A triumph of modern feminism
Friday, May 21, 2010
Mrs Thatcher's coalition
Thursday, May 20, 2010
OK, so as we have seen Europe has the potential to turn into one long thumping headache for the Coalition. But at its heart, it is an economic and political problem – one that will be solved, or at least ameliorated, by hours and hours of meetings, talks and policy proposals. What’s brewing up down in the Yellow Sea on the other hand could be a lot nastier.
The West is used to viewing Kim Jong Il as part comic opera dictator, part evil genius. What’s more concerning about the Cheonan incident is the possibility that it was not done on the orders of Kim Jong Il, but was done as part of an internal power struggle in Pyongyang. Now, I know two parts of bugger all about the power system in North Korea – which is something I have in common with most of the West – but a power vacuum in a nuclear-armed totalitarian state is not a good thing. As Reudiger Frank says:
If the North Koreans torpedoed the ship, and if it was not done after a self-destructive order by Kim Jong Il, this may be proof of a destabilization of the current leadership in Pyongyang. Sinking the Cheonan without consent by the top leader would be an open act of insubordination. An autocratic leader who does not have his lieutenants under control becomes a liability to the system. It is fear and the unchallenged authority of the top that keeps an autocracy together. Many of us have argued that such considerations had allowed Kim Jong Il to take over power from his father so smoothly despite his very different personality: the elite knew that regime stability depended on a strong and undisputed leader, and he was the only realistic candidate for the job.
This could be about to get extremely messy.
Europe in the in-tray
Welcome to the Foreign Office, Mr Hague. And just to ease you in gradually, lets look at two nice juicy little problems, each of them rapidly escalating from ‘irritant’, through ‘concern’ all the way up to the full blown ‘uh-oh’.
First, Europe. Now, no-one knows better than you that the Tories’ relationship to the European Union is like a chap with eczema. He knows that scratching only makes it worse, but he just can’t help himself. A lot of effort has therefore been expended by the leadership to stop talking about Europe at all. It pretty much worked for the duration of the election – the attempts by Labour (and, ahem, our coalition partners) to make an issue of the ECR grouping failed to make any sort of traction. In power, however, this is a luxury that no longer exists. Europe is a constant presence even in domestic politics. A while back I set out a possible Tory response to European attempts to scupper the hedge fund industry:
So, Cameron should certainly lobby hard to oppose the introduction of disastrous over-regulation of the hedge fund industry. But, given that may not prevent its introduction, perhaps he should also make it clear that, were such rules to be introduced, the UK would simply not apply them.
Such is my enormous influence in the modern Conservative party that my policy has been endorsed by the mighty Hannan:
There is a chance that, faced with a flinty refusal to back down, the rest of the EU might compromise. But if it doesn’t, if the directive is driven through despite Britain’s citing of essential national interests, we should simply announce our non-compliance.
Job done. Not that it will happen of course.
Important as this is to the British economy, however, it is all starting to look like a bit of a sideshow. While we’ve been focusing on such parochial matters as elections and coalitions, the very fabric of European politics has been coming close to rupture. Now, there’s always been an argument that monetary union is unsustainable without fiscal union – otherwise you get free-loading Greeks retiring at 50 off the backs of hard-working Teutonic geriatrics getting second jobs to pay for them. But it’s been an academic question for economists – reassuringly remote. Until now.
There are three ways this could go: full economic union in the Eurozone, with fiscal policy heavily influenced, if not absolutely directed, from the centre; partial or full break-up of the Eurozone itself, with southern Mediterranean economies peeling off, defaulting and devaluing; or (surely most likely…) some form of compromise that is too far for national Governments but not enough for international markets.
And we can’t even afford a sense of schadenfreude. Europe is too important a market for us to view its struggles with equanimity – the London market lost nearly 3% of value yesterday. All in all, it’s a bit of a bugger to have in your in-tray. Still, at least there are no other pressing foreign policy issues. Right? Oh.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Ah, Simon Heffer. It’s been too long. It was always on the cards that the new Coalition was unlikely to win Heffer’s approval – it is, after all, a coalition between socially-liberal Conservatives and economically-conservative Liberals. Be that as it may, I note with dismay yet another example of clumsy and ambiguous language – akin to another of his favourite hecatombs.
What does the phrase "Right wing" mean, whether as a noun or an adjective? I ask because I read it bandied about carelessly not as a descriptive term, but as an insult, and its use in this fashion is starting to have sinister connotations.
If the right is sinister, presumably the left is dextrous?
Monday, May 17, 2010
There is a famous scene in Yes Minister where Bernard and Sir Humphrey demonstrate that opinion polls are a moveable feast – with the answers depending very much on the tone of the questions. Bear that in mind when thinking about the set of polls in the Independent over the weekend that purported to show a swing in support away from the Liberal Democrats and towards Labour. Because these are the questions that respondents were also asked to agree or disagree with:
By going into coalition with the Conservatives, the Lib Dems appear to have sold out on their principles.
The events of the last week have made be believe change to the voting system is more necessary than before.
I think Gordon Brown has behaved honourably during this week.
I believe Nick Clegg should have opted for a coalition with Labour rather than a deal with the Tories.
In my minds eye I can see the ghost of Horace Rumpole haul himself onto his back legs and snort – ‘Please don’t lead the witness’. A finer set of leading questions it would be hard to imagine.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Further to my and colleague’s thoughts on this Coalition, it is a source of some comfort that Simon Heffer and, especially, Gerald Warner are so frothingly opposed. I usually refrain from commenting on Warner, as my view is that he is more to be pitied than censured, but there is something splendidly barking about a man who can write the following with anything resembling a straight face:
The first and most evident fact is that we are witnessing the genesis of a truly appalling regime, even measured against the standards of those that preceded it. Something hideous and unclean is emerging from the chrysalis.
Quick Nurse! The screens!
Railway sleepers and planks
On a totally different (and self-indulgent) note, I’ve been hugely enjoying England’s run to the final in the World 20/20s. And the best reason for their progression has been their prodigious six-hitting – there was a shot by wunderkind Eoin Morgan that sailed over midwicket despite the fact that he misread the pace and ended up swatting it one-handed.
But there is more than an element of truth in this article by Martin Johnson about the extraordinary new bats used by players today.
Of Don Bradman’s 6,996 Test runs, precisely 36 came in sixes, but the modern equivalent of the Don’s two pounder is a railway sleeper that picks up like Andre Previn’s baton. Lord knows how many extra trees have been felled to make these things.
Perhaps because they are less heavily pressed, modern bats are indeed simultaneously chunkier and lighter than they used to be. As a result, they break far more easily – a modern professional will get through at least five or six bats a season, where previously a bat might last for several seasons. With the wood less compressed, you get a springier surface – which makes the ball go further.
Not being either sponsored or minted, I have no such luxury – and (partly because I play so little now, sob) I have used the same bat for about the last seven seasons, with only a short break to get it re-handled after the splice went. But then, it’s a Newbery (once a Series One, now re-stickered as a Caduceus, for the sad amongst us) and they are terrific bats.
But as a reflection on what they used to be like, a few years ago I was playing an old-fashioned village friendly. I’d come down from London without my kitbag, and was borrowing kit left, right and centre. The bat I ended up using, faut de mieux, was my father’s old bat from the 60s – an antique Grey Nicholls something-or-other. People talk about sweet-spots these days, but this was the real thing. Hit it out of the middle and it was still sweet as a nut, but anything off the toe or near the edge just trickled away into the infield. It was the least forgiving bat I’ve ever used. I think even Eoin Morgan would struggle to hit the ball one-handed into the crowd using one of these.
I’ve been waiting before writing a piece on the Coalition Government so that I can really nail down what I feel about it. This is not a strategic post on the electoral pitfalls and opportunities presented by the Coalition – I’m sure one will be along soon. This is, instead, a gut feeling thing on my reaction to it.
I will certainly admit that, like David Cameron, I have not always been flattering about the Liberal Democrats – seeing them as perpetually cleaved by internal contradictions and a little bit irrelevant on the national political scene. Well, all things change with time.
I am, as even a fairly cursory glimpse through this blog would show, basically a Cameroonie Conservative – at least I think I am. It’s not always easy to determine the true political nature of any Leader of the Opposition – action is always easier to parse than words. What I am then is an economically dry, socially wet Tory. A Classical liberal, in fact. Why am I a Conservative then? After all, an authoritarian centralising streak runs through recent Conservative history, from Section 28 to the Thatcherite evisceration of local Government. Well, I would say that it is because the alternatives are so much worse. Labour is the party of 90 days detention, of ID cards, of DNA retention, of fingerprinting schoolchildren, of mass databases, of the restriction of jury trials, of the abolition of double jeopardy, of RIPA and of arresting people for reading out names of the fallen at the Cenotaph. They are, to be polite about it, not fit to be trusted in Government.
And the Liberal Democrats? Well, they have a fine tradition of standing up for civil liberties – up to a point. The Social Democratic wing of the Lib Dems has a nasty habit of replicating Labour’s belief that Government is the answer to every problem. The Orange Bookers I have no problem with – a party that marries social liberalism with free-market economic liberalism is right up my street – but I have never felt that they were a driving force in their own party. Vote David Laws, get Simon Hughes: that was always my concern.
So, on that basis a coalition that brings the Orange Bookers into Government – Laws, Clegg and Huhne (ghastly on other levels…) – while trapping the most prominent SDP-ite Cable into a job that pretty much rules out off-piste grandstanding is pretty much ideal. All the more so as those Tory voices on the authoritarian side – the Cornerstone wing – will be as marginalised as the Hughesite SDPers. Win-win.
We’ll see how successful this Coalition Government will turn out to be. But if it’s all to be predicated on the gut reaction of Tory voters, I suspect it will do better than many think. Count me in as a fan for one.
Rejoice, Rejoice, or why everyone has it called the coalition wrong
1 - Lib Dem finger prints all over the cuts
2 - Redraw constituencies to ensure parity of size as part of reform AND seen as disinterested
3 - Rework party funding making the union levy impossible
4 - Unwind the defacto Lib/Lab alliance in Southern England as Lab voters 'go home'
5 - Pressure on Lib Dems that might break the party as Orange bookers look to protect seats, left get fed up and leave
6 - Prevents the Jenkins dream of alliance of the 'progressive left'
7 - Enables the Westminster Govt to 'legitimately' rule Scotland, thus preserving the Union
8 - It has really upset all the right people - from Hitchens to hari, and that has to be a good thing!
Thursday, May 13, 2010
C of EU
I have to admit, I’d sort of assumed that this story was a spoof. I mean, I know I talk about Federasty as a sort of pseudo-religion, but I don’t mean it literally. A service in Westminster Abbey for Europe Day? Looking quickly through the Order of Service, I have to admit that if by some appalling mischance I found myself in the congregation I would have no choice but to spend most of the service in incredulous silence.
I’m as ecumenical as the next chap, but there really is no way that I’m going to give a cursory Amen to, let alone join in with prayers like this:
Lord God our Father,
we affirm our commitment to the European Union
as a force for good in your world.
Guide us, we pray, by your Spirit;
give us wisdom, courage, and hope,
that we may serve you in the cause of justice and friendship,
and remain united in your peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I mean, honestly.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
This, incidentally is quite right. The discipline of the Tories has been remarkable so far – especially as they must be bitterly disappointed with the election result, and more than a few will have major complaints with how the campaign was managed.
As a basic negotiating point, you should only ever make one ‘final’ offer. If Cameron were to offer any more than is already on the table it would look extremely weak. If the Lib Dems really are too prejudiced even to agree to limited and conditional support for a minority Tory administration, then let them stagger into the poisoned embrace of the Labour party.
With 307 MPs, the Tories would be a staggeringly strongly placed opposition. The Lab-Lib-SNP-PC-SDLP-ALL-IND-GRN alliance would need to have nearly all its MPs at Westminster all the time to avoid being ambushed. As few as 10 rebels would be needed to sink a bill even if the full complement turned out. It would be a procedural nightmare, and provided the Tories played it cleverly, they could maintain the moral high ground throughout.
It wouldn’t take much for a fatal break-down in relations, and that would lead to a fresh election. One of the points that the Tories tried very hard to make during the campaign was that the only way to get rid of Labour was to vote Tory. There could hardly be a more elegant proof of that than a grand coalition of every other party in the Commons to keep them out of office.
League of losers
I may have mentioned a few times that at the heart of the Liberal Democrats there lies a deliberate blur. What are they? Labour’s left-wing conscience? A more moderate Conservative party?
There was a delightful story I heard during this election from the South West. A chap was door-stepped by the Lib Dems and asked how he would vote. Well, he said, that depends on whether the candidate is sound on fox hunting – it’s very important to me and might decide my vote. There was a pause, while the canvasser waited for the chap to go on, and then he said plaintively “But you haven’t told me what side you’re on yet!”
All things to all men is an admirable campaigning tactic. It’s not possible to maintain it in Government. And yet, and this is the really odd thing, the Lib Dems have been arguing for a Hung Parliament for 20 years – surely they must have had some idea of what they were going to do when they finally got one?
It looks more and more as though the Lib Dem negotiators – especially Ed Davey – came to the conclusion that the only coalition that worked was Lib-Con, and that Nick Clegg agrees. But the party itself would rather bring the walls crashing down than have anything to do with the hated Tories. Well, so be it. If the time has come for the Lib Dems to choose, and they choose to prop up a defeated Labour Party, then I suspect that we will all be able to have our say pretty soon. Minority Governments are always unstable. How much more unstable would a minority coalition Government be?
Monday, May 10, 2010
Just a thought: if the Liberal Democrats turn down the option both of a coalition with the Tories, and of providing support to a minority Tory administration on the grounds that they weren’t offered enough on proportional representation, they will have comprehensively demonstrated their lack of seriousness as a political party.
It will also probably mean another General Election.
Brave new world
Welcome to the new politics eh? Do you think, if we’re really good, we can get PR so that we can have four days of secret meetings and stitch-ups every election?
Time for post-mortems on the campaigns later (quick précis – it’s an inverse caucus race. Everybody has lost, and none shall have prizes), lets have a quick recap of what the likely result of the election is.
Option 1: Tory-Lib Dem coalition.
Upsides? Well, this is the one that everyone seems to be pushing – and it seems from his public statements that it’s the one favoured by David Cameron. And you can see why, if he pulls it off. At a stroke it goes a long way towards completing the detoxification of the Tory party. Reasonable, mature, grown-up – putting the good of the country before the party etc etc. It also ensures, in the words of Ken Clarke, that the Liberal Democrat leadership have to ‘dip their hands in the blood’ of fiscal retrenchment. On the other hand, those Lib Dems get a chance to get their sticky little hands on some red boxes. Clegg for Home Secretary? Cable for Work & Pensions? Chance of a lifetime…
Downsides? Well, coalition Government is a bit of a bugger for the Lib Dems really. They make their stand in the south as an alternative to the Tories for those that can’t vote Labour, and in the north as an alternative to Labour for those that can’t vote Conservative. Having to actually choose one or the other rather undermines that. On a less existential point, the mechanics of being in Government when there are significant policy differences in certain areas look tricky. Fortunately I suspect that the coalition will have expired before the next European elections in 2013…
Option 2: Lab-Lib-SNP-PC-SDLP-All-Green coalition
Upsides? Well, technically it’s a majority.
Downsides? Come on, you’re having a laugh – a coalition of the losers? That just barely scrapes to a majority in any case. About as good an example of stability as a see-saw with Sarah Teather on one end and Gordon Brown on the other. Next!
Option 3: Tory minority Government
Upsides? Well, you’d only get this on the basis of a condition and supply agreement with the Lib Dems – that would mean that you’d get fairly minimalist Government with a strong focus on co-operation. For the Tories, the upside’s clear – they’re in Government! For the Lib Dems, they avoid taking the rap for the forthcoming cuts, but still wield a partial veto over Government policy. Power without responsibility…
Downsides? It’s vulnerable to sudden collapse – though if the condition and supply agreement is published that should be less of a problem – and it severely constrains the Government’s freedom to act at a time of extreme economic crisis. On the other hand, from a libertarian perspective, it severely curtails the Government’s freedom to act…
Option 4: None of the above
Upsides? Aw hell, that election was fun – lets just have another! Maybe we’ll get it right next time…
Downsides? And another, and another? Nothing’s that fun in politics. Eventually we need to turn the page.
For what it’s worth, I suspect we’ll see option 3. It’s the least positively harmful option for the Lib Dems, and they’re the ones being wooed. But then, my predictive powers have proved demonstrably feeble, so don’t for God’s sake listen to me…
Friday, May 07, 2010
Thursday, May 06, 2010
Scores on the Doors
Prediction time then. It’s a tricky one this, though, because I really only have the sketchiest idea of what’s going to happen.
The real problem is distinguishing between those little persistent gut instincts that you really ought to be listening to, and the overwhelming tide of wishful thinking that threatens to drown out everything else. So, what follows may be uncanny, or it may just be drivel. A few predictions anyway, bearing in mind that no-one really knows yet.
1. The Tories lead Labour by more than the final polls suggest.
2. The Tories will do disproportionately better in England than elsewhere.
3. Labour will collapse in the South.
4. Ed Balls will lose his seat – along with at least one other cabinet minister.
5. It will be an absolute toss-up for second place.
6. The Tories will win a reasonable majority.
Phew. More than a few hostages to fortune there. So lets throw caution to the wind and go for a votes prediction:
And seats? Now this is much trickier…
Now I know I’ve been listening to that wishful thinking! See you on the other side…
OK. Here we go. Polling day.
It’s been a remarkably odd campaign – characterised by a Lib Dem surge that may or may not have petered out, a Labour campaign that staggered from farce to farce right up until the last few days and a Tory campaign that never knew whether it wanted to go positive or negative – and ended up doing sort of both and sort of neither.
But what’s going to happen tonight? Well the first thing to say is that the polls have more or less converged on a pattern of 36/28/28. But, as Fraser Nelson says, the polls also say that lots of people haven’t made up their minds. I’ve been tracking the opinion polls more assiduously that has been good for my state of mind – and I’m not alone, just watch the comments on politicalbetting trend from hope to despair and back again every night. But a nagging doubt has surfaced.
Back when the Sun started its daily YouGov poll there was a host of complaints and criticisms raised about its new methodology. The introduction of ‘Labour Disloyals’, the heavy down-weighting applied to Tory respondents – raw numbers were being put through the wringer with such a heavy touch that Tory leads of up to 13% were being reported as leads of 6%. Now, I’m not suggesting any impropriety in this of course, but what it made me realise was that the raw numbers that pollsters take in frequently bear little relation to the managed numbers they put out.
There are good reasons for this – pretty much every poll since 1983 has understated the Tories and overstated Labour. No-one’s quite sure why, but that’s the way it’s always been. A host of mathematical jiggery-pokery has therefore been applied to try and reverse this – and this has often been successful, YouGov was pretty much spot on with the mayoral elections.
But will it work this time? One of the aims of the methodologies is to prevent ‘silly’ results where, because of a lack of Labour respondents, the Labour number looks wrong. But Angus Reid, a new Canadian pollster, has been finding Labour shares of 23-24% for months. Could they be right? Do the pollsters formulae account for a Lib Dem surge? Could the Tories be understated (again) and really be closer to 40 than 35? Are we, in other words, about to witness 1992 mark II for the pollsters?
Well, maybe. I don’t know. And nor does anyone else, but it does add a certain amount of spice to tonight don’t you think?
That's just showing off
Um, hope he’s all right, and gets on the podium tomorrow (Buckingham are one of those loser Friday-counter seats). The one thing that would really put the icing on the cake of a Tory win would be Bercow losing his seat. Which reminds me, it’s time for the Partyreptile Prediction Poser…
Go and vote!
Go on, seriously. You don’t get the opportunity all that often, and if ever there was an election that demanded a high turnout this is it.
I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, of course. But I will just say that a vote for Gordon Brown would be, like a vote for his mate Al Gore would have been, a vote for the complete annihilation of all possible worlds. You have been warned.
There is something rather wonderful about people who proudly clutch attempted insults to their bosom. It does, after all, have a long and noble tradition – Tory, suffragette, neo-Conservative – all were (and in the last case still is) designed to be opprobrious epithets but ended up being embraced by the recipients.
So, full marks to John Rentoul for flourishing the banner of Just About The Last Blairite Columnist In Britain. I still prefer my description though - the Martin Bormann of the Blair bunker (and I really do mean that in the nicest possible way). I can understand his being less than happy to embrace it though.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
Nearly there now. The reason there hasn’t been all that much election build-up on this blog over the last week isn’t that I’m not interested – I’m fascinated. It’s more that the whole tenor of coverage seems vaguely pointless. The polls are up and down – more about them in a minute – and the campaigns seem as frenziedly pointless as ever. Everyone’s talking about the possible permutations of a hung parliament, from sober assessments of whether Cameron could go it alone to frothing nonsense about a Tory coup (no, really).
And yes, these speculations are fun. What happens if the Tories get to 310 seats? What if they get only 280? Or even 275? What happens if Labour fall behind the Lib Dems? Or don’t? Or collapse entirely? What happens if the Lib Dems consolidate their surge and finish second? What if they replace Labour as the opposition? What if it all just fizzles out again?
All of these are fun questions, but since we don’t know the damn answer to them, there’s really not much point in trying to answer them – we’ll know the scores on the doors in a couple of days, and speculating from a known position is rather more productive. Before we start asking ‘what happens after the election?’ we’d probably better ask ‘what’s going to happen in the election?’.
Stay tuned for the exclusive Reptile eve of poll prediction…