Sunday, 27 May 2012

A pox on the Jubilee...

Thirty-five years ago, the heading above was the first line of a fine piece of recurrent graffiti.  It was followed with "..the ersatz orgasm of the silent majority".

Despite the efforts of a range of sturdy campaigners, republicanism remains a minority view, but nevertheless a legitimate strand of opinion.  Not that you'd believe this from the fawning coverage of the Jubilee festivities - all conflated with Coe's exhibitionism over the Olympics - all designed to keep the population quiescent while politicians and bankers screw the rest of the world into penury.

The monarchist position is always to draw attention to the essential virtues of the current hereditary monarch.  This is an accident, if it is true. 

The royal set-up is an anachronism that continues to be used to justify denial of citizens' rights.  However, the apologists then point out that the Windsor clan is cheap and effective - but without examining from where the Windsor family and its ancestors secured their wealth - and whether that is legitimate.

Hopefully the republican argument will get put forward a little more, and the breakdown in social cohesion legitimised by the current administration will cause people to question whether a modern society needs unelected and unaccountable people at the top. 

The monarchists keep their delusion going through fear of the different, yet the French have recently managed to realign their state through electing a more radical President - and the change at the top didn't cause the sky to fall in. Hardly a disaster.

At least most of us will get another public holiday...

Communist Clegg, Socialist Cable? The right comes out of its closet

Adrian Beecroft is a special sort of Tory donor.  He has access to the Prime Minister and he is one of the self-styled "entrepreneurs" who make the country what it is today.  Amongst his many interests is a company called, which offers usury to the innumerate masses denied credit and a stake in society by the actions of his city cronies over the last decade.

Beecroft's career should be the subject of a Brechtian morality tale, not as a poseur and lobbyist portraying himself as a victim of the Coalition.  Instead he spent time last week mewling to the "Telegraph" that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills is a "socialist" for opposing irrational and dictatorial powers for employers.

There is no evidence that allowing capricious, half-witted Tory trolls to hire and fire on the basis of not liking someone's face would do anything for either productivity or profitability, indeed the opposite appears to be true when comparing the UK to more liberal, socially-cohesive states.  Yet why let evidence get in the way of the dribbling inanities that put the rich and avaricious at the pinnacle of the state, ignoring that they have at best got to their position through other people's efforts and at worst through exploitation and evil.  I suspect Beecroft tilts much more towards one end of that spectrum.

Cable's socialism - which is clearly deeply-felt and expressed on frequent occasions - is as nothing compared to the Deputy Prime Minister, who according to the unknown Tim Hands, apparently Headmaster of Magdalen College School, is guilty of "old-school communism" for questioning how best to achieve social mobility.  Hands makes the superficially-libertarian but facile case that public schools are a symptom rather than a cause of the increasing polarisation of British society.

Those of us who had the luck not to be coming of age before the debasement of education by the 1980s-model Tories - the crazed extension of universities and the introduction of neo-conservative target culture within the system - are probably the last generation to have merited from even partial social mobility.  Properly-funded institutions and the avoidance of massive debt overhangs also went alongside relatively good prospects that graduates would be employed and contribute tax revenues to fund the next generations through.

Thatcher, Major and Blair cynically expanded the higher education sector - again with the same innumeracy that characterises the victims of Beecroft's simony - the clear implication of 50% of school-leaves consuming tertiary education is that many will earn below or only just around the average salary in later life - and at the same time allowed private schools to continue with tax breaks while they rowed back from the kind of access that used to be available through their palty numbers of scholarships - the fees for one pupil at the kind of school that Hands represents are well above the gross salary level of the majority of the population.

So when Clegg draws attention to the fact that social mobility and income inequality is growing, and there is even less chance of bright children from lower-income households from being able to afford the debt-ridden lottery of degrees, or achieving the kind of grades required to get them into institutions which are still disproportionately-populated by the children of bankers, usurers and other parasites, he is an "old-school communist".

If Hands were remotely intelligent, as opposed to the kind of snake-oil salesman who most interest groups select as cheer-leaders, this facile abuse would show precisely what kind of social construct he wishes to preserve.

Paradoxically, the abuse heaped by the half-wits of the right may do the Liberal Democrats some good in demonstrating that the views of the Coalition are not aligned.  I'm sure that Osborne and Cameron are cheering on their puppet-masters (the vision of the Hamster as a version of Sooty being manipulated painfully by Beecroft is highly amusing) - but the Liberals have at least some chance of constructing a position centred around individuals, their worth and their status in society.

To suggest that citizens have rights, and that they are of equal status and value within society now seems to count as dangerous radicalism.  More of it, please.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Flat tax, lies and the Taxpayers Alliance

For those who recall earlier views on the subject, it was hardly surprising that there was a blatant attempt to grab the headlines by the Taxpayers Alliance, this time in tandem with the Institute of Directors and the "pro-business" editor of the freesheet "City AM".

Their cause is the noble redistributive flat tax, apparently, but in fact it remains the dismantling of the state and the removal of power from the electorate to self-appointed oligarchs with the key to all wisdom secreted in their offshore bank account.  And if you didn't catch the irony, because you are a right-wing, prosaic loon without a shred of critical faculty, the only redistribution that a "flat tax" brings is skewed towards the already-rich.

Since at least some of the Taxpayers Alliance funding comes from non-doms, this is hardly surprising, although to be told that Cameron and Osborne see it as one of their favourite "think-tanks" demeans the thought process much in the same way that the term "neo-liberalism" is related to the genuine article.  The entire canard is a gigantic scam that is linked to a greed-based programme of abolishing universal provision and, at its starkest, forcing people who cannot afford to live into either beggary or death.

The real inspiration for the process is the 1830s Poor Law Commission.  The principle of "less eligibility" was put forward for paupers as a means of mitigating the impact on the well-off of relief from hunger and indigence.  This would now have been presented as a watchword for efficiency, modernisation, and, given that these fools think that the rest of the world is even more stupid than they are, accountability.

To fund this bonanza for people at the top of the income scale (a 30% marginal tax rate sounds so much more enticing if you've acquired your wealth through no fault of your own than 45% or the 40% inheritance tax rate), requires the state to shrink by at least a further 10% more than the emasculation already being perpetrated in the name of austerity.  This would have a major impact on health, education, welfare and other public services where the present de minimis provision is already insulting to those who are forced to use them.

The uber-rightists' response to this is that you could drive out inefficiency and reduce costs.  Agreed.  But the inefficiency is mostly due to the snoutage and graft that privatisation and outsourcing has fostered, and the reduction in power and status of those who remain accountable to the electorate with respect to delivering services.  A genuine body representing taxpayers would not be campaigning for an arbitrary reduction in the size of the state, but for an end to the licenced pillage and wealth-extraction in the name of markets and competition, with a view to fostering public service and an efficient, socially-driven outcome.

While this current crop of Tories are in power, the "business" and "enterprise" lobby - the obscenely rich drones with their preposterous, unelected and illegitimate claims to representative status - will continue to dominate.  Using self-styled independent "think-tanks" to propose the ideas that the Coalition constrains is one route forward, as is the unsavoury and potentially illegal access enjoyed by the likes of Murdoch to Osborne, Cameron and Hunt, or paying for the privilege of supping with Ministers to bolster Tory coffers.

Complicity in this is largely down to the media - the concept that "business" is paramount and should have hallowed status is one in which most outlets and commentators are complicit.  In a democratic society, this lobby is no more or less relevant than morris dancers or collectors of 19th century linoleum.  Yet the government and its cheer-leaders pretend that somehow these people, who have not served the country well for the last century, are in some way privileged and everyone should bow down before them.

These noxious poopsticks need to be treated with scepticism and hostility - as their arrogant dismissal of the rights and expectations of other citizens demonstrates that their concern is neither efficiency nor the preservation of social cohesion.  At the same time as the calls to cut taxes yet further for the rich, while increasing the total burden on low- and average-earners, came the report of another Tory donor, the execrable Adrian Beecroft, who had submitted a report calling for the virtual abolition of all rights of workers in the workplace.

As usual, it was dressed up in "common sense", making it easier to sack workers if a firm or organisation doesn't need them.  And again, it picked up on some of the bureaucracy that has built up around successive changes to employment law over the next 200 years, and takes the existence of said process as being a challenge that does not need streamlining but abolishing, to place the worker in the position of an insecure serf with no right to take action or job security, subsisting on the whims of his or her boss, who could well sign up to the theories of the Taxpayers Alliance and their ilk.

The gloves came off.  Vince Cable got as close as he could to describing the whole thing as "bollocks", in line with all sensible people.  Some Tories clearly don't think even that level of control goes far enough, and would probably extend the right to kill to managers who fall out with their staff in company time (which nowadays is 168 hours a week). 

The last couple of days have done a great deal to crystallise the battle lines.  The business lobby has shown its hand - wanting neo-con and authoritarian powers over the rest of society.  If Miliband has the wit, he will exploit this to the maximum extent, making common cause with Liberals, Greens, trade unionists and putting forward an agenda that is focused on the citizen, not on the acquisition of wealth and the dismantling of what remains of the social fabric.  I don't hold my breath, though.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Olympics and the peasantry - continued

While flicking through the news yesterday evening, it became clear to me that the arrival of the Olympic Torch - spreading doom and recession from Greece to the UK - presages a summer when sane and rational beings would be well-advised were they to spend three months in a state of communications denial.  However, this will not do when there are a bunch of egotistical cretins spreading brainwashed ectoplasm across the world.

Earlier in the week, I came across this priceless piece of Olympic claptrap, justifying not merely the total gridlock of central London but putridly denying the unwilling dupes of the taxpaying majority even basic health care when leeching sports bureaucrats need to have their egos deflated.

One of the key figures behind the 2012 bid, Simon Clegg, was so involved in negotiations to host the Games that his is one of three British signatures on the IoC contract which secured the Olympics for London.

Speaking generally about the competition to win the Olympic Games, he said the International Olympic Committee had come to expect special treatment across the board.  

"There will be some people I have no doubt who will look at this and say that those people in positions of authority in the Olympic movement and across world sport are being treated quite royally," he said.

"But that is the level of expectation that there is in world sport

"If we hadn't committed to deliver that as part of the bid process - which is a requirement, an IOC requirement - then quite frankly the bid would have failed.

"So whether people like it or not, we need to deliver in the vast majority of these areas because it's what's expected to host the Olympic Games." 

The final statement suggests that Simon Clegg, whoever he might be (hopefully not related to Cameron's preferred domestic pet), demonstrates the kind of contempt for those not involved in his particular collective delusion.  We have seen the extent to which civil liberties, from the right to peaceful protest downwards, are to be eroded during the periods of hysteria, and the disruption to people's lives that is proposed.

Now why the hell should anyone play along with people from the "Olympic movement" and their expectations to be treated as superior beings?  What is the IOC's status that allows its panjandrums to demand superior services to those normally delivered to the masses, while bankrupting and destroying cultural and social structures?  "Winning" the opportunity to pander to the delusions of egotistical morons in the name of "sport" is about the most contemptible piece of national delusion yet known - and one perpetrated by both Tories and Labour.

The sunk costs of the London Olympic bread and circuses are so enormous that it would be a quixotic gesture not to hope that the promised economic dividends aren't delivered to at least in part make up for the huge waste of resources expended to date.  What would be much more appropriate is to make its supporters and participants enjoy the true level of public service in the UK.  Why shouldn't an IOC member experience the pleasures of trying to find a doctor available after five in the evening, or wait for hours in A&E amongst the drunk and dispossessed?  Or queue for the Tube and trains with peak crushes?  These are mere human beings, no better or worse than the rest of us.

Simon Clegg, on the other hand, comes over like a pre-pubescent gushing over pop stars.  Feeding their delusions becomes much more important than addressing the pathetic servility and craven brown-nosing that epitomise the mad and unhealthy relationships where sport has become a toxic combination of capitalist greed, opiate for the disenfranchised masses and a totem of cretinous nationalism.  To hear people like this reminds me why, even with most protest channels locked down, the inner emigration will become essential for six weeks.


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Hypocrisy will fuel a new class war

One of the principal reasons for the unpopularity of the Coalition is the constant mantric repetition of "we're all in this together" and the implication that there is no alternative.  Both of these are palpably untrue, but are pumped out with the vague expectation that if imbued upon the collective subconscious they will eventually atrophy the critical faculties even unto the point where people might vote Conservative.

Now, observing the financial services sector, the law and the other parasitic vocations, it is very hard to see where the real suffering has been experienced since 2008.  There's still prosperity and excessive wealth fuelled by a bonus culture and entitlement aplenty.  To sustain this, they want to screw the rest of the population with reduced job security, stealing further pension entitlements and reducing their own taxes while condemning public services to stringency and decline - all to build up balance sheets and maintain their own safety in the face of reality.

From their protestations, they consider it bad form and at worst capital sedition to remind people of how the entire sorry mess was generated in the first place.  The bail-outs, the transfer of wealth from the wider population into the mire of criminal incompetence created by idiots pretending to be clever, the constant exhortation to austerity for other people and the smug, self-satisfied visages of the perpetrators of large-scale, systematic pillage are all symptoms of a class that has forfeited any right to respect.

At the same time as they have been bailed out by the mugs whose influence over the Tories and the media is zero, and who are held in contempt by the self-styled entrepreneurs and political leaders who pull the strings, they are condemning the country to long-term decline.  Young people are unemployed, the manufacturing sector continues to atrophy, the physical and social infrastructure becomes more and more fragile and unable to bear the strains placed upon it.

You would have thought that contrition, a sense of duty and responsibility for the mess might have generated more reflection and action.  Instead of which they repeat the tired myths that other people must make sacrifices in order to keep them in the lifestyle to which they feel entitled.

What they are doing is clever, classic diversionary tactics.  "Divide and rule" is the watchword - so anyone who still has possession of any of the symbols of progress that defined the 20th century, such as proper provision for their old age, and reasonable expectation that if they do a competent, productive job they will continue to be employed, is pitted against those who have already been excluded from this and who have been forced to become complicit with the neo-con exploitative mindset.  Co-opting those already defeated as auxiliaries in the battle to expropriate is a clear priority.

Where England differs from other countries, and I choose the nationality carefully, is in its philistinism and distrust of ideas.  Anything that cannot be expressed in one sentence, preferably with no sub-clauses and with no element of ambiguity, is suspect.  So this is used to justify the rapacity and evil intent of self-styled "wealth creators" without examining whether they have any obligations to the wider community - and there are too many dog-whistles around "enterprise" and the "free market", to which slavish adherence has done nothing much more than entrench economic weakness and class and geographic apartheid.

Equality is also a dirty word.  The view that the only denominator of worth is financial success diminishes all those who have interests that are either devoted to service or the pursuit of knowledge, expertise and intellectual advancement, implying that they are parasites who feed off the high priests of capitalism.  The cult of celebrity preserves an illusion that there is genuine mobility in society, while materialism creates envy at the expense of cohesion.

Freedom and decency are only available to those who can afford them - and they will try to exclude all comers by kicking away the ladders that used to exist.  This is unwinding social progress and creating an exclusionary culture.  No wonder that mainstream political parties cannot mobilise significant support from younger people, or indeed from other sections of the populace - they are all more or less complicit in the new paradigm.

If there is much more misery inflicted upon people by a group of people who relish their ignorance, hypocrisy and selfishness, then it is clear that there will be more social dislocation and eventually unrest.  The old Tory model of patrician obligation has been inverted - and the subversion of society will force them to reap the inevitable consequences.

Osborne, the Little Englanders and the Euro crisis

The election of a Socialist president in France was one of the better pieces of news to emerge in recent weeks - if only because it bucks the narrative that there is only one route to economic salvation in a depression.  It also raises two fingers to Cameron and the half-witted apostles of austerity in this country, and creates a dynamic that restores progressive Europeanism to the centre of politics - undermining the Merkel-Sarkozy-Cameron axis of hysterical orthodoxy.

As the exit of Greece from the Eurozone unfolds, it will be fascinating to watch the response of the knee-jerk reactionaries.  Osborne, poor lamb, looks as though he is caught in a dilemma that cannot be resolved.  His paymasters' xenophobia and ridiculous sense of British superiority leads him to gloat over others' misfortunes, but the hard reality of a European depression would do even more damage to the British economy than even he has managed to inflict to date.

So far, so obvious.  A more reflective response might be to consider whether Britain has been the architect of the Euro's downfall.

The Eurosceptic nutters in the Tory party aside, there was at least some enthusiasm for the project at its inception.  However the tests that Brown forced on Blair at the outset of their occupancy of Downing Street effectively scuppered British participation - and therefore one of the stronger and larger economies was excluded.  Had there been a "northern triangle" including France, Germany and the UK, then this would have formed a strong and competitive core - added to by Benelux and Scandinavian countries.

The real problem has been the maintenance of the fiction that a single currency zone can exist with several economies at the periphery whose dynamics are different to the majority of the bloc, and where shoe-horning their policies leads to the kind of unbalanced unravelling that we are seeing in Greece and increasingly in Spain and Italy.  A much more visionary position would have been to adopt a core Euro area, with a "converging ERM" for countries that are moving towards the centre but not quite there yet, giving more leverage and fewer issues of credibility when policy needs to be rebalanced.

Osborne's simplistic and madly reactionary view will doubtless be that we have been better off out, which is an astounding counterfactual.  However, there is limited benefit in picking over mistakes that all parties have been engaged in - but there is a need for a fiscal and monetary response across the whole EU that promotes growth, investment and removing the cycle of decline that orthodoxy is inflicting upon economies.  Whatever happens in Greece, the weakness of the British and German responses to the depression has exacerbated the crisis.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Anti-Tory? Let's get radical!

The local elections and the tide of history suggest that Labour are doing reasonably well, but they would be hard-pushed not to.  Attacking the Coalition is not exactly difficult, and there is plenty of ammunition even for an opposition whose record in office was hardly notable for its probity and effectiveness.

However, in order to maintain this momentum, Labour has to recognise that there is precious little enthusiasm for its platform, neither is there a clear trajectory back into power, especially if the number of MPs is reduced and the boundaries gerrymandered to provide more safe seats for our friends in the Conservative Party.  If the vagaries of the electoral system continue, then Labour will need to rely on other parties to form an administration, much as the Tories have had to do with the Liberal Democrats.

If Miliband is serious about political change, rather than just tribalism, he needs to recognise that there is de facto pluralism, particularly on the left-centre territory that is currently gaining ground across Europe, and quite apart from fighting to secure a majority, he should be looking to set out policy objectives around which there can be a clear process for forming a new government across party boundaries in 2015 or earlier.

Given that the nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales will not go away, they act as an impediment to Labour's easy route back to power.  The destruction of the Liberal Democrats will give many seats to the Tories through voters swinging to Labour - the result of a perverse electoral system that is designed to favour the right.  Therefore what Miliband has to do is set his sights high, and recognise that whatever the results the day after the next election he must set out an agenda that is clear and attractive.

The Tories have played into his hands - not just with their positioning on tax concessions for the rich, and the theft of public services to provide profits to "outsourcing" organisations who just happen to be generous in their funding of good Tory causes.  The lack of enthusiasm for the Tory agenda is palpable, especially given their continued encouragement of such lovely people as hedge fund managers and the delusion that the City and the property market are the two barometers of national salvation. 

Clearly articulating that "we're all in this together" means much higher taxes on excessive unearned and earned income, to fund a decent social fabric and modern infrastructure, and that this should be translated into delivery on the ground, rather than leached out into profits and unaccountable services, is a start.  The simplicity of such an approach does not play well in the South-East of England, but would do a great deal to register in the areas which hardly gained from previous economic growth.

The other area where Miliband could make progress is on the constitutional settlement.  If he were to support an all-elected House of Lords as part of a total overhaul of the relationship between central, regional and local government - as well as a review of genuine proportional representation rather than the pseudo-version not inflicted through the AV referendum, a written constitution and a consideration as to how the various tiers of administration can be made accountable, it would reduce the democratic deficit.

This is just a start.  Labour's problem is that it sees its election as an end rather than a means to transform the country.  Given the electoral and economic pressures, if Miliband wants to be sure of power he should take his party closer to a vanguard rather than authoritarian model, and continue to pick up progressive support in the slipstream.  Sadly I suspect that this would be far too radical and visionary - but until then the left consensus is doomed to be outflanked by the Tory behemoth.

The mire of sleaze: Hunt, Cameron and Osborne

It was unsurprising that the principal function of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson appearing at the Leveson Enquiry was to hurl ordure at the politicians whose unaccountable sudden rediscovery of probity would be praise-worthy were it not so hypocritically risible. 

The ongoing immuring of Jeremy Hunt must surely leave his position indefensible - but the revelations that the close relationships with the Tory coxcombs extends to Gormless George, who entertained News Corporation bigwigs at the taxpayer-funded grace-and-favour residence at Dorneywood, are entirely in keeping with a government whose moral compass is not merely misaligned but completely missing.

Defenders of this conduct are keen to talk up the Labour Party's misdeeds while in office - indeed the slimy manoeuvring of Blair and Murdoch is a case study in the impropriety of supping with the Devil - while pretending that there is something sordid about even mentioning the Chipping Norton set in the same breath as phone hacking and improper meddling in the affairs of government.

This does not merely not wash, it smacks of the desperation the arises as a consequence of the rats having been cornered.  When the Torygraph first revealed that Vince Cable had a problem with Murdoch it was merely anti-Coalition mischief-making.  Now it has all the hallmarks of a diversionary tactic being dreamed up by a Tory apparatus desperate to make smoke to distract from its brown-nosing of an immoral organisation.

Incredibily, the constant exchange of text messages between Brooks and Cameron is not seen as an example of the extent to which political life has been cheapened and undermined by the influence of media whores.  Politicians should be able to explain themselves and promote their views, but to be craven to a editor of a scummy tabloid and the consequential repugnant waste of newsprint demonstrates that the prostitution of politics has reached a nadir from which genuine reform and purging the system of the parasites on both sides.

If Hunt, Osborne and Cameron have acted improperly then they should face the consequences.  At least two, if not all three, should regard themselves as unfit for public office and retire, possibly on the same route of rehabilitation as John Profumo followed after his disgrace, rather than being forced out and subject to further public obloquy.

However, the lack of moral fibre, accountability and even a recognition that they have done anything wrong (the Blunkett/Mandelson delusion, for students of political tropes) means that they will need to be prised out of office when wrongdoing is so far proven that even the amoral Tories will run a mile from them.  While they wait, the entire political system becomes yet more tawdry.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Lords reform - necessary but suicidal

Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.  This is as true for those seeking renewal of the Coalition after two years of Tory duplicity and Liberal Democrat naivety as in a more considered analysis of Nick Clegg's apparent shibboleth of Lords reform.

Changing the nature and powers of the Lords is a necessary but marginal contribution to the renewal of politics in the British islands - it is not a panacea in itself, as it needs to be accompanied by the kind of complete clearout of the Royalist apparatus that maintains a seventeenth-century approach to the liberty and sovereignty of the subject.

The road to reform is littered with good intentions and the corpses of those who have tried to implement it.  Asquith and Lloyd George got closest in 1910, although this would not have been reform, merely the kind of swamping with placemen to pass legislation that Blair and Cameron have emulated in the last fifteen years.

Neither Attlee nor Harold Wilson - the last two Labour Prime Ministers with vaguely radical credentials and a working majority in the Commons - were able to push Lords reform.  Wilson was warned that it would put his legislative programme into a quagmire of filibustering and prevarication - techniques that Labour and the reptile Tories are now threatening to use against the Coalition's apparent proposals to move towards a slightly more modern revising chamber, gradually elected.

This is precisely what Cameron wants.  The baying cretins on the right of his party have already been attacking the idea of Lords reform as a diversionary tactic from the real task of redistributing wealth back to their mates in the City, as if it is impossible to pursue more than one piece of legislation through Parliament.  Labour see a chance to score political points, so it will be portrayed as the Liberal Democrats obsessing with constitutional tinkering while the real damage is inflicted by Osborne and his chums.

Constitutional reform is important, but it is also too important to be botched.  The Tories are treacherous scum who cannot be trusted, which is the mantra that every Liberal Democrat enmeshed in their vile grip should chant seventy times before engaging with them.  The Tories can come up with a few pseudo-arguments against reforming the Lords, mostly to do with the alleged sovereignty of the Commons - but it is easy enough to examine the UK-designed constitution in Germany to determine that a reformed upper chamber both increases scrutiny and "localism", a prime piece of Newspeak that the Tories trot out at the same time as undermining local and regional accountability.

My prediction is that Clegg won't get Lords reform through - and he will be unfairly blamed for the continued cloddishness of wider economic policy.  The only way reform will be pushed through is for there to be no alternative narrative of filibustering and semi-feudal respect for one's betters that the apologists for the Lords come out with.  Given the nominations to the Lords in recent years this is so laughable that only somebody with the mental and moral capability of Baroness Trumpington could defend its current role and composition as evinced by her high-quality contribution to the "Evening Standard" letters page.

Cameron wants to hang the Liberals out to dry - his back-benchers are now only content with using them as human shields.  If there is any backbone left in the Liberal Democrat party machine it's time to recognise this and run for the hills.  "There is no alternative" was a lie and a travesty when Thatcher used it as a justification to pillage the UK's manufacturing base and enrich her cronies - and it remains so now.  Time for honesty - and recognition that proposing Lords reform is a further cynical manoeuvre by the Tories, rather than a delivery of all parties' manifesto commitments.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Clegg's Charge of the Light Brigade

A salient fact:  Nick Clegg has never been a local councilor.  Sadly, not many Liberal Democrats will be either as a consequence of the combined incomprehension of the electorate and a bungled political strategy.  Clegg's career, from lobbyist, to Eurocrat, to MEP, to MP and then to Party Leader, has in many ways been as cushioned as any Tory's, and therefore it would be futile to assume that he has any genuine feeling for the destruction that is being wrought through the current approach at Westminster.

Last year, it was striking how the Liberal Democrats were wiped out in Scotland and Wales, both heartlands of Liberalism for over 150 years, and this year the process continued.  The reduction in local government representation, including humiliations in Edinburgh and Cardiff, suggests that the party's credibility amongst its longest-standing supporters has reached a new low.  In Scotland it is even more galling, since the elections, under STV, should provide a platform for smaller parties to build local roots and engage in the community.

In England, the performance of the party plumbed depths not seen since the previous year.  2012's local elections were more damaging, though, since they coincided with the metropolitan mayoral feeding frenzy.  Brian Paddick fought a decent, doomed campaign in the bipolar world of personality politics, but still lost ground.  Outside London the party continued to be wiped out in areas where it had spent decades buidling up local support, occasionally twitching where it remains in competition with the Tories and Labour's growth is only evident in an increasing share of the third-place vote. 

Even for non-tribal politicians, this is disturbing.  Lord Oakeshott made a valid point that if this continues the Liberal Democrats will be unable to campaign at a national level - turning them into a localised, declining force similar to the Liberals in the period between the 1930s and the 1960s.  Many Liberal councillors have worked incredibly hard, not to promote the kind of ideological Liberalism that appears in textbooks, nor the high-flown windy rhetoric of manifestos, but the enabling, community-based engagement with the community.  Over decades they have built up local support, local recognition and a reputation for engaging with their electorate and getting things done.

The toxicity of engagement with the Tories has wiped this out overnight.  Virtually all Liberal Democrat Parliamentary successes have been based on local government foundations, and when this keystone is removed the edifice will collapse.  And all Clegg appears to be able to offer is the vague hope that continued adherence to the Tory line will allow something to turn up by 2015.

This is monstrous, disrespectful naivety.  The Tories are themselves circling in their inveterate role of vultures picking at a corpse - which is ironic given the cadaverous exhumations of former senior Tories such as the mutant Redwood to excoriate Cameron for requiring to stick to the Coalition agreement.  As I have observed before, the bloody Tories did not win the election, yet go on behaving as though their unpopularity, ineptitude, arrogance and condescension are all manifestations of the divine right to govern that was so rudely interrupted by the intervention of Mini-Me Blair after 1997.

The Tory undead have been pronouncing that Cameron should, in effect, go "back to basics" with a series of dog-whistle issues.  At the same time, they smear the Liberals with the innuendo that it is they alone who support human rights and civil liberties, for example with respect to gay marriage, and, unsurprisingly, since many of their leading alumni were kicked upstairs following the electorate's collective bile-ejection in 1997, reform of the Lords is a talisman about how the Liberal Democrats waste government time.  In other words, the same old bollocks that refocuses government effort to propping up house prices, keeping the darkies in their place and pretending that a reversion to the 1950s is a noble cause for rallying around.

Instead of Clegg positioning himself as a party leader, fighting his corner and arguing through his differences from his captors, he comes across as an eager apologist for the Coalition as a concept, rather than as a vehicle for Liberal policies.  There have clearly been successes where Liberal influence has mitigated the malevolent authoritarianism of the Tories, and there may even be occasions where there is mildly intemperate language behind closed doors, but this isn't apparent.  Clegg gives the impression that his model politician is Neville Chamberlain - always trying to buy time rather than confront the evil in front of him.

About the only faint glimmer from the drubbing is the reality that the Liberal Democrats have no low-risk strategy.  2015's General Election will be horrible, but the choices are now about whether to pretend to be Westminster insiders or to revert to scrapping and fighting for Liberalism at all levels.  The party needs to disengage, and fast, from the Coalition.  The sight of Ministerial acquiescence (and in the case of Beaker, sickening Thatcherite enthusiasm), when it is hamstrung by the inability of the media and the electorate to understand coalition politics, does not sit well with a party that based its advance on engagement with empowering people and the quality of life.

Instead of endorsing the Coalition, the Liberal Democrats should sit outside the structure.  Even "confidence and supply" is now too generous an offer to the Tories - instead the party should make it clear that it will support policies introduced by the Tories that are in line with the Coalition agreement, but will oppose anything beyond that, and that should Labour, Liberals or any other party introduce measures in line with Liberal Democrat policy then they will be supported.  If the Tories don't keep their side of the bargain, then the process unravels, and the Liberals are both seen to be different and, I suspect, to have curbed the worst excesses of neo-con nuttery over the last two years as every Nadine Dorries breaks cover to demand frothing right-wing policies.

This is no consolation to the hundreds and thousands of Liberal Democrats who have been humiliated by Clegg's behaviour.  Yet a strategy for survival is the least that they can expect from him, and if he can offer no narrative that provides even the prospect of regrouping over the next decade, he must be removed.  As a libertarian liberal, the existence of a party where this can be articulated is important, but the label isn't.  There is genuine anger and disenfranchisement out there, which the Liberals used to be able to understand and at least partly engage with.  Talking the Tory talk cuts no ice, and unless Clegg and his advisers wake up to that then he will have no party machine to speak of, and his personal survival will rest on his puppet-masters' largesse.  If he is that Machiavellian then the faster we run away the better.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Boris and his simplistic numbskull followers

I shall return to the travails of Mr Clegg at some stage when my blood pressure has dropped.  Suffice it to say that the re-invention of the Coalition is about as good an idea as putting Michael Howard in charge of privatising the blood banks.

What gets me, more than anything else, at the moment, is the contemptible gullibility of the 51% of those who bothered to vote amongst the London electorate.  During the twelve months leading up to the re-election of the Bouffant Buffoon you would have to be both stupid and credulous not to work out that the media, particularly but not exclusively the oligarch's evening shit-sheet, had an agenda purely designed to put Johnson back into City Hall, by whatever means possible.  Labour didn't help themselves by both allowing Ken Livingstone to run again and then playing along with the Tory agenda, but the real fault lies with the uncritical coverage that Boris recived in the campaign.

Johnson's record in office has been risible - for the most part implementing policies that were initiated before his first election, and making grandiose pronouncements when he's not doing the myriad of other jobs that pay well and are undoubtedly worthy of scrutiny over the next four years.  The cronyism that allowed such imbecilic exemplars as Brian Coleman to flourish on the teat of municipal subsidy (sadly now diminished through the common sense of the electorate in Camden and Barnet), and the glib, half-arsed pronouncements on areas such as the Tube unions and an expensive folly of a bus should have been a warning sign that all is not well within the Tory cranium.

I seem to recollect that, four years ago, Johnson claimed that he would negotiate a no-strike deal on the Tube.  Since he and his lickspittle minions have not deigned to meet any of the union leaders, this is a promise with about as much credibility as an "Evening Standard" editorial.  The effectiveness of the policy will be reaped over the next few months.

Johnson is a fanatical Thatcherite whose bumbling exterior hides an extremely unpleasant, ambitious and ruthless arrogance.  So far, so Tory.  Yet his appeal clearly crossed party boundaries, playing the fool and making homely pronouncements about the state of the world is designed to appeal to the middle-class, self-lobotomised and generally paranoid.   So, for a little treat, I shall take you on a journey into a mindset where logic and altruism go out of the window.

The "Standard", as I have mentioned previously, regards anything to do with the Tube unions as an affront to its agenda.  So it's always alleged greed, and self-interest that gets the headlines, and then the below-the-line comments form knuckle-brained, semi-literate rightists whose world-view is as simplistic as their spelling mistakes.

This year, London is being forced to host the Olympic Games, and don't we know it.  In order to give the transport infrastructure the chance even to cope with the unwanted mass of victims of corporate hubris, staff will be expected to work harder, longer and much more flexibly.  Principally, surprisingly, this won't be train drivers, but the staff needed to assist, corral and navigate the herds of sport-obsessed ingenues who will be clogging the urban arteries.  With events possibly running three hours late, public transport will be required to run into the small hours and then start up again with minimal delay.

For this, the unions have expected both payment and incentive.  Since Boris decided to get rid of 800 posts on the Tube, being economically illiterate, before the Games even began, his pool of flexibility is reduced and therefore, through classic economic logic, union bargaining positions have been very strong indeed.  So for the flexibility, unpredictability and disruption to their lives, transport workers are getting bonuses, contingent upon changing their shifts, giving up holidays and not going sick for the duration of the public spectacles.  A trade union that achieves this is doing its job, and earns its members' subscriptions.

So the Boris apologists draw attention to the "phenomenal" salaries paid to Tube drivers, and promise "driverless trains".  Quite apart from being a side issue, I for one would not wish to be over a hundred feet below the streets of London without a fully-trained, competent staff member on board.  We hear paranoia about terrorism, but front-line Tube staff worked with a passion and a will on the day of 7th July 2005.  Without a driver, there is no immediate control over several hundred souls, careering along in several hundred tons of metal, and potentially victims of all sorts of catastrophe.  So Boris thinks he'll score a few points by promising to remove drivers.

Now, inductive reasoning and common sense would suggest that you will still need to have a member of staff on trains to reassure the punters, but they won't call them drivers - and the safety requirements for automation would probably cause the system to break down day-in-day-out.  Yet still the toadies bought his line, and his feeding the politics of envy and malice.  Knowing how hard it is both to be selected for training as a driver, and the high drop-out rates given the combination of skills required both to deal with the unusual and the monotony of the routine, this is the kind of cretinous dog-whistle.

Sadly for Boris, and his voters, Tube staff have the power to disrupt and demonstrate the impact that the absence of a public transport service has on a major city.  Sometimes they are too ready to use this, or their leaders pretend to be.  So we end up with small-minded idiots pressing their noses up against the window and sneering and objecting.  Sadly, the law of the economic jungle that they promote at all other times applies here.  If a group of workers can grab sensitive parts of your anatomy and squeeze they will, especially if you treat them with contempt and idiocy.

However, the remedy that Boris puts forward, and his hysterical myrmidon chorus repeats, is to smash the unions.  This is back to the feudal, petty-bourgeois myth that Thatcher peddled in the 1980s, and beloved of her children who are now in positions of power and influence.  Rather than asking why unionised workers are successful in defending their interests, the capitalist narrative suggests levelling-down is all that the proles deserve.  This is fed to the unwitting dupes through apologists in the media whose owners and senior managers have similar political and financial imperatives to the Johnson crony machine.

Sadly, most people would not miss strikes preventing the propaganda from the BBC or the "Evening Standard", whereas the absence of the Tube would cripple London for residents, commuters and businesses alike.  So to the people who whinge about Tube staff, and they are strongly correlated with Boris's supporters, their illogical complicity in being stuffed and pushed around is risible, and would be funny if their lame and selfish posturing had not lumbered the rest of London and the wider UK with four more years of a calculating, unpleasant confidence-trickster.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A hung Parliament hangs Murdoch out to dry

Predictably, the snivelling Tories on the Select Committee voted en bloc to remove any criticism of Rupert Murdoch from the report into the "News of the World" scandal.  Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of Coalition politics, the sole Liberal Democrat was having none of it - because not suggesting that Murdoch's stewardship of his companies had anything to do with the odious criminality that surrounded his tabloid would be akin to suggesting that "Mein Kampf" had no linkage with the Nazi Party.

If Clegg has the wit to promote it, this is a prime example of why non-majority Parliaments work.  The condemnation of News International's business practices is exactly the outcome that independent-minded Select Committees are designed to produce.  They are not rubber-stamps for the government or means of promoting vested interest - and even though the New Labour and Murdoch link is murky and despicable there is something touching about watching repentant sinners recant their heresies.

The Murdoch thrall is gradually unwinding as the venality and incompetence of the operation becomes clearer, and even craven politicians listen to focus groups.  The Select Committee is just the start of this - with potential criminal charges and the Leveson Enquiry to come. 

With Hunt and Cameron up to their necks in the sophistry that usually precedes a political denouement, this is looking increasingly like the Cameron ERM moment - with Hunt cast as the poor man's Norman Lamont.  The delusion that these out-of-touch, arrogant popinjays represented a new form of government has been pricked once and for all.

Murdoch has been comprenhesively skewered.  A joyous day.  The baleful frame of reference that has dininished politics since Thatcher and "The Sun" commenced their love-in in 1977 is gradually removing itself, and we might find discourse less centred on currying favours with the unaccountable.  This may even be cause for limited positivity.

Let it not be forgotten that Vince Cable's injudicious comments last year have been the catalyst for the unravelling of Hunt and the exposure of the Chipping Nortonista set.  For once, instinct is stronger than political caution, and a gamble has paid off.  More politicians with backbone would be a good thing.