Thursday, 24 January 2013

Cameron - dare call it treason

David Cameron's final revelation of his European policy reveals him to be unpatriotic, stupid and purely focused on his personal survival.  Whereas Harold Macmillan merely sacked his colleagues on the Night of the Long Knives as part of a drowning Tory government, Cameron is prepared to sacrifice the national interest, the economy and cultural cohesion to propitiate his cretinous Europhobic backbenches and the frothing loons of UKIP.

To announce that there will be an "in-out" referendum in 2017, following an unspecified period of opting out of European process and policy development is not the act of a calculating, intelligent national leader.  This condemns Britain to sitting on the sidelines while the remaining members of the EU, led by individuals with individual IQs higher than the entire complement of Tory Cabinet Ministers aggregated, address issues and develop further proposals around issues that impact upon our daily lives.  For those within the UK who have spent time actually understanding how Europe works and how it needs to be worked with, this is a kick in the teeth.  For manufacturing and services this condemns Britain to becoming even more peripheral.

If Labour had carried out such a policy, then the Tory press would have lined up to claim that this was a betrayal of the national interest.  The same applies in reverse - this is treachery untainted by any form of justification or necessity.  Instead it is the act of a desperate, unprincipled individual who needs to be hounded from office at the next General Election.

Indeed, it is now highly satisfying to note that Cameron and Boris are joining with other Cro-Magnons such as Bob Crow in opposing EU.

This resembles nothing so much as the unravelling of the Tories in the 1990s.  Major, however, was a titan compared to this bunch of spivs and cronies.  Cameron is scared that a leadership challenge will be triggered by the foaming backwoods lunatics who have still failed to realise that the 2010 election did not result in a resounding victory for their brand of Neanderthal politics.  Add to this the alleged dynamism of his new MPs who have failed to grasp that the neo-cons are on the defensive everywhere, and we have a Prime Minister whose instinct is purely to save his own worthless skin.

In the short-term, this will probably result in the Tories having a small bounce in the polls.  In the long-term it will not resonate alongside the economy, public services and the amoral capitalism that they venerate.

Cameron and the Europhobes rant on about the damage that being part of a major trading and political group does to their free enterprise nirvana, and the idea that human rights, human dignity and the primacy of the citizen should ever take root.  This is 19th century politics - the contempt for the majority, promoting inequality and the inviolate nature of corporate crooks and fellow-travellers could be straight out of the Victorian history textbooks.  Being governed by a group of people who want to go back to the days of Empire is a sick joke.

Clegg, for once, is right - four years of drift to achieve nothing is a suicidal policy.  He needs to wake up, and give the public a clear message that the progressive centre, the left and those on the right who are capable of walking and breathing at the same time will be able to come together in 2015 to provide a less hopeless, more patriotic narrative.  The indications are that Labour are aware of this - let's hope that this is a wake-up call for all of us who wish not merely to stay in the modern world but contribute to progress for the whole country.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Whistling for the Tory dogs

Ironically, the much-trumpeted Europhobic rant from Cameron was postponed because one of the other Tory Greatest Hits, the "war on terror" was wheeled out.  You can tell that the situation domestically is spinning out of control from the reversion to type of the Tory backbencher, the witless, charmless loons whose lack of grip on reality and how the world is changing around them who defy any attempt to remind them that the twentieth century began 112 years ago.

The European Union is at times complex and at other times infuriating, but it is necessary.  There has not been a continental conflagration for nearly seventy years, and the reality of political and economic collaboration is there.  However much the backwoods cretins bluster, EU legislation and rules are embedded in British law - to leave would create so many problems it would take decades to sort out, to little avail.  There is much less intrusion by Brussels than the halfwits would have you think, and its total expenditure is very small when compared to the amount that Westminster spends, or even the taxes avoided by Tory cronies.

However, the Europhobes can rant on about the Germans and the French as a consequence of Britain's inability to recognise its neighbours as allies and complementary to the better features of British life.  The slavering loons are exercised about any manifestation that does not fit into a middle-England, middle-aged and middle-class cocoon - be it multiculturalism, European culture or anything that requires more than one sentence to explain or argue.  This demonstrates a massive inferiority complex as well as parading pig ignorance and contempt.  Hardly surprising that Cameron's modernisation hit a brick wall.

Now we can enjoy the apocalyptic prognostications of a war on terror in north Africa.  This is another means of cowing the country, and playing on fears of the unknown.  The post-colonial landscape is not exactly an area where European powers have been exemplary players - ironically the Commonwealth represented one of the most honourable disengagements imaginable.  However, the language emanating from Cameron and Hague suggests that they have been taken over by the spirit of George W. Bush, and blundering around becomes a substitute for a foreign policy or a real focus on national interests.

The Tory backbencher, worried about their seat, will be happy that there is the chance to rant on about towel-heads, Frogs and Krauts.  However, these are side-issues compared to the mismanaged economy, our damaged polity and the hopeless permeating the UK.  So we can expect to hear much more of this in the months to come.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The end of the High Street?

The news, for those who work there, of the demise of HMV and Jessops is appalling.  There's also a knee-jerk tendency to blame this on the Coalition, rather than flawed business strategies and the creeping homogenisation of shopping and our town centres.  From Inverness to Penzance the march of the same national chain brands and the consolidation of property ownership has resulted in a significant reduction of consumer choice, and where the marketing and business analysts have tried to impose a UK-wide model that assumes a lowest common denominator.

This would have worked, if people were not becoming both more aware of what they are buying and able to source the non-essential from the internet (albeit tainted by tax evasion).  My own recent experience of Jessops is that they were both more expensive than specialist camera shops and much less knowledgeable or helpful - clearly the staff were targeted at pushing particular brands, deals and flexible commission rather than advise or discuss what would have been a significant purchase.  At the medium- to high-end they were undercut and outplayed by specialists, at the low end the internet was not only cheaper but a much less stressful experience.

HMV has been a part of my existence for much longer - and sentimentally I have often tried to buy CDs and DVDs there rather than from the internet as a physical browse often leads to other discoveries.  Yet with pricing all over the place (promotions often very good value but obscurities and back catalogue massively expensive) and a reduction in both range and stock levels of most specialist music and independent releases, too many experiences of discussing or reading about something and then looking to HMV have been disappointments - and once let down it is much easier to order online than make another visit to a shop.  Not having enough knowledge or specialist staff has also been a killer - the expansion in store numbers has opened mediocre, under-resourced branches where finding anything is a lottery.

Where Osborne has interacted, he has been a catalyst.  The decline in consumer spending power will have affected both of these casualties, and will have accelerated given the need to maximise the benefit from reduced discretionary expenditure.

Ar the same time, the creation of the urban "night-time economy" has bid up rents and, paradoxically, reduced the attractiveness of town centres for anyone in the daytime not particularly impressed with vertical drinking establishments and their associated paraphernalia.  In a recession, retailers closing are unlikely to be replaced by diverse alternatives, instead it will be coffee shops, pound shops, charity shops and, if you're really lucky, pawnbrokers.  Local councils, hamstrung both by a Stalinist central government which emasculates their planning powers, and by their own lack of able representatives and administrators, are happy to talk about "regeneration" while watching the life sucked out of their towns and cities.

Is there cause for optimism?  Paradoxically, there may be.  The mass market may be better served by the internet - and with effective logistics it may even reduce its environmental impact.  The removal of chains which provide pale imitations of smaller, independent shops may encourage the growth of firms whose marketing consists of knowing their customers and providing something beyond the level of sulky indifference that many centralised behemoths have continued to push in the name of squeezing margins.  Even smaller branches of Waterstones, since the HMV sale, have begun to recover some of the quirkiness that was the basis of their 1980s success, and to promote communal browsing rather than the anomie that is surfing Amazon.

Real localism is needed, and real diversity.  There is no inevitability that town centres will die, and there is no inevitability that shops will be destroyed by the internet.  The lessons of expanded, over-geared and unfocused chains should be learned - they are not the need to retreat but the need to offer something indefinable, and something that cannot therefore be quantified by the bean counters.  When a  visit to a shop is something less than a chore and a frequent disappointment, then it can claim to be a success.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Will Europe provide the Tory suicide note?

When Lord Heseltine is wheeled out, the stink of regicide appears in the offing.  There are still Tories who consider that his decapitation of Thatcher in 1990 is worthy of public castration as a starting point for the kind of humiliation that Torquemada would refer to the European Court of Human Rights.  For him to chastise the half-witted, credulous loon who masquerades as Prime Minister is notable in the heady descent of the Tories into the kind of mire that the late Michael Foot would have regarded as implausible.

The Conservative Party has no compelling reason to exist, beyond maintaining the status quo for the inbred, corrupt and deluded.  It is not a centre-right force along Christian Democrat lines, nor is it quite dribbling to the extent of the extreme right, yet.  Despite this it has been extremely successful in maintaining its grip on power over a century and a half - but this hegemony looks as though it is about to be challenged through the incompatibility of the centre-right with the knuckle-dragging, backwoods loons who regard anything less than a reversion to the Empire as a betrayal.

These are the people who comment on the Daily Telegraph message boards, if they are capable of punctuating, or the Mail if they are secretly interested in compromising pictures of pubescent "celebrities".  They tolerated Cameron when he was seen as a winner - but any weakness results in the baying of a pack of half-wits.  Davey-boy is therefore doubly damned, as any attempt to explain the facts of life to these people will drive them into the arms of UKIP, who are cleverly-positioning themselves as the maverick Little Englanders.

Given the vagaries of the electoral system, it is quite probable that all this will achieve is a split on the right and, hopefully, the return of a different Government.  The closest parallel is the SDP/Labour split in the 1980s, which allowed a totally-unrepresentative result to take place, and the dismantling of both social cohesion and political discourse.  If UKIP damage the Tories, then this will be the best poetic justice for scuppering electoral reform over 40 years.

If the Tories are stuffed by electoral geography, it is difficult to see how British politics moves forward without a realignment.  Cameron is aware of this - the irony of being bankrolled by the kind of people traditional Tories would dismiss as spivs and not even worthy of using the tradesmen's entrance is something that one can enjoy.   The historic rightist bloc is collapsing, and the challenge is now for the libertarian tendency to fill in the dots.