Monday, April 27, 2015 

Can you feel the passion?

Election fever has finally reached my humble rotten borough.  Not in the form of canvassers obviously, as the place was written off as Tory bastion many moons ago, although UKIP may well have made some recent inroads.  No, with the delivery today of a leaflet from the Green party candidate, we have now received literature from all of the big five parties.  This is an improvement over last time, when I don't recall getting anything from either the Lib Dems or the Greens.  Considering the wider constituency could be just about said to be marginal, in that on a very good day Labour should be taking it from the Tories (Labour held it from 1997 until 2005), that you could quite easily pass through the area without seeing anything to suggest there's an election on ought to tell you the nation's mood hasn't exactly been captured by the campaign thus far.

This isn't exactly surprising considering just how controlled and traditional the approach of the main parties has been.  No chances are being taken of either a Sharon Storer or Gillian Duffy moment occurring, despite all the evidence suggesting that Gordon Brown's description of Duffy as a "bigoted woman" had absolutely no impact whatsoever on how people voted.  If they could both Labour and the Tories would conduct all their set-pieces for the cameras in hermetically sealed temporary constructions, accessible only to friendly media and the activists/extras recruited to act as background props, and then only once they had been carefully disinfected.  The other slightly different approach, the one George Osborne has been stuck with, is to do a Hugh Abbott and spend the entire campaign touring friendly businesses.  Any unpleasant behaviour by employees, such as asking questions not provided by Osborne's advisers and minders will no doubt be noted and reported back to the person who invited them in the first place.

Cameron, responding to the criticism of how he's spent the campaign thus far in a barely interested torpor, has duly rediscovered his passion.  Passion to David Cameron is getting slightly flush in the face and saying the same things only louder.  Only with the odd vaguely rude word thrown in.  It's also pretending that what really excites him is not just how much more time he'll have to chillax once he loses the election, but getting that all important childcare place, that workfare placement, that bedsit.  If you want excitement, go to Greece!  If you want showbiz, go to Essex!  If you want Boris, go to Barking!  If you want insincerity, you've come to the right place!

At this point it's worth remembering that David Cameron's key objection (beyond his realisation he was on a hiding to nothing) to taking part in the debates was he believed they had overshadowed the campaign last time.  They did, but that's because as we've seen, strip them out of the equation and all you're left with is two sides fighting a battle against the opponents they would like to have.  The Tories are stuck back in an age, if it ever existed, when letters to a newspaper mattered.  Seeing the Mail, Telegraph and Sun act as an adjunct of CCHQ for a leader they and their owners don't really believe in invites pity more than it does fear.  At least Richard Desmond has been honest with everyone on that score.

Unspoken is how both parties have all but come to terms with the fact there's going to be another hung parliamentEven if today's outlier poll from Lord Ashcroft which shows a 6% Tory lead became reality, on an uniform swing it would still deny the party an overall majority by 4 seats.  This hasn't stopped Labour from trying, with the various pledges over the weekend on housing, but there's little to suggest promises that have been made before and gone unfulfilled are going to swing many votes at this point.

Little wonder that whether it comes in the shape of Russell Brand patronising schoolchildren or Nicola Sturgeon promising to end austerity by being less radical than Labour, it's that something different however silly or based in falsehood that cuts through.  The Institute for Fiscal Studies' verdict on the SNP manifesto ought to have been damning: what little difference there is with Labour's plans would be for the worse, the reality being it's Labour pulling the nationalists to the left rather than the opposite.  And yet still the SNP share of the vote in the polls edges upwards, to the point where you suspect some are now saying they're voting SNP for a quiet life, in a reversal of how in the past Tory voters were embarrassed to admit they were going blue.  I still can't quite see how the SNP can overturn a majority of 17,000 in Douglas Alexander's seat when their candidate is a 20-year-old who has twice called no voters "gullible", to take just one snapshot, and yet such is the apparent mood, in spite of everything that should be screaming the SNP are interested in just two things, themselves and independence, it would be a brave person now that bets against a SNP whitewash.

If nothing else, Cameron and Miliband have little to lose from adopting the Sturgeon approach at this stage.  Just turn up at places, don't bring the entire retinue along and listen to some real people rather than bussed in party hacks.  Go off script, stop repeating the same lines we've heard a bazillion times now and Ed, please stop saying "...and let me explain why", as though you're talking to an especially dull and dim child.  At the weekend the ever brilliant Marina Hyde characterised this as the Jose Mourinho election, with both parties waiting for their opponents to make a mistake, indulge in the utmost gamesmanship and most certainly not try and win through expansive flair and attacking dexterity.  No one wants to be Jose Mourinho; not even Mourinho wants to be Jose Mourinho.  As someone might have said, surely we can do better than this.

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Friday, April 24, 2015 

Dead air.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015 

Happiness seems to be loneliness.

Who remembers churnalism, that rather quaint term came up with by Nick Davies to describe journalism which wasn't journalism in any real sense but instead sent over to at the end of their tether hacks by PR agencies and copy/pasted almost wholesale into the next day's paper?  It quickly became all but obsolete down to how so much journalism increasingly is churnalism rather than you know, original content or reporting of events.  Looking through today's Graun, which now costs an eye-watering £1.80 and seems to get thinner each time the price goes up (but hey, at least the free website's the 3rd most popular in the world or something), there are adverts masquerading as stories for Tidal, Pret a Manger, a Greenpeace activist's book, BrewDog and Google Strew View.  There are also reports on research on obesity, the number of nuns, pesticides and dinosaurs.  About the only real news is confined to the international pages.  This is not counting G2 or the sport section.

Why though bother with the expense of paying journalists to do the stuff journalists used to do when plenty of people are perfectly happy to spend their lunchtimes reading all the latest LOLs on LOL Feed (lol)?  Would You Survive "Game Of Thrones"? Are You The Kind Of Person That Is Instantly Suckered In By Headlines Written Like This?  Are We Making The Internet Even More Fucking Stupid Than It Already Is? (Yes).  Am I A Misanthrope And Ignoring How This Is Essentially The Modern Equivalent Of The Sun Attempting To Get Its Readers To Say "Hey Doris! Look At This!"  Most certainly.

This said, it's hard not to look at all the photographs swamping newspaper desks that show your average cunt taking a selfie with whichever politician has made a flying visit to their local railway station and think something has come unstuck in the space-time continuum.  When David Cameron, who has spent the entire campaign thus far doing his level best to avoid interactions with anyone who hasn't been vetted beforehand complains that rather than ask questions, most of those he comes into contact with just want him to gurn into their grot-covered personal telescreens it has to be serious.  Are these fucking people that conceited they can't interact with someone vaguely well-known without getting themselves in the frame?  Is this what modern life has become reduced to, the shared experience of sharing pointless crap no one cares about but which has to be liked and upvoted regardless (and yes, I realise the irony)?

So it seems.  There is very little other explanation for 83% of 18-34 year-olds saying they have experienced loneliness, as related by Nell Frizzell and related to her by a survey by Opinium, commissioned by The Big Lunch (yep, this is where the intro about churnalism was leading).  The Big Lunch is one of those brilliant ideas came up with by bastards in an office somewhere that is designed to make everyone living in a street feel better about not caring two hoots about their next door neighbours by having "a big lunch" one day a year where everyone's invited.  According to our Nell, our "constant state of remote social interaction is a twin spear of loneliness", and "When you eat lunch sitting at your desk, idly scanning through other people’s Facebook photos rather than chatting around a table about the canteen’s latest attempt at tex mex, you leave yourself open to the cold draught of loneliness".

Now, it's not exactly clear if Frizzell is being entirely serious or somewhat facetious throughout the piece.  When she relates a story about getting lost in Leeds while looking for Argos and ending up having a conversation with a "woman with a face the consistency of a floured bap about electric blankets", and then says despite it being only 10 years ago it sounds like something out of a Thomas Hardy novel as we like didn't have smartphones back then you obviously have to wonder.  The conclusion to be reached is that neither Frizzell or the people surveyed have the slightest idea what loneliness is as opposed to being alone, although that could be the survey's failings rather than theirs.

Being on your own then is "how you learn to value company".  Well yes.  It does rather depend though on the precise ratio of the time spent alone with that spent with friends or with others. If anything, an afternoon spent with neighbours for someone who then for the rest of the year has only occasional chats with the bloke in the off-licence to look forward to and a television screen and a couple of gerbils for company is probably crueller than no "Big Lunch" at all.

Not to make this personal or anything, as that hasn't been the entire point of this nonsense up to now, but it does rankle somewhat when loneliness features in the same sentence as sitting alongside a flatmate.  You can of course be lonely and have lots of lovely friends on social networks, as the correlation between actual conversations and mere interactions could be massive.  All the same, dare I suggest that loneliness is nearer seeing your best friend about once a year at best as despite only living 50 miles away it costs £30 on the train at off-peak rates, not counting further travel once there.  Texting, Twitter, Instagram aren't a replacement.  Loneliness is still having a fixation on someone you last saw 10 years ago.  Loneliness is wanting to "talk to strangers and make plans that don’t rely on others" and not being able to because you're a social disaster.  Loneliness is realising almost everyone you knew at school is either married, engaged or has kids.  Loneliness is not having experienced what everyone else has experienced.  Loneliness can be incredibly productive, but that doesn't mean the product will be any good.

The quote from Orson Welles is good, if nothing else.  We die alone, regardless of whether we're surrounded by friends and family or breathe our last in a flat filled only with newspapers, bottles of fermented piss and jazz mags.  There is though an even better Welles quote: "Everything about me is a contradiction, and so is everything about everybody else. We are made out of oppositions; we live between two poles. There's a philistine and an aesthete in all of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don't reconcile the poles. You just recognize them."

Or at least try to.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015 

Ready for drowning.

Nick Clegg is deeply upset at how human beings, not migrants, people are drowning trying to make the desperate journey across the Mediterranean to gain asylum in Europe.  Nick you might remember was, still is the deputy prime minister in the government that along with much of the rest of EU declared the Mare Nostrum mission undertaken by the Italian navy a "pull factor" in migrants attempting the journey.  Not a single politician honestly believed it to be the case, because not a single one of them is that stupid.  99.99% of those boarding the rickety boats are completely ignorant as to what awaits them if they complete the journey, let alone if their vessel begins to sink.  The mission was downgraded first because no one was prepared to help the Italians with the costs, second because of the turn in attitudes towards migrants across Europe and the rise of various populist/far-right parties and movements, and third because they didn't think anyone honestly cared thousands drown every year fleeing war and oppression.

That decision was not then taken with the best of intentions.  It was taken for entirely cynical reasons and then justified on the basis of a lie they knew would ring true to those convinced migrants come to Europe for the benefits rather than to escape the unbearable.  They obviously didn't know that once winter was over and conditions had eased that more than ever would try and make the journey, but they did know Libya was more of a basket case than in previous years and so correspondingly open to the traffickers.  They knew more people would drown than before.  It was a choice they made and one they should answer for.

Clegg and the Lib Dems at the time said nothing.  Now Clegg knows what the answer is, and what isn't.  The problem's not that migrants are making the journey, but the conditions leading to them trying to make it.  Conditions like the collapse of the Libyan state, which came about as a direct result of the Nato intervention Clegg and the Lib Dems fully supported.  For argument's sake let's accept that was a decision taken with the very best of intentions, to prevent a massacre in Benghazi.  What followed on from that, the choice not just to protect civilians but act as the rebels' ostensible air force, ending only with the death of Gaddafi, was taken despite knowing Gaddafi effectively was the state.  Perhaps little could have been done to prevent Libya becoming the all but failed state it now has, but little is precisely what was done once David Cameron had his moment in Benghazi.

We should then be supporting the security forces in Libya, despite said security forces as far as they exist being far more interested in propping up the two separate governments Libya now has, neither of which really controls much in the way of territory anyway.  We need coordinated action against the people traffickers, despite the people traffickers only really providing a service, if it can be called that, that wouldn't exist if countries like Libya that previously offered better paid work to Eriterans hadn't collapsed in part thanks to actions supported by Clegg.  Clegg recognises the Libyan situation is a problem, and yet still insists it was a fabulous idea to intervene.

Nick is of course right that a "sustainable future" has to be built for those who live on the borders of Europe.  It strikes as just a little bit lacking in joined-up thinking then that we were so quick to dispense with the Gaddafi that up until the Arab spring it had been decided we could do business with.  Whether that was the right decision in the first place is open to question, but it was the one that was made.  Also entirely absent from the piece is so much as a mention of Syria, the country so many of those trying to make the trip are from, and which no one bothers to pretend has a "sustainable future" on the horizon.  There's little point in yet again reheating the same old arguments about our policy in Syria; suffice it to say the Liberal Democrats haven't made a squeak about it having been wrong or having contributed to the clusterfuck still unfolding across the region.

It's difficult to demur from Clegg's conclusion that a multifaceted approach is needed and that "intelligent use of our international development budget" is essential.  Quite where Clegg gets off on attacking UKIP for pointing out the obvious though, that decisions made by the coalition contributed to where we are now is a mystery.  When he claims in complete seriousness that the original decision to end the Mare Nostrum mission and replace it with Frontex was made with good intentions, at the exact same time as Theresa May and Philip Hammond, Clegg's fellow ministers and likely allies in a second coalition continue to insist there is a "pull factor" while hundreds drown, then it's not UKIP and the Tory right-wing that are "washing their hands", it's the Lib Dems that have gone along with such decisions and seem destined to do so in the future.  We have failed these people again and again, Clegg writes.  Indeed he has.  He should be judged on those failures.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015 

Politics fails psychology 101.

Without wanting to come over all who are the Beatles, I hadn't until a couple of weeks ago heard of the band All Time Low.  Giving your band such a name does rather seem to be asking for it, just as the groups Fuck Buttons, Holy Fuck and Fucked Up don't really expect to get much in the way of radio play.

Then again, the basics of psychology seem to allude many.  For instance, you might have thought people would have realised by now that the one thing obviously self-hating, self-publicising individuals feed off is attention.  When you've been on one reality television show after another, it's not that great a leap to deciding what the world really needs is semi-outrageous political commentary.  To such shit-stirrers any publicity is good publicity; to get Grauniad columnists comparing your output to that of the hate transmitted by Rwandan radio prior to the genocide is to have won big.  To have over 250,000 people sign a petition demanding your sacking is to have gone above and beyond what the Sun could have imagined when it signed you up.  That the former petition will almost certainly end up with more signatures than the one demanding something be done about the situation written about speaks volumes of the way things work now.

The same could be said of the Conservatives ramping up even further their Nicola Sturgeon is the devil made flesh rhetoric.  The thinking behind it seems two-fold: first, that it will encourage more people in Scotland to vote SNP because so many north of the border react in a Pavlovian manner to Tories saying no you can't; and second, that English voters will be terrified at how a Labour minority government will be pushed even further to the left as a result of the Tartan loons holding Red Ed to ransom.  Wheeling out John Major to make this exact argument is a classic old campaign trope: an ex-PM couldn't possibly be as partisan or stupid as the current leaders of the party, therefore he should be listened to.  Labour already tried this tactic with Tony Blair, to indifferent if not negative results.

It nevertheless remains striking just how much nonsense journalists will regurgitate when ordered to by their bosses.  Older readers might recall the Sun's attitude to John Major after Black Wednesday, with Kelvin MacKenzie informing the PM he had a "bucket of shit" he intended to pour over his head and into the newspaper.  Now, according to the Sun's current political editor Tom Newton Dunn, Major is a "party legend, a successful former Prime Minister and a modern day political saint".  Such hyperbole is the order of the day on SunNation, the paper's deliberately and hysterically biased free site designed to help, or more likely hinder the Tories' return to power.

Whether this is the second dead cat on the table of the campaign or not, designed as much to distract from Labour trying to make this week about the NHS as it is to be taken at face value, it again seems based on extremely dubious reasoning.  Banging on and on about the SNP being in a position to prop up Labour is almost certain to lead people to look and see firstly whether they can, and second if it really would mean the immediate end to Britain as we know it.

After all, the SNP surge has almost nothing whatsoever to do with policy.  It's a combination of the zoomers carrying on zooming from the independence campaign, the switch from a Salmond personality cult to a Sturgeon personality cult and the apparent winning over of many people to the SNP faith, where facts come second to sheer belief.  On the BBC News last night Robert Peston pointed out that while spending on health and education had risen under the wicked Tories in England, in Scotland under the SNP (who are in power at Holyrood, though you'd never realise it) spending on the NHS hadn't kept the same pace while on education it had actually fallen.  And yet the leader of SNP is the one demanding an immediate end to austerity and promising to pull Labour to the left.

Indeed, as the Graun points out in its analysis of the SNP manifesto, the party's apparent determination to hug Labour close has in fact seen this great progressive force be pulled leftwards itself.  Gone are the former promises to cut corporation tax and not reinstate the 50p top rate of tax, both overturned at the recent SNP conference, both of which just so happen to have long been Labour policies.  Subtly altered too is the party's attitude to "full fiscal autonomy", which rather than being a key demand is now merely an aspiration.  This is despite Nicola Sturgeon condemning as smears Labour pointing out the Institute for Fiscal Studies had calculated this would lead to a near £8bn hole in the Scottish finances.

Such things matters little when the SNP has so successfully managed to conflate itself with Scotland as a whole.  During the independence campaign Alex Salmond characterised Yes as "Team Scotland" while Better Together were "Team Westminster"; now Nicola Sturgeon doesn't so much as mention the SNP as she does Scotland when apparently the two are one and the same thing.  It's no surprise then when a poll finds 51% would take criticism of the SNP as criticism of them personally, a percentage far beyond even that of the 35 and 36% of UKIP and Greens who said the same thing.

As argued before, what this adds up to is the SNP not having much in the way of bargaining power come May the 8th.  A coalition is both not on offer and not wanted, and as Sturgeon has made so much of keeping the Tories out come what may she can hardly renege on supporting Labour, even if on a vote-by-vote basis rather than confidence and supply.  Ed Miliband could offer the SNP nothing and still come out as prime minister.  As it is, the pledge of a slightly higher minimum wage in the SNP manifesto seems calculated to be that one policy the party could point towards as pulling Labour leftwards.  The SNP would obviously prefer the Tories to win for their own purposes, to claim once again the wishes of Scotland have been thwarted, but a minority Labour government wouldn't be the worst of all worlds.

The Tory and media fearmongering relies on the assumption that as May the 7th edges nearer minds will be concentrated and the lack of trust in Labour on the economy will become crucial.  The SNP factor is meant to intensify the effect.  The problem for them is the polls seem deadlocked.  They could of course be wrong; there could, of course, be that last minute switch of undecided voters to the Tories, or a large scale return of those lost to UKIP; David Cameron could, of course, finally decide he wants to win a second term rather than coast to defeat.  Time, however, is surely running out.

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Monday, April 20, 2015 

Foreign policy: not on the campaign agenda.


You hardly need me to tell you the election campaign has not exactly caught fire thus far.  It has briefly threatened to, with Labour's unexpected pledge to abolish non-dom status and the Tory response of Ed Miliband being so ruthless he'd stab his mother in the back to get her independent seafood deterrent or something along those lines, but otherwise it's been three weeks of increasingly hysterical warnings about what the other side will do.

Indeed, it's all wearingly familiar to 5 years ago, with personal attacks on an unpopular leader and scaremongering about the economy the defining characteristics.  The major difference is the Tory emphasis on the "chaos" that would result from any sort of SNP involvement in government, despite the indications up to now this is having precisely zero impact on the polls, unless part of the aim is to do the equivalent of jumping up and down on Scottish Labour's corpse.  The polls as a whole suggest an effective dead heat between Labour and the Conservatives, with slight leads for both from different companies cancelling out each other.  As we head ever closer towards Thursday the 7th, the chance of the fabled "crossover" for the Tories surely becomes less and less likely, with all that implies for how the final week will pan out in terms of last minute attacks and stunts, not least from the never knowingly underbiased media we all know and loathe.

Nearly entirely absent has been any discussion of foreign policy.  Whereas in 2010 debate didn't go much beyond how Labour had clearly breached the military covenant by failing to give the Ministry of Defence exactly what it wanted in Afghanistan, with Gordon Brown criticised for bothering to write a personal letter of condolence, this time it's been limited even further to the 0.7% overseas aid target and the potential in or out EU referendum.

Considering just how disastrous the coalition's foreign policy has been with the exception of the aid target, it's more than slightly incongruous.  It's only when you realise that with the single exception of Miliband stopping the attack on Assad by mistake, which might be a slightly unkind verdict on what happened back in 2013, there has not been a single substantial difference between the main three parties on bombing the fuck out of Islamic State, bombing the fuck out of Libya and supporting the good rebels in Syria while opposing the bad ones that the reason becomes clearer.  When it's left to Private Eye to sum up the ever more bizarre contortions of whom we're supporting and where in the Middle East (see above, obv.), from the satire pages no less, something has gone spectacularly wrong.

The situation in the Mediterranean is not wholly the result of European foreign policy but on it most certainly rests a very heavy burden of responsibility.  Both David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy saw the crackdown by Gaddafi in Libya not just as demanding the invocation of the responsibility to protect in order to save the citizens of Benghazi, but as an unbridled opportunity for European companies to take full advantage of the possibilities created by the dictator's removal.  The UN resolution meant to protect civilians was used to justify changing the regime.  It wasn't inevitable that the end result would be another civil war, but the complete lack of interest from Europe once Gaddafi was dead and his government gone was palpable.  Only now when the country has become the key transit point for migrants looking to escape from the wars and oppressive governments across the region has anyone began to take notice.

Our foreign policy is not so much coherent as asinine.  In Libya we overthrew a secular dictator, just as we did in Iraq; the result has been the same, if so far less bloody.  In Egypt we initially welcomed the overthrow of a secular dictator, only to get cold feet over the Islamism of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, democratically elected or not, and so we now support the restoration of the secular dictatorship in the shape of President Sisi.  In Syria we support the downfall of the Assad regime, but obviously we don't want the Islamic State to take power instead.  What we do want isn't on offer, as the non-Islamic State supporting rebels nonetheless aren't interested in democracy and instead would like an Islamic state.  We're supposedly training "moderate" rebel forces, but whether they actually exist is still up for debate.  In truth what we seem to have settled for is a bloody stalemate, with neither Assad or the rebels able to win an outright victory, and as a result what's been described as the biggest refuge crisis since WW2 carries on regardless.

In Iraq we naturally support the central government in its fight against Islamic State, but the central government has almost no control whatsoever over the army the Americans supposedly trained at vast expense.  Instead most of the fighting is being done by the same Iranian-backed Shia militias that previously were behind much of the insurgency in the south of Iraq.  The perceived sectarianism of the central government was what drove many Sunnis into once again supporting the Islamic State; now the militias, accused of looting and summary executions are completing the job.   


In Yemen things are even crazier: Houthi rebels, linked with but not under the control of Iran have succeeded in exiling the useless president installed after the protests in the country following the Arab spring.  In a further example of the proxy war being fought between the Saudis and Iran, the Saudi response has been to bomb the fuck out of one of the poorest countries in the world, and we, naturally, are fully behind it, in part because of their negligible help against Islamic State in Syria.  So far the bombing it better approach has amazingly failed to work, with the Houthis continuing their advance.  That no one is the slightest bit interested in yet another bloodbath in the Middle East when there are so many others to pay attention to isn't surprising; when it leads to a further exodus to European shores, as it will, it might just increase in importance.

For while there are some among those making the crossing from Libya to Italy, Greece or Malta, with thousands drowning in the process that are simply looking for a better life or fleeing oppressive governments we have little traction or trade with, like Eritrea, many are there because of conflicts we have either been responsible for or made far worse.  Only Germany and Sweden have made an effort to take in Syrian refugees, with the rest of Europe declaring itself to be full or saying one thing and doing another, as we have.  The decision was effectively made to let migrants drown this spring on the basis that to rescue those put to sea in dangerously overcrowded or inadequate vessels was a "pull" factor.  The numbers have increased regardless of any such thing.  The belated response now has obviously not been to admit that the foreign policy of most EU member states has directly led to the thousands attempting such a perilous voyage, but to target the smugglers themselves, as though they're comparable to the Somalian pirates.

This narrowness between the main parties is an invitation to the bigots and the opportunists to say what they like or claim they somehow offer an alternative.  The Libyan war was a choice; allying with the "moderate" rebels in Syria was a choice; allying with the Saudis in Yemen was a choice; the Iraq war, more than 12 years after it began, remains a choice of almost unparalleled stupidity.  The drowning of thousands of those desperate to escape from the nightmare of their lives is being described as a failure of compassion.  While true, it's more damningly a failure of policy.  That despite 5 years of utter lunacy on the foreign policy front none of the parties want to suggest a better way forward, and in fact two of them want to stir the pot even further goes to show just how limited our politics has become and is likely to remain.

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Friday, April 17, 2015 

Arcadia.

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What might have been.

Last night's debate was superior in every way to the first.  This was primarily for the reason there weren't as many leaders on the stage; who could have known that less would mean more?  Certainly not the broadcasters, who haven't been criticised anywhere near enough for the botching of the format.  That the BBC last night allowed the parties that claimed they hadn't been invited to be in the bullshit room afterwards was a disgrace in itself, albeit a request they probably had to accede to under Ofcom rules on impartiality.

David Cameron's refusal to as Ed Miliband put it turn up for the interview did at least finally become as much of a theme of the debate as the questions asked.  Miliband's decision to take part was also a major risk; it could so easily have turned into an hour and a half of Ed being assailed from both left and right, without either of the governing parties there to take a share of the flak.

Despite a rough first half hour where Nicola Sturgeon was as confident and comfortable as before, by the end the relative weakness of the SNP bargaining position regardless of however many seats they take off Labour in Scotland was much clearer.  If she means what she says about not letting the Tories in come what may, then her only option is to do a Polly Toynbee and get out a nosepeg.  She doesn't want a coalition, Labour doesn't want a coalition, leaving only a confidence and supply deal, which inevitably means even less will be on offer than otherwise would.

Rather than looking the establishment figure surrounded by insurgents, the opposite ended up being the case for Ed.  He gave straight answers to straight questions repeatedly, flummoxing Nigel Farage over his gotcha attempt on an EU army, and dare it be said, was prime ministerial.  As he was the only leader on the platform with a chance of being prime minister that wasn't difficult admittedly, but such was the opportunity he was presented with by Cameron deciding to spend the evening washing his hair.

Farage by contrast had a nightmare, although when 27% still think he won a debate any objective person would conclude he flunked he won't be too upset.  It has to be remembered everything Farage does is calibrated towards the UKIP base, such as it is.  Claiming the audience is biased when it's been put together by an independent pollster might go down badly in the hall itself and with everyone who isn't a UKIP, but will have likely struck a chord with the "real audience" at home cheering on the blaming of everything on immigrants and the EU, disgusted their leader wasn't being clapped along.  Such is the problem UKIP faces come May the 8th, whether Farage wins in Thanet South or not.  Their manifesto, based on fantasy figures as it is, espouses a respectable hard-right platform designed to appeal to wavering Tories.  The message however remains completely one note and simply won't maintain appeal indefinitely, especially if Cameron somehow manages to conjure together another coalition and holds the EU referendum promised.

After failing to make any impact in the first debate, Natalie Bennett had a much better night.  She repeatedly tried to steer the debate onto Green territory to her credit, whether she was wholly successful in doing so or not, and will probably have won a few more over.  Leanne Wood was once again a complete waste of a podium, only really getting a hit in when she called Nigel on claiming UKIP was being abused after he himself had insulted the audience.  Again though, when all she has to do is turn up and be vaguely plausible it's hardly going to make a major difference to Plaid's support.

The feeling I was left with was what might have been had this been the 5-way debate originally envisioned, with the Greens and UKIP alongside the main three.  Miliband is clearly gaining in confidence and building momentum, and yet hasn't been allowed the opportunity to face off against the main two in a format that allows for more detail.  All that remains now is the Question Time special, where the leaders will appear separately.  Ed could still shine, but any real danger for the Tories of a major re-evaluation of the Labour leader has passed.

If nothing else, the debate this time did offer a vision of a different politics.  In stark contrast, on Newsnight a couple of hours later the Northern Ireland leaders faced off against one another.  6 old white men in a room has never looked quite so out of date.

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