Monday, June 30, 2008

Just a thought

Just how much of a tit must Quentin Davies be feeling at the moment?


Swift-boating McCain

A good war record has not been the most reliable of indicators for American electoral success. Whatever the merits of John Kerry's candidacy (and in truth it was a little odd claiming as a war hero someone who rose to prominence by accusing the American military of rape and murder), it can hardly be denied that his service record in Vietnam was better than George W Bush's. But then, Bob Dole was a WW2 war hero - a nice unambiguous war and he did no better against Bill Clinton. For all that, John McCain's war record in Vietnam looked unchallengeable.
If anyone doesn't know, his bomber was shot down over North Vietnam. On landing he broke both arms and a leg, and was bayoneted in the ankle and had his shoulder broken by the crowd of angry Vietnamese that picked him up. Taken to the Hanoi Hilton, he had none of these injuries treated, and had the ligaments in his knees cut. He turned down the chance for preferential release, and spent two years in solitary confinement. Eventually, after five and a half years of captivity, he was released. He can't raise his arms above shoulder height, and walks with a limp.
It's not a story that you'd think opponents would want to run on - there can't be many marginal voters who would be less likely to vote for McCain as a result of hearing it. However, just as Kerry got swiftboated, it seems that some on the left are starting to question McCain's war record. They break down their accusations into two distinct parts: firstly, just how badly was McCain treated, why did he sign a confession? Secondly, were McCain's actions in Vietnam prior to being shot down really a war crime?
As a matter of political strategy, I don't think that there'll be much traction in either of these lines of attack, at least among people who are capable of being persuaded. The problem that the Democrats have is that there are perennially perceived as being soft on defence. Attacking the war record of the Republian candidate - especially if they are foolish enough to do so on the grounds of his 'war crimes' would be about as good a way of confirming that weakness as I can think of. What they might succeed in doing is making McCain lose his temper - but then that might not be such a bad thing either.
As far as taste, decency and historical truth are concerned, these attacks look remarkably squalid. Made, as they are, by men who haven't experienced capture and torture, to tortuously unpick the decisions made by a man in solitary confinement subject to severe physical abuse is unpleasant in the extreme. I am beginning to think that Obama is almost bound to win in November. I hope he doesn't do so with help like this.

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By George she's got it!

A welcome development in Labour cognition:

It is early days yet, of course, and nobody wants to rush to judgement. But there is a growing, excited awareness among Labour's back-room boffins that they may have detected some kind of correlation between passing grossly offensive legislation and being knocked back to fifth place in the polls.
You live and learn, they say...

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Hecatomb watch

Thanks to Mark in the comments, another Heffer hecatomb has been spotted.

It may be very uncomfortable and embarrassing for whites to intervene to stop the butchery of black tyrants. But if they don't, hecatombs of lives will be lost.
One more time: it's not a unit of measurement. Yikes.
Oh, and in the same article, Heffer decries the Tories:
And the Tories are no better. This week they ordered the suspension of a prospective parliamentary candidate who made the blindingly obvious observation that the late Ian Smith was better than Mugabe. It is time these people grew up.
Well, not quite. It would indeed be a fairly uncontroversial statement that Ian Smith was better than Robert Mugabe. But the Tory candidate didn't say that. What he said was that Ian Smith (or Francis Drake, Winston Churchill or Maggie) was his 'political hero'. That's less uncontroversial to say the least. And presumably Heffer knew this and is being deliberately disingenuous. Which suggests that it's someone else who needs either to grow up or to bugger off back to the Mail where such comments might indeed be accepted as blindingly obvious.


Needed: English hero

French historians have caused a bit of a stir by their statement that the story of King Arthur is a legend, and one that has been used for propaganda purposes by nationalist English historians and writers ever since. Now, this is something of a blow, King Arthur is, after all, a national hero - someone to aspire to; a role model. So, now we're short one role model. Lets see if we can't find another one.

1. Edward III. Crecy and Poitiers were fairly heroic, and that is a terrific beard.

2. Henry V. A classic, but you can't overlook him. Was it 20,000 Frenchmen against 6,000 Englishmen?

3. John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. As every schoolboy used to know: Blenheim, Ramillies and Malplaquet. Those Frenchies took a hell of a beating.

4. Horatio Nelson. 'Firstly you must always implicitly obey orders, without attempting to form any opinion of your own regarding their propriety. Secondly, you must consider every man your enemy who speaks ill of your king; and thirdly you must hate a Frenchman as you hate the devil.'

5. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. When several French officers, embittered by their recent defeat at Waterloo, turned their backs on Wellington at the Congress of Vienna after the Napoleonic wars, King Louis approached the duke to express his sympathies. Wellington thanked him, before wryly adding, "I have seen their backs before."

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Friday, June 27, 2008


Fifth! Fifth! They're stuffed aren't they? They struggled in behind the Greens and the BNP. Lost their deposit. Lost 5,000 votes. Unless something utterly extraordinary happens, Labour are going to be swept away entirely from the majority of England. In Scotland they're rapidly losing ground to the SNP - even in Wales they're losing votes to Plaid and to the Lib Dems. They really don't seem to be many crumbs of comfort for Labour. One particularly bleak sign is that UKIP, traditionally the home of disaffected Tory voters, trailed in even behind Labour. When Labour say that they can't see any enthusiasm for the Tories they are clearly being Nelsonic.
As far as the Tories are concerned, there is better news: the Lib Dems do not appear to be picking up on any 'anti-Tory' vote. The tactical voting that has exagerrated every Tory reverse over the past 20 years has finally unwound. Indeed, it may have reversed itself. Under Gordon Brown Labour are headed for a shattering defeat. He is trapped in a narrative of despair and defeat, and lacks the capability to change it. A case in point is the difficulties the Tories are having over expenses. A few years ago - hell, a year ago - this would have been a classic 'same old Tories' story. Now? Where's the traction? The Tories are so clearly in the ascendant that the mud isn't sticking.
I'd say that the only hope for Labour is for Brown to go, but there is no-one to replace him. Miliband is being talked up left, right and centre, but if ever there was a man who lacked gravitas it is Miliband. Watching him gurn and squirm his way through interviews and Commons set-pieces, is painful. And who else is there? Brown is like a political Upas tree - everything that shelters beneath him dies. Look at his cabinet - it's like the night of the living dead. Hell in a handcart, and it couldn't happen to a nicer fellow.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Catalogue of disaster

I've been almost too depressed about Zimbabwe to write much about it. I spent a fair amount of time there a decade ago, and love the place and its people. There were reports that the Green Bombers are using the squash courts at the Mutare Sports Club as impromptu torture chambers - I used to play squash in those courts: it starts to feel a bit personal. In 1997 Zimbabwe was about as civilised a place as you could find in Africa. Things worked, everything was available and nothing was too expensive. They were still using the one and two dollar coins - a beer was Z$3.
The collapse from that point was quick and absolute. This wasn't the result of sanctions; this wasn't the result of Western interference and imperialism; this wasn't the result of commercial farmers sabotaging the economy. This was economic suicide committed by the Zimbabwean government. I've described the course of events before, but it's probably worth running through them quickly again - to prevent assorted idiots and apologists for blaming anybody other than Mugabe and ZANU PF for the destruction of Zimbabwe.
The first nail in the coffin was the unbudgeted handouts to war veterans in 1998 - itself necessary because of the systematic looting of the official fund over the decade and a half since independence. Various delightful people like 'Hitler' Hunzvi, thankfully long since departed to the eternal darkness used this scandal to rise to prominence, and in the 'war veterans' Mugabe discovered the perfect weapon, shielded with just enough deniability.
The descent into chaos had two features - economic and political. The economic debacle was essentially due to the abuse of the money supply. To pay both for the handouts to war vets, and for the ruinous and pointless war in the Congo, which personally enriched the Zimbabwean commanders but bankrupted the exchequer, Zimbabwe printed ever larger amounts of money. The value of the dollar slid - as currency always always will once the money supply is debased. Rampant inflation was entrenched into the system. And it was at this point that the 2000 referendum was held on a proposed new constitution that extend still further the powers and scope of the presidency - effectively entrenching Mugabe in State House for life.
It was the surprise defeat of this referendum that changed the political course in Zimbabwe. Prior to this point, politics had been repressive and violent without being openly murderous. There was no organised opposition, and what little there was posed no threat - Edgar Tekere and Margaret Dongo were brave but never in a position seriously to threaten Mugabe. The rise of the MDC was directly related to the No vote on the constitution. In the elections that followed, ZANU PF were saved only by gerrymandering and ballot rigging on a titanic scale. Mugabe faced a genuine threat to his position, and he reacted in the only way he knows how.
The political violence unleashed in 2000 has, effectively, continued unabated to this day, rising and falling in severity. It is sometimes said that Mugabe has bankrupted his country to preserve his hold on power. I'm not sure this is quite right - Mugabe's bankrupting of Zimbabwe has been entirely incidental - he has simply taken disastrous decision after disastrous decision. What he has done is ignore every scruple in his determination to crush all opposition. But his unleashing of paramilitary, unpoliceable forces has ruined the economy - every profitable business has been blackmailed to death. Almost every farm has been occupied and destroyed.
It would be easy to pin the blame for this exclusively on Robert Mugabe - and in truth he is the one man most to blame. But this is not a story of one man ruling a country. ZANU PF has thoroughly debased the entire country to the point where a thorough de-Nazification will be required in the increasingly unlikely event of them ever losing control over the country. The likely successor, Mnangagwa, is as big a bastard as Mugabe ever was. Perence Shiri, Constantine Chiwenga, Didymus Mutasa, Dumiso Dabengwa - and literally hundreds of others are thieves, murderers, rapists and liars - either personally or by their orders. There is no question of allowing Mugabe to retire quietly and appoint a successor. And there is no question of ZANU PF coming quietly. For there to be a change in Zimbabwe there needs to be a change of regime. No compromise is possible, and if the MDC were to accept a joint Government, or a fusion of the parties, it would be its final act.
That is the problem, laid out fairly simply. The Government is a murderous, incompetent and thoroughly evil one. It has destroyed its own country through a mixture of greed, stupidity and malevolence, and it will not give up power of its own volition. But what on earth is anybody to do about it?

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I've been outrageously busy over the last few dys, so apologies for not posting. I will try and get cak going, but by way of a taster, I noticed this at Portfolio. I appreciate that economic concerns might have taken a bit of a back seat in Zimbabwe just at present (of which more later) but the figures are, um, interesting.
Comparing Old Mutual's share price in London and Harare, Josh Giersch concludes that there are now 35 billion Zimbabwean dollars to one US dollar - up from a mere 17 billion on Friday. Which would put annualized inflation, he says (I haven't checked his math) at 430,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000%. May as well just round it up to the nearest billion quadrillion quadrillion, at this rate.
Yikes. We're going to have to start inventing new numbers.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Oh, for God's sake...

OK, so I accept that the media were always going to go doolally about the Obama candidacy - it's a great story; he's an appealing candidate; the media hate the Republicans and so on and so on. But the great tidal wave of arslikhan is really starting to grate. Matthew Norman in the Independent, for example, oozes all over Michelle Obama:
She, meanwhile, was sensational. Fiercely intelligent, highly eloquent, witty and mischievous ("Be good" was the extent of Barack's pre-show pep-talk), as natural a TV performer as you will ever lay eyes on... apologies for the press release, but this woman is every bit as impressive as her husband, and then some. She is also, at the risk of being thrown out of the vanguard of current neo-feminist thinking like Joan Rivers leaving a studio, incredibly beautiful. If the Obama White House is to be the new Camelot, what a Guinevere she will make (although preferably without facilitating too much cuckoldry).
Slurp slurp.
There are a lot of people, most of whom must be considered ordinarily rational and adult, who are behaving like 1970s teenagers with a crush on Donny Osmond. For God's sake - the guy's a politician, not the re-incarnation of Buddha (note to self: is that theologically possible?). He's made plain stupid remarks about the economy, unhelpful ones about trade and dangerous ones about foreign policy. He is not going to represent a new world, or anything like it - no-one ever does. The most you can hope for is marginal improvement. Build him up now into the world's redeemer, and you're going to be one sad little boy on Christmas morning.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Is this time to be Mr Micawber?

Imagine that you are Gordon Brown (loathsome thought though that might be). You are faced will poll deficits that stretch into the 20s. You have received a thumping defeat in both the local and mayoral elections, and lost a seat that was only 165 on the Tory target list - lost it by a majority of nearly 8,000. Your financial and economic policy is swamped by rising inflation and the slumping value of the pound. The housing market, that has driven the British economy for more than a decade, has finally turned sour. The Bank of England's independent monetary policy committee - that you established - has the task of limiting inflation. This means that rises in interest rates are likely - even though the economy is already slowing.
Not looking too rosy. And what are you supposed to do about it? It is noted, even by your former supporters, that you comprehensively lack the ability to communicate to voters. There are no cabinet heavyweights that you can send out to spread the message - even John Major had Clarke, Heseltine and Portillo for God's sake. You are stuck with Ed Balls, Alistair Darling and a raft of wonkish Milibands. The economic fundamentals are looking extremely gloomy for the foreseeable future, and you lack the capacity to talk your way out of trouble. If things don't change, you are doomed at the next election.
Now, what on earth do you do? There are essentially two choices, to accept your fate and try and limit your losses, or to carry on in the hope that something might turn up. There are two years to go until you absolutely have to call an election - anything might happen in two years! Surely it's safest just to hang tight, try and establish a new narrative and hope that somehow things turn out all right, isn't it? I think that this precisely how Brown will see it. His last chance is that an unexpected event changes the game, shakes the jigsaw, and he can somehow find his way back out.
But I don't think that it's likely. I think that most people have now written Labour off - under Brown at least. There's a lot of talk about how Cameron hasn't 'sealed the deal' with the electorate, and I think that's probably right. But I suspect that the difference here is whether people vote Tory enthusiastically at the next election or resignedly. The Tories may not yet have true depth in support, but Labour does have true depth of loathing.
On this reading, there is perhaps an argument for cutting your losses, and going to the people early - perhaps over a point of principle. The 42 days policy has already had its gloss knocked off it, but it could still be manipulated into a Government-toppling incident. Even if defeat is likely, there is a good chance that it would not be as devestating as if he stuck it out to the bitter end. Some Tories in 1996 were pressing this point on Major - that if you stretch out your welcome to breaking point, the resultant kicking will be a lot worse.
There was a joke doing the rounds during the second world war - what's the difference between a Jewish optimist and a Jewish pessimist? The pessimists are all in exile, and the optimists are all in camps. Sometimes it really is better to jump before being pushed.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Communist jokes

A particularly good joke, as told by Krushchev:

At the 20th Party Congress as Krushchev recounted the evils perpetrated by Stalin, a voice came from the hall:

'And where were you then?'

'Would the man who asked that question stand up,' said Krushchev.

The questioner took fright and did not stand.

'That's where we were, too!' replied Krushchev.


No means no

The rash of rather creepy articles written by a range of Euro-phile sleazes from Denis MacShane to Richard Corbett have one thing in common: they all view the No vote in the Irish referendum as a starting point for negotiations, rather than as the final decision of the Irish people as ratified in plebiscite. It's a bit reminiscent of a leering pervert in a sweaty club - 'Now you don't mean that darling, come on, give us a kiss.'

Good little post-feminists such as anyone educated at a British university after the 1990s will have had drummed into them as an article of faith that 'no means no' and that continuing to press your affections after that point is not on. There was a particularly unfunny cartoon I saw on a blog a while ago taken, I think, from a 1950s playboy. It had two men and a girl in a bedroom, with one of the men saying 'well, two out of the three of us consent.' Not funny then, not funny now.

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Preaching to the choir

Ther's a widespread tendency among people of all political views and none to assume that because they profoundly disagree with something, that thing must be entirely and obviously devoid of merit. To state it clearly is to refute it. Except, of course, that it isn't. Look at Terence Blacker in today's Independent. He's talking about Peter Schweizer's book "Makers and Takers" which purports to prove that conservatives are nicer, happier, cleaner and basically better than liberals in every way, and even hug their kids more.
I have no doubt that this work is stuffed with inconsistencies, illogicalities and gaping holes in its argument. Maybe conservatives just blow their own trumpet louder, or are happier to lie to researchers about how much they give to charity. Maybe liberals feel like they ought to be miserable when there's so much suffering in the world. Maybe there is something in the fact that conservatives have more children than liberals, making them less self-oriented. But Blacker has no such doubts.
It is a waste of time considering Schweizer's theory into the connection between niceness, contentment and right-wing politics for the simple reason that it is clearly and obviously asinine. If his book raises any serious question at all, it would be how it is that modern academics seem happy and eager to join – even to lead – the gadarene rush to silliness.
Well, there we have it. There's no point considering any of Schweitzer's work because it is obviously asinine. Now there's preaching to the choir for you. It's a technique worth remembering for when you can't be bothered, or are unable, to address any issues raised by an ideological opponent. Sorry, your views are too stupid even to think about. I shall dismiss them with a wave of the hand.


Look at me!

It's probably quite a hard sell, pitching an article to a commissioning editor about how one particular social or cultural group is inherently inferior, in appearance, dress and manner to all the others, and that any suggestion that it is 'discriminatory' to state so clearly is inherently ridiculous. I imagine that it might have been easier in the 1950s - articles like 'The Irish, they're all really thick' or 'Those Jews, how tight can you get?' would probably have gone down a storm. Nowadays, not so much.
So kudos should go to Sathnam Sanghera, for getting his article on why all right-thinking people should despise 'posh people' past the editors.
You should not look at who people are but at what they are, the argument goes. If you prick a fattie, a yoof or a toff, do they not bleed? Bigotry is bigotry.
Except that it isn't. Not all isms are equally offensive. To compare racial prejudice, the repression of women, discrimination against the disabled, homophobia and ageism against the elderly to posh-ism, fattism or youth-ism is like comparing Princess Bea to Princess Leia...
In general, they [posh people] are arrogant, insular, chinless, clueless, have a troubling predilection for green wellies and velvet hairbands, bray and honk, have silly hyphenated names, and big teeth that they don't part enough when speaking.
I'd have to agree with Danny Finkelstein, who describes this as repulsive. And inaccurate. There's no reason to get particularly worked up about it all - the article is really only a 'look at me! Look at me! I'm dangerously transgressive!' piece after all - but pieces like this leave a rather disquieting note. Danny notes that, in Rwanda, the Hutus thought the Tutsis were, basically, privileged "poshos", with many of the characteristics Sathnam abhors in their British counterparts, and you could throw in the kulaks for good measure. Irrational hatred of entire ill-defined groups of people on the basis of nothing more than ignorant prejudice is a recipe for disaster. Whether the targets are called Vanya and Gregori, Esther and Ishmael or Arabella and Hugo doesn't really matter.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Whose chain is being yanked here?

An odd little story in the New York Times about how American food aid was subverted by ZANU-PF thugs in Zimbabwe:
Zimbabwean authorities confiscated a truck loaded with 20 tons of American food aid for poor schoolchildren and ordered that the wheat and pinto beans aboard be handed out to supporters of President Robert Mugabe at a political rally instead, the American ambassador said Wednesday.
I have absolutely no doubt that this happened. Mugabe has seen food as a political weapon for a while now, and with the election coming up this sort of thing will be happening all over the country.
The seizure of the truck laden with food assistance is a case in point, Mr. McGee said. It occurred Friday in an area called Bambazonke near the town of Mutare in eastern Zimbabwe.
Wait a minute - where?
The food aid that was confiscated was on a truck that began its rounds last Thursday, but that had a mechanical breakdown and wound up seeking a safe haven by parking overnight at the Bambazonke police station, American officials said.
Hmm. I taught near Mutare and know the area pretty well. I'd not heard of any Bambazonkes around there. And it looks like my ignorance is shared as well:
Wayne Bvudzijena, spokesman for Zimbabwe’s national police, did not respond to the substance of Mr. McGee’s charge when contacted on his cellphone on Wednesday, but instead contended that there was no place named Bambazonke in Zimbabwe.
In an interview, Mr. Kagurabadza, the former mayor of nearby Mutare, confirmed that Bambazonke did exist. It also appears on a recent report of parliamentary constituencies by election monitors. But when the American ambassador, Mr. McGee, and Karen Freeman, the Usaid mission director in Zimbabwe, met Tuesday with a senior official at the Foreign Ministry, they were presented with a similar denial.
Mr. McGee said the official told them, “I’ve never head of this place Bambazonke. Are you certain this even happened?”
The ambassador added, “At the end of the argument, he promised he would look into the situation and get back to us.”
While, obviously, the word of a ZANU-PF official is not exactly blue-chip, I think I can hazard a guess as to what happened here. The driver of the US food truck might well have sold on the food on the black market, reasoning that in the current feverish mood no-one, least of all an American, would ever doubt that it had been commandeered by 'war veterans'. But the name?
Well, during the short-lived Central African Federation, 'Bamba Zonke' was the nickname for Salisbury (now Harare) - the capital of Southern Rhodesia. It means 'Take everything' in Shona. Rather appropriate in the circumstances. Someone is having their chain yanked here, and I'll stick my neck out and say that it's the Americans. Nice touch.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

What should Cameron do about Davis?

David Davis is far too big a beast to leave languishing indefinitely on the back benches. He's good with the media, has a back story that contradicts the whole 'Tory toffs' line of attack, and he's been a supremely good shadow Home Secretary. All that said, it is not going to be possible for him to walk back into the shadow Cabinet after, presumably, his easy victory in the by-election. So, what on earth should Cameron do with him?
How about this: set him up as head of a small policy committee whose remit would be to identify the areas of policy and legislation where creeping authoritarianism and draconian state powers have combined to erode the British tradition of freedom and liberty, and propose either their repeal entirely, or their amendment.
This would presumably appeal to Davis's sense of mission, keep him closely involved with both the Cameron project and with the workings of the front bench, help to keep a continuing spotlight on Brown's "ineffective authoritarianism", which is a line with great potential and avoid claims that there is a split/leadership challenge within the Tories.

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***Breaking: Have the Irish voted No?***

Via politicshome, it appears that early returns in the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty suggest that the No campaign has won. Still too early to say for sure, but this would really put the cat among the pigeons...

More as and when...
Confirmed! And apparently Brown is determined to carry on ratifying this dead treaty. Fun and games to follow...

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Is this really good news for Labour?

Labour are cock-a-hoop about the Davis resignation, thinking that it will get them out of trouble.
Minutes before DD's announcement, I took a call from a Labour person who has been involved in his party's strategising over terror laws, asking if the rumours were true. Told that yes, the Shadow Home Secretary was going, this Labour type simply dissolved into laughter, gasping words like "idiot" and "bloody brilliant."
Listen carefully and you can hear champagne corks popping in Downing Street.
If they really are opening the champagne in Downing Street then they are idiots. They have two options for the forthcoming election: put up a candidate, who will get absolutely slaughtered - quite possibly losing their deposit; or not put up a candidate and try and portray the event as a vanity project.
But if they do this - fail even to bother to represent the Government in an election it would be indicative of both a crashing contempt for the electorate, and of real cowardice - not even being prepared to defend themselves in a public forum on an issue that the opposition feel strongly about.
Uncontained glee too at the appointment of Dominic Grieve, who, he predicts, will be made into "mince meat" by Jacqui Smith.
No. He won't. Jacqui Smith couldn't make mince meat out of meat, with a mincing machine.

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Did not see this one coming.
David Davis is to resign as shadow home secretary in a move that will shock Westminster and be a severe blow to Tory leader David Cameron. Mr Davis is also to stand down from his parliamentary seat in Hull and call a constituency by-election to highlight the issue of the erosion of civil liberties in Britain.
He will then stand as a Conservative candidate again for the same seat, in the by-election set to be held on July 10, while campaigning on the issue of civil liberties in the Hull area and throughout Britain.
I'm not sure I understand it either. The Tories were opposed to this legislation in the first place, it will now almost certainly be defeated in the Lords, and it will then move back to the Commons where the Tories will oppose it again. The reason might be that Davis said, when asked, that the Tories would repeal this when they get into power. If that pledge is to be repudiated, that would explain his resignation as a matter of principle. Otherwise this move looks very odd indeed. Sure to be more later...
UPDATE: The Coffee Housers seem to agree:
A Tory source has just explained to me what Davis is up to. He wants to stand down, force a by-election, then run a campaign on 42 days and declare that ‘the people have spoken’. Why? Well, one reason being put about is that he wants leverage in the internal debate over whether or not the Tories should commit to repeal 42 days.
This is high-risk stuff. Then again, Davis is not averse to risk - as the Alan Clarke diaries show.
UPDATE: Nick Clegg has said that the Liberal Democrats won't contest the bye-election. I suppose the clever move would be for Labour to do the same, saying that it's a frivolous waste of public money... Can't quite see them doing this though.

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Tin pot tyrants

Camilla Cavendish is spot on here. Although I suspect that Britain has always been a haven for jumped-up little Hitlers (the ARP wardens had a pretty bad rep, for example) there does seem to have been a general national genuflection towards petty officialdom and jobsworthness.
A week ago a senior businessman whom I know was shocked to be treated like a criminal by British Transport Police at the Gare du Nord in Paris. Clutching a business-class Eurostar ticket but unable to find the right queue, he ducked under a barrier. The CCTV chirruped. “Sit down!” screamed a policeman. “Give me your passport!” My friend tried to explain. No one listened. “You have no right!” shouted a hatchet-faced woman, also British, in an unreadable uniform.
Five minutes later the officer returned, all smiles. My friend's knighthood had done the trick. But, as he says, it shouldn't have. Such people should never be so rude to any taxpayer who pays their salaries...
Often, the first thing I've seen when visiting tyrannies are unpleasant and swaggering officials trying to impound my passport. I don't want to see them at the Eurostar.
When I returned to Zimbabwe in 2001, after having left in 1998, I was unpleasantly struck, on arrival, to see the sort of arrogant and menacing officials that I had previously associated with the DRC or apartheid South Africa. In a lot of Africa there is a sense that the uniform demands not merely respect, but obeisance. When someone can be pepper-sprayed, and thrown naked into a cell for not telling a polic officer his name - in his own flat, when he had committed no crime and had no reason to allow the police access to his home - we're surely getting to that point here.
Officers arrived and said Cocker was initially co-operative but became 'aggressive' when they asked his name and tried to shut his front door.
He was eventually disabled with parva spray through the gap and arrested.
There is no reason that he had to let the police in. Nor was I aware that it was now a crime not to tell the police your name.
Cocker, of Blackburn, Lancs., pleaded guilty to resisting a police officer and was given a conditional discharge for six months following the incident on May 20.
Resisting a police officer. I would love to know what the specifics of that crime are. If you can be charged with it for not talking to a copper when he interrupts your evening, it must be pretty widely worded.

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42 Days

It's a disgrace. A fucking disgrace. The idea that suspects can be locked up for six weeks without a charge needing to be brought is appalling. Comparable countries - Canada, the US , New Zealand and Australia - manage to get by with, respectively, 1, 2, 2 and 12 days. When the Labour Party came to office, the figure for Britain was 5 days. Not a single suspect has ever had to be released through lack of time. Laws are already on the statute book that could be used if a terrorist outrage compelled it. There is no justification for this measure.
But then, this wasn't really about policy. This was one more of Brown's squalid little party political games designed to make the Tories look bad. First he tried in his last budget, announcing a 2p cut in the basic rate of tax, to be offset by the abolition of the 10p rate. That turned out well, requiring an unfunded £2bn unsuccessful electoral bribe to be paid out shortly before Crewe and Nantwich. Then there was the 'anything you can do' manoeuvre over Inheritance Tax and non-domicile taxation. That one was so well worked out that it took nearly six months before it fell in a heap on its arse.
And now there's this one. The 'Tories are soft on terror' manoeuvre. Brought onto the list purely for party political reasons, it had to be pushed through solely to bolster Brown's tottering premiership. The bribes, assurances and crawling that was carried out by the whips, and by Brown himself, add an extra squalid note to a deeply unedifying spectacle.
The DUP should be ashamed of themselves, the Labour backbenchers who trooped timidly through the Aye lobby should have the satisfaction of knowing that this will be of precisely no help in saving their worthless jobs, and Bob Spink, UKIP's first MP, should, quite frankly, go and fuck himself.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Has Brown bottomed out?

Analysis on Politics Home has suggested that public opinion on Gordon Brown have finally stabilised. The bad news for Brown is that this represents 77% of voters believing that Brown is doing either a fairly bad job, or a very bad job. Not promising. To make things worse, Every new opinion poll seems to be confirming a new record low in Labour support. The ICM poll over the weekend gave a Tory lead of 16 points - the largest such lead ever recorded in the history of ICM, as well as the lowest Labour rating ever.
With Labour now at just 26% in the polls, and the Lib Dems at 21% there must be a real possibility that the Lib Dems, almost by default, will overtake Labour as the second party (in the popular vote at least, certainly not in representation in the House of Commons). The psychological damage that this would do hardly needs to be said. It would also, surely, offer Clegg an unmissable chance to position the Lib Dems as the centre left opposition to Labour, and thus challenge them in seats where the Tories don't stand a chance of victory.
But has Labour now reached its 'lowest low'? Is a partial recovery at least now inevitable? The chance for Brown may come in the current Tory expenses saga (is the timing of this purely fortuitous?). If Brown can somehow wangle a Commons victory over 42 days, and then pull something out of the bag in one of the three possible by-elections rumoured to be imminent (Henley of course, and also Winchester, where Mark Oaten is rumoured to be about to be standing down, and also a seat close to Brown's own constituency, whose Labour incumbent is very ill) he could plausibly claim to have recovered momentum.
As these impresions tend to have their own momentum, Brown's hope must be that his new narrative of renewal and recovery - perhaps then cemented with a reshuffle that brings at least some of the surplus backbench talent back into play - will be enough to give Labour a chance of holding the Tories to a wafer thin majority - or even better. For this to happen, however, Brown needs everything to go right - he's run out of last chances, and he's lost the benefit of the doubt.

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Bob Piper's blog, while it's obviously never going to be quite my cup of tea, has the definite advantage that it provides an insight into the thinking of a traditional Labour man - and one at that who has the commitment to stand for office. Anyone prepared to be a local Councillor needs to be committed (and you can construe that as you will). That being said, in this post he illustrates a problem I have occasionally encountered before. In the comments to a post that slates Dizzy for his post wondering why Mugabe hasn't yet been bumped off, Bob says the following:
Actually, Cassilis, newmania, chas, I can see the difference between Bush and Mugabe. I think the US war for oil has led to far more deaths than Mugabe['s] vile regime.
Now, this leads to the obvious question: does Bob really think that Bush is worse than Mugabe? Because if he does, then there is literally no point in arguing. The basic conditions for debate - that antagonists occupy the same framework of reference - doesn't exist. You just end up with one of those ghastly fights where neither party addresses the other's argument and instead restates their own point louder and louder.
'Mugabe is a despotic, racist tyrant who bankrupted his country and is murdering his opponents!'
'Bush stole the election in Florida and murdered hundreds of thousands in Iraq!'
Hopeless. It's like going back to the college bar, except that this time I have to get up in the morning.

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MPs' expenses

Rather a lot of Tory MPs and MEPs have hit the headlines over various 'irregularities' over their expenses in the last few days. From Giles Chichester to Caroline Spelman, a spate of stories has sprung up - every day seems to bring another one. Some of these look more serious than others - I find it a little hard to get all that worked up over Spelman's using expenses to pay a nanny who also did vague constituency work for six months, eleven years ago, at a time when Spelman hadn't even been allocated a House of Commons office.
However, the tide of stories all at once is distinctly reminiscent of the 'sleaze' stories that sank John Major. Many of these stories did not bear real scrutiny - one of them was over whether a Tory MP had shared a hotel room with a male friend - but it was the overall impression that they gave, a sleazy and immoral Tory Party, contrasted with the 'whiter than white' Labour Party, that was so damaging.
Today's scandals will have less impact, I would have thought, for two reasons. The first is that there is less of a salacious side to the stories - expense accounting a nanny simply isn't as interesting as toe-sucking and Chelsea strips. The second is that everyody in Brussels, and in Westminster is doing this. There is no appetite for a party-political story because Labour is as implicated as the Tories - look at Mr & Mrs Balls for example. Unless the leaking of these stories is expressly party-political (in which case an FOI request to the BBC over their origin might be interesting...) we can expect to see exposure of figures on all sides. The frantic shredding of expense claims rather underlines this.
There is another parallel with the sleaze stories that is interesting. Sleaze was, after all, a wave of stories about adultery, repressed homosexuality, drunkenness, drug-taking and general sexual laxity. These are traits which are even more prevalent among journalists than among politicians. The stories had a strong sense of Satan rebuking sin. The new wave of stories are about the widespread abuse of expense accounts....

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Has there been a coup in Zimbabwe?

The Independent reports that the Joint Operations Committee (JOC) has taken effective control over Zimbabwe while Mugabe is away on his little Roman holiday. The JOC itself is a legacy of colonial rule (along with other little details like the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act that effectively subverts the entire concept of Zimbabwean legality) and is under the nominal authority of Emerson Mnangagwa - of whom regular Reptile readers will no doubt have heard.
The Independent believes, however, that the true head of the JOC is head of the armed forces General Chiwenga. This may very well be so, but given Chiwenga's outspokenly slavish loyalty to Mugabe recently, declaring that the army would never obey Tsvangirai for example, it is hard to see him in the role of coup leader.
The most likely outcome is that Mugabe, who placed Mnangagwa as head of the JOC as soon as he heard that he had lost the first election, has given the JOC free reign to create circumstances that will enable him to steal the election. The harrassment of British and American diplomats, the removal of aid organisations, and the continued violence against the MDC all point towards an obvious point: Mugabe will not allow an MDC victory, and will commit any act of violence he has to to prevent one. The rising role of the army and the JOC is evidence perhaps that he has ceased to trust in ZANU PF's absolute loyalty. Rumours of a coup are perhaps a little premature.

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Why Obama makes me uneasy

OK, so he's charismatic and young and exciting and black and all. And he could make the Vladivostok telephone directory sound exciting and resonant if he read it out. But that doesn't stop sentiments like this in his nomination speech anything other than creepy and weird.
I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.
Vote for me and I will heal the sick, clothe the needy, heal the earth and, um, run away from Iraq. People used to (used to? Sorry still do) criticise George Bush for his slightly evangelical style - but at least he didn't set himself up as the Messiah. A google search for "is Obama the Messiah" bring in nearly 17,000 hits - including the wonderfully creepy Chris Matthews line:
It's part of reporting this case, this election, the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama's speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don't have that too often.
A whole lot of people are going to really disappointed when they discover that Obama really is just another politician with a nice line in speeches.

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Short answers to simple questions

Should Barack Obama choose Hillary Clinton as his running mate?


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Cameron vs Blair part 2

Paul Linford, in arguing why he believes that Labour, if it loses the next election will not be out of power for very long, has as one of his reasons that there is nothing in David Cameron’s career to date to suggest that he will be anything more than adequate as Prime Minister. Comparisons with Blair were always wide of the mark, while comparisons with Thatcher are simply absurd. But, if comparisons are to be made, David Cameron now is where Blair was in 1995 and Thatcher was in 1977. Blair was considered to be maybe a bit light-weight, though he was modernising his party and doing a good job. Thatcher was considered shrill, was usually bested at PMQs by Jim Callaghan and was trailing in the opinion polls.
The job of Prime Minister is sui generis - it is not easy to predict who will be good at it. For evidence of this, simply examine the current incumbent. The first British Prime Minister to hold an academic doctorate; the longest serving Chancellor of the 20th century; a man with no serious rivals in his party; a man with a majority of over 60 - and yet a man who is evidently neither enjoying his job nor succeeding in it. Cameron, over his tenure as leader has shown an ability to delegate where possible and take responsibility when needed. Over the grammar school problem last summer he took the blame, and gave a series of interviews outlining his position - which didn't change despite the negative press. Though he might seem insubstantial over a range of areas, where policies are defined, he has so far been pretty good at defending them. Lets leave it a few years before we make comparisons - but lets also acknowledge that so far he has controlled his shadow cabinet better than either Blair with his dysfunctional duumvirate or Thatcher with her uneasy alliance between wets and drys were able to.

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Cameron vs Blair

Spiked Online, the successor to Living Marxism, provides what might be called a predictably contrarian view on modern politics. It's usually a pretty good read, and has the added bonus of driving traditional lefties frothingly insane. There's nothing quite so guaranteed to enrage a lefty as what he sees as treasonous criticism - witness responses to Nick Cohen or Oliver Kamm for example. That being said, their post-modern 'plague on both your houses', 'politics is dead' motif risks simplifying positions for the sake of a good argument.
I think a case in point is this article on the Tories. Entitled 'The Fortinbras Factor' (which, incidentally is a truly excellent line) it has as its premise that Cameron's Conservative Party deliberately stand as nothing more than a 'Not-Labour Party' and that despite scaremongering on the left about the threatened return of ‘real’ Toryism, Cameron’s strategy looks less like a Thatcherite revival than a brand of – if you can imagine anything so featherweight – Blairism-lite.
The argument is that the Conservatives are not fighting for a distinctive Tory agenda. They are not fighting for anything. They are simply waiting for New Labour to implode completely, and hoping that if they don’t do anything much they won’t upset too many voters in the meantime.
This is, of course, an entirely acceptable ploy in opposition. Very few Governments-in-waiting spend their time mapping out to the electorate the difficult and unpopular decisions they would make in Government. Those that do, whether it was Michael Foot's nationalisation plans for High Street banks, and the FTSE 100, or John Smith's Shadow Budget, tend to lose elections. Comparisons are therefore made with the last youthful leader of the opposition - Tony Blair.
It's important to remember here that what made Blair exciting and different was his symbolic ditching of aspects of the Labour Party that made it unelectable - Clause 4 is the most famous one, but you can also take the rejection of income tax rises, or the abandonment of unilateral nuclear disarmament, or the rowing back from the promise to repeal the Tory ban on secondary picketing. You can argue that these were central parts of the Labour identity, and that their removal from the policy platform marked the beginning of the hollowing out of Labour, but even if you do, you should also acknowledge that they decontaminated the Labour brand - a process made complete by the literal re-branding as 'New Labour'.
Critics complain that Cameron has not done nearly so much - and has focused instead on an insubstantial impressionistic detox of the Tory image, designed to make them sound 'nicer'. Blair, it is stated, did real policy heavy lifting, Cameron has had his picture taken with a husky. To me, however, this ignores the essential difference between the Labour in 1995 and the Tories in 2005. The big problem Labour had was that it was still regarded as in some ways dangerously left-wing. People were worried about a relapse to Bennite socialism. The memories of the unions' excesses were fresh. People didn't want to pay more income tax. Blair's moves were designed to assuage these tangible and identifiable fears.
With the Tories, however, the problem was different. You would be hard pressed to find a particular Tory idea that people didn't like (the nearest you would get was 'banging on about Europe' - and even that was about the impression it gave rather than the substance of the debate). Instead there was an indeterminate ick factor about them - the Bridget Jones 'Labour are for helping people and Nelson Mandela, while the Tories are having affairs' thing. What needed to be addressed was therefore not so much the concrete policies - what there was of them - but more this ick factor. This, it seems to me, is what Cameron has done. The 'shy Tory' syndrome seems to have vanished; the Tories pass the dinner party test again.
Both Cameron and Blair, therefore, acted to change what it was about their respective parties that caused them to lose elections. In the case of the Labour Party that was policy; in the case of the Tories that was public image. It could be argued that, rather than it being Blair who carried out the harder job, the task Cameron faced was more difficult - addressing vague and contradictory emotions rather than identifiable policy issues. As opposition leaders they are directly comparable - the next step awaits...

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

I know it's a bad time but still...

Now, as I said after the May elections, the left of the blogosphere were rather noisily triumphant after their retention of two safe seats last summer. They've been significantly less chipper after losing one this spring. Times are hard for the Labour party and its supporters, even those supporters that are ambivalent in their support. After all, whatever the failings of the Labour party may be, the evil Tories are a million times worse - everyone knows that.
So, the loss of London, the loss of Crewe, the worst polling figures since polling began in the 1940s, a leader less popular than Michael Foot - these things can't be very pleasant. Tempers are presumably fraying. Which is why, I suppose, Justin at Chicken Yogurt has been lashing back at all of us nasty Tory bloggers. What I don't get though, and I doubt I ever will, is the bizarre obsession so many on the left seem to have with Margaret Thatcher's death. In this case, responding to an assertion in that notorious Tory blog, um, The Times of India, that the modern Guardian
is far to the left of not just the Tories but also of New Labour, the paper's constituency seemingly that of the 'Londonistan' of mullahs and minarets. The Guardian used to be called the Manchester Guardian; today it might well be called, by fans and foes alike, the Madrassa Guardian
Justin says that really, it’s the equivalent of pointing at a cock and balls drawn on a toilet wall and expecting everyone to agree it’s the funniest thing since Oscar Wilde turned up his toes. It’s dire stuff. Except that there is a serious point being made here - and it is that the Times of India was, until recently, the authentic voice of India's ruling classes. This sort of comment in India's largest newspaper is interesting.
Anyway, what does Justin suggest might be the equivalent for left-wing blogs of right-wing blogs quoting an Indian newspaper?
Anyway, I must get back to my project for when Margaret Thatcher dies. It’s a photoshopped picture of her being graphically sexually violated by Augusto Pinochet and Milton Friedman. In Auschwitz. No doubt everyone will laugh like hyenas when they see it. If not, I’ll want to know why not.
It's bizarre. And it's hardly a unique instance either. Leaving aside Recess Monkey's unfortunate bit of wish-fulfilment last year, Justin himself had referred to this a couple of days earlier.
You know, I'm saving up all my Tories = Nazis 'jokes' for a rainy day. Maybe when Thatcher dies? We'll see how funny these right-wing gobshites think it is then.
When Margaret Thatcher does die, the reaction of the left will say far more about them than about her. Even now, the gleeful anticipation is just grubby.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Absence Explained

Sorry for the prolonged radio silence - I was in Zambia, where access to the internet is intermittent and sporadic. Well, it is in the bush anyway. Today is going to be given over to trying to find out what I missed, and then the usual run of ill-informed nonsense can resume. I bet you're all so relieved...