Sunday, 28 April 2013

Jesse Norman, Jo Johnson and kamikaze Cameron

From the coverage of Dave the Dunderhead's elevation of Boris's more intelligent sibling to a position of policy advice you would be forgiven for thinking that some bizarre melding of every titanic intellect that has ever walked the earth has become part of the Tory pantheon.  Since the only sensible Tory exposition this week has been Ken Clarke's forensic analysis of the UKIP base in terms of both candidates and supporting, this is hardly surprising.

The Johnson clan is a prime example of what politics shouldn't be about.  Boris is a scheming, malevolent toad with immense media skills, portraying himself as a clowning everyman rather than the amoral operator positioning himself for a crack at the leadership.  Unfortunately he is fast running out of Ken Livingstone's initiatives to appropriate, which will be a clear cue for him to escape from City Hall in London before the faecal matter makes an impression on the air-conditioning.

His brother, now the MP for Orpington, may be a charming individual, but he is another example of the Old Etonian clique that will, please God, demonstrate quite how bizarrely irrelevant and inconsequential the Tories have become in the last decade - despite the corpse twitching occasionally.  If Cameron is playing any political game other than short-term survival, he is either a master of subterfuge or merely waiting for something to turn up.  Playing to the patrician gallery is the clear strategy - mainly because those of us who are lesser mortals won't be invited unless it's to service the self-defined elite.

Bizarrely, the Johnsonisation of the Tory wonkage has been trumped by the appointment of Jesse Norman MP.  I always get him confused with the opera singer, but in fact he is another one of the Floreat Bullshit brigade - an incoming Poujadist with a line in complete denial of reality.  His justification of his appointment is one of the most hilarious pieces of self-deception that I have enjoyed in recent years - viz his belief that in some way having been to Eton instils a sense of public service denied to those poor plebs who have not been born with a silver spoon in their mouth.  In his case, it would be hard to discern said spoon behind both feet, which he inserts into his orifice with aplomb.

I am sure that there are many Old Etonians for whom the notion of public service is key - but I am also sure that they are not the men who boast about it.  The current Tory definition of "public service" requires the insertion of the word "self" (and a hyphen) into the phrase, as the pillage being perpetuated upon public services and social cohesion is difficult to explain in any other context.  Public service is not about flaunting wealth and then exhorting the remainder of the population to emulate an avaricious bunch of gamblers.

Indeed, it is insulting to millions who have not had the advantages poured into them and who nevertheless strive to improve the lot of the human race.  Educational or financial background do not provide a clue as to the personal inclinations of individuals - but the difference between altruism and patronising preening is apparent to all bar the hardest of thinkers.  It is difficult to imagine anything as insulting as Norman's self-justification - Eton does not confer public service but privilege, which at best turns into paternalism and at worst is the canting hypocrisy of the self-styled entrepreneurial elite as it robs the majority to pay for its own failings.

Cameron's retreat into his social and economic fastness is an act of a leader whose contact with reality has now disappeared.  Instead of asking why the Tories are becoming hated by both the libertarian left and right, the non-London majority and even the knuckleheads of UKIP, he is elevating the archetypes of the Thatcherite Tories - those who condemn the nation to austerity while turning an approvingly myopic glance towards the corporate pillagers.  For Miliband, Clegg, and all those with the ability to pursue a cognitive course this is an opportunity.  Seldom has political suicide been played out in public slow-motion.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Farage - the skull beneath the UKIP skin

The Farage bandwagon groans on.  It appears that every depressed decade has its marginal Messiah, be it Mosley, Owen or our current subject of derision.  Ever since the Tories managed to screw up their Eastleigh by-election campaign, their fellow-travelling media morons have been talking up UKIP as though it is some form of panacea for the world - playing into xenophobia, ignorance and the language of exclusionary politics.

I doubt that Nige himself is a racist bigot.  There are plenty of racists who pop up to endorse UKIP - which must be horribly embarrassing for a party that does not wish to project the image that it is a white-collar BNP.  However, the UKIP panaceas are sufficiently broad-brushed and vague as to encourage every type of right-wing zealot to assume that their calming balm of proto-reaction is directed solely at undermining the diversity and tolerance that really defines a civilised society.

The anti-European rhetoric is not solely directed at the European Union.  Just as well, since for all the anti-Brussels posturing, Farage and his MEP cronies have been expert at syphoning off the funds that are available to all MEPs.  This is perfectly legal and legitimate, but it does strike an odd note when the perfidious recklessness of any EU institution is the dog-whistle that brings the reactionary clones out of their kennels.

Research published by Professor John Curtice, of the University of Strathclyde, suggests that, despite the UKIP ululations, most of their support will come from Tory voters.  This fits the bill, since most UKIP defectors in elected office tend to be Tory councillors whose views are either based around the assumption that it's all been downhill since Eden started getting rid of the Empire, or those whose reputation is somewhat dodgy and who have become an electoral embarrassment to the Conservatives - pause to examine how such an unlikely thing might come about.

UKIP taps into the anarchic streak that used to reward and build up Liberal hopes between General Elections - but that is about as far as its parallels with a respectable party can be taken.  It's apparent that it only has one leader, one figurehead - without resort to Google it is impossible to identify any other prominent figures - and there appears to be internecine warfare.  This is not a party as a disgruntlement embodied by a gallery-playing prima donna.

If UKIP does well in the English shire elections, then there will be much excitement about a breakthrough.  However, the electoral system is against them - but their voters are much happier punishing the Tories than reflecting that their support will achieve a potential shift of the centre of political gravity further left.  For that, we must all be grateful - while ensuring that the barmy fools are challenged whenever their assertions are made, and the rent-a-gobs parrot them as if they were based in fact.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The delusions of Richard Dawkins

As one of the celebrity atheists, Richard Dawkins is no stranger to controversy.  For anyone whose certainties are not cast-iron, and who does not have the hide of a rhinoceros in terms of an ability to condemn everyone and everything that does not conform to a particular worldview, he may be an object of envy in his determination to promote a self-defined scientific rationalism as evidence of superiority to those who hold beliefs that differ from his own.

The latest outburst from the Dawkins camp came on Twitter over the weekend, in which he, by implication, called on the New Statesman to remove its political editor, Mehdi Hasan, for being a believing and practising Muslim.  Dawkins ridicules all manifestations of religious belief, and the latest example of his fundamentalist intolerance should not surprise those of us who increasingly subconsciously categorise him alongside such luminaries as David Icke, Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard.

Many commentators have observed that Dawkins is equally fundamentalist to the Islamist terrorists or the extreme evangelical Christians in the United States.  His defenders claim that his superiority emerges from not having an imaginary friend with which to justify his actions - a self-serving myth that he can use as an excuse both for his vituperative bile and for the condemnation that then follows, increasingly from those whose own views may accord with the Dawk's but whose messianic hubris does not extend to forcing them on everyone else.

Any educated, civilised position should be sceptical, tolerant and prepared to be altered.  This extends to people who follow religious beliefs, with any degree of enthusiasm, and those who follow none.  Where Dawkins fails dismally is in failing to recognise the paradox that he is creating an atheist paradigm in his own image - much as previous religious groups have developed their cult leaders.  This undermines his own ideology and his credibility as a spokesman for the anti-religious - as well as fanning abuse and invective against him.  It could be argued that he is putting himself in the classic position of the Christian martyrs under the Roman Empire, although the average hungry lion would regard him as a pretty poor lunch.

Were Dawkins able to descend from his pillar of rectitude, he might find much more agreement from religious adherents to some of his views on the corrosive impact of unfettered fundamentalism than he would either understand or welcome.  It's very difficult being homo superior in a world where different cultural, economic and social values exist, and where you want to impose your own set of values on the   remainder of the species.

Where the argument works most effectively is regarding the separation of religion and the state - and here it should be much easier to make common ground.  Citizenship implies obligations as well as rights, and a liberal society needs to based around the freedom of the individual - this includes the freedom to hold beliefs that are regarded as wrong-headed or less evolved.  What it also acknowledges is that there is a parallel obligation to protect one citizen from another's imposition of their mores, be they religious or based around other tribal identifiers such as football or anti-social behaviour.  A separation of the state to become the enabler and enforcer of human values is beneficial, and it also strengthens - through expressing basic rights - the ability to defend the fundamental basis of freedoms both positive and negative.

Dawkins's outbursts about "winged horses" and the visceral contempt for anyone who does not agree with both atheism and his interpretation thereof might fall foul of a genuinely liberal and tolerant society; there is too much running scared and too many issues buried deep in his unconscious to make it axiomatic that he is the good rationalist berating the rest of the world.  He is very good at handing out poison and ridicule, but hardly a paradigm for the virtues of hyper-scientific verity he expounds - the closest parallels for such a worldview are rooted far more in the bastardised Marxist totalitarianism that still clings on in North Korea than an informed, evidenced pluralism necessary in a world where dissent is tolerated if not encouraged.

There is a genuine debate on how both to protect the citizen and to promote tolerance and education - but the Dawkins approach does not pass muster.  Instead he appears to be retreating into self-parody, a figure of ridicule and derision - feeding his prophet/martyr illusion but doing nothing for the discussion as to how to contain fundamentalism and enable people of all beliefs and none to co-exist and co-operate.  More noble than pushing your belief in your own rightness and superiority, but much less vainglorious.  

Monday, 22 April 2013

Gove's hysterical take on the past

I suppose, that as a historian, I should rejoice that Michael Gove claims to be determined to improve the standard of teaching.  However, his constant playing to the gallery of a blinkered minority that believes rote-learning and the importance of the British Empire have been significantly downgraded means that this is another example of Tory hypocrisy at its lowest.

The study of history is not an end in itself.  Instead, if taught well, it equips the citizen with the scepticism and the analytical tools to enable the speedy unearthing of bunkum and bullshit.  As a man who has made his career on both manifestations, Gove needs to be careful what he wishes for.  The failures of policy that he is party to mirror those of several previous depressions, and, despite the pleas of a more complicated, global world, the same judgements apply today.

History is both enjoyable and rigorous when taught effectively.  This is not to suggest that the "empathy" school which has been criticised as an underpinning of the GCSE syllabus is the last word in pedagogy.  The ability to research and to challenge interpretations placed in front of the recipient is one of the strengths of the discipline - the rudimentary outlines of dates are necessary to create a context, but their straitjacketing of the interpretation is not necessary.

What Gove really wants to say, but would not be allowed to get away with, is that the revolution in historiography over the last century has been one of democratising the subject and the consequential rejection of his hegemonic narrative.

Whereas the Victorians were prepared to collude with the assumption that only the actions of the highest economic and political strata were relevant to the subject, the marxist current has reclaimed a much wider base for understanding the past.  The emphasis on economic and social underpinnings creates a much more rounded approach to analysing our current predicaments and obsessions - as well as a continuum of discontent and reform that is uncomfortable to our contemporary self-selecting elite.

The problem for Gove is that most advances in the subject seem to have emerged from the left, as well as ineffably better prose style.  I will keep re-reading Eric Hobsbawm because both his views and his literacy outclass contemporary rightists, and because the framework does not assume that the actions of the winners are the only relevant subjects of scrutiny.

With an economist's hat on, I am also delighted to embrace the past.  Again, the Tory approach is to lose this.  Osborne has caused a triple-dip recession on the basis of a miscalculated Excel spreadsheet formula that assumed a simple relationship between debt-to-GDP ratios and recession - as a policy-maker he might, had his bumptiousness and incompetence not intervened, have questioned whether just targeting one side of this would work (even if it wasn't another crackpot rightist theory built on sand).  Growth in GDP, if it outstrips the growth in debt, reduces the debt-to-GDP ratio - so elementary that only an innumerate and blinkered half-wit would be unable to acknowledge this.

If there were to be a genuine rebirth of history it would be based around the interactions between the past, present and future.  Relating today's miscalculations to the mistakes of the past might raise a new generation of sceptical citizens, which is why the current emphasis is to return to the days of repetition, ignorance and rote-learning.  This does the subject a disservice, but is exactly what Murdoch and his proteges wish to occur.

History is much too interesting, and important, to be left to people like Gove - nor is it confined by a national curriculum.  Appropriating it is the first step to denying an alternative narrative.  He won't, and can't succeed - but it is necessary to keep challenging the conservative certainty as uncertainty and interpretation are far more useful skills and attainments for dealing with the contemporary dystopia.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Blair of the undead does us all a favour

You can always tell when the Tories are running scared.  The hoary chestnuts about the 1970s, the stirring of trouble within the Labour ranks and the invocation of the mythical "sensible" past leader all point to a party fully aware that its own inadequacies and pathetic excuses cannot stand up to scrutiny.  So we now have Blair being used as a totem for the right-wing blustering that substitutes for political engagement - small wonder when everyone from the IMF to the TUC is incredulous that Osborne's economic policy has degenerated into the farce of Carry On Regardless.

Pausing only to consider how one might cast the Cabinet in such a light-hearted, British farce (with Theresa May excused on the basis that she continues to delight as the Bride of Frankenstein), the criticisms that Blair is making of the current direction of the Labour Party should hearten its adherents and supporters. Every slight leftward movement takes Miliband closer to the centre ground of politics, and eventually he might even cross into the territory that has been patrolled by a mixture of traditional Labour supporters and those of the social liberal persuasion who were not taken in by either the Tories or their homage-payers.

Blair's beef is that Labour needs to be "inclusive" to win.  That is undoubtedly true - but how far does inclusion extend?  A party that continues to act as an apologist for the financial sector, which continues to pay fealty to the neo-conservative delusions and which does not acknowledge the gross error of its adherence to a non-consensus is not likely to be forgiven, nor worthy of serious contemplation as a party of government - particularly when the policies pursued by the present administration are so manifestly stupid and ineffective.  Miliband has to break faster from the immediate past, and to acknowledge that, while the world has moved on from 1945, there is much that can be learned from a programme that was both radical and populist.

Myths perpetuated by the revisionists are legion.  Much of the social contract that Attlee's administration introduced was in the face of opposition from entrenched interests - the irony now of fat-cat, pampered GPs calling the shots calls to mind the British Medical Association's opposition to the creation of the NHS in the first place.  The British economy was broken - the impact of the Second World War was to deplete the capital base and to reduce productive potential.  The impact of the financial bubble and the deregulation and privatisation scams could be argued to have had an equally pernicious effect, and to require similar radicalism in addressing it.

For nearly thirty years there was stable growth, low unemployment and the development of a social security system.  This was not all good, and nobody should shirk from acknowledging that things might have worked out better had some decisions not been taken.  There may have been too much income tax (although the hidden indirect taxes were much lower) and there will have been inefficiencies, but in purely economic and social terms this was a good period.  Since the 1970s it cannot be argued that material progress has been marked by general contentment progressing, nor that there is a genuine feeling of collective solidarity.  To proclaim that everyone is in the same boat does not have a resonance when the top of the tree is apparently immunised from the austerity and the insecurities practised upon the majority.

So Blair's re-emergence is timely - as he stood for a touchy-feely charade of modifying the symptoms rather than addressing the disease.  There needs to be a much clearer articulation of the potential for an alternative to the current desperation.  Politicians, and the inexperienced hangers-on and scribblers who feed their unreality and their desire for self-publicity, underestimate the impact and the value of reality intruding into the arena.

If Miliband is serious about Labour winning in 2015 (and that's another can of worms as it's increasingly looking like an election to lose) he will need to articulate a far more clear-headed message to engage both before and after the election.  There remains an anti-Tory majority in the country, which, given the pluralism of opposition, needs to be prepared for whatever permutation a skewed electoral system throws up (discounting the 1983 and 1987 scenario).  This can be mobilised through a combination of honesty in both policy and language.

There are encouraging signs - the recognition that universal benefits are a good thing, but they are linked to the past or future contributions made in better times is much closer to Lloyd George or Beveridge in terms of promoting social solidarity.  Losing the term "welfare", which suggests the landed gentry doling out gruel to the destitute but forelock-tugging peasantry, would also assist in moving on the terms of debate.

Yet there is still one uncomfortable truth that no party appears to be prepared to face intelligently, the reality that services and social security have to be paid for.  Cameron and Osborne opine on this as if it is axiomatic that this is a Bad Thing.  In fact, it is probably the reverse.  If there are decent public services available that provide freedom from worry about the impact of life-changing events in the form of illness, unemployment or any of the myriad of contemporary anxieties, then this should provide comfort and assurance to people at times when the addition of additional burdens becomes intolerable.  Restoring humanity and respect to the political discourse is necessary for hard choices to be made.

The destruction of the social contract has had a very undesirable effect on this - it is difficult to justify paying tax when so little can be seen in return, and where it does not provide any certainty that it will be used to promote either one's own self-interest or the wider good of society.  Asking for a higher tax burden requires there to be a clear programme that can demonstrate utility to the whole community - as indeed does moving back towards a degree of redistribution: put bluntly, there needs to be a quid pro quo as part of a wider reform agenda.

Cutting headline rates of tax is not a good in itself, especially if the complexity and the scope of other levies increases as a consequence.  VAT is now levied at 250% of its level in 1979, on a much wider base of goods and services - this is a tax on expenditure that is hidden in its impact but which is grossly regressive - and other areas have not escaped the ratchet.  Hardly surprising, given that public spending as a share of national income has been more or less constant, but whenever a Tory spouts their tax-cutting "record" the lie should be implanted on the electorate's consciousness.

Miliband also needs to recognise that his support in 2015 will be as fissile as most contemporary leaders'.  Since 1955, there has been a remorseless decline in electoral support for the two self-styled main parties, and there is no reason to assume that this will not continue.  Addressing the democratic deficit and ensuring that huge-scale distortions of popular expression are not permitted to continue will be important if he is to achieve any degree of confidence from non-tribal lefties!

Blair probably considers that his intervention will stop Labour from drifting into the murky world of principle.  However, any message of hope requires such a reformation, and I suspect that Miliband will be very happy that the attacks are emerging now - putting a clean break in place before the election may create the space for a genuine centre-left consensus.  This may not catapult Labour into a landslide, but it's a great insurance policy for all those who want the Tories to be consigned to their repugnant wastelands.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Cameron, the handbag and the Tory delusion

Dissecting Dave's hubristic declamation that we are all Thatcherites now is all too easy.  With a bad set of local elections looming, in his heartlands where his normal acolytes may decide that Farage's populist  xenophobia is an appropriate bestowal of a local vote (which should be cast to deliver decent services and to enhance the democratic accountability of local authorities), and where the Tories were at their pre-2010 highs in the popular polls, he is trying to wrap the toxic brand of Bullingdon Toryism in a meritocratic figleaf.

Now that the mortal remains of Thatcher are suitably despatched, the bizarre hijacking of politics by a 1980s nostalgia boom may be open to a little more scrutiny.  The debasement of debate - which Cameron is only too happy to perpetuate - whereby everybody who does not wholeheartedly endorse the project is a subversive lefty, and the continuing denial that the core proposition of economic policy is not delivering growth or a reduction in the key ratios of indebtedness, means that we are definitely heading back to a period of half-witted, exclusionary policies.

One of the most frequent points that the right-wing rentagobs make is that Labour were in power from 1997-2010 and did not unpick the Thatcher legacy.  This is, apparently, an indication of the rightness of the policies rather than a demonstration that Blair and Brown were, in effect, neither traditional Labour nor social democrats in the context of European policy.  The argument that this invalidates any criticism or alternative is a noxious fraud that needs to be exploded at all times.

Cameron and Blair both lay claim to Thatcher's legacy - and Cameron is at best Blair-lite and at worst a gormless fool whose ability to recognise that his current brand of Toryism is in any way radical.  The toxicity of Thatcher's legacy needs to be continually played up - particularly in the way in which the cabal of cretins is merging the neo-con rhetoric with a foul brand of noblesse non oblige.  For all her faults, Thatcher at least did preside over the remains of slightly-increased social mobility and, despite the windy rhetoric of the right, she did not develop a consensus of unfettered markets - preferring instead to set up the crony capitalism that has undermined Britain ever since, and makes the framework for destroying it start from a point much further back than it need be.

Ironically, Thatcher only came to power because her guru, the late Sir Keith Joseph, was ruled out of contention for the Tory leadership after making a speech that almost amounted to a call for eugenics.  The Mad Monk is far closer to the swivel-eyed loons who currently stalk the land than Thatcher - even she had the occasional requirement to be pragmatic.  It was heartening, also, to note that Lord Tebbit remains undead, as a reminder to the gullible that the beasts still slaver beneath the smarmy surfaces of contemporary Toryism.

So Dave is doomed to failure if he tries to become a mini-me.  However much Blair tries to help him by derailing Labour, he does not have the advantage of confidence or competence.  In the next two weeks, if things go badly for him, the story will be of continuing Tory decline - and the vagaries of the GB national (and English local) electoral system could exacerbate this.  I would not put the probability at much more than 50%, but that's a good starting point to plan for serious gloating.  

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Wanting it every witch way - in death as in life

What better reminder of the Thatcher legacy this morning than the news that the Metropolitan Police want anyone who is intending to turn the back on the cortege to tell them first?  Invoking the 1986 Public Order Act, this appears to be a thinly-veiled threat than even peaceful, non-violent protest will not be tolerated.  "Upsetting and distressing mourners" is being used as a catch-all justification for an onslaught on civil liberties.

Had Thatcher's funeral not been appropriated by Cameron and the Tory Party, spending taxpayers' money like confetti, then protest might have been in such poor taste that its possibility would have been seen as genuinely repulsive.  Now that it has been appropriated as a propaganda event, without consent and without shame at a time of austerity, the Tories have surrendered any moral high ground they might have been able to claim.  A family funeral would have been appropriate, followed by a memorial service attended by politicians rather than royalty, and would have hardly caused the same disdain that the bread-and-circuses approach has generated.

However, this is a disruptive, economically-damaging event.  Thatcher's authoritarianism and monomania is being channelled through closing down much of central London for the day, and the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich through taxpayer-funded largesse is a 1980s tribute act that will hopefully render most others obsolete.  Cameron appears to think that the funeral will reflect well on him, and that it will be a flag-wrapping ceremonial that will attract the mythic significance that Tories attached to the recapture of the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas.

Unfortunately for the Tories, the more they paint out the divisive Thatcher legacy, the more it becomes legitimate to protest.  There are a number of neo-con apologists, many of whom were not even born when the grandees practised regicide upon the queen for whom the crocodile tears now flow in 1990, who make out that there is only one version of events that matters.  They pop up to chastise any counter-narrative, or anyone who dares to dissent from their idolatry.

Apparently, anyone who questions either the scale or the appropriateness of the Thatcher beatification is some form of ultra-left, Communist, Trotskyist, anarchist fellow-traveller, with not merely a chip but a sack of King Edwards on their shoulder, with no sense of respect and with no recognition that instead of the irreversible force of nature in putting a demented, lonely old person out of her misery we have lost a Titan.  When this is disproved by rational argument, these half-witted and semi-educated fools then have to resort to accusing the sceptics of having abetted Blair in carrying on her amoral legacy.

That this is specious should not come as a surprise to anyone schooled in dealing with the new right.  Opposition to Thatcherism was not confined to the extreme left - nor was it confined to parties other than the Conservatives.  Cameron himself tried to distance himself from her legacy in the run-up to the 2010 election as part of detoxifying the Tory brand - conveniently forgotten now but this will undoubtedly be raked up when Boris makes his leadership bid.

So, the next response of the apologists is the old canard of Thatcher having won three elections - despite the evidence of declining popular support and the fluke of British non-democracy having disguised the national repulsion that grew through the 1980s.  Being told that being elected on a declining minority share of the vote indicated mass adulation by someone who in the next breath is scandalised that Thatcher's offspring Blair achieved something similar is rank hypocrisy - and this will doubtless continue ad nauseam.

It is perfectly possible to be a supporter of free-market economics and an appropriate role for the state while being anti-Thatcherite.  Indeed Thatcher was herself the paradox in terms of the social control she wanted to adopt, while deregulating finance and services - the spiritual forebear of the crass ineptitude, amorality and atavistic mess that Blair and Cameron have come to celebrate.  For those of us schooled in the politics of the 1980s, there remains nothing clearer than the inconsistency between telling the plebs what to do while simultaneously turning a blind eye to corporate criminality.

Where Cameron and his media chums have miscalculated is in assuming that they can bluster their way to satisfy the right - while keeping a lid on and a focus for popular discontent.  The diversionary tactics appear to be working.  Thatcher's death conveniently coincided with the introduction of the most divisive social security changes for many decades, and was followed by the surrendering of another banking knighthood, while there was the possibility of a nuclear war in South-East Asia.  What great timing!

In conflating Thatcher's hypocritical obsequies with the wider political narrative, this provides a space for radicals to assess both the continuity of the Tory delusion and the deficiencies of contemporary politics.  Unfortunately for Cameron, this results in unflattering comparisons from the right and what could turn into a refocusing of anger from the left.

The police will go along with the misrepresentations for now - as their interests are to be cheered on by the morons for keeping the trouble to a minimum.  The medium-term may result in much more challenge to them, which will be best directed through Habeas Corpus rather than human rights legislation to avoid hypertension from the hydrophobic Europhobes.  However, the choreographing of the funeral is worthy of Kim Jong-un or Leni Riefenstahl, and this may well come back to bite all those who have been complicit in the propaganda.

The vast majority will not be in London, or if they are, they will be working, when the cortege is dragged through the streets - it is not appropriate to waste time on such events.  Indifference is a more likely action to positive or negative engagement, as it should be - but the anger around the state funding will not go away.  This will be a fitting legacy; a challenge on the basis of misusing state funds and maladministration would be both enjoyable and enlightening.

PS: where has the Taxpayers' Alliance been?  This is exactly the sort of waste they would normally drool about...

Friday, 12 April 2013

Ding Dong, the Daily Mail is brain-dead

Normally returning to the crude propaganda of the Daily Mail requires a decent interval.  However, the death of its editorial erotic fantasy has brought out all the despicably authoritarian hectoring that its spittle-flecked contents normally only reserve for those whose temerity to attack the monarchic anachronism it manages to notice - amidst scare stories on health, immigrants and the dangers of allowing any opinion other than its inane, semi-rabid apologias for tax evading plutocrats and its lionisation of ignorance as a lifestyle choice.

This week, it has demonstrated all the qualities of the retarded assailant of freedom of thought and expression that were parodied effectively after the death of the Princess of Wales.  Its choice of target is the BBC - much as Thatcher derided the upholding of the principles of balance, honest reporting and perspective in her lifetime.

Apparently, despite an orchestrated campaign by the Mail, there have been an equal, if not greater number of complaints about both the extent and the contents of the BBC's coverage from the perspective that it has been maudlin, excessive and hagiographic - which is hardly surprising.  The BBC has been overly-respectful, but it has not wandered off into the deranged idolatry that the Mail, as self-determined policeman of the Thatcher legacy, regards as the only appropriate response to the death of a former prime minister who had largely retired to private life since standing down as an MP over twenty years ago.

The Mail's attitude appears to belong very strongly to the David Irving school of history.  Smashing the unions, standing up to Europe and the miraculous victory over a third-world power in a colonial adventure are paraded alongside deregulation of the banks, the sales of social housing and the paving of the way for Tony Blair.  These are, apparently, the only things that Thatcher did.  The social authoritarianism, the screwed-up economic policies and the destruction of much of the communal fabric are not to be considered.

If Paul Dacre, editor of the noxious effluvium, wishes to pursue this agenda, then, despite its ludicrousness, he is entitled to do this.  Freedom of the press is essential.  However, this does not extend to the cowardice with which he and Murdoch pursue their commercial and personal vendettas against other media - including the BBC.  Dacre's shameful behaviour over press regulation, not to mention his canting hypocrisy in terms of his workplace behaviour and his financial situation (regularly pilloried in Private Eye) suggests that, as an inhabitant of a glass house, his rag should neither throw stones nor, given its shrivelled ugliness, take up naturism.

The previous posting attempted to put some perspective on Thatcher and her cronies.  However, while the Mail continues to spew out its bile it becomes much more tempting to join the ranks of those registering their protests at her legacy, the total inappropriateness of the pseudo-state funeral and the doomed attempts to airbrush the 1980s.

For a scummy rag, obsessed with curtain-twitching celebrity culture and happy to jump on every malformed rightist bandwagon, to criticise the BBC over a social media campaign to send a song from the Wizard of Oz into the download chart is beyond parody.  Whatever questions of taste exist, the mere fact hat this is happening and that there is a risk of a high chart placing should alert anyone with minimal brain-stem activity to the divisions that Thatcher's government exacerbated and which continue to this day.  This is not the act of a totally-isolated loony left, but a phenomenon interesting in itself.  For the BBC to be criticised over its refusal to be cowed by suburban prurience is a bad joke, especially since the intention appears to be to contextualise rather than to provide a completely straight-bat approach when the song gets played, once, on a chart show.

Yet this is not enough.  If it wasn't for the fact that the Pope is of Argentinian extraction, the intellectually-challenged champions of the right would probably be pressing for fast-track canonisation so that the legacy could be airbrushed further.  The Mail and its fellow-travellers are either promoting the kind of uncritical bigotry that fans the flames of totalitarianism, or merely so stupid as to be unable to distinguish cause and effect.

Other than the Guardian, the Mail is the only paper still in the same ownership as the 1930s.  Unlike the Guardian it does not have to airbrush its support for Oswald Mosley out of its history - while continuing with its unarticulated English bigotry in a way that any irony-conscious reader might consider noteworthy.  The Blackshirt mentality is alive and well.

Yet the idiotic posturings of the Mail are more likely to form a reaction against it than secure support.  Despite its desire that nothing critical can be said about Thatcher, there were stirrings from Labour backbenchers, the nationalist parties and others in the masturbatory and unnecessary Parliamentary debate that put a little perspective into the grief-fest.  The Mail does not like other people thinking unless they align entirely with its prejudice - the mark of a totalitarian mindset.  To appropriate Thatcher's death for contemporary McCarthyism is breathtakingly stupid, evil, and potential incitement.

There is, so far as I am aware, no truth in the rumour that the  Daily Mail is to form the basis for a makeover of the official organ of the North Korean Communist Party.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Thatcher: the cant and the reality

As in life, so in death.  For those of us whose political formations are a direct response to the Thatcher years, the ambiguities and the legacy are sufficient to make the hagiography and censorship practised by the Tory lickspittles as, if not more, contemptible than the celebrations of the ultra-left.

Anyone's death is sad, but an inevitable consequence of the human condition.  The attempted canonisation of Thatcher demonstrates that it should really be reserved for the self-imposed elite - a similar and hysterical response was shown by Blair and his maven chorus around the death of the Princess of Wales.  Thatcher was 87, her personal decline and political withdrawal means that her death  is principally a private matter - thankfully the boy Mark is not incarcerated for inciting African coups.

From Cameron's crocodile sycophancy, you would consider that the world has lost a leader of immense stature.  There were undoubtedly worse Prime Ministers in the UK during the 20th century - Bonar Law, Douglas-Home and Lord Salisbury spring to mind - but there were equally great leaders in the form of Asquith, Attlee, Lloyd George and even, arguably, Baldwin and Macmillan.  None of these people were given the full funereal works that she is to be bestowed with (and ironically, paid for mostly by the state that she despised so much).

Then there are the myths peddled about her unique achievements.  When she took office in 1979, there was sufficient goodwill for actions to arrest the perceived decline of the previous decade, much of which had been precipitated by a combination of inept government under Heath and Wilson and the impact of external economic shocks.  Some of the changes implemented in the first Thatcher administration, for example, improving trade union democracy, have stood the test of time - but it should not be forgotten that many of the more sensible policies would have been introduced by a much less divisive government.

Thatcher was in thrall to a particularly toxic brand of economic and social determinism.  Her devotion to a misreading and a misappropriation of Hayek, filtered through Keith Joseph and the Institute of Economic Affairs, meant that whatever positive changes were implemented were achieved against a background of human and communal tragedies - mass unemployment and the deification of the "market" led to riots and the expansion of the economically-excluded.  The irony is that one of the 1980s Tory mendacities, the shifting of social security from unemployment to disability payments (massaging the headline statistics downward) is now being cited by Duncan Smith as a drain on the state - her death occurred on the day when the privatised benefits system further reduces citizens' expectations from the state.

This neo-conservative, pro-American positioning has defined British politics ever since - hardly surprising when she regarded Blair as her most successful legacy.  There is now very little room for discourse that does not accept the pro-market, anti-state position as being the default, and the exclusion of socially-based, communal politics is probably one of the reasons why there have been at least some street parties to celebrate her demise.  Exclude people and their reaction is inevitably both ugly and unacceptable to the mavens of Tory decency.

There are too many uncomfortable facts about the gap between the Thatcherite rhetoric and reality for much rational consideration to be taking place at the moment.  Despite disposing of capital assets for short-term capital injection (the late 1980s privatisation programme remains one of criminal irresponsibility) the share of national income accounted for by the state increased in all bar two years of the Thatcher government.  Britain's economic performance, despite supply-side reforms, lagged behind other countries - and, instead of using the windfall of North Sea Oil tax revenues to create a sovereign wealth fund as other oil exporters managed it was used to bankroll mass unemployment while keeping the exchange rate at such a level that the manufacturing base was severely reduced.

Perhaps history will judge the first administration better than the next two.  Her apologists try to put forward the hypothesis that she won three landslide victories.  The working majority of 1979 was a far greater achievement in terms of votes than the obscene distortions of democracy that occurred in 1983 and 1987 when Tory votes and share declined but majorities increased - an inspiration to Blair and the creation of the democratic deficit that we labour under today.  By 1983, and the purge of the remaining Tory "wets" it was clear that this was neither a necessary correction to the UK's relative decline nor a genuine attempt to shift the grounds of debate.  Instead, social and economic policy can best be encapsulated as authoritarian snoutage.

The destruction of social capital and coherence that commenced in the 1970s with the impact of inflation and the end of economic growth was stoked and accelerated in the 1980s.  The mettropolitan elites and the moneyed classes were, as now, largely immune from the impacts - but the legacy lies on in the deindustrialised, deskilled regions that used to be the engines of the economy but are now dismissed by Tory scribblers as the periphery - encapsulating both hopelessness and resentment at the contempt demonstrated by the current administration.  It was short-sighted and criminal under the Thatcher administration, it remains so today.  The Tories emasculated local government and then introduced the Poll Tax - hardly an inspiring legacy and one that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

To argue that all Thatcherism was necessary is amoral and lazy.  Supply-side changes could have been implemented in the framework of a managed transition and a growth strategy, rather than assuming that the market god would gimmick the balanced and sustainable social and economic fabric that the state should promote.  Some policies, even some privatisation, such as the telecommunications sector, were right, but this was more by luck than principle.  Pragmatism and common sense were jettisoned in favour of ideological monetarism, whose central tenets were soon found wanting in practice, but which inspires the current incompetent at the Exchequer to new depths of folly.

Thatcher's legacy has been the toxification of politics.  Her willingness to take sole responsibility for the idiocies means that the obituaries are reflective of this rampant egomania, which now hides the Tory complicity within the process.  The regicide in 1990, when her direct influence was curtailed, has been airbrushed out by the toadies whose enthusiasm for her views in death has been reinforced.  She was taken down by her own side, which speaks volumes about the continued ability of the right to consume each other.  Major, Blair, Osborne, Cameron, Clegg and countless others are obvious children of the Thatcherite period - all people without the imagination or the confidence to deny the legacy.

This personalisation of politics will also damage her reputation in retrospect - the celebrity Prime Minister (introduced by Wilson's attempt to cover himself in glory with the Beatles and England's footballers) is subject to the vagaries of current and retrospective taste.  The correspondence with Jimmy Savile (revealed under the 30-year rule) is not as evil as the collaboration and apologism for Pinochet, but revealed persistent lack of judgement.  As an aside, it was interesting to note that her successor as Tory MP for Finchley, Mike Freer, was equally vociferous in sticking up for dictators' rights, in this case Gadaffi's property.  A true Thatcherite never lets morality get in the way of capitalism.

In the end, it must be remembered that she did not act alone, and therefore an active celebration of her demise is in questionable taste and ineffective.  The removal of the lodestone of neo-con idiocy and immorality will be far more effectively used if there is a real challenge to the orthodoxy under which we exist today.  Thatcherism is an insidious and irrelevant sideshow in the modern world, and the issues for tomorrow are much more complex and less deterministic.  The last Stalinist has gone.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Tories revert to type, and Murdoch's attack dogs should be put down

One of the best ways of mortifying the flesh is to take a look at the Sunday Times.  As one of those prepared neither to buy the rag nor pay for Mr Murdoch's paywall such inspections take an intermittent turn - but it is a salutary reminder that the paper's politics are well to the right of barking, and its contributors obedient serfs at the neo-con wordface.

As if harbouring Rod Liddle and Jeremy Clarkson wasn't bad enough, the paper's agenda now appears to be a mixture of foaming UKIP apologia and the kind of Daily Mail prurience I berated earlier in the week.  Today's particular pleasure was a two-page rant about welfare and child abuse penned by a Camilla Cavendish, whose splenetic gurglings focused on a theory that because both Philpott and the Baby P Haringey disaster were in receipt of social security benefits they should be stopped forthwith.  The element of playing to the gallery aside, this would be tenable were it not for the fact that abuse and milking the system are hardly the sole preserve of the demonised proletariat - witness the Churches and the City as other egregious examples of denial and entitlement.

The Tories are clearly limbering up to make welfare their centrepiece of right-wing dog-whistling in 2015.  The linguistic constructions are fascinating - for much of the post-war period such payments were defined as social security, a recognition that this was a means of promoting both civilised values and social cohesion.  The fact that the vast majority of benefits are paid either to those in low-paid work, enabling companies to pay below-subsistence rates and boost their profits, or to pensioners, the shibboleth of current politics, is not going to get in the way of the myth that somehow everyone in receipt of benefits is a scrounger.  The fact that people believe 27% of claims are fraudulent, whereas in fact it is around 0.8% will never get in the way of a good ruck.

Another linguistic curiosity is that the shirker/striver/hard-working family mantra continues to resonate. The judgements implicit in this are the kind of repugnant, mendacious dualism that Osborne and Cameron revel in.  The assumption that we should be cheering on a return to the 1950s and the family unit, promoting all its repression and paranoia, while supporting this particular lifestyle choice through tax breaks and public approval, is questionable at best.  At worst it is a further example of how the fear of otherness is being pushed forward as an alternative to education, acceptance and diversity.

In order to determine whether the right-wing spew has gone beyond the limits of civilised acceptability there is an easy substitution test.  Just insert the word "Jew" or "black" in the place of the group being demonised.  If I were to write that all Tory journalists were worthy only of being paraded naked in shame down the Fulham Road then this would be equally offensive and risible as the idiotic posturing that the Chancellor and Prime Minister emerged with last week, as well as failing the substitution test.

There has been some mildly encouraging development on the centre-left, though.  Beaker has finally brought himself to criticise Osborne, which is an event that in a rational world would result in a national  fiesta - and even Clegg has discovered some cojones.  It is notable that the rhetoric emerging from Ed Balls and others is focusing on the Tory Party, hopefully recognising that the Coalition is mutable and this is an issue that needs to be pushed to detach any Liberal Democrats still fellow-travelling from those who are still holding their noses and keeping a distasteful bargain.

Meanwhile, Liam Byrne has been rethinking Labour social security policy - including a recognition that there have to be jobs to go to before castigating those outside the workforce.  Whatever the details, funding training and jobs as part of a reflation is a sensible policy - alongside recognising that "we're all in this together" also means that people who are prudent should not be penalised.

Once the current hysteria has died down, the ignorant will continue to spout their bilious nonsense.  The Tories are desperate and cornered and need their scapegoats.  Never forget that much of the media is no better than regurgitating nodding-donkey fodder, and even the quality end is not averse to tub-thumping.  Ludicrous hate speech will only become more commonplace, and those of us who wish to fight back need to be prepared to call out the cretins with the lack of compunction that they normally reserve for unfortunate fellow humans.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Is anything more evil than the Daily Mail?

I have always regarded the Daily Mail and its adherents as inherently more insane and dangerous than those who have still been brainwashed by Murdoch.  In the last few days it has excelled itself.

It is perfectly possible to argue that reforms to benefits and the welfare state are necessary - indeed I would support the reintroduction of universality and the development of a citizen's income - but the hate-filled bile about scroungers, parasites, immigrants and the remainder of the Mail's pantheon of petty bourgeois bogeymen merely suggests that the paper is written by scum, highly-skilled but evil parasites whose moral compass spins round back to the rag's enthusiastic backing for Mussolini.

The whack-job element is widespread - there has been a huge outcry over the monstering of a transgender teacher by the epitome of thuggish ignorance Richard Littlejohn, which may well have been a contributory factor in the victim's suicide.  The bullying, foul-mouthed hypocrite who edits the rag has refused even to acknowledge any responsibility - Stanley Baldwin's harlot (originally aimed at Lord Beaverbrook) would be turning in her grave at this monstrous travesty of justice.

Now we have the nutcases's nutcase, the lovely Melanie Phillips, opining that the actions of a deranged arsonist are the product of the welfare state.  Now Ms Phillips, when she isn't being given airtime to spout the kind of hate speech that she would object to were it to emanate from any of us who are less than 110% behind the Israeli government, spends most of her time looking for and exposing non-existent left-wing conspiracies, in much the same way that the neo-cons have developed in the USA.  She represents the kind of pseudo-intellectual icing for the racist, xenophobic snobbery that underpins the Mail's worldview.

Where Phillips and her ilk betray every form of civilised and intelligent discourse is in their identification of challenge and alternative opinions with subversion and/or stupidity.  It is perfectly possible to argue that the welfare state should not be used to support a lifestyle evidenced by the arsonists - but it is also equally possible and right to argue that his (and his conspirators') behaviour would be equally repugnant had he been an upstanding, taxpaying member of society with net curtains and a retrospective fixation on the 1950s.

This is the tip of a delusional iceberg - where everything is wrong with the world because the white lower middle classes are not able to dictate the terms of existence to everyone else in the world.  It feeds the fear of the other that reinforces ignorance and social breakdown - feeding and promoting irrational fears of the world outside contribute to atomisation rather than challenging it, and the hatred and paranoia about anything not "English" would be risible were it not taken so seriously.

The Mail is a parasitic disease that, in a free country, should only be controlled by constant attack and, where possible, being boycotted so that its commercial justification and lifeblood is sucked out.  Where it breaks the law, it should be challenged - its hate, narrow-mindedness and stereotyping make it highly vulnerable to prosecution, and its readers shamed where possible.  They epitomise the "I'm not racist/fascist/ignorant but..." tendency, the deniers and the fellow-travellers.  Britain's March Violets would all read the Mail.

As for the celebrity, sex-obsessed online presence, the less said the better.

The depths to which the rag has sunk are contemptible, as are those who act as its apologists.  It has sunk to the same depths as the organs of totalitarian states - maybe a hybrid of Goebbels's Racial Observer and late-period Pravda - in its editorialising and presentation of dictatorial prejudice as truth.  The Mail is nasty, evil and insidious.  Its recent behaviour suggests that its previous function, as a cheap substitute for Andrex, could create lasting physical damage beyond just being a right-wing pain in the backside.