a distinct possibility.  As a Liberal I can't support a party that categorises people into shades of "vulnerability" while pouring patronising garbage over them, while acting as lightning conductors to a party whose malevolence continues to become more manifest.  The Labour Party might move back into a place where its mavericks are more tolerated and where it does not feel that repeating the Blair con-trick of sticking to Tory spending plans in government is going to win - but I'm not holding out much hope.  The long game may be for a further Tory victory to spur genuine realignment and a centre-left recognition that the anti-democratic farrago that passes for an electoral system needs a one-off modernisation. 

However in the meantime, I shall have to decide by the end of the month whether to renew membership of a party that cannot in itself inspire much loyalty or enthusiasm.  After nearly three decades it would come as a shock to be a party-less Liberal, but that seems a plausible outcome.  Not that Nick would notice, as Dave will be very busily tickling his tummy.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Unionism and the charlatans

David Cameron, whose resemblance to a self-satisfied hamster increases by the week, must be regretting taking on Alex Salmond.  For all the political posturing about preserving the Union, Cameron's partisanship will be best served by getting rid of those fringe parts of the UK whose perspective on events is not shaped by a rolled-up copy of the "Daily Mail" and a simplistic denial of the possibility of pluralism.  Salmond is probably the wiliest political operator currently in the field, and any English rightist is likely to find Wee Eck going into a revolving door behind them and coming out in front.  You would have thought that they might actually have worked this out from the trouncing dealt out to Labour and the Liberal Democrats last May.

Cameron's attempt to present this as a cleaning-up, sorting-out sort of intervention is so disingenuous as to be risible.  Hiding behind legalism may be all very well, but there are political and moral imperatives as well.  Salmond is being crafty, wanting a multi-question referendum that will allow both full separation and the "devolution max" options to be ranked.  The Scots are used to PR and preferential voting, so this should not be an Einsteinian challenge - and devo max is quite likely to be the preferred choice - which is why Cameron is so keen to blow the last Unionist joker on the binary independence/Union dichotomy, hoping that the former will frighten off even those Scots who see the effectiveness of devolution in allowing them not to have a screwed-up health and education system.

This will come back to bite Cameron, whose sense of playing to the English gallery blinds him to the reality that Scotland is developing both its own polity and confidence in its ability to address options.  What will now emerge is similar rumblings from Wales, Northern Ireland the English regions - slower, but nevertheless moving towards a devolved, federal Britain. 

The irony will be that the decay of the Union is being accelerated by its staunchest defenders, and that the little rightists, defeating UK-wide constitutional change, may actually be lighting the powder underneath a revolutionary demand for self-determination.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

HS2: the truth about parochial Britain

There are very few "eureka" moments in observing British politics.  Occasionally they emerge when the true idiocy of the Tory Party emerges from underneath the air-brushed cheek-pouches of our self-esteemed Prime Minister, or when Ed Miliband signally fails to register a further easy blow upon the Coalition's latest inanity.  Last week's announcement of cross-party support for High Speed 2, putting us a mere forty years behind the French and German economies, was one of them.

The most telling example of the mire into which political discourse has fallen is "Question Time".  Presided over by the superannuated Tory troll David Dimbleby, whose grasp of pluralism and the nuanced nature of most discussion is approximately as large as Boris Johnson's take on personal morality, it provides an opportunity for demagogues and cretins to put their half-witted views forward.  This applies equally to panellists and the audience, which appears to be trawled from amongst the knuckle-dragging, dribbling Poujadists and semi-evolved proto-fascists with monomania.  This week's example was enlivened by Kelvin MacKenzie, whose Thatcherite throwbacks continue to purvey a selfish, neanderthal view of the world where the only justification for any state activity is to benefit his little world, and a self-parodic Scouser bleating about the lack of journey opportunities between Watford and Liverpool.  The latter is clearly a very good reason for him to oppose HS2, while for the rest of us it is very difficult to compute why anybody would be in either place or want to travel between them (sorry - cheap jibe but the audience has that effect on me).

We were also regaled by the over-promoted Transport Secretary, who is clearly quite adept at reading briefs prepared for her by the much-derided civil service.  However, the real weight behind HS2 came from Labour and the SNP - both of whom tend to see the issues from a much less blinkered view than government or the chorus of Chiltern nay-sayers who are trying to threaten Armageddon, led by the Secretary of State for Wales whose constituency is in that well-known Celtic enclave of Amersham, and who is alleged to have already sold her property before planning blight sets in.

The case for HS2 is proven - there needs to be more capacity to move people between the South-East, the Midlands, the North and Scotland.  A bunch of self-appointed flat-earthers have attempted to demonstrate that, by providing longer and longer trains, and encouraging people to travel at 2.30 a.m. on the 3rd February for a meeting in June, there is sufficient capacity available on the existing rail network (saying nothing about the prices or the delays that this would result in).  If rail is preferred, as it should be, then, broadly-speaking, there is no reason not to go faster than currently.  For those of us who lived through the upgrade of the existing West Coast Main Line, new-build seems so much less risky and disruptive.  Government won't want to spend money unless it is convinced of the need for the railway.

The half-witted opposition appears to major on the alleged lack of economic justification for the route.  No forecast will ever be perfect - "the National Health Service is safe with us" springs to mind - but there's a strong business and economic case even before you hit the strategic justification.  Wasting money on nuclear weapons and an over-sized military to demonstrate pseudo-cojones is never challenged like this - nor would an expansion of the motorway network attract opprobrium from the inexplicably still-employed Jeremy Clarkson. 

There may well be a touch of Tory South-East bias here - when it has been pointed out that construction will only start after Crossrail is complete and will not involve any increased burden on taxpayers this is conveniently forgotten - although Boris is attempting to spend copious amounts on dubious road schemes in London to curry favour with the moronic tendency.  What probably motivates it is the unconscious expression of ongoing Europhobia and the belief that the proles, particularly northerners and Scotsmen, should not have their lives made too easy in case they get a bit uppity.

When I get round to posting again I shall consider the Scottish issue once more, but in the meantime the support for modern transport makes 2012 marginally less grumpy - but there's still wasting money on the Olympics and the Jubilee and associated fol-de-rols ro allow normal service to resume.