Tuesday, June 30, 2009

By any other name...

By any other name...

There have been cricketers in the past with great initials.  My favourite used to be JWHT (“Johnny won’t hit today”) Douglas, captain of England and Olympic boxing champion, though WPUJC Vaas was pretty good too.  In fact, I’d thought that Chaminda, with an epic five initials, was sure to be the all-time champion for sheer length of name.

No longer.  My attention has been drawn to the delightful Ebony-Jewel Rainsford-Brent (and there’s a name in itself), who delights in the initials EJCLCR Rainsford-Brent.  Just how long must her cheque-book be?

Ed Balls's incendiary underwear

Ed Balls's incendiary underwear

Interesting.  I thought this post from Fraser Nelson was bang on the money.  I was woken up this morning by the less than dulcet tones of Ed Balls refusing to answer the questions and my first thought was “I bet the Coffee House won’t be impressed by this.”  It was all there, the elisions of different figures, the blatant misrepresentations of Tory policies, the talking over the question, but this time there was a new element.  The lie direct.

“We have acted in the downturn, that will mean that the economy is stronger, we’ll have less unemployment, less debt. Therefore we will be able to spend more on schools and hospitals. The Conservatives have opposed these plans, the national debt will be higher with the Conservatives.”

As we know, from the Government’s own most recent figures, national debt is set to rise in real terms for as long as forecasts run.  So the first sentence is not true.  As we also know, again from the Government’s own figures, departmental spending on health and education is set to fall.  So the second sentence is not true.  The third sentence, being a projection, is less obviously a lie, until you realise that Balls is eliding a hypothetical – what would have happened had the Tories been in power last year – with a prediction – what will happen if they win power next year.  It is, at the very best, highly misleading.  Three out of three sentences, therefore, are untrue.  Balls is a liar.

Well, colour me unsurprised.  This Government have routinely told lies, from little fibs about the Tories planning to abolish the State Pension in 1997, to bigger lies about Bernie Ecclestone, to creative statistics about Iraq ad infinitum.  What’s the difference here?  Well, as Fraser says:

Five years ago, you could lie like this on the radio and get away with it. Space is tight in newspapers, no one would devote hundreds of words and graphs - as we did - to expose a lie for what is. But the world has changed now. Blogging has brought new, hyper scrutiny. Blogs have infinite space, and people with endless energy, to expose political lying - no matter how small. Your claims can be instantly counter-checked, by anyone. If you stretch the truth, you can be exposed - by anyone. And if you plan to base a whole election campaign on a lie, as you apparently intend to do, then you're in for a rude awakening.

And it’s fair to say that Balls doesn’t like having this pointed out to him.

Ed Balls has just called me up about my post from this morning , hopping mad. He instructed me to "take that post down now". I thought he was joking: has there been some change to the constitution where ministers now have power over the media? But he was deadly serious. "You should not call me a liar," said Balls. I told him that if he doesn't want to be called a liar, “he shouldn't tell lies”.

I think that sounds like excellent advice.

Incidentally, and on the same point, Danny Finkelstein comments on the real significance of Brown’s failure to remove Darling and impose Balls on the Treasury:

As Chancellor Balls would have acted entirely politically. He would have done anything to provide the figures that could sustain the campaign. His only financial objective would have been to put pressure on the Tories. He would have used his authority and Treasury support to make cuts v investment seem real.

Danny, incidentally, is far more charitable than Fraser.  He merely describes Balls’s interview as shameless a piece of political nonsense as I have ever sat through.  That’s practically a rave review for Labour these days.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Happy Birthday Reptile

Big year for the Reptile - first the little Reptilette, now a milestone birthday!

Looking forward to celebrating with you tonight old boy - and lots of love from all your avid readers (both of 'em)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More on Iran

More on Iran

If you knew that you were likely to be framed by the police, would you go ahead and commit the crime anyway, reasoning that you had nothing to lose? Would that be the sensible thing to do? Then, at trial, suppose you decided that, even though you were innocent of the charges brought against you, it would be sensible to behave in a manner that gave the jury reason to suppose that you might in fact be guilty after all. Would that be a sensible policy?

Alex Massie stands firmly by his argument that Western politicians’ vocal support for the Iranian protestors is counter-productive.  I argued yesterday that David Cameron’s support for the protestors was, at the very least, not harmful to the interests of those protestors, and also that the opposite policy, of refusing to give verbal ammunition to the Iranian regime, was not working.  With some trepidation, since I usually agree with Alex about most things (except Graham Gooch), I maintain my position.

I think that Alex is in slight danger of engaging with the Ayatollah purely on his terms.  Voicing support for democracy and opposition to a military dictatorship shooting its own citizens is not a crime.  Stating clearly that the will of the people should prevail, and that attempts to rig elections or suppress demonstrations with violence are abhorrent are not, on any meaningful level, attempts to interfere in the internal politics of Iran – the overthrow of Mossadeq this ain’t.

Secondly, I think that Alex might be putting too much faith in the announcements of the Iranian press and regime.  Christopher Hitchens has a piece more or less on this theme in Slate.  The spirit of Uncle Napoleon is alive and well in the Iranian Government – but he is a figure of ridicule for the Iranian people.  The idea that because David Cameron voices his support for the protestors, the Iranian public will believe that the whole protest has been orchestrated by MI6 seems a little far-fetched.  As Hitchens says:

There is nothing at all that any Western country can do to avoid the charge of intervening in Iran's internal affairs. The deep belief that everything—especially anything in English—is already and by definition an intervention is part of the very identity and ideology of the theocracy.

So I don’t think that the ‘Marg bar Ingilis’ point really stands – for evidence of this, as I noted yesterday, the British Government is already being described as evil, and our diplomats are already being expelled.  What higher diplomatic stakes are there?  When state prayer meetings end with a rousing chorus calling for the death of your country, how much further have you to fall?

…there's the thought experiment Daniel Luban conducts: suppose Khrushchev had come out and endorsed Martin Luther King and called for the international community to do more to support the civil rights movement. Do you think this would have increased support and sympathy for MLK inside the United States? Or would it have been, from the perspective of the civil rights movement, an unwelcome and counter-productive intervention?

As comparisons go this doesn’t seem terribly helpful.  It is certainly hardly more apposite than the attitude of Thatcher and Reagan to the Solidarity movement in Poland, that Alex was so quick to dismiss on Monday.  Neither example is a parallel to modern Iran.

So what are we left with?

…if rhetoric were likely to change the Iranian regime's behaviour then it might have done so by now. And of course it hasn't. So one is left with the suspicion, alas, that all the fine words uttered by western politicians are really designed for domestic consumption, not in any expectation that they'll bring the mullahs to their senses.

There is of course one consideration that Alex hasn’t factored in.  Voicing opposition to the stifling of democracy in Iran might be the right thing to do because it is the right thing to do.  As Peggy Noonan says, you shouldn’t need to ask whose side we’re on in a battle between freedom and autocracy.

I would tend to agree with Alex: there is nothing that the Western Governments can do that will be of much help to the protestors in Iran.  However, our conclusions are different.  His is that we should therefore do nothing, for fear of playing into the Iranian regime’s hands.  Mine is that giving support to this cause is “due to our own character and called for by our own duty.”

Which is a suitably melodramatic and self-aggrandizing way of saying that in a conflict between a regime that does not scruple at shooting teenagers dead and those teenagers themselves, it should not be considered unacceptable to voice a preference.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Has Cameron failed his Persian exams?

Has Cameron failed his Persian exams?

David Cameron’s comments to the Conservative Friends of Israel dinner that the Iranian regime should be threatened with sanctions, and that the protestors should know that the British are on their side have received something of a mixed reception.  While Iain Dale is impressed, and invokes the spirit of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, Alex Massie is decidedly less so.

Alex, for whom I have a great deal of time, bases his argument – that Cameron has “failed his Persian exam” – on the following point:

In as much as they are concerned with the opinion of foreign politicians, the protestors almost certainly do know that "we are on their side". The point, as any cursory acquaintance with Iranian history should remind any commentator, is that the two countries on earth that should say the least right now are the United Kingdom and the United States of America. This is, as I've written before, a battle for, forgive the cliché, the hearts and minds of the Iranian people. If the authorities can, however implausibly, tar the opposition by associating them with the two countries that orchestrated the 1953 coup in Iran then that benefits the regime, not the protestors.

Fair point.  Except that the authorities are going to be making that case anyway.  Witness Khamenei’s description of Britain as “the most evil of foreign powers”.  Obama has, Massie says, been making “delicately crafted statements” to avoid giving the Iranian regime the chance of tarring the protests as American inspired.  And yet the regime’s response has still been to say:

What happened in this case was that the U.S. and the West were expecting the presidency to be transferred to an element with whom they perhaps felt more at ease. They viewed this as an opportunity to exert pressure on the Islamic Republic. Therefore, behind the scenes of everything that is going on, one sees the same people who have been lying in wait for the Islamic Republic.

So the downside of publicly supporting democratic protests against a military dictatorship (as Iran has revealed itself to be) is that the Ayatollah’s regime will make speeches denouncing the West as a pernicious influence behind those protests.  Which they will do anyway, with the same credibility, whether that public support is forthcoming or not.  So why not follow the example of Daniel Webster?

In 1823, first-term congressman Daniel Webster spoke up in support of the Greek revolution. Responding to critics who said that mere rhetorical support would do the revolutionaries no good, Webster said: "I hope it may. It may give them courage and spirit. It may assure them of public regard, teach them that they are not wholly forgotten by the civilized world, and inspire them with constancy in the pursuit of their great end."

And in any case, Webster continued, support for those fighting for freedom abroad was "due to our own character, and called for by our own duty."

As a final point, I think it is overly harsh of Alex to criticise David Cameron for voicing his support for the protestors, and to draw from it the conclusion that he is unready for office.  After all, other voices echoing this include Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and (no! But yes!)  Barack Obama.

What you're seeing in Iran are hundreds of thousands of people who believe their voices were not heard and who are peacefully protesting and - and seeking justice. And the world is watching. And we stand behind those who are seeking justice in a peaceful way. And, you know, already we've seen violence out there. I think I've said this throughout the week. I want to repeat it that we stand with those who would look to peaceful resolution of conflict, and we believe that the voices of people have to be heard, that that's a universal value that the American people stand for and this administration stands for.

Oh, and what has been the reward for Miliband and Brown’s heroic restraint?

Gordon Brown has just told the Commons that two Iranian diplomats have been expelled from Britain - after the Iranians expelled two British diplomats.

This comes just hours after the Iranian administration accused the UK of stirring up dissent among protesters in Tehran and elsewhere - a claim denied by London.

I simply don’t see that the softly-softly approach is achieving any benefits (for Britain or for Iran) whatsoever.  Nor why the fact that David Cameron voiced his support for the protestors in virtually identical terms to Obama should him (or either of them) unsuitable for high office.  Perhaps Alex Massie can explain?

Speaker Bercow

Speaker Bercow

Well, he wasn’t the Speaker I’d have chosen.  He’s bumptious, pompous, arrogant and obnoxious – and those are his good points.  Choosing a Speaker in order to annoy the opposition doesn’t have a fantastic pedigree either.  But there we are.  A couple of points do occur to me, however, which people who are greeting Bercow’s victory with elation ought to consider.

The first is that the Labour party have less than a year left in power.  Not long before a grinning front bencher can sneer “we are the masters now”.  Taking important political decisions for petty political reasons is funny now.  Less funny next year when the subject of party funding, or postal ballots, or voter registration, or union affiliation, or House of Lords reform come up.  As examples of bi-partisan co-operation go, this one was not up there with the best.

The second is that Labour have bought a bit of a pig in a poke.  John Bercow’s overwhelming characteristic has been neither loyalty nor consistency.  He was Torier than the Tories before he got Buckingham, one of the safest Tory seats in the country.  Under 12 years of Labour rule, he tracked ever closer to the Blairite big tent, teetering on the very edge of defecting last year.  But now he’s Speaker, he needs nothing from Labour.  Indeed, the only threat to his position would be a Tory Government taking steps to dethrone him.  I wouldn’t be too surprised if he starts tracking back.  PMQs should be interesting at any rate.  In a sense, Bercow is on a year’s probation.  Obvious slippage, and the reappointment of the Speaker for the next Parliament, normally a formality, may be a real contest.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sealing the deal

Sealing the deal

This article in the New Statesman is about as fine an example of wishful thinking as you could hope to see.  Without going too deeply into it, it displays the traditional tropes of its kind: Tory support is shallow, an economic revival would put Labour back in the box seat for victory, the Tories aren’t achieving the same polling leads as New Labour were – that sort of thing.

Well, good luck to them.  Whistling in the dark has a fine pedigree.  But the problem for Labour is that Tory weaknesses are all but irrelevant.  Macintyre is quite right that the Tory vote share in the European elections was less than that achieved by William Hague.  But it is the Labour vote share that is more interesting.  If Macintyre is after historical comparisons, how about this: in the 1994 European elections, the Conservatives polled 28% - getting on for twice as much as Labour in 2009.

I rather suspect that we will be still be reading articles about how the Tories have yet to ‘seal the deal’ with the British people when Boris Johnson is running for his second term as Prime Minister.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

An impressive effort...

An impressive effort...

Look, I’ve written before about how highly I rate Michael Vaughan.  At his best he is elegant, quick-scoring and can swiftly dismantle an attack.  He is, however, aging, out of form and prone to injury.  His chances of batting at number 3 for England in the Ashes were dealt a pretty hefty blow by Ravi Bopara’s three consecutive hundreds as well.  All that said, if he were to get himself back into form he would be the obvious choice for ‘first reserve’ in case of injury or loss of form.  And it’s hard to deny that a number of writers would like him back

Michael Vaughan found enough time on a rain-wrecked day to make an impression on England's national selector, Geoff Miller.

I appreciate the sentiment, but how much of an impression can you really make with a quick 21*?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shurely Shome Mishtake?

Shurely Shome Mishtake?

People who are unelected should not be in a position of power” says, um, Lord Hattersley.

Dividing lines

Dividing lines

When my wife was very young she shared a room with her younger sister.  Not unnaturally, she loathed it and, in order that there might be clarity as to possession, she carefully marked out a dividing line separating the room into two roughly equal sovereign halves.  Unfortunately she left the door in her sister’s half the room.

Gordon Brown’s increasingly demented efforts to fight the next election on ‘Tory cuts vs. Labour investment’ has the air of just such a dividing line.  Much like Berlusconi, albeit in a different sense, Brown has devoted his political career to the manipulation of figures.  He is still pushing his weary "£603 to £629 to £633 to £638 to £642" routine.  Squid-like, he is releasing a cloud of ink in the hope of covering his escape.

However, his problem in trying to do it this time is that the truth isn’t very complicated.  Both Labour and the Tories have pledged to cut departmental budgets after the next election, the Tories directly and Labour implicitly.  The pledge to “raise current spending in real terms” that Brown is desperately pushing is meaningless.  Overall Government spending is, under Labour budgeting, set to fall as capital expenditure is cut in half.  The current spending portion of the budget will indeed rise by a small amount, but all of that rise and more (much more) will be taken up by the increased costs of servicing the national debt and social security payments – the costs of the recession.  As a result departmental budgets will be cut.

All of which means that Brown’s trumpeting of increased spending under Labour versus Tory cuts is desperately disingenuous or, more simply, a lie.  Worse, it is a lie that everyone can see.  It is worse than a crime, it is a blunder.

Poison pen...

Poison pen...

This is, as Peter Hoskin says, an extremely interesting letter.  It has been noticeable with both the Conservatives and the Labour Party that senior ministers have been able to brush aside their expenses problems, while more junior colleagues have been swiftly defenestrated – poor old Sir Peter Viggers didn’t even get his duck island after all.  And there has been something slightly disconcerting in the way that the Conservative leader has coalesced power around him and a small number of friends.  All things considered it is perhaps not surprising that there should be a number of backbench malcontents.

And yet, and yet.  Something about the language of this letter, anonymous and circulated on House of Commons stationery, doesn’t ring true.  This for instance:

Labour in meltdown is led by a deeply flawed PM; the Lib Dems are led by a pathetic non-entity; but we are being led by two people of no experience who seem to be more interested in short-term media management than in telling people what they stand for.

I may be reading too much into this, but the terms of debate used there are identical – identical – to those currently used by the Labour party.  Note how there is little criticism of the Labour party, that Brown is ‘flawed’ rather than any of the descriptions more usually heard from Tory MPs, and that the true venom is reserved for the Liberal Democrats, with whom the Tories have been co-operating rather well recently. 

We look forward to hearing colleagues’ views in the Tea Room.

Not a place known for Conservative plots that.  Labour plots, yes; Tories not so much.  The rest of the letter, with its references to ‘summary justice’, ‘kangaroo courts’ and ‘Stalinism’ just feels wrong – as if it were being written by someone who knows what he thinks Conservatives ought to say, but hasn’t actually met many.  Did someone mention that Damian McBride might still be working for the Labour Party?  Just a thought…

Friday, June 12, 2009



Clive James’s occasional descents into self-parody can mask just how good an essayist he is.  Admittedly, writing a review of an official Soviet biography of Leonid Brezhnev (by The Institute of Marxism-Leninism, CPSU Central Committee no less) is shooting at an open goal to some extent, but this is a fabulous review:

Here is a book so dull that a whirling dervish could read himself to sleep with it. If you were to recite even a single page in the open air, birds would fall out of the sky and dogs drop dead.

Monumental progress in probing the outer limits of tedium has been made by the time the hypnotised reader has slogged through more than two hundred pages of ideological prose at its most glutinous. Unable to believe that the Institute could keep down the pace, I read the whole thing from start to finish, waiting for the inevitable slip-up which would result in a living sentence. It never happened. That the book could be read from any other motive seems highly unlikely. Even the most rabid Brezhnev fan would be catatonic by the end of the first chapter.

Cracking stuff…

Anti-democratic forces then and now

Anti-democratic forces then and now

Should we condemn the egging of Nick Griffin, and the disturbances attending the count in Lancashire?  The BNP are, after all, odious little quasi-fascists.  They can have little genuinely to add to the national political debate.  The people opposing them have strongly-held political beliefs, and believe that the BNP must be publicly de-legitimised at every opportunity.  They’re wrong, of course.

The tactic of seeking violently to break up the meetings, press conferences etc of the BNP should be condemned utterly.  This is for two reasons.  The first, as I believe the DK said, is that we should protect the rights of odious fascist thugs, because we are not odious fascist thugs.  That might be considered the argument from principle and is, in itself, sufficient.  There is, however, a further argument from pragmatism.  It is beautifully articulated here, by Lord Elton, an excellent historian and Labour peer, in a letter to the Times in 1936 – the last time Britain was so exercised about the rise of fascists.

Since 1931 I have been present at many meetings held by Conservative, Liberal and Labour National candidates. Nine times out of 10 there has been Labour rowdyism, usually spontaneous, but once or twice deliberately organized ...

The connexion between this Labour hooliganism and the methods of the Fascist stewards is obvious. At most Fascist meetings no six consecutive audible sentences would have been uttered but for the presence of stewards. And once you make Fascist stewards necessary, the provocative language, free fights, and black eyes will follow as a matter of course.

At present the Fascist is, unfortunately, able to boast that he never disturbs an opponent's meeting, and that he is the only person who can make himself heard in many Labour areas.

There seem to be two possible courses. Either there must be police protection for about 60 per cent of non-Labour meetings - which would make democracy ridiculous - or Labour leaders must publicly explain, as none of them has yet had the courage to do, that their over-enthusiastic followers are playing straight into the hands of the bitterest enemies of democracy.

Failing this, we may yet see in England the sort of excesses which disgraced politics, and eventually destroyed democracy, in so many foreign countries.

If you seek to prevent by violent means free expression of noxious ideas, you both grant the ideas, and their articulators, unwarranted legitimacy.  Provide the BNP with as much legitimacy and airtime as their status as a very minor party warrants.  Let any violence at their meetings be driven by themselves alone, and not by a rag-tag of similarly anti-democratic protestors.  If it becomes policy that the police refuse to offer protection to people of whose politics they disapprove, we are taking a large and unwelcome step away from democracy.

Sunlight remains the best disinfectant.  Although the new faces of the BNP have been described as more articulate and better able to express their views than the shaven-headed thugs of the public image, they remain wedded to indefensible views and unsavoury histories.  Get this into the open, make them defend their views in their own words, and stop this mythologizing nonsense that seeks to turn them into an electoral bogeyman and instead risks turning them into some sort of grotesque champion for the disillusioned and voiceless.  Ideally, I’d like to stop talking about the BNP now – they are after all about as electorally relevant as the English Democrats.  But holding up our skirts like a lady in a Victorian farce is not the best way of addressing this problem.

Policy schmolicy

Policy schmolicy

Who needs policies?  I mean, really, everyone knows that Labour are finished, led by a man who is electoral kryptonite.  All the Tories have to do is watch, try and avoid shooting themselves in the foot, and sweep in at the end to victory.  The Fortinbras principle as I believe it’s known.  As a result, the Tories have no policies, and this complacency will cost them the election.

So the analysis goes at any rate.  We had the ludicrous Prem Sikka asserting that

The Labour government is doing badly in the opinion polls and the Conservative party thinks that it can sneak into power without explaining any of its policies

And we have the rather less risible Steve Richards saying that Cameron has the tone but he still doesn't have the policies and that the Tories are the least scrutinised opposition party in recent history.  To which the obvious response is ‘since the last one’.

But are they right?  Are the Tories particularly policy-light?  The Conservative website helpfully lists their policies here, and while it is certainly the case that much of it is aspirational stuff about making better schools and the like, there’s plenty of meat on the bones.  Short-term economic policy for example:

- We will freeze council tax for two years by reducing wasteful spending on advertising and consultancy in central government

- We will introduce a £50bn National Loan Guarantee Scheme to underwrite
bank lending to businesses and get credit flowing again
- We will provide tax cuts for new jobs with a £2.6bn package of tax breaks to get people into work, funded by money that would otherwise go on unemployment benefit

- We will cut the main rate of corporation tax to 25p and the small companies' rate to 20p, paid for by scrapping complex reliefs and allowances

- We will give small and medium-sized businesses a six-month VAT holiday, funded by a 7.5% interest rate on delayed payments

- We will cut National Insurance by 1% for six months for firms with fewer than five employees, paid for from the above changes to the company tax regime  

- We will abolish Stamp Duty for nine out of ten first-time buyers and raise the Inheritance Tax threshold to £1 million. Both of these changes will be funded by a flat-rate charge on non-domiciles.

It’s not all earth-shattering stuff, but it’s definitely policy.  One gets the impression that this is all an attempt at message-moulding: the Tories are shallow and superficial, compared to the grown-up and serious Labour Party.

But the problem is, that on the same basis that people claim to see no Tory policies, I don’t really know what Government policy is.  What grand policy schemes has Brown being promoting?  ID cards?  The privatisation of the Post Office?  What?  There’s a void in policy all right – it’s in Government.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Where next for the BNP?

Where next for the BNP?

So, two BNP MEPs.  There’s a continuing debate as to the true identity of the BNP.  Everyone seems to agree that they’re ‘Fascist’, and the usual nomenclature is that they are ‘right-wing’ or ‘the far-right’.  I’ve argued before that this at best simplistic, and at worst not much more than an attempt to smear the Conservatives by association – allowing Gordon Brown to use that ghastly formulation ‘The Tories, UKIP and the BNP’ as if the three were interchangeable.

I don’t propose to go into all that again, but my argument was that, regardless of the BNP’s economic policy (which is unarguably old-fashioned socialism) the party has targeted itself heavily, and explicitly, at disillusioned Labour voters.  My contention was that the BNP were seeking to capitalise on left-wing voters who refused to vote Labour.  How did this analysis stand up to the statistics?

0155 Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University says: The Labour Party were clearly the principal losers where the BNP's vote went up most. In areas where the BNP vote went up by more than three points their vote was down by eight points, whereas where the BNP's vote fell Labour's vote fell by only five points. This three-point difference is much bigger than the equivalent statistics for the Conservatives and Lib Dems. In contrast, above-average UKIP increases in their share of the vote seemed to have hurt all of the Westminster parties. Thus, it seems possible that UKIP may have picked up some of the anti-Labour protest vote as well as pinching votes from the Conservatives.

In other words, the BNP vote was predominantly a straight switch from Labour, whereas UKIP picked up votes from all the parties.  We are stuck with the fact that, regardless of whether the BNP is itself right wing, it’s electorate are certainly left wing.

This is, actually, rather good news.  Because as the Conservatives enter Government, and have to take horrendously unpopular decisions, and as the inevitable (under either party) public spending cuts disproportionately hit the poorest hardest (as in that apocryphal New York Times header: ‘World to end: Poor, minorities hit hardest’) these votes will probably trickle straight back to the Labour Party.  In other words, the rise of the BNP isn’t a symptom of an increasingly fascist body politics.  It’s a symptom of the decline of the Labour Party, and will be reversed when the Labour Party recovers.  On second thoughts, perhaps this isn't good news...



Well, that was embarrassing.  Fifth in the south.  Behind the Cornish nationalists.  Losing seats to the BNP (more on this later).  Losing Wales – Wales for God’s sake!  15% of the vote.  Losing Scotland.  Not just behind, but substantially behind UKIP.  What a shower.  I’d laugh myself silly, if it wasn’t for my broken rib.  While noting that there are possibly a few Labour blogs for whom the time for a hug has been and gone, I’d have thought that it must be getting close to terminal for Labour.

So will Brown go?  I’m wary of offering predictions on this.  Under Labour Party rules, it’s more or less impossible to crowbar an uncooperative Prime Minister out of office.  Now, normally you’d say that rules are interesting but not the ultimate arbiter of authority.  If a Prime Minister lost the support of his cabinet and party he’d have to go – it would be ridiculous otherwise.  Well, this Prime Minister is ridiculous, and has made it clear that he wouldn’t resign even if he had to appoint his whole cabinet from the ranks of reality television.  I mean, Lord Sugar.  For fuck’s sake.  There are more members of the House of Lords in this cabinet than any since 1952 – which was inflated by Churchill’s understandable keenness to have former wartime colleagues (Lord Woolton, Lord Cherwell etc) on board with him.

So I’m not convinced that normal rules apply.  The most likely scenario – ridiculous though it may seem – is that Labour stagger on, broken-winged, until June next year, when we will finally get a chance to put them out of their misery.  It is often said about politics that “we can’t go on like this”.  We’re about to see that, to coin a phrase, Yes we can.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Completely useless

As I was saying, this cabinet are a completely useless bunch of tossers.  Caroline Flint stays on, giving Brown her full support on Thursday night.  By Friday afternoon she's gone.  In the middle of Brown's press conference.  To be replaced, God help us all, by Glenys fucking Kinnock.  This getting to be beyond a joke.  

Watch the South West

Watch the South West

Among all the kerfuffle about the collapse of the Government, don’t forget the other implications of the local Government elections.  One of the Tories’ bigger ambitions is to reverse the Liberal Democrats’ gains in the South West.  It’s worth keeping an eye on how the Tories do in Somerset and the rest of the South West as an indication of what’s likely to happen in the General Election.  Clegg may be shooting at an open goal in the North, but that won’t be much consolation if he gets wiped out in contests with the Tories.

Oh my aching sides...

Oh my aching sides...

No, really.  As an unfortunate product of a sliding stop on the boundary on Wednesday, I currently have a broken rib.  Which means that, just at a time when the rampant, unbelievable incompetence of the Government is reaching its most utterly hilarious, it hurts to laugh.  The irony of this is just sickening…

Total bloody shambles

Total bloody shambles

This whole thing is an embarrassment.  Not only are the Labour party demonstrably too incompetent to run the country, they’re too incompetent to run a coup.  By staggering the three resignations over three days, it would seem that they were trying to maximise the impact.  In fact it seems to have enabled Brown to survive – by playing each resignation as it came.  Further, as it seems that these were not really co-ordinated at all, and that there is certainly no organised plot within cabinet to defenestrate our woeful Prime Minister.  That John Hutton has simultaneously managed to self-immolate without even criticising Brown is particularly useless.

The silence of Alan Johnson – now sealed by his willingness to take the Home Office, the quiescence of David Miliband, the conspicuous loyalty of Peter Mandelson: all these things add up to there not being a palace coup.  That Brown has been forced to hold his reshuffle before the results come through may actually have helped make a palace coup impossible – how could you take a job on Friday and call for a Prime Ministerial resignation on Monday?

So we are left with the possibility of a peasants revolt – that mythical email.  But on a purely procedural level this won’t have the power to force Brown to stand down; the Labour Party internal rules make it very hard for a sitting Prime Minister to be forced out if he refuses to co-operate.  So, although it would seem impossible for Brown to survive – especially if the election results are as bad as I think they will be – it actually seems more likely now that he will survive.  Piss ups and breweries.

An end to celebrity politics

An end to celebrity politics

April 14, 2007:  Brown: 'Britain has fallen out of love with celebrity'

Gordon Brown claims today that the country is turning away from a celebrity culture and insists his seriousness is in tune with a new spirit of the times.

June 5, 2009: Alan Sugar gets government job as Gordon Brown reshuffles top team

Gordon Brown sensationally promoted Sir Alan Sugar to a new enterprise role in government today as the prime minister was forced into a make or break reshuffle amid a fourth Cabinet resignation in four days.

The prime minister awarded the entrepreneur and star of The Apprentice television show, a peerage a role in government as he attempted to shore up his increasingly beleaguered premiership.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Blears overboard!

Blears overboard!

And another one down.  This is getting farcical.  In all seriousness it’s hard to see Brown surviving this now.  It’s compelling stuff, and it’s only going to get worse over the next week.  Odds on a new Prime Minister this time next week?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Tom Watson quits

Tom Watson quits

This just keeps on getting better and better.  The Government is just falling apart.  Can Brown realistically keep the show on the road for a whole year?  It doesn’t look like it can last another week at the moment.

Dealing with Alan Johnson...

Dealing with Alan Johnson...

A thought springs to mind regarding the prospective reshuffle.  If Mandelson really is going to go to the FO, that leaves a vacancy at Business.  A vacancy that would bring the occupant into direct confrontation with one of the most effective performers in the House of Commons, Ken Clarke.

What better way for Gordon Brown to clip Alan Johnson’s wings than to move him there?  It can be dressed up as a promotion, but actually serve as a reminder to the Labour Party that he isn’t the messiah, but merely an averagely good minister in an awful Government.

Bye bye Jacqui...

Bye bye Jacqui...

Well, that was hardly unexpected was it?  Jacqui Smith’s time in nominal charge of the Home Office have been an unmitigated humiliation for her, and a bit of a disaster for the country as a whole.  She would surely have been demoted in the coming reshuffle anyway, so her statement that she wants to stand down isn’t much more than an acceptance of reality.

It therefore doesn’t really affect Brown’s reshuffle dilemma.  But then, that’s a big enough problem on its own.  He needs to use it to distract attention from Labour’s calamitous election results (I predict that they’ll certainly finish behind UKIP in the Euros, and will struggle to breach 20% of the poll in either election).  However, what is there that he can do?

Darling will surely go.  His problems over expenses are just the icing on the cake.  But does Brown really want to replace him with Ed Balls.  Balls about as popular, even (or especially) within the Labour Party, as a horny dog at a Miss Lovely Legs competition.  He’s also a poor media performer, being a much more effective back-room boy.  To sum up – the appointment of Ed Balls as Chancellor would be a retreat so far into the bunker that there would be little chance of emerging.

So, Balls to be Chancellor then.  Which means that Cooper has to move, but that’s incidental.  The other really big move will concern the Foreign Office.  It’s no secret that Mandelson is desperate to be Foreign Secretary – Herbert Morrison and all that.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if his price for continuing to support Brown as PM wasn’t a spell in the FCO.  So Miliband D has to go – to where?  Education?  Hell of a demotion.  Home Office?  Possibly.  Does Johnson move?  Will there be a ‘dramatic’ return for Blunkett, or Milburn, or Clarke (fat chance)?

Does any of this matter?  Not for long, probably.  If the election results are as disastrous as I expect them to be, there will almost certainly be movement towards a denouement.  If Darling is sacked, he will surely be tempted to do a Geoffrey Howe.  Things could get very interesting over the next week or two.

Oh, one more thing.  While we’re talking about the transcendent uselessness of the Telegraph, can I draw your attention to something I picked out in the immediate aftermath of David Davis’s resignation?

On one thing though, the Labour boys are completely wrong.

“Uncontained glee too at the appointment of Dominic Grieve, who, he predicts, will be made into "mince meat" by Jacqui Smith.”

No. He won't. Jacqui Smith couldn't make mince meat out of meat, with a mincing machine.

I may be wrong, but does anyone remember Jacqui Smith making mince meat out of anything other than her own career?

Riddell. Again.

Riddell. Again.

I begin to grow weary of slating Mary Riddell and the Telegraph.  But it does have to be done, not least because she is so reliably wrong about everything.  Usually that is a matter of interpretation of facts, but not today.

Mr Cameron, who will run on the most Eurosceptic ticket of any mainstream leader since 1973, is dangerously estranged from many in his own party.

Now, not only is this wrong on interpretation – the Tory party is, as I have pointed out previously, remarkably united in its Euroscepticism – but also simply and straightforwardly wrong on its facts.  The 1983 Labour manifesto proposed the following direct promise:

We will also open immediate negotiations with our EEC partners, and introduce the necessary legislation, to prepare for Britain's withdrawal from the EEC, to be completed well within the lifetime of the Labour government.

That goes above and beyond anything proposed by the Tories so far...

Monday, June 01, 2009

Going to extremes

Going to extremes

Incidentally, ever since David Cameron announced his intention to leave the EPP in search of a non-federalist grouping, I have been continually irked by one line of argument perpetually wheeled out to criticise this.  This is that, because some of the parties the Tories will sit with in the new grouping have political views significantly at odds with mainstream British politics, this redounds to the Tories discredit.

To which the answer is, yes possibly.  But consider the alternatives.  In the EPP currently there are plenty of fruitcakes and loons.  In the PES, where Labour sit, there are worse.

Its eastern European members include ex-secret policemen, communist apparatchiks and party bosses, who spent their Cold War repressing dissidents with great savagery.

The other point that this raises is just as pertinent.  The real problem for the Tories is that there are very few real equivalents among the mainstream European parties for a centre-right, anti-federalist Euro-sceptic party.  Doesn’t this just go to show the continuing incompatibilities between Britain and continental Europe?  Given that centre-right, anti-federalist Euro-sceptic parties are almost certainly going to win the largest share in the European elections – and possibly even an outright majority – isn’t it clear that the British political scene is irreconcilably different from the European?

Future imperfect

Future imperfect

Peter Preston’s column in the Guardian is the usual lefty wankery about how the world will end if the Tories win power (sample – the pound to drop to parity with the dollar, the FTSE to drop 560 points in a day etc etc) – and the cause of this Armageddon?  The holding of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.  Well, excuse me for not taking that threat particularly seriously.  Although I suppose it does provide an insight into the left’s view of democracy – people asked their opinion; world ends.

What struck me more was the inadvertent light the piece shed on the role that Europe is likely to play in the next Tory administration.  It has long been virtually an article of faith that all Conservative Governments will split over Europe – with Thatcher and Major being seen as prime examples.  Preston plays this aspect up too:

Ken Clarke and four others decline administration jobs.

That’s it.  Ken Clarke is the last of the Tory Europhiles in parliament.  The rest (Patten, Heseltine and the rest) are gone.  The euro-sceptic wing of the party has taken over the entire party.  The scope for bitter division simply isn’t there any more – Preston can’t even think of one more big name.

Oh, one more thing about this article, it says, and I’ve read elsewhere (in the economist for example) that Barack Obama is tired with Tory euroscepticism and wants us all just to get along (or words to that effect).  Well, I’m sure that Obama is well acquainted with the politics of closer union, and with the history of British relations with the European Union.  But I fail to see that it’s got anything to do with him.

If the American President seeks to limit or direct British European policy, then I hope whoever is Prime Minister tells him to go piss up a rope.  Or alternatively, listens to what he says, and replies that we in Britain are concerned that the US appears to be drifting away from NAFTA and that we all believe it is in North America’s best interests for the US to be at the heart of NAFTA – but that it’s fuck all to with us, just as the politics of the European Union are fuck all to do with him.