Thursday, April 29, 2010

A lifetime's ambition...

A lifetime's ambition...

Incidentally, I don’t think that yesterday’s meltdown came as much of a surprise to any of the press.  Ann Treneman wrote this on Monday:

I joined the “leader’s tour” for the first time and I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. Gordon Brown seemed exhausted, late for his own speech, stumbling over his words. Watching him up there, he reminded me of a performing bear who has seen better days, a bit unsteady and raggedy, but who, every once in a while, rears up on his hind legs and shows us what he can do…

As the Prime Minister left, to more wild applause, with Sarah still teetering, I hoped only that he was going home to have a lie down. The man needs a break.

For me the most revealing words (stepping aside from partisan heroics) of Brown’s little outburst in the car yesterday were not ‘she’s just a sort of bigoted woman’, but the ones before and afterwards.  ‘It’s just ridiculous.’  They sounded like someone who has given up.  Someone who knows he’s lost, but doesn’t know why.

I remember a Matthew Parris election sketch in 2001 about William Hague.  I can’t find it online, but it’s premise was that, despite how incredibly upbeat Hague was being during the election, he must really have felt terrible – he’d spent his whole life dreaming of this moment, of when he finally got to drive the Tory party in an election campaign.  And then he puts his foot on the accelerator and… nothing.  I think it ended “alone, in the darkness, does he weep?”

Hague managed to locate a life alongside politics pretty quickly after that defeat.  Will Brown cope so well?  Shit, it really is enough to make you feel sorry for him.

The morning after

The morning after

Fair’s fair; this is by some margin the biggest ‘story’ of the campaign, if what you’re after is a classic gaffe.  A pithier expose of what Brown thinks of his core support, and of how dysfunctional and exhausted his campaign has become would be hard to find.  At a stroke it tears great holes in Labour’s core vote strategy – and that was the last one they had.  In the same way that we remember 1992 for the Sheffield rally, 1983 for the Labour presser where they gave ‘full support’ to Michael Foot as leader and 2001 for Prescott punching a protestor, we will remember 2010 for Gordon Brown calling a lifelong Labour voter a bigot behind her back.

Best of all, for the Lib Dems and the Tories, it’s a story that they can cheerfully stand back from.  Never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake.

Where do we go from here?  The final debate, and the home straight to the election itself.  The economy debate must have been where Brown saw himself making up ground, but if he’s anything like human, he’ll still be feeling like he looked in Jeremy Vine’s studio – like all the stuffing’s just been knocked out of him.  It’s enough to make you feel sorry for him.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Could we just be serious for a minute?

Could we just be serious for a minute?

Boom.  That was Greece.  Crash.  That was Spain.  The creaking you can hear is the fabric of the Eurozone economy under enormous fiscal strain.  Can Germany bail out the entire Southern Mediterranean?  One for you John?

And here we are obsessing about whether reducing a future tax rise by £6bn is going to destroy the British economy.

The Tories have nearly lost this election because the electorate doesn’t like to be told that we’re bust and heading towards savage, Geddes-axe style cuts in expenditure.  It prefers having its collective hand held and being told that we don’t need to start the pain until next year.  And the Tories have, basically, obliged.  On one level, who can blame them?  If too much honesty loses you elections, politicians will inevitably go easy on the truth.

But on the other hand, we are blindly heading towards a really nasty situation.  Everyone has been saying, for months, that unless something dramatic was done Greece would be facing sovereign default.  Nothing sufficiently dramatic was done.  And here we are.  Everyone has been saying for months that unless we introduce massive fiscal retrenchment we are heading towards a ratings downgrade.  And what are we doing?  Arguing whether Westminster is a minor public school, or if David Cameron’s anecdotes are a bit dodgy.

It’s hard not to conclude that if we get a Hung Parliament, and the Liberal Democrats hold the balance of power, we will sodding well have deserved it.

Saying what he thinks

Saying what he thinks

OK, why does this look so bad?  After all, as Labour are desperately spinning, everyone says things under their breath.  Remember John Major’s ‘bastards’?  What about Nick Clegg being overheard saying that he wanted to demote Chris Huhne and thought that Steve Webb was useless?

It’s true enough – no-one would really want their private thoughts being broadcast to the world.  But the reason that this gaffe is so utterly toxic is the message it portrays.  As Lord St John of Fawsley said of Mrs Thatcher long ago, “When she speaks without thinking, she says what she thinks.”  Both Major and Clegg’s gaffes were illuminating because they revealed what they really thought.  This was politically embarrassing, but not devastating.  It was hard not to sympathise with Major’s view of his Eurosceptic colleagues, and which of us has not secretly thought that Steve Webb (who?) over-promoted as Lib Dem transport spokesman (or whatever.  Environment?  Local Government?  The man's a blank).

But Brown’s outburst was a contemptuous dismissal of an inoffensive woman, who practically embodies Labour’s core vote.  It’s remarkably instructive of the way he thinks – she worries, mildly, about immigration.  She is therefore a bigoted old woman.  If you disagree with me, you are not just wrong but evil.  It’s a mindset not totally unknown on the left, but it really is deeply unattractive when brought out into the open.



If the Tories do lose this election, and I’m still quietly (or is that desperately?) confident that they won’t, there really will be some hard questions asked at CCHQ.  The first must be how on earth this happened when they were supposed to be taking on the most inept campaigning politician since time began.  Every time you start to think that Labour might just pull something together, this sort of thing happens.

If it’s not calling a perfectly respectable (ex) Labour-voting woman a bigot, then it’s getting an Elvis impersonator along to a campaign event – or failing to get Peppa Pig.  In Tony Blair’s last conference speech he said something along the lines of ‘If we can't take this lot apart in the next few years we shouldn't be in the business of politics at all.’  Well, if the Tories can’t defeat a Labour party led by Gordon Brown…

The problem they have, of course, is that it’s not enough to defeat Labour, but that’s another story.

A Macaulay for our times

A Macaulay for our times

I have, as I have mentioned before, a mind like a box-room.  There’s an awful lot of clutter, and nothing seems to have been sorted.  This may be why, when reading of the Tories’ youngest canvasser, my mind leapt instantly to Thomas Babington Macaulay.  Macaulay, as well as being the finest of the Whig historians, was the subject of some of the best insulting compliments of all time.

Lord Melbourne said “I wish I could be so cocksure about anything, as Tom Macaulay is of everything.”  Sidney Smith said of him that “he not only overflowed with knowledge, but he paddled in the slop”.  Cracking stuff, but really unrelated to precocious little William Liefting Moore.  The thing that fired the synapses was Moore’s reason why he supported the Conservatives.

I have always liked the Conservatives' ethos; they are more business orientated. I am less attracted to Gordon Brown. Labour's record is unsatisfactory.

He’s 10, incidentally.

When Macaulay was 4, a lady is supposed to have spilt hot tea on him.  When she made amends by asking whether little baby had hurt his ickle finger den, he responded gravely:

Thank you madam, but the agony has somewhat abated. 

Ed Balls in a sentence

Ed Balls in a sentence

I think this more or less sums it up.

Cocky, fake, slimy, inelegant, ineloquent, charmless, witless, weird, sinister, glacially cold and luminescently remote, he may be the most chillingly repulsive politician of even this golden generation.

Yup.  He’s really captured the essence of the man there.

Friday, April 23, 2010



Back briefly to my point on handicap events.  There’s been a lot of comment to the effect that Cameron needed to ‘smash’ Clegg and Brown to win.  That he doesn’t just need to win, he needs to win by miles.  I’m not so sure that this is true.  It’s the same analysis that led people to say that he ought to have been ‘pulverising’ Brown at PMQs, and the fact that Brown wasn’t curled up in a ball on the floor, shaking, meant that Cameron wasn’t winning.

But politics, and debates in particular, don’t work like that.  In PMQs, with the support of his party behind him, it’s actually very difficult for a Prime Minister to do much worse than narrowly lose – if he can’t answer the questions, he just has to make irrelevant assertions loudly and confidently and it looks like he’s winning.  Similarly in the debates, there simply isn’t the scope for anyone to ‘win’ an argument – there’s not enough back and forth.  The only format where someone can really get monstered is the Paxman-style focused interview, where a weakness can be exposed and then relentlessly attacked.

Clegg’s big boost of last week is explained more or less entirely by people in the UK suddenly realising that he existed – and that he was neither obviously drunk or visibly decayed.  That’s good in itself for the Lib Dems, but it’s not going to be enough to get them up to the 35-36% they need to supplant Labour as the largest party on the left.

Winning the debate is not the same as winning the election – and for all the certainties floating around, that Cameron ‘can’t’ win or that a Hung Parliament is ‘guaranteed’, nothing is certain this close to an election.

Debate #2

Debate #2

Seconds out, round two…  The problem with these reviews of the debates is that your reaction is inevitably skewed to some extent by your existing political allegiance.  I, after all, thought that David Cameron had done pretty well in the first one.  Charlotte Gore’s approach (and a belated welcome back to blogging!) is clearly the best, though personally I’m with the Sun’s “Majestic Cameron squashes Clegg (and Brown) like a bug, do you hear me?  A bug!

So instead of an overall review, here are some scattered impressions from last night.

Most improved: Gordon Brown.  These debates are, as I have mentioned before, effectively a handicap event.  Prior expectations get factored in, and it’s only a big under or over-performance that gets noted.  Bearing that in mind, while Cameron was better than last week, he was already pretty good.  Brown was dire last week – apart from anything else the ‘I agree with Nick’ strategy was a disaster.  This week he was better because he was more himself.  He is basically a grumpy, podium-thumping heavyweight, not a smirking consensus man – last night he played far more to his strengths than last week.

Runner-up: David Cameron.  Much less nervous, much more assured.

Most disturbing: Gordon Brown.  But that smile!  Those jokes!  Please won’t someone tell him to stop?  His old dropped-jaw tic was mildly disconcerting.  His sudden grin (like the silver plate on a coffin) is positively alarming.

Runner-up: Nick Clegg.  Knob gags in a Prime Ministerial debate?  Eww.

Best moment: David Cameron.  There haven’t been very many moments in these debates, all three are generally too good to get caught out.  But the Labour leaflet bit was genuinely good – some anger from Cameron, and he forced Brown into a lie to escape.  Good stuff.

Runner-up: Gordon Brown.  ‘Get real Nick’.  It may have been scripted, but it was effective.

Best opening/closing: Nick Clegg.  He’s really good at these – certainly better than the other two.  It’s also the place where he can best get across the ‘things can change’ stuff, because it’s all about the vibe and the feel, and less about the practicalities, where he often got caught between the other two last night.

Runner-up: Gordon Brown.  It’s a punchy effort, going for the Millwall route. 

Funniest line: David Cameron.  ‘I never thought I’d say this, but I agree with Gordon’.  Works on a couple of levels – it both made Nick Clegg’s Trident position look naïve, and it reminded everyone of Brown’s Clegg-humping last week.

Runner-up: Gordon Brown.  A touch unfair this, but “women – and you are one” was by some margin the funniest moment of the night.  Scored down because it was unintentional…

Oddest question The Pope.  Wtf?  Leftfield questions are often a good way of getting unscripted answers, but this one had only one possible answer – I disagree with the Catholic church on (gays/abortion/contraception/other) but welcome the Pope’s visit.  Which all three duly gave.  Although if Nick Clegg’s an atheist, why did he bang on about sin and redemption?

Runner-up: Expenses, immigration and coalitions – wasn’t this supposed to be the foreign policy debate?

Roll on round three…

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

MPS Syndrome?

MPS Syndrome?

Where the hell did Sholto Byrnes go to school?  In a piece asking who is posher, David Cameron or Nick Clegg (Cameron, obviously – but it’s the difference between lower-upper class and upper-middle class) he makes the following statement:

You do not have to be aware of that ludicrous acronym, MPSIA ("minor public school, I'm afraid") to sense that metropolitan Westminster School, where Clegg went, is just not as grand as Cameron's alma mater, Eton – which, as Dominic Lawson pointed out on Sunday, has truly become a four letter word.

Is Westminster School really an MPS?  Well, Lord Peter Wimsey (undercover as D’Eath Bredon…) would seem to suggest so in Murder must Advertise:

"Well, you and Mr. Bredon have had college educations, so you know all about it. What schools do you call public schools?"

"Eton," said Mr. Bredon, promptly, "--and Harrow," he added, magnanimously, for he was an Eton man…  "And I've heard," Bredon went on, "that there's a decentish sort of place at Winchester, if you're not too particular."

But, even accepting these as the core three, I think that you could very reasonably add the two London schools – St Pauls and Westminster – to them without causing too much of a riot.  Certainly, suggesting  that Westminster is on a par with Llanaba School is a bit silly.  With school fees at Westminster working out all but identical to those at Eton, I think that Sholto probably ought to have given that line of attack a miss.

Chancellor Cable?

Chancellor Cable?

Oh, what the hell, since it’s hung Parliament day today at the Reptile, one more thought.  There’s a lot of talk – by Peter Oborne for instance – that the Lib Dem surge/bounce/blip will usher St Vince of the retro-prognostication into the Treasury – regardless of whether the Tories or Labour win most seats in the election.

Well, I doubt it.  I really doubt it.  Unless Labour can win both more seats and more votes than the Tories (and lets not forget – they’re coming third in the polls…) it would be utter madness for the Lib Dems to prop them up in a coalition.  Having fought a campaign entirely on hopey-changey, it would be suicidal to finish it by entering a formal coalition with Labour.  This remains the case even if Gordon Brown resigns and is replaced by a Miliband – the other personnel are the same.  A Lib-Lab coalition would be extremely unlikely to go the distance.  Because it would be a coalition of roughly equivalent partners the scope for disagreement becomes much wider – and there is a ton of stuff the parties disagree on.  An election in a year or so – after an unpopular coalition (and I suspect any Government will be unpopular for the next year or so) could see an absolute wipe-out for both of them.

So, the only real possibility for a coalition is between Lib Dem and Conservative.  But this probably won’t happen either.  If there’s a gulf between Labour the Lib Dem, then there’s a chasm between them and the Tories.  If Nick Clegg gets into bed with David Cameron, thousands of activists will be choking on their muesli.  Plus, the one thing that Clegg simply has to demand is electoral reform – and that’s the one thing that Cameron almost certainly can’t offer.  An armed truce is the most likely – Clegg promises not to vote down the Queen’s Speech, and we get a period of minority Tory Government.

Almost the only scenario I can imagine that sees Vince finally getting into No. 11 is one where Labour do much better than expected, and get a good plurality of seats.  Rather than go for a formal coalition, Brown just offers Cable the Chancellor’s job under him, either as a proper defection or just as a ‘bi-partisan move’ to make his minority Government look more broad-based.  Would Cable go for that?  He shouldn’t, but the prospect of an actual ministry would be awfully tempting…

Party like it's 1923

Party like it's 1923

Everyone is talking about hung parliaments, and the rise of the Liberal Democrats (bounce, blip or surge) certainly does seem to indicate that one is on the cards.  But commentators are all talking about the last hung Parliament in 1974 as the relevant precedent.  I don’t think it is.  That election saw a virtual dead heat between Labour and the Tories, with the Liberals left holding the balance of power with only 14 seats to do it with.

That, to put it mildly, ain’t gonna happen this time.  The election we ought to be looking was the one held 51 years before, in 1923.  This election, fought on the rather abstruse issue of Tariff Reform, saw the Tories lose their majority but remain as by far the largest party, with 258 seats compared to Labour’s 191 and Asquith’s Liberals’ 158.  Despite their largest party status, the Tories accepted that they had ‘lost’ the election, and Stanley Baldwin advised the King to call for HH Asquith.  Asquith, however, recommended that the Labour leader, Ramsay MacDonald, should be invited to form a minority Government (incidentally, thereby destroying the Liberal party forever as a party of Government).

Are there any useful lessons from this?  Well, one might be that a Government that loses its majority will be seen as having lost the right to govern – something for Brown to ponder as he hopes desperately for the yellow peril to rescue him from a Tory majority.  The other, however, is that the slide from Government to irrelevance can be remarkably quick.  In 1922 the Liberals were in power – albeit as part of a coalition.  In 1923 they garnered nearly 30% of the vote overall, and were evenly split with Labour.  In 1924 they plummeted to 18%, and lost all but 40 of their MPs.

A series of elections (three in three years) hammered the Liberals – above all because their finances were shaky.  Once they lost the aura of a serious party of Government, they tumbled down into minor party status very quickly.  A lesson to be learnt there for Labour, especially if funding reforms sever their umbilical link to the Unions’ cash.

Whisky Tango Foxtrot?

Whisky Tango Foxtrot?

Well, gosh eh?  Hands up who say that one coming.  It’s too early to say whether the Lib Dem bounce is entirely a blip, an exaggerated move, or the start of a new era in British politics.  Sudden and dramatic swings in public opinion have a habit of reversing themselves pretty swiftly (and it’s worth reminding ourselves that the entire lifespan of the Lib Dem surge is less than a week so far – outside an election campaign it might not have been picked up at all).  But then sudden and dramatic swings in public opinion don’t often happen a fortnight before polling day.

The Conservative message, all the way from 2005, has been ‘time for a change’, ‘lets get rid of Gordon Brown’.  This was, after all, pretty much the sum of New Labour’s charge in 1997 – there was a fluffy backdrop of D-Ream, and an undefined fuzzy feel-good message about the new young leader, but the overwhelming focus of the campaign was on the negatives of the Tories.  This time round the Tories have made their key message stick – people want change, and they want rid of Brown.  They’re just not sure that they want Cameron and the Tories instead.

For politics geeks like me there is something distinctly amusing about the idea that the Liberal Democrats should become the repository of the anti-politics vote.  These chaps, after all, are so steeped in politics that they all joined a party with no prospect of power, just so they could do lots of politics stuff.  There’s something quite funny, in a slightly gritted-teeth way, in seeing them swept away on a tide of enthusiasm when their actual policies are a combination of the unpopular, the unaffordable and the unrealistic.  If any other party had promised to magic up a £17bn tax cut paid for by reducing tax avoidance the laughter would been long and loud.

But we are where we are (and I, for one, welcome our new sandal-wearing overlords).  If May 6th sees a vote share along the 35-25-30 mark, then we’ll probably see a minority Conservative Government, looking for co-operation with the Liberal Democrats on a case by case basis.  We’ll also see another election sooner rather than later...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Debate #1...

Debate #1...

So, enough time has passed for a slightly more reflective take on last night’s debate.  Unusually, I agree with the general perception that Nick Clegg ‘won’ the debate.  He was reasonable-sounding, he looked at the camera, he looked new and young and so forth.  He was also rather gifted the debate by the format of the evening – and the strategy adopted by Gordon Brown in particular.

The two over-riding themes of the evening were Gordon Brown saying “I agree with Nick”, and Nick Clegg jabbing a finger and saying “those other two”.  For Cameron, this was something of a nightmare.  With Brown glutinously sticking close to Clegg, and Clegg performing his Mercutio routine, Cameron didn’t know whether to stick or twist – whether he should confront Brown and take him on directly on his misrepresentations of Tory policy, or ignore Brown altogether and try and frame the debate himself.  The first approach lent a lot of credence to Clegg’s holier-than-thou exasperation, the second made it look as though he was avoiding the questions.  He ended up veering between the two positions, which managed to incorporate the downsides to each position.

Not a great night for Cameron then, although my impression of his performance at the time was that he did almost exactly as well as I’d expected him to.  He was polished, after a nervous start, he got his policies across clearly, and he looked poised, confident and Prime Ministerial.  Whatever, and in this I disagree with Alex Massie, I thought he was significantly better than Gordon Brown – especially presentationally, but also in how he got his arguments across, and in the substance of those arguments.

We were told before the debates that all three leaders were frantically outsourcing their witty asides to teams of high-profile jokesters.  Well if that was the case, the Clegg and Cameron seem very sensibly to have left them on the cutting-room floor.  Brown on the other hand had been prepped with a couple of corkers, and was going to squeeze them in whatever it took.  There was the one about how Lord Ashcroft had done him a favour, because he was smiling on the posters, and there was one about airbrushing posters but not policies.  All good knockabout stuff, and to a backdrop of rustling order papers and ‘year-year-years’ from his backbenchers they might have worked.  To the background of deathly silence that has been required for these debates they sounded…just awful.

I suspect that a three-way debate involving a ‘third party’ is always going to benefit that third party.  Not only are they not saddled by a government record to defend, they don’t even have to put up with the same degree of scrutiny afforded to the main opposition.  They are free to snipe from the sidelines, and to damn all present with impunity.  Add to that the mere fact of the presence – which imbues them with equal standing in the eyes of the viewer, and you have a very strong position to be in.  It’s why Vince Cable ‘won’ the Chancellors’ debate, and it’s why Nick Clegg ‘won’ last night.

Can either Cameron or Brown pull it back next week?  Well, next week is foreign policy, and it’s here that the Liberal Democrats are a little bit vulnerable.  They are easily the most Europhile party in British politics: they have traditionally campaigned for Euro membership, and they reneged on their manifesto pledge regarding a referendum on Lisbon.  They also sound quite unilateralist on their policy not to renew Trident – their manifesto policy is a little more nuanced, but Clegg was pretty unambiguous about it last night.  Pro-Europe and unilateralist – these are not easy policies to defend in the context of a debate.

Can Brown capitalise?  Does he even want to?  He may well decide that the best thing to do is to remain sticking close to Cleggy and trying to use points of agreement to score of Cameron.  He is, in any event, pretty vulnerable here too.  Expect helicopters, body armour and the whole toxic issue of Iraq to get plenty of airtime.  Can Cameron profit on this one?  Well he ought to.  But to do so he’ll have to demonstrate far better mastery of the format than he showed last night.

I was watching the show with my wife last night – who’s not quite such a politics geek as I am, but is still pretty well informed and engaged on these things.  She was really quite impressed with Clegg, and thought he was much the best early on (she loathes Brown anyway…).  Just towards the end, however, she started to get pretty ticked off with his continued ‘those two’ lines.  It worked well at the start, but it got pretty grating by the end.  Is this a strategy with a sell-by date?  Ah, anecdata, there’s nothing quite like it.

...oh, hang on. It was No after all.

...oh, hang on. It was No after all.

Now, what was it that David Cameron said about Twitter again?

This amazing, extraordinary, game-changing poll was, after all, a crock.  So John Rentoul was right (probably) after all.  So, if you’re reading John, sorry…

I do, however, reserve the right to pull this one up again if the Lib Dems do manage to outpoll Labour at some point in this campaign.

Questions to which the answer is... wait a minute.

Questions to which the answer is... wait a minute.

Further to my post yesterday about JK Rowling, John Rentoul’s legendary series risks being just a bit too glib for its own good.  Case in point?  No. 278 is from politicalbetting.  Can Clegg take the Lib Dems past Labour?

Rentoul at 11.30 – No.

ITN/ComRes poll at 12?

Con 36
Lab 24
LD 35

Sometimes questions need longer answers.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hating up a storm

Hating up a storm

I don’t know where this flurry of blogging has come from, but I’m going to surf it while it’s there (does one surf flurries?).  Hugo Rifkind in the Spectator rather puts his finger on a point that I’ve noticed about a bit.

I could never be comfortable on the left — there’s just too much hate there

He notes three examples in particular, all ones that I’ve touched on here.

Firstly the bizarre, frothing rage that Dan Hannan attracted after his comments on the NHS:

A few months ago, I interviewed Dan Hannan, the blogging MEP. This was shortly after he’d described the NHS as ‘a 50-year mistake’ and, in return, been described as ‘a boggle-eyed, slap-headed, unpleasant, revolting, heartless, shit-brained, attention-grabbing, foetid excuse for a prick’ by the Guardian’s Charlie Brooker. ‘It’s what the left does,’ said Hannan, who is slap-headed, certainly, but seemed none of the rest. ‘They don’t think, “he’s wrong”. They think, “he’s plainly a wanker”.’

Secondly the barking mad denunciations of Boris Johnson shortly before his election as Mayor of London (and how is that hunger strike going Arabella?  Less porky now?).

It was one of the clumsiest, crassest, most cringe-making things I’ve ever seen in a newspaper.

But the primary focus is given to this blog’s favourite lefty columnist Johann Hari.  It was a column from a while ago, given due prominence here.

To be clear, it’s not just that Hari doesn’t think Cameron is right in all he wants to do. He doesn’t even think he’s honestly wrong. He thinks he’s an evil cynic, whose primary purpose in standing for election is to ‘take money from the hard-working majority of Brits, and hand it to his friends and relatives on landed estates and in tax havens’. This is mad. Proper mad. Tinfoil hat mad. Protocols of the Elders of Zion mad, as though there were a secret society of poshos at the heart of the Cameron project, passing the port in a bunker under Notting Hill, and sniggering ‘Rah, rah, rah, we’re going to smash the oiks.’ Clever people can only think like this when the hate comes first.

Rifkind is kinder to Hari than he deserves though.  That article included about the nastiest, most offensive line on Cameron that it’s possible to imagine.

As one political journalist recently said sardonically that if Cameron announced the slaying of the first born, he would be applauded for having a great policy for second children.

Ignore, for a second, the general nastiness of this.  And now remember that, two months before this piece was written, David Cameron’s first-born child had just died.  I’m sure that Hari didn’t intend this to be as offensive as it looks, but, as Rifkind says, It’s the hate. It’s a handicap. It makes you nuts.

Is this really a question to which the answer is no?

Is this really a question to which the answer is no?

Toby Young questions whether JK Rowling is really a secret Tory, on the strength of her sub-Wrykyn setting of Hogwarts (incidentally, how depressing is it that my spellchecker is completely unaware of the sublime Wodehouse’s ne plus ultra of fictional schools yet perfectly happy with Rowling’s pastiche?  Ho hum).  The basis for this?

What is Hogwarts, after all, but an idealised version of an English public school? I’d go further and say it’s clearly based on Eton, with Quidditch a stand-in for the wall game. It’s a nostalgic, misty-eyed invocation of a bygone era – heritage Britain sprinkled with fairy dust. No trace of Ofsted inspections here – of the dreary, box-ticking, politically-correct culture that Labour has imposed on Britain’s schools over the past 13 years.

Up to a point Lord Copper, and all that.  John Rentoul leaps on this as the next in his interminable series of Questions to which the answer is no, pointing out that there is a difference between the creative mind and political reality, and adding that the fiendishly complicated monetary system in the wizarding world doesn’t mean that Rowling hankers for the good old days of £/s/d.

Both of them, however, miss the best argument in favour of Rowling really being a Tory after all.  I apologise for two things here, the first being that since, unaccountably, I don’t have a copy of the Order of the Phoenix at work I am relying on memory, and second for having read the damn things in the fist place and now to be attempting some sort of philosophical analysis of them.  Feel free to go and read something improving instead.

The subplot of the Order of the Phoenix is that the Ministry of Magic is concerned that the headmaster of Hogwarts is running it as a sort of Dumbeldorian madrassah, training up students to fight the Government.  As a result they impose ever more centralised control of education, imposing a school inspector who gradually increases her power to remove teachers, micro-manage the school rules and eventually take control of the school curriculum itself.  This process of greater state involvement in education is portrayed as extremely malign, with the curtailment of independence stifling the quality of education and leading to a counter-productive focus on passing tests, regardless of their applicability to real life.  At the end, the students rebel and force the return of Dumbledore and the end of Government meddling.

Couple of themes run through that. 

  1. the Government has no place dictating to schools what they can teach or how they should run their schools; and

(ii)    the power of the individual is both stronger than and in conflict with the power of the state.

Now, far be it for me to contradict John Rentoul, who after all has the power of saying ‘No’ to this sort of idea, but in terms of education policy at least, if not the overall philosophy of government, JK Rowling looks, through her writings, to be advocating a view of the world that is far more Tory than it is Labour.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Mirror, mirror on the wall

OMG!  Breaking story from April 2002!  The Mirror really is an extraordinary newspaper.  It is, of course, entirely acceptable for newspapers to follow a party line, as slavishly as they can get away with.  But it is just bizarre for one to be quite so astonishingly blasé about its own credibility in the process.  I seem to remember a front page splash that David Cameron had been putting meals for his staff on his staff expenses.  Um, yes?

And now there comes the revelation that David Cameron described Gordon Brown as chancellor as “a figure of colossal power and intellect” and that “the economic record in terms of growth is undeniable.”  Well the second statement is still true, albeit in an entirely different direction to that in 2002, and I suspect that Cameron would still stand, perhaps a bit less stridently since Brown’s disastrous performance as Prime Minister, that Brown’s “presence in the Commons and command of the chamber are indeed awesome”.  It was, after all, all written down in his Guardian diary at the time – previously remarked on here – in a column about Labour’s record on taxation.

So, do these comments live up to the Mirror’s billing?

The revelation of the comments will be a huge embarrassment to Mr Cameron as he prepares for tonight’s TV debate with Mr Brown and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.

No.  No they don’t.  For a start the piece is titled Gordon Brown's latest Budget shows how terrible he is as a tax reformer, writes Tory MP David Cameron.  If that weren’t enough, here’s some more of the column:

Is he any good as a tax reformer? My answer would be a determined "no." In fact, he has been a disaster.

…we now have the most complicated tax and benefit system known to man…

Mr Brown's obsession with tax credits means that his Budget does not even do what everyone thinks it does…

The 2002 Budget is not "a Budget for the NHS". It is the product of an inveterate fiddler and fixer who sits in the Treasury dreaming up ever more complicated tax incentives and wheezes to determine how we should live our lives.

It ends with a wistful vision that may now be rather closer to fruition.

I long for a chancellor who stands up and introduces a Budget which abolishes all of Brown's endless reliefs and credits - and uses the money to cut tax rates at the same time. "My Budget has no title", the peroration would go, "it's your money, spend it as you choose." Am I alone?

But the most delightful thing about this column, dredged up by the Mirror to discredit David Cameron?  It is all about how Labour put up National Insurance Contributions last time too…

Hanging up his swear-boots...

Hanging up his swear-boots...

I’m actually quite upset by this.  The Devil’s Kitchen was one of the reasons I started blogging, and has been on the ‘must-read’ list ever since.  The style was never mine, but it was definitely his, and hearing that it has been brilloed from existence is a shock, and a shame.  Chris has always been a swearblogger.  There’s is an art in this – really good swearing requires a joy in language.  Most people don’t have this, and most swearing is a cheerless, tiresome repetition of fucks as a result.  Proper, inventive obscene invective is a rarity, and worthwhile in it’s own right – even if it involves stylised executions of leading politicians. 

But, and there is always a but round about here, it would be a hard style to pull off as leader of a political party.  David Cameron got in enough trouble for saying that too many tweets make a twat, even though he was obviously correct.  Christ, there was even a kerfuffle when he said ‘pissed’ in a party conference speech.  Equally, for all that we know that Gordon Brown is a persistent but tiresomely unimaginative swearer behind closed doors, eyebrows would be raised if his first answer at the debate tonight was to tell Cameron to fuck off, jumped-up little cock that he is.

After their exposes on celebrities’ affairs and on MPs’ expenses, there is surely no area more hypocritical for journalists to go on than other peoples’ bad language.  Newsrooms of the print and broadcast media are notorious for this – you wouldn’t hear such language from a docker (“Ah, you would Ted.  They use terrible language”).  But there we are, expecting honesty and integrity from journalists is a bit of a waste of time.  And it’s pretty obvious what Andrew Neil will have been told about Chris before the interview – LPUK is a new political party with very few members, and its leader writes a blog that calls people cunts.  That will probably have been the extent of the briefing, with a couple of print-outs of DK’s juicier postings thrown in for good measure.  No real surprise that the interview followed the course that it did.

No real surprise either that the DK has taken a new direction.  You can either be an anonymous swearblogger or a leader of political party, not both.  Either way, a little piece of my personal internet history just died.  But chin up, Chris and best of luck, though if you get interviewed by Neil again, the best thing to do would be to stand up and pull off his wig.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Snapshots of brilliance

Snapshots of brilliance

Spring.  It’s gloriously sunny, the grass is being cut and the county cricket season starts today.  It makes my fingers twitch.  It’s a strange game cricket.  Individual moments stay with you for a long time – forever in some cases.  Alex Massie has a perfect example of this today:

I can recall with complete clarity a front-foot cut I played for Glenalmond Colts against Loretto Colts more, Christ, than 20 years ago; the pitch wasn't a pudding and the ball wasn't really short and it wasn't really wide but for some reason - glorious, inexplicable and unforgettable - I strode and stood tall and leathered it off the middle, cutting it past a bewildered point who had no idea that this was coming. Nor did the bowler and I can still picture the look of affronted resentment plastered across his face. For a blissful, obviously fleeting, moment I was able to fancy myself a left-handed Viv Richards and say that, regardless of age or experience, no batsman in the world could have dealt more effectively with that delivery.

I have a couple of freeze-frame moments like this too – moments when, just for a second, I stood with the best.  My favourite dates back to when I was playing cricket in Zambia, a mere seven years ago (sob…).  Playing cricket in the dry season gives you a pitch that turns practically square.  I was bowling to a very useful left-hander, who was progressing serenely through the 60s to what looked like being a pretty straightforward hundred.  I bowled him three balls with a real rip on them, pitching middle and off and turning sharply past the stumps.  The first two he played and missed at, the third he left.  The next ball was an arm ball on off stump.  He left it, playing for turn, and it bowled him.  I felt like the world’s best bowler.  Briefly.

Too many tweets

Too many tweets

I love elections.  I love them most of all for the furious exaggerated hyperbole that they engender.  When it isn’t Alastair Darling – he who has presided over the largest peacetime budget deficit in British history – frothing at the mouth over Conservative plans to reduce a proposed tax rise and thereby reduce public spending by less than 1%, it’s the Liberal Democrats showing off massive scare posters that say that the Tories might increase VAT – even though they’ve said precisely the same thing themselves.

And now it’s a particularly juicy bit of Twitter-induced idiocy.  Some stripling Labour candidate up in Scotland has been posting on Twitter throughout the last few months and, in a break with the accepted PPC tradition of being as anodyne and tedious in 140 characters as most people manage in 140 pages, he has been a bit, um, controversial.  For example:

God this fairtrade, organic banana is shit. Can I have a slave-grown, chemically enhanced, genetically modified one please?

DC was right.  Too many tweets do make a twat.

So, Labour candidate in ‘bit of a knob’ shocker.  And, predictably, everyone from the Tories to the SNP to the Lib Dems are calling for his summary defenestration.  In the words of James Forsyth:

If Labour leave this candidate in place, then they’ll be saying that they think talking about wanting a ‘slave-grown’ banana is acceptable.

I hope that was written with an appropriately po-faced expression, though I don’t remember James being especially capable of that sort of thing at school (yes!  It’s another old-school tie conspiracy.  James Forsyth, Seumas Milne and I secretly control the media).  On the plus side, there’s lots more of these manufactured outrages to come.  Can’t wait.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Stimulating stuff...

Stimulating stuff...

Before I get stuck into the hurly-burly of the election campaign, something has been bothering me.  Labour have been patting themselves heartily on the back for the ‘fiscal stimulus’ that they introduced last year, chiefly the cut in VAT.  Leftists and liberals generally have gone further, and called for an additional fiscal stimulus now, to stimulate the recovery.

So, why are they so angry at the Tories’ proposed reduction in the increase in NICs?  After all, if it is paid for by reduction in waste, it will be fiscally positive as unproductive spending is cut, returning additional wealth to the people.  And if these cuts in ‘waste’ do not materialise, then it is an unfunded tax cut, paid for by increased borrowing.  Or, to put it another way, a fiscal stimulus.

You’d have thought they’d have been all in favour.