Friday, 21 November 2014

The Kippers and the Corpse

In terms of the dog/man/buttocks interface, the return of Mark Reckless in the name of the Farage hardly creates a ripple.  Nick Clegg, however, should have the odious Nigel on his Christmas card list, as the unravelling of the political scene renders the decline of the Liberal Democrats as peripheral to the principal drama of Dave's dalliance with the lunatic fringe.  The Tory/UKIP tango has the merits of a family quarrel on the right, so the inexorable death of the one party that supposedly articulated libertarian values is a sideshow.

From the "I agree with Nick" fiasco to "Who he?" in four years is quite an achievement, perhaps only equalled by the decline of the Liberals from 1929 to 1935, when the party split three ways during a period of similar economic and social turmoil - and it took forty years for even a partial recovery in party fortunes to play through.  As a leader, Clegg has sacrificed a great deal for Westminster power, including the activist, councillor and devolved nation base, while presiding over a party losing its way through a lack of focus on policy, apathy and, in many cases,  anger at the assumption that a centre-right position is a legitimate target when the ground is already being contested by three other UK parties.

Clegg's acolytes increasingly resemble the Bennite left in the Labour Party of the 1980s, always arguing that a tack to the more extreme would unlock the keys to the kingdom.  When Jeremy Browne, soon to be unlamented and presumably coining it in elsewhere, attacks the proposals for higher tax on high-value properties, which both Labour and Liberals endorse, it is clear that the party has been captured by the kind of metropolitan elite that would turn Emily Thornberry into a raving egalitarian.  For the vast majority of people who live outside the centre of London, taxation of £2m properties is a matter of principle rather than personal inconvenience.

For those of us who used to support the Liberal position on the basis of compassionate individualism, and the belief in a strong basis for social inclusion, there is no obvious home now politics are polarised - at least not within England.  Clegg has allowed the party to become a captive punchball and has not articulated what Liberals believe in, nor how odious the Tories have become.  A leader should at this stage be working to define a lifeboat that does not despatch Liberalism into another 40-year cul-de-sac, through saving what is left of the party, and through tacking away from power as a panacea.

One very much doubts that there is either the appetite or the capability to do this, and the party's dismal performance in by-elections suggests that the only approach is to retreat to the local redoubts, hang on like grim death, and hope that the wider view of the electorate is sufficiently discerning to derail the rightist bandwagon.  Clegg should not be cheerleading - he is now assimilated and part of the problem rather than the solution.  After thirty years as a Liberal, my subscription to the party has fallen due for renewal and, not for the first time this is causing soul-searching.  This time round, however, there may be better destinations for money and support.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Winchester and Barnet - rotten to the core

The problem about democracy is that occasionally politicians find themselves accountable to their electorates.  For those of us who are connoisseurs of planning matters, two recent stories have caught my eye.  The eagle-eyed will note that these follow up authorities (and in one case a story) that has appeared in Private Eye.


This is an intriguing example of Tory doublespeak.  In this case, a Tory councillor is insisting that a development that has had all its compliance with the City Council's own development policies fished out in order to make a profit for the developers is thrown out - using the judicial review route available only to the rich or supremely confident.  So how does this undermine democracy?  If it undermines anything, it undermines the ability of Councillors and officers to get away with diluting their now policies.

The second story emerged from a London Borough whose Tories are so rotten that they would probably give themselves planning approval for a cesspit as it would represent a substantial upgrading on their current mire of incompetence, perceived sleaze and arrogance.


What this story does not mention is that the planning service in Barnet is outsourced through a front-veneer of respectability to the well-known outsourcers and moral guardians Capita.  Is there something so congenitally incompetent about local Tory ability to run contracts?  Any commercial business would have extracted indemnities against the errors and omissions made by an outsourced service, and if there was compensation payable for Capita's cock-ups then they should have deducted it from the amount that the taxpayer pays them.

In both cases, there are half-cocked Tories making half-cocked assertions - and further undermining both their own credibility, and, more critically, that of the planning process.  Whoever was responsible for drawing up the Barnet Capita contract deserves both public humiliation and to compensate, personally,  the innocent victims of maladministration.  In Winchester, the Tories ought to go back to consider who the City is run for - residents or developers.

In the meantime, is there a case for new twinning arrangements?  Or could both authorities be merged into Tower Hamlets?



Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Miliband bind

Labour must be wishing that they had spin doctors of the calibre that pushed Blair into Downing Street.  This week, the Tories have unravelled in the face of trying to act like fascist Kipper fools, and the entire edifice of venal idiocy should be tottering in the face of the Reckless onslaught in Rochester.  Instead there is continued speculation about whether Labour are fit to govern and more personal attacks on their leader.  This is not all the consequence of Lynton Crosby, but a wilful misreading of the political landscape by Mister Ed and his coterie.

From the dozy rhetoric you would be forgiven for thinking that the political landscape is a simple bipartisan plane - where Labour and the Tories are tussling it out for the right to govern, and where the lesser, non-engaged classes are passive spectators.  Labour have fallen into the delusion that the 2010 election was an aberration, joining their Tory soulmates in dismissing the section of the electorate that does not buy into this cosy duopoly.  Both parties are peddling the myth that they have absolute legitimacy through securing the allegiance of one third of those who bother to vote.

Miliband should be pondering the consequences of the shifting polity.  The Tories do not have a narrative that needs to accommodate pluralism - the use of electoral politics to the current paradigms of May, Osborne and Cameron is not about legitimacy but manipulation to perpetuate a cronyist oligarchy.  The squirming performance of Theresa May in failing to defend European-led law-and-order benefits demonstrates quite how far they will go to betray their own declared principles for a little bit of short-term electoral advantage.

Simple mathematical computation suggests that no single party in the current political landscape can claim legitimacy - even if it secures a majority in the Commons.  The regional and national disparities demonstrated most tellingly by the Scottish referendum, echoing local government and electoral contests outside the South-East of England, suggest that there is no way in which single-party rule can claim either to represent the settled will of the electorate or of a clear mandate to implement policy.

Labour's secular decline is clearly not worrying party strategists - but it should be.  Much as the Tories are not regenerating as their doddery membership goes to meet its maker (it's warm down there) or settles for the devil on earth in yellow trousers, Labour has not recognised the decline in its support base.  

With the election fast approaching, Miliband needs to pursue a dual strategy.  The first is to articulate a left-wing platform that does not bend over forward to appease the bankers, CBI and the other parasite groups who have a vested interest in keeping a neo-Thatcherite debate fuelled.  The second is to demonstrate why Labour are the major, but not overarching, force within a centre-left consensus that reaches out to the nationalist parties, Liberals and Greens - respecting the differences and creating a debate that would provide a sensible basis for post-election government.  Admitting that Labour are striving to "win" under the current system, but recognising that this is a second-best to a genuine pluralism might recreate a tactical environment where an anti-Tory (and if necessary anti-Orange Book Liberal Democrat) majority can be created and exploited, much as it was in 1997.

Miliband has little to lose.  The country has a great deal more.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Tory welfare scroungers continue to bank along

For all the cretinous duplicity of Iain Duncan Smith, whose ignorant and evil perpetuation of the myth of generational welfare-dependency was a further example of the extent to which government has been captured by a delusional fantasy, there is a silence from Labour and the left around the extreme hypocrisy that continues to underpin current ideology.  From Gideon through Beaker, there is a myth around the necessity and desirability of bankers, "entrepreneurs" and other Tory-donating parasites continuing to receive copious subsidies while the rest of the population have austerity and privations thrust down their throats.

There is a reasonable argument to be made that, in the face of the global financial meltdown, Brown and Darling did what they needed to in order to stop the UK being sucked into an over-leveraged crash of even greater proportions.  This does not absolve them, or their Tory forebears, of responsibility for creating the environment where over-leveraged, ill-informed speculation backed by other people's money caused the breakdown of the system.  However, in the light of subsequent amoral cupidity they look like the Rochdale Pioneers.

A reasonable expectation, in the light of the complete irresponsibility and incompetence of the self-styled wealth generators, would have been for a thorough rethink on the basis on which the economy and society is managed.  However, this would have involved debunking all the myths of the right with which we have been plagued for the last three decades.

There is nothing morally sound about capitalism.  At best the market is the "least bad" method of conducting economic life, but that does not imply any moral superiority or financial worth to the protagonists on either side.  Nobody has seriously suggested that there is a viable alternative - even in the former eastern bloc the market continued with the ineptitude of planning ministries substituting for the cupidity and avarice of gangsters.  The success of the new right is in removing any moral responsibility from those in a position to exploit their interests.

Whenever even marginal reform is proposed, for example in splitting off the functions of retail banking (on which individuals rely for their financial stability) from "investment" banking, where self-styled geniuses gamble with money in which they have no direct stake, there is a cry that this will be "inefficient", as the allegedly higher returns from the latter might not "subsidise" the former.  The amoral and brazen way in which the creatures dress up their cupidity and greed, through the abuse of language through pseudo-respectable terms such as "risk" and "analysis", should make them candidates for lamppost-decoration rather than adulation.

Having received billions in bail-outs (far more than the pygmy storm over EU budgets currently being peddled by the Tories), they then think that they have the moral right to lecture the vast majority of the population on the need to accept and embrace a masochistic austerity.  Never having had a job where their own actions lead to direct consequences, and usually living in the kind of community which has been insulated through corporate welfare payments from the consequences of their actions, they have the morals of a desensitised alley-cat, and the charm of said animal infected simultaneously with rabies and ebola.

A just society would regard their selfishness and hypocrisy as a worthy target.  As a start, there should be moral equivalence in the treatment of bankers and welfare recipients.  As many of the latter are in the straits of desperation as a direct or indirect consequence of banking incompetence and fraud, this would be a fair deal.  On bonuses, instead of arguing how they can be reformed, they should be taxed out of existence.  Until every penny of direct subsidy and lost output has been reclaimed from the group that has caused and exacerbated the depression, any attempt to reward the guilty should be protested.

Nobody argues that the majority of people who work in order to live are entitled to automatic bonuses just for doing their job.  To postulate that a bonus culture is what is required to drive "wealth creation" is a breathtaking parody of genuine interest - and if that is what is required to attract people into banking the world would be better off if they were populating the bottom of gravel pits.  To counter that any reform would drive out organisations from London and the EU is possibly valid, but the social and institutional benefits that would be derived makes it perfectly reasonable to set out an alternative which is not reliant on the snivelling thieves.

As Duncan Smith argues for tighter and tighter controls on welfare for the emerging underclass, the corporate state continues to subsidise its beneficiaries.  The intention of Blair's tax credit system was to reward work - instead it becomes a scheme that allows companies to underpay staff and boast about wealth creation whilst simultaneously expecting the state to pick up the difference between starvation and subsistence.  As part of a reform of corporate tax, an incoming government should ensure that profits are taxed at 100% up to the value of the tax credits paid out to the workforce - this might make any changes to the wider welfare regime more equitable as well as reducing the corporate subsidy.

We live in a world where challenging the shibboleth of the moral capitalist is seen as a fringe belief, bordering on subversion.  If reform is possible, it will come at the expense of dismantling the apparatus and the busting of mythologies.  If this results in the machine spewing out its apostles and evangelists at all levels with a life of dispossessed paupery, given their lack of human and technical skills, then the usual Tory mantra should apply.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Carry On Planning - or "The Scum Also Rises"

For any citizen wishing to wonder precisely why emasculation and possibly even evisceration should be a lifestyle choice, the process of  planning in England is one of the most compelling arguments in favour.  A recent experience of how this process works gives an insight into the extent to which the corruption and self-interest of the institutional mire is a cynical adjunct of the desire of the self-perpetuating political caste to throw the remainder of the populace into a state of perpetual apathy and subjection.

Existence in a civilised society requires the rights of the individual to do what the hell he or she wants to be tempered by the right of others to do the same.  The utilitarian basis of good libertarian liberal philosophy applies to planning, whether it is a new railway line or whether it is a minimal extension to a house, codified through legislation, precedent, and a huge volume of allegedly-applicable policies.

It is always salutary to remember that election to public office does not automatically elevate the individuals concerned.  Indeed, it often has the reverse effect.  Somnolent councillors, anxious to pick up taxpayer-funded allowances, give the impression of not wanting to be there, unless they can score cheap political points.  In the case of the particular meeting concerned, they were easy to come by, given the ineptitude and behaviour of the Chair, which will remain sub judice pending the outcome of an official complaint, but they did not give any confidence to citizens that this is anything more than a charade to allow the remaining Councillors to trouser yet more dosh to keep them in whichever poison maintains their IQ at rather lower levels than the average plankton.

When you add the venality of many local councillors to the behaviour of their executive staff, the best thing that a sane citizen should do in current circumstances is buy a Scottish island and a box set of The Good Life.  The impact of pay freezes, imposed by central government, and the creeping pernicious corruption of outsourcing, imposed by local government mostly of the blue persuasion, means that the calibre of local government staff is at the very least questionable.  Dealing with the public in a formal situation gives the scabrous combination of planning, legal and governance officers an opportunity to pretend to be both important and competent.

A toxic combination of the indequate and the ego-tripper, in other words.  The councillors are only as good as the advice they are given, and many of them are insufficiently bright even to work out when the advice is at best perfunctory and at worst wrong.  The mutual back-slapping that goes on is enough to induce a coma - the mutual protection in the face of maladministration and the potential for a reasonable perception of incompetence mutating into covert corruption.  A civil servant who gave their Minister the quality of output that the average Planning Officer spews out would be on remedial measures before discharge.  Yet they perpetuate a malodorous cartel of smugness.

Anyone who comments on a planning application is required to ground their views on a narrow set of criteria.  The problem for the average, concerned citizen, is that each authority has a prolix, corporate-bollocks range of policies resembling computer-generated garbage, running into hundreds of pages of guidance, often contradictory, or vague, that gives both the officers and the councillors opportunity to stitch up the process between them.  If in doubt, then the approach appears to be that of the thwarted toddler - denying that the policy or the procedure even exists, and "what does it matter, anyway?".  It would be a much better use of resources to suggest to the general public that if you are not a bully, a liar or wealthy you might was well give up.

The presumption of current planning policy is that everything is desirable if it contributes to "development", which the idiots appear to regard as a synonym for growth.  Nothing to do with appropriateness, the environment and community, or even the rights of others.  This would be an admission of weakness and accountability.  The process is managed to deliver the presumption of approval of even the most egregiously egotistical vandalism, usually nodded through by councillors house-trained by the officers into being worried about the costs of an applicant appealing to the Planning Inspectorate, rather than implementing their own council's declared policies.

This might not be quite so blatant a travesty of natural justice if there were proper challenges to the range of malpractice that the current process appears to sanction.  The applicant has the right to go to a Planning Inspector if they don't like the decision - objectors, if they can demonstrate maladministration might receive £1,000 if they have the patience to pursue this through the byzantine self-serving council complaints procedures and reach the Local Government Ombudsman, but otherwise only have the option of the self-funded and risky judicial review process to restart the clock.  Hardly a level process, especially given the restrictions on legal aid and the narrowing of criteria that the Coalition has presided over in the name of cost saving.

To watch local administration at work is dispiriting, as it appears to undermine every aspiration of left-liberal political thought.  It does not provide an inspiration to bright, altruistic people to engage in local politics, as they will inevitably get sucked into the corrupt machine - often when trying to mitigate its malevolent tendencies.  Rather it encourages direct action, sabotage and disruption, and a lack of the deference that these inadequate filth regard as their due rights.

Ironically, one of the recent meetings I observed was chaired by someone whose is allegedly a member of the Variety Club of Great Britain.  Sadly, it wasn't Coco the Clown, whose intellect, integrity and moral compass would have dwarfed and shamed the participants in what turned out to be a charade and a rodomontade of atavistic denial, the perception that the process works for the interests of a small group, and further alienation of anyone with a sense of decency, justice and the requirements of the elected officials and their executive to behave in the interests of the wider citizenry.  If I was angry about it, rather than unsurprised, this would be dangerous - instead it confirms that there is a need for a complete purge of the legacy of English corruption and deference.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The corruption of the political class could lead to revolution

The Tories are in a panic about the rise of Farage's neo-fascist hordes, while Labour are anxiously looking over their shoulders at the loss of the reflexive rightist bigot vote.  At the same time, all parties in Scotland expect the SNP to do very well in the 2015 General Election as a means of holding Westminster to its reluctantly-conceded enthusiasm for pseudo-federalism.  In Wales four party politics is also established.  Local issues play as much part in politics around the country as the bipartisan consensus that the media, Cameron and Miliband wish to promote.

This is partly because it is easier.  Most people accept that there are shades of grey in all politics, all decisions and all parts of life.  However, in presenting "clear choices" the establishment politicians have done their best to destroy the potential for political debate.  Whereas the SNP tapped into this in a positive way, the recent surge in support for the far right demonstrates that for large groups of the population the litany of "they're all the same" and the acknowledged inequalities exacerbated by the Coalition's economic policies is now a much more persuasive argument than anything that the Westminster clique can put forward.

The next General Election will be interesting, because the outcome will not reflect the national opinion polls.  It is feasible to imagine scenarios where there is an even more blatant distortion in the allocation of seats against votes received than even 2010 or 1983.  A situation where Miliband or Cameron emerge triumphant despite their vote shares declining is possible, and creates a thorough crisis of democratic legitimacy.  The defenders of the existing constitutional settlement may find it difficult to argue the right of the majority party in the Commons to govern if they have failed to receive a mandate of support that surpasses the leading opposition party's (let alone the other groups represented).

So we have a faux-outrage storm around the television debates before the next election.  UKIP have so far gained one MP, so the aim is to enmesh Farage.  The fact that the Greens, SNP, PC, Respect and the Northern Irish parties are also entitled to claim participation on this basis appears to have been ignored, possibly because Nige is the sock-puppet of Murdoch, Dacre, the Barclays and Desmond, and he has the estimable benefit of the bogus charisma that has propelled Boris into the fastnesses of the desirable Uxbridge.

Political engagement is possible - an 85% turnout in Scotland demonstrates this.  However, so long as the parties, mostly now populated by interns, lobbyists and very few people with genuine experience of life as most people would know it, deny this chasm, the more the snake-oil ultra-right frontmen will make their inroads.  It is difficult to articulate the impotence that closed systems represent, for example the processes of local government, where (see previous blog) the best that can be assumed is naive, stupid incompetence and at worst active or passive collaboration with graft, corruption and petty dictatorship.

For a large country, direct democracy can be difficult, especially if there has been an accretion of power to the centre and a further privatisation of areas that are legitimately controlled by the people.  Miliband might be best advised to tap into this by indicating that, whatever the outcome of the election, afterwards Labour would work with other parties and none to address the nature and structure of government.  Blair's hypocrisy after 1997, when the vagaries of a sham landslide meant that he could govern without fear of challenge from within his own party, need not be repeated.

Suddenly, the irrelevance that electoral reform assumed (alongside the ineptitude of both the Liberal Democrats and the "Yes" campaign) may not be sustainable.  For those of us who have lived in three- and four-party systems, the legitimacy of the state depends upon having at least a semblance of representative government, and in 2015 there will need to be fleet-footed leadership to stave off the illegitimacy of the state.  Getting rid of the current bastards does not in itself suffice - to counter the tide of apathy, anger and hate needs a more considered and coherent proposition.  Waiting for Miliband, as he is the only leader with the opportunity both to articulate it and to make it is the centre of an election campaign.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The pantomime of Barnet Council - but nobody's laughing

In the pond of local government, the London Borough of Barnet and its ruling Conservative Group are a particularly rank scum.  Hardly a month goes by without the latest exposure of incompetence, maladministration, graft and an arrogance that ensures that those of us who are fortunate enough not to live there can drop our jaws at Rotten Boroughs in the Eye and wonder how much further the unholy cartel of superannuated post-Thatcher has-beens and the wide-boy right-wing louts, seeking snoutage through self-defined allowances, can drag the reputation of government into the mire.

The most recent effluvia to emerge has been the sudden departure of the Council's Monitoring Officer, following a monumental fiasco when the governance of business was found to be illegal.  As said Monitoring Officer was not legally qualified, this was a disaster waiting to happen, especially as the Council's legal services had already been outsourced.  However, they have now got a temporary shoe-in from that other beacon of Tory reputational rectitude, Westminster, on arrangements that are to say the least opaque.

As part of the Council's outsourcing policies, the vast majority of its activities have been transferred to a venture under the control of those paladins of probity, Capita.  This is badged as "Regional Enterprise" - presumably to lull the gullible - but is based on a 10-year contract with very few get-out clauses.  The main document is a mere 179 pages long - the attached schedules run into the thousands.  More on this later.

It is pleasing to note that the contract has been drafted with all the care that expensive lawyers can muster.  For example Clause 8.4 contains the reassuring provision that:

  • The Service Provider shall provide appropriately qualified and experienced solicitors dedicated to advising and supporting the Service...  The Service Provider shall refer any decision by the Authority to prosecute, defend or appear in legal proceedings to the Authority's Monitoring Officer...
Bless.  This goes on for several clauses which assume that the management of the contract is in the hands of people who are more capable than Capita.  As the former Monitoring Officer had no legal training and there were no in-house lawyers, the Council is clearly totally competent in contract management on the legal side.

There is somewhat less reassurance from the policies relating to staff transferred.  Remember that these people are the executive agency to implement authority process and policies.  The contract came into effect on 5 August 2013.  Clause 26 (it would have been ironic had it been been Clause 28 as the Council would not wish to intentionally promote public service) sets out a number of issues relating to staff issues.  At the time of transfer the management practices were enshrined through Clause 26.2.3:
  • The Service Provider agrees that it will not vary the terms and conditions of employment of any Transferring Employee (except insofar as the Authority is added as an employer to the contracts of employment of the Joint Employees and the additional clauses mutually agreed between the Service Provider and the Authority to effect such Joint Employment) for the first 12 months immediately following the Service Transfer Date...  If the Service Provider seeks to vary the terms and conditions of employment of any Transferring Employee after the expiry of 12 months following the Service Transfer Date, it shall comply with its consultation obligations as the employer of the Transferring Employees and conduct all reasonable negotiations with any recognised trade unions.  The parties agree that the Service Provider may make such changes to the Transferring Employees' terms and conditions of employment as are reasonably necessary to effectively manage the organisational structure of its workforce... 
In terms of employment law, this is about as much use as a chocolate teapot - the definition of "reasonably" is as elastic as employers want it to be these days.

For anyone concerned about how services are managed and delivered, this should set alarm bells ringing.  For Capita effective management is about minimising costs and activities to boost its margins.  Therefore, to take a hypothetical example, planning officers might be incentivised to approve applications to meet performance targets, and to increase the number that they handle in order to reduce headcount.  For a contract like this to work, there needs to be confidence in both the Council's remaining Officers and the elected Members themselves.  Even Pollyanna would by this stage have become a Goth.

If you have an IQ higher than your shoe-size, this is a recipe for maladministration and unaccountability.  Contractual ping-pong can be played for days between outsourcer and outsourcee, especially if the latter party complies with its contractual obligations to employ competent lawyers.  To audit a contract requires competencies and skills that Barnet has been only to willing to further outsource, and Conservative councillors are compliant in this murky dereliction of the principles of accountability and transparency that they pay ritual lip-service to - while simultaneously shredding what remains of public trust.

At the same time, the former Monitoring Officer presided over a dismantling of the standards process for elected Councillors.  This is now certainly in breach of the Nolan principles for standards in public life, and potentially open to legal challenge.  Admittedly the previous regime had serially censured the unlamented Brian Coleman (only kicked out of the Conservative Party from HQ because the leader of the Council, the risible Cornelius, did not consider repeated breaches of standards and criminal conviction to debar Tory membership), but its replacement is toothless - conniving in what is at best sophistry and at worst dishonesty with respect to members' interests, and unable to take effective action because of its partisan composition.

The current Mayor of Barnet was effectively let off the hook by the new Group Leader's Panel, after complaints about non-disclosure of pecuniary interests - despite the best efforts of opposition councillors.  In addition, the former Monitoring Officer ruled several of the complaints raised to be beyond the competence of the Panel, using immense legal knowledge and sagacity.  The complaint had been raised by the GLA member, Andrew Dismore, who is seeking to remove Matthew Offord from the Commons, so it was hardly not politically-charged.  However, a proper process would have heard the allegations and identified genuine misconduct if such had occurred.  Hardly the stuff that builds confidence in local authorities.

At the same time it was also permitted to Tory members the privilege of voting on issues where by rational and objective standards they would be excluded due to conflicts of interest - but then many of them are buy-to-let landlords and this would have absolutely no bearing on either general housing policy or the disposal of the Housing Benefit budget.

Unless Eric Pickles does something drastic, this ominshambles will rumble on indefinitely, or until the Tory ranks deplete themselves for whatever reason.  In the meantime, this is exactly the situation where challenge and insurrection may be necessary.  Councillors need to be challenged at all levels as to whether they are confident that decisions being taken are legal, and that they are receiving proper advice and policy.  If I lived in Barnet I would be using Freedom of Information and every opportunity to disrupt, legitimately, the hubristic bandwagon until it turned into a tumbril.

Any new administration in Barnet would be tied by the Capita contract - although tight and effective management could result in early termination through mutual unwillingness to continue.  Competence in Council Officers, no prejudicial interests and transparent governance (as opposed to a current tendency to debate policy outside official forums) would be a start, but in the meantime it must be admitted that there is a gory fascination in watching this disgraceful charade degenerate.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

"We hate humans" - the hooligans take over the Tory asylum

To be identified with a bunch of 1970s itinerant football hooligans is a peculiar aspiration.  Behaving like an amoral horde of barbarians, laying waste to the unsuspecting bystander who is unlucky enough to be in the vicinity, leaving a trail of destroyed lives and failed ambitions... it could only be Cameron's Conservative Party, desperately trying to shore up its lunatic credentials in the face of a Kipper onslaught.  The unspeakable in pursuit of the despicable, or vice versa.

In Birmingham, the Tories demonstrated once again that their instincts are foul and hypocritical.  Miliband was monstered for not taking the economy seriously, while Cameron promised income tax cuts at some unspecified point in the next parliament, without so much as costing them or providing any indication of what further cuts would be needed to fund them.  For this the cheer-leading lickspittles proclaimed him as John the Baptist.  Had any other party had the temerity to come up with such a farrago then the press would have been all over them.

Quite apart from stealing the Liberal Democrats' clothes, appropriating about the only genuinely popular economic policy of the Coalition, the economic and fiscal illiteracy of such a proposal is breathtaking.  Unless of course Cameron was lying, which has a probability close to 100%.  An unfunded commitment to an income tax cut requires either further austerity or stealth tax rises elsewhere, a crime that the Tories were braying whenever Labour committed the offence.  As the Tories will not do anything around Inheritance Tax, this will be funded through duties, higher Council Tax, extending the VAT base and potentially milking property Stamp Duty - anything that doesn't impact upon the Tory client classes.

The idea that income tax policy is the sole determinant of what people pay is the kind of simplistic garbage that only the right-wing press will swallow.  The cost of living is determined by many other factors, including other taxes, and the necessary outlay for subsistence.  So for the Tories to concentrate on direct personal taxation should make everyone alert to the chicanery of politicians doubly-aware of the potential for cant elsewhere.  A Dutch auction that pays no attention to utility prices, housing costs and the huge disparity in economic conditions across the country is just what the spin doctor ordered to distract from the hollowness and class interest of the Tory policy platform going forward.

However, this was just the forerunner of the New Messiah status that Hamster-face has been seeking. To hear the orgasmic chants emanating from the Daily Mail and the Scum you would have thought that walking on water had been superseded by something more noble than any cause fought for over the centuries.  Instead of which, we got the commitment from the Tories to scrap the Human Rights Act, in the name of British freedom and British values.  There is no term that captures the depths of contempt that such a policy should evince.  This is a party whose instincts are both warped and demented.

The HRA is anything but perfect, but it encapsulates into UK law the rights that Cameron makes out that we want to spread to the remainder of the world, by force if necessary.  A British Bill of Rights, the promised sop to those of us who don't trust the state to protect the interests of the citizen, is the kind of retrograde and unenforceable step that was lapped up by the Tory dog-whistlers, whose contempt for the lesser beings who might challenge their hegemony was blatantly displayed during the conference.  The reason many of the Tory grandees and the spluttering elderly bigots cannot see their hypocrisy is because they consider the rest of the world beneath them and such rights as we possess are bones thrown as palliatives to head off the possibility of uprising.

Cameron cannot recognise, or does not want to recognise, that the Human Rights Act has nothing to do with the European Union.  The UN Declaration predates the EU, and the European Convention emerged through the Council of Europe, to which even Dave's role models like Putin belong.  In terms of cranking up the rhetoric to stop his loons defecting to the Farage xenophobia machine the truth is an inconvenient side issue.

The lies about a modernising Tory party have been revealed - and we are back to a paradigm where a combination of bribery and fear is all they can offer.  The hegemony of the South East, the financial and business interests who have been bailed out by taxpayer, and therefore state funding, and the promotion of the Dacre/Murdoch agenda have become the overarching themes that will propel the election campaign.  Anyone who values their freedom and rights should run scared at the moment, as our interests are trumped by a constituency of the oligarchs and the selfish, supported by those parts of the middle classes scared into acquiescence.  A noble prospect.

The triumph of the Bullingdon yobs and the plutocrats in the Tory Party is obvious.  Promises that aren't real and a crackdown on the liberty of the citizen are the platform on which the Tories will go into the next election.  There is still a six-month period where an alternative narrative can be developed, building on the real insurgency that the Scottish referendum demonstrated.  Anything that deprives the Tories of the potential to influence the shape of the government is legitimate.  Cameron's mask has finally slipped and the Nasty Party is back in open business.  Thatcher would be turning in her grave for missing this audacious opportunity for evil-doring, if there is no stake through her heart.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Cameron and the Tory death-wish

Alas for Dave.  His conference is overshadowed by defections and a retro-Major family values storm in the proverbial teacup, with lukewarm backing from the rampaging blond ego and prospective candidate for Uxbridge.  Over the last decade, Cameron's modernisation has been the stone cladding over the rotting frontage of a party whose reason for existence is increasingly hard to fathom.

There is an intellectually-unarguable case for a centre-right party.  Indeed this position has been inherently successful, as Angela Merkel and Tony Blair demonstrate.  For those of us with more radical tastes, this is unfathomable but it does appear to command a modicum of support, not least from the business community and from the ranks of the comfortably-off and fretful.  This would be a legitimate and intelligent position for the Tories to adopt, but instead there appears to be a squabble with Farage for the dregs of the far right.

Capitalising on this self-imposed marginalisation should be the priority.  Paradoxically, despite the predictable self-interested whining from the usual fellow-travelling suspects, Miliband may even have got it right by not highlighting the deficit in his conference speech, preferring to concentrate on the issues that affect the individual.  The narrative of the individual and the community struggling in a world where everything is down to "global forces" and the dead hand of the neo-liberal reconstruction should be one that resonates - and the Tories have missed this by parroting Austerity, gruesome Gideon cheered on by gormless Beaker and the Orange Book Liberals, as a substitute for a genuine political and economic programme.

Watching UKIP's gathering last week was akin to mainlining George Cole at his most spin-like.  Farage's claim to be a party of insurgency is risible, he is merely another tool of the plutocracy and, as can be seen by the calibre of defective Tories he attracts, his claim to be an alternative to Labour is the kind of slurred boast that one encounters at chucking-out time from Wetherspoons.

Labour missed a major trick last week by not tapping into the genuine insurgency that could have spread virally from Scotland to the rest of Great Britain.  The rejection of much of what both Blair and Cameron stood for is clear, and the urgent need to replace the current oligopoly on political power and the client state that decimates accountability, democracy while sucking out taxpayers' resources in the name of profit should be the fighting-ground for the next election.  Instead we have a dull consensus of the need for slow, imperceptible change.  No wonder there is no sense of momentum for Labour at the moment.

So Cameron could steal some of these clothes.  Instead he prevaricates on Scottish devolution - creating the perfect storm for the 2015 General Election - and runs for cover through military adventurism at the coat-tails of the United States.  Whatever the rights and wrongs of the current situation in Iraq, the timing of British engagement looks cynical and short-termist - no-one has learned from the Blair/Halliburton invasion that there needs to be a clear target for a post-crisis settlement.  Sowing the wind is no substitute for a policy.

Instead, he will spend most of the week trying to mollify the swivel-eyed and shore himself up against internal challengers.  Yet the Tories should be looking to external factors if they are to survive.  Electorally they are nowhere in huge swathes of the country, and only because of democratic  representation do they wield any parliamentary presence in the devolved nations.  There are redoubts of the ignorance and bigotry that have sustained the Tory right, but they are gradually becoming too old, enfeebled or enraptured with the yellow-trousered pantaloon to form the rock upon which the Tories move forward.

A modern Conservative party would be prepared to challenge its own assumptions, including the idiocy and venality that creates self-sustaining moral corruption.  Many of its donors benefit from the privatisation of public services, and continue to do so.  In its former incarnations, moral probity and public duty were part of most Tories' make-up - nowadays the only dictum is not to be caught.  It used to stand up for local communities and smaller businesses, never entirely satisfactorily but at least from an instinctive distrust of centralisation and unaccountability, but now its denizens are in the pockets of the people who threaten democracy.

Real insurgency comes from understanding how the political and economic environment has been tarnished - largely since the triumph of the neo-liberals in economics since 1979 and the authoritarians and petty dictators in social and political spheres at the same time.  Taking back control of the state and the community should be the mantra - and a Tory party that is now fully-identified with these forces is part of the problem.  Cameron would have nothing to lose from refocusing on the citizen and the state, but the terms of debate will be bigotry, xenophobia and a further entrenchment of the wealthy.  This is not reaching out to rebuild any Tory links with the electorate - and another week goes by where the realities of the country are set aside in the interests of shoring up internal morale until the next minor tremor sets off a fresh wave of panic.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

An English Parliament could be Salmond's legacy

Finally, the referendum has been held and the result was clear.  It pauses Scottish nationalism in the context of progress towards independence but opens a much wider debate on what a modern constitutional settlement might look like.  Sadly it has already been overtaken by the visceral authoritarianism of the Tories and the opportunism of Labour, rather than allowing the space for an appraisal of what government, democracy and engagement could look like.

Cameron spent two years ignoring the possibility that the Scottish vote might go against him.  The complacent London elites considered that the margin of "no" would be huge, and that the matter was the scale of Salmond's defeat rather than any possibility that the electorate might be sufficiently hacked off to take a risk.  In the last month, he has resembled first a rabbit startled in the headlights, and then a bungler promising gifts that neither he nor his party can bestow.  The desperation of the compact between Miliband and the Coalition leaders to promise the previously-unmentionable "deco max" may have staved off the orderly break-up of the UK, but it does not make for good policy.

Leaving aside Northern Ireland, devolution in the UK has been, principally, a response to the perceived democratic deficit, the dominance of English politics and an assertion of cultural and political identity.  The distance from London, and the Westminster machine, increases both the drive to independent identity and the confidence to pursue it.  Where the model breaks down is assuming that this is solely a manifestation of physical distance, rather than the economic, social and political isolation that the Bullingdon clique, the City and the assorted parasites promote.    Over the last thirty years unequal growth, deindustrialisation, unfair taxation and the democratic deficit has exacerbated the breakdown of cohesion.

For once, Cameron asked the right question - what to do about England.  The problem is that it does not translate into a glib, one-size-fits-all approach, given the scale and diversity of the country.  A top-down solution, as evidenced by Prescott's hapless promotion of regional assemblies, does not work, and will be resisted at all costs.  However, a federal British state is not such a mad proposition, but does require something more than a calculation of how the Commons might be constituted in twelve month's time.

Scottish democracy was a success before the referendum.  The Welsh Government is also moving towards further devolution.  Even the GLA has tended to work quite well.  What they have in common is a more democratic basis than the Commons.  When devolution was implemented in 1999, a modern electoral system and a modern parliamentary format were required for Scotland and Wales (ironically to keep the Scottish Nationalists out of power) - and this has worked without the sky falling in.  The lessons to be learned here are simple.

Getting the right form of devolution in England will take time.  Solving the West Lothian question does not align with the need to get things right.  A modest proposal would be to establish an English Parliament on the basis of the Scottish system.  Using the German electoral system, with constituency MPs and regional lists, would provide a legitimate basis for Labour to remove its objection to the advantages its Scottish redoubts have given it in the past being traded in.  Even if the Tories were to secure pluralities in English constituencies, a top-up list would ensure that the opposition forces would provide representation, and promote a parliamentary basis for more mature politics.

Given that the "devo max" will devolve more power to Scotland and (presumably) Wales, the rump role of the House of Commons will be primarily defence, foreign policy and the maintenance of the royal charade.  It will not need to meet (at least physically) very often.  So, the next stage of the modest proposal is that the Commons be composed of the constituency MPs from national parliaments.  The Lords then becomes a Senate, reflecting national election results and acting as an upper chamber across the national parliaments.  If the English Parliament is outside London, then it also sends a clear message of national integrity.

What happens in England below its Parliament is more complex, and can be given space to evolve.  The principle of subsidiarity is important, but it should be designed to protect citizens and promote communities.  Based on a written constitution, incorporating a strong human rights protection, this could be a model for reform going forward.

Despite Cameron's foolishness and blinkered outlook, he was right in that unlike an election, the referendum was a fundamental choice.  For nine out of twenty voters to want to take an irrevocable step is a warning and a challenge - this is no shifting party allegiance.  Whereas the inchoate rage in England has benefited the canting twattery of Farage, the Scottish rage and anti-Westminster backlash has benefited the SNP.  Ironically, the loss of the nationalist cause could be the principal piece in a jigsaw that brings down over a century of centralising power.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Salmond and Cameron - the love that dare not speak its name

Were I still to be living in Scotland, the binary choice in the independence referendum would be maddening.  Yet, as the campaign continues the intellectual arguments would be countered by the contempt and scare-mongering that the "Better Together" campaign is peddling, effectively making out that Scotland's success comes as a consequence of being shackled to a wise parent dispensing discipline and rationed largesse.  The counter-narrative that Scotland is a unit which can support a civic life, national values and a viable economy, while making its own mistakes, becomes increasing compelling.

A game-changing moment came with the first opinion poll suggesting that the proportion of the electorate prepared to vote "Yes" outnumbered those wishing to remain in the UK.  Against a background of the English xenophobia demonstrated by the anti-European ferment and the adulatory approach to the Kippers, including the recently-revealed love-in between Farage and Murdoch (two odious toads who should disappear into their own morass of hypocritical evil), and the totally unbalanced economy, where growth and governmental largesse is targeted at the Tory shires and the comfortably-off, late-middle-aged whose propensity to vote and possibly even vote for Dave is a cynical calculation before the balloon goes up next year, it is hardly surprising that a country with a pre-existing sense of suspicion and resentment reverts to type.

Despite Scotland being capable of operating not one but two systems of proportional representation (one for Holyrood and one for local government) without the sky falling in, the deal done between Salmond and Cameron was for a one-question referendum.  A binary choice - calculated on both sides.  Cameron assumed, with London arrogance, that the little people could be frightened out of any short-term tantrum, and that as the scare factor increased, that the "No" vote when it came would be so resounding that any further devolution could be kicked into touch for a further two decades.

While the London-based narrative maintained Scotland to be a curiosity on the sidelines, Salmond's calculation is that this will play into his hands - probably correctly.   Whereas the dismissive dominance of the South-East of England plays well with an audience sufficient to maintain the illusion of comfort and security, the inequality and condescension does not play out well.  Without any alternative option on the table, Salmond is able to play on both resentment and pride, and without having a totally-coherent proposition around fundamental issues including currency and the relationship between Scotland and the European Union.

Salmond knows that Cameron is walking a tightrope.  While being the Tory who lost the Union carries political stigma, it also undermines the ability of the majority of the English electorate to be represented or to turf out the Tories.  Gerrymandering and a broken electoral system would certainly provide a boost to Tory fortunes in England, while Scotland could pursue a mainstream European polity based around a centre-left or centre-right consensus.  Therefore Cameron is torn.

In most respects, now that the "No" campaign is having to resort to becoming the cheer-leaders for the option that was not put to the test, that of "devo max", the debate can become much more interesting.  Further devolution would create both necessity and space for discussion over the governance and constitutional arrangements for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as reducing the legitimacy of maintaining current authoritarianism in the face of the need to modernise the entire British state.  A radical campaign would not be frightened of this - and should even put forward a GB-wide referendum when a new settlement was worked through.

Cameron does not want this; the feeble remnants of the Coalition's agreed constitutional reforms do not go that far.  Scared into withdrawing even modest change by the need to propitiate the headbangers and old guard rightists, the Tories cannot countenance the prospect that the precious cronyism that has maintained their prosperity in the light of manifest incompetence could be called into question.  The "No" campaign could become the harbinger of much wider change and much more fundamental upheaval than anything that could be unleashed as a result of a positive result for Salmond.

It is now too late to extend the debate to the level that might engage the whole of the UK, which is what both Cameron and Salmond wanted.  The chance now is to ensure that the strange conservatism does not become a stalking horse for further denial of democracy for the whole of the country - and that if there is a "Yes" outcome, arrangements for a modern, European independence for both states are progressed.  The Tories will deserve much more scrutiny whatever the outcome of the vote, and an opportunity should be seized by all of us who consider that constitutional reform and democracy are the first, vital building block on the way to create a modern politics and economy.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

All's well that Carswell?

The defection of Clacton's MP at least represents a watershed for David Cameron.  The bastards are now out of the closet, and the vultures are circling.  Unlike John Major, who faced internal revolt from the coterie around Redwood, and the risible Referendum Party bankrolled by the ultra-rightist and friend of Lord Lucan, James Goldsmith, Dave now has sworn enemies amongst the Tory press and the confidence trick that Farage is attempting to pull off.  Fortunately Carswell fits the swivel-eyed loon job description perfectly.

The Tories have spent four years grumbling and picking at the scabs caused by their abject failure to win the 2010 election.  Forced to recognise that the majority of the electorate did not support even the  modernised rhetoric that Cameron was spouting, with about as much sincerity as Gideon's pretence that the current spate of economic growth is designed to benefit the whole nation rather than those sections of the electorate most likely to support the Tories in 2015, and that the Commons arithmetic had unaccountably deprived them of the divine right to govern, much of the right has been in a coded sulk since then - looking to topple Cameron on the basis of a dog-whistle anti-European racism not grounded in anything other than a desire to be applauded by the Barclay Brothers and their tax-avoding mouthpiece The Daily Telegraph, and points madder.

Carswell has been feted by these proto-fascist cheerleaders as exactly the sort of free-thinking Tory libertarian that UKIP needs to attract.  He resembles, intellectually, the offspring of a night of passion shared between David Willetts, a three-eyed amphibian on speed, and the more intellectually-challenged end of the Tea Party/City AM market.  Fortunately, appearances aren't deceptive in this case.  He is a symptom of why, as part of her post-resignation sulk, Warsi warned that the Tories are increasingly unelectable as the nation's capability to tolerate outpaces even the sloth-like platitudes that the "modernisers" used five years ago.

So Carswell triggers a by-election, which should prove embarrassing to all the main parties.  And Boris, the hypocritical canting pillock, is too scared to put his name forward.  In the meantime,  Cameron's tactics are clearly demonstrating his new-found capacity to multitask - raising the terrorist threat level to concentrate on the perceived enemy within (and at the same time trying to make the Liberals and any other civil libertarians look poor), in other words the Blair technique, and continuing the rhetoric on a nebulous European "reform" agenda which, when stripped of the Union Jack and self-importance, does not look significantly different from the changes being pursued by the German and other governments.

Putting aside the Middle East, with the Israeli game of "don't kick me" (to which I intend returning imminently), Iraq, Syria and the potential final unravelling of the Bush-Blair hubris, the Ukraine, world health and the stuttering recovery based around consumer spending and unsustainably low interest rates, these are clearly the key issues on which Cameron should be building his programme.  For a party which is so opposed to the state doing good, the Tories are remarkably sanguine about unaccountable expansion of surveillance, control and the apparatus of authoritarianism.  Dressing it up in fear does nothing to suggest that the values they purport to defend are sufficiently strong and persistent to survive on their merits.  The continuous irony of destroying liberty and citizenship as a means of defence cannot be lost.

As for Europe, the arguments that the right are using are now so fanciful to suggest that various hallucinogens have been used in their concoction.  Again, irony is lacking.  The arguments that are being so ineptly deployed by Mr Darling to defend the Unionist position in Scotland would be much more effectively reserved for any unpicking of the UK/European relationship.  The dishonesty with which the Tories and UKIP pretend that an exit would be on their terms, and that they will be able to dictate what Europe does in the circumstances would be hilariously hubristic were they not so dangerous.  Forty years of membership of an institution, will not be rolled back cleanly or quickly, and in the meantime it becomes a self-imposed exile from influence and benefit.

Not that this worries many of the people cheering for the xenophobes.  Promoting a fear of the other is their stock-in substitute for a rational argument on the benefits and disbenefits of the policy position.  For the puppeteers, their wealth is mostly offshore and untouchable as the economy unravels, a process which would be accelerated should Britain leave the EU.  Their commitment to democracy and popular sovereignty, shouted from the rooftops, is non-existent - and Carswell embodies this.

This does now resemble 1995, where nothing Major could do could stem the rot of a festering corpse.  Cameron has no option but to go down fighting - Carswell's resemblance to a vulture should not be understated - but the circling around the Tory corpse is likely to trigger the kind of realignment that the left nearly saw in the 1980s.  A Front National, under Farage, could emerge, with the vestigial Tories recast much more towards the centre-right - and the vagaries of the unreformed electoral system makes this very dangerous.  Interesting times - and worth remembering that Carswell's only redeeming feature is support for proportional representation.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Boris, UKIP, Hitler and the right's confusion

Whenever it is clear that UKIP's idiotic posturing cannot sink any further into the mire, one of their legion of the dumb emerges from the slime to add to the general jollity.  This time it's Bill Etheridge, one of the MEPs whose subsistence at the expense of an institution they profess to despise would be hypocritical if it were not so evidently pathetic.  The egregious cretin has been recorded advising UKIP activists to study Hitler's rhetorical technique as"magnetic and forceful" - accusations that cannot be laid against the fool himself on the basis that anyone professing such admiration would be carted off to secure accommodation at once.

Farage's band of neo-con charlatans have not had a good year, although the fruitcake harvest is clearly early.  When it was homosexuals causing floods, or the lies and half-witted spin around immigration and a fear of the other, this was par for the course.  UKIP has spent its life trying to deny its connection to the neo-fascist fringe, but every time it does so something else emerges, be it a former blackshirt or an MEP whose sense of public decorum should disqualify him from public office.

The nutter sideshow has not detracted from Boris "I'll never do two jobs" Johnson's declaration that he is seeking a Tory seat in order to contest the next General Election and then enter the lists to compete to lead the hulking corpse from the ditch into the cesspool.  Baroness Warsi, who managed to bring an undistinguished career to an end with something approximating to principle, has identified that everything Cameron promised about the Tory reform agenda is skin-deep, and that the drooling dotard fraternity still rules the roost.

This makes the Bouffant Buffoon's entry into the right-wing mire fascinating.  From Cameron's point of view his brand of hypocritical, ruthless populism may provide a short-term electoral boost, as the dribblers who are flirting with Farage may not be particularly keen to be associated with a party whose acolytes are flying too close to the right's dark secrets for comfort.  However, in terms of centrist, and non-London appeal, this is akin to suggesting that the party has given up on its modernising project altogether.  This may appeal to the core vote, but from Labour's perspective it is akin to making a free gift of anyone whose capability of rational thought and holding ethically-consistent positions does not extend to the doublethink necessary to underpin a Tory vote.

Johnson's popularity is a London-centric phenomenon, witnessed by his resentment that the potential price of a "No" in the Scottish referendum will be genuine devolution.  At the same time he wants more for London, whether or not it is in the national interest or whether or not there is the basic infrastructure in the form of water, power, transport and health in place to support his crass narrative. Less a noble giant and more Baron Munchausen, I suspect.

If the electoral situation were not so volatile and unclear, then this would all be a sideshow.  Instead, we have a need for the rest of the political community to keep drawing attention to the current right-wing spats - ensuring that the narrative that has led to at least a grudging respect for the Coalition is spelt out; namely that there is not an extreme right-wing majority and there never will be.  A test of Miliband's leadership will be whether he can recognise that the most fertile territory for Labour is to ensure that the language of inclusivity applies irrespective of the party alignment - building a winning margin for a centre-left government is essential beyond tribalism.

Boris, Etheridge and the rest are dancing round handbags at the moment, circling around the right to win the accolades of their own narrow constituency.  The right has nothing to offer beyond windy rhetoric attacking the European Union, and the kind of forked-tongue paternalism that continues to destroy social cohesion and the wider economy.  Time to enjoy, but time to expose.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Labour's pains - letting Farage in through the back door

For Labour, it seems to be forever 1994.  Blair's Thatcherism-lite was predicated on making his party a vehicle for a hypocritical neo-conservative agenda, in thrall to virtually every force that it had been brought into existence to combat.  This might have worked in the 1990s, when the sheer incompetence and lassitude of Major's administration were an easy target, but it does not create a strong reason to support a change of government next year.  For every policy announcement, diluting principle so as not to frighten the right-wing attack dogs, and temporising at the margins, there is a further reduction in both trust and credibility.

Farage's peddling of right-wing populism has a resonance with many who see politics as a corrupt, irrelevant process - not engaging with their concerns and practised by an elite group out of touch with a world in which economic numbers mean nothing, and where the alleged recovery appears to be trousered by the very people who caused the recession.  Kipper views are simplistic at best, moronic more typically, but they capture a mood of disillusion and disenfranchisement.  The absence of the Liberal tenet of taking and using power creates a vacancy which has been filled not by liberation but by a cynical authoritarianism fuelled by disillusion, fear and xenophobia.

Where Miliband has gone wrong is not articulating this.  For every focus-grouped soundbite, accurate though the "cost of living crisis" trope may be, there is no recognition of visceral anger that a rich nation should be riven with debt, unemployment, a property bubble, a tax system that favours the already-endowed and with a democratic deficit that ensures that the perpetuation of this state continues.  Labour should have been articulating hope as its centrepiece, with policies designed to achieve that.

Instead, we appear to have fiscal orthodoxy and the belief that the market system is ungovernable.  This is understandable where political discourse has been corrupted by the control of media and the vested interests of financial services.  Yet a left-liberal perspective suggests that although the market is the least bad, it is the power balances within it and before it that create the discourse - and that the measurement of success and happiness through economic growth is not enough.  Where is this being articulated by Labour?

Labour should be fighting against the twin cultures of entitlement and resentment.  Read the right-wing press and it's a narrative of immigrants allied to benefits scroungers, spiced up with worries that there might be a market correction to the South-East's housing and economic bubble.  Playing one group off against others is a perpetual tactic of ideologies peddling division and hopelessness, and this would have been a game that a more radical opposition could have won given a clear message.  To suggest that social cohesion, civil society and collaboration are a means of delivering a worthwhile change should be axiomatic for an opposition to a government dominated by sectional interest groups.

Going after bankers, property speculators and executives whose cupidity has increased even as they attack pensions, pay and put thousands onto zero-hours contracts would not just be sensible but morally justified.  Harness outrage and direct it at worthwhile targets, rather than give the impression that all you want to do is manage the current mess better.  Labour's desire not to be ideological means that it does not ask questions around privatisation and what people expect from public services, or positions these debates (for example the railways) as a means of not frightening the corporate horses, rather than as a desire to deliver the best and most effective services.

No wonder that Farage's negative and self-serving agenda has resonated - because nobody has either articulated the alternative in the mainstream or been allowed to develop alternatives.  There is a left-radical grouping that does exist, but not solely within Labour.  Harnessing this group, brining in unions, Nationalists in Scotland and Wales, the remaining Liberal radicals and others beyond the mainstream grouping is anti-tribal.  Yet it makes sense in the climate where Labour's aspiration may be only to become the largest single party.  Creating a narrative of a citizenry where rights and obligations are balanced and where there is better wealth distribution, a realism about the limits of individual endeavour and a sense of ownership is not beyond any thinker.  However, the current indications are that Labour has flunked the challenge and may well embed the Dark Ages for a further term of neo-conservative, racist dominance.

Monday, 30 June 2014

With friends like Cameron...

David Cameron had a bad week last week.  A particularly bad week.  Hardly anything to be surprised or worked up around, other than the demonstration of two spectacularly myopic character traits that epitomise just what is wrong with his brand of crony Toryism.

Let's start with the judicial criticism.  After the conviction of Andy Coulson, Cameron clearly decided to make as blatant a hand-washing exercise as he could; whether or not he was wise to do so is a call as to whether his reputation trumps the justice system.  While Coulson had been convicted on some of the hacking activity, there were still outstanding verdicts due and it is quite inappropriate for a Prime Minister to express a view when this is ongoing.  Now the taxpayer funds a further trail to determine whether these charges stick as any conviction could have been unsafe.  Clever man.

And then his "bad day for Europe" with the elevation of M. Juncker to the EU Presidency.  Had Cameron not been playing to the gallery and the frightening Kippers, he might have reflected on a sensible course of action.  Given that once Merkel had been manoeuvred into doing the EPP's bidding he was effectively on his own, it would have been better to abstain or at least shut up during the final voting, increasing leverage when it comes to the distribution of Commissioner portfolios later in the year.  Einstein strikes back.

The PR/intern/political hackery route, beloved of all the political parties, leads politicians to make such bad calls.  To get it so wrong on so broad a canvass takes an arrogant stupidity.  If the left has any guts it will make these points time after time over the next year - that a foolish egotism is exactly the kind of messianic hubris that led Blair into the arms of Bush and the Middle East towards perdition.

Friday, 20 June 2014

The unnecessary death of the Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg's resilience is one of the more puzzling phenomena of contemporary politics.  Having humiliated his party consistently for the last four years, the seeming inability of his coterie to grasp reality and the perpetual drubbing in elections and opinion polls appears to have created a bunker mentality.  This is doing politics a major disservice, as it moves the spotlight away from the crypto-fascists and their fellow-travellers in UKIP and the malevolent hypocrisy of the Tory right, while at the same time propping up the optimism of a Labour Party seemingly scared of articulating any coherent policy for fear of offence.

Since the recent round of elections, Clegg's hubris has extended to know no bounds.  Despite the evidence that he is rapidly becoming irreversibly toxic, rationally or irrationally, and the slow demise of much of his party base, there is no personal acknowledgement of any mistakes, any alternatives to the final acts of farce that could wipe out twenty-five years' worth of political gains next year and for the foreseeable future.  As Liberals age, it is very few who remember the disasters of the Alliance, the merger and the time it took to claw back from the abyss into which the centralists and the triangulators wanted to take the party - small comfort in that the 1989 European elections were even worse than 2014, but at least then there was a leader who understood the need to reverse the idiocy.

Clegg does not seem to understand the charge-sheet against him.  The enthusiasm with which he embraced not merely the benefits of coalition government, but the venomous toads with which he had to do business created the impression that he was interested in power rather than defending an electoral programme.  This is not to argue that every Liberal Democrat policy could have been enacted, but he should have refused to allow himself to be railroaded beyond the limited bounds on which co-operation had been agreed.  Co-opted by the Tories, as a whipping-boy and lightning conductor, but pampered through the Westminster village, is it any surprise that those around him could not see the damage on the ground?

Since the loss of the AV referendum, there has been no justification to prop up the Coalition beyond its agreed programme - and a duty to attack the Tories for their anti-libertarian, crony capitalist tendencies.  Instead the love-in continued even while his supposed partners were stabbing him from all sides.  Instead of admitting that mistakes have been made, particularly over tuition fees, where a simpler approach would have paid dividends, possibly through a Royal Commission on the size, role and funding of tertiary and higher education, and over lunatic measures such as the bedroom tax, this has been a grim pageant of apologies while the Tory right has got on with its own introspective xenophobia.

Clegg's apologists correctly identify that at this stage any change in leadership is a risk - but the biggest risk is that the leadership style will inflict yet more damage on the cause of social liberalism and political pluralism.  The utter lack of recognition that the Liberal Democrats carry forward a genuinely radical tradition, whose adherents are not driven by pure economism, as well as other currents within the party, represents a failure of leadership and a wilful neglect of those of us whose politicos were forged through communitarianism and a distrust of a universalism from either left or right.  The pandering to lunatic neo-conservatives, masquerading as liberals, is a disaster waiting to happen.

In the meantime, those for whom the continuing priorities of liberty and the individual remain central to political discourse will find themselves alienated.  The disappearance of the Liberal Democrats has not been entirely driven through inept and arrogant leadership - but it certainly helps.  Unless Clegg restores a sceptical and libertarian position then the voters will make up their minds on the basis of his behaviour and his apparent attitude.  His minders, who must have thought his ideological malleability and managerialism were desirable skills when he was elected, may not have much to play around with after the next General Election if they are not careful.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Clegg's nemesis

To describe the Liberal Democrat performance in the European elections as a disaster would be generous. To lose all bar one MEP while a party harbouring borderline racists, homophobes and fascists - not to mention an ultra-right and repressive economic and social agenda - tops the poll demonstrates a major failure of the political system. 

Nick Clegg cannot evade responsibility. He is, after all, the leader of his party - although you would be forgiven for taking the view that he shows loyalty to the Coalition first and then his own members - laudable from a pluralistic perspective but moronic when it is not merely unreciprocated but ridiculed by the Tories. There is a question as to whether this catastrophic misjudgement has contributed to the contempt for the party reported by canvassers but it is an epic political idiocy. 

Quite naturally there are calls for Clegg to go early, seeing how much can be recovered from the wreckage. This is a difficult balance to strike, as four years of what, rightly or wrongly, is perceived as becoming subsumed by the Tories will be difficult to expiate. The rational defence that things would have been far worse with a majority or minority Tory government may not play well given the seeming inability of both commentators and the electorate to engage with the reality of pluralism. 

I suspect that Clegg may have lost his party - and that the judgement call will be whether to allow the 2015 disaster to be on his watch or someone else's if there is anyone foolhardy enough to be volunteered. There is only so much obloquy that activists can take when the leader gives the impression that their losses are collateral damage in the greater good. The concept that the leadership cadres can survive without a local base was the hubris that brought down the SDP and a lesson that the Orange Book brigade appears to have forgotten. 

The Liberal Democrats fought the European campaign on the right issues - and are damaged by the pan-European upsurge in distrust and scepticism around EU institutions and structures. Sadly the discourse will revert to withdrawal rather than reform, until the debate moves on to the next ignorant rightist canard. Too late, too little and too disconnected - while Miliband's position has been either to ignore the issues or to engage in a bidding war with kipper Cro-Magnons. 

If Clegg were honourable and a genuine leader, he would consider his position carefully. For all the critics of the Liberal Democrats there are probably more people out there who are vaguely positive about coalition government. Ensuring that this option remains is part of the project going forward. Much more important than the career of an arrogant and increasingly irrelevant politician, and indeed than any current party. 

Friday, 23 May 2014

Done up by 'Kippers - and the missing Miliband

Despite the BBC's seeming embrace of everything Farage, the "breakthrough" by UKIP is only one of the key results of the English local elections.  Before the European results are counted, it may be pertinent to observe that the main show in town has been the seeming desire to get easy headlines from Nigel and his nasty bunch of proto-nationalists, who object to being called out on racism and fascism and neatly wish to deny freedom of speech to those who do.  Therefore the European election will have artificially inflated support for UKIP without having any real transferability into the nasty campaign we are about to embark upon.

UKIP's rise is linked closely to the rather more measured disconnection with London politics that is gaining momentum for the regionalist parties in Scotland and Wales.  Indeed, the funniest moment of the entire process to date was on the radio this morning where one of the kipper family explained away her party's dismal showing in the capital on the basis that the population there was more diverse and better-educated.  A party based around the support of thick white racists is an alarming prospect, but this is a much more deep-rooted malaise which has yet to be addressed through the democratic process.

England, as an entity, is incoherent and not culturally or socially aligned.  The increasing bubble economy of the South-East and the continued emphasis on austerity in areas where the pips have squeaked their last is one of the reasons why the Coalition parties have been hammered - and the dominance of London in the media and in the minds of politicians is now being punished.  Scotland and Wales have developed their own political constructs and therefore are immune to the bogus charms of Farage.  The fact that there have been well-educated, and presumably therefore well-informed, people in London who have endorsed Johnson does somewhat undermine this argument, but he is a London celebrity in a culture of vacuum and ideological flux.

What has been much more interesting is the silence of Miliband during both the local and European campaigns.  Whereas Clegg at least gambled on the pro-EU position, Miliband's lack of engagement has been stunning.  Labour's tactics appear to have been to let the Coalition parties take the strain while not making any clear riposte to the lies and humbug being peddled by the Kippers.  This has severely dented Labour claims to be a party that stands up for principle - or indeed for a positive engagement.  The only reason to vote Labour, in many places, would be to stitch up the Tories, but Miliband should be in a position by now to define some form of programme for government that might enthuse the electorate.

Instead, he has retreated into the New Labour fastness of policy advisers, interns and the chattering classes.  Rather than making it clear that there are alternatives to the crony capitalism and unfettered greed that the Tories and their fellow-travellers promote at all costs, he has tried a kinder, gentler tyranny on the same basis that Blair removed Major.  Yet if anything can be drawn from UKIP it is that people are genuinely fed up with the inadequacies of the current system - and in the absence of a party like the SNP this is expressed through a truculent, incoherent snarl.  Farage's success would not stand up to close scrutiny of his politics or programme, which is why the party resorted to threats and intimidation against blogger and anti-fascist campaigners.  Yet Miliband is silent, even on occasion pandering to the fear and the myths that have suddenly achieved the impossible, and degraded politics to the extent where all we have to look forward to is both Labour and the Tories slavishly pandering to a perceived lowest common denominator of ignorance, fear, lies and greed.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Why Eurosceptics should vote Liberal Democrat

The misappropriation of the English language for propaganda purposes has a long and vigorous history.  To describe either UKIP or the Tories as Eurosceptic is a trope that fails to address their vile nationalism, xenophobia bounding on racism or indeed to question what the term really implies.  The sceptic should be the feted philosopher, always probing, never prepared to admit that the status quo itself is either desirable or defensible.

Cameron is now clearly spooked by UKIP.  Farage's dangerous demagoguery and the failure of the British political system - undemocratic, unaccountable and unrepresentative - is causing the Tories to revert to a crass populism.  He appears to believe that the only way to achieve change in Europe is through a megaphone, unilateral demands considered to be the leverage over other nations that will unlock some kind of balmy future where the UK enjoys all of the benefits of European participation while welshing on its obligations and forgetting that with benefits comes at least some element of compromise.

In the forthcoming elections, therefore, there are two isolationist parties differentiated only by the camouflage of their repulsiveness.  Mr Miliband has decided, probably wisely from the perspective of next year's General Election, to maintain a low profile on Europe and to leave the field clear for the idiots of the right.  This leaves the Liberal Democrats and Greens as UK-wide political parties who are at least engaging with Europe - the policy prescriptions for each party are widely divergent, but at least there is some attempt to engage at a continental, and by extension, global level.

Being enthusiastic about Europe implies being sceptical at the same time.  Democratic accountability is central, as is subsidiarity - an abused term that requires decision-making to be taken at the lowest level possible.  The EU is bureaucratic, and at times remote - motivations of politicians and officials may be lofty but their implementation in practical terms often seems to be pushing things too far.  The debate needs to be framed in terms of whether the EU has the right powers and obligations, in many cases this may mean member states reclaiming power, and in others, such as foreign policy and defence, as well as corporate taxation, this may result in impetus towards a central European position.

Farage and his bunch of sociopathic soap-box lunatics peddle the myth that there would be a simple exit strategy that would keep all the good things that the EU has delivered.  This is the kind of delusional propaganda music to the ears of the right, but so far removed from reality as to border on criminal lunacy.  The arguments being deployed against Scottish independence on the basis of complexity can be strengthened thousandfold in this argument.  Instead of negotiating and building pressure for change - which is also being pushed by Germany and many of the accession states - this is a one-way process where remaining EU members would not scruple to not merely extract their obligations but to disadvantage the UK materially.

Staying in and engaging positively is the only genuinely patriotic policy - and also served by self-interest.  Therefore voting for an equivocally pro-EU position is logical, but I am not anticipating many others will adopt this.  Neither Farage nor his frightened cohort Cameron will defend the interests of citizens, and by extension the state.  This is the first election for some time where the electoral choice is clear, and may well be the last.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The end of the Miller's tale

When Maria Miller went, she went with the dignity and gravitas that befitted a friend of David Cameron.  The early-morning announcement that she had given up her attempt to emulate a morally-challenged barnacle was hardly a surprise, although the hubris with which her defenders had demonstrated was disproportionate to the merits of any attempt at throwing her a lifebelt.  Cameron and his cronies now look both stupid for having tried to rescue her, and suspicious on the basis that if she could have been defended for this, the other little unpleasantnesses that are lurking in journalists' pending trays to emerge between now and the General Election may be truly amusing.

Miller epitomises the reduction of the political process to grasping and self-interest, dressed up as a refusal to be accountable to the media.  I am awaiting the first Tory apologist to argue that she was not given as fair a trial as Nigel Evans, whose acquittal this week raises questions over the effectiveness of the judicial system.  This will be the cue for a sharp intake of breath and much spluttering, but no surprise, given the extent to which the political class now believes itself to be free from all constraints of decency, probity and accountability.

The political system is, probably, no more discredited now than it was a fortnight ago, but this is not a proud boast.  The continuing ramblings of Farage and his retinue demonstrate this - picking up the anti-establishment vote that may fuel triumph for Salmond in September.  In any case, the idea that people who have demonstrated themselves untrustworthy should be able to determine any sanctions against them is now undermining Cameron, for which we should be thankful.  Labour and the other opposition parties should be stoking the fires now - not just around expenses but around the democratic deficit that allowed Miller to survive and for the continued erosion of voter trust, visibility and engagement.  Root-and-branch reform and accountability should be at the root of the questions that are posed to politicians.

What is the point of Jeremy Browne?

It takes someone with the idiocy of Jeremy Browne MP to make me feel anything other than sad contempt towards Nick Clegg.  Mr Browne, whose drift to the right is now providing salutary reminders of such statesmen as David Owen and Oswald Mosley, has spent a great deal of time telling Rupert Murdoch's organs how much Clegg is a lefty whose purpose is to block the more dribbling exemplars of Tory malevolence.  For that he has to be thanked, as for most people Clegg is seen much more as a quisling in the pocket of the other professional politicians who put self-advancement before even party, and couldn't work out the difference between "principle" and "principal" even if locked into a shower with Michael Gove.

Browne was, as should be remembered, a singularly unimpressive Home Office Minister, pandering to the xenophobic populism of the ridiculous Home Secretary and supporting the anti-immigration hysteria beloved of his client group.  For someone with his monstrous ego, to be supplanted by Norman Baker must be seen as humiliation on a grand scale.  The fact that Norman understands that Liberalism is about the rights of the citizen rather than the enforcement of the state's iron fist implies that Jezza will join Nigel Farage in lauding Putin before the year is out.

Browne has also recently gone on record as wishing to cut the top rate of tax yet further, indicating both economic illiteracy and his desire to crawl up to Tories in places that they may well be feeling uncomfortable about.  A progressive tax system is the mark of a civilised, liberal society, but not the slavering neo-liberal perversion espoused of the far right.  So, why does he bother continuing even to pretend to be a Liberal Democrat?

This is a reminder that the left should wake up and recognise that much of the platform on which the Liberal Democrats fought the 2010 election remains intact, and that it is a broadly progressive, socially-driven manifesto that remains to challenge Labour's political framework.  For the naive and the malevolent, who work purely on triangulation, the implication that the Liberal Democrats have been pushed to the right by coalition is simple to spout, but actually difficult to prove.  There is now space on the centre-right vacated by the Tory festering back to the margins of Thatcherite misanthropy, but Labour seem more inclined to occupy the socially-authoritarian arena.

Browne forgets that Liberals, for over a century, have been people who believe in the freedom of the individual with an enabling state, which should be questioned but not condemned as a reflex action.  This puts us in conflict with some social democrats of all hues, whose believe in the magnanimity of the state is a little too uncritical for libertarian comfort, but it does not either position liberalism as being tied to free-market ideology and an antipathy to any state involvement.  Perhaps he should spend some time reading Mill or Hobhouse before he starts whining that Clegg is tied into a left-wing ideology.

As a footnote in history, he is clearly trying to make a name for himself as the man who pushed the Orange Book agenda to its limits.  Or at least securing a Tory seat...  This is a disgrace from a man who is now so far off the mainstream radar that even Cameron might find him too extreme - perhaps he will end up with the fools and poltroons of UKIP, where self-publicising inadequates find a natural and congenial pit of despond.  An irrelevance, whose intellectual and political credentials are so shoddy as to make even Clegg's naiveté and fellow-travelling pale into insignificance.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Maria Miller and the perversion of politics

To agree with Norman Tebbit is either the mark of a drift into senescent fascism or an indication that we are living in the last days.  Watching the casuistry surrounding the barnacle-clinging to office exhibited by the risible Maria Miller is reminiscent of a cross between Kafka and a third-rate farce, a reminder of how Cameron is a prisoner of his own party and as devoid of moral compass as his political heroes in New Labour.

No rational person would expect their politicians to be devoid of human frailty.  This would make them even more unrepresentative than they are already.  One expects Tories to be grasping, venal and contemptuous of those outside their self-interested circle.  One expects them to be so devoid of honour that they need to be ejected by force when proved beyond doubt to have misbehaved, even when a reasonable observer needs to hold their nose to exclude the stench of moral turpitude.

Miller's behaviour is only explicable through the hubris of the deluded.  Her perfunctory apology to the House of Commons for what amounted to the receipt of corrupt payments undid all the good work that has been done over MPs standards - not a admission of culpability or even stupidity (which would be a perfectly plausible explanation) but a sulky adolescent caught smoking behind the bike sheds.  An insult to Parliament, and an insult to the electorate.

Recognising that this was already a watered-down sanction, compared to a more meaningful repayment recommended by the independent standards watchdog, Miller's hubris has unleashed a defining moment in the modern Tory party.  To listen to Cameron's defence, and that of her neighbouring nonentity MP Steve Brine, you would have thought that Miller being detected in the act of breaking the rules condemns those who investigated and proceeded to reveal this, as it shines an unwarranted light into the morals and motivations of the self-regarding mediocrities who make up the majority of the political class (in all parties).

However, there are a number of further, more fundamental problems coming to light.  The fate of a third-rate over-promoted Minister is only interesting insofar as it further weakens the Tories.  What is much more concerning to anyone with a belief in representative government is the use of Special Advisers to intimidate and threaten those on her case.  The Special Adviser is the Trojan Horse of politicising the civil service - a further example of weakening and undermining both the integrity and status of government which allows more to be outsourced and democratic accountability to be watered down.  To make clear links between, let it not be forgotten, the Tory press investigating corruption and the potential for further media regulation is at the very least distasteful, at worst a sanctioned abuse of power that should see both Miller and the Cabinet Secretary, the ridiculous Francis Maude, seeking the solace of the backbenches.

No wonder, in the context of Major and Osborne's crony capitalism and naked cynicism promoting inter-generational strife, that the Miller issue has resonated in much the same way that the "back to basics" trope undermined John Major (a figure who looks more and more statesmanlike in the context of the current shower of spivs).  Former Labour MPs were jailed for their corruption - but Miller's tax avoidance and sophistry appears not even to merit the slightest sanction from the Tories even when proven to the point where a reasonable person would admit to its likelihood, and where a sceptic or paid apologist would be brushing up their CV.

Miller's presence in government is a reminder that the Tories don't and can't change.  As a wounded administration limps on, the onus is on the opposition and the Liberal Democrats to keep the issue in the spotlight - so Danny Alexander's idiotic support for her was completely unnecessary.  Clegg, for once, hit the right note by pointing out that these appointments were entirely in Cameron's gift.  Labour need to go for the jugular - it will drive decent Tories away from supporting the party, because it is clear that the venality and hypocrisy in this case is a demonstration that there is no change in the political and moral corruption sanctioned by the imperative to cling on to office and deny any culpability.