Friday, August 31, 2007

Lurch! Lurch!

It was always going to be Labour's primary response to any Conservative policy announcement. Tony Blair's greatest achievement was to marginalise the Tories altogether - anything they said could be ignored because they were, in some way, 'extreme'. Brown has followed this script carefully - anything said by the Conservatives will instantly be held up as a 'lurch to the right'. Look here, and here, and here, and here for proof of this.
Independent: Andy Burnham, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said: "Increased taxes on motoring, holidays and household fuel bills will hit every person hard. It is the latest evidence of David Cameron's massive lurch to the right."
Guardian: Redwood's 'tax cut' plans reveal shift to the right, says Labour
Guardian: Beverley Hughes, the children's minister, claimed the speech [on youth crime] represented another "lurch to the right" by the Tory leader.
Anything - whether targeted tax cuts, targeted tax rises, immigration, crime, health - anything at all, will be met by this phrase. Apart from wishing they'd flip the record, what should the Tories do? The first thing to do is to call them on it. The aim of the 'lurch' strategy is to make the Tories look extreme and weird. So reverse that - challenge it by highlighting both its ubiquity and its irrelevance. 'Lurch to the right? Come off it, you've said that about everything since 1997, even ideas that you've subsequently stolen for yourselves. The public has a right to expect a bit more analysis than that surely?'


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Diana redux

10 years ago I was fortunate enough to be in Africa when Diana's car crashed in an underpass in Paris. As a consequence the mass hysteria that captured England seemed extremely remote, and entirely incomprehensible. It mattered to everybody, apparently, mattered more than their own lives, and I felt extremely dislocated from the experience. Indeed, as Mark Steyn puts it, I found the spectacle of 'the people' in mourning a little unpleasant.
No one could doubt the sincerity of the people’s reaction. But their sincerity did not make it any less repellent. The supposedly reserved, bloodless Brits had, like the Princess, swallowed wholesale the vocabulary of American Oprahfied psychobabble, a depressing enough prospect. But they had fused it with the brutish vulgarity of modern British mass culture to create a truly horrible mutant: aggressive empathy.
But, in the kerfuffle over her forthcoming memorial service I don't detect anything like the same emotion. I know that I couldn't care less either way who is invited and who isn't, and can't imagine that anyone other than a Daily Express reader does either. That's why I find it hard to get remotely agitated over Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's screed in the Independent today.
Even so, it is the most awful tripe. It's as if she's pressed a button marked 'auto anti-royal rant' and taken the feed off the ticker-tape. I suppose all columnists eventually descend into self-parody, but Yasmin does do it easier than most.
Ten years ago, the people forced the Royal Family to recognise what Diana meant to the nation. They have done it again. The fire of protest has subsided, but the mood is like the black ash over Greece.
Gah. I do hate the phrase 'the people'.
The royals and the Spencers blame the media for destroying the princess and now her commemoration. Prince William even says it was not her treacherous husband but us lot – the hacks – who brought his mother down.
I don't think even Fayed claims that Prince Charles was driving the paparazzi cars does he?
Millions of Britons blame Camilla, who invaded the marriage and then brazenly tried to intrude on the posthumous celebration of the woman they adored and she wronged.
Do grow up. Millions of Britons? Maybe a decade ago.
They [William and Harry] stamped on Diana's buried heart when they asked Camilla to the ceremony; the people they have invited do not reflect the emotional openness that defined their mother. My late mother rued before she died that Diana's boys had been turned into blue Windsors. How true. Just look at William now: he is a male version of Princess Anne.
Blue Windsors? What the hell does that mean? They stamped on her buried heart? Yasmin, you've missed your calling, there's surely a vacancy now that Diana's favourite author has died.
If they really meant the ceremony to honour their mother, they would have invited the sick, poor and disenfranchised – the blind man who tried to see her beauty by touching her face; limbless victims of land mines; bulimics; lepers,; Aids patients; black people who knew she never flinched away from them; her Muslim surgeon lover; the confidantes resented by the palace; the cleaners and bus drivers who wept so when her coffin went by.
I feel a bit queasy after reading this.


Inheritance Tax

Just briefly, one of the things that irritates me about the coverage of Inheritance Tax is nicely illustrated in a piece by Seumas Milne, of awful aspect.
The determination to slash a mildly progressive tax which catches only 6% of estates and could by no stretch of the imagination be said to affect middle England speaks volumes about what Cameron's social justice agenda is likely to mean in practice.
Although currently only about 6% of estates are hit by Inheritance Tax, this is irrelevant. In the 'hit by a bus' scenario that has to drive personal tax planning in this field, about 34% of the population would be caught by Inheritance Tax. Saying, 'don't worry, by the time you're likely to die, you won't have as much money' isn't terribly reassuring. IHT raises comparitively little money at the cost of a lot of heartache and complex financial planning. Abolishing it would not merely benefit the elderly in immediate contemplation of bequeathing their estates, but also the healthy who are not inclined to leave it to luck that they don't walk under a taxi on the way to work.


Lurching to the right?

So, phase two begins. After a long period spent decontaminating the Conservative brand, David Cameron has revealed his true colours: a Thatcherite hiding under a touchy-feely exterior. This, at any rate, will be the Labur angle on the recent series of Conservative announcements and interviews. Is there any truth in it?
Dizzy is quite right that Cameron's positioning on immigration is a classic piece of triangulation. Whereas a focus on immigration with regard to its impact on 'Britishness' and 'shared values' and so forth looks like dog whistle politics (and, interestingly, is pretty much what Gordon Brown is doing), Cameron's angle is much harder to attack on 'racist' grounds:
I do think that people have a very real concern about levels of immigration and not because of different cultures or the colour of their skin. I think that people’s concern is about services. It’s the pressure on schools, pressure on hospitals, pressure on housing.
Framing the issue in this way is an excellent tactic. But is the underlying strategy the same? It has always been my belief that Cameron is socially a traditional Tory in the Macmillan/Whitelaw mould, while economically he is very much a child of the 1980s. Much of the work done by the Conservatives over the past 18 months has been in order to win the Tories a fair hearing. There should not, therefore, be too much concern if the Labour Party, as they will, jump to herald all this as a 'lurch to the right'.
That has been the message from the Labour Party consistently for the last 10 years. Whenever the Conservatives speak about tax, crime, immigration or Europe - four of the areas that most impact on peoples' lives - the Labour Party has sought to shut down the debate. If Cameron can neutralise this, either by triangulating or by ridiculing the idea, he will have a great advantage.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Those craaazy Liberals

What have we here? A Liberal Democrat policy on the environment? What a treat.
Petrol-driven cars could be banned across Britain by 2040, under radical Liberal Democrat plans to tackle climate change
How refreshingly Liberal!
Mr Huhne said he foresaw cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells, improved battery technology or other new technology yet to be developed. He compared the change to the shift from the steam engine to the internal combustion engine, or from the gaslight to electric light, at the start of the 20th century.

"We need - by 2040 - to have a non-carbon emitting type of propulsion in our vehicles," he said. "It will be clearly no petrol cars by 2040."
And yet, strangely, it isn't as a result of a ban that we don't see steam trains in our stations or gaslights in our streets - it's because their replacements were more efficient and cheaper. If hydrogen fuel cells become a feasible and cheap method for transportation - and I'm sure they will - we won't need to ban petrol cars. And we shouldn't anyway, because it would be a ludicrously heavy-handed and illiberal measure.
Mind you, looking more closely at that quotation from Huhne, I'm not sure he hasn't been a bit misrepresented by the reporter. Look at what he said:
It will be clearly no petrol cars by 2040.
What does this mean (apart from nothing)? It could mean that the Lib Dems would make petrol engines illegal, but you could make a case that it means that they would be obsolete. At least, at a time when John Prescott is retiring from the Commons, we appear to have a natural replacement.


Birth of a counter-factual

What if Jim Callaghan had gone to the country in 1978? What if John Kennedy had lived? What if Tony Benn had become Deputy Leader of the Labour Party? What if John Smith had lived?
They're all fun - because endlessly debatable - and all, ultimately, pointless. And we're about to live through our very own counter-factual. What if Gordon Brown had gone to the country in Autumn 2007?
It looks less and less likely that he will - the Conservatives haven't imploded, the polls are still looking good, but not magnificent, and boundary changes and so forth make improving on his current position difficult to say the least. But, as John Rentoul says, now is arguably the most propitious time. He has the excuse of seeking a mandate - and the opposition, having called for him to do so, would be unable to exploit the 'unnecessary nature' of the election. He still has a veneer of newness, a veneer granted to all new Prime Ministers, and usually of short duration. He has a decreasing window in which existing problems can convincingly be blamed on the previous administration.
But he won't go. And so when he does, in Spring 2008 or 2009 perhaps, everything will be viewed through this little counter-factual prism. Why didn't Gordon go in Autumn 2007?

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Presumptuous mourning

Libby Purves puts her finger on something I was thinking about this weekend. Buying the paper on Saturday morning, I noticed the headline on the Mirror, which said, in relation to the murder of Rhys Jones, something like We all mourn with you under a picture of Rhys's grieving parents. Well, I wasn't.
As with the death of Princess Diana 10 years ago, when a mass hysteria fell upon the nation and competetive grieving was the order of the day, there seems to be a similar need for the media in general to demonstrate their own involvement with the story - to personalise the tragedy into how it affects them.
Well, I'm not a part of Rhys's death. Nor are the editors of the Mirror, nor are the majority of those leaving cellophaned flowers and toys where he died. It seems to me to be incredibly presumptuous to shoehorn in an ersatz mourning for someone we never knew, and who we would never have thought about had he not had the tragic misfortune to be gunned down in Liverpool. I'm not trivialising the pain his parents are suffering - on the contrary, I think that the obsessive need to include oneself in other people's grief looks more like egotism than genuine sympathy.


You know you're a conservative

Iain posted this little trope, You know you're a Conservative when... that was swiftly satirised by Chris Dillow. Most of Chris's are mildly tendentious - ie:
1. Conservatives oppose immigration;
2. Wanting to leave your own money to your children rather than to the state is evidence of moral turpitude and hypocrisy;
3. Trade Unions are an example of people standing on their own two feet;
4. You believe in 'equality before the law, even though it's mostly your opponents who achieved this'.
5. 'you think state authorities shouldn't intervene in markets, unless doing so would benefit your business or support share prices or house prices'.
6. Conservatives are ignorant of economic theories that are described as being in an unfortunate obscurity; and
7. 'you think a centrally planned economy is a bad idea but centrally planned companies are great'.
While most of these, as I said, were rather tendentious, there is one I would point out as rather more flawed. Number 4 specified as the opponents of the Conservatives who achieved equality before the law as the CRE and the suffragettes. Passing over the first with the comment that it increasingly looks as though equality is the last thing the CRE is in favour of lets look at the second.
The suffragettes really got under way in about 1905, when Christabel Pankhurst interrupted a Liberal Party meeting. The heyday for suffragist activism was in the years 1907-1913 - including hunger strikes, the interruption of the Derby in 1913 (which resulted in the death of the suffragette in question Emily Davison) the cat and mouse act and so forth. Voting rights for women were not introduced until 1918.
Now - given that this was the achievement of the opponents of the Conservative Party after all - who was in power and blocked this campaign? The Liberal Party. Who was in power when voting rights were granted in 1918? A coalition dominated by the Conservative Party. Who was in power when full voting equality was granted in 1928? The Conservative Party. Which party did the leading suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst, stand for in 1926? The Conservative Party.
I know Chris dislikes the Tories (or, perhaps more accurately, has contempt for them) but distortion of history is a bit much...

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Friday, August 24, 2007

On that...

Further to my last post, I've noticed a few stories like this one recently.
A 20-year-old woman who was attacked by a gang of youths in a park in Lancashire, has died in hospital. Sophie Lancaster and her 21-year-old boyfriend Robert Maltby were found with serious head injuries in Stubbylee park in Bacup, Rossendale, on 11 August. Mr Maltby was left in a coma with bleeding on his brain but has since made a recovery. Lancashire police have charged five teenage boys, aged between 15 and 17, with section 18 wounding.
For fuck's sake! These boys battered a 21 year old man into a coma, and killed his girlfriend. They beat her up until she died. There's a word for this, and a very ancient offence. What they did, if it fulfills the criteria for wounding - ie a deliberate attack - also fulfills the criteria for one count of murder and one count of attempted murder. If you attack someone, and they die as a result, that's murder - not manslaughter, not wounding: murder. Fucking Hell! There's a law, so bloody well apply it.

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Precatory words

I don't know who killed Rhys Jones. But I do know this: no child in this country should be riding around on a BMX bike with a gun shooting other children.
Well, quite. But is this sort of thing from Cameron particularly helpful or enlightening? Can we learn anything useful from the death of an 11 year old in Liverpool? Probably not, to be honest. Looking back to the reactions to the death of Jamie Bulger two things stand out. The first is the shameless use of the crime for political advantage by the Labour Party, the second is that very little substantive changed as a result. Rhetoric on crime, anti-social behaviour and 'anarchy' has been ramped up, but policy has not. What, in practical terms, can a Government actually do to fight crime and restore/retain public order?
The public must not rely on the government to prevent gang culture, but take more responsibility itself, David Cameron has said.
Again, fine. There really is no such thing as society - if you want something done, you shouldn't just sit back and wait for 'them' to take care of it. We are them (grammar). If you want a return to a society where kids misbehaving were routinely upbraided by adults - then upbraid misbehaving children. They can't all have knives after all. And there's the nub - it is perceived that a critical mass of people are now armed, and perfectly happy to use extreme force in trivial circumstances. What should Cameron announce as Conservative policy on crime? How about this:
"The Labour Party have introduced 30 Criminal Justice Acts in 10 years, creating 3,000 new criminal offences. Their priority seems to have been to make law abiding citizens criminals and not the other way around. Their mania for intricate meddling has left a criminal justice system that is unnecessarily complicated and a police force that has had initiative drummed out of it. If you carry a knife, there are now at least five separate statutes under which you can be penalised. The police pursue children throwing sausages, but not those wielding knives.
"The Conservative Party favour simplicity over complication. The correct response to a law being broken is not to enact a new law, but properly to enforce the existing one. The correct answer to a neighbourhood that is descending into lawlessness is not to erect Close Circuit Television cameras to help police identify the perpetrators, but to re-instate a visible and regular police presence in order to deter them altogether. The hallmark, after all, of a successful police force is not how many crimes they detect, but how much crime they prevent.
"Whenever the Labour Party is faced with a problem they reach to targets as the solution. But if targets were a successful way of running anything, the Soviet Union would still be a world power, and Vladimir Putin wouldn't have to take his top off to get the world's attention. Targets are no more effective for the police than they have proved for the NHS.
"Simpler laws, properly enforced. A police force directed less by central Government and more accountable to local opinion. Simplicity and decentralisation: two things that this Labour Government has been so spectacularly poor at delivering over the past decade."

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Bill of Rights - again

Despite it's dubious parentage (it's the successor to Living Marxism) Spiked Online usually has thought-provoking and well written stuff. They're mostly right, for example, on Learco Chindamo here. It is a nonsense to suggest that Chindamo should be deported to Italy - especially as we couldn't prevent him from moving straight back again. Where they are wrong, however, is on the import of Cameron's call for a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act.
I've gone over this before, but the principle problem with the HRA remains the same: it requires British judges to examine British legislation as to its effective legality ie: whether it is in accordance with the HRA. This is the first time in British history that the judiciary has had the authority to over-rule the legislature and it's a massive constitutional mess.
The first problem is that it rides roughshod over the principle that later Acts of Parliament override their predecessors when they are in conflict. Recently, for example, a statute that made provisions for the administration of parking meters was held to overrule the Magna Carta (on trial by ones peers) and the 1688 Bill of Rights (on the right not be convicted without trial). According to this principle, any Act passed subsequent to the HRA should override it. If it doesn't, what does that mean for every other Act? This isn't really a convention as such - it's more of a mechanical description of how parliament works.
The second problem is that it devalues the concept of parliamentary sovereignty. People argue that, because the HRA is a slightly re-written ECHR, and because the ECHR was largely drafted by British lawyers, it must be appropriate for British law. It isn't. The argument is akin to saying that, because British engineers worked on the Hoover Dam, the Hoover Dam should be copied and built in the Lake District. The ECHR relies on a system of law where courts are used to interpreting laws in the light of a written constitution - entirely dissimilar to the British constitution.
So, when Rob Lyons says that
As for the Human Rights Act, the criticisms put forward by the Conservatives are shallow and potentially even more undemocratic than the Act itself. Replacing an Act based on the European Convention on Human Rights with one based on some foggy set of homegrown principles simply leaves our freedoms in the hands of an unaccountable judiciary.
he's getting it arse about face. The proposal of the Conservatives is that, while the Bill of Rights is drafted in a similar way to the HRA, the decision as to whether or not something is compatible with it is decided by Ministers and not Judges. Judicial Review will still mean that these decisions can be challenged, but on the basis of irrationality and ultra vires rather than whether the judges 'agree' with the decision. As an example: currently before deportation, the competing rights of the state and the individual are decided by a judge. Under a Bill of Rights, provided the decision was not irrational or illegal, the decision would be made by an elected minister. You can argue that judges should have this power instead - but not that that would be more democratic.

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Blogs on the right

Well, we've taken the glittering prizes eh? Tory bloggers are unrivalled masters of the British blogosphere: the two most popular political blogs are conservative, and the cutting edge of blogging is wearing blue. Hurrah and well done us.
Tim Ireland is dismissive of this (although I'm damned if I'm going to spend my time searching for the true culprit that, um, hacked someone's facebook page or something), saying that
there are civilised and sensible Tory bloggers around, but there's also a bunch of cheats that misrepresent the opposition's position, let fly with the most outrageous (and all-too-predictable) abuse, manipulate comments and/or retro-moderate with shameless abandon... oh, and typically they also make good use of multiple personalities... presumably so they may better represent that silent majority we keep hearing about.
Well, yes. There are indeed wankers on the internet (on oh so many levels). Tim's long-standing problem with sock-puppets (multiple identity commenting - making it look like you've got more support than you do) has always seemed to me to be an irrelevance. Comment threads almost always degenerate into pointless juvenilia anyway, with or without help. Of more interest is the idea that the right are 'destined' to be on top in the internet stakes. I think it can be said without too much exaggeration that this is the case in the British blogosphere at the moment.
Why is this? In my opinion, and this is scarcely an original observation, it's because the left are in power. It's much easier to write a blog on offense than defense. Writing pieces on why the Government is doing the right thing is only fun when it's an exception. Continually writing pieces on why the Government are great is dull for both writer and reader. Putting that more clearly - blogging is largely an anti-establishment thing, and the left are currently the establishment.
This is temporary and reversible. Read the Goldberg file from the 1990s, and indeed the Drudge report and the Instapundit and 101 other right-leaning blogs from the Clinton era. The wisdom at the time was that the right were on top, and the Democrats were just useless at this internet thing. Spool on through two Republican presidencies and the story is the opposite - Web 2.0 is supposed to be all about the Democrats.
There's a tendency of the right to cite the old PJ O'Rourke line that the left is too earnest to be funny - the habit of saying 'there's nothing funny about ...' when clearly there is, it's just rude as well. I'm not sure, however, that has too much bearing on this debate. But the hectoring style of humour espoused by, for example, Jeremy Hardy or Mark Steel isn't very well designed for blogs - it comes across as pompous and preachy.
But ultimately, the trends of the internet will all look very different if and when a Conservative Government comes into power. After all, Ben Elton was once the scourge of the establishment, and then became it.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

The brassiest of brass necks

What is it with this time of year? One minute you're getting Ken Livingstone criticising someone for being tactless and insensitive and the next you get this:
I loathe these new Londoners – brash, arrogant, vulgar, loud and tasteless
And who is spelling out this message of hatred for the brash, the arrogant, the vulgar, the loud and the tasteless? Janet Street-Porter, that's who. The rest of the article is the usual balls.
[Livingstone] should consider a wealth tax, whereby any Londoner with an address in the congestion zone has to pay a tithe of 1 per cent of their earnings over £500,000 a year into schemes funding youth workers and practical training for the teenagers who hang around doing very little night after night.
As well as the 40% tax they already pay? Plus the Council tax they already pay? Oh, and a 'tithe' is a word with a meaning by the way - it's not synonymous with 'tax'. Arcane words are only impressive if you know what they mean.
The news this week that a millionaire banker "forgot" that his £80,000 Maserati had been towed away three months earlier, and had been languishing in a car pound in west London, running up £5,000 in fines, is another example of the kind of resident we can do without.
Why? He's just, through his own stupidity/astonishing wealth, given £5,000 to the local council. Which is as much as your proposed 'tithe' would have raised from someone earning £1 million. If he's careless enough to subsidise the council, why should we complain?
At the bank Mr Des Paillieres had a PA to sort out "domestic matters", and without this support, his life has become disorganised. It's time for this character to enter the real world...The first step in this man's rehabilitation will be to survive without a PA. I've finally managed it and my life is vastly improved.
Note to Ms Street-Porter: the life of a banker is more difficult than a media tart and occasional journalist.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Democracy in action

Unlike Mr Eugenides I'm not particularly exercised by the rise of Wendy Alexander to the leadership of the Scottish Labour Party. I do have a slight quibble with this story though. It starts:
An ally of the prime minister has been elected as leader of the Scottish Labour party after leftwingers failed to gain enough support to mount a challenge.
But if there were no challengers, it was hardly an election was it? Rather like Brown himself, Alexander was appointed leader in lieu of an election. No-one elected Brown to be leader of the Labour Party; no-one elected Alexander to be leader of the Scottish Labour Party. So when the Guardian says:
Her coronation as Labour's first elected female leader came after the Campaign for Socialism failed to win support from the five MSPs needed for its candidate, Bill Butler, to stand.
It's being a bit disingenuous really. In any event, can you really be crowned as an elected leader?

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Human Rights

This is a pro-Cameron blog, I don't think anyone can have any doubt about that. But I'm afraid that he's dropped a rather serious brick. There's been a bit of coverage of the entire issue of human rights, both specifically in this instance and more generally. Calling for the scrapping of the Human Rights Act, and its replacement with a new 'Bill of Rights' is entirely defensible, as I shall argue below, but to do so in relation to the furore over Learco Chindamo is fatuous. I find it hard to believe that someone hasn't told Cameron what the issue is with Chindamo, especially as it is so bloody straightforward.
European law says that we may not deport a European citizen unless that person is a clear threat to the public security of this country. There's a ton of litigation on this, and the definitions are narrow - the threat must be definable and serious. Chindamo was sent to prison for 12 years before the possibility of parole. But it was a life sentence - in theory he could remain in prison more or less indefinitely if the parole board do not believe it safe to release him. Therefore, if they do release him, it is because they believe that he doesn't pose a threat to society. If he doesn't pose a threat to society, he can't be deported. It really is very simple.
This isn't about a 'right to a family life' as enshrined in the HRA, it isn't about Mrs Lawrence's human rights, it's an old-fashioned bit of treaty law. To respond to such a straightforward piece of law with bluster about an unrelated law is just silly - it makes it look as though the Tories haven't bothered to do their homework and have reverted to a Colonel Bufton auto-rant about the Human Rights Act.
There is a good and coherent case for a rewriting of the Human Rights Act, as I have argued before. The Human Rights Act is based on a Continental Code system of laws. The role it makes judges play is akin to the German or French constitutional courts - where judges examine laws for their inherent constitutional legality. England's Common law system has a critical difference. The Legislature passes the laws, and the courts interpret them - they do not pass judgement on their quality or legality. The argument that the HRA is merely an adaption of the ECHR is, in fact, proof of this problem. It is a European concept artificially grafted onto a Common law system - and it hasn't taken.
I'm not a constitutional expert, and the task of redrafting the HRA to fit the traditions and customs of the English (I say English as I know even less about Scottish law) legal system will not be an easy one. However, a redefinition of the roles of judges and politicians is essential. To make the judiciary in charge of legislation is dangerous. It risks taking whole areas of law and policy out of the democratic sphere altogether - as can be seen by the US debate on abortion. To do so without the protection even of a written constitution is ludicrous. Continental and US judges argue their cases on the basis of written constitutions - there is a concrete basis for their decisions, no matter how tenuous it may sometimes appear. Without such a basis, UK judges are effectively determining the legislation of this country on the basis of their experience and prejudices. It's not a job they're trained for, and it's not consistent with our unwritten constitution.
There, that's a reasonable argument in favour of a reappraisal of the HRA. But to churn this up on the basis of either a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation of the Chindamo case is foolish at best. At worst it's dishonest.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Yet more Boris

So, the Compass Group, that leftist Labour group that agitated for the sacking of Tony Blair and for the reassertion of socialist values, have decided that they don't support Boris Johnson for Mayor of London. Well, chuh.
If those of us who hanker for a fairer, more equal and democratic world fail to draw attention to Johnson's views and re-mobilise London's progressive consensus, we could end up with the most right-wing Mayor of London in living memory.
I'd say that's a certainty if Boris is elected - after all Ken Livingstone is the first London Mayor, and Boris (and most of the UK population) are well to his right.
Londoners certainly cannot complain that they will not have a clear choice this time round. Boris is Thatcherite and proud of it; Ken Livingstone was once Thatcher's nemesis.
True, if by 'nemesis' you mean 'annoying irrelevance'.
He is an avid supporter of President Bush; he opposed the Kyoto treaty and the national minimum wage; he believes that trouble comes from "too zealous" attempts to tackle inequality; and he has called for the widespread sacking of public sector workers.
This might be overstating his support for Bush, unless by 'avid support' you can include saying The President is a cross-eyed Texan warmonger, inarticulate, who epitomises the arrogance of American foreign policy. Otherwise this looks like the definition of a conservative. So the message is really: Don't vote for Boris - he's a Conservative. Say a left wing labour group.
In other news, dog bites man...
UPDATE: The Compass Report is here by the way. It's fatuous nonsense as might be expected. One point I did notice, however: Number of times Boris Johnson uses the word 'piccaninnies': 1. Number of times Compass uses it: 4 (including twice on the opening page). Mountains? Molehills?

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Dialogue of the deaf

In Mil Millington's excellent things my girlfriend and I have argued about (the website rather than the book) he gives an example of the definitive argument that couples have:
However, though I can't really say what the most frequent argument is, I can have a stab at the definitive one. This argument illustrates a fundamental theme - a core issue. Because of that, it can be used in all kinds of situations. The details are unimportant; the following example may be 'about' domestic chores, or shopping arrangements, or 'sorting out of children', or any number of things. Below those superficial, ephemeral points is the true heart of the matter. The argument goes:
Margret: 'I cannot believe that you didn't do it.'
Mil: 'You didn't ask me to do it.'
Margret: 'Why should I have to ask you to do it?'
Mil: 'So I know you want me to do it.'
Margret: 'But I have to ask you to do everything.'
Mil: 'But I do everything you ask me to.'
Margret: 'But I have to ask you to do everything.'
Mil: 'But I do everything you ask me to.'
Margret: 'No - listen - the point is, I have to ask you to do everything.'
Mil: 'Yes - and I do everything you ask me to.'
[Some hours later....]Margret: 'I... have to ask.... you... to do everything.'
Mil: 'And I... do everything... you ask me to.'
Margret: 'Arrgggh! Listen! I...'
And so on. You see the problem, yes? The problem is that, for some reason, Margret is completely unable to grasp the point that I do everything she asks me to. You'd think that'd be a simple enough concept, wouldn't you? Tch.
Keep this in mind as you read the comments in this piece by Dizzy and Tim on whether the lack of video evidence of 'a sustained attack' on police is proof that reports of such an attack were 'embellished'.


Monday, August 20, 2007

CiF watch

Andrew Anthony's new book, The Fallout, was always going to cause a stir on the pages of Comment is Free, but the following line of attack, from a commenter called 'travblonski' was a new one on me.
You guys can never hide who you sympathize with or who benefits from your work. "You only had to look at the responses when some contributor dared to question the liberal-left shibboleths" Shibboleth - The term originates from the Hebrew word שבולת, which literally means "stream, torrent" There are not any English words that you can use to express yourself in the same way huh? Or Spanish, German, French, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, or Esperanto? That seems odd.

All of you guys have a problem. It is necesary for you to use buzzwords like holocaust or shibboleth to identify you to your betters as a loyal subject. But those buzzwords identify you to the rest of us as quislings.
There you have it. The use of the word shibboleth identifies you as a Jew. And we know what 'those guys' are up to.

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Ashley on IHT

Jackie Ashley manages to miss the point entirely on IHT. There are two issues of note here. The first is that under the current system, it is entirely possible, if you are prepared to put in the effort to sort out the planning, to avoid paying any IHT at all. For the very rich, Inheritance Tax is effectively optional. However, the massive and continued rise in house prices, coupled with the deliberate policy of fiscal drag employed by Brown as Chancellor has meant that people who are not 'rich' but who do possess a house in the southern half of England will now be liable to IHT. Not being rich, they are unlikely to be able to afford in depth financial planning and tax advice. Consequently, regardless of how often one says that IHT is a tax 'on the rich' it is the middle classes that will increasingly be liable. When Ashley says
When the super-rich avoid so many taxes, one stops them transferring their advantage to the next generation
in other words, she is getting it precisely arse-about-face.
On the wider issue of the Conservative attitudes towards tax-cuts versus 'financial stability', this is something of a non-issue. On the Today programme this morning Cameron was repeatedly pressed by Jim Naughtie to say whether he agreed with John Redwood that lower taxation leads to greater prosperity and that, if so, why didn't he announce a wide-ranging programme of immediate tax cuts. Yet the two are not synonymous. While it is generally true that cutting the rates of certain taxes, notably corporation taxes, can lead to higher revenues, it is also true that short term revenues will be lower. It would be irresponsible to push for a specific tax cut now, for implementation after an election that could be any time from October to 2010.
The Conservatives have said again and again that they believe in the merits of a lower tax regime. Redwood's report was a good start in that it displayed the thought processes behind that statement. The Tories should be very careful in setting specific tax pledges in stone an unspecified amount of time before an election.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Depressing role model

So, an article in the Telegraph that says, basically, that people are far too quick to diagnose depression when what it really is is a bit of a grump. Fair point - people are far too quick to medicalise such things, with ADD being an obvious case in point. But who have they got to illustrate the healthy, normal nature of goold old-fashioned British miserabilism? Tony Hancock. Who killed himself after a lifetime of alcoholism and depression.
You've got to think there has to be a better example.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Major Brabazon Plank

Stories like this restore my faith in the English character.
Explorer Colonel John Blashford-Snell has had close encounters with vampire bats and angry bees, but his latest brush has been with a rather odd dog. He spotted a rare breed of Double-Nosed Andean tiger hound, which has two noses, on a recent trip to Bolivia.
He told Radio 4's Today programme: "While we were there, sitting by the fire one night, I saw an extraordinary-looking dog that appeared to have two noses. I was sober at the time, and then I remembered the story that the legendary explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett came back with in 1913 of seeing such strange dogs in the Amazon jungle. Nobody believed him, they laughed him out of court."
And why was this intrepid explorer in Bolivia in the first place?
The Scientific Exploration Society was in Bolivia to investigate a shallow crater about five miles in width. According to Colonel Blashford-Snell, he has now found evidence that this was caused by a giant meteorite, which struck the Bolivian Amazon Basin up to 30,000 years ago. He says he has found evidence of human habitation within 50 miles of the blast zone, and believes these people were wiped out as a result of the meteor's impact.
Almost too perfect really. And it gets better too.
The explorers also carried with them a church organ from Dorset as a gift to local Bolivians in order to secure their help with finding the meteorite.
P G Wodehouse thou shouldst be living at this hour.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hello? Polly?

There's not much to comment on in this piece really, not because it's closely-argued and well backed-up with apposite and accurate facts - come on - but because reading an article by Polly Toynbee on John Redwood is really rather pointless. You know what she is going to say, and it's not worth wasting my time eviscerating it - other than briefly to point out that John Redwood is about as much a 'neo-conservative' as Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. The current trend for putting "neo-" as a prefix to words as a scary "boo-word" is puerile in the extreme, but there we are. There is one enlightening bit though.
"I believe in freedom for everyone. I'm a freedom lover," Redwood said. Whose freedom, I asked. But his steamroller style of speaking is like interviewing a talking hologram: he brooks few interruptions.
Hello? Polly? Everyone's freedom! He said it, right there! Just before you interrupted him! Weren't you listening? And what is he? A steamroller or a hologram? Or perhaps a hologrammatic steamroller? You really get paid for this?


Monday, August 13, 2007

Hattersley on...?

Roy Hattersley has nailed his colour to the mast in announcing who he prefers as candidate for London Mayor. See if you can guess who from the following reasons:
I still spend two or three days a week in London and do not look forward to the metropolis becoming one gigantic photo opportunity.
...since he seems to suffer from an incurable addiction to seeing his name in the newspapers - we could expect an unremitting avalanche of embarrassing publicity stunts.
Once a politician is bitten with the celebrity bug, the consequent infection is incurable.
I have to say, that if the above are good enough reasons not to support a candidate for London Mayor, Roy Hattersley will be looking down at the ballot paper with very few options.

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Pretty bloody lazy

Take this boiler plate article by Yvonne Roberts about racism and the underachievement of black boys. Wonder whether anything she says should be listened to. Note the following:
Black youth has only one image in the media and MTV and its clones, and it's a bad one: sexually overt; rapacious; materialistic; neanderthal man dripping in gold. In fact, one in four black teenagers achieves five or more GCSEs.
Keep on reading. Note the next bit three paragraphs down.
The flip side of the GCSE figure is, of course, the poor educational achievement of many black boys. In 2002, according to the Department for Education and Skills, only 21.9% received five or more GCSEs; almost 80% left school with next to nothing.
Marvel at how, in the space of three paragraphs one in four has become one in five, dependant only at the polemical point Roberts is trying to make.
Look wearily at the headline:
Calls for new role models for black boys let the white establishment off the hook
See how it argues that black children don't require black 'role models'. Flick down the article:
Failure breeds failure. In Lambeth and Southwark, for instance, where there are black pupil populations of up to 50%, fewer than 25% of teachers are black
See how it argues that black children do require black role models. Sigh.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Neil Clark - weapons grade arsehole

This is quite possibly the most unpleasant article ever written on Comment is Free. I would say that by writing it Neil Clark sacrifices any claim to bein considered a normal human being, but I have a feeling that that ship sailed a long time ago. We can start with the title Keep these quislings out, by which he is referring to Iraqis who worked as interpreters for the British Army. Likening these men to Quisling - the Norwegian who betrayed his country to the Nazis - is quite fantastically offensive. But that's only the beginning. Neil Clark, the evil little son of a bitch, goes on to make some staggeringly obnoxious statements.
Now the cakewalk brigade is telling us those who collaborate with - oops, sorry, work for - the liberators may not actually be the most popular guys and gals in town.
So, nice use of collaboration there, although if you genuinely believe that the British forces in Iraq are equivalent to Nazi Germany then you demonstrate a degree of political maturity somewhere between a Student Union and Neil from the Young Ones. And that's a very good trivialisation of torture and murder. Clark is, must be, aware that the interpreters aren't being sent to Coventry or being ignored in the local Tescos. Being 'unpopular guys and gals' entails being cut dead in a more literal sense. He deserves, no demands, to be punched in the head. Repeatedly. Honestly, I mean this. He is trivialising the brutal murders of civilians - making a (not particularly funny) joke about murder. Please, someone show him why this isn't funny. Preferably by demonstration.
The most nauseating aspect of the campaign is the way we are repeatedly told that the Iraqi interpreters worked for "us".Who exactly is meant by "us"? In common with millions of other Britons, I did not want the Iraq war, an illegal invasion of a sovereign state engineered and egged on by a tiny minority of fanatical neoconservatives whose first loyalty was not to Britain but to the cause of Pax Americana. NHS doctors and nurses, firemen and the police force work for "us", but in no stretch of the imagination do Iraqi interpreters, who are employed by British forces that have no right or cause to be in Iraq.
The British Army is part of Britain - in exactly the same way as doctors, nurses, firemen and police. People working for the British Army are working for 'us'. Whether or not Neil 'punch me in head' Clark agrees with British foreign policy is immaterial.
The interpreters did not work for "us", the British people, but for themselves - they are paid around £16 a day, an excellent wage in Iraq - and for an illegal occupying force. Let's not cast them as heroes. The true heroes in Iraq are those who have resisted the invasion of their country.
OK, I said 'punch him in the head' but clearly that's not enough. The overwhelming majority of Iraqi 'resistance' has involved bombing bus stations, markets and weddings. This is about as 'heroic' as if several hundred people ganged together to kick Neil Clark in the balls - only infinitely less justifiable. Killing civilians - as much as it seems to amuse and impress Neil Clark - is not a mark of heroism for any but the most fuck-headedness - a subgroup that definitely seems to include this little shithead.
There is a simple answer to that "practical military issue": let's do all we can to keep the British army out of war zones. And in the meantime, let's do all we can to keep self-centred mercenaries who betrayed their fellow countrymen and women for financial gain out of Britain. If that means some of them may lose their lives, then the responsibility lies with those who planned and supported this wicked, deceitful and catastrophic war, and not those of us who tried all we could to stop it.
First - if they die the responsibility lies with the cowardly muderous little 'heroes' that you eulogised a little while ago you fascistic little traitor. Second, if this article has any benefit at all, it is in exposing the festering little maggots that crawl out the 'anti-war' movement. My powers of invective are frankly deficient to deal with this sort of shit. I feel tarnished having read it, and wish that Neil Clark would fuck off and die in a drain.
UPDATE: Comments have now been locked on that thread - with an explanation saying Our policy is to close threads after three days. Comments have now been closed on this entry. Three days or, as in this case, three hours...

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America sneezes...

So, panic on Wall St, collapsing stock markets east and west and an ill-conceived credit injection on the European markets. What's going on? Fraser Nelson seems baffled, commenting that I have yet to hear a convincing explanation about how the credit crunch is supposed to be such a disaster for the companies quoted in London and New York - yes, its bad news for American homeowners and a few of the more speculative private equity deals.
But there is a reason that we have good reason to be concerned about the credit squeeze and the collapse of the sub-prime market in the US - credit default swaps. All the debt in the US market that is now defaulting - the high-risk, sub-prime market, has been repackaged, often more than once, and bought up by banks everywhere under credit default swap derivative contracts. They were designed to spread the risk around - allowing much greater credit liquidity and therefore greater access to credit. However, the increasing complexity of the trades (wholly synthetic collateralised debt obligations for example) has meant that no-one is entirely sure who's on the hook.
The enormous growth in the CDS market has intermingled global debt to such an extent that it is impossible to talk of 'US debt' or 'European debt' - a huge amount of it is now mixed together in bundled debt obligations. Someone's dropped a plate - and no-one's quite sure who it belonged to. It doesn't take much to spook investors - and markets tend to follow the herd. Nelson may not see where this one's going, but it's a long road down.


The point of history

As results week approaches, along with the inevitable cries of dumbing down, I've noticed an occasional trope in the media with regard to the discussion of history. It's on display today in the Guardian in a rather good article analysing what A-level results mean (essentially, they are now an enabling qualification rather than the elite-determining test that they once were - of course more people are passing them, that's the point.)
Language teaching now puts more emphasis on oral fluency, less on written translation. History is no longer a succession of great men and great battles, because no serious scholar now treats it as such.
Both these examples are actually evidence of why the A-level has become less about education, and more about exam passing. The reason languages were taught with an emphasis on written translation was because written language has a much stronger focus on the grammar and structure of a language. Anyone who has been to Italy should realise that a reasonably retentive memory and a bit of goodwill will enable you to be understood in basic Italian, and to understand others. But progression from ristorante Italian to proper conversational Italian (let alone fluency) depends on a knowledge of the structure of the language that is only really obtainable through reading and writing it. Learning lists of irregular verbs was tedious, but ultimately necessary for a proper enjoyment of the language.
As for history, of course history is more than a procession of 'great men and battles'. But the building blocks of history, playing a similar role to that of grammar for language, are to be found in the simple narratives of history. IF you don't know what happened in 19th century Germany, to take an extremely well-worn example, you haven't a cat in hell's chance of understanding the Nazis. If you have no idea of what happened between the Tudors and Stuarts and Queen Victoria, how are you supposed to appreciate the role played by Parliamentary Government? If you don't know the basic structure, you can't understand the intricacies. This should be a truism, but it isn't.
The educational focus has been to move away from 'Kings and Queens' from 'talk and chalk' and from dates. But without some knowledge of them, understanding will not be possible. History, at its best, is an all embracing subject - Peter Wilby writes of media studies, saying that no less an authority than the late Anthony Sampson described the growth of media power as the greatest change in Britain over the past 40 years. Without the context of the rest of society, the study of the media is worthless. Within then context of the rest of society, the study of the media is history.
By all means encourage the analytical teaching of history, but appreciate that it can't be done properly without basic historical knowledge underpinning it. Good history can be best described as the re-assessment of existing knowledge: looking more closely at things taken for granted. This can only be done if there is some existing knowledge.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Direct democracy

It's great fun this 'engaged government' malarkey isn't it. How else could such disenfranchised memebrs of the population as Osama bin Laden, Islamic Rage Boy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's goat and Allah the homosexual goatfucker get their views across to the powers that be? Oofy Wegg-Prosser must be so very very proud.


Get Boris!

So, when I wrote that it looked suspicously as if Ken Livingstone was priming sock puppets and astro-turfers to plaster the blogs with bum-numbingly tedious screeds about how Boris Johnson was obviously a racist because he 'dismisses Chinese culture' others were clearly thinking the same way.
The problem is that the 'scandal' in question is so evidently trivial that becoming enormously outraged over it looks, well, odd. It just doesn't seem reasonable for rational adults to get steamed up over such inanities. A juicy little race row would suit Ken Livingstone down to the ground though - putting the focus on Boris and not on Qaradawi, or Jewish war criminals. Lets look out for the next focus though - we've now had the 'posh idiot' line, which I suspect will run and run, and the 'racist' line, which I suspect will grind to an embarassing death when everyone sees how ludicrous it is. What's the next Kendiktat? Well, I suspect Peter Norrie will be there to tell us.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Secret Diary of David Cameron (39 1/2)

Actually not so secret - they were serialised in the Guardian from his election in 2001 up until 2004. What's a bit surprising is that they're really rather good - light, self-deprecating and amusing. It's enough to make you hope he's keeping a diary. Couple of samples:
There is nothing so dead as parliament in recess. The bars are shut, the tearoom has closed down (sob) and the cleaners shoot glances as if you are some kind of freak. I pass David Davis MP (Haltemprice and Howden) in the corridor, only for him to say: "didn't they tell you there was a recess." He wouldn't have said that a month ago when he was after my vote in the leadership contest. (Anyway, what is he doing here?)
Six months of being an opposition MP - and I have finally cracked what it's all about. The difference between being in government and being in opposition is incredibly simple. In government you spend the entire time wondering why no one can see all the good things you've achieved. In opposition you spend the whole time moaning that people should realise just how bad everything is. This leads to the most depressing aspect of opposition: part of you actually starts wanting things to get worse.
It's a shame, although inevitable I suppose, that he stopped writing them, but they give an intriguing insight into how Cameron thinks. He writes a whole lot better than Brown does at any rate.
UPDATE: How about this for example?
I am an instinctive libertarian who abhors state prohibitions and tends to be sceptical of most government action, whether targeted against drug use or anything else. And on the drugs issue, libertarians and sceptics can have a field day. About the only thing all our witnesses agreed on was that the government's strategy was a failure and prohibition over many decades had not worked.

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War Crimes

Oliver Kamm wrote a piece in the Guardian on the anniversary of the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in which he defended the action as morally justifiable. This was so, he argued, because they prevented the far greater loss of life that would have resulted from either a aiege or a storm of the home island. The bombs were necessary in making the Japanese bow to the inevitable and surrender. Alongside that was a refutation of the idea, which appears to be enjoying a spurious fashionability again just now, that the bombs were really a 'gesture' aimed at the USSR.
Norm Geras, while of course accepting this latter point, disagrees with Kamm on the morality question.
Even if one thinks the calculation does convincingly establish how any US president would have acted, it doesn't show that it wasn't a war crime. It is not a legitimate act of war to save the lives of your own soldiers by the mass bombing of civilians, and to reason simply from the 'realism' of what was to be expected in the situation prevailing is to suggest that the laws of war only apply when it's easy to uphold them, but otherwise must give way to utilitarian calculation.
On this calculation, every war since 1914 has been marked by war crimes. Every bomber taking off, every pilot flying to the bomb-zone, every groundcrew loading the planes and every politician directing policy was a war criminal. But if you can thus apply the label to so broad a group - encompassing as it does the air force of every combatant nation - doesn't it devalue the term itself?

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Smearing for fun and profit

In an interview on the Today programme recently, Ken Livingstone said, in relation to the challenge from Boris Johnson, that he was going through all Boris's published articles for proof of his nasty, reactionary Tory ways. Ken said, ludicrously, that Boris was 'some way to the right of Norman Tebbit'. In the last few days, since the weekend, a flurry of articles and blog posts have come out decrying Boris for his 'racism'. Equally, on Iain Dale's site and many others, two or three commenters have flooded the comments with examples of Boris's racism.
All the examples come from two articles. One was written by Boris Johnson about Blair's messianic imperialist attitude to foreign affairs and included the following phrase:
It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies; and one can imagine that Blair, twice victor abroad but enmired at home, is similarly seduced by foreign politeness.
They say he is shortly off to the Congo. No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, and the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird.
It seems clear to me that this is nothing more than an a satirical view of Blair's attitude to Africa - his desire to be seen as some 19th century potentate. It certainly isn't racist. This an argument that doesn't really need any further exploration - it's nonsense.
What's interesting is the implication of it's sudden arrival onto the public scene. The article in question was written in 2002 - why is it causing a fuss now? Is it poosible that Ken Livingstone has got his mayoral team on research duty - trawling the Boris back catalogue for juicy out-of-context titbits to throw to useful idiots? If so, who's paying? Dizzy is always good at tracing such things - and Freeborn John noticed, when he wrote (with considerable inside track knowledge...) about the Darius Guppy and Boris Johnson affair, that someone in the GLA was downloading the transcripts from his site. There could be a really juicy little misuse of public funds story here...

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Monday, August 06, 2007

More Hari Misrepresentation

After the kerfuffle over Johann Hair's gross misrepresentation of Nick Cohen's book, one might have thought that he would have trodden very carefully for a little while. Unfortunately, this has not proved to be the case. Today's article, written with wonderful taste and sympathy in the immediate aftermath of the foot and mouth outbreak in Surrey, combines Hari's by now familiar tactic of selective quotation and misleading conclusions to damn Boris Johnson as an anachronistic shootin'-and-huntin' rural toff who is unfit to run London. The piece, by the way is headlined Time to stop mollycoddling the countryside and to start nurturing our cities instead, which might seem a little odd in light of the fact that the countryside is anything but mollycoddled.
Anyway, lets look quickly at Hari's claim that this outbreak was leaked out of an American pharmaceutical lab. This certainty might surprise those who thought that results as to whether Merial or the Government-run Institute for Animal Health was responsible would not be out until Tuesday, and indeed those who thought that Merial was a 50/50 joint venture between the American Merck and the French Rhone Merieux. Mere facts are not, of course an impediment.
The main thrust of the article lies beyond such casual indifference to the facts.
But the lack of seriousness we apply to the interests of our cities may be about to suffer a much worse blow than this. Boris Johnson's candidacy to run our capital city cannot be dismissed as a joke.
The problem with Boris?
Boris is the voice of a romanticised rural England in constant clash with the reality of 21st-century London. This is a man who supports, and has taken part in, not just fox-hunting but stag-hunting. He writes excitedly: "I remember the guts streaming, and the stag turds spilling out on to the grass from within the ventral cavity. Then they cut out the heart." He goes on to add: "This hunting is best for the deer."
I have a brief confession to make: I can't find this article on the web. However, I am sufficiently sad that I remember reading it in Have I got views for you, and am absolutely sure that the thrust of the article was that he hated stag hunting, was made miserable by the death of the stag, and went away vowing never to do it again, while at the same time concluding that, since deer numbers fell catastrophically when the National Trust banned stag hunting, the best thing for the deer was that it continued. I'll post the relevant text as soon as I can lay hands on it, but by way of example the Amazon review of have I got views for you refers to his horror at the death of a stag. Hari misrepresents Boris's entire argument and does so by selective quotation. Nick Cohen might be feeling a bit deja vu at this point.
But of course, it's not enough to smear Boris as an enthusiastic stag-hunter. He muse be smeared, judiciously, as a racist. The word itself doesn't appear, Hari relying instead on innuendo, but in what other way can the following be interpreted?
This is a man who has, with echoes of Enoch Powell, described non-white children as "piccaninies", and written about the "watermelon smiles of black people". These atavistic mental images feed into his policies.
James Cleverly has written about this already, and I don't propose to do so again. Read what James has said, read the article in question and then ask yourself whether it is just possible that Boris might have been parodying the very racist style that he is being accused of. Also, precisely what policies is Hari talking about here? I'm not aware that he has announced any policies beyond trying to get rid of the bendy buses. What can he mean?
After the London police treated Stephen Lawrence's family with contempt and let his murderers walk free, it was essential for all London politicians to press the Met to reform itself to root out these attitudes. Boris did the opposite. He attacked "the PC brigade" for "punch[ing] a hole in the Metropolitan Police". He damned the sensible Macpherson reforms as "hysteria" and "a witch-hunt", even comparing them to the tyranny of Nicolae Ceausescu. If Boris was mayor, the pressure on the police applied by Ken Livingstone to treat all Londoners equally would be off.
I suppose it's otiose to suggest that Hari reads what Boris Johnson has said about the Macpherson report itself, but if he insists on quoting Johnson, he ought at least give the context. The comparison with Ceausescu was based on the Macpherson report's recommendation that one could be prosecuted for what you said in private - in a conversation with your wife in your kitchen. It was and is the most stunningly illiberal proposal and Macpherson later distanced himself from it. If this is the case for the prosecution, it's pretty bloody thin. But there's more, of course:
Boris has other beliefs that would be just as dire for London. This city is particularly vulnerable to global warming...The London mayor needs to be a voice on the global stage against this on-going disaster, as Ken Livingstone has been. Boris believes the opposite. When George Bush refused to sign the Kyoto Treaty, Boris cheered: "When Bush says no, he is doing what is right not just for America but for the world."
So if you are in opposition to the Kyoto Treaty - a piece of spectacularly useless verbiage that does nothing to address global climate emissions - you cannot be Mayor of London? Rubbish, and utter rubbish at that. Anything else?
London has great gashes of poverty between its glistening towers. The charity Médecins du Monde used to operate only in Third World countries - until it was so shocked by conditions here in East London that it felt obliged to open a clinic last year.
Here is this argument: London is desperately poor in parts; the Mayor of London has the power to do something about this; Livingstone has been Mayor for 7 years; therefore the Mayor who has presided over this squalor should be re-elected. Got that? Ultimately the entire article is tripe: all it is saying is that Hari doesn't like Boris Johnson, because he represents the countryside. Avoiding the classic I'm sorry I haven't a clue definition of countryside (in this case, 'the murder of Johann Hari') there is one further oddity in store.
London today is the first truly global city, internationalism made flesh-and-concrete. In my apartment block in East London, there are Russian exiles, Chinese students, a Ghanaian academic and a Colombian doctor - in the middle of a Bengali area.
There is space for everyone in today's London - people from every country, every culture. Except, apparently, shootin'-and-huntin' rural toffs from England. So, an article that runs the gamut from misinformation to misrepresentation, via a sideline in suggestive racial smears. Nice work for the Independent I suppose.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Misplaced Condescension

I've already said that I think the jelly bean saga a ridiculously overblown piece of nonsense. If it was childish of the England cricketers to leave a jellybean on the batting crease, then it was equally puerile to get annoyed by it. India played better, England were unlucky with the toss. End of story. Simon Barnes, however, in getting righteously angry with England, tries to demonstrate why the Porsche Carrera comment was an outrageous insult (rather than the lame conversation it appeared to be.
The stump microphone picked up a classic piece of sledging wit during that second Test between England and India. “I’m driving a Porsche Carrera; what’s your car?” Thus the exquisite Wildean wit of the modern England cricketer is laid bare.

It is, of course, the sort of remark you would expect from a Porsche driver, a Porsche being the naffest car ever manufactured. But is it a suitable remark to make to a man from a Third World nation who is a guest in your country? The combination of vulgarity and insensitivity is mind-numbing.
This is beautifully patronising, and wholly wrong-headed. Does Barnes think the Indian team are plucked out of the slums in Delhi and given whites? Sachin Tendulkar recently signed a $50 million contract for God's sake, his response to Prior would probably have been, 'I don't know, what day is it?' Sourav Ganguly isn't short of a bob or two either. In fact, Indian cricketers generally have a bit of a reputation for being minted. So Barnes can stop having an auto-outrage attack on behalf of the Indian nation. As I've said before, if you're more worried about jelly beans and innocuous sledging than about beamers and running through the crease, you've got your priorities skewed.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Elfin Safety

Jackart really says all that needs to be said about this. Ultimately we have become a society incapable of treating accidents as accidents. If every time a three year old child fell over the adult supervising (teacher, parent or whatever) was prosecuted and jailed then we'd be seeing an over-crowding problem worse than we do now. Sadly, for public hysteria to reign, all anyone has to do is shout 'Won't somebody think of the children!' and any degree of objectivity flies away.

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Election speculation

So, the leaked Gould memo suggests that an early election is being seriously contemplated by Labour. I have to admit that the first reaction I had on hearing this was that it was surely proof that an early election was not being contemplated - why else would they leak the document? Leaving such cynicism aside for a moment, what would an autumn election be likely to bring, and what impact would the outcome have on British politics?

Two things should be made clear immediately: the boundary changes look likely to hand some 20 additional seats to the Conservatives and whatever the recent bounce Brown has enjoyed in the polls, at every electoral test in London and the South since the last election, Labour has lost votes, usually to the Conservatives (with the exception of Ealing Southall). Brown may well calculate that these disadvantages will be offset by the fact that this is his most propitious time to go to the polls. He has managed to persuade people that he represents a fresh start; he is still unsullied by any new scandals of note and the economy has not collapsed (though he should be eyeing the sub-prime problems with care). In these circumstances he may conclude that things, to coin a phrase, can only get worse.

So, election '07 then. What's going to happen? Defending a lead of 66 in the Commons, Brown has most to lose. Seats in the South look vulnerable, if London's results echo the local elections more will fall there too. Regained strength in the North might off-set this to a degree, but this is likely to be as much at the Liberal Democrats' expense as the Tories - who are not exactly over exposed up there. It is entirely possible that Brown will manage to improve his position, making gains in the South and holding onto the North and Midlands, but it's as well to remember that none of these areas were historically Labour - Brown will have to look not to reinforce his base but to continue to reach out to the Blairite Labour voters - for the sort of market liberalism with a human face that Blair exemplified and Cameron has tried to appropriate.
Look at what Gould says:
The seats we must hold to secure our majority are highly marginal and almost any swing against us would knock them over. To hold a majority we need to keep a three per cent lead over the Tories. This means both gaining from the Liberals and holding our share against the Tories. But there is very little room for manoeuvre.
Brown needs to maintain his current lead until the election - honeymoons are usually of short duration. Going to the country sooner rather than later may be problematic, but it would also be the best way of minimising electoral damage. On the other hand, Brown has both a big majority and three years Parliamentary time - he must surely be cagey of losing these. One thing that hasn't been much noted is how many rebellions Brown has faced already. The 'Usual Suspects' can usually be safely ignored - 66 is enough of a cushion. If that is cut by much Brown may find his room for manoeuvre cut down even more.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Playing the game

A lot of fuss has been made about a rather baffling incident in the Indian first innings at Trent Bridge. What seems to have happened is that Alistair Cook scattered one or two jelly beans at the crease when Zaheer Khan came in to bat. This, apparently, was a reference to Khan's soft centre as a batsman. Given that India were some 200 runs ahead of England by the time Khan came in, you might think that the gesture was mis-directed. Perhaps Khan should have called to the dressing room for some pies for the England bowlers to throw to him, or maybe a powder puff.

Be that as it may, the incident has caused ruffled feathers in the Indian camp and a mild outbreak of 'what's the world coming to?' in the press. But it has to be said that, as sledging goes, this is absurdly low key. Another sledge was supposed to have been as follows:

“I’m driving a Porsche Carrera; what’s your car?” was one question picked up by the stump microphone this week when England were trying to unsettle an India batsman. That sort of tactic is not only not clever, or acceptable; it is also an illegal attempt to distract the batsman.

This is what passes for sledging these days? Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee would be turning in their graves. If either of them were dead that is. 'Mental disintegration' has a long and chequered history - with sledges ranging from the genuinely amusing, such as when Shane Warne asked for a fielder 'right under Nasser [Hussain's] nose' and proceeded to place him some 15 yards from the bat, to the tediously aggressive, such as, to be honest, most of the rest of it. Endless streams of swear words are dull and lowering - making the whole game less fun. This is becoming almost ubiquitous even in club cricket where most proponents lack the wit to say anything amusing and instead rely on abuse.

On the whole, therefore, I'd have to say that jelly beans are pretty trivial. Where the game in Trent Bridge got truly nasty was in the behaviour of Sreesanth. One incident of transgressive hostility can be regarded as an aberration, but Sreesanth had three strikes. First he bowled a beamer at Kevin Pietersen. Then he ran through the crease to bowl a bouncer at Collingwood. And finally he shoulder-barged England captain Michael Vaughan. He has forfeited half his match fee for the shoulder charge, but that was the least of his offences.

Beamers, head high full tosses from faster bowlers, are a serious offence, and risk causing serious injury. Batsman facing quick bowlers have between a quarter and a half of a second between the ball leaving the bowler's hand and it arriving. Consequently, the eyes are focused on the areas where the ball will pitch - there isn't time to allow for a high full toss. A beamer therefore comes out of the batsman's blind spot, giving him less than a fraction of a second to spot it. Couple that to the fact that the ball will not be slowed by contact with the pitch, and a beamer has the capacity seriously to injure the batsman. They are, of course, strictly against the laws of the game.

There is a good argument moreover, that should an injury to the batsman result, they are contrary to the laws of the land. In Australia recently, an amateur rugby player sued an opponent who badly injured him in an illegal spear tackle. The traditional line that, by taking part in a sporting occasion, the player had consented to the risk of injury was defeated by the fact that spear tackles, like beamers, are contrary to the laws of the game, and hence the player would not have consented to them. If Sreesanth had hit Pietersen and badly injured him, there would have been a good case for a civil case. This is serious stuff.
As for running through the crease to bowl short at Collingwood, this was almost certainly deliberate - it's not possible to go a yard over the bowling crease without being aware of it. It was designed to hit the batsman and, though not as serious as bowling beamers, is utterly contrary to both the laws and the spirit of the game. This isn't at all a targeted criticism of Indian cricket - many other teams are guilty of similar transgressions - but it seems odd that the focus of attention is on jelly beans, which whatever else they are are hardly life-threatening, when far more serious breaches of the game were taking place at the same time.
UPDATE: I should point out that Alistair Cook denies being the bean merchant, I am a fruit pastille man myself.