Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The value of polls

On the face of it, Labour can be reasonably pleased with their progress so far. Even discounting the oddly out-of-sync YouGov, the polls generally have them at between 36 and 39% - around 10 points up on their dismal election effort last year. Even taking into account the levelling effect of the reduction in and equalising of constituencies, Labour are far better placed to take advantage of the inherent imbalances in our electoral system than the Tories are - whereas the Tories will need a lead of between five and seven points (depending on how opimistic you are) to gain an overall majority, Labour probably only need three or four points clearance.
Economic indicators are generally dire. If everything goes well for the Coalition, 2015 should coincide with a reasonable return to trend growth, but various Damocletian swords look over their heads. The Eurozone can has been kicked about as far down the road as is possible, and a reckoning is coming - the most likely outcome must surely be that in 2015 Labour will be able to ask 'Are you better off than you were five years ago?' and get a mostly negative response. Elections are won and lost on the economy, and the prognosis is bleak.
And yet the smiling faces at the Labour conference tend to fall into two categories - what Dan Hodges called the Flat-Earth tendency, who are delighted to see that their party is finally back in their hands, and Coalitionistas, who see their electoral salvation in the wonky grin of the Leader of the Opposition.
Should we just ignore the headline polling figures then? Probably - at least for the next few years. The figures to watch are the relative leadership ratings of Cameron and Miliband, the lead in trust on the economy and, almost most important of all, the figures showing who the public blames for the spending cuts. That last, at the moment, is especially bad for Labour. 'Red Ed' may be back, but his future is anything but rosy.

Monday, September 19, 2011

In vino veritas

This, in a nutshell, is why I don't drink much American wine.

Wine comes from grapes. I know you know, but stick with me. They're either red or white, and they have names. You got the staples, like Merlot, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel.

Match it with a bowl of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Jack of Kent on abortion

The internet is only rarely a conducive medium for rational, constructive debate. Free of the confines of normal behaviour, positions quickly become entrenched and participants rapidly become abusive. Even beyond this general condition, however, debating abortion on the internet is as close to a perfectly pointless pastime as it’s possible to get. Neither side is interested in hearing what the other has to say – neither side, in fact, appears capable of hearing what the other has to say.

Take, for instance, this post by Jack of Kent. Now, David is a thoroughly sane, rational chap (albeit suffering from the usual attendant handicaps of a life in the legal profession). And accordingly his views on abortion are presented as simply a straightforward medical matter:

For me, it is a matter for the woman, and her doctors: a private surgical procedure which is none of your (or my) business.

To get this far, however, he has to resort to misrepresenting the basis of the debate:
On one side there is the autonomy of the individual (in this case a pregnant woman) competent to decide what should happen in respect of their own body; and on the other side are those who seem to resent and deny the competence of that person to make their own decisions.
And that's not it at all. On the one side there is the belief that the mother has the unchallengeable right to terminate her pregnancy; and on the other side there is the belief that the rights of the mother must be balanced by the rights of the subject of that pregnancy. By ignoring this point, David fails to address the underlying point of the abortion debate: just what is that thing in the womb?
If it’s a person, then it has rights, and the most basic human right of all is the right not to be killed. If it isn’t a person, then it has no such rights – but it must become a person at some point. When? First breath taken independently? If so, partial birth abortion must be fine, because that’s not a person you’re killing.
I’m a very long way from being a fundamentalist Christian (can you even be a fundamentalist Anglican?), but I have two small daughters, and I saw them wriggling on ultrasound scans at 6 months (the 24 weeks at which abortion is apparently an entirely private surgical matter concerning the mother's body and nothing else). They sucked their thumbs, kicked and generally behaved in much the same way as they did when they were newborns (except quieter, obviously).
This isn't (as I said above) an argument that tends to get anywhere. But an argument on abortion that doesn’t even consider this question is barely an argument at all.