Sunday, 30 September 2012

Danny Alexander for leader - and it's not Hallowe'en

One of the most risible pieces of speculative journalism in recent days has been the identification of a "Stop Vince" candidate for the inevitable Liberal Democrat leadership bloodbath when Clegg's insipid inanities finally cause even the herbivores to circle menacingly.  Whatever Cable's inadequacies, he is about the only hope that the Liberals have to maintain a token parliamentary presence and reconstruct a vaguely progressive agenda.

So the right have been touting David Laws, whose resurrection to the role of principal poodle to the chinless Gove has been spectacular, and, now, Beaker himself.  Mr Alexander is about the only politician who makes Gideon look mature, well-adjusted and in touch with the people, and therefore is the clear choice of many people in the Liberal Democrat hierarchy who are really rather enjoying the shrivelling of the party's presence for some perverse, masochistic reason.

The territory for social liberals to carve out will become much clearer over the next couple of weeks, as the Labour party starts being held to account and Mister Ed will find that fences are removed before he can sit on them, and while the Tories will spend their week slavering over Euro-sceptic bones being tossed to them by Cameron, who has now revealed the true scale of his Farage tribute act.  Whether this means that the Liberal Democrats follow remains to be seen.

Touting Alexander as a suitable candidate, when most of the party's supporters consider that the Coalition junkies have sold out for far too little reward, is mad - and would undoubtedly be cheered by caricaturists.  What the country needs from the Liberal Democrats is a little less pro-Tory windiness and a lot more principle, with the clear message that however bad things are now the Tories on their own would have made things much worse (hard though it is to credit)...

Personally, if we are to have a second Muppet in succession at the Liberal helm the Swedish Chef would get my vote.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Clinging to the wreckage - Lib Dem style

About the only opportunity Nick Clegg has to win popular acclaim is if the doctored apology broadcast becomes a viral hit - hopefully Christmas Number One this year.  After another year of achieving no Liberal Democrat policy triumphs, reduced to sabotaging Tory constitutional outrage, and participating in an economic experiment that rivals Thatcherism for its total disconnect from reality, he is rallying his remaining troops for another thirty months of public humiliation, before the party is decimated by the electorate.

There is some merit in this, at least in terms of boosting Ministerial pension entitlements, but Clegg has failed to realise that the only chance that the Liberal Democrats now have of even partial redemption is by full-throated exposure of the lunacy that the Tories are now trying to spin.  The place to do this is from Opposition benches - voting for Coalition agreement measures but no further.  Clegg's strategy, on the other hand, seems to be to turn the Liberal Democrats into a version of the German FDP, well to the right of the Tories on virtually every economic policy - with vestiges of genuine liberalism only where it supports free-market economics.  The return of every Tory's favourite Liberal, David Laws, reinforces this trend.

Clegg's policy position resembles a hypnotised rabbit in the path of an oncoming juggernaut.  The enthusiastic endorsement of Osborne's economic mismanagement and the self-flagellating support for deflationary, depressionary austerity is depressing.  If there were actually a Plan A, as opposed to shovelling cash in the direction of Tory cronies and getting the hell out before being caught, then Plan B might not be necessary.  Instead there seems to be a conspiracy to get the last decent man in the Cabinet, Dr Cable, to do all the dirty work - diluting employment rights, upping tuition fees - while simultaneously slandering his loyalty and playing up to Tory lies spread about his socialism.

We shall see whether the apology on tuition fees will cause any kind of dead-cat bounce in Lib Dem support - but there is no strategy other than hoping that something might turn up.  Miliband is delighted, as this means that there will be no need to make any meaningful pronoucements as the Coalition approachs shipwreck.  That is the tragedy, and a failure of duty on both the part of Labour and what's left of Liberal Democrat engagement.

Mitchell and Coleman (FRSA) cut the Tory mustard

An intriguing week for observers of the Tory scene.  There is at least one matter which is sub judice which may constrain full comment - but what we are enjoying is the sight of the Conservatives re-emerging from their mendacious pretence of evolution into something that might have been acceptable a century ago into the true Cro-Magnon experience that we came to know and love in the period of Thatcher's leadership.

The case of Andrew Mitchell, the Chief Whip, is a curious one.  The position of Chief Whip requires a hide of leather, respect for others comparable with the Emperor Caligula's, and an ability to cajole, bully and threaten semi-educated backbench ingrates through the division lobbies of the Commons.  The success of his predecessor, the token prole McLoughlin, in delivering Coalition policy, meant that Dave had to find another one - and Mitchell fitted the bill.

Mitchell's behaviour in abusing the police is in keeping with the nouveau riche approach to people who they regard as the servant classes.  It is particularly sickening in a week when two officers were murdered in cold blood, dealing with the flip-side of the Tory panjandrums' Big Society.  For students of irony, it seems that if you're a cycling Minister you will get support from the same people who are engaging in the ritual hang-them Pavlovian reaction to get a couple of column inches from the moronic tabloids.

Whether he survives or not, he demonstrates the contempt that the current Tory Party demonstrates for the the mass of the population - mere bit-part actors in the solipsistic drama of Conservative hubris.  Perhaps if he loses his post, he might consider taking on a seemingly impossible project - the rehabilitation of Brian Coleman.

Last week's entry alluded to the unravelling of Mr Coleman's political career and reputation: the "old hags" jibe being the kind of hate speak that the Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts seems to regard as appropriate political debate.  Apparently Brian now has his own little blog, filling in the time between plotting the downfall of all those who wish him well - a pudgy Blofeld sitting in subsidised accommodation - which he uses to repeat the canard that any opposition to anything that might be seven-degrees removed from the Jewish community is motivated by Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Brian, bless him, was found guilty by a toothless Standards Committee of abusing constituents by accusing them of anti-semitism, treachery to Israel and one memorable suggestion that the complainant would have been a member of the blackshirts - and has failed to make his apologies - despite having had his appeal against the ruling rejected.  A lovely paragon of the new Toryism.

Perhaps he is sick - not just politically but in dire need of the kind of therapy that he would not wish others to be funded for.  Paranoia is an unattractive and dangerous trait - and doubtless the Coleman mind has been focusing on a belief that his downfall is not due to a combination of inept policies, personal charmlessness and downright contempt for the general public.  In a parallel universe, Brian is as pure as the driven snow, and his remaining allies will persist in feeding this myth.

We no longer live in a blame or responsibility culture.  It was widely reported that Mr Coleman spent some time assisting the police with their enquiries into an assault on a constituent, and is now walking the streets of Totteridge before he answers bail.  The Tory party has been notably silent on the reports (http://www.times-series.co.uk/news/9941632.Tory_councillor_arrested_for_alleged_assault/?ref=mr), which would in most organisations result in at least a precautionary suspension pending the full hearing of the allegations.  As they could become more serious (a broken wrist could escalate the charge into ABH, perhaps) - the Barnet Tories are ignoring the situation - demonstrating both idiotic unawareness and contempt for decent standards.

Mitchell is a significant public figure, Coleman a ridiculous parody of a politician.  It shows that the Tory party is a thuggish, unaccountable and thoroughly brutish organisation - with no or limited moral compass.  If Clegg were serious about apologising and turning over a new leaf, he could do worse than draw attention to the hypocrisy and boorishness his alleged partners continue to perpetrate.




Sunday, 16 September 2012

Nudity, death, cant and Tories (plus hags)

Occasionally serendipity works in politics.  The rightist pseudo-controversy, fuelled by a number of tabloids and rent-a-gob backwoods Tories, over various ephemera in potentially dubious taste on sale to trade unionists wishing to commemorate Thatcher's demise appropriately, was supplanted by the cover-up, conspiracy and Establishment humiliation over the Hillsborough disaster.  For light relief, the "Evening Standard" reported on Brian Coleman FRSA, and a social-climbing parasite found herself on display in a range of publications.

These are all manifestations of the same rottenness.

To start with, let's look at the Thatcher death-kits.  Offensive T-shirts are not the preserve of the left - it was after all members of the Federation of Conservative Students who paraded around with their professed desire to "Hang Nelson Mandela" - and the "party kit" reflected a poor-taste response to market demand - there are thousands if not millions who will rejoice and speculate, if of a religious bent, on the precise destination of her soul.

The delightful hypocrisy extended to the doltish member for Cannock Chase, the delectable Aidan Burley.  Mr Burley achieved much as a student at Oxford, including rustication for unspecified offences.  Since then, Hamster-face had to sack him as a PPS for alleged indiscretions involving the hire of Nazi uniform at a house party in France (emulating the Windsors, but at least he didn't go topless), and then he embroiled himself in controversy denouncing the Olympics Opening Ceremony for celebrating social solidarity and multiculturalism.  In other words, a typically bone-headed Tory whose hagiographic attitude towards Thatcher extends to the idolatry that allows him to supply pithy, condemnatory statements to the media at the drop of a Tweet.

Burley epitomises the type of Tory, too young to remember and therefore easy enough to bounce into the Thatcherite myth.  His public statements are beneath contempt.  He is a new generation rent-a-gob bully boy.  The missing link had nothing on this - and hopefully the good electors will see him on his way in 2015, much as the denizens of Barnet and Camden humiliated Brian Coleman in May.

Coleman, on the other hand, remains firmly anchored to the bottom of the septic tank of Toryism.  Reduced to a £30,000 pay-off for loss of office in the GLA, and stripped of his Cabinet post in Barnet, he cuts a pathetic figure.  One of the principal reasons for his humiliation was his inability to relate to humanity (a Tory prequalification) so it was hardly a surprise that his most recent outburst was to describe the public gallery at a Council meeting as full of the "mad, bad and sad" and containing "a couple of hags", sneering at people who for a mixture of motives despise and oppose the Tories' policies in a London Borough.  Doubtless there will be a number of Standards complaints, but this epitomises the Tories who are more than happy to dish out abuse and complaint but regard themselves as being above the law.

Rather akin to the Windsors.  The cant and double standards about topless photographs of someone who has married into the family, following from the teacup-storm over nudity in a Las Vegas hotel room (the real scandal should have been why these state servants can afford $5,000 nights away when public-sector workers are having their pay cut and pensions salami-sliced), demonstrates the extent to which the reversion to feudalism is meant to be taking hold.  A more cynical being than I would consider the possibility that the Middleton midriff was on duty to counteract the multicultural messages being sent by respecting other countries' sensibilities in the Far East.  It's not even of any general prurient interest, although I was amused to note that the echoes of Diana (goddess of bling) were being prayed in aid of the leeches' embarrassments.

Much more serious, and of much greater resonance than these non-entities playing to the gallery of celebrity-obsessives with no attention span, was the extensive revision to the Hillsborough narrative.  Hillsborough, and the miners' strike, define much of the Thatcher era, especially with respect to attitudes to the north and the working classes.  The revelation that over 40 people died needlessly, and that the police "amended" statements is only shocking in its unsurprising nature.  There is a burning need for justice, including punishment for those whose malfeasance led to the magnification of the disaster.  To give Cameron his due, he recognises at the least some of this - whereas right-wing rant-factories such as Kelvin MacKenzie, Boris Johnson and most of the staff of the "Telegraph" have not been particularly happy about having their murky past raked up.

You don't have to hold a brief for football fans to realise that this was a public order disaster, tragedy and communal snub played out over a long period.  Liverpool in the 1980s was a strange, isolated city where Militant and social disaffection were present, but the communal response to the unfolding events revealed resilience and pride.  The long-term circulation decline of the "Sun" for playing out police lies and fantasies, calling the victims and their friends "scum", is legendary.  The least that can be done is for the left to keep up pressure for proper investigation, prosecutions and reforms of the police that improve accountability.

Another week of revelations - some trivial and some more serious.  Another week that shows the Tories to have learned nothing in the last two decades - and another week where their denizens continue to live down to expectations. 

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Piss off your neighbour - the new Tory strategy

From the near-orgasmic media response, you would have thought that Hamster-face was embarking on a combination of rewriting the Ten Commandments and demoting Apostles who showed any sign of brain-stem activity.  Last week's continued post-death twitching of the Coalition can't disguise the fact that the entire shower is discredited and that the vital signs are a strange combination of crows, vultures and maggots picking over the corpse.

To deal with the "reshuffle" the message was meant to be that Cameron has got a grip on his party and tossed the odd fetid corpse in the direction of his dribbling backbenchers.  Thus Ken Clarke, about the only really competent Tory in the administration, was demoted to make way for a knucklehead who will appeal to the Pavlovian hordes on the extreme right.  The third Transport Secretary in three years was imposed to make way for the Heathrow expansion, which will hopefully cause London Tories to implode in apopleptic ectoplasm.

Had Davy got any political skills, he would have done something to remove the pustular presence of his incompetent Chancellor - whose rightfully-ribald reception at the Paralympics demonstrates the depths of idiocy to which this government has sunk.  However Gideon has too many friends, and doubtless some kind of power of blackmail over his fellow Etonian gobshite so we are stuck with the inept cretinism for the foreseeable future.

Beyond that, it was left to Supreme Poodle Clegg to announce the Coalition's latest masterstroke - the relaxation of planning laws.  In a strictly time-limited context (yeah, right) the already-lax existing regulations will be suspended to allow the development of people's gardens much more than it would have been already.  This is a charter for Rachmans, allowing the kind of slum conditions that have shamed much of London and the South East to be extended without due local control, blighting the lives of those who are forced to watch impotently as proper development control is jettisoned to give more cash to a class of people who should by rights be hanging from lampposts as a warning to other parasites.

The fallacy of this approach to economic growth is that the vast majority of the alleged stimulus will disappear into the grey economy, into the hands of white-van man whose main interest is tax evasion through cash transactions.  The only beneficiaries will be those who are self-excluded from society - at least they should have given some more money to HMRC to crack down on the petty crooks and buy-to-let mavens who believe that the way to emulate the tax-avoiding scum at the top of the pile is to avoid tax as well.

However, this will naturally annoy more people than it benefits, so from an altruistic point of view we should probably cheer - more Tory ineptitude will cause more people to consider switching away from them at the next election.  However, this is a charter for eyesores, intrusion and environmental damage - which given the extent to which the Tories have promoted laughing-stock nonentities with a mad agenda (a Transport Secretary with a fear of flying, an Environment Minsiter who hates renewable energy - which amusingly even hacked off John Selwyn Gummer) must be resisted.

Come the next election, this week's combination of suicide notes may make Dignitas blanch at even allowing the Coalition through the front door.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Boris Island, Heathrow and all the wrong questions

Nobody wants to live next to an airport, but most people want to have one at a convenient distance.  They are large-scale activities, so they have a symbolic importance for politicians playing at infrastructure as nothing happens for years even after a policy shift.  And, despite all the evidence and experience to the contrary, there is still a perceived glamour about flying. 

Watching the current shadow-boxing on aviation policy, pent-up as a result of procrastination on the release of a government consultation, is hilarious.  Apparently, if some Neanderthal petrol-heads are to be believed, the key to economic regeneration is either a third runway at Heathrow or the revived Maplin Sands airport, commonly referred to as Boris Island.  Quite apart from the risible assertion that more flights in themselves generate economic growth, the weakness of the logic is seldom challenged by a media whose London obsession seldom results in penetrating beyond the M25.

Expanding airport capacity MAY be necessary - although the forecasts for aviation demand are predicated upon continued growth at current rates, and at current fare levels, which is highly doubtful given the economics of the airline industry (Beardie's vanity project, underwritten by Singapore Airlines, lost £80m last year), and fossil fuel production.  However, there is something perverse in assuming that it should be focused either on South-East England greenfield sites, or a heavily-constrained, densely-populated part of West London.  One doesn't have any infrastructure to support an airport, the other is bursting at the seams.

Despite the South-East being overheated, the majority of people don't live there - nor is the majority of business conducted there.  Building more airport capacity will potentially suck in more people to use public transport and road networks already full - and doubtless the promoters, as with the Olympics, would expect the public purse to fund their improvement to allow them to claim entrepreneurial success.  Why should passengers from Scotland, the North and the Midlands have to travel to London to catch a flight?

The cry of "connectivity" is always deployed at this point.  Apparently there are too few slots at Heathrow to connect the UK to emerging markets in the Far East.  In that case, the market should decide what destinations are served through slot auctions - not a difficult pastime.  Branson, albeit in a fit of pathetic pique, seems to be able to use some of his slots for additional domestic flights from Heathrow next year, so the capacity issue is clearly not at a crunch-point.

What is needed is for much more focus on the non-South East airports, where there is capacity and room for expansion with much less (or at least more cheaply resolvable) pressure on land and infrastructure.  Direct access to markets, holiday destinations and the provision of connectivity should be part of a long-term policy to reduce dependence on London, and expanding airports in the South-East is perverse.

The idea that more capacity at Heathrow, or a new airport where engineering tests on bird-strikes can be carried out n real-time, is a solution to either aviation policy or wider economic development is risible - it's time for the debate to be directed at where we need to be in thirty years - and for the question to be asked as to whether we should go on predicting and providing for aviation in the current model.  Smaller, well-connected airports provide a much better experience and do not place undue demands on local economies - with a national hub for the markets which cannot sustain regional flights.  Developing the current model is a sane and practical approach against which there is no tested alternative, and transport policy cannot be based on political grandstanding.

Wealth tax and the chorus of cretins

The Deputy Prime Minister's thoughts on demonstrating that there is indeed a chasm between the Tories and the remainder of the population caused predictable drooling from the lunatic right.  This is probably a good thing.  Clegg is finally waking up to the fact that the 2010 election resulted in an outcome that did not mandate the continuation of Blair's trickle-up economic policies, nor the perpetuation of crony capitalism.  It's too late, but at least some of the salient points are getting an airing.

There are a number of Tories re-emerging who I had thought might have already shuffled off their mortal coils, going the same way as any residual brain-stem activity.  To hear the puffing of the backwoods, never-weres or never-should-have-beens, exemplified by that moral paragon Tim Yeo, you would have thought that Clegg had turned into a latter-day Pol Pot, pillaging through the divinely-bestowed aristocracy, in suggesting that "we're all in this together" might be more than windy rhetoric from a man whose rodentine credentials are far closer to the hamster than the domestic mouse.

Within the cocoon of Tory idiocy, the "wealth creator" dyspeptically running his finger under the words in the Daily Telegraph on his way from Haslemere to Waterloo (and they're always males) sees any suggestion that the tax base should extend to assets as equivalent to introducing a guillotine outside the Bank of England.  Their world-view is that acquisition through exploitation, inherited wealth and tax evasion is a symbol of entitled entrepreneurship, demonstrating their superiority to the mortals whose labour, taxes and oppression feather-bed their existence.

As an old Liberal, I have always been in favour of taxing land - it has much less possibility of fleeing abroad or fiddling its accounting rules, and it is a scarce resource that should be managed in the interests of the wider community.  A wealth tax, particularly based around asset holdings in excess of a reasonably-large sum of capital, would go some way to addressing this, as well as potentially capping the asset-price inflation that the Tories are peddling as a substitute for economic revival (why pump money into the housing market if not to subsidise buy-to-let parasites?), and would at least provide some symbolic resonance that the current fiscal crisis is country-wide.

Instead, we have this myth that the "wealth creator" is a privileged being.  Somebody who creates work for others, or adds to the store of wider happiness, is someone who is worthwhile.  Yet most of these are parasites, semi-literate recyclers of received wisdom that they do not have the faculties to evaluate or challenge.  If you were to replace the average City type with a monkey connected to a keyboard with a William Hill account the monkey would probably outperform them, and be more pleasurable both as a social companion and in terms of personal hygiene.  Creating wealth is only worthwhile if it benefits the wider community, not just the nominal asset values of a clique whose moral worth is the reciprocal of their bank balance.

This is a flip side of the moronic reliance on microeconomic policy to provide a recovery which I mused upon recently, and indicative of the true nature of much contemporary Toryism - a reflexive, selfish and grasping approach with no societal or economic obligations.  Clegg, tapping into something that even Labour have balked from (for tactical advantage, I hope, rather than a perpetuation of the Blair sycophancy), may be onto something - the inequality and the arrogance are the Achilles heel of the contemporary Tory party.