Monday, 11 March 2013

Huhne, Pryce, hubris and the media tribunes

Once the plea was changed, Chris Huhne's final fall from grace was assured.  During the period between his belated admission of culpability and Vicky Pryce's conviction, what was left of his reputation was trashed with great delight - used both as an unsuccessful defence and as fodder for the anti-Liberal Democrat campaign.  Hardly surprising that the witch-hunting voices from the right-wing commentariat were stilled once the tactics failed in Eastleigh.

Huhne's conviction is strong evidence that it is not, in the end, possible to escape justice.  This is a good thing.  No matter how wealthy, influential or connected a person is, they cannot be beyond the law.  A relatively minor offence, a decade ago, can come back to bite, especially in the messy circumstances of a divorce and what appears to have been an unhinged yet calculated campaign to bring him down regardless of the consequences for Pryce.  Falling into what appeared to be a media honey-trap has done her no favours.

One of the more baffling elements of the judgement was that comparatively little was made of the attempt to smear a completely innocent party in the effort to deflect the damage from Vicky Pryce, while continuing to accuse Huhne.  As a perversion of justice, this appears to be a much more culpable activity - bearing false witness and bringing other people's reputation into disrepute is to this non-legal mind somewhat more grisly and amoral than the original and convicted offence.  But no matter.

The gleeful prurience of the media, full of cant and hypocrisy as ever, made a custodial sentence inevitable.  Hopefully this will result in at least some thought being given as to the damage that the prevailing moral confusion does to the purposes of the judicial and penal systems.  The obsession with celebrities being given their come-uppance and the desire by the establishment to convey its sense of outrage that one of its own has been caught out reduces both the space for and the contents of debate.

Conviction was right and overdue.  However, the question of sentencing will be a legitimate topic for debate.  Both people involved have destroyed their reputation - and are unlikely repeat offenders.  The punishment factor, for ego-driven monomaniacs, of being deprived of their fields of success and recognition, is enormous.  The destruction of any future aspirations both professional and public should satiate most desires for revenge.  A far more effective outcome would have been a lengthy suspended sentence, aligned with punitive costs and lengthy spells of unpaid community service - and this would not have cost the taxpayer anything while continue to demonstrate the perils of breaking the law.

A more cynical observer would also make the observation that when Liberal Democrats behave like Tories they get what they deserve.  However, we must not await the fate of Denis Macshane, and various other luminaries.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Osborne reveals the true face of Thatcherism

The gratifying vote by EU finance ministers to support caps on bankers' bonuses was all the more satisfying for being 26-1.  The single dissenter was that paragon of economic probity, George Osborne, who provides several pleasurable opportunities for swiping at the Tories every time that he opens his arrogant, mendacious mouth.

More pleasurably still, it came as the Swiss (outside the EU, but a model for the detached relationship fantasy clung to by the Tory right) voted in favour of similar legislation.  Apart from demonstrating the moral chasm that exists within the Conservative ranks, it is a stark reminder of the completely insane views that underpin our current economic direction.  The denial of responsibility and corporate obligation clashes wonderfully with the social poison being spread by welfare cuts and the refusal to exploit the current economic crisis to achieve shifts in both wealth distribution and the climate for infrastructure investment.

The myths that Osborne continues to subscribe to are pernicious and damaging.  On his narrative, the global economic crisis triggered by asset bubbles and unregulated banking was the sole responsibility of Gordon Brown.  Brown may be culpable through inaction, but in the face of global neo-liberal hegemony he was swimming against a tide.  Osborne has merely to ensure that the opportunities for private pillage of public wealth and the destruction of society are resumed with the minimum of fuss and a smokescreen that allows his cronies to escape obloquy.

Yet this is a totally hypocritical and falsely-reasoned position.  While the City and the banking classes squeal about being wealth-creators, the real wealth creation in terms of manufacturing and services bumps along the bottom of a Depression that could have been scripted as a fable against the neo-conservative paradigm at any time since the 1870s.  At best financial services can act as a catalyst to genuine economic benefit, but as has been demonstrated to the satisfaction of most rational observers, their perpetrators are only too happy to gamble, so long as it is other people's money.

What we see is an obscene inversion of morality.  Osborne and Boris defend the rights of the City to pay huge sums of money even as the economy flatlines, and as welfare cuts will hit across the country in a way that may trigger the worst social unrest since the Coalition came to power.  Older, wiser politicians (step forward Vince Cable and Ken Clarke) who have experienced the full grotesqueries of the 1970s and 1980s, call for infrastructure investment and boosting the country's capability, but are laughed out of court by Cameron, Osborne and all the other mini-Thatchers who believe in making a fast buck for themselves as the expense of the wider community.

About the only consolation is that this European intervention will prove difficult to argue against.  It is clear where the current Tory party views its interests to lie - as when they are kicked out I am sure that most of the trustafarians will scurry off back to the boardrooms where their ineptitude will be regarded as services rendered.  The Budget approaches, as does a spending review.  We shall see even more of the cant, hypocrisy and self-serving that are taking Britain back to the 1980s.

Yvette Cooper, Nigel Farage and the Nazi sleight of hand

When confronted by extreme racist statements, the best logic test remains substituting one of the groups persecuted by Hitler for the particular target of festering bile under scrutiny.  On this basis, the despicable campaign fought by UKIP in Eastleigh fostering hatred and fear of Bulgarians and Romanians scores highly on the scale.   Hardly surprising, since UKIP relies on the kind of demagoguery and personality cult that fed dictatorships of both the left and the right over the past century.

What was more surprising, and disappointing, was Yvette Cooper jumping on the anti-immigration bandwagon this week.  Labour are clearly alarmed by their internal polling that suggests that what remains of their blue-collar vote is quite tempted by UKIP slaverings, given their disconnect from the metropolitan political classes and the suspicion, fostered by the media, that somehow people come into the UK for a life of Riley on benefits and state handouts.  The supreme illogic is that most of those who have entered legally either have jobs or want to work, and those who are below the radar have no right to welfare provision, but then the electorate and their cheerleaders are never very hot on inductive reasoning.

This fear of the other leads to the creation of scapegoats.  Cameron is doing this all the time with Europe - the incomprehension and the fear of having to engage is something that the Tory and Labour pollsters believe will play well to a narrowly-targeted section of the electorate.  This is driven by a combination of cynicism and contempt.  However, what it betrays is the inadequacy of the political class in its complete lack of leadership and its lack of confidence in any ability to shape public opinion. The spinelessness of much of this group creates the vacuum where the lunatics can thrive.

Farage is an odious example of this - creating and playing on fears that the Tories are not even interested in rebutting.  Indeed, the Tory strategy may well be to encourage him (alongside his new, moral crony Rupert Murdoch) as it will allow the natural xenophobia and casual racism that Cameron has tried to mask to resurface.  Combatting ignorance and prejudice with reason should be something that comes naturally to politicians, but the contemporary mindset seems to be completely averse to principle unless reinforced by the focus group.

Labour needs to wake up to the reality that the xenophobic, right-wing agenda has run its course as far as they are concerned.  The Tories and UKIP will scrap over this section of an illiterate, cowed electorate - and they will talk it up against the key issues of the economy and the general social cohesion of the country.  There is a left-liberal consensus waiting to be built around the principles of tolerance, freedom and mutual respect - and potentially restoring the idea that progress is achieved through communal effort and is not something to be scoffed at.

While we have Cooper, Cameron and others joining the propitiation of the mad, the situation remains depressing.  This is the first sign of Tory panic, and those of us who want to see proper public debate need to resist and point out the parallels with the slide to totalitarianism.  We are not Weimar, yet there are those whose interests (are you awake, Rupert?) want to take us to the same conclusion that the German right came to in 1932.  The real enemy is apathy and complacency, not our European partners.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Eastleigh, the Tories and the crumbling cliff

Of the four major contenders in Eastleigh, the Tories walked away with their candidate not even maintaining dignity in defeat, UKIP squealing with pleasure and the Liberal Democrats riding strong local organisation and waving two fingers at both the metropolitan commentators and the sleaze-raking dog-whistling cro-magnons of the gutter press.  Labour did a dignified job, sufficient to ensure that the desertion back of their core vote did not result in Cameron crowing in delight.

Had the election been carried out under AV, it is likely that the result would have been different.  It is probably too simplistic to say that UKIP would have won, although it would have been a very interesting test of how many of their voters are disaffected Tories and how many are the kind of anti-politicals that used to vote Lib Dem as a protest in by-elections.  However, the more insightful Tory is probably now beginning to realise that the rise of UKIP is a very close mirror to the split on the centre-left that kept Thatcher in power on a declining share of the vote during the 1980s.

This is going to be difficult for Cameron, as his only recourse is to swivel his eyes to the right while maintaining the rhetoric of moderation.  The chorus of unevolved nastiness that has been unleashed will not exactly help the Tories in Conservative-Labour marginals, particularly when the sheer brutishness of the April welfare cuts hits home.  It will cause a stand-off with UKIP, and doubtless local deals between the knuckle-dragging Tory backwoods and their near-certifiable cousins in thrall to Farage and his xenophobic paranoia.

The Liberal Democrats have done well to withstand both Huhne and the way in which the Rennard story unfolded.  It was a classic Daily Mail smear, similar to the guilt-by-association they attempted with Clegg during the 2010 election campaign, and, as such, the level of coverage that seeked to implicate the Liberal leadership in not merely inept internal management but actual involvement in unspeakable acts should be given some kind of award for yellow journalism.  "Clegg Mired in Sex Scandal" was hardly a headline that suggested a newspaper with any respect for the truth - although to some of us at least it would make him a little more interesting.

Being a Tory will not be easy now.  Whenever their more lunatic Europhobes suggest we should adopt a model like Norway or Switzerland (i.e. conform to EU legislation to permit free trade but not have any influence over what it looks like - the Einsteinian approach of the Tory right to restore national control), they get wrong-footed.  Gideon's humiliation over bankers' bonuses by European finance ministers has been made all the sweeter by the Swiss referendum in favour of a very similar policy, and there is more to follow.  Withdrawing human rights legislation could, according to the new president of the supreme court, result in the UK having to withdraw from the United Nations - a really fine example of the Tory inner cretin being let off the lead.

UKIP did very well by putting up a candidate whose eyes did not swivel (possibly as a result of severely limited brain-stem activity) and playing to the gallery.  Farage is a serious politician in the David Owen mould, both egocentric and likely to pull his world down around him.  The damage he will do to backwoods Tories, both in terms of morale and picking up a sufficient share of the vote to split the right, is yet to become clear.

If the Liberals now start pushing for the Coalition Agreement, and nothing but the Coalition Agreement, while making the right noises about a programme that they would be able to support after 2015, this may be a small turning-point.  Clegg has not impressed with the supine acceptance of right-wing garbage - he has a chance now to create the real narrative of Coalition rather than merely supporting the Tories.  The evidence is that there is enough Liberal Democrat commitment to keep more seats than the commentators might consider - now is the time for them to make it clear that all bets are off in the run-up to the election.  The gamble is essential, even though the outcome is uncertain.