Monday, May 29, 2006

The awful consequences of doing the right thing


I feel no regret in supporting the 'Backing Blair' campaign. Blair is an arrogant, ideologically vacant, borderline psychotic Prime Minister and his personal magnetism which made it hard for me to hate him whatever he did has now worn off. But those of us who lend our support to it must be aware of the consequences of doing so. Most of us live in constituencies (whether parliamentary or local government) where there is a straight fight between Labour and the Conservatives. If our sitting MP/councillor is Labour we have the power to unseat him/her by voting for the opposition. The principle behind Backing Blair is that we should demand of our member that he/she push for Blair's resignation or we will transfer our vote to the party most likely to defeat him/her. In many cases, this brings the awful prospect of voting Tory.

I couldn't vote in the local elections at the beginning of this month. Although Mrs Wildebeest and I registered to vote as soon as we moved into our new home, Hounslow Council decided that we were too late to be included in the register to vote (probably because we live in the posh bit, and so were more likely to vote Tory). In any case, the ward in which I live is safe Tory territory. However, the collapse in Labour support has meant that Hounslow Council has a Tory administration for the first time in over thirty years.

You only have to look at the smug expression on Councillor Peter Thompson's face (he's the new leader of the council) to see what a coup this is for the Tories. His expression is matched by Tories across the country. These are the sickening, well-to-do types whose arrogance is exceeded only by Blair's, who have been waiting for years to take revenge on 'the Lefties'. Expect social services to be cut ruthlessly, as the Tories seek to slash council tax bills and ease parking charges for those in the more 'respectable' (ie white and middle-class) parts of the council - yes, the people who can actually afford to pay those high council tax and parking bills.

Scroll down on that last link to see the new Mayor, Felicity Barwood, a Tory straight out of Central Casting. "Oh, look at me," her face seems to say, "how important I look in this outfit. I'm going to have a jolly good time lording it over the peasants."

(Apparently, when Barwood was proposed for the mayor's office by her fellow Tory councillor, Paul Lynch - a man with a taste in bow ties that would have made the late Eric Forth look sober and shrinking - he remarked that she should have done a course in lion taming to prepare her for the post. If this is the kind of twee, desperately unfunny 'wit' that we have to expect from our new executive, then God help any consituent whose needs actually have to be taken seriously.)

This is the awfulness of being put in this situation by Blair. We want to hold him to ransom, but if he refuses to negotiate we have no choice but to shoot all the hostages. He's still in power, we have blood all over our hands and now we have to be the ones to do the cleaning up. This doesn't mean I'm supporting Polly Toynbee in her silly nosepeg campaign. It's just to say that it's all very well to oppose Blair - in fact, it's essential - but let's bear in mind that he's in no hurry to go anywhere. Two million people marching through London couldn't stop him going to war, for heaven's sake. Let's not cut off our noses to spite our faces by voting Tory, in the meantime, 'cause cutting off your nose bloody hurts.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

The naked nurse and the man with the camera


It's nice to be distracted from the news now and again with something like this.

Woman sunbathes naked in her garden. Next door neighbour films her on his camcorder. She gets prosecuted, but he doesn't.

The other thing I can't understand is why, in cases such as the above and also this, nudity is perceived as being harmful to children. Are children supposed to grow up believing that your clothes become welded to you as soon as you become an adult? If I were a child, I'd find that thought more scary than any number of wrinkly boobs in my next door garden.

Where's Benny Hill when you need him?


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Apparently, I'm a total pussy...


... according to the new quiz at Tampon Teabag.

So, what are you? A Dick, a Pussy or an Asshole? You may think you know people who are all three, but apparently you only get to be one of them.

Actually, I don't much mind being a pussy. You get stroked a lot and if you don't like someone you can claw them to death.


Protect the emperor from his nudity at all costs!


I saw this invitation to demonstrate in support of Brian Haw too late to post it on here. But I did follow the link to find out more about Blair's complete disconnection from reality.

I once had a boss who acted like Blair (in this respect). He was obsessed with appearances (he once told me off for not going to a meeting in a suit, even though I was clean and smart and was wearing a tie - oh, and none of the clients was in a suit, either); desperate to show off to high-paying clients (he maintained offices in Covent Garden which were way beyond the company's means); over-eager to stress his international profile (he had a casual relationship with a company in the States who took all the profit on our international projects and let us do most of the work); and determined to exercise control over every bit of his company's operations (in my office - which was never visited by clients - I'd pinned a couple of cartoons up on my otherwise undecorated wall; when I was on holiday, he took them down and destroyed them). When he didn't get his way, he would shout and literally stamp his foot like a three-year-old.

The company went bust after I left. The prestigious Covent Garden offices are now a shoe shop (it's recently opened in the lot marked 'vacant' on this map).

Size ten, Prime Minister?


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

ID cards - what more do you need?


I know you're probably all fed up with my banging on and on about ID cards (actually, regular readers probably aren't fed up because they'll share my beliefs), but Jarndyce's comment this morning prompted me to dredge the subject up again.

It seems iris scanning is only 90% accurate and fingerprints only 96% accurate. Those sound like pretty good figures but, as Jarndyce observes, that's a lot of people out of a population of 56 million. in fact, four percent of fifty-six million is 2.24 million. TWO AND A QUARTER MILLION PEOPLE MISIDENTIFIED. Who therefore may not be allowed to travel. Or get benefits. Or get medical treatment. Or who may just be taken into a side room for "further questioning". And, of course, this doesn't account for bureaucratic errors in the database.

Think this is an over-reaction? It's already happened to two thousand, seven hundred people. And I bet none of them comes from Nottingham, where it seems pretty much everyone can be regarded as a criminal.

And there's nothing we can do about it. Except maybe this (PDF).


Friday, May 19, 2006

Dictatorship is nigh


I've been out of the news loop a bit for a couple of days, so I've missed all the fun over the bloody Legislative & Regulatory Reform Bill, which has now apparently reverted to being an Abolish Parliament Bill, despite government assurances.

NoseMonkey is on it. I'll say more on the matter another time.


Death of a b'stard


It is unseemly and self-degrading to celebrate anyone's death. But I won't be shedding any tears over the demise of Eric Forth, MP for Bromley & Chislehurst.

The obituaries, ever watchful for any negative comment so soon after the Grim Repear has visited, have labelled him "colourful" - the kind of word they always use as a substitute for 'lunatic' when writing of one recently deceased. But to call Forth "colourful", unless referring to his ghastly taste for loud suits and ties, makes him seem all too loveable, like a beneficial presence in the Commons, when he was anything but.

Let's face it, he was a misogynist, a racist, and a homophobe. He had disdain for his constituents - he boasted that he never held any surgeries. He killed off, seemingly for the fun of it, Private Member's Bills which were at worst harmless and at best positively worthy (bills to restrict the sale of fireworks, to license minicabs, even banning hunting - if the PMB had gone through we would have been spared the toing and froing that occurred when the government pushed it through, which contributed to its desire to pull the teeth of the Lords once and for all). He was an enthusiast for hanging.

Like another well-known ex-Communist, he started on the far left and ended up on the far right.

Not for nothing did Private Eye label him Eric "B'stard" Forth. I'll not grieve.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Happy birthday to me

This blog is now a year old, and I'd like to thank the 20-30 people from all round the world who drop in on a daily basis. Although I'm but a pinprick (a Slimy Mollusc, apparently) on the [draws breath] blogosphere, it's nice to know that my words mean something to somebody. Until I become famous in my field, this blog will continue in between work and family commitments.

Looking around, I notice that Ken at Militant Moderate does not know whether to classify me as right-wing, left-wing or centralist. That suits me fine. Although I would self-immolate if I were knowingly to be taken as right-wing, I'm happy to categorise myself loosely as sitting on the liberal left. Having said that, there is something about me that instinctively breaks step whenever I find myself matching the pace of those around me. That can be a lonely existence sometimes, but at least I'll die knowing my mind is my own. There is virtually no belief system that should not be challenged, questioned, probed, examined, taken to task, interrogated to see if it stands up. Internal contradictions cannot withstand such scrutiny, nor can 'conventional wisdom', nor can, "X says it and he's on my side, so he must be right".

Some would say this attitude risks ending up in total cynicism, an ability to believe in nothing. I reject that, too. Rather, it means your beliefs are constantly in a state of flux. The world changes and, as if log-rolling, you have to be constantly moving as the current threatens to tip you over and drown you. The Pope has denied the value of moral relativism. He is wrong - everything is relative. While there are absolutes that I cling to, I know that I'm fooling myself, that the illusion of security brought by such apparent certainty is precisely that - an illusion.

We all say we reject dogma but, in truth, most of us couldn't cope without it. So strong is the human impulse to say "that's right!" or "that can't be right!" that it takes an extra effort of thought to bite one's tongue and ask, every time, "is that right?" Blogs do a magnificent job of peering into every aspect of human life and examining it, because their writers are interested in going beyond the superficial posturing of the mainstream media. I've read things on blogs that have changed my mind on key issues, even opinions I didn't want changed (and still don't).

Worldwide, there are at least 50 million blogs. I can't read them all. But every blog is a voice. Discounting those blogs that exist purely to spout a dogma of the author's choice, that leaves a lot of people who are thinking, writing, discussing. Every aspect of our life is being examined. That's healthy. Long live the internet.

Happy birthday, Oscar.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mornington Crescent


Scaryduck has had a Mornington Crescent game going. Unfortunately, it's all over now, but see if you can spot where Mark made his tactical error in the second game.

Oh, and it's all bollocks about Pepys inventing it.


First Test: Match drawn



Until now, every England Test match I have ever attended has been won by England.

Mid-way through Saturday, there was no reason why this should not have continued to be the case. We'd made a comfortable 551-6dec, with Pietersen matching (but not exceeding, the imbecile) his highest Test score, and skittled the amateur-looking opposition for 192. With two and a half days to go, it was absolutely the right thing to do to enforce the follow-on.

Perhaps there should be an England policy of never enforcing the follow-on, however, because we made incredibly heavy weather (even when the actual weather was fine) of bowling them out a second time and, indeed, failed to do so. Credit must be given to the Sri lankans for a highly heroic fightback, led by captain Mahela Jayawardene and supported by virtually everyone else, but England's performance was as amateur as Sri Lanka's had looked earlier. Flintoff, still uncomfortable in his role as captain, lacked the imagination necessary to alter the pace and balance of the match with the kind of experimentation and unorthodoxy that has been the trademark of his predecessor, Michael Vaughan (whose Second Coming we anticipate with as much fervour as your average Jehovah's Witness). Setting defensive fields when England were still over 200 ahead was inexplicable. To make matters worse, Flintoff mistook his team's efforts for his own personal efforts and believed that he should therefore be the man to bowl the way to victory. He will pay for the fifty overs he sent down, and England will pay with him.

What really let the side down was the catching - England put down either nine or ten chances, depending on how difficult you judge a catch to be before it becomes a chance. This won't always be the case, of course, but our fielding has often been one of the stronger parts of our game. Our bowling was weakened by the absence of Jones, Harmison and Anderson and at least one of them should be fit for the Second Test. Our batting, contrary to its reputation, was magnificent (although Sri Lanka can hardly be said to have the most devastating attack in world cricket).

These matches were supposed to be the warm-up for the series against Pakistan later in the year, but one thing has emerged more clearly than anything - English complacency, so often our enemy, has no place in this current series. The England team have been given a wake-up call. Not, thank goodness, a tough one - we didn't lose the match and were never in danger of it - but we've been reminded that we have to fight for every victory. If we're the second best team in the world, we'd better start playing like we are and no longer taking it for granted just because we had a great series last summer.


BritBlog round-up


I discourteously omitted to include a link to Tim Worstall's latest BritBlog round-up in which my piece on assisted dying made an appearance amid the usual right-wing nonsense about how awful the EU is, and the lengthy philosophical musing (although I did like the bit about Innocent Smoothies).


Monday, May 15, 2006

ID cards - nothing we didn't already know, but...


I was at Lord's on Saturday with a mate from Manchester and we got talking about ID cards. He told me of a conversation he'd recently had with a Labour Party activist back at home. My friend had asked where the idea of ID cards had come from. The activist shook his head and said something to the effect of: "I don't know. None of us wanted it. I didn't want it. My MP didn't want it. What seems to have happened is that it was a policy idea which accidentally got announced to the media as a policy initiative, and now no one can face backing down on it."

So, there you are, from the horse's mouth. Someone launched the rocket by accident, before the control panel had been installed, and now no one knows how to stop it triggering the enemy's SDI defences. The guest that no one invited has moved in, eaten all the food out of the fridge, slept in the master bed with his shoes on and shat all over the bathroom floor, and everyone's too embarrassed to ask him to leave.

This mistake is going to cost us £18bn.

Any other metaphors welcome, by the way.


Popbitch bitch


I was looking at this site's stats on StatCounter, and I couldn't understand how I'd received over 400 hits in one day from here, until I read to the bottom of the (very long) page and discovered a fleeting reference to Lucy Mangan. Purely for the sake of reference, I reproduce it here:
I met the unfunny try-hard yesterday. She's even less interesting in real life - and her arse is eye-bogglingly massive. Happily for her bosses, she's a total word-slut and will happily write (poorly) about any old shite (hence today's Tv reviews in G2).
A subsequent reply referred the masses to this site.

I never even had an opinion about her a few months ago...

[EDIT: This post comes up third if you Google "Lucy Mangan arse". Tee hee.]


Friday, May 12, 2006

Right to die? Or wrong?


Today, the House of Lords debates the Assisted Dying Bill.

As someone whose father is in a nursing home following a series of strokes, is in a permanently confused and distressed state of mind, and nearly died of scepticaemia last winter, I have a lot of sympathy with the Right to Die campaign.

On the other hand, as Tim Worstall has observed, it's only one step from Voluntary Euthanasia for the Needy to Compulsory Euthanasia for All (although one should be cautious about believing what one reads in the Torygraph, or indeed any paper). The bill is not a 'Shipman's Charter' and that's a silly way of putting it.

Nevertheless, the use of death as a problem-solver for the things society finds difficult to deal with has a long tradition. I'm not going to start going on about abortion here, as that's a complex issue, but I can never quite understand how (a) those on the Right are happy to use death to deal with the problem of violent criminals, but unhappy to use it to deal with the problem of the terminally ill or disabled babies (I suspect there is some kind of unhealthy notion of 'innocence' behind all this, as if any individual or group could be trusted to determine who "deserves" to die and who doesn't); and (b) those on the Left get so het up about taking life away once it's begun, but are happy to deny life to thousands of healthy children who are aborted for what is euphemistically called "social reasons".

I was praying for my father to die last November, because I knew how unhappy he was with his life and I also knew there was no prospect that the brain damage he had suffered could ever have been reversed. If there had been a legal option available to supply him with fatal medication, I would have seriously considered it. He pulled back from the brink of death by means of antibiotics, and is now leading a life in his nursing home that is.... well, as good as can be expected. In retrospect, I cannot deny that part of my reason for wishing him dead was the desire to achieve 'closure' (silly expression), to remove the burden of thinking about him, caring for him, waiting for the eventual day when death takes him and puts him out of his misery. That said, "misery" is the word I use to apply to the way his condition appears to me from the outside. I don't know what it's like to be in his head.

Opponents of the Bill would argue that it's too much, too soon - that we risk investing more time, effort and attention into killing off the terminally ill than in improving palliative care and relieving distress and suffering without termination of life. While my father's condition is unlikely to improve, one can see there are moments in which he is apparently content. His short-term memory has diminished to an extent that he can only truly live in the moment. That he does not recognise his surroundings is a source of irritation to him. That he can now immerse himself in a thought or activity without caring about any other troubles must be a source of, if not joy, then at least gentle pleasure.

On the Today programme this morning, the presenter (I forget whether it was Humphrys or Naughtie) asked an opponent of the Bill whether terminally ill people should have to put aside their own desires for the 'greater good'. The mere fact that such a question can be asked shows how accustomed we have become to putting the individual's perspective above our communal needs. If the greater good in this case means that we actually have to take responsibility for the less perfect, more damaged or disadvantaged people in our society - whether that be people like my father, children with Down's, or mentally ill serial killers - shouldn't that be the guiding principle in situations like this? That said, we have a duty to relieve suffering when we encounter it, which is what makes me a cautious supporter of the Bill. But what worries me most is that we, as a society, lack the maturity, thoughtfulness and care to determine where the 'greater good' lies - which means we are almost certain to tip over onto one side of the slippery slope or the other.

[FOOTNOTE: Must read - the perspective of a doctor (via Coffee Lover).]


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Nothing obscene here


It doesn't take long.

Tee hee.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Today's third (and most important) link


Via Rachel, a link to the online petition calling for a public inquiry into the London bombings. Go sign away.

Rachel also has a splendid in-depth piece about the Home Office's forthcoming 'narrative' on the events of 7 July, as well as the report by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. Do go and read her account - but, in a nutshell, the Home Office is trying to put it out that the four men acted completely independently and off their own private bats, while the ISC report states that they had direct connections with a terrorist cell which had been under surveillance by the security services for over a year. The shortcomings in this surveillance allowed the bombers to slip through the net and carry out their action.

Rachel manages to find a way to reconcile this apparent contradiction - and it results in a most worrying conclusion. This is a new war, without a front, and with implications for us all (but not in the way the government would have us believe).


ID A to Z


Via Justin, your handy A-Z guide to ID cards at And you don't even have to cut it out and keep it!


Up from the Ashes...


I can't not link to Tim Ireland's latest piece of genius.

Get this man his own TV series (and don't put it on Channel Four at 1.30 in the morning)!


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

It's time for the Left to stand up again


Well, perhaps Mr A. C. L. Blair does read this blog, for he has all but announced that the clock is ticking. Following last night's meeting with backbenchers, in which they are believed to have demanded a timetable, he has apparently pretty much indicated that he'll stand down next year. That same Guardian report claims that only four MPs spoke in Blair's favour, while seventeen spoke against him. Which I would say matches the mood of the public pretty well.

Poor Tony. No eclipsing of Thatcher. No triumphal exit from Downing Street, his popularity intact, hordes of wellwishers crying: "Don't go, Tony, we love you, we need you!" (although no doubt some activists will be hired on the day for precisely that purpose, just as they were when he first came to power).

And today a Populus poll puts Labour down at 30%, their lowest showing since 1992 (what's interesting is that Cameron still can't break 40% even with the government on the ropes - and even the bookies are not writing off Labour's chances in 2009 - but let's save that for another time).

What's interesting is all the talk of the 'hand-over' of power to Brown. Didn't the Tories partly run into trouble last year precisely because Howard was made leader unopposed (and therefore unelected)? Didn't it give the impression that the Tory leadership was a poisoned chalice - or, on the other hand, that no one else was up to the job? Brown may enjoy a glorious coronation (although there's no evidence that he'll really be given enough time to hit the ground running as Prime Minister) but won't the voters feel that their national leader has been imposed on them? At least Major came to power by way of an election. His popularity must have been boosted not only because he was not the hated Thatcher but because he suddenly acquired the air of a winner (and how quickly that rubbed off).

Should there be a leadership contest? On the one hand, it will make Labour look divided. It will also run the risk of a Blairite candidate emerging, to spoil the fun for Wee Gordie. On the other hand, it means the possibility of a candidate emerging from the Left, a genuine Old Labour candidate, someone to represent the party I joined in 1992, not the one I left in disgust in 2000. Who that could be I don't know, and I invite speculation.

Brown's premiership will be no different from Blair's - it will just lack the charisma. We will still have PFI projects, we will still have the anti-terrorism laws, we will still have British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, we will still have CIA rendition flights using British airspace, we will probably still have ID cards (although I'm hopeful that they'll be quietly ditched, given that Brown knows exactly how much they're really going to cost). Can the Left really not organise someone at least to put forward a true socialist vision, in which public investment means money going to the people and places that really need it and not to management consultants, in which personal freedom and privacy is respected and not interfered with in the name of 'security', in which American and British international interests are not automatically regarded as synonymous? That candidate may not win the election, but at least he or she would give an opportunity to those who share those ideals but who haven't yet torn up their membership cards (if such people still exist)? The Left seems to be convinced that Brown is some sort of socialist saviour, where in fact he's just Not-Blair. Just as Prodi's coalition in Italy is held together by virtue of being Not-Berlusconi, so the Left risks being snared up with disgruntled Blairites, economic eggheads, besuited policy advisers and dour Scots who are all united by being Not-Blair but who nevertheless share many of New Labour's ideologies.

Get someone to stand. It doesn't matter who he or she is, as long as s/he can articulate a true left-wing direction for the party. It would remind Brown that not everyone he is claiming to lead works in the securities industry or privately-run energy companies. Hell, even if the candidate loses (and s/he probably will) at least there'll have been a platform. At least there'll be an extra name on the ballot paper. Drop me a hint now, please, so I can rejoin the party now and qualify for the vote in a year's time.

(I see the undermining of Brown has begun. Is Blair really so full of himself that he's prepared to sink the whole boat just because they won't let him wear the captain's hat any more? Possibly.)


Monday, May 08, 2006

First they came for the man in the tent


Brian Haw has had his protest declared illegal.

It's starting. Removal of anyone who is not a Friend of Tony. The Reality Exclusion Zone around Number Ten. How long before he retreats to the bunker with Eva and Traudl and Joseph.. oh, damn, I'm doing it again!

(Via Curious Hamster.)


Thatcher's child


I'd just like to say hello to all who are visiting this blog for the first time, especially those of you who came here via Tim Worstall's BritBlog round-up. Tim kindly included my rant about Kitty Ussher's condescending (is there any other adjective to describe New Labour? Well, I suppose there's 'spineless', 'drifting', 'morally bankrupt', 'two-faced' and 'scumbag' to start with) piece in the Guardian about how there was nothing to worry about in the local elections, and how everyone likes New Labour really, if only they could bring themselves to say it.

Anyway, Kitty's protestations look a bit hollow now, seeing that Labour not only failed to gain control of Burnley Council, but lost five seats to the LibDems. OK, the BNP only managed to pick up one seat, but they still have six councillors. And her claim that it wouldn't be electoral meltdown for Labour looks a thin given the headlines about Blair's fragility. And Andrew Slaughter must have known he was holding back the tide when he begged his few constituents in Hammersmith & Fulham to turn out, for that council went blue (if you ever walk down the scruffy King Street of a Saturday evening, remind yourself that this is a Tory council and a Tory constituency and shake your head in amazement).

Speaking of Blair and his future... I've been thinking a lot about the man lately (yes, I have a strong stomach). It's occurred to me that his real motivation in staying on is not sorting out the NHS or resolving the pensions crisis. It's not even fear of having to find somewhere for Cherie's cosmetics in the new pad. No, Blair has one very simple aim: outlast Thatcher. Do read on, by clicking below.

Thatcher's spell as Prime Minister began on 4 May 1979 and ended on 28 November 1990 (oh, happy day, I remember it well). That's eleven years and (doodles on envelope) 208 days. For Blair to exceed that, he would have to step down on 27 November 2008 (taking his start date as 2 May 1997). That's still two and a half years away, by the end of which time even Jonathan Powell, his Chief of Staff, will be sick of him.

Blair wants to wipe out memories of Labour government failings in the past and establish an unbeatable record of enduring Labour tenure in office. This he has probably already achieved, far surpassing the former record of six years held by the Attlee and Wilson administrations. However, since he regards himself as Labour's saviour and since New Labour is inextricably associated with Blair and his personality, he has made the fatal Louis XIV error of confusing himself with the regime he leads (although Roi Louis probably never actually said: "L'état, c'est moi"). Thatcher is still seen by Tories (and by many countries outside Britain) as the benchmark of greatness - Blair wants to take her mantle. This is why he has been so driven to keep everyone 'on message'. However, unlike many previous absolutists, he has one disadvantage - he can't have anyone shot. The worst he can do to a rebel is sack him (Dobson, Short, Cook) or expel him (Livingstone). The target is rapidly receding out of his reach.

Another disadvantage he has is that times have changed. People are more fickle towards political parties and governments than they used to be. As consumer choice has proliferated, as brands have multiplied, so people have come to demand satisfaction sooner and come to grow tired of their choices sooner. Thatcher was ruling at a time when these things were changing - Blair has come to power at a time when this change is established. It's simply harder to go on and on and on, when the inevitable mistakes and shortcomings of government are exposed more than ever before thanks to greater media communication. To stay at the top for a long time one must re-invent oneself, which Blair has singularly failed to do. He's no longer the young, confident, firm leader that came so soberly to power in 1997. His youth has been usurped by Cameron (and Cherie's probably too old for another baby now - although you never know), his confidence has been undermined by public and backbench opposition, and his firmness now looks like intransigence (and probably is).

Blair's private ambition is at odds with his public standing. (Note: Godwin's Law coming up.) Just as Hitler was forced to retreat into his bunker and surround himself with one new loyalist after another in order to shore up his belief that he could prevail, so Blair cushions himself from reality by pulling his few remaining allies closer to him, dismissing any talk of a timetable for a hand-over, and clutching at the few straws that suggest he has a chance of making it through the next two and a half years. Meanwhile, Brown, Goering-like (I'm going to stop the Nazi analogies now, they're making me uncomfortable), is finding his arm forced by his supporters into assuming real control while his leader froths at the mouth and issues increasingly impossible orders. Of course, the Chancellor has problems of his own, but more on them in another post.

The odds at Political Betting put Blair as almost certain to go over this summer. Not even ten years. Imagine how he'll feel. Imagine how Cherie will feel when she has to pay for her own haircuts.

Crisis? What crisis?


Friday, May 05, 2006

STOP PRESS: Elephant falls from sky (and the last (of) Straw)


Yes, yes, yes!!! Fungus the Bogeyman will bogey us no more!

Blair wasted no time in bringing the axe out. The lying, hopeless sweaty baboon has been ditched in favour of the more aggressive, less bumbling John Reid (anyone care to guess what the new Home Office guidelines on cannabis will be?). And the toadying Jack Straw has at last been ditched from his seniority. The new face of Britain will be ... er, Margaret Beckett.

It's a curse, the Home Office, isn't it?

(More live comment at Europhobia and probably lots of other places.)


Charity begins at home? Doesn't begin at all, by the looks of it


I see I have been promoted to Slimy Mollusc in the TTLB Ecosystem. Doesn't sound very nice, but it actually represents a step up from Lowly Insect.

What must be helping my position in the rankings is an increase in the number of inward links from other bloggers, including The Charity Blogger. It's worth a look at his/her site for:
Go visit - there aren't enough people talking about this sort of thing. Wonder if Charity Blogger has read my stuff about Oxfam...

Some stuff about the elections later.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

If you can't win the game, change the rules


The first step in the abolition of democracy. How did I miss this one? I expect it was announced on a Friday afternoon.

(Via Davide.)


Six degrees of impossibility


Gary the Coffee Lover has thrown down a challenge. He wants to do the Six Degrees of Separation thing to connect himself to liddle ol' me via bloggers who have actually met each other in the flesh.

He knows he has met Rob of Trial by Shorthand (whose blog I shall now investigate, as it looks worth a read). Rob has definitely met Tim Worstall, but the trail goes cold there, even though Tim has met loads of bloggers.

I'm sorry to spoil all the fun, chaps, but I am absolutely certain I have never met, in the flesh, anyone who has his or her own blog. Absolutely certain. Mrs Wildebeest doesn't even know I have one.

I think I met Danny Finkelstein once. I certainly knew someone who knew him. Also, my brother lives in Edinburgh, so he may well have met one of the multitude of Edinburgh-based bloggers (such as Devil's Kitchen, Tiny Judas, Arthur's Seat, Bookdrunk and several others). Unfortunately, my brother doesn't have a blog, but I can ask him to start one if it'll help. You'll have to wait until he's finished his Engineering finals, though.

The only people I mix with these days are film-makers and cricket fans. There's a couple of leads there. Good luck.

Perhaps there is a point to all this. Finkelstein's talk at the Adam Smith Institute suggested that blogs could have a direct impact on the behaviour of goverments and public figures, over and beyond the influence of the mainstream media. If I, unknown to anyone but my family and extremely close circle of friends, can influence any aspect of public life, then the power of the blog is handsome indeed. If only there were a way of proving it. It doesn't seem to have affected that blinking, condescending oaf, Andrew Slaughter. And Fungus the Bogeyman hasn't resigned yet.

Perhaps I should just get out more.

[EDIT: Just had a thought. I met Clive Soley once, and only once (in 1997). He has a blog. He won't remember me, but find someone who's met Clive Soley and bingo!]

[SECOND EDIT: If anyone wants to meet me in the flesh, I'll be at Lord's for the Sri Lanka Test, but only on the Saturday and Sunday.]

[THIRD EDIT: It's 'Wildebeest', not 'Wildebeast', Worstall...]


Slaughter to the rescue - oh, no, Slaughter to the slaughter


Just 24 hours to go before the electoral meltdown begins and we can start ticking off the remaining days of the Blair regime. Coincidentally, I'm sure, this is the day when I happen to receive another emailed newsletter from my ex-MP, Andrew Slaughter (who has not replied to my last email about the Legislative & Regulatory Reform Bill). I'm going to get myself taken off his list, since I'm no longer his constituent, but it's interesting nevertheless to read his last-minute pleading for votes.

Slaughter chooses not to lay into the BNP (although more on them in a moment) but desperately tries nevertheless to persuade us that the Tories fighting for control of Hammersmith Council are little better:
The Tory strategy borrows from the Libdem Focus pavement politics campaign, where every street and many individuals are named to give a faux-local feel to what are often nationally-produced leaflets. But ironically it is the hard right of the Tory party – often using Lord Ashcroft’s money - that is pioneering it. Still very powerful, this faction – known by other conservatives as the Tory Taliban – knows its ideas are unpopular, but wants to slide its supporters into winnable seats whether in councils or Parliament. They are to the Tories what Militant was to Labour in the 1980s, but better-resourced and connected, and therefore more dangerous. They are happy to pick up centrist votes on the coattails of Cameron, but they are no friends of his. The Tory candidates in H&F are overwhelmingly pro-Liam Fox, the defeated right-wing candidate, and three of the four sitting councillors who supported Cameron have been deselected.

Two of these, Emile al-Uzaizi and Amanda Lloyd-Harris, are standing as independents and are running neck-and-neck with the official stooges in Palace Riverside - the safest Tory ward in London. Emile and Amanda point out rather bewilderedly that they have given 30 years loyal service to the party, held senior positions and thought, with Cameron’s accession, that their time had come. Emile is gay, half-Arab and on the wet wing of the party. Amanda is a single parent who hails from the Antipodes. Just the sort of candidates Dave the Chameleon says he wants – but they were dumped for identikit hoorays. Perhaps Eton is still more important than diversity in the new Tory party.

But while this is all fun, the consequences for non-yuppies in H&F will be dire if the Tories win on Thursday. The Tory Taliban openly boast that they will turn Hammersmith into Wandsworth mark 2. That means £50 million in cuts, mainly in education and social services, but also in Neighbourhood Policing (which H&F uniquely funds) and street services like the popular orange-sack recycling and Smarter Borough seven-day-a-week street cleaning operation. But the damage will be more lasting than this. They plan the same type of social engineering pioneered by Wandsworth and Westminster in the 1980s. No more social housing, only riverside penthouse development: driving the poor out of the centre of cities so they can become playgrounds for the super rich.
While all the above is possibly true (and I wouldn't take any Labour MP's word for anything, especially during an election campaign), the fact is that Slaughter is on a hiding to nothing. The Tories are widely predicted to take Hammersmith & Fulham and sending dire messages to his local supporters (many of whom actually live in Ealing and not in Hammersmith & Fulham at all, much of which is under the Tory MP, Greg Hands, who probably has a very different story to tell) won't do Slaughter and his party any favours at a local level.

Anyway, it's Slaughter's turn to invoke the BNP Demon:
H&F also has its first BNP candidate standing in a marginal ward in Fulham. I feel there is some irony that he chose here to stand, where almost every street reveals redevelopment needed to replace houses destroyed by the Luftwaffe. My father remembers demonstrating when Mosley tried to speak at Olympia 70 years ago. It is a pity that, with the knowledge of the Holocaust and other extreme consequences of racial hatred, fascists still bid for our votes. There is one easy remedy. See that they are rejected and humiliated.
Preaching to the converted, there, Andrew. Still, good to see you're following the national strategy of warning about a BNP takeover if Labour supporters fail to turn out tomorrow. It's not going to happen - and, even if it did, BNP councillors have an appalling record of corruption, in-fighting and disregard for their constituents, which nearly always results in their resignation or rejection at the next election.

Slaughter continues:
And no abuse. This may partly be because targeting means you spend ever more time persuading your supporters to vote than trying to change others’ minds. But there are more real achievements to point to than four years ago - don’t take my word for it go to Polly Toynbee's column. At one residents meeting last month I felt I was in the ‘If Carlsberg did…’ ad. In response to questions the Labour councillors were able to talk about: new kitchens and bathrooms, roofs and windows for council flats; the new leisure centre and swimming pool; the new health centre; better results and new buildings in local schools; new bus services; the new neighbourhood police team… Not that everything was going well, but there was plenty to point to that was improving the quality of life locally. I have heard less criticism of local councils at this election than any previous, but will that be enough to save Labour seats if there is a national swing to the other parties?
Thanks for the link to Toynbee's column, Andy. Somehow I missed it. It's exactly the kind of tongue-up-Blair's-arse that she has mastered, and of which I complained in yesterday's post. Read it and weep. Anyway, the rest of what Slaughter says above is the Kitty Ussher tactic: tell the voters that you can't understand why people think Labour's going to lose when everything's going so well. I think Slaughter and Ussher (sounds like a firm of funeral directors, doesn't it?) know damn well why there's going to be a catastrophe tomorrow. It's the old sleight of hand thing, again - "don't look over there, look over here, no, here, don't look around my eyes..."

And here's the master stroke; his final paragraph:
The problem is some voters use local elections not to decide who should run local services but to give a progress report on the Government (shocking, I know). While I would not try to deny that there are some little national difficulties, I also feel both public and politicians are being set up. The media is bored with Blair as PM, they want to get on to Brown v Cameron, and they see bad local election results as their best chance of tipping over the Blair bandwagon at last.
Little national difficulties??? And what's all this about blaming the media? The media is bored with Blair? How about every fucking British citizen is sickened with Blair and his neo-fascist policies? How about every other Labour supporter is seething with ill-repressed fury that this vile, patronising man has taken our party and shoved it so far to the Right it's about to fall off the edge of the world? How about I'm fucking glad you're not my MP any more, Andrew Slaughter?


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Ciao, tosser


Well, at least one complete bastard has had the decency to resign.


The Victorian lesbian strikes again


It's local elections day on Thursday, and our annual opportunity not just to give Blair a bloody nose but to stick him in the morgue (note to any policemen, security officials or Home Office employees reading: this is irony, OK? Mind you, I'm safe from their prying eyes for a while, as I'm a British citizen and therefore not a priority at the moment).

Understandably, as Davide has already pointed out, Labour are desperate to deflect attention away from their crises at national level and to argue that the campaign is purely about 'local issues'. They're also desperate to frighten their supporters into voting for them no matter what, by conjuring up spectres of something far, far worse, as I've noted before.

Whose turn is it among Blair loyalists on the back benches to attempt this futile sleight of hand? Step forward, Kitty Ussher, MP for Burnley (whose name is not, alas, Victorian slang for a lesbian, but it was a nice thought). Take a look at Kitty's article in today's Guardian.

Now, the Guardian is fast recasting itself as a mouthpiece for the New Labour project (good old Polly Toynbee is pushing her stupid nosepeg idea again - saying, in effect, "we know New Labour are shit, but vote for them anyway, because, hell, just do it; I can't think of any reason why you should, but look at them, the poor dears, they might not have a job on Friday". By the way, Polly, since you brought up the metaphor of Hitler's bunker, aren't you doing the Goebbels job of saying, "we may be surrounded on all sides and being virtually wiped out, but we'll come through and turn the tables, you'll see". Perhaps you haven't seen Downfall - it's jolly good. Might get you thinking.)

Anyway, back to Kitty. Apparently, everything in the garden's Red Rosey:
If you believe everything you read in the papers, it's all going to be a disaster. All I can say is I'd like to invite the people who write the papers to join me knocking on some doors in Burnley. Sure, it isn't all a bed of roses, but it certainly isn't (famous last words) in any senses a meltdown.
The justification for Kitty's optimism? No one's talking about Prescott, Hewitt or Clarke on the doorsteps, she claims. Even assuming that Kitty is talking to real voters and not some reality-starved glass-eyed party loyalists, people aren't going to say to her face something like, "I was all set to put my cross next to Labour with enthusiasm, but when Prescott dropped his trousers I immediately thought, no, I'm not having this, I'm switching to the Tories". As Polly herself reports (Polly? Kitty? Have we been over-run by pets? Perhaps we have - so craven has the Guardian become that we might as well rename every columnist Fido), voters react to Labour with sullen silence or laughter. They don't rationalise their voting decisions based on one incident. The disenchantment with New Labour started years ago, long before the Prescott affair hit the papers, long before Hewitt was barracked, long before Clarke decided he was competent enough to sort out a mess of his own making.

Kitty goes on to plug the 'local issues' line:
You cannot dispute the investment my town is currently receiving. A new leisure centre, a new health centre with new NHS dentists in it, sure start rolling out. Hundreds of millions committed and being spent to sort out our sub-standard housing, with house prices at last rising again as a result. Regeneration projects on the old canals finally coming on stream. Five brand new secondary schools given the go-ahead. Exam results better. Plans to have a new retail centre with the high-street brand shops Burnley needs and wants coming to town. A new hospital building, delivered on time and to budget. Waiting lists down, life expectancy up. Add it all up and it comes to half a billion pounds over the next few years. And that's just in my constituency.
It's an age-old device of political talk that, when you can't think of what to say, you start listing. But let's leave that aside. What Kitty fails to do is to show that there is a connection between what she says is happening in her constituency and the voters' perception of it. She forgets that people use local elections to judge the parties nationally. They don't look at a new leisure centre in the town and think, "cor, Tony Blair must have organised this building personally, I'm definitely going to vote Labour now". They see the things that are going well, but they don't credit national government with it. What we're left with is a list of vague achievements which Kitty sees and marvels at, but people on the ground barely notice (at least in any political sense). Pleading with your voters to ignore all the fuck-ups and "look at the wuvly new swimming pool" is shameful and insults their intelligence and perception.

Undaunted, Kitty plays the other trump card (not seeing that its face value has diminished rapidly): the good ol' BNP. Except, apparently, they're nothing to worry about, either. Careful, Kitty, aren't you going off-message?
I'm fairly confident we'll beat them then. Their popularity has peaked. They were on a roll a couple of years ago but when people realised that they had nothing constructive to offer [...] that support ebbed away just as fast as it had arrived. They're still a large part of the political landscape but they just don't have that kind of fashion appeal that they used to.
Fashion appeal? Oh, so people voted BNP because it was fashionable? Blimey, that Nick Griffin, he's the new Brad Pitt.

Actually, what's probably going on here is the kind of reverse psychology that Curious Hamster once referred to with reference to the government's warnings about the terrorist threat (can't find the post, CH, help me out if you get a chance): only start worrying when they tell you there's nothing to worry about. The government magnifies the threat of terrorism (which is not to deny the reality of 7/7) in order to conceal the fact that the threat is not all that great, and their anti-terrorist measures are not really called for. In the same way, the government has tried to magnify the threat posed by the BNP in order to scare its supporters into voting after all. The fact that people like Kitty are trying to be reassuring suggests that the threat is real and that Burnley Labour councillors are deeply concerned. So they bloody well should be - not because of the BNP, but because their dipstick MP is writing mindless crap like this.

Weather forecast looks good for Thursday. Expect a high turn-out. Of Tories, that is.


Monday, May 01, 2006

A Brown stain at the bottom?


I haven't posted much on the government's current troubles, partly because of the holiday weekend, partly because others have done it better and partly because I was waiting to see how things panned out. But there's something very interesting in all this, isn't there? It's not just an aimless government coming painfully to the end of its natural life in much the same way that the Major adminsitration did. The comparison with Major only works completely if one assumes that, say, Michael Heseltine had been waiting in the wings to take over from Major for years.

What's the one thing that unites the sudden avalanche of stories about Cabinet ministers fucking things up (literally, in one case)? Hewitt whimpers that the barracking at the RCN conference was 'organised'. Of course it was bloody organised - and very nicely, too! Anyway, it was her fault, she said they "might as well just shout at [her]". All this stuff about foreign prisoners has been going on for years, but suddenly it hits the news and Clarke wakes up from his post-prandial slumber, murmurs "what's happening?" and comes within a handshake of losing his ministerial car, only keeping his job thanks to some last minute obfuscation of the details (three weeks may not sound very last-minute, but that's a blink of an eye in the civil service). Similarly, Prescott's affair has been an open secret since it began, but never made the news.

What links Hewitt, Clarke, Reid (see below) and Prescott? Blairites all (although Prescott is said to straddle both camps). At a time like this one has to ask cui bono? Who stands to gain? The Tories, yes, although they could have gained from general government unpopularity anyway (or could if they weren't still such a lacklustre bunch). But the more likely beneficiary is Brown and his allies. Four (all right, three and a half) Blairites embarrassed simultaneously, a week before the local elections which may decide the future of Blair? Labour MPs lining up to press for a leadership challenge if things go badly on Thursday? Surely this is the first public shot fired by Brown at his own side.

But New Labour are even more skilled at media manipulation. Yesterday's news was full of Tracey and her gob full of Prescott's nob (sorry if you've just had lunch, send me your dry-cleaning bills), which left little time for Fungus the Bogeyman and none at all for Hewitt. Prior to that, there was a little flurry about a bit of dirt at John Reid's house, although that turned out not to be a reference to Dr Reid himself. Just the way New Labour would have wanted it - get the hopeless Hewitt off the front pages, buy some time for the Safety Elephant and let the two Johns take it on the chin. Let's face it, Tony's boys say to themselves, we've never liked Prescott anyway, let's hang him out for the slings and arrows. Bollocks to this idea that he's going to 'manage' the transfer of power, we're not going anywhere. As for Reid, he embarrassed us about smoking, let's get our own back.

(Questions hang over that Reid story: apparently the cannabis was found during a "routine sweep". If it had been there for 20 years, why hadn't it been discovered in similar sweeps? If it was 20 years old, it would have looked like a bit of dust - so why was it picked out and tested? Does it have anything to do with this man? John Reid's wife is a film-maker; I hate to malign my fellow professionals, but perhaps some of her friends came round for a 'party' one night, and forgot something? This is a story masquerading as a non-story masquerading as a story. I smell a New Labour rat: put out a mildly embarrassing story about a Cabinet minister, let another mildly embarrassing story run - both stories concerning things which the voting public don't feel warrant resignation by themselves - and cover up the genuine incompetence. There are more layers to this than your average pickled onion. Unless that onion's just been eaten by Fungus, of course.)

What we're witnessing here is a ruinous turf war between the two camps, who have both been simmering for years and years. Blair's down, his days are numbered, but no one knows what the number is. Tone himself wants to out-reign Thatcher, go the full twelve years. Brown's the only man who can win a fourth term (he still polls better than Cameron in some respects). With all this fighting on board, it's likely one of the two factions will blow a hole in the side and the entire ship will go down. Cameron may find himself in Number Ten without having to make any effort at all.

[EDIT: Handy summary of all the action from Davide Simonetti and how Blair has literally fucked everything up over at Backing Blair. Plus a list of links at Rachel's.]