Thursday, November 29, 2012


Top Tories Reject UKIP Pact, Despite its Ominous Progress

It's been a good week or two for the (unfortunately) irrespressible Nigel Farage and UKIP; its progress has been one of the more interesting aspects of our polity over the last few months. It wasn't just the bouffant haired Michael Fabricant who has suggested an electoral pact with UKIP, Daniel Hannon, the Tory MEP has also mooted the idea, fearful that the pincer movement on its rightwing might drag enough voters away in 2015 to deny his party the overall majority they so crave. Certainly the mood of the nation is propitious, with over half favouring withdrawal from the EU in a recent poll.

Fabricant, favourite butt of Simon Hoggart sketch jokes, thinks such a pact will haul in up to 40 seats which might otherwise be lost. The psephologist John Curtice thinks this an exaggeration: He thinks 7% of those who voted Tory in 2010 would now vote Farase, partly, he argues because such disillusioned folk could not dream of voting Green or BNP, so it has to be UKIP which has now equipped itself with a more comprehensive rightwing set of ideas. After polling over 14% in the Corby by-election, it would be fair to reecognise UKIP has left the fringe and joined the mainstream, regularly now polling more than the Liberal Democrats.  

However the suggested pact was dismissed with some disdain by the Daily Telegraph and the rest of the  Tory high command. Party chairman Grant Schapps was unequivocal:

   : "I want to win the next election outright of course for the Conservatives so that we have an outright majority and we don't have to be in coalition. But I want to do that with Conservative candidates fighting and winning on their own ground and on their own terms and that is exactly what we are going to do. So I can categorically rule out any form of electoral pact with Ukip or anyone else."

According to the Economist, despite the surging poll ratings, all is not necessarily well in the UKIP camp:

"UKIP’s growing media profile obscures the complex psychodramas and organisational chaos below the surface. A former adviser describes a hollowed-out structure with few engaged members, opaque finances and little internal democracy, ascribing the party’s successes to “force of charisma, standing out from the dullards and being in the right place at the right time”. Nikki Sinclaire, an MEP who resigned the party whip, describes it simply as “Stalinist and unprofessional”.

However, despite the disdain and the possible 'Stalinist' ambience (I I can imagine Nigel is a difficult man to disagree with), I reckon Mickey Fabricant's cunning plan might well be dusted down as 7th may 2015 approaches, and if the outcome is in doubt, looked at much more favourably. In extremis the Tories are always nothing if not ruthlessly pragmatic. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Cameron's Hiring of Crosby an Act of Desperation

David Cameron's enlistment of the Aussie Lynton Crosby, poached from Boris Johnson's successful mayoral campaign,looks shrewd at one level for three reasons. Firstly, Crosby did well to rein in his unguided missile of a mayoral candidate, to eschew a 'multicultural' appeal to a mixed race London in favour of outer suburban white Tories and thereby overcome a formidable Labour candidate in a city which actually is predominantly Labour. Secondly, the 2010 campaign by the Tories, was a bit of a turkey as Michael Ashcroft,not to mention the serried ranks of the party's right-wing, are not afraid of saying and repeatedly at that.

Crosby is said to prefer traditional themes and aiming at the core vote; he had no time at all for Steve Hilton and all that Big Society nonsense. Thirdly, Crosby is an Aussie and, as cricketer-lovers know, they hate losing more than anything else in the world. Against the odds, he won four successive elections for the Australian Liberal-National prime minister, John 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2004
So, is it a pat on the back for Dave?

Only time will tell, of course. But there is a downside to the decision. Firstly he will mightily piss-off his eminence gris, campaign mastermind, strategist in chief and  close friend George Osborne. Secondly, Crosby master-minded Michael Howard's campaign in 2005 and, you might recall, did not do too well against an unpopular government wracked by a mega-split between PM and Chancellor. His 'dog whistle' line of 'are you thinking what we are thinking?' aimed at anti-immigration sentiment, I personally thought devilishly clever but it flew like the proverbial lead balloon.  Cameron is clearly rattled as the economy refuses to heal with any robustness and the vision of victory is overlaid by the smirking visage of Nigel Farage. 

You could quite justifiably see Crosby's contract as an act of desperartion. The Tories have been aching to win the overall majority they think they should have won in May 2010 but they are aware off the long-standing poll lead Labour enjoy, the dirty work of spending cuts still to be done and the massive threat posed by UKIP on their right flank. This is a sign Dave is going for the no hold barred approach of abandoning the detoxification he engineered quite bravely after 2005 and going for the visceral themes of demonising Labour and its leader, stressing law and order plus hinting broadly at withdrawal from Europe. And, of course, getting really tough on immigration, however loudly  business might complain.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Political Engagement

It stands to sense that democracy is founded upon the condition that voters care enough about it to participate, at least to the extent of voting. Yet we see a decline in voting at General Elections which seems possibly terminal, a shrinking of party membership which makes those 'small platoons' even smaller and a record low turnout in the recent PCC elections of 15%. The by-election in Manchester Central, I was pleased to see returned the excellent Lucy Powell, but on a turn-out of a mere 18.6%. Even the key Corby by-election failed to interest over half the voters in that constituency.

Reasons for this phenomenon have been adduced form across the gamut of human behaviour and human nature: government is too remote from us; we can't believe voting will make a difference; parties are too much alike; there are too many leisure choices these days for people to find the time or motivation; politicians have sullied their good name irrevocably by their squabbling and venality.

In his piece today Andrew Rawnsley offers another explanation. He suggests we are just too effing lazy (my 'effing' there, not his). Well it seems we can vote in greater numbers for Nadine Dorries to eat Ostrich anus and be buried under sackfuls of horrible creepy crawlies, but we do not consider it important voting to make our own government accountable. Human nature is hard to fathom, as Rawnsley discusses. Maybe government is too remote and voters are unable to make much of a difference, but when given a chance- to adopt a reformed voting system as in May 2010, we deliver an emphatic no; when given a chance to elect local mayors, we say no; to elect regional assemblies, we say no.

Could it be that democracy, the jewel in the crown of western civilisation since the Greeks, is slowly coming to its sell-buy date? If so, how can we prevent self interested rogues from seizing hold of government and inflicting upon us the horrors and privations to which history generously attests? Maybe this will have to happen before we truly appreciate how essential, of such prime importance is our ownership of the vote.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


So Britain Has Used Torture Routinely in the Past? It Would Seem Sadly Beyond Doubt

I've never thought myself especially naive about the evil things politicians can persuade themselves are justified, but I have always retained a faith in the British sense of kindness to those in need and fundamentally humane approach to the world. Silly me!

On 8th October George Monbiot in The Guardian, reported recent revelations, based on archival research in the National Records at Kew which revealed the techniques used by British forces in attempts to neutralise the Mau Mau in Kenya, during the 1950s:

“Many tens of thousands were detained and tortured in the camps. I won't spare you the details: we have been sparing ourselves the details for far too long. Large numbers of men were castrated with pliers. Others were raped, sometimes with the use of knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels and scorpions. Women had similar instruments forced into their vaginas. The guards and officials sliced off ears and fingers, gouged out eyes, mutilated women's breasts with pliers, poured paraffin over people and set them alight. Untold thousands died.”

He goes on to argue that racism- a belief in European superiority to African and Asian peoples was at the heart of the effort to justify Empire.

The book by Ian Cobain (2012) Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture,(Portobello), elaborated on the fact that Britain had used torture as a matter of routine. As Tim Raiment writes in his review of the book in the Sunday Times, 11th November(he could have been writing about me):

‘Every country tells itself stories. The British narrative is about decency and fair play. We queue politely, protect the weak and respect the rule of law. Words such as brutal, ruthless, cruel and unjust do not apply to the British.’

Cobain’s book however, details how Britain maintained regular locations in London and elsewhere around the empire, for the systematic torture of people believed to hold information useful to the security of the British state. MI5 and MI6 officers during the Blair-Brown years were told to ‘weigh the importance of information being sought against the degree of pain a prisoner will suffer…’  ‘That the British are brazen liars’ comments the reviewer, ‘is the most interesting theme in this book.’   All of this activity was kept secret. When the British were accused of complicity in flying Guantanamo suspects to countries where torture was not illegal and having British officers on hand to ask the questions while someone else, so to speak, applied the electrodes. Jack Straw vehemently denied anything like this happened when he was Foreign Secretary; this book’s implication is that Straw was, on such occasions, a liar. I wonder if he will repeat his assurances regarding the cleanliness of our hands regarding torture, in the light of this eveidence.

Five Techniques: these comprise the foundation tools of torture:

‘combining starvation, sleep deprivation, hooding, an incessant hissing sound and being forced to stand in a stress position in a formula that creates terror and long term psychological damage while leaving no marks of to embarrass us in court.’

In June 1972 the Joint Intelligence Committee sent new interrogation guidelines  to the Ministry of Defence, the |Home Office and MI6. They stated that in peace or war detainees were’ not to be subjected to torture, or cruel inhuman or degrading treatment.’ There were, however, two parts to the directive. A secret Part II, saying in effect to carry on as before, was distributed in draft form. Keeping it in draft enabled officials to claim that no further instructions regarding interrogation had been approved. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012



Where now fror Grand Old Party?

Naturally, I'm delighted at the win for Barack Obama in Tuesday's election. Certainly he underachieved during his four years in the White House and, arguably, his somewhat cerebral, maybe aloof style prevents him from engaging in the back slapping, arm twisting negotiating  processes required to persuade Congressmen, especially Republican ones, that they should allow his bills through Congress. On the other hand Republicans have been intractably obtuse and impossible to persuade, creating the gridlock which restricted Obama's legislative record..

 Giles Whittel in The Times, 7th November recalled the meeting of the 15 most senior republican Congressmen in the Caucus Room Steakhouse the day after Obama won in 2008.  They resolved to oppose every single one of the new president’s policies, including those aimed at rescuing  and economy losing 750,000 jobs per month. As they left the meeting Newt Gingrich pronounced, ‘You will remember this as the day the seeds of 2012 were sown.’ Sadly for his party, Newt was dead right. 

His party's refusal to do business with Obama and its Tea Party flight from reality put Romney in a difficult position. Even his excellent showing against a subdued Obama in the first TV debate, could not erase the appalling twists and turns required to win the nomination of his too far to the right party and then his need to appear moderate and sensible for the national contest. The second major reason for his defeat, as Senator Lindsay Graham complained is that 'there are not enough angry white guys' to sustain the Republicans' bid for power. Demographically the Hispanics and Asians are increasing their numbers though immigration and much higher birth rate, than the white population.At the moment the GOP seems to be excluding itself from power through a refusal to perceive America is becoming less white and very much more brown.      

Connected with this is the third reason: given the need to engage with the Hispanic voter Republicans could not bring themselves even to be civil. Romney even suggested illegal Hispanics 'self deport'. I ask you.
Fourthly and decisively, the GOP neglected a key group: unmarried women. Comprising a quarter of voters- big slices of the black and Hispanic vote- they went for Obama by the huge margin of 38%. 

So what should Republicans do? Ever since they lost in 2008, the GOP has been a bit like the British Conservative Party after May 2010: it could not accept that it had not won. This is quite a handicap if it leads you into the wild excesses of Donald Trump's 'Birther' delusion and it could be this will continue. Some Republicans seem stunned, unable to believe they have lost. Trump even called, virtually for a revolution. And, to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if some kind of direct action extremism embracing the idea of armed insurrection, actually begins to emerge.Their best bet is to follow the Tory Party's lead. They lost in 1997, 2001 and 2005 because they refused to accept the country as it had become. The Cameron to be fair hauled them back into the centre ground- even though he was probably insincere and seems now to have reneged on his tack to the centre. Republicans have to accept the wisdom of their own constitution and adapt themselves to what the majority of US voters want.    

Tuesday, November 06, 2012


Please God The Daily Mail's Vision for this Country is Never Realised

I only occasionally read The Daily Mail but recognise its clever mix of celebrity gossip and human interest stories explains why it has been one of the few elements of the print press which has prospered over the last decade. But yesterday I actually read a column by the lugubrious Simon Heffer and realised just how far apart my vision for a desirable UK is from his. Writing from New York, he bemoans the fact that we lack the wonderful choice American voters face today:

The choice is stark. It is between continuing a journey towards European-style statism and welfarism, which is what Obama is offering if he is re-elected, or reducing the size of the state and encouraging enterprise and individual responsibility, which is at the core of Mr Romney’s programme.

He also enthuses about the choice on offer regarding right or leftwing social values:

It is also a choice between more social liberalism – such as homosexual marriage – or reverting to a conservatism rooted in Christianity and traditional family values.

By comparison he thinks we have no choice at all. Well, why stop at Romney? Why not go the whole Tea Party hog and embrace the nuttiness of Sarah Palin and the loathsome freakshow on display during the Republican primaries?

To recast Heffer's question, how about seeing the choice as one between the stability and support for the disadvantaged you find in countries like Sweden and Denmark and the continuation of an America in which the average wage of most workers has stayed static for three decades while that of the richest 1% has rocketed beyond the wildest dreams of the Carnegies and Rockefellers of a century ago. Where poverty constantly fuels crime producing by far the biggest incarceration levels of any country in the world? 

And do we really want such a stark choice between right and left? Between say Nigel Farage and the Worker's Revolutionary Party? Wow! Give me Dave versus Ed any day rather than that. Once you also read Melanie Phillips' effusions, you realise that planet Daily Mail, despite its cheerful content and robust sales, is politically a universe away from any world we actually inhabit. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012


Skyfall Shows us an Uber Patriotic Bond

I've never been much of a Bond fan; since Gold-finger I've found the plots dire, the acting risible and the special effects mostly boring. I started watching Casino Royale, admittedly on a plane and, for a combination of all the above reasons, especially the lest, switched off after fifteen minutes. But with Sam Mendes directing, I thought Skyfall worth a try and really enjoyed it last night. It actually has a skilfully crafted plot, (unbelievable of course, but this is a film thriller after all), there is less emphasis on clunky sex scenes and those even clunkier double entendres.

The film last nearly two and a half hours but my bum- my barometer of enjoyment during long films- did not begin to ache until well over the two hour mark. And we actually see some acting, a rare occurrence in a Bond film hitherto, from Craig himself, Judi Dench inevitably, Ben Wishaw certainly and the splendidly villainous villain, Javier Gardem. But I noticed another powerful theme in the film: it was very British- almost all the actors were home based- most of the locations were British, and it was also a very patriotic film rooted in the present political context.

We learn that Bond, far from fulfilling the stereotype of being cynical, hedonistic and self seeking has a profound and genuine love of his country.  Furthermore, at the committee hearing at which MI6 competence is being criticised Judi Dench's 'M' defiantly quotes Tennyson' poem Ulyssses:

"We are not now that strength which in old days 
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are--- 
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Given the threat posed by Gardem's psychotic master high-tec terrorist, and the depredations of terrorist hits in the recent past, this quotation drew upon ancient national folk-lore of resilience in the face of great peril, whether from Napoleon, Hitler or, as in the case of this narrative, crazed terrorists. 'Crazed', note, but not religious: Gardem's villain is no Muslim, just another in the line of megalomaniac baddies, like Dr No, Gold-finger or the cat-loving Ernst Stavro Blofeld..

Why the overt patriotism? Maybe to resonate with a very patriotic year of sporting achievement? Maybe to celebrate the Queens 60th anniversary of her accession? Maybe Mendes is a very gung ho Brit? News to me if he is. Or maybe British film-makers have caught the Hollywood habit of bigging up their home country. I do hope not.

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