Sunday, September 21, 2008


It's been a bit quiet round here recently, and it's going to get a touch quieter too.  I'm off in India for the next three weeks, and though I'll try and post occasionally it's not going to be regular. So, Gordon Brown is going to have to muddle along without me...


Tuesday, September 16, 2008


So, David Cairns has resigned as a Minister.  Hands up any of you who had heard of him before this morning (when he was identified as possibly being the minister in the departure lounge).  Anyone? Didn't think so.  Does that mean his resignation is irrelevant?  Perhaps, but perhaps not.  Siobhain McDonagh wasn't exactly a household name either, and nor are most of the other Labour rebels. Regardless of that, their actions cumulatively will make a difference, weakening Brown's already tottering authority.

What should really be worrying Labour is that although it is now increasingly seen as a divided party, and everyone knows that divided parties get a shoeing at elections, I doubt whether anyone would be sure what it is they are divided over.  There is no great ideological split rending them; no totemic issue (Europe, Iraq, Trident etc) that has split them. They have been split by the simple question of how much they want Gordon Brown to continue as Prime Minister.

Labour are exhausted by office in a way that even the Tories were not.  In 1997 the Conservatives were palpably unfit for office.  They were split (on policy issues mainly) and they had run out of road. But they hadn't really run out of ideas.  The internal market they introduced in the NHS was a policy that was working (and has, finally, been re-instated by Labour); the economy was recovering.  Can you name me a substantial policy this Government has introduced?  Or might introduce?  What, fundamentally, is Labour for?

I think that Labour are certainly doomed at the next election.  Not only has no Government recovered from this sort of level of support, but this Government has no theme - no narrative. People are starting to cavil at this - saying that what it needs are policies, not stories.  But a narrative is simply a way of identifying what a party is, and why it deserves to be in power. Labour visibly doesn't know how to answer these questions. Whether it is led by Brown or not, it is that problem that will direct its downfall. After that, things will really start to get difficult.

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Sarah Palin: upsetting all the right people

Whilst I am getting stuff off my chest...

One can have reservations about Mrs Palin however she does seem to have upset all the right people. By way of a few slight observations:

- The media have really ballsed it up. The tone of the commentary, the rudeness of the coverage and the naked disappointment post her speech showed Joe Soap that the media isin the bag with Obama. That makes people think twice about coverage and the benefit of the doubt shifts

- Obama's campaign has really ballsed it up. They have started to pitch the top of their ticket against the bottom of John McCain's - that leaves JM looking, well, presidential

- McCain played a blinder. He had to double down on this one - the safe options would lead to a better defeat than he might have got. This changed the game - and we can now see how. He has banked experience (and Obama has conceded experience) so that becomes a given that people price in. Obama wanted to do that with 'Change' - but McCain is now competing for this territory and being very effective with his variant on the Clinton line - Sen. McCain has been changing Washington for 20 years, Sarah Palin took on Oil and vested interests in Alaska as Mayor and Governor and Sen Obama has a speech he gave in 2006.

- Hard to see Obama's next step. Starts to look like the only way Obama'll win is an old fashioned anti-republican vote... not sure how this kind of pitch compares to the new politics schtic he was bleating about

- People are noting the differing levels of scrutiny that has been applied to Palin, Obama and Biden... and whilst the media adopt a 'nothing to see move on' approach there are some tricky questions popping up... the Obama back story is starting to shift away from the audacity of hope to the mendacity of the Chicago machine politician...awkward

- Narrative: the Dems have lost control of the narrative to this election... change is being seen as being prepared to take people on, and upsetting your own side is being used as a proxy. Good for McCain / Palin, rotten for Obama / Biden

- What does Biden bring to the ticket? Surely one gas-bag is enough even for the dems... And dont say 'experience and foreign expertise' cos I dont think anyone is buying. Obama needed executive support, not senatorial grandeur

- Lipstick on a Pig: daft thing to say, and whilst I am sure he wasnt being personal how very, very amusing to watch a Democrat fall into the elephant trap of 'perceived intolerance / sexism etc' which they and their clients have been so busy digging these past many years

- Everytime I watch American Presidential wannabees, I am reminded of what a remarkable, wonderful, clever, warm man Ronald Reagan was. We will not see his like again.

Reading the tea leaves...

... All this chat about leadership elections etc seems to be getting a tad too clever. I am not clever - so here is what I think will happen.

Pre-conference, a great deal of sound and fury signifying that Brooon has to 'give the speech of his life'. This is something he cannot do. He will however do enough to pass - but by then that speech won't be the test. Glenrothes is the test.

Labour will lose Glenrothes, Milibland will resign and challenge Broon with Cruddas as his number 2 in a 'unity ticket' (pace Messers Clark & Redwood who tried this in '97). The internal contradictions will be a nightmare but papered over with something like a windfall tax on utilities and something popular but unhelpful for the banks.

Broon will fight on and fight to win, and lose. So will Millipede and Cruddles - and something awful will happen...

...Harriet Harman is going to be PM.

Will the last one out please close the door.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Another day, another target

A couple of years ago I wrote that:
In 2008 there are two industries that I would seriously recommend selling: Aluminium foil producers and green ink manufacturers. The reason being that, on the departure from office of George Bush (for certain) and presumably Tony Blair as well (although it would be quite funny to watch Gordon Brown's face if Tony manages to hang on that long), the heads of large numbers of weird Guardian-reading conspiracy theorists are going to explode, depriving the above industries of their most profitable customers.
Now, I know that I promised that I would stop writing about the US elections, but I'm still being quietly staggered by the way in which some Democrat supporters have gone off the rails. Look at this letter in Salon:

I need help. I just finished watching one of the most horrifying V.P. speeches in my life. My husband and I were sitting here watching the RNC so we could get some insight on who this chick is that McCain selected. As the night progressed our attitudes started to change. We were both on edge and snapping at every little thing the other did. From typing too loud on the laptop to repeating a comment made in a speech. We were at each other's throats. And all because of the spewing hatred that came from Romney, Giuliani and Palin. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? And why are sane people voting for them?!

Seriously, I cannot even stomach being around someone who claims to be a Republican. Before, I just avoided conversations with people who were of that ilk. But now ... NOW ... I want to beat some ever-loving sense into their thick stupid racist greedy selfish HEADS!

Calm the hell down dear, for God's sake! Sarah Palin will really, honestly, not eat your dachshund if elected. John McCain is not waiting till November before removing his mask to reveal his inner alien. Take deep breaths and try and remember that you're a rational being. I was obviously hopelessly premature, and aluminium foil manufacturers should increase production - it's going to be a long couple of months.

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US Election effectively over

Well, we can all stop worrying about the US election, it's all over bar the shouting now.
Gordon Brown has triggered a potential row with John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, after apparently backing Barack Obama - breaking convention not to get involved in foreign elections.
I think we can rely on the awesome powers of our Prime Minister to destroy everything he touches to hold true, and can therefore look forward to seeing John McCain in the White House.  After all, look what happened to Andy Murray...

Incidentally, on a slightly more serious note, what the hell does Brown think he's playing at?  When John Major more or less obviously favoured George Bush snr it took a long time for the Clinton White House to trust Britain again - and it was really only the election of Tony Blair that did it.  If the Republicans do win - and it's pretty much a toss-up as to whether they will - Gordon Brown will feel all kinds of a fool, though admittedly he must be getting used to that by now.

UPDATE:  Ha ha!  Team McCain seem to be bearing this sad news with all the fortitude they can muster...

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Education education education

There's a not terribly helpful article about private schools and state education in the Guardian by Arabella Weir (why are you still here Arabella?  Why haven't you gone on hunger strike and thrown yourself under a horse?  Get with it for God's sake, we're all waiting).  It is essentially arguing that state schools provide a better environment for education than private schools.  In fact, Arabella dislikes private schools tout court, and for a variety of reasons:
Neither of us was educated privately and most of the least socially and emotionally capable people I know went to posh schools.

I'm a naturally nasty person, so I naturally thought immediately of a post by Guido about Weir's Guardian colleagues:
Editor Alan Rusbridger (Cranleigh); political editor Patrick Wintour (Westminster); leader writer Madeleine Bunting (Queen Mary's, Yorkshire); policy editor Jonathan Freedland (University College School); columnist Polly Toynbee (Badminton); executive editor Ian Katz (University College School); security affairs editor Richard Norton Taylor (King's School, Canterbury); arts editor-in-chief Clare Margetson (Marlborough College); literary editor Clare Armitstead (Bedales); public services editor David Brindle (Bablake); city editor Julia Finch (King's High, Warwick).; environment editor John Vidal (St Bees); fashion editor Jess Cartner-Morley (City of london School for Girls); G3 editor Janine Gibson (Walthamstow Hall); northern editor Martin Wainwright (Shreswbury); and industrial editor David Gow (St Peter's, York).

I'm sure she didn't have those people in mind.  Regardless, there's more in the article than mindless prejudice (though admittedly not much).  
Quite aside from formal education, surely today, as never before, education should be as much about social integration, awareness of, ease with and respect for different cultures.

I have some sympathy for this view, but only some.  The primary purpose of education really ought to be education.  Social interaction is certainly a part of that, but only a part.  But this is just plain wrong:
I will be honest - it is more cosy knowing that all your fellow parents have access to, and funds for, three foreign holidays a year, organic food, and Mini Boden clothes. But, really, what has cosy got to do with the price of eggs? Sending your child to a state school does not mean you have to give up your lifestyle.

One thing that can be said about sending your children to private school - it is punishingly expensive.  Unless you are a merchant banker, or partner in a law firm, taking £20k or so each year, per child, out of taxed income is going to put a hell of a crimp in the family finances.  So in fact sending your children to state school enables you to have a much more lavish lifestyle - I knew a lot of kids whose parents had given up foreign holidays and new cars, equally, some of the most extravagant living was done by people who had sent their kids to state school - often making up for it with private tutors (like the Blairs did).
Of course, there are advantages to private schools, but they are the kind you can acquire whenever you want - it's only information. At state school, in tandem with an education, you will also acquire the huge advantages of social ease and a sense of community which, if you haven't learned at school, you never, ever will.

This is nonsense.  You will never again have the opportunity to acquire the breadth of knowledge that you can achieve at a good school. To describe education as 'only information' is fatuous.  And on a sniffy point, 'social ease' is not something most public school boys and girls really have a problem with.  Rather the reverse.  Then there are the 'myths' she addresses:

Myth: Private schools must respond to what parents want, otherwise they'd go out of business. State schools can afford to ignore parents.

Fact: It's the other way round. In state schools (unless they are academies), parents and local people have a direct say in the running of the school through the governing body. Private schools are not directly accountable to parents, and often answer to a far-away corporate headquarters that controls them far more tightly than any state school. If state schools fail to deliver what parents want, parents vote by staying away, which leads to trouble for the school.

This is rather bizarre.  Rather the point of state schools is that parents have limited choice about where to send their children.  There is a much more liquid market in private education, meaning that voting with the feet is a more potent issue for private schools.  Which, incidentally, are overwhelmingly charitable institutions  and thus not run by a 'corporate headquarters' in the slightest.  They tend to be run by the governing body in conjunction with the headmaster - like state schools, only without the constant interference of the LEA.

Myth: The teaching is better at private schools.

Fact: There is good and bad teaching in both sectors. But in state schools there are several early warning signs - Ofsted reports, parents moving their children, the local authority stepping in. Private schools are self-regulating, inspected by their own Independent Schools Inspectorate, and children come from further away, so their market is less sensitive and reacts more slowly.

Well, this 'fact' is true enough, but doesn't address the 'myth'.  It is easier to hire and fire in the private sector, salaries are higher and there is a much better ratio of relevant qualifications. Class sizes are also smaller and facilities better.  There is also usually more time to teach, as the teaching day is longer.  Ofsted reports and the LEA's intervention don't really cut it.
Look, there are lots of very good state schools (though Weir's article makes a virtue of avoiding them), but it's not simply the disproportionate spending on independent schools that makes the difference - it's the educational ethos and atmosphere.  By all means promote the state sector, it's by far the larger sector after all, but there's no point denigrating the independent sector - if you have to stretch the truth, or resort to fatuous social stereotypes to do so.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Desperate to be the victim

look, I promise I'll stop writing about the US Election soon, but there was just one more thing I wanted to talk about. Democrats have been saying (for as long as I can remember) that Republicans play dirty. Every election is 'the dirtiest campaign ever' and it's always those mean old Republicans that are responsible. Well, it seems to me that a lot of people are actively looking for evidence of that dirt, and finding it whether it's really there or not.

Look at Melissa McEwan in the Guardian today:

As I settle in for a night with the talking heads of America's Cable News Land, on the second day of the GOP convention, Keith Olbermann is asking Tom Brokaw why Fred Thompson has replaced Rudy Giuliani as tonight's keynote speaker. Brokaw says that John McCain struggles in the South more than a typical Republican candidate, and, particularly in states with big African-American populations, the Democratic party is having massive voter drives.

It is an evocative reminder that election day will be ugly, that the GOP will engage in voter suppression in hotly contested states, that we will see, as we have during the last two presidential elections, footage of black voters in prohibitively long voting lines in Cleveland, St Louis, Jacksonville…

In what way are those two paragraphs connected? Fred Thompson is a southerner, and more popular with heartland Republicans than Rudy Giuliani - who is a New Yorker, and a pro-lifer. McCain is more comfortable among the north-easterners than he is among southerners. Therefore it's a good idea to balance the bill, and get some southerners giving speeches. What does any of this have to do with voter suppression? Nothing at all.

If McCain does defy gravity and beat Obama, I shudder at the prospect of hearing how racist Republicans stole Obama's birthright on repeat for the next four years.

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The wrong line of attack

The hostile reactions to McCain's pick of Sarah Palin as VP candidate have focused on the vetting process, with people quick to see gaffes everywhere. However, the main angle seems to be her daughter's pregnancy. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who lost their virginity at 17 (or even 18) has no right at all to be casting stones here. In any event, anyone who was ever a teenager knows that the culpability of the parents is limited at best.

There is one particular line of attack that the Democrats should be very wary of. It's expressed here by Jonathan Wynne-Jones:

Furthermore has the Christian right forgotten its claim that someone's private life is a telling indication of how they will behave in public office?

When Bill Clinton was discovered to have had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, there were widespread calls for his resignation.

He was even impeached following the Starr report, which concluded the president had committed perjury in denying his sexual relations with his intern.

Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that Bristol Palin isn't running for anything - let alone President of the United States. Nor has she lied about this pregnancy, least of all under oath. So there's a kite that won't fly.

More generally, the smears and allegations flying about Sarah Palin are appealing only to the pre-converted - those that actively want the rumours to be true, for Sarah Palin to be a disaster. For the true believers, there is probably nothing that could emerge that would change ther minds that Sarah Palin is the right choice, and a 'good ol' conservative'. It's the neutrals and independents that need to be persuaded, and hysterical attacks on a woman for the behaviour of her daughter, or as Alice Miles apparently does here, her having a job at all when she ought to be looking after her children are really not going to cut it.

Incidentally, I was amazed at Miles's article - read this, and then consider whether it was actually written by Simon Heffer:

Call her a “mom”? The mother of a pregnant, unmarried 17-year-old daughter, presumably going through one of the tougher periods of her life, who decides at that point to run for president and make the teenager vulnerable to the scrutiny of the entire world? Gee, mom, thanks.

There you have it - a woman's place is in the home, courtesy of the Times.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Really rather squalid

You would have thought that Democrats and their supporters would have been prevented from making the obvious argument against picking Sarah Palin as Vice Presidential candidate. Surely, given that Barack Obama, the Presidential candidate, has only 4 years experience of top-level politics, and no executive experience at all, surely they couldn't say that Sarah Palin, with only 2 years of top-level political experience, but that at executive level, lacked the experience to be Vice-President?
Well, of course they could. And they have a good point - just not a point that the Democrats are entitled to make. Yes Sarah Palin is inexperienced. About as inexperienced as Barack Obama. Barack Obama has Joe Biden to provide his foreign policy heavy lifting; John McCain can do his own. The job of Vice President is better suited to acquiring experience on the job that is that of President. Besides, as Kissinger said, it's better to have a first-rate temperament than a first-rate brain - you can buy in first rate brains.
What has surprised me has been the sudden gleeful meme sparked by the Daily Kos that Palin's youngest child - the three-month old Trig - isn't really hers at all but her 17 year old daughter's. Andrew Sullivan picked this up and ran with it pretty hard - before dropping it when it became apparent that the story had no merit to it. Sullivan, incidentally, has hardly been working to disprove Christopher Hitchens's critique of him over the past few weeks. But it's not terribly edifying when the first response by some parts of the left to the appointment of a female Vice Presidential candidate is to smear her teenage daughter and bandy about her sick four month-old baby. If conservatives did that they'd call us nasty you know...

UPDATE: Blimey - nothing slow about this news cycle... Well if the Kossacks wanted definite proof that Bristol Palin wasn't really the mother of her mother's four month old, the news that she's five months pregnant herself ought to do it.

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