Thursday, 30 April 2015

Wake me up if it gets exciting

For a General Election with stark, definite choices the campaign has been distinctly underwhelming.  The most charitable explanation is that media cannot comprehend the diverse circumstances of individual constituency contests, which are neither explicable through local geography or a bipartisan narrative that fails to address a broken political system.

The exposure of political bankruptcy and blatant charlatanry on the part of all the major parties in terms of their coyness around economic choices should have raised eyebrows.  The Tories should be called out on their inability to articulate where the welfare cuts are expected to fall.  It may be technically correct to claim that specific acts of malicious barbarism are not policy, but to achieve their intended cuts to the state they will need to scythe through the provision for their totemic "hard working families".  The cumulative impact will be massive, the individual targets not clear.

Given that the Tories have come up with an unsustainable gimmick in terms of legislating not to increase some core taxes for the lifetime of the Parliament, should they secure an overall majority, their fiscal irresponsibility is multiplying as they fail to achieve a damaging assault on Labour.  The remainder of their mood music is scare-mongering racism about the Scots and attempting to ridicule Labour for taking Miliband into territory that they would not dare to enter.  I have no time for Russell Brand, but watching him take on members of the Cabinet would be more revelatory of their contempt for the electorate than much of the craven maundering that passes for political journalism on the BBC these days.

Labour's economic policy is slightly more realistic, in recognising that cutting the deficit is not merely a matter of slashing back the state but also through achieving economic growth.  Not once, though, have any party grandees stood up and made the point that better services and community solidarity can be best achieved in an environment where both taxes and earnings contribute to reducing the deficit.  As for the Liberal Democrats, their manifesto is dull, worthy in parts, but compromised by attempting to split the difference between their erstwhile coalition partners and the reality of a fragmented centre-left.

The key issues around housing and society are all being ducked.  For the Tories to propose something as destabilising and blatantly self-serving as extending right-to-buy to housing association tenants was an audacious and strange gesture, given the paucity of both new housing starts and provision of affordable accommodation.  This in itself acts as a blocker on social and labour force mobility, and will continue to resonate whatever idiocy is retained by a lack of an overall majority.

From the conventional and outdated thinking of much of the London-based political apparatus and its parasitic commentariat you would be forgiven for thinking that the surge in support for the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and even UKIP is demonstrative of provincial stupidity.  The SNP momentum appears to be unstoppable at the moment - partly because of this contempt for politics that does not fit the conventional mould.  As it stands, each assault by Cameron on Miliband is designed to drive SNP support up, on the basis that the solitary Tory loon in Scotland would be a sacrifice worth paying for xenophobic and constitutionally-illiterate intimidation after the election.

At the start of the formal campaign, indifference to the outcome was a reasonable option.  The final week will be full of meaningless noise, but the reality of this election is that there is a stark choice.  With the likelihood of government without a secure Commons majority coming closer, there are questions of competency and stability hanging over all parties.  The SNP / Labour dilemma will not go away - but there is nothing wrong with parties working together even while being mortal enemies. Cameron tried to scare London electors through the oligarch's trumpet Evening Standard yesterday that no clear outcome would result in a logjam, conveniently forgetting that he, the self-defined saviour of the universe, had to make a deal immediately after the 2010 election in just such circumstances as the vast majority of the electorate had not supported his party, in an act which, in his perverted worldview, should have resulted in a change of the electorate.

The real post-election scandal will come with the distorted results.  The Kippers will, rightly, feel shafted - and whilst this will be amusing in the context of 1950s nostalgia and the humiliation of racists, bigots and their fellow-travellers - the system will have let them and the electors down.  While the fair-weather metropolitan Labour sophisticates, who switched to the Liberal Democrats in 2005 and 2010 to hold their noses over Iraq and Blair, are now heaping obloquy on a party that made the choice they didn't want, it is likely that the Liberals, Plaid and the Greens will also be underrepresented.  The SNP, Labour and Tories will be the beneficiaries - but my prediction is that this will not be enough to stop the disengagement and disenfranchisement from reaching epidemic proportions.

At least this means that the next election has the potential to be a little more engaging.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

The symbiotic relationship: Tory racists and the SNP hegemony

For the self-proclaimed defenders of the Union, the Tory party and its retinue are combining to reveal their ultimate ambition - the separation of Scotland from the remainder of the polity.  This is a electorally-strategic direction - since the early 1980s Tory presence in Scotland has been declining, and fed only by the annoying presence of proportional electoral systems for the Parliament and local government.  On their beloved first-past-the-post system the solitary current seat would represent an apex of potential achievement - most Scottish people have seen through them and it will be several generations before readmission to the human race is deemed appropriate.

In the current General Election campaign, Tory resurgence has not occurred to date.  There is no strategy that will convince people that the alleged modernisation introduced in the first decade of the century was anything more than a marketing exercise.  The Ratners of politics are discovering that re-branding a pile of manure is not a viable route to achieving mass endorsement.  Moving the party closer to the fruitcakes may shore up some core vote from defecting to the overt crypto-fascists of UKIP, but it does nothing to restore a centre-ground vote.

An uncomfortable truth for the Tories (and for Labour) is that the pro-Union strategy that was used to defuse the threat of independence has unleashed the predictable outcomes.  Behind the rhetoric, the post-referendum Smith Commission presented a range of further devolution measures, awaiting post-May enactment, broadly consistent with the promises that Dave and Mister Ed made to the Scots before the referendum.  Positively, the SNP has capitalised on the role of champion and guardian of these commitments, while negatively Labour has managed to blend itself into a vague right-wing Westminster clique.  After fifty years of near-hegemony, it is hardly surprising that the cracks have turned into fissures and the SNP has managed to fill the gap.

What this does is reframe the West Lothian question.  The Tories have raised the spectre of a Labour government being reliant on Scottish Labour votes for both the passage of legislation and the supply of Ministers.  If, as seems entirely likely, the SNP wipe out most of the Labour representation in Scotland, then this becomes specious.  If Labour and the Tories are neck-and-neck in England and Wales, then suddenly the arithmetic becomes different and the argument that the Tories have deployed explodes like Eric Pickles in a Monty Python reenactment.

So we now see the racism card being played.  David Cameron has turned to Neville Chamberlain, who let down the Czechoslovakians in 1938 with the immortal phrase "a faraway country of which we know nothing".  To read the right-wing press at the moment is akin to reading some of Goebbels's more extreme organs - the impression that the Scots are a bunch of savages, remote from London and that the SNP would insist on some form of Scotsgeld in the form of Home Counties first-born piped in on Burns Night is buried not far below the surface of concern that a party not embedded in the South-East political elite might influence government.

Forgetting how the doughy champion of the Tory Party, Sir John Major, relied on the Ulster parties to support his vain struggle against the swivel-eyed bastards, this is an attitude that stokes up racism.  In six months, the Tory presentation has shifted from a plea to remain in the Union to vague threats of retribution for presuming to vote in MPs whose avowed aim is to disrupt and reformulate the constitutional arrangements.  Small wonder they are not seen as either benign or consistent.

Cameron is much closer now to the hegemonists of the former Eastern Bloc.  One wonders how Samantha's shoe collection measures up to the former dictator's wife in Bucharest.  Even after the de facto annexation of the East by the Soviet Union, a maintenance of illusory pluralism was permitted.  Supposedly liberal and centre-right organisations were allowed to put up candidates approved by the incumbent Communist party.  The attitude to Scottish voters is the same - they can vote for people like us, but if they presume to deviate from the permitted orthodoxy they are to be excised from the political debate.

There are uncomfortable truths for Cameron, Miliband and Clegg (if he counts for anything in a fortnight's time).  Through the electoral system that the two major parties have endorsed, the Scottish outcome will be distorted.  It will, however, be legitimate in the context that they have defined.  The voters of Scotland are still part of the UK, so their decisions have the right to be respected, and formation of an administration will depend upon the stability of the voting blocks in the House of Commons.  This is all part of the system that Tory hypocrites seek to defend.

The true racism of many Tories is now emerging.  It is even more disturbing that it is being directed to a group they were embracing viper-like very recently, as it should send a signal of the combination of cant, expediency and downright duplicity that they will exercise.  If the outcome is as currently projected, then we may need to look back thirty years to the narrative of what happens next with an unrepresentative and out-of-touch clique in power.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

UKIP - the new Bennites, but with added fruitcake

Paradoxes abound in politics.  The late Tony Benn polarised opinion on the left, whilst emerging as the definitive 1970s and 1980s folk demon (supplanted now by immigrants, scroungers and those who are just a little bit different) for the right.  Benn was a romantic scholar, idealising the vision of a pre-Marxist radicalism, but with his own peculiar integrity.  What is now fascinating is that, as one of the most adamant anti-EEC voices in the Labour Party, many of his clothes have been stolen by the Kippers and the lunatic right of the Tory party.

The economic condition of the UK in the 1970s, prior to the mobilisation of North Sea oil and gas,  was parlous.  A combination of mismanagement and a perfect storm resulted in very high inflation, declining output and burgeoning public spending - and the first recorded instance of what was then a developed manufacturing economy having to seek rescue from the IMF.  In 1976, Benn was the leading advocate of what became the Alternative Economic Strategy.  This is, with only minor variations, now the mantra of much of the Europhobic right.

When the UK finally joined Europe, it was principally to gain access to a large free-trade bloc.  This remains central today.  The AES was the expression of a protectionist, interventionist economy - effectively a siege state with prohibitive tariffs for imports, significant controls on capital movement, government control of wider economic activity and very high taxation.  It attracted the hard left, gradually acquiring more demands from both within the Labour party and in the contemporary Trotskyite groups, finding its final flowering in the 1983 General Election manifesto.

State control of the commanding heights of the economy was central to the AES - including nationalising the banks - regarded as too mad in 1983 to have any traction.  This became mainstream policy in 2008.  For the nay-sayers, they may have been proved right, because the banking sector has not been chastened or responded to any prodding for social responsibility!  The anti-European, little-England autarky now has its clearest expression in the Kipper approach, although with their mastery of inadvertent but crass spin, they are still pretending that the remaining 26 members of the EU would be happy with the UK being a vassal state in much the same way that Norway and Switzerland have developed to maintain trading links.

The AES was a major delusion, but it was a response to a specific crisis.  The contemporary little Englanders are lunatics at best, culpable and persistent liars as well.  Discounting their links to interest groups from the far right, free-market nutters of the freakiest kind, and their inchoate nostalgia for a 1950s that never existed, the proposition that Britain could inoculate itself from all those nasty, intelligent, hard-working foreigners is a chimera that only exists in the heads of those who peddle it, and in the droolings of stooge journalists who are either insulated from reality or selling their souls to pay their way.

Benn's disciples, even if not the man himself, saw nationalisation and intervention as good in themselves - whereas the right would puff up their credentials in promoting the market.  This is mendacious piffle, as promoting themselves is the only prime motivator.  To listen to Farage and right-wing fools such as Bill Cash, Michael Fabricant and even members of the Cabinet, you would consider that the EU is some form of moral cesspit rather than an imperfect institution capable and deserving of reform.  That this scare tactic doesn't appear to be working is another parallel with the Bennites - the more the mantra was pushed the more the gaps appeared to be exploited.  This time, however, parts of the press are on their side.

The UKIP bubble appears to be bursting, with constant racism, sexism, homophobia and just plain fascism the daily diet.  Add to this its intellectual bankruptcy, and the new Benn will find himself marginalised yet again.  Whatever the mainstream debate, the inability of a tendency which bases its ideology on the shouted rantings of a lager lout at midnight on a Friday to develop a credible programme will be one of the lessons learned from the last five years.  The Kippers are managing to combine the ascetic misinterpretations of Tony Benn with the messianic evil of Oswald Mosley - and their fate will be that of the latter.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Look left, look right, lame duck

Of the unaccountable absences in the current General Election campaign, the void around the Deputy Prime Minister is perhaps the deepest and least puzzling.  The irony of a contest dominated by pluralism without a Liberal element is fast becoming axiomatic, and the lack of any serious constitutional debate in the situation where it is clear that the electoral system will deliver perverse outcomes demonstrates Clegg's failure to capitalise on his time in government.

About the only demonstration that Britain has had five years of atypical government has been the needling by the right-wing press surrounding the post-election relationship between Miliband and Sturgeon.  They are being astute in not committing, with the SNP prodding and Labour resisting, to a full-blown arrangement similar to that with which Cameron ensnared the Liberal Democrats in 2010. A minority administration is a perfectly legitimate outcome - for example building on Labour's experience after 1929 and the Liberal administration after the triumph of the Irish Nationalists in 1910.  In a country obsessed with historical precedent, this is hardly revolutionary.

Clegg has undermined the credibility of coalition by his eager-puppy embrace of the Tories.  However much there is a justification of naivety, the reality of the situation that he found himself in was that there were very few stable choices open to him, especially after Labour had made it clear that they neither had the appetite nor the discipline to deliver a stable arrangement.  This should not be forgotten, as it is one point in his favour.  Yet the idea that the Coalition was an end in itself, not two parties collaborating for the necessary pursuit of government, has fatally wounded Clegg, and while he remains leader, the Liberal Democrats.

While the Liberal Democrat manifesto is a mature piece of work, informed by some residual radicalism that has not been completely demoralised by five years of stoogery, it will probably end up as irrelevant as the party has no clear identity.  If it manages to persuade a few more of us to vote tactically then that will be some achievement - because after five years the various vote match sites produce for me, and I suspect others, wildly varying results depending upon which nation you start your journey from.

It is difficult to articulate what the Liberal Democrats stand for at this election - there's no enthusiasm for anything beyond survival; keeping the flame of constitutional reform and federalism alive should have at least been a point of differentiation.  Now the pace is being made by the Scottish and the Welsh, with the consequent petty xenophobia and English particularism that plays well to Cameron's desire to court the Kipper dribblers.  For a party with a tradition of questioning the establishment, to have been subsumed, played with and spat out, this should be seen as humiliating beyond belief.

Clegg's final piece of foolishness has been to position himself as midway between a profligate Labour party and the austerity-mad Tories.  While the latter remains the hidden agenda of the Bullingdon drones, the way in which this campaign has turned has reversed the analysis - Labour are the party playing up responsibility, while the Tories are running around looking for client groups to shore up with unfunded promises.  A mistake that placing a party in the middle of two others always leads to, and one which should have been learned.

From an insurgency to an irrelevancy in a decade - hardly a legacy that Clegg will want to reflect on if he is rejected both by the electorate and his own party.  An unprincipled centrism leads to defeat - and the natural radical scepticism, rightly or wrongly, is moving to the Greens, Plaid and the SNP, with the inchoate, unwanted ranters, continuing to drift about.  Clegg's short-term stupidity and the arrogance never to admit to having got anything wrong, preferring the rhetoric of "tough decisions", may cost the genuine radical liberals and mavericks dear.  They may be waiting for a very long time either for a recovery or an apology from a failed leader for a failed approach.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The uselessness and lies of Jonathan Lord, Tory

One of the pleasures of election campaigns is to receive communications from candidates.  A disclaimer: these observations apply to the local politics of Woking, a town of limited merit (even for Surrey).  So far I have yet to receive any printed material from UKIP, presumably because they are only allowed crayons under strict supervision.  Labour has sent round a short leaflet, focusing on national issues.  The Liberal Democrats are clearly focusing on local council elections, with two communications to date - generic but reasonably high quality leaflets.

So I was flattered to return this evening to the mail containing a personalised leaflet from our Conservative MP, addressed to me:   "Jonathan Lord, Securing Britain's future for Quintus Slide".  Lord, whose claims to admission to the human race include having worked in advertising and been deputy leader of that paragon of probity, Westminster Council, is unable to present any positive message or worthwhile reasons to vote for him and his bunch of moribund fantasists.

The Tories in this election are clearly majoring on the politics of fear.  There is an astounding graphic entitled "the choice at the General Election", which has one-third devoted to the alleged merits of "David Cameron and the Conservatives:.  These include:

  • The deficit down - which is a dubious claim, particularly since it is now significantly higher than his Chancellor projected when slashing the state in 2010
  • Income tax cut - the only rate that has been cut is from 50% to 45%, doubtless helpful to someone like Lord but not to the majority of the population.  The increase in the personal allowance was a Liberal Democrat policy Cameron implemented, as he claimed, "over his dead body", which might have been a price worth paying
  • More jobs - without any comment on whether said jobs are full-time, part-time, zero hours, paying the minimum wage or productive
  • New businesses - an intriguing claim, which is probably not shared by those whose old businesses went to the wall during the recession
Against that, taking up two thirds of the space, is the suggestion of "Coalition of Chaos", with four newspaper headlines from those upholders of impartial analysis owned by non-dom Rothermere, or Austro-American crony Murdoch, and in one case the Herald, reminding me that I can't vote for the same party as I did in 2010.  Amongst his claims that non-Tory parties would deliver are:

  • Spending up - clearly he hasn't bothered reading or understanding his own party's manifesto, with unfunded commitments here, there and everywhere
  • Higher taxes - another canard which the Tory sheep bleat whenever there is the faintest whiff of opposition spending commitments.  Higher taxes might be a good thing, if they fund public services, reduce the deficit and redistribute wealth from the parasites to the majority
  • More debt - which doesn't square with the Tory manifesto, nor is it necessarily a bad thing if the economy grows faster than the rate of debt increase
  • Jobs lost - unlikely to be his, although one can but dream. 
No mention anywhere of opportunity, constitutional reform, Europe or housing - issues that might interest people.  Instead of which he parades the Tory dog whistles of cottage hospitals and support for the armed forces.  Dissecting the semiotics of the Tories in Surrey is hardly rewarding.

Lord is unknown outside his constituency, for good reason.  This is the kind of mendacious claptrap that the Tories dole out in places where they are reasonably confident of no electoral earthquake, and intellectually contemptuous of the electorate.  If he aspired to mediocrity, then there might be a little more reason to be sympathetic.  Wasting resources on this kind of sub-literate and inaccurate polemic, "personally" targeted, makes it much clearer that the imperative is to register disgust and contempt, both whenever they try to engage, and when the ballot paper is available.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Will language spark off a revolution?

Once in a while, I dust off George Orwell"s Politics and the English Language.  Seventy years on, it still resonates as a rallying-cry against the prolixity and mendacity that characterises most public writing.  Orwell was railing against the Communist tendency to resort to sloganeering and useless verbiage, and the Fascist repetition of verbiage.  This later informed 1984 and the closing-down of linguistic freedom as a further means of totalitarian control.

Move forward to the current decade, and the totalitarianism is not driven by ideological chasms.  Instead it is a much more determinist approach, honed by a combination of pseudo-academic pretension and social control dressed up in diversionary tactics.  The linguistic environment in which we are living is disturbing.

Partly this is a reflection of the ease with which communication now occurs.  There has been an explosion in quantity without a concomitant raising in quality; a mendacious democratisation seems to imply that there is something wrong with an interest in grammar, syntax and accuracy.  This is not a simple justification of ongoing pedantry, although I wince every time "enormity" or "decimation" are misused by those who consider that pretentious formulations score over simplicity and clarity.

Whereas Orwell saw language being abused for purely political ends, the reality is that it now blurs into social control and power relationships.  Dressing taxpayers and service users in the clothes of "customers" is a trope that government, national and local, has adopted.  This is justified through the equally-nebulous concept of "empowerment", which is one of the greatest misrepresentations, as it usually coincides with services being privatised or managed in such a way that their supposed owners are not intelligent enough either to comprehend or to be capable of changing.

Another much-abused term, which I find myself using increasingly in professional life, is "stakeholders".  This is one of those nebulous portmanteaux that betrays the requirement of the state to distance itself from accountability to its citizens.  Whereas shareholders have a defined role in the running and accountability of their companies, the "stakeholder" can be anyone from a public service user to an organisation that has manoeuvred itself into a position of having a loud voice and a talent for publicity.  When I heard that the Taxpayers Alliance defined as one, the perversion of society becomes much clearer.

One of the drivers for the abuse of language is blurring accountability.  In using the "stakeholder" and "customer" terminology this makes the citizen complicit in the quality of service delivery, and even, in some cases, unreasonable in demanding to exploit his or her rights.  Rather than assuming that elected politicians and unelected officials are required to demonstrate probity, this inversion of the relationship makes it clear that the average citizen is a sap, paying up and receiving inferior and incompetent service as a privilege.  Even better, where public services are not provided by those nominally responsible for them, the intermediaries are reduced to mere "stakeholder" status and can hide behind labyrinthine legal structures.

For Enlightenment revolutionaries, the most potent formulation was "we, the people".  The present morass would suggest that this has become both subversive and dangerous.  "We, the consumers" does not inspire - as it also confines those who might have a legitimate interest to those receiving a good or service.  This is Thatcherite atomisation at its worst and most insidious.  Orwell's doublethink would not have been able to encompass current definitions of "transparency" and "freedom", which are inversions beyond the wildest dreams.

Blair managed, in a relatively-undistinguished period as Prime Minister (albeit Titanic compared to the current incumbent), to pass Freedom of Information legislation.  I am relatively experienced at using it, as both requester and provider.  What should have been foreseen when the law was enacted was the extent to which the bureaucratic machine can generate additional complexity in order to frustrate the citizen.  The sheer volume of material produced means that any request not written with complete precision will be "too expensive" for authorities to disclose.  Finance trumps accountability, and pen-pushers trump both.

Where the Poujadists are right is that there is increasing opacity as to where public income is spent.  Their remedy is as limited as their intellect, because rather than cutting back the state there should be much more clarity both as to how money is spent and who is accountable to elected bodies for its disposition.  Last week it was reported that Hampshire County Council is spending more each year on consultants than it has just cut from social care and transport budgets, but there will be no skill amongst either the councillors or officers that can untangle any value that is being derived from the attention of opportunistic parasites.  Services are being cut while the unelected feast of the corpse, vultures in sharp suits and shiny shoes.

Eventually, even a desensitised mass may feel that it has been taken for a ride.  Whereas in 1984 Orwell envisaged a future where talent shows and third-rate entertainment maintained the proles in a state of quiescence, there is still hope today.  The perversion of language and the corruption of the public realm may just be enough to spark off the reflection that the state of the world is not pre-ordained, and there may even be those prepared to redefine activism as centred on the individual's and society's rights.  Sweeping away the euphemisms and deflections will be a minor increment along an ascending path towards genuine reform.  Without such a development, revolution inches nearer.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Lies, Sturgeon and the Telegraph boys

Nicola Sturgeon's strong performance in recent days has clearly come as a shock to the Tory narrative.  As suggested earlier, the Clegg effect is coming into play.  It would be easy to see the smears about preferring Cameron in the same light as the Daily Mail's irony-free attack on Clegg for ill-defined Nazi links in the run-up to the 2010 election, were standards not so high in contemporary journalism and amongst its ownership.

The allegations that have surfaced around her "preference" for a Tory-led government are risible from a public perspective, but they fit the Crosby-driven agenda of the times.  Whether any remarks, nuanced or otherwise, were made to French diplomats (and this in itself is a matter of such conjecture that a reasonable person would imagine it to be some kind of Tory masturbatory fantasy) there is no credibility for the source.  The Daily Telegraph and its less-rational sibling The Spectator stand to lose their already-shredded credibility as a consequence, as do their apologists.

There has already been an acreage of coverage which has not resulted in an upsurge in support for an alleged scoop.  The asinine Fraser Nelson and a few similarly-gibbering Tory fellow-travellers resorted to a defence that it was a legitimate story, even if all sources denied it, on the same basis that the Scum justified its assaults on homosexuals, the people of Liverpool and foreigners under the reign of Kelvin MacKenzie in the 1980s.  These people are at best hypocritical charlatans, but really just doing the dirty work of a discredited Tory party.

The Daily Telegraph and The Times are rapidly becoming fraudulent parodies of newspapers.  As propaganda sheets they are parading respectability for what are repugnant opinions.  Presenting this neo-conserative charlatanry as "news' may satisfy their proprietors' short-term cravings, but their credibility is shot permanently.  At least the right-wing tabloids are blatant, if disgusting.

Given the decline in newspaper readership, and influence, this may be less damaging than it might have been thirty years ago.  However, any group used to buying power and influence will play dirty while being marginalised.

Sturgeon and the SNP don't need to defend themselves - but this level of smearing will do the media no good.  In the early 1980s Labour were seriously toying with significant interference in the freedom of the press - one of the more deranged products of Trotskyite infiltration.  More attempted smears and lies will undermine the argument that, in the wake of the News International and Mirror Group scandals, press owners are seeking to amend their vileness.  Unintended consequences may be undesirable for a much wider portion of the population than those deluded enough to believe what they're spoon-fed.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Tories revert to type, and still don't get pluralism or Scotland

I deliberately eschewed the televised "debate" between the party leaders, for a number of reasons.  The first was ennui, which is a dreadful acknowledgement that the progress of this General Election campaign is already somnolent and predictable.  The second was a reluctance to commit two hours of an evening to a choreographed parade of carefully-spun hubris.  Thirdly, the idea of either Cameron or Farage on screen before the watershed was enough to suggest that a recourse to polyphony and whisky was better aimed at preserving sanity.

As noted earlier, the 2015 General Election is unpredictable in its outcome.  However, the run-up to polling day is just reinforcing the stereotypes and the garrulous messaging of spin doctors.  Miliband and Cameron have clearly got an informal pact to talk down any prospect of post-election co-operation with any other party, which will hardly do their credibility any good if there is no overall majority for either party.  Cameron has, on the other hand, not made any denial of his willingness to co-operate with the Kippers should they not implode in a cauterising maelstrom of racism, bile and idiocy.

What is perhaps more interesting is the shrillness of the apparatchiks.  Miliband has probably shaded the first week of the campaign, given the low expectations of his performance; the resulting Murdoch-ordained monstering is fascinating to behold.  Yesterday, the Scum took a novel line of attack that Mister Ed has never downed a pint in one nor exposed his backside in public - epitomising the kind of politicians that only the Kippers tend to embrace.  The pseudo-respectable end of the Murdoch propaganda machine is currently pumping out anti-Labour propaganda and scare stories, as far as a cursory perusal of the tabloid front page next to the Grauniad and the FT is a reliable guide to the thinking of the malevolent oligarchs.

At this stage of the campaign, the Tories would have been expecting solid gaffes from Labour, and unleashing their attack dogs would have been delayed for some considerable time.  Instead it is clear that their assumption that sufficient momentum will be gained from incumbency and the misleading signs of recovery is looking shaky.  Labour is not making the mistake of attacking the Liberal Democrats rather than the Tories, and all is well in the conventional two-party narrative.

What is stirring in the undergrowth is the expression of pluralism.  The debate was carefully managed by the Tories not to be a head-to-head between Bullingdon drone and North London eggheads, and, from the analysis and the post-session replays, it appears that this has backfired on the Tories.  The narrative of austerity and the inevitability of a shrinking state is not bought into by the Nationalists in either Scotland or Wales, and the Greens are able to make a more convincing pitch for refocusing public expenditure when their policies are not scrutinised for coherence.  Even the presence of UKIP, spreading lies, homophobic bile and ignorance, means that the dribbling Tory right are presented with an alternative to a mushy compromise between insanity and reality.

Much as the debates in 2010 upset a simple bipartisan narrative, the 2015 campaign is being defined not by the choice of Prime Ministers, but the fissile nature of an unfit electoral system and its capacity to deliver uncertain outcomes.  The regional and national divisions will confound those who follow GB-wide opinion polls - it is not being too optimistic to hope that a pro-Labour swing in London will deliver many Tory scalps beyond the national expectation.  Incumbency and local issues may play a much more critical role in this election than the metropolitan sophisticates are prepared to contemplate, mainly because this requires an acknowledgement that the electorate's views are not solely defined by what they are told is an acceptable method of thought.

Nicola Sturgeon's performance has generally been seen as strong.  She needs to beware of the Clegg effect, as for the first time many people outside Scotland have been exposed to the SNP's coherence and radical credentials.  Whether these are genuine or not, the way in which the Tories have reacted to the suggestion that the SNP could be influential has been to portray the Scots as backward, kilt-wearing loons unfit to influence Union-wide politics.  This has been comprehensively exploded, and the aim will now be to discredit the Nationalists.  Unwise choice, given that even a reduction in SNP votes will not result in an increase in the Tory representation in Westminster that would make a difference.

Cameron spent much of the lead-up to 2010 suggesting that Labour had broken Britain.  The irony is that his own actions have achieved this - the fractured polity is a reflection of the inability of a two-party system to accommodate an informed debate and different perceptions of reality.  Rather than recognise this, and embrace this, the Tories and, to a lesser extent, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are trying to pretend that this isn't happening.  The irony is that, for those of us who are outside Scotland and Wales, the best hope of reflecting this through a modern constitutional settlement is to vote for the candidate best placed to unseat incumbent Tory MPs and deny future ones, and to vote pluralistically where it doesn't matter.  On one level, this is a non-partisan election.

Coalition has endured, whatever its errors and mistakes.  The Liberal Democrats may not benefit from the recognition that the world does not stop when there is no party dominant in the Commons, which may come to be seen as a noble sacrifice.  Any election result that reverts to the pre-2010 type would be unlikely, and what we are not getting from the Tories is any recognition that this will be the case.  The Tories did not win then, and won't win now.  Ensuring that the overall result has at least some reference to the distribution of views and votes is one priority, reflecting the pluralism and political maturity after polling day is a much tougher challenge and it is not likely to be openly discussed over the next four weeks.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The forward march of idiocy halted: HS2, Kippers and a reality check

In 2010, a political party was so disturbed by the lack of ambition in Britain's proposals for high-speed rail construction that many more routes were needed, and quickly.  In 2015, the same party has one transport policy - to stop HS2, Phase 1 of which is now wending its way through the Parliamentary process, with multi-party backing.  Unsurprisingly, the intellectually-challenged and hypocrites of UKIP see no problem in this U-turn.

The Kippers may have been taken in by the grandiose and mendacious anti-HS2 campaign.  In the best tradition of astroturf lobby groups, to adopt the US definition, these are bloated by their own self-importance.  As Paul Bigland demonstrates in his excellent blog these are penny numbers, and hardly likely to swing many seats towards Mr Farage's diminishing band of lunatic racists, homophobes, misogynists and other throwbacks to the 1950s.

Never trust groups who make claims for representative legitimacy, especially when they are self-serving oligarchies run by sociopaths.  Threatening behaviour and refusals of accountability go alongside a toy-pram separation scenario - witness the response of the Taxpayer's Alliance (apostrophe deliberate) whenever it is canvassed for its legitimacy.

The problem for anyone other than the Kippers and their monomaniac fellow-travellers is that the HS2 case is nuanced.  This is also a problem for those who support the concept of additional railway capacity, as part of a modernisation of Britain's infrastructure and as a part of social and economic regeneration of anywhere other than the South-East of England.  Because HS2 is not perfect, and not comprehensive, it cannot be a good idea, or at least the knuckle-draggers would have us believe.  Instead of suggesting how it can be improved, or how the additional transport needs could be delivered, it is merely stigmatised as a waste of money.

The sort of people who adopt this approach disapprove of any spending that doesn't benefit them directly.  Thatcher's children have no conception of the difference between public and private benefits, let alone costs.  Instead it is a constant mantra that HS2 will crowd out schools, hospitals and such wonderful manifestations of social merit as Trident replacement, making out that the government will be forced to write a cheque for £50bn up front and hang the consequences.  A 20-year construction period shows quite how stupid such an analysis can be, let alone that there will be earnings from the route that will repay the costs of construction.

A more fruitful line of argument has been that it does not address every single transport need.  On that it is possible to agree.  Had HS2 been branded, as Network Rail pioneered in 2009, the "new North-South mainline" then that might have been a little easier to comprehend.  It is part of a long-term strategy that has increasingly embraced what Gideon sound-bites as the "Northern Powerhouse" and the need for better connections to the North-East and Scotland.  In isolation its benefits will be more restricted than as part of a national strategy.  By the time Phase 1 is due to open in 2026, Euston station in London will need rebuilding and expanding - you cannot ascribe all the need for this on the coming of a new railway.

However, the objectors are increasingly confined to the SUV-driving, I'm all right, Jack knuckleheads who would probably regard Jeremy Clarkson as a hero for abusing the servants.  They spit bile to each other while never engaging in detail.  They object to anything that might not benefit them immediately and which other people support, probably resenting those for whom walking and breathing simultaneously is not a supreme achievement.  The visceral, spittle-fuelled abuse is not that of a sceptic but a zealot, so it is hardly surprising that the Kippers and some sections of the Greens have embraced them.

Challenging and improving proposals is desirable - but to pump out unrepresentative rubbish year on year is not serving the cause.  For those of us who think that HS2 is, on balance, the right thing to do as part of a much wider strategy, the unworthiness of our opponents is a continuing reflection on the dumbing-down of politics and the destruction of public discourse.