Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Hague falls into the ethical foreign policy trap

One of the few areas in which the current UK government's existence can be described as an improvement on the last has been a weakening of the rhetoric of moral superiority in foreign policy.  The late Robin Cook upped the stakes drastically when the e-word was introduced into the vocabulary, making Blair's bellicosity and entry into at least one illegal and one dubious military action hypocritical as well as wrong.

Until now, give or take the anti-European posturing required to avoid being mauled by the lunatic tendency, Hague has been a reasonably good Foreign Secretary.  Despite the right's posturing, the UK is no longer a great power and really only of any consequence when acting in concert with other EU members, and good diplomacy is about realism rather than the stilted windbaggery that Blair emitted whenever he emerged from under Dubya's coat-tails.

Yet the pressure on the EU to remove its arms embargo on Syria looks like the very kind of pseudo-moral opportunism of the New Labour era.  The risk of escalation, as well as the law of unintended consequences, should dominate the calculations of political leaders.  Taking on the odious Syrian regime - a Russian client state - risks too many other area.  It is unclear who or what motivates the Syrian opposition, and it is unclear what the consequences would be for neighbouring states if the country is used as a proxy for conflict between others.

Western intervention in the Middle East has not been benign.  By all means, it should be backing democratic reformers economically and politically, but within the framework set down by the United Nations.  At the same time, should the west wish to enforce international law, the same needs to apply to Israel - a rogue state itself which enjoys seemingly unfettered economic and political licence.  Ethics are vital, but within the context of international law.

The other pragmatic rule for diplomacy is only to get involved where there is a reasonable chance of endorsing the outcome.  You do not score some kind of moral Nectar points from hand-wringing or windy exhortation.

The EU, the USA and Russia have all raised the stakes, paradoxically reducing the chances of a regionally-based and regionally-enforceable solution not just in Syria but for the Palestinians.  Hague (and, lest it be forgotten, Hollande) have engaged in the kind of post-coloinial guilt-posturing that should have gone out with the spectacularly-successful peace envoy, My Little Tony.  A shame, because after three years, the UK has overstepped the mark for a peripheral European state.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Adonis may just have got Clegg and Laws nailed

I have skimmed through Lord Adonis's book on the formation of our Coalition government.  Removing the self-justification and the rose-tinted view of the Labour proposition that might have been on the table, there is at least one insight that seems credible - the temperamental collision between the Orange Book Liberals and the "modernisers" coalesced around Cameron.

Adonis seems to forget that the inconclusive result of the 2010 election had led to a reasonably comprehensive kicking for the Labour Party, and that the big beasts of the unreconstructed statist Labour right (who I blogged about yesterday) were in no mood for compromise.  Yet he puts a persuasive case for the possibility of a minority Lab-Lib administration that might have been difficult to derail in the Commons if only because there would have been no interest from the Nationalists or the Northern Irish parties in voting it down to let in the Tories.

Clegg, Laws and Alexander in particular have given the impression that they do not find it very difficult to do business with the Tories.  The constant refrain has been to keep dissent within the Liberal wing of their party to a minimum, preferring instead to concentrate on the common ground that formed the basis for the Coalition Agreement.  This demonstrates the disingenuous and, in my view, suicidally naive attitude that the Liberal Democrat leadership has demonstrated until it has been too late to disentangle them from their hapless, and apparently doomed, cohorts around the Tory Notting Hill set.

Lord Adonis is correct in his analysis that there was a predisposition to engage with the Tories - who were ahead on both seats and votes compared to Labour.  This was in line with the pre-election view that the first party to do business with would have to be the largest one - and, whether or not it was right in retrospect, the Tories did engage seriously.  There was no dissent from their front bench (John Reid and David Blunkett could have taken note) and the agreement was reasonable given the relative strength of the parties.

The suicidally-naive position taken by the Orange Bookers was to assume that this meant the Tories would either be in a position to deliver or would be able to behave honourably.  With a party steeped in history, they should have been prepared to call on experience and the wiliness of those who have survived in the wilderness for all their political careers.  Instead, there was a revolting consummation and coalescence that did nothing other than give the right satisfaction that they had a bunch of naive little hostages, able to be blamed, duped and patronised whenever necessary.  What was more startling is that they appeared to enjoy this.

The 2015 election will be much less predictable than 2010, and there need to be clear markers put down by all parties in advance as to how they will respond to a distorted and perverse electoral system that could deliver majorities on very small percentages of the vote or create further distortions where there are four-way contests.  Clegg owes it to both his own followers and to other parties to make it clear how he would respond if he both keeps his seat and is in a position to move the politics forward.

Adonis's glossing of Labour's failings should also encourage Miliband to consider carefully how the next two years pan out.  With the Scottish and Welsh dimension, as well as the disruptive influence of UKIP, he has to play a careful game that does not risk completely alienating those whose position is defined as centre or centre-left, and who have no real truck with tribalism.  There will be even more at stake, and it is not yet clear that Labour have got out of their defeatist, mono-cultural mindset.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Unleashing Theresa May's inner fascist: "Criminals, terrorists and paedophiles"

One of the Liberal Democrats' achievements in government was the climb-down on proposals to give the state unfettered powers to snoop on e-mails, mobile phone information and generally continue its criminalisation of the citizen.  This doesn't appeal to the authoritarian imbeciles whose anti-libertarian agenda emerges every time there is a perceived threat to the state by terrorists or by groups that do not conform to the narrow-minded bigotry of the Tory and Labour right.

The arguments put forward to justify further intrusion are superficially attractive, but as with all flawed legislation the damage that could be done to the liberty of the citizen is much greater than the protection that could be afforded.  As usual, the knee-jerk response comes out - and the parade of has-beens, and never-should-have-beens is repugnantly right-wing.  Step forward John Reid, Alan Johnson, Michael Howard, Lord Carlile and the preposterous Home Secretary, Theresa May, who is clearly fostering her insane leadership pretensions by appealing to the snoopers and the state repressors.

Lynton Crosby, the Tories' Mephistopheles, would be proud of the whistling dogs.  "Terrorists", nasty, "criminals", well we don't like them, and "paedophiles" - the in-group for condemnation are her justification for resurrecting oppression.  The euphemisms of "law enforcement agencies" are not balanced with any coherent justification as to how individual rights are to be secured in a system which makes the power of the state even more arbitrary.  Bad legislators make stupid laws - the Dangerous Dogs Act is a prime example.

The denial of rights is only justified in time of war and under clear limitations.  A further encroachment on liberty should be another reason for Nick Clegg to consider who his interests are really aligned with.

Has the Coalition served its time?

The vision of Nick Clegg and David Cameron renewing their Coalition vows has become an annual event, usually the result of a further humiliation for both parties in the electoral cycle.  Last week, both of them insisted that the current co-habitation between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories will see out its allotted lifespan, before the immolation that seems inevitable at the General Election.

For both leaders, this must seem to be an expedient outcome.  Amongst the more thoughtful sections of the politically-engaged it is also supporting the abstract notion that Coalition government is in some way an end in itself.  There is no obvious alternative configuration that would command a Commons majority, and there remains economic crisis and stagnation to address.  Add to this the promotion of an "enemy within" mentality and there are strong reasons to support the continuation of the current arrangement, even as it saps the Liberal Democrats and masks the unpleasant rightward drift of the Tories.

Yet, the counter-factual seems to be missing.  With two years to go, and the swivel-eyed backbenches doing their best to scupper any legislation not burnished in the forge of Farage-appeasement, the prospect of meaningful progress on any area of policy diminishes.  Pre-election posturing has already begun, not least from the right-wing fellow-travellers whose unarticulated desire is to morph into UKIP-lite - creating a reactionary rainbow coalition inclusive of the street thugs of the EDL through to their uneducated, unthinking Eurosceptic brethren within the Tories.

The electoral landscape of 2010 provided very few options, and these have closed down further.  It is getting very difficult to see what benefits the Liberals are securing from participation beyond a masochistic pleasure at being Cameron's human shield against the loons.  As the minority partner, most of the distinctive, liberal policies that were in their 2010 manifesto have been lost - unless there is a political expedient (e.g. the cancellation of Labour's identity cards on cost grounds) - and it is difficult to  envisage a remarkably-different economic strategy having emanated from Labour.

Yet this is not the whole story.  While the Liberals have been compromised and outmanoeuvred, they have managed to restrain the lunatic section of the Tories - even to the extent where some Tory Ministers have had to remind their own constituency that the electorate may have despised Labour but they did not endorse any of the other parties to manage on their own.  This creates a political space for the Liberal Democrats before the election - and the choice for them is whether or not they do this from within the Coalition or without.

The restraint on unfettered neo-con, authoritarian dribbling has been vital (and the benefit of Coalition government needs to be argued accordingly) but it needs to be made much more explicit.  The refusal to emasculate and privatise the NHS, the refusal to engage in a demagogic race-to-the-bottom xenophobia surrounding our European partners, and the resistance to the further promotion of the banking parasite above the working human are all useful negatives to put alongside the start of a progressive reform of tax policy and at least some efforts to target spending where people need it most in education.

For Clegg, or, should he refuse to engage, his party, there is a choice ahead.  Staying in power provides further dampening, but also the risk of more guilt by association.  Sitting outside a Tory minority administration would allow them to promote extremist policies to test with the electorate - the Stupid Party has always flirted with this - while ensuring that there is no Commons majority to enact any such deranged wibblings.  The left needs to think about how it pushes the Tories and UKIP into competing for the same space - creating space for reclaiming the more engaged Conservatives and setting out a democratic, socialist space.

The correct way forward is imponderable, but the collaborative, inclusionist phase of the Clegg-Cameron relationship is at an end.  Both are wounded, marginalised and increasingly irrelevant to the post-2015 landscape.  The Liberals, damaged possibly beyond repair, need to determine whether they are able to stand independently or being incorporated - and to do this in the context of possible deal-making with Labour.  The choice will not be easy, but the need for a leftward shift becomes more evident by the week.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Terrorism, the EDL and the limits to tolerance

A brutal murder in broad daylight, in front of horrified onlookers.  Whatever the identity of the victim, this would have been a shocking event - made even more disturbing by being a soldier outside his barracks, butchered by apparent jihadists on a random, arbitrary basis.  The act of assassination is an odious evil, and there is no relativity that can justify it, no apologist sufficiently odious to make excuses and limited human capability to understand and forgive.

In isolation this is a new level of barbarity within the UK, although not, sadly for the wider human race.  The brutalisation that has never been pushed out, and the doctrine adopted of what is unreported and unknown is acceptable, does radicalise and render morality relative rather than absolute.  Yet the moment that this is view put forward to contextualise and understand the challenges faced there there follows an inevitable tirade of abuse for multicultural collaborationism and treachery.  To observe that a catalyst has been the ineptitude of the language used by Tony Blair and George W. Bush when they launched their counter-terrorism strategy is so obvious, yet the hysteria tends to militate against putting isolated acts into a geopolitical context.

Hardly surprising, therefore, that the English Defence League and its fascist adherents used the murder for a grotesque parody of patriotism.  Reading Daniel Trilling's interesting, if rapidly outdated, study of the far right in Britain, Bloody Nasty People, it is clear that the EDL is a front for hooligan thugs whose articulation of national identity is mindless racist violence allied to the day-to-day pseudo-morality pushed by the Daily Mail, The Sun and the far right of the Tory Party (where it elides into UKIP).  On a night when law enforcement should have been focused on the investigation into what was clearly a terrorist murder, the EDL sent a bunch of masked, racist cretins onto the streets of Woolwich - chanting abuse and throwing missiles at the police.  True patriots, indeed.

This is what makes anyone ashamed to be British - this is fomenting hatred and gratifying urges that a civilised community does not need to suppress.  The apologists come out and blame multi-culturalism, in the unlikely event that they can spell it, or particular immigrant groups.  Whatever the reasons for alienation from mainstream politics, this is beyond the pale of utilitarian liberalism.  A spark of debate towards a secularisation of the state may be the correct response - rather than the knee-jerk simple condemnation that the left will tend to come up with - but it is hardly a great advertisement for nationalism that these moronic BNP-dupes are allowed to run riot and incite violence and hatred.

In the context of a new, undefined, territory of terrorism, there are far-rightists who will try to exploit this for evil ends.  There is no simple victory that can be achieved against them, beyond not descending to their level of street thuggery, but there needs to be a differentiation between a diverse, tolerant society and one where groups can intimidate and attack others.  They fail on the latter test, so have no place within the spectrum of human decency.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Gay marriage - watching the Tories swivel

There is a tide of fatalistic risibility that ascends to engulf the Conservative Party.  The Old Bloxhamist Gerald Howarth, the preposterous Monday Club MP for Aldershot, revealed his inner torment by suggesting that "aggressive homosexuals" are waiting in the wings to march down the aisle as a precursor to much darker activities, while the usual bunch of neanderthals demonstrated their inability and crass ineptitude, allowing Labour and the Liberal Democrats to provide a solid majority for a reform that is really only important to those who see it as a benefit.

The Tories have clearly not learned from the 1990s and their rather depressing sequence of scandals that there is now much less prurience about people's sexuality, and much less desire to dictate to the rest of the population what is acceptable within the law.  Personal morality is just that - it is not to argue against standards and responsibility but merely to suggest that the state should keep out of the bedroom.  For each of the splenetic, bile-spuming Tory backwoodsmen, the liberalisation of society is coming as a shock; there may be much deeper Freudian interpretations about their public abhorrence, but unless one has actually been to Eton it is very difficult to reach any firm conclusion.

The irony of the last couple of days has been that the paragons of free-market, deregulated Ayn Rand frothing are totally unable to see that the logical extension of their position is to support individual freedom and rights.  Instead, in a game of tabloid bugger-my-neighbour they have demonstrated the rank hypocrisy of the Tory right - scared of UKIP, scared of a world that has passed them by, and hostile to anyone who is prepared to be different and not conform to a haute bourgeois societal norm.

Pratfalls await, and this is much of a muchness with the lunacy that has overcome much of the right at the moment.  As the imbecility count rises, we can only look forward to more ignorance and bigotry being paraded in a desperate attempt to court the declining fringe vote.  The disconnect between a pointless Tory party and the wider electorate can only increase.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Never underestimate the power of a dead sheep

Denis Healey once described an assault from Lord Howe as akin to being savaged by a dead sheep.  For the current bunch of Tories, they would probably be more welcoming to someone suggesting an evening of ovine necrophilia than home truths being put forward by a man whom many have never forgotten for being the catalyst to Thatcher's political demise.

Howe's rallying-cry to Liberal Democrats and Labour to elevate the discussion over Europe beyond the petrified squabblings of Tory bunny-boilers caught in the headlights was impeccably timed - as it is clear that there remains at least some part of the Conservative party whose eyes do not swivel and who have considered that internal blood-letting over the EU is both unattractive and counter-productive.  There is a small, sensible core of what would be a perfectly acceptable centre-right party, trapped inside a group of xenophobic charlatans, led by a charisma-free loon who can please neither his left, his right nor the electorate.

For twenty years, the Tories have been trying to reconcile the pragmatists from the demagogues who are putting around the dangerous canard that the way to solve all Britain's problems is to retreat into a form of decaying autarky, and the latter have won.  Whether or not the phrase of "swivel-eyed loons" was used there is a disconnect between those who exist in a practical political environment and the backwoods, non-specifically-disgruntled "activist" base.

What the Europhobes cannot articulate is how their hostility to Europe would benefit the UK, beyond providing further impetus to implement Bangladeshi-style labour laws and remove civil liberties and the rights of the citizen.  This alone should be something that the majority fears - and this should be articulated by all politicians from Miliband through to Ken Clarke; the lies and half-truths are accepted because there is no strong challenge and because of lazy, sensationalist reporting (when the organ in question is not ideologically-tainted in the first place).  

Lord Howe's contribution is therefore both welcome and necessary, because there is an honourable tradition of realistic European politics from within the Tory tradition.  The perception that propitiating UKIP will do the Tories any good needs to be given a clear, well-defined once-over, and there needs to be a cross-party presentation of the pro-EU case - Miliband himself has done himself some good by arguing that the only time for a referendum is when there is any proposal to transfer significant powers to Brussels (in line with the Liberal Democrats' 2010 manifesto).

Cameron is trying to run with the hare, and hunt with the hounds.  When he has to get the damaged goods of Jeremy Hunt to deny any rift in his party, you can tell he is on the skids - what is needed now is for the debate to be moved away from the Tories and into the heart of political dialogue.  Howe is right that the left needs to articulate the case, but the real attraction for the rest of us is that then the Tories can implode without much risk.

The Tory backbenches are full of the scared, thoughtless chancers who have made it very difficult to take the party seriously.  The lazy stereotyping and arrogance betrays their inability to break free of the idea that they have some kind of divine right to rule denied purely because not enough people voted for them last time round.  Howe may do nothing to ease the problems in the Tory party by criticising Cameron's ineptitude, but he is starting a much more noble project of defending the national interest.  

Saturday, 18 May 2013

"A student demonstration isn't the Dreyfus trial" - Salmond nails UKIP

Of the amusing spectacles this week, watching the television footage of Nigel Farage attracting a robust response from Scottish leftists in Edinburgh probably achieved the greatest and most lasting satisfaction.  The absurd Little Englander, who shares with the Clown Mayor an ability to portray extremely nasty views as mere buffoonery, was always likely to be on shaky Caledonian ground, and the poltroon was given the kind of welcome he seldom receives south of the Border.

As usual, it was Alex Salmond who hit the spot with his attack on the Farage bandwagon - about the only thing that I can find in common with Murdoch is a view that Salmond is amongst Britain's most effective politicians.

Farage used a demonstration against his odious views to attempt to extrapolate that all Scottish nationalists are tainted by "excesses" and that they are "deeply unpleasant" - a view that the electorate in Scotland has not exhibited since devolution.  As a non-Scot, I did not find the country tainted with a "total and utter hatred of the English" during the years I lived there - a total and utter contempt for the Tories and their right-wing fellow-travellers did not discriminate between home-grown and imported, but it is very difficult to work out which orifice many of Farage's insults emerge from.

The most charitable explanation is that Farage, buoyed by his mid-market tabloid cheerleaders, has acquired the delusion that his far-right ranting is universally popular, and that the loud abuse and attacks are in some way psychically destabilising.  The fact that I shall now always call wee Niger "bawbag" is a suitable memorial for the evening.  However, it does not constitute "fascism" as he suggested - he is much closer to that suppression of debate and free expression than a loose grouping of political opponents.

Perhaps less reported was his excursion into being interviewed by BBC Radio Scotland - where, when challenged about his lack of knowledge of Scottish politics, he simply hung up.

The "fight when I win, flight when I've been found out" response is typical of the far-right - but it does not provide evidence for UKIP's claim to be a serious force in UK politics.  Instead of which he decided to attack the BBC for an "insulting" interview, when it was clear from listening to it that he had been caught with his political trousers down - and instead of any humility or recognition that his ignorance of Scottish politics was a disadvantage he decided to bluster it out.

Salmond's response is textbook - it should be used by all sane leaders across the country.  Faced with this evidence, he stated that it would be a "great mistake" to take "somebody of that mentality with any degree of seriousness" - which is both masterful and contemptuous.  This has the added bonus score of bringing out Scottish Tory UKIP leanings, an Alex Johnstone who is an unmemorable MSP jumped on the defend-Nigel bandwagon to attack Salmond and further marginalise Cameron.

Farage is a buffoon whose apparent strength derives from tapping into to inchoate resentment - and his risible political party is suffering the incursion of the criminal and fascist elements (one of their Worcestershire County Councillors has already been forced to resign following Islamophobic comments) - and it is countered by both demonstrating that his views are not universally welcomed and through making it clear that he will be opposed.  If you express odious views, and harbour those whose knuckles brush the lino, you cannot expect to be welcomed as a conquering hero by anyone capable of rational analysis.

To claim martyrdom for a cause you need to have a definable cause other than self-publicity.  Salmond claimed Farage without breaking sweat - so he will return to his delusional past with his tail between his legs.  Result.

As a postscript, while watching Channel 4 News last night, this issue prompted intriguing debate including the breaking of cover by a UKIP MEP, Roger Helmer.  As a right-wing caricature buffoon Helmer takes some beating - he is the kind of saloon-bar bore who any sane individual wants to avoid, but his breathtaking ignorance of Scotland was second only to his leader's.  However, I was motivated to do some digging:  Wikipedia - Roger Helmer MEP.

With members like that, UKIP's Nutter Tendency shades into other parts of the far-right - echoes of the Monday Club and the FCS abound.

Friday, 17 May 2013

The idiocy of Brian Coleman - convicted politician

I commented on the conviction, a fortnight ago, of the former GLA member Brian Coleman, for assault by beating.  After that, it was an intention to let sleeping dogs lie (in every sense) as the downfall of an arrogant bully is of only tangential relevance when taking on the greater iniquities of the right.  However, Coleman has given the most extraordinary interview to one of the local newspapers in Barnet which is so objectionable that it is worthy of further attention.

The interview can be seen here: Coleman interview - May 2013.

This is an astounding piece of revisionist history that would make David Irving blush.  Despite the evidence of CCTV that Coleman's act were aggressive, violent and totally merited a conviction, he suggests that he only agreed to a plea bargain to keep his driving license, and implies that he was justified because his victim had been part of a political campaign against his policies.  There are words which can describe this, but they are not printable - readers can fill in the gaps.

Coleman's behaviour is clearly now beyond what should be acceptable in public office.  The national Conservative party has taken action against him, and "processes" are taking place within Barnet Tories that might result in his expulsion from the party.  Yet there has been complete silence from the local MPs (Theresa Villiers, Mike Freer and Matthew Offord - normally all given to rent-a-quote knee-jerk populism) and councillors, as well as senior local Tories, despite a conviction for violence and no evidence of any remorse or even comprehension of his actions.

If, and, the pinch of salt required would probably require Lot to be a multiple polygamist, Coleman's assertion that the plea bargain was a tactic to maintain his ability to drive, then one simple question remains: why did he not then go on to defend himself in court?  Was he advised that overwhelming evidence, stacked up against him, would inevitably result in a stiffer sentence?  Was he advised that witnesses could potentially exacerbate the level of the offence and reduce mitigation potential?  Nobody, save Coleman and his brief - to use the vernacular of the criminal classes - will ever know the truth, and Coleman appears to have no grasp of reality.

For Coleman then to claim provocation is both risible and insulting to his victim.  He has pretended to be a senior politician - trousering thousands of pounds in allowances and putting his repugnant views forward - while at the same time fundamentally misunderstanding his role and responsibilities.  A typical Thatcherite Tory, in other words, who believes that standards of conduct and decency apply to the lower orders who should kow-tow to the great leader.

For local residents and business owners to campaign against an unpopular policy, for them to combine and to identify the relevant officials and councillors is not an unacceptable campaign and persecution, it is democracy in action and should be applauded.  The only provocation that Coleman suffered was from campaigning against a policy perceived as damaging, and then the risk of humiliation when he was caught flouting it pushed him into a state where violence was his response.  Hardly a suitable candidate for public office.

Yet what is so extraordinary is that Coleman makes no reference to his own conviction and culpability. It's always somebody else's fault; had the little people shut up and allowed his policies through without question he would never have found it irresistible to attack someone.  This sociopathic amorality is sick in the most fundamental sense - it is a reasonable deduction that he needs psychiatric help not just for anger management but in order to permit him even a reasonable chance of functioning in a society where social relationships have progressed beyond the toddler stage.

If this was a one off, badger-watching "moment of madness" then perhaps some mitigation would be permissible.  Coleman, however, has a string of Standards complaints upheld against him, including such gems as calling a correspondent anti-Semitic for questioning the actions of Veolia when the correspondent was Jewish himself, and threats and abuse against bloggers.  This suggests someone who is seriously out of control and who is a danger to himself and to others.

What may be the case is that Coleman - humiliated by the electorate last year and by his cohorts through being stripped of his Barnet cabinet portfolio - is suffering from limelight withdrawal.  From being the odious toad relishing his role he now an embarrassing never-was, which makes his wish to follow in the footsteps of Lembit Opik, George Galloway and Nadine Dorries onto reality TV a little more explicable.  I am sure that there will be a long queue to purchase a single ticket.

There is the interesting parallel with the downfall of Chris Huhne, whose release under tag has caused a tabloid storm.  Huhne, as with Coleman, denied culpability until the last possible moment, and then faced the consequences.  He, too, was treated according to due process and has now been treated equally to other non-violent, unlikely repeat offenders - and this has created a prurient outburst of sham indignation.  Coleman's downfall, despite being a self-styled senior Tory, has hardly caused ripples beyond the circulation area of the Evening Standard, despite a crime of violence.  Double media standards ahoy!

Had Coleman done the sensible thing, and shut up, then he would not be subject to further scrutiny and criticism now.  Instead he has opened up the whole can of worms about the Tory party's inability to control its own members, and sending out messages about what is and is not acceptable.  For the Tories to spend so long dithering about his future when he has been convicted of a crime of violence is odious and immoral, and for him to continue his self-pitying in public is sick.  It sends out a message that the Tory party is scared of him, even when he has been convicted - and it sends out the clear signal that there is at least a strong current of support for thuggish behaviour as a substitute for rational debate.

It is reported that the victim has received an insulting and threatening letter, attributed to someone who is "not a friend of Brian Coleman" - which should be subject to scrutiny and investigation.  Whatever action is taken should be proportionate to the message that this sends out - that to involve the police in a criminal offence is a damaging thing to do.  Unless Coleman and the Tories condemn this then the action of inductive reasoning can only lead to a limited number of conclusions.

Yet Coleman's interview itself condemns him.  There are a number of legal terms that spring to mind while reading it: perjury, defamation and contempt.  It is to be hoped that any evidence of further wrong-doing is tested, if only to provide the springboard to take action to protect the wider community and Coleman himself.

A mischievous thought is that Coleman has taken to mini-cab driving to supplement his diminished income - hence his desire not to lose his licence for the dropped charge of dangerous driving.  As with Huhne he has a reputation for speeding, so one can only assume that there is a reasonable chance that the toad will be off the road at some stage in the future.  This is scant justice for a braggart, fantasist and bully who cannot accept that he now a violent, convicted felon.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

HS2: the opposition shows all that's wrong with Britain

The myriad of opportunists who have jumped onto the anti-HS2 bandwagon will doubtless relish the "conclusion" put forward by the National Audit Office that the business case is shaky.  Leaving aside the fact that the bean-counting mentality that the NAO demonstrates has not saved us from the follies of PFI, privatisations that have resulted in transfers of wealth from taxpayers to speculators and the ludicrous marketisation of public services, this is another piece of political grandstanding that shows that British central governance has a rotten core.

Whether or not HS2 will deliver precisely the benefits, to precisely the costs put forward today, in 20 years' time is a moot point.  Economic forecasting is often only one step up from Mystic Meg, but because it is encased in equations and, generally, put forward by consultants in expensive suits with bills to match, tends to have a mesmeric effect upon Ministers and civil servants, while at the same time being easy to unpick and attack if you find yourself ranged on the other side of the argument.

What one looks for from politicians is leadership and, occasionally, relying on gut instinct.  We appear to live in a country which, despite the marginal maunderings of the right, is prepared to maintain massive expenditure in wasting people's lives (blighted education, the benefits culture and the economic  deserts that afflict many parts of the country), spend unquestioningly on the National Health Service's pseudo-markets rather than primary care, while maintaining the delusion that the nation is a Great Power with the responsibilities and resources to match.

Yet all these would be much easier if politicians had the guts to admit that to generate growth, sustainably, and to reduce the entitlement culture, the government's prime function is to underwrite investment in the infrastructure that permits the appropriate and expeditious development of private-sector economic activity.  The mixed economy remains a reality, yet there remains a fetishisation of any private-sector funding - which as I have constantly argued is a chimera and a lie perpetrated as a means of reducing the headline rates of tax and bribing crony capitalists.

The Coalition's main economic failing has been this complete lack of vision.  At a time when long-term interest rates have been lower for a longer period than at any time in economic history, and when Gideon's personal goal of maintaining a credit rating has been scuppered by the lack of stimulus in the economy, this would have given the opportunity to set out an infrastructure plan, drawing on pension funds and other investment sources to finance bonds, which would have transformed transport, utilities and the social and economic cohesion of the British Isles.  Instead we have a bunch of selfish chancers whose main aim appears to be delay and criticism of the government - cutting off other people's noses and spiting their faces through acts of cretinous short-termism.

This is not solely a Tory failing, nor is it a Labour one.  This is endemic - the country never anticipates, preferring to respond when the crisis hits.  Nearly a quarter-century ago, the Tories accepted the findings of a study which recommended that London's growth and prosperity would be served by construction of Crossrail and upgrading Thameslink by the start of the third millennium.  Thirty years from its publication, they will be delivered - at greater expense and having wasted nearly two decades where infrastructure improvements could have contributed to wider society.

Our European partners appear to have a generally more sensible view of the potential of infrastructure to generate growth: Paris now has the equivalent of five Crossrails while high-speed rail is extending across western Europe.  Britain (and London) aren't as different in their needs and solutions as the tabloids would wish to portray.

HS2 may not be the optimum project to improve connectivity to the regions and nations, nor, alone, will it transform local economies.  However, it is there.  An alternative would delay increasing capacity for another decade.  The debate cannot be had on its own - as regional policy is about more than just railways.  There is the current heat and light being generated by the fool Johnson about London airport capacity, forgetting that the vast majority of people do not live within easy reach of the Thames Estuary, and that non-London airport capacity is already there and not being exploited to take pressure of existing runways.

For once, even some Tories are making the right noises - but the window of opportunity is low.  There is a risk that HS2 will be sacrificed to appease the knuckle-dragging Eurosceptic cicatrices whose influence will loom large as Cameron tries to hang on as Tory leader.  This, with bean-counters and self-styled fools such as the Taxpayers Alliance baying at their heels, will be a litmus test of whether good government will be sacrificed on the altar of useless party expediency, and whether Britain has got beyond about 1830 in its attitude to the fabric of the nation.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Gove, Hammond and the end of the Coalition

To watch the slow-motion disaster that is the modern Conservative Party unfold has a sense of repetition for all those who can remember the 1990s.  Compared with the hapless Major, Cameron's smarmy condescension deserves all that is coming to him - and hopefully he will succeed in turning the Tories in on themselves, revealing their true xenophobic irrelevance and creating space for a genuinely centre-right party; whichever of the current bunch of self-interested spivs succeeds Dave will then compete in a game of two bald men fighting over a comb with Farage.

Over the weekend, two of Cameron's prototypical Tory grandees, Michael Gove and Philip Hammond, gave a carefully-choreographed signal that the entire reason for the rise of UKIP is that they are in a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats, and that they would vote to leave the EU if a referendum were to be held tomorrow.  Given that they are both supposedly senior Cabinet Ministers (God help us!) this will not have been an act of "rebellion" uncleared with the unaccountable coterie that surrounds Downing Street.

Cameron is playing his last desperate card to appeal to the rightist base - coinciding with a visit to the USA.  The neo-cons see America as some kind of substitute parent, which makes Cameron's behaviour seem adolescent - as the Obama Administration is seeking a free-trade deal with the EU.  This would be entirely in line with the kind of activity that Cameron claims to want to encourage, yet at the same time his treachery is to encourage his fools and knaves to raise the stakes, not over points of principle but as a desperate effort to shore up his motley bunch of chancers.

The two Cabinet Ministers who have declared their hand are prototypical.  Gove is attempting to do for education what Osborne is doing for sound economic management, with an arrogance and lack of engagement that can only be born from decades of embedding within the Murdoch empire.  Hammond is a Surrey Tory chancer who looks like a cross between Michaels Fabricant and Heseltine while spouting the kind of 1950s rhetoric about hard work and Little Englandism beloved of his blue-rinsed acolytes - an undistinguished minor Minister whose tenure at Transport and Defence have hardly set the world on fire.

Yet these mediocrities typify the contemporary Tory Party.  The latest tactic is to blame the Liberal Democrats for the lack of a referendum.  Today one of Gove's wet boys was on the radio suggesting that in some way Clegg has betrayed the Liberal manifesto of 2010, which promised a referendum if any treaty changes resulted in a transfer of powers to Brussels.  So the Tories, desperate to find someone to blame for their own inability to create a political case, are using this to justify spending the next two years tearing themselves apart.

Clegg has been handed this as a gift, which will show whether he is a genuinely Liberal politician or, as many suspect, a Tory wannabe.  The Coalition will probably limp on in Government, while the political discourse moves towards a post-2015 alignment.  Clegg needs to veto any Tory activity other than that defined by the Coalition Agreement - or to allow it to be voted down in the Commons, a much more effective demonstration of independence.  Liberals need to remind the electorate (and natural allies in Labour, Greens and the Celtic devolutionist parties) that the current arrangement is of necessity rather than choice, and that there is more than one alignment of political pluralism.

The Coalition is now fatally weakened - and by the Tory inability to maintain cohesion between the few remaining pragmatists and the feral right, whose rhetoric these days would make the League of Empire Loyalists blush.  Gove, who should be avoided on the television unless one wishes to contemplate whether he could be used as a model for a Rentokil commercial, is blundering towards Redwood territory - and the challenge to Cameron resembles that of Redwood and Major back in 1995, one of the events that sealed the direction of the 1997 election.  With Labour not as focused, this means multi-party politics are the reality - the current Tory infighting has reinforced this - and it is up to the left and centre to find the means to exploit this idiocy.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Wanted: a credible alternative while Miliband's dreaming

With the Labour Party's message increasingly appearing to be focused on not being the Tories, rather than having a programme for government that will address the fundamental issues of the neo-conservative coups d'etat, there remains the possibility that the right will win in 2015 by default.  Miliband has spent too long fence-sitting, an easy temptation when there is such a large number of imbeciles in the Government whose main objective is to commit petty acts of self-immolation whenever opportunities present themselves.

For the last three years there have been three tendencies in the Labour Party:

  • a group of tribalist fools who have justified their position by blaming the Liberal Democrats for going into a Coalition with the Tories, despite the electoral and political machinations making another outcome impossible;
  • the Miliband faction, best typified as a Billy Bunter waiting for something to turn up, rather than taking the battle to the Tories and exposing quite what an unpleasant beast continues to lurk beneath the modernising skin; and
  • a Blue Labour cadre who are doomed to failure by assuming that the way to victory is to appeal to the party's shrinking traditional class base.
None of the above is totally wrong in their analysis or prescription, but taken individually or collectively they cannot provide a convincing reason to vote for Labour.  Labour has not yet really come to terms with modern political reality and pluralism - their hubris was punctured in 2010 but only marginally - and they have yet to make convincing inroads into the areas where they will need most success in 2015.  Scotland and the prosperous shires do not make particularly heartening targets at present.

This may well be because Labour is scared of admitting that it got many things wrong under Blair and Brown.  By collaborating with the prevailing direction of ideological travel, they did nothing to redress the balance nor to create a political climate where pure economic determinism can be trumped by putting the citizen at the centre of discourse.  

Miliband should be tapping into the folk memories of the Depression and the incompetent and partial response of politicians to the current crisis - papering over the cracks in a service-driven, greed-focused financial system is not acceptable while there continues to be greed, snoutage and rank hypocrisy from the apostles of capital.  Blaming "the cuts" solely on the Tories won't wash, but a message of social justice alongside acknowledging that simple economic growth is not a panacea could be the start of creating a progressive climate of hope.

People aren't valued - and people aren't treated as anything more than cogs - either productive props to the economic titans or as nuisances and parasites.  No wonder social cohesion is diminishing.  No wonder that there is a feeling of despair and isolation.  A radical position is much closer to the libertarian than to the financially-determined, and we don't seem to be getting anything out of Labour.  If Osborne's luck changes and, despite his incompetence and malevolence, the economy is massaged into picking up, Miliband offers nothing more than a slightly-shifted managerialism.  This will not be enough - and time is running out for a more radical proposition that could form the basis of a Labour-led revival.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Peddling Europhobia: lies, delusions and Nigel Lawson

It is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate the Conservative Party from a dinosaur theme park.  When the solids/air conditioning interface becomes the dominant feature of internal Tory feuding, there are all the self-styled elder statesmen; memories of whom have only recently been stirred up by Thatcher's death - and whose sanctimonious physiognomies have been a salutary reminder to anyone who can remember their previous pomp.

So far, so Tebbit.  The latest manifestation of the undead was the re-emergence of Nigel Lawson, the greatest Anthony Barber tribute Chancellor in history - fuelling unsustainable booms and then recanting.  "Lord" Lawson is now reinventing himself as an arch-Eurosceptic, having been one of the leading figures of the regicide in 1990 - paradoxically because he was one of those Ministers most closely identified with shadowing the Deutschmark in the run-up to the establishment of the Euro.

Frightened rabbits are now assuming that the lights in front of them are the Eureka moments of salvation rather than the juggernaut of an irrelevant destiny.  So pulling out of the European Union is presented as a panacea for every failure that the neo-conservative experiment has visited upon the plebs and the rest of the world that is not cocooned through ancestral or other ill-gotten wealth, and which has a great desire to be seen to protect its own position through a Manichean confidence and hubris.

These old fools are peddling a major lie to the electorate.  The costs, impacts and practicalities of EU exit are large and not a one-way bet to the sunlit uplands of isolationist prosperity.  Whenever one of these loons screeches about a trading rather than a political relationship they fail to remind people that the status of non-EU countries such as Norway and Switzerland is of vassal nations, forced to comply with EU laws and regulations without even formal representation or participation in the decision-making process.

This means that any withdrawal will be partial rather than full - effectively refusing to engage in the diplomacy and evolution of EU politics and institutions, as well as running the significant risk that future benefits available to member states will be denied to England and Wales.  One of the key reasons for UK marginalisation within the EU has been the continued failure to engage, preferring instead to resort to the sloganising megaphone and the stereotype of perfidious Albion.  This has allowed the EU's direction to be dominated by Franco-German priorities - which has had mixed results culminating in the inappropriate austerity that has befuddled the Eurozone.

This distaste for engagement and refusal to compromise suggests that Clegg and Miliband need to adopt a Euro-realist position going forward.  So far, the dribbling xenophobes portray any support for European co-operation and involvement as the kind of starry-eyed idealism that should be reserved for ensuring that the lower orders know their place.  A few points need to be reiterated: we shall never be able to fully disengage from our major trading partners, we shall never be able to unpick the entire legacy of 40 years' economic, political and legal engagement and we shall never be able to prosper as a low-cost, exploitative offshore tax haven.

Pragmatists should also be prepared to point out that any withdrawal would be a constitutional and legal nightmare on a scale that would dwarf any of the areas of reform that the Tories vetoed as low priority - distracting from the economy and social and environmental progress.  The EU myths are pervasive, and, as is usual in the UK, complex to rebut.  However, the economic costs and benefits are important to keep in perspective.

Lawson is a cynical vulture circling round the Tory corpse - finally getting revenge for humiliation and marginalisation after his fall from office.  The propitiation of the Farage and the tweedy knuckle-draggers will only go so far - as Europe itself does not represent an election-swinging issue.  Perhaps the only consolation is that this now looks like the kind of private battle that beset John Major, and we all know what happened to the Tories after that.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Brian Coleman - a cautionary tale for our times

Last Friday, Councillor Brian Coleman was convicted of assault.  When I last commented upon Coleman, he had yet to suffer a spectacular fall from political grace of a kind that few politicians have experienced.  Unlike Chris Huhne, he did not conspire to pervert the course of justice beyond a protracted denial of any culpability.  Yet despite some damning evidence on CCTV of both his crime and his incredible pig-headedness in refusing to accept responsibility, the process dragged on for months, clogging up the courts and wasting time and money in a way only a Tory politician caught in the headlights can do.

Coleman had become a political liability for the Tories well before this.  Evicted from the GLA by Labour in the form of Andrew Dismore, even his cronies and clients in Barnet then dropped him from their Cabinet - moving from a bling-tastic six-figure allowance scam to the levels of individual councillor allowance must have been cushioned by living in subsidised accommodation - and then the national (not the local) party suspended him after the assault charge was brought.

In many ways, this is a tragic indictment of a career politician - who appears to consider himself both superior to other mortals and immune from both criticism and the consequences of his action.  The provocation (as his lawyer tried to argue in mitigation) was that the victim had been vociferous in protesting about (and recording the consequences of) Coleman's parking policies on local businesses - and as the leading councillor he was a legitimate target, especially when spotted parking illegally to use a cashpoint when other road users would have been fined.  To criticise a politician and to expose apparently hypocritical behaviour is the right of any reasonable elector and citizen.

So he has been convicted and fined - a criminal record is not a light punishment.  Yet he still has apologists and "friends" who are willing to defend his conduct and not to question whether he remains fit for public office.  Humility and common sense would dictate his withdrawal into private existence, making the most of an opportunity to re-assess whether his talents might be best directed into not antagonising his fellow human beings.  Until he either stands down or is defeated, he will face what he will doubtless regard as provocative scrutiny, but he has done nothing that gives confidence that such behaviour is a one-off, unrepeatable aberration.

Farage, electoral reform and the half-wit factor

There has, apparently, been outrage that the political wing of White Van Man could be significantly under-represented in the House of Commons even were they to repeat their shire county performance in 2015.  Leaving aside that the UKIP surge was driven by the semi-feral scions of the Tory backwoods objecting to anything from gay marriage to the reality that no government will reintroduce the forelock, and that the Scots, Welsh and those evolved enough to live in major cities or unitary authorities did not have a say, this is remarkable.  Even the Sun, hardly a bastion of progress, suddenly takes notice when its frothing mouthpiece might not be as large as its popular support might suggest.

For anyone who has followed electoral reform for the last thirty years (and more) this is sweet revenge. In the 1980s the existence of a three- or four-party system favoured the right, and there was much denial that there might ever be a situation where the Tories were shafted by the status quo.  Suddenly this appears to be a much more likely outcome, given added piquancy by the fact that the deniers will be the articulators of the prole-deadening delusions beloved of the Murdoch press and Paul "Profanity" Dacre's excuse for a newspaper.

Farage does very well at the loveable, quotable eccentric act; a kind of debased Boris Johnson with an even nastier undercurrent.  As an aside, I am pleased to note that the egregiously hypocritical Allister Heath (editor of City AM and mouthpiece for the cretinous cant emanating from the Taxpayer's Tory Alliance) is not happy that UKIP have dropped their support for a flat tax.  Birds of this feather falling out can only be good news.

To give Farrago his due, though, he did support AV.  This is about the only positive thing that anyone has been able to say about him without nose-lengthening, but does recognise the self-interest and the reality that breaking a two-party mould requires a democratic system.  As it stands, however, the 2015 election may well result in UKIP's share of the vote being higher than the Liberals', yet with a significantly smaller share of seats.  Being stung by the very traditionalist values that he apostrophises, as opposed to the number of delusional far-right nutters who will not be able to be sifted out, is hilarious.

However, Cameron will regret not even making a move towards some form of preferential voting.  After forty years of distorted results in a three-party GB-wide system (and often four or five parties in the Celtic nations) the four-party process will look even more random and unrepresentative.  A party which pledges to introduce the kind of system that has made Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales governable may well benefit, especially if the consequences of distorted electoral chicanery are to deny a representative outcome.  Idiots will ignore this, but the reality is that the Tories are close to immolating themselves in a septic tank of their own making.  Sympathy will be hard to find.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Why the Tories are damned by UKIP

The surge in support for Nigel Farage's unlovely bunch of populist xenophobes is already sending shire Tories into meltdown.  From a cursory scan of the self-justifications coming out from unseated Conservative dinosaurs it appears that the two things that have damaged Cameron's mangy curs beyond repair are the Coalition and gay marriage.  A Freudian field-day could be had, given that the only genuinely unnatural alliance is between a liberal, tolerant organisation and a bunch of chancers who would have difficulty recognising a principle if it bit them.

Now the Tories will feel the need to cosy up to UKIP as its rise is taking some of their natural supporters even further into the far-right wilderness.  This can only be good news for the progressive left - even as Dave makes rightist noises about what an incoming Tory administration would like to do to Europe, the poor, the Celts and any other group that does not default to the cretinous maw it makes the Coalition look like a brake on madness rather than the betrayal that a certain skewed logic implied three years ago.

Cameron is damned if his flirtation with Farage succeeds or fails.  In his mendacious positioning as a break from the Tory past, he was gambling that the core support would stay loyal; as it is many of them have voted for the kind of snarling incoherence that Thatcher promoted, and more may have refused either to vote or to campaign for their old party.  Denuded by the right, and exposed as afraid when it comes to modernising, he has little choice but to tack right - and then blame both the Liberals and UKIP when he emerges as a petulant child crying from the top of a pile of manure.

This is an end-game - and over the next decade the Tories will retreat yet further as they have no discernible ideology or evidence of regeneration.  Their activists mutate from brain-dead to worm fodder, without new mutants emerging behind them.  Instead, they rely on inertia and the electoral system, both of which will come back to bite them.  They have relied on polarisation on the left, which is now happening on the right.  Democracy is not served by a system that cannot cope with a plurality and fragmentation of opinion - and a three- or four-way split across the UK will produce perverse and unpredictable results.  Sowing the wind will reap untold electoral upset, and they will not be able to blame this one on Nick Clegg.