Tuesday, May 31, 2011 

Links dump.

Hopeless time management today. Have some links as a feeble replacement for an actual post:

Left Outside - The Financial Sector is still bad for Britain, and everyone else
Heresy Corner - Polly Toynbee, the baroness and the chavs
BenSix - Lay off the damn sodas!

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Monday, May 30, 2011 

How can someone so right also be so wrong?

Apologies in advance for this latest completely subjective moan about the ever dreadful state of modern popular music.

A top record executive has launched a damning attack on music industry attitudes, claiming the insistence on over-sexualising female artists has led to "boring, crass and unoriginal" music.

Well, to be slightly more accurate, it isn't just the over-sexualisation of recent years, it's the homogenisation of mainstream music in all its various sectors. We've been assaulted by auto-tune, inured by the direness of the Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse faux-soul sound (such an innovation it's worth remembering that he got an award for it), and had our eyes scratched at by the legion of Lily Allen followers. In such circumstances it's no surprise that the likes of Lady Gaga, an exceptionally well-pulled off record company construct of everything supposedly transgressive has grabbed the front pages and notched up massive sales with more than a few thrusts of her unbearably tedious (not turgid, note) crotch.

"The whole message with [Adele] is that it's just music, it's just really good music," said Russell. "There is nothing else. There are no gimmicks, no selling of sexuality. I think in the American market, particularly, they have come to the conclusion that is what you have to do."

Here it all comes crashing down. Adele is not really good music: if anything, she's the female equivalent of Take That. Completely unchallenging, functional, tinged with just enough authenticity, she is the sound of bourgeois conformity. It's only because the alternative, be it Katy Perry, Rihannia or even Jessie J is so crass and depressing that her success has become so disproportionate.

Russell dismissed criticism that Adele is too mainstream, saying she was as radical as the Prodigy, who he worked with in the 1990s. "At the level it is at now, it is radical," he said. "It is clearly about the music and the talent and the things it is meant to be about. I think there has been a certain amount of confusion, and it's resulting in garbage being sold and marketing with little real value to it ... Adele is a good thing to be happening."

Hmm, Someone Like You or Firestarter: which getting to number one was more radical? It's also unlikely that Liam Howlett or Keith Flint have ever moaned about their tax bill in an interview. Adele can however be saved from herself, if only by Jamie XX:

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Saturday, May 28, 2011 

RIP Gil Scott-Heron.

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Friday, May 27, 2011 

Hello it's us again.

Well, that turned out to be a pretty good week to be away. I'm going to ease myself slowly back into the blogging, so will just do the usual video post tomorrow that everyone ignores. Have a fun weekend.

Still, Paul Scholes, eh? Who knew?

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Saturday, May 21, 2011 

Trim and hiatus.

And yeah, I'm not here next week. Should be back Friday but whether I'll post anything significant or not we'll see.

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Friday, May 20, 2011 

A new starting point on injunctions.

It would certainly be nice if following today's excellent report by the committee on super-injunctions (PDF), the media finally drop the entirely misleading claim that injunctions which anonymise the claimant(s) are anything approaching the equivalent of the orders sought by Trafigura and John Terry, both of which were subsequently overturned. As they point out, as far as they're aware only two "super-injunctions" have been issued post-Terry, the first of which involving Howard Donald of Take That was set aside on appeal, while the second was only in place for seven days to prevent the alleged blackmailer from being able to get their information out before they could be held in contempt of court for doing so.

As was expected, there's very little in the report to cheer the tabloids hoping for some sort of admission that the current situation is unsustainable and that parliament should legislate to decide where the balance between privacy and freedom of expression should generally lie. Interestingly, the one potential sop to the more concerned sections of the media which has been reported, that super-injunctions were once granted far too readily or too often doesn't itself seem to appear in the report, suggesting this was intimated by Lord Neuberger or Lord Judge at the press conference.

The recommendations the report does make are sensible and should be easy to put in place. It's long been absurd that no proper records have been kept of just how many such injunctions have been issued, making it incredibly difficult to ascertain whether there really has been a massive growth in the number of gagging orders applied for. Collecting the data and issuing an annual report will help to dispel claims that "justice" is increasingly being carried out in secret. Similarly, standardising the procedure to be followed when a "interim non-disclosure order" is sought in the future should help streamline the process, as well as ensure that third parties, almost always media organisations, know about the hearing and have a chance to challenge it from the outset.

The one potential difficulty with the latter is that, as we've seen, certain sections of the media cannot necessarily be trusted to keep the details of the cases secret after they've been gagged, let alone before the injunction has even been issued. This is admittedly not helped when judges are making such difficult borderline decisions, like that involving Fred Goodwin, where the line between the public's right to know he was having an affair at the time of the banking crisis with the possible knock-on effect it may have had on his work and his right to privacy is so narrow and fraught. Justice must be open and seen to be done, but it doesn't have to involve kowtowing to a press that continues to want to impose its own unbelievably hypocritical version of morality on a nation for the sake of their sales. We have long deserved a better debate on all of this, and today's report will hopefully provide a new starting point.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011 

The travails of Ken Clarke.

The age-old political conundrum of whether to focus on a long-term, policy led strategy or instead adopt a scattergun, short-term approach which grabs attention immediately but doesn't necessarily command it beyond the 24-hour news cycle has hardly been answered by the travails of Ken Clarke. Ed Miliband's decision to immediately demand his resignation following his catastrophic interview with Victoria Derbyshire on 5 Live might have felt like the right thing to do, putting David Cameron temporarily at least on the back foot at prime minister's questions, but the day after with Clarke still determinedly in position as justice secretary it instead smacks of the old, short-sighted politics Miliband has suggested he wanted to move away from.

Clarke's comments, if it wasn't already abundantly clear, were shockingly ill-thought through. His argument with Derbyshire was though, as Full Fact points out, based around the false premise that the average sentence for rape is 5 years. This was itself inspired by the Daily Mail's front page on Wednesday, which claimed that rapists who pleaded guilty at the earliest possible opportunity could end up serving only 15 months as result of Clarke's proposals that 50% rather than 33% be deducted from their sentence for such an quick admittance of responsibility. 5 years is in fact meant to be the starting point for judges in cases of rape, and the average sentence turns out to be between 7 and 8 years. Even so, it ought to have been apparent to Clarke that as soon as he responded to Derbyshire's comment that "rape is rape, with respect" with "no, it's not", that he had seriously erred. He then compounded it with his comments on the "less serious" nature of date rape, as well as how wrong he managed to get it on unlawful sexual intercourse, as a 17-year-old having consensual sex with a 15-year-old is not considered rape as he repeatedly suggested.

His failure to immediately apologise sincerely for "misspeaking", as no one is seriously claiming that he regards certain types of rape as less serious to the victim than others, having only really done so convincingly tonight on Question Time, has admittedly compounded the offence. This though seems to be more down to Clarke's old-fashioned stubbornness combined with his refusal to go into interviews thoroughly briefed than out of any genuine malice. More than anything, he was attempting to explain how someone convicted of rape might end up with only a 5 year sentence, even if his way of doing so was hopelessly out-dated and an example of his attempting to wing his way through encounters with journalists rather than read up on the subject.

If Clarke is going to be indicted on something, it ought to be on that score rather than on one of either belittling victims of rape, or actively endangering, even betraying women as the Sun claimed. As Sunny writes, Clarke's comments have resulted in some truly bizarre and very temporary alliances being forged. The Sun, which has been campaigning for some time for Clarke to be brought into line over his crime policies, so wedded as it is to the increasingly unaffordable and scandalously ineffective "prison works" orthodoxy, finds itself not only quoting old ally Jill Saward but also the head of the Fawcett Society, exactly the kind of lefty wimmin's organisation it usually mocks and pours scorn over.

Just how much thought went into Miliband's decision to call for Clarke's sacking is impossible to tell. If the idea was that the coalition as a whole might be weakened through his removal, with a less popular Tory put in his place, then this seems to overlook how it's mainly down to Clarke that the ridiculous, destructive battle over who could be tougher on criminal justice has been essentially brought to an end. Even if it was New Labour's change in position on crime which helped win over the support of the likes of the Sun in the first place, the leadership surely hasn't got such short memories that they've forgotten how they were tore into by that very same paper ad nauseum despite doing almost all they could to put their solutions into practice. Miliband seemed to have recognised that ending the war was in the best interests of all concerned, commenting that he wasn't going to say Clarke was soft on crime just because he was proposing reducing short sentences. He even continued this theme in... the Sun, as George Eaton notes.

Whether or not Jack Straw's pitiful "my view" in that same paper today was sanctioned by the leadership, which seems doubtful considering he refused to demand that Clarke be sacked tonight on Question Time, it gives the impression that Labour would rather return to a conflict they can't possibly win instead of just condemning the justice secretary's loose talk while offering tacit support for his bid to further credit earlier guilty pleas. It would be foolish to suggest that Miliband can do without the occasional piece of praise from the Sun, yet to win it over a chalice as poisoned as this one will do him no favours over the long term. Possible as it is that the party could win back support by adopting the kind of tougher stance proposed by Lord Ashcroft for the Tories, it leads to the problem Clarke has faced down: that locking more and more people up is simply unsustainable, in terms of cost both in money and to society at large. Labour desperately needs to win voters back without resorting to the dead end of triangulation. Resisting the temptation to indulge in cheap populism is vital to just such a strategy.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011 

Calamity Clegg and House of Lords reform.

If politics can at times be wearingly, soul-crushingly predictable, it's the unexpected and especially now the unscripted that makes following it almost worthwhile. A government only just past its first birthday in office shouldn't be in as much apparent trouble as this one is: ministers not just speaking out of turn and (arguably) getting misinterpreted, but veterans failing to even to begin to defend the policy they're attempting to implement, falling into traps of their own making through simply not accurately representing the current laws on the statute book. Today's clusterfuck with Ken Clarke wasn't just down to his usual blasé method of muddling through without properly knowing his brief, it was as much the fault of his advisers who seemingly either didn't know themselves or failed to get through to him that consensual sex between a 15-year-old and 17-year-old under the current laws is not rape as he repeatedly argued; it's legally defined as unlawful sexual intercourse. Only those under 13 are deemed completely unable to consent.

Just as intriguing is that, as we've seen, the myriad problems and contradictions of this hybrid government are currently not being reflected in either the opinion poll ratings or the local election results for the Conservatives. Andrew Lansley's plans for the NHS might be incredibly unpopular, the enlightened, slightly-Liberal Democrat influenced policy on law and order which got Ken in so much trouble today may be similarly disappointing many, yet for now at least it's having next to no impact.

Apparent as it is that the coalition is simply trying to do too much too quickly, primarily for the two key reasons that it isn't clear that it can survive for the full five-year term and even if it does it fears that Labour could still triumph then, while it's also taken on board Tony Blair's advice to pursue reform while the government is still fresh, the flurry of activity on all fronts might also be distracting enough attention to stop opposition coalescing against one specific policy. The march by around 5,000 disabled people against the welfare cuts received a surprising lack of coverage, especially considering the memories of similar protests during New Labour's first term.

It's in this context that we should perhaps see yesterday's statement from Nick Clegg on what the government intends to do about reforming the House of Lords. Having decided that it isn't a "third-term issue" after all, David Cameron was at the side of his human shield, the roles meant to be temporarily reversed. Given a direct choice between the two, everyone still chose to hit Clegg. Not that this wasn't warranted: still the main option on the table is for the new second chamber, a name for which is also yet to be decided upon, to be partially rather than fully elected. You would have thought that the abject failure of the AV referendum might just have suggested to the Liberal Democrats that compromises on such issues are doomed to failure when you don't in your heart of hearts support what you're arguing for, but apparently not.

If the effective abolition of the Lords is meant to somewhat make up for the doomed attempt to change the voting system for Westminster, giving Clegg and the Lib Dems some crumb of constitutional reform to claim as their legacy, then it's a piss-poor substitute. Even those of us who regard the patronage and hereditary nature of the Lords as a ghastly, hideous, enraging anachronism that we've stubbornly clung to for far too long can hardly claim that it hasn't done a reasonably effective job over the last decade and a half of holding successive governments to account. This is all the more remarkable considering how many acolytes and apparatchiks continue to be stuffed onto the red benches, 789 (not including the 41 on current leave of absence or disqualified from voting) at the last count, something continued at an even faster pace by Cameron.

The arguments for change then have the potential to be just as questionable as those given for the alternative vote, especially when the Clegg solution is a long way away from perfect. His proposal for a "senate" of 300 members, elected potentially through a party list ballot under the single transferable vote, with 100 being voted for every 5 years to serve single, 15-year terms is almost as much of a mess as Jack Straw's dog's breakfast back in 2007. Terms of 15 years seem far too long, and as those elected cannot serve again it brings into question how they could be properly held to account once in office. The Lords also works well currently in spite of the party allegiance of its members, something that elections under such a system would have the potential to undermine. The use of PR will lead to accusations that peers rather than their colleagues in the Commons have more of a democratic mandate, even when the use of FPTP would be completely untenable. It's also woefully unclear just how those currently sitting would be removed over the same 15-year time period: not all are going to hang up the ermine without a fight.

In any event, the chances of any such reform happening in the short-term are laughably small. Even after the proposed joint committee reports its recommendations, it remains doubtful as to just how many Tories would vote with the whip on either an 80% or 100% elected second chamber, while it almost goes without saying that the Lords would dismiss either out of hand. Using the parliament act to force it through would also be dubious when the two coalition parties had differing policies in their manifestos on reform. As much then as this is a further sop to the Liberal Democrats, Cameron and friends can be fairly certain that it will never become law. Moreover, it adds to the pile of legislation and various policy papers that seem to be preventing the coalition from being properly held to account. Calamity Clegg, it's fair to say, has struck once again.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011 

The depressing adventures of Melanie Phillips, pt 94.

Those with long memories for the rhetorical ticks of prominent political columnists might recall that Melanie Phillips had taken to referring to criticism of both herself and Israel as "verbal pogroms", as though by daring to take a different view to hers you were essentially perpetuating violence against her.

A Google search suggests that while Mel has cut back on her usage of that specific term, she's still as certain as ever that a concerted campaign of violence against Jewish people in this country, seemingly one which could be sponsored even by this government, is just around the corner. From a recent post on a incident at the School for Oriental and African Studies:

The pre-pogrom atmosphere in the UK against Israel and its supporters turned into outright thuggery at the weekend.

Yes, although you might not have personally noticed it, the atmosphere in this country is now so poisonous against Israel and its supporters that we're at the stage immediately prior to an widespread outburst of racially motivated murder and vandalism. It's one thing to be fearful that under certain circumstances such an atmosphere could arise; it's quite another to actively suggest it's already been reached. What a frightening, angry and incredibly sad place the inside of Phillips' mind must be.

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Those aren't watermelons...

Thanks to my sadly wide knowledge of the films banned during the 1980s as "video nasties", the story of the exploding watermelons in China couldn't help but remind me of the Italian Alien rip-off Contamination, starring the veritable king of the nasties, Ian McCulloch. Once deemed liable to "deprave and corrupt", it's now available from your local HMV (other retailers are available) stamped with a 15 certificate. There just might the starting basis for a very belated sequel after all.

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Monday, May 16, 2011 

Anything else going on apart from...?

"It's been a week where you sit there thinking, is there anything else going on in this country apart from a bunch of z-list celebrities having sex with each other?"

So asked Ian Hislop, in what was to be the last episode of Have I Got News for You to feature Angus Deayton as host. It was also the same week in which Ulrika Jonsson said that she had been sexually assaulted by a well-known television presenter, who was inadvertently named by Matthew Wright shortly afterwards. The past week has seen a very similar situation, albeit it slightly hampered by how we're not supposed to know who some of those z-list celebrities are.

If nothing else, you have to hand it to the tabloid press: it often accuses the supposedly more serious-minded broadcasters and papers of hypocrisy on the grounds that they more or less duplicate their coverage, albeit under the guise of poking fun or discussing the potential implications for press freedom. There's been no such back-biting this time, for the reason that they've been amazingly successful in turning what have been only the latest incremental development in privacy principles into an issue of freedom of speech so vital that the prime minister has intervened on more than one occasion to declare his unease. Under the banner of "super-injunctions", almost none of which the recently issued orders have actually been, they've campaigned vigorously for their right to print more or less what they like about prominent individuals and what they might have been up to, invoking morality, censorship, democracy and almost anything else they think might win more supporters to their cause. Helped along by social networks and the difficulty of removing information once it's out in the wild on the internet, as well as a growing feeling, especially among those who live their lives online and hide very little about themselves from anyone who cares enough to look, almost no actual attention has been paid to the details of the cases themselves, the way the tabloids have personally fought the injunctions, or indeed to just how open they've been about why they really want to return the the height of "bonk" journalism as practised back in the late 80s.

Indeed, just how limited the general debate has been was showcased on Newsnight on Friday, where Hugh Grant and Charlotte Harris faced off against Helen Wood and Fraser Nelson. Grant, fresh from bugging a News of the World journalist, came across exactly you suspect as the tabloids would like: outraged that anyone should know absolutely anything about him without his express permission. Much as I find the argument that if you don't want to end up on the front page of a newspaper you shouldn't sleep with prostitutes to be self-serving in the extreme, Grant did his best to prove it, arrogant throughout while attempting at times to play the victim, demanding Nelson to condemn certain practices which he had never condoned. Charlotte Harris, who must be much more convincing in court than she has been in any of her innumerable television appearances, gave her questionable and limited legal analysis, while Fraser Nelson, who despite always looking incredibly pleased with himself seemed to be ignorant of many of the details of the recent cases. Then there was Wood, called on just twice during the entire programme, who looked distinctly uncomfortable throughout.

She wasn't helped by a quite incredible second report from Kate Williams, which happily alleged that injunctions were returning us to the Victorian era where rich men could do as they please and the women were left voiceless, as it galloped through over a century of sexual history in a couple of minutes.
Solipsistic doesn't quite adequately describe it, and poor old Helen was so confused that she clearly hadn't quite grasped what the sexual revolution was when asked whether it had worked for her. Considering she was on Newsnight talking about working as a high class escort, and indeed has been paid a considerable sum having sold her story vis-a-vis Wayne Rooney, even if she can't identify another "high profile" male she performed sex acts on, it's hardly resulted in her penury and exclusion from society, referred to as a tart and hooker in the same press she made a deal with or not.

Just how potentially misled we've been by the self-serving reports in the tabloids, gobbled up and regurgitated whole by the rest of the media is demonstrated by the interim judgement in the case involving Imogen Thomas and the anonymous, although widely named footballer. Contrary to Thomas's (literal) sob story of how her name's been run through the mud despite not ever wanting to sell her story, Mr Justice Eady relates the footballer's side of events. According to him, the whole thing appears to have been a set-up between her and the Sun, where she demanded to meet the player on two separate occasions at different hotels, both times asking for money with the obvious implicit threat being that otherwise she'd sell her story. Each time it seems the paper was waiting to take pictures of their arrivals: if the player paid up, then she got her money and the paper still had the story with no evidence that Thomas herself had been involved; if he didn't, then she would presumably have been reimbursed by the Sun. The footballer additionally says that rather than the six-month long relationship Thomas claims, they had only met three times between September and December last year. While that hasn't been contradicted by Thomas's representatives, she did later deny that she'd either asked for money or had "caused" the Sun's initial report last month.

While Eady is only presenting the case as it currently stands before any trial, the footballer's side of the story is all too plausible. It also fits with the pattern that rather than most of the injunctions being issued after individuals getting wind of a story or being contacted prior to publication, there is often also an element of blackmail involved, as there was in the controversial ruling where Eady issued a contra mundum injunction, as well as in that involving Zac Goldsmith. Eady, clearly at pains, goes on to point out despite much of the comment that the current process has been built around two major rulings by the House of the Lords, with four even more recent cases where the Lords refused permission to appeal (paragraph 21). Moreover, as he writes, in cases where blackmail is either alleged or where it looks to have conceivably been involved, anonymity has been previously given as a "matter of public policy". It's only now, when all the details have not even begun to be made public that this has been questioned.

Damningly, as Eady goes on, the Sun's representatives didn't even attempt to argue that any story would be in the public interest. Instead they simply claimed that Thomas's rights to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights were being denied by the footballer's "reasonable expectation of privacy". Worth quoting in full are the two final paragraphs of his ruling:

On the evidence before me, as at 14 and 20 April, I formed the view that the Claimant would be "likely" to obtain a permanent injunction at trial, if the matter goes that far. As I have said, it remains uncontradicted. The information is such that he is still entitled to a "reasonable expectation of privacy" and no countervailing argument has been advanced to suggest that the Article 10 rights of the Defendants, or indeed of anyone else, should prevail. There is certainly no suggestion of any legitimate public interest in publishing such material.

Moreover, in so far as Ms Thomas wishes to exercise her Article 10 right by selling her life story, she is entitled to do so, but only subject to the qualification that she is not thereby relieved of any obligation of confidence she may owe, or free to intrude upon the privacy rights of others: see e.g. McKennitt v Ash, cited above, at [28]-[32] and [50]-[51]. In so far as there are any conflicts of evidence or of recollection between her and the Claimant, it will be for the court to resolve them at the appropriate time. I will discuss with counsel whether it would be appropriate to order a speedy trial for that purpose.

This more than rebuts Thomas's claim afterward that she was being denied the opportunity to defend herself: if she wishes at length to contradict the footballer's version of events, then she can and hopefully will, albeit without naming him.

If this latest ruling were the exception to the rule, then the campaign waged over the past few weeks would be worthy of support. As previously argued, some injunctions have been questionable in their sweeping nature, but far too often as the Guardian pointed out they've been confused with our libel laws, which are currently under review. Despite having emitted such sound and fury, in many of the cases the tabloids don't even pretend that the public interest will be genuinely served by their serving up of the celebrity shags of the week; instead they make the highly dubious argument that it's such sensationalism and gossip that has enabled them to provide other journalism and campaigns which have benefited the wider public. Deprived of them, they'd wither on the vine and die, especially now as the internet has so eaten into their market.

Even in this time of declining circulations, the Mail sells over 2 million copies a day while the Sun clocks in at just under 3 million. Neither have suffered the massive falls of their competitors, and both will continue to be printed for a long time to come. They might fear the effect of kiss 'n' tells being completely choked off, yet even under the most extreme reading of Eady's latest ruling it seems laughable that every z-list celeb will be lining up for an injunction to cover up their dalliances. As morally (and hypocritically) outraged as the tabloid editors and long-time hacks undoubtedly are by the turn of events, it's cover as much over the phone-hacking scandal as it is an attempt to provoke David Cameron into doing something about it. What's more, the ultimate victory has been in making everyone delve into this world of who's shagging who, to make those of us who'd rather just let them get on with it have to dive into the depths of the "privacy" debate. Where Orwell once wrote of the decline of the English murder, so too they want to forestall the decline of the English affair, and they'll try everything in their power to do so.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011 

Back to the future.

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Friday, May 13, 2011 

A year on.

(This was meant to be yesterday's post, then Blogger died on its arse. Wednesday's post has also disappeared, hopefully only temporarily.)

Ah, those heady days of last May. A widely loathed government given its marching orders, and yet the opposition and supposed natural party of power was still distrusted to such an extent that it failed to win an overall majority. Into the breach stepped housewives favourite Nick 'Cleggmania' Clegg, bravely leading his band of Liberal Democrats into the political no man's land of coalition. Following a whirlwind romance and the equivalent of the drawing up of a pre-nupital agreement, Dave and Nick presented themselves to the public in the rose garden, cracking jokes while staring into the flashbulbs, their worries about what lay ahead at the very backs of their minds.

A year on and that month's marriage of convenience has turned sour for one half and one half only. In spite of losing the power behind the throne, Andy Coulson having to finally resign for a second time over something he knew nothing about, the Conservatives and David Cameron in particular have if anything gained in strength. Last week's local election results showed a party holding on and even in some areas consolidating its seats at the expense of their coalition partner. It was always laughable that Labour could just sit on the sidelines for five years letting the cuts do their work for them, and their meagre gains, again mainly thanks to the Lib Dems, have shown just the size of the task Ed Miliband has to win former supporters back. Add in how certain individuals in the party seem to think that their core supporters are worthy of ridicule or derision, seemingly out of the false belief that they have nowhere else to go, something last week's results in Scotland ought to have disproved, and it's little wonder how relaxed the Tories are about their position at the moment.

They certainly aren't going to rise to Vince Cable calling them "ruthless, calculating and thoroughly tribal", although most will have taken it as a compliment in any case. They're also not going to give Nick Clegg the pleasure of rushing to the defence of Margaret Thatcher, taken as he has to promising that he won't let the Tories take us back to the 1980s, a palpable fear apparently expressed to him on the doorsteps. Where once we were wondering whether the "disputes" being had inside the cabinet were manufactured, allowing each to appeal to their base supporters, so we have now reached the point where the differences in opinion are real but where the Conservatives no longer care. Sure, Cameron's rejected the view that there is one party moderating the other, as the Liberal Democrats have been desperate to put across, yet it's just the motions being gone through. The only thing he has to worry about is the Lib Dems getting a little too high above their station, and all he has to do is discreetly threaten to disengage and go to the polls, with the inevitable wipeout which would follow to frighten those going too far in their criticisms into quietening down.

Most bewildering of all is just how politically naive the Liberal Democrats have been over the past year. Every single trap they've walked into has been clearly signposted, yet they've careered into them regardless. It was obvious from the beginning that they would be the coalition's fall guys, taking the blame for enabling the Tories to do what they wanted. The new straw to clutch at is the analysis from the BBC that 75% of their manifesto is being implemented through the agreement, while only 60% of the Conservatives' increasingly laughable document is. This would be more of something to be proud of if their policies weren't rendered meaningless by the other changes being introduced: it's all well and good raising the income tax threshold, it's just a shame that the increase in VAT means that any gain for the poorest is wiped out. Similarly self-defeating is the pupil premium: what would be a laudable increase in funds for the poorest is naturally not no money thanks to the cuts, merely redirected from elsewhere within the schools budget. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is never good politics. Nick Clegg wants to make a better job of blowing his own trumpet (oo-er), lauding how the coalition thanks to Liberal Democrat input has ended child detention (it hasn't), while also adding a quarter of a million apprenticeships, strangely without mentioning the abolition of the Future Jobs Fund.

Nowhere is the fundamental dishonesty more heinous than in the fictional, revised account of how the coalition came into being. Nick Clegg in his speech to the Liberal Club yesterday, making reference to Roy Hattersley's categorisation of past coalitions in this country as being either of convenience, conviction or necessity, argued that this was a case of the latter. Rather than his party being dazzled by the prospect of power and temporarily taking leave of most of its senses, rushed into a quick decision by a Conservative party that couldn't believe its luck at how quickly they abandoned so many of their key manifesto promises, so we are now told that those days in May were a "moment of national crisis", the markets ready to swarm should a government not fully dedicated to a deficit reduction programme not be immediately formed. This is a fantasy, and Clegg knows it is. Just as disingenuous is his claim that we are now out of the financial danger zone, as though the last six months which has seen the economy dawdle along at an effective growth rate of 0% means that the worst is now behind us.

It could have been so different. There was nothing inherently ignoble about the Liberal Democrats deciding to share power with the Conservatives, even if Labour would have been a more natural fit. After spending so long in the wilderness, turning it down could have been just as disastrous as at the moment it looks taking up the reins will be. The party's problem has been that from the very beginning they've allowed themselves to be seen as propping the Tories up, rather than acting as a block on their worst excesses. From the moment Clegg and Cameron appeared as an effective double act the die was cast: this wasn't two parties working together in the national interest as they have repeatedly insisted, it was two like-minded politicians delighting in the first flush of what they'd started their careers hoping to achieve. Everything since then has followed the same dismal pattern, Cameron in complete control, Flashman as he is hardly insultingly being referred to, while Clegg is the one held responsible for the destruction left in the prime minister's wake. With 4 years still left to run there's plenty of time for the spell to be broken, for the Liberal Democrats to forge their own path within the coalition, it's just they show no inclination whatsoever of doing so. And they can hardly say they weren't warned.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011 

Scum-watch: Has there ever been a more pathetic newspaper?

Today's Sun editorial asks a rhetorical question (temporary link, leader in full follows at the end of the post*):

HAS there ever been a sleazier sporting organisation than FIFA?

If there has, then the Sun couldn't have possibly been as conflicted about them as it has FIFA. This happening upon the iniquities of world football's laughably corrupt governing body suddenly came to the paper the day after England's bid for 2018 World Cup was rejected, the rattle being thrown out of the pram in a fit of petulance not even the stroppiest of teenagers would sink to. FIFA BUNGS RUSSIA THE WORLD CUP it screamed, deciding that it had to have been backhanders and not our dire campaign which resulted in the pitiful 2 votes we picked up.

It was oh so different only a couple of days earlier. First the paper attacked the BBC for daring to broadcast a Panorama special on FIFA's easily bribed insiders, misrepresenting the documentary as not containing any new allegations of wrongdoing when the opposite was the case, the editorial being doubly hypocritical for referring to an investigation by its sister paper, the Sunday Times, which went over highly similar ground as a "legitimate inquiry". The following day it led with a truly pathetic "open letter", all but begging FIFA to ignore the BBC's traitorous outbursts and instead back England's bid. "Your brilliant tournament" it grovelled, tongue wedged firmly up Sepp Blatter's backside, Britain's supposedly most trenchant anti-establishment, irreverent and outspoken scandal sheet reduced to genuflecting before the sleaziest sporting organisation ever to have existed.

As is traditional, the editorial finishes with a flourish:

Who needs FIFA anyway?

Our Premier League is the world's greatest football competition.

So long as FIFA is in charge, the World Cup will not be worth winning.

The Sun will doubtless then put no pressure whatsoever on the England team come 2014, nor will it hype up our chances for months beforehand. Who knows, now that the daily paper of record has said it's not worth winning, we might just triumph.

HAS there ever been a sleazier sporting organisation than FIFA?

If the World Cup can only be hosted through bribery and corruption, England are well out of it.

Ex-FA chairman Lord Triesman reveals the favours he says FIFA executive members demanded for backing England's 2018 bid.

One wanted a knighthood. Another, vice president Jack Warner, allegedly sought £2.5million for a schools project - with the cash channelled through his own pockets.

A third asked for lucrative TV rights, while a fourth demanded: What have you got for me?

MPs investigating why England's bid failed also have evidence another two chiefs took bungs for backing Qatar's successful 2022 bid.

Two more FIFA bosses have already been banned, meaning a third of FIFA's top team is implicated. Yet FIFA president Sepp Blatter sees no need to quit.

As sport secretary Jeremy Hunt says, these allegations if proved should prompt a criminal investigation.

Who needs FIFA anyway?

Our Premier League is the world's greatest football competition.

So long as FIFA is in charge, the World Cup will not be worth winning.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011 

Injunction hysteria and the failure of Max Mosley.

It's difficult to shake the feeling that this week's latest outburst of injunction outrage on the behalf of the tabloids and certain sections of what was once the broadsheet press wasn't so much to do with the mysterious InjunctionSuper tweeter (twatterer?), although they provided the excuse to clear the front pages, and much more to do with the fear that Max Mosley would triumph with his case at the European Court of Human Rights. Having so firmly established that philanderers and blackguards are effectively subverting democracy itself by stopping the popular press from reporting on their exploits, had Mosley won we would now be drowning in a veritable sea of anti-European, anti-liberal, anti-'uman rites venom, the death knell of the British media as we currently know it all having been all but sounded by an unelected elite sitting in judgement from afar.

Happily, and just to confound the caricature of the judges in Strasbourg as often depicted as interfering, foreign lunatics and incompetents, they quite rightly decided that Mosley's Article 8 rights had not been breached by this country lacking a mechanism through which newspapers must inform prior to publication those individuals they plan to run an expose or similar about. This wasn't because in Mosley's personal case there hadn't been a quite despicable breach of privacy, it was more that the circumstances were something approaching unique. As Justice Eady made clear in his ruling back in 2008, the supposed "Nazi element" of Mosley's spanking orgy was a construct aimed at giving the story a public interest defence, even while he accepted that the paper's editor and Neville Thurlbeck thought there was such a flavour, not least because they saw what they wanted to see. Had the paper simply gone with the spanking story and informed Mosley prior to going to press, an injunction would almost certainly have been granted had he taken legal action. Relying instead as the paper did on the story being totally in the public interest as it exposed the son of the fascist leader Oswald Mosley involved in sadomasochism with Nazi overtones, the ECHR's reasoning is that even if there had been a stricture where the press have to inform those they intend to write about he would have been unlikely to fall under its terms.

The Guardian, which while not exactly rallying to the side of the tabloids has been quietly concerned over the recent supposed spike in injunctions, made a third-party submission to the court which made the obvious argument against just such a requirement as Mosley was asking for: that rather than covering only cases where personal privacy was involved, it would apply across the board. While it's mainly standard journalistic practice to inform individuals or companies that they're about to have a report on them published, not least to give them an opportunity to comment, the Trafigura scandal makes plain just how some will seek to have the most destructive, illegal behaviour swept under the carpet. The ECHR in its conclusion made clear that what Mosley was asking for has the potential to have a "chilling effect" on the right to freedom of expression. Along with doubts over just how effective it would be and how such a "public interest" mechanism would work, there was really no other option than for the court to make clear Article 8 does not demand a legally binding pre-notification requirement.

There is no doubting however just how successful the tabloids have been in turning their woes into a matter of seeming immediate national importance. Away from the very few number of cases where the granting of an injunction has been questionable, or where the terms have been arguably far too broad, most have just been typical tabloid tales where the person involved is as much being humiliated and embarrassed because of their fame rather than down to the heinousness of their actions.

Take for example the supposed "world famous" actor, who if he is who we're led to believe I had never heard of before (he's not Ewan McGregor, despite initial rumours) and his dalliance with Helen Wood, the sex worker who did a number on Wayne Rooney. One of his pleasures apparently, again for the reason that we don't unequivocally know, involved a dildo being "used" on him. Such a detail, while not exactly out of the ordinary, is the kind of fact that people remember and snigger about. It is the sort of thing that leads to children and relations being bullied and similarly humiliated. This person is not any kind of direct role model to children, as the tabloids claim footballers and other prominent stars are, nor does he make money out of selling his image as such. He's simply a man who because of his acting work is considered fair game and is grist to the mill. As prostitution itself is not illegal (soliciting is) he's committed no crime other than one of stupidity. There is no public interest in him being exposed in such a way, yet we apparently "know" about it regardless of the injunction.

Let's not pretend either that Twitter, blogging, social networking or the internet on their own make such injunctions and potentially a privacy law untenable and unenforceable, as has been claimed. The rumours about the applicants all have to begin somewhere, and it's more than fair to say that the newspapers themselves have been getting incredibly close to breaching them on their own, dropping almost excessive hints in some cases. Private Eye, which always faces both ways when it comes to the tabloids and their obsession with the sex lives of the rich and the famous ran a "lookalike" in its last issue in which Wayne Rooney was compared with the man alluded to above. Elsewhere it all but named the footballer involved with Imogen Thomas, while reiterating how the papers had covered the injunction involving the TV man who had an affair with a co-star, described more than once as "shameless".

What is apparent is that even if they end up not being able to publish a story which might shift a few extra papers, the tabloids seem to be determined that it gets out there somehow. As some predict, this latest outbreak of belly-aching about how unfair it is not to be able to ruin lives will probably peter out. No one seriously expects the government, even this one, to legislate, not least because it would have to almost certainly draw up some privacy protections which the tabloids would complain bitterly about even while removing the wider threat to their profit model. Judges will continue to cop the flak for making nuanced decisions which politicians are too cowardly to get involved with. Who though could possibly blame them when we have such a wonderful, law-abiding media?

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Monday, May 09, 2011 

From social services correspondent to satirist.

For those who noted with a raised eyebrow the inclusion of Melanie Phillips on the Observer's list of 300 public intellectuals, the Guardian by happy coincidence reminds us that back in her callow youth Mel was the paper's social services correspondent. She broke the story that immigration officials had subjected some women from India to gynaecological "virginity tests" prior to their being allowed into the country to marry, a report now further vindicated thirty two years on by an Australian study which has identified at least another eighty cases.

Sadly Mel is yet to acknowledge her journalistic acumen either on her Twatter stream (590 followers), which thankfully seems to mainly consist of links to her work, or on her blog. She is however asking why Cameron is supporting the "coalition for genocide" (Hamas and Fatah, after their reconciliation agreement, natch) and why we aren't showing Bashar Assad a flash of the cold steel like we are Gaddafi (Mel of course could think of nothing better than Assad being taken down, as a supporter and host of Hamas. She couldn't give a fig about the uprising.). I'm especially taken with this passage from that post:

Whereas of course when Israel picks its way delicately through the human shields to target those firing rockets to kill Israeli innocents, warfare undertaken solely to prevent the taking of more innocent life, the same western world screams war crimes, disproportionate aggression and all the rest of it.

From social services correspondent to satirist in three decades.

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Saturday, May 07, 2011 


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Friday, May 06, 2011 

Disunited Kingdom.

The majority for the SNP in the Scottish parliament has come as a surprise, but it probably shouldn't have. Even if the opinion polls before the start of the campaign showed a Labour lead, the party under Iain Gray has done almost everything in its power to turn-off potential voters, running a magnificently negative campaign, the only thing it now seems its strategists are capable of devising. Up against an SNP that's done the equivalent of stuffing voter's mouths with gold, the staggering collapse in Liberal Democrat support which the party hoovered up almost whole, a positive if more than slightly fantastical campaign based around an economy built on renewable energy, the Scottish Sun calling for a vote for the SNP and the disadvantage of having a crop of politicians with all the initiative and wisdom of a wet fish, it's a marvel that Labour's share of the vote has only gone down by less than 1%.

Not, it should be said that the SNP are much better on that last score - I'd vote for a donkey before I'd vote for Nicola Sturgeon - it's more that we're seeing the broad left to centrist vote split between the SNP and Labour, with the former Lib Dem and Tory supporters preferring the SNP. What this certainly isn't, despite Adam Ramsay attempting to make the point, is any great broader problem for the centre/centre left - if anything, it shows just how scarred Scotland continues to be by memories of Thatcherism. With the exception of their differences on crime and on some of the giveaways the SNP has brought in, the two parties overwhelmingly favour the continuation of the same neo-liberal economic policies which brought the world to the brink 3 years ago. Indeed, Alex Salmond famously looked to Ireland and Iceland as to how an independent Scotland would prosper, or not, as might well be the case.

The other truly noteworthy result is just how well the Conservative vote has held up in England, with the party gaining rather than losing seats. This has mainly come from the widely predicted Liberal Democrat thrashing, yet they've also won seats in some areas from Labour. Too much can and will be made of local results just a year after the forming of a government, but this hasn't really been a normal first year considering the cuts and VAT rise. Labour has made steady, decent, unspectacular gains is the best that can be said. Ed Miliband and the shadow cabinet's performance in general has been low key and understated, and simply has to improve: David Cameron hasn't been so much as touched thus far. Nick Clegg has becoming the coalition whipping boy, much to the Conservatives' delight.

Staggeringly obvious is that it's now in the Liberal Democrats' best interest for the coalition to last the full five years, just as the clamour grows among the grassroots for Clegg to demand further concessions. Impossible as it is to predict what will happen a year from now, yet alone in four, it's difficult to see how the party will be able to recover significantly before then to put up much of a challenge in some of the highly marginal Westminster seats they currently hold. Cameron meanwhile, especially if the AV vote also fails, is in the best of all worlds: his mastery out of the coalition, never in doubt in the first place, is now close to total. If the Tories disengage, they can be more than optimistic about their chances of gaining a majority, especially when Labour clearly isn't ready for a snap election. The odds on the coalition lasting the distance have suddenly lengthened dramatically.

As for the AV referendum, the hope has to be, even as the first result from Orkney has just come in with 60% voting no that the showing of the SNP with a close to 50% turnout in Scotland will count in the yes campaign's favour. The 35% turnout in London where no other elections were held is also encouraging: even if it turns out to be a no, it can't be said any longer that this is an issue the public don't care about. Update 17:00: with the next few coming results coming in, with even those in Scotland voting overwhelmingly no, it already looks hopeless.

One final thought: with the SNP with a majority in Scotland (and under a form of proportional representation no less, no campaigners), Labour able to rule in Wales as a minority and the coalition in power in Westminster, this suddenly doesn't look very much like a United Kingdom.

Update 18:00: More than safe to say that the noes overwhelmingly have it. I'm disappointed, naturally. What's ultimately counted against the yes campaign more than anything else is that from the beginning this was the reform that no one bar a tiny minority wanted. All the rest of us were either voting yes hoping it would eventually lead to AV+/PR or on the basis that it's an ever so slight improvement on FPTP. Combined with the staunch opposition of the entire right-wing press, the association of the referendum with the Liberal Democrats, rightly and wrongly, the dire nature of the yes campaign which never managed to properly explain just why FPTP ought to be a historic relic of two-party systems, the often little short of disgraceful no campaign, and the misinformation which even Lib Dem voters fell for, the result can't really be called a surprise. As those of us on the left often do, we underestimated just how powerful those opposed to any change whatsoever still are.

No real reason to be too downhearted, though. As said above, the decent turnout, around the usual level associated with local elections, shows that people do care about electoral reform, even if it's to oppose it. Moreover, support for reform is still only going to grow. The SNP majority in Scotland under a form of PR gives the lie to the idea that such a system can't result in "strong" government. As support for the two, even three main parties continues to decline, as it will, while still shutting out the Greens, UKIP and others from anything approaching fair representation for their share of the vote, it's inevitable that'll we'll have to return to this subject, even if it takes another 15-20 years. We then might also manage to get something better than a miserable little compromise on the ballot.

20:50 update: Well, resounding doesn't even really cover it. For there to be any chance yes had to triumph in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London, and it lost even where there's a form of PR in operation for the devolved elections. My own hope was to be able to claim there was as many people voted yes as voted for the Lib Dems last year, and with 2 areas still to declare, even that's around 1,000,000 short. Can't really complain about the turnout - 42% would have been above the 40% threshold the Lords were looking to impose at one point, and it's the failings of the campaigns respectively for not managing to persuade more people to take an interest.

Speaking of which, Daniel Hannan of all people skewers the yes campaign most effectively - I'm not exactly convinced that Nigel Farage would have made the difference, as he undoubtedly turns off as many people as he manages to speak for, but it clearly needed to have been far broader, less metropolitan and with better celebrities if they were to be involved at all. Full Labour support would have also have been vital, and instead we had the splitting between those who love the unmitigated power FPTP can deliver such as in 97-05, and those who realise that it was exactly those years that dragged Labour into the abyss of 2010. Still, there's always the next generation, isn't there?

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011 

No alarms and no surprise revisited.

If it wasn't apparent before, it ought to be now. The real reason why it's such a rare occurrence for police officers who've killed members of the public while on duty to face trial is because when the facts of similar cases are laid out before juries, whether in the form of health and safety prosecutions or inquests, they have this irritating habit of finding either the defendants guilty or that the victim was unlawfully killed.

This isn't to suggest that the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, who made his name as lawyer working on human rights cases conspired with the police when he decided that PC Simon Harwood would not face any criminal charges over his assault on Ian Tomlinson. Rather, it seems he fell into the trap of believing that it would be too difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that the actions of the officer lead directly to the Tomlinson's death. Considering the differences of opinion between the pathologists, with the first, Dr Freddy Patel ruling that Tomlinson had died from a heart attack rather than internal bleeding caused after he fell following being pushed, it would have hardly been an easy case, and one on which there would have been much media attention.

Nonetheless, and indeed exactly because as the Guardian puts it there is nothing more serious than the state taking the life of one of its subjects with the exception of agents of the state covering just such an incident up, Starmer ought to have erred on the side of letting a jury hear all the evidence. Such a case would have been clearly in the public interest. The virtues of taking just such a nuanced approach could hardly have been more vindicated than by the inquest into Tomlinson's death, helmed by Judge Peter Thornton QC. Unlike in the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes where the coroner disgracefully decided that the jury could not reach a verdict of unlawful killing, Thornton gave the jury the option, while stressing that they had to be certain beyond reasonable doubt, the same legal distinction as that required in a criminal trial. Having expected a longer wait, the court was relatively startled when the jury took just under three and a half hours to decide that Tomlinson had been unlawfully killed.

Considering the evidence presented, this wasn't exactly surprising. PC Simon Harwood himself was almost the definition of an unreliable witness, repeatedly changing his story when it was challenged, not just by the lawyers for Tomlinson's family, but also by the quality and quantity of the material shot on the day of the G20 protests. Having initially claimed to investigators that Tomlinson had been defiant and resisting orders when he pushed him, he still maintained that the strike and push which felled him were justified in the circumstances, rather than say prodding him, taking him by the shoulders and physically moving him away, or, heaven forfend, forcefully but politely asking him to move faster. Whether or not Harwood, who in the minutes before pushing Tomlinson had swung a coat at a protester, knocked over a BBC cameraman and used a "palm strike" against someone else, was acting out his anger and embarrassment following his failure to arrest a man who had vandalised a police van is known only to him.

Similarly, Dr Freddy Patel was left with little option than to change his original opinion faced with the three other pathologists and other medical experts all deciding that Tomlinson's cause of death was abdominal bleeding. Patel was admittedly put at a disadvantage from the very beginning, the police having told him when he was brought in to perform the post-mortem that Tomlinson had not been involved in any public disorder and that he had sleeping rough for the last 20 years, just one of the many untruths originally put out to the media by the Met, along with the claim that they had been assaulted with missiles while tending to Tomlinson. Even so, Patel erred in not retaining or sampling the three litres of intra-abdominal fluid blood or intra-abdominal fluid with blood which had collected in Tomlinson's abdomen, which would have proved the key to whether he had died from internal bleeding as the other pathologists believed. In any case, that Patel had previously been criticised for discussing confidential details in public, as well as being involved in the failings concerning Anthony Hardy ought to have disqualified him from any possibility of carrying out the autopsy.

As wearingly familiar as this sad tale of changing stories, incompetence and abuses of power is, the real outrage is that the overall cause remains the same. Just as the officers on the morning of the 22nd of July 2005 were briefed that those they were after were "up for it" and ready to commit acts of mass murder, giving the impression that lethal force was permissible even when it hadn't been authorised, so the police prior to the G20 had made clear just how determined they were to crack down hard on those who were out to smash up the City. We duly saw police medics brandishing batons, those without the first idea how to "safely" use a truncheon flinging it around, and of course, the storming of the entirely peaceful Climate Camp, since found to have been illegal. Ian Tomlinson died both as he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and because he was vulnerable to just such an injury as he received; dozens of others got cracked heads or worse just for daring to take part in a demonstration. It would be nice to think that following such regrettable incidents that future policing would have been rethought, but no, as the example of Alfie Meadows so pungently demonstrates.

Whether Simon Harwood will now face a manslaughter charge following the CPS review remains to be seen. Doubtless his representatives will argue that the inquest and the coverage of it has damaged his chances of receiving a fair trial. What hopefully will change is the giving of the benefit of the doubt to the police and the authorities when such prosecutions are first considered, something which has gone on for far too long, as does the condescending view that juries are incapable of following or making a judgement on complicated, conflicting medical evidence. Justice, even if it involves the throwing out of cases by judges or acquittals which result in questions over whether a prosecution should have been brought, has to been seen to be done.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011 

Don't cut off your nose to spite your face - vote yes on Thursday.

It's one thing being a bad winner, it's something else entirely to be one when the result has not yet been decided. Hopefully Dan Hodges and those like him already calling Thursday's referendum for the no campaign will provide the ultimate incentive for those still undecided, of which there are many, to cast their ballot to change the voting system from first past the post to the alternative vote.

For if we should take any lessons from the dispiriting, unremittingly awful campaigns ran by both the yes and no teams, it's that a plebiscite on something so vital as the very means by which we elect those who represent us should not have been left in the hands of the political class. One of the main reasons among many that I'm not on Twitter is that if I were, I know I'd be permanently commenting on politics rather than just doing it once a day, and amongst a whole quivering mass of other people who seem to spend their entire time doing little else, whittling away the hours having pointless, circular arguments with each other, or even worse, circle-jerking into the night with those of like-minds. Politics in its current state, involving the people for whom it really is their life, is not just depressing, it's suicide inducing in its dirtiness, unbearable in its insularity and truly spectacular in its universal contempt for the average voter.

The no campaign, it's fair to say, really has treated the general public as fools. Taking the metaphor of an actual race and then extrapolating it to a system where you vote for who you think should be the winner is just about as breath-taking in its disingenuousness as it comes; politics is many things, but it has not yet come down to a competition where the person who can run the 100 metres the fastest becomes prime minister. The yes campaign meanwhile has comprehensively failed to explain why the alternative vote would be a better system than what we currently have in the key context of how the previous two-party dominance of politics in this country has broken down. Instead it's focused on how AV will make MPs work harder, when there is precisely no evidence whatsoever that this will be the case, and how it will end jobs for life, which is laughably wrong. The main reason many are disenchanted with politics is due to either how their vote effectively doesn't count, and how little difference there actually is between the parties and their policies.

First past the post was a defensible system when the vast majority voted for one of two main parties. In the 1970 general election, just short of 90% cast a ballot for either Labour or the Conservatives, on a turnout of 72%. Last year 65% did the same on a turnout of, err, 65%. Spooky. The unfairness of this situation manifests itself most clearly in the case of sadly, the Liberal Democrats. Having won a 23% share of the vote, an improvement of 1% on 2005, they actually lost 5 seats overall for a total of 57. Labour, despite polling just 1,600,000 more votes, won 201 more seats than the party which came in third. No one can say with a straight face on votes cast that the Liberal Democrats have a fair distribution of seats in parliament.

Sadly, this doesn't make AV even approaching the best solution, and the yes campaign has been left with going all out for a system which the vast majority of those supporting it don't genuinely believe in. Into this vacuum have come the very people with the most to lose and most to gain, and the debate, if there was going to be one based on the realities rather than parties' short-term benefit, was swiftly crushed underfoot. The Conservatives are unsurprisingly incredibly happy with a system that provides them in the good times with decent, workable majorities in parliament, as are the more boneheaded Labour tribalists who think the same, and anyone who suggests this might now be unsustainable and undemocratic can go take a running jump. Their campaign (and it has been their campaign) has been personal, nasty and misleading.

The Liberal Democrats, instead of sticking to pointing out just how the current system increasing doesn't reflect the will of the people, rose to the bait, and how. For a party that has itself descended into the sewer on occasion, anyone would think they were the purest of the pure, so outraged have they become at how the Conservatives have been prepared to stiff them even while they're meant to be working together in the "national interest". Nick Clegg has been further vilified for making the very compromises which the Conservatives asked of his party, which while low is exactly what those who loathe having to deal with them were always going to. Chris Huhne in response has spent the entire campaign acting like a spoilt child, threatening to take legal action and then finally today taking it to the cabinet, which the Tories swiftly leaked. They know full well just how this playing, as they've successfully made clear how the Liberal Democrats would be the main beneficiaries of any change even when that would be a just outcome.

Dan Hodges was right in his original riling post that the yes campaign had no edge because it wasn't prepared to play by the same measures. The only other way it could have properly countered the no message was by rising completely above the fray, making sure that politicians stayed out of it, and instead got in some celebrities and personalities other than the odd luvvie and Eddie Izzard to ram home the message of how out of date first the past post is and how we're effectively being cheated. Even then it was doubtful it could have properly made the case for a system which is a slight improvement, but it might just have had some effect. Failing that, the yes campaign should have shouted night and day about just how much the Conservatives and the Labour dinosaurs have to lose from even this slight change, which is exactly why they've relied on such sleight of hand. As much as I despise Facebook, that only 15,000 have liked the Yes campaign in the age of the social networks shows how it's failed.

I still think the result will be closer than the polls are suggesting, and that there's still a slight chance of a victory. This will only be achieved now though if we rise above the politics involved entirely, and especially dispense with the nonsense of how a yes or no vote will impact on the coalition. Forget about the government, and the stupidity of cutting off your nose to spite your face by delaying electoral reform in favour of possibly bringing down the coalition sooner - vote yes on Thursday for the reason that it will make a slight improvement to our current political system. And who other than masochists could possibly suggest following this debacle that they would genuinely prefer the status quo?

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