Monday 25 May 2015

Who is Charlie? And where are you going?

I didn't say anything about the Charlie Hebdo killings at the time because some things are so bloody obvious they shouldn't need to be spelled out.  You don't kill people over drawings is one.  For the record, I'll spell it out:


Beyond that, my limited awareness of Charlie Hebdo was a bit more ambiguous.  Their humour was always juvenile and I didn't like the enthusiasm with which they seemed to portray minority ethnic and cultural groups.  But I wasn't too fussed either way as it was an obscure French publication and unlikely to impinge upon my consciousness, far less my life.  That changed, of course in January.

Like all sensible people, I was horrified by the mass murder.  Refer to the golden rule above.  You don't kill people over drawings.  Not even bad one's which (to my untutored eye) most of the CH cartoons were - crudely executed. look-at-us-being-daring-and-challenging-and-pushing-the-boundaries stuff.  Like many things french, you couldn't escape the feeling that the cartoonists had never really left the senior common room at school, and weren't really aware tht they now lived in the real world, and their deliberate crudities and 'iconoclasm' was being published for all to see.  Though of course we allow any sort of vulgarity as long as it calls itself 'satire.'

I was angry about the Charlie Hebdo shootings, because you don't kill people over drawings, even if you really, really like the person in the drawings and think no-one should draw him.  People of all ilks need to understand their conscience terminates at the outer layer of their skin; they don't get to impose it on anyone, not even with bullets.

At the same time, I was angry at Charlie Hedbo as well, basically for entirely selfish reasons.  Their juvenile desire to push boundaries and be offensive to as many people as possible has managed to make the world a slightly more dangerous place.  Let's not exaggerate this.  Publishing a picture of Mohammed is not quite the same as funding militant groups in the 1980s or invading Iraq.  But it was a gratuitous attempt to stoke controversy and a fairly obvious appeal to the broad streak of racism and cultural xenophobia the imbrues Europe and to which the left is not immune.  As a result, the fanatics and haters were gifted ammunition (metaphorically - though the metaphor was tragically crystallized in a literal form in January) and the world is a slightly more angry, divided, us-versus-them place than it was.

Which brings me to an interesting profile of Charlie  Hebdo as it is now, published in the Guardian.

I recall, speculating at the time of the shootings, that I thought Charlie Hebdo would be gone within a year - while everyone wanted to be Charlie immediately afterwards, no-one would actually want to work there or have them operating out of their premises.  That still remains to be seen, but the portrait sounds a bit grim.

The other scenario I envisaged was a sharp move to the right, as Charlie's new found audience - those that stuck with it after the initial solidarity surge - would mostly be drawn from the Pam Gellar, mad-about-Muslims fringe of lunacy.  According to the profile:
Charlie Hebdo had a print run of between 24,000 and 50,000 copies a week. But its “survivors’ edition” published after the attacks sold 8m copies and weekly sales are expected to stabilise at at least 100,000. It now has 200,000 pre-paid subscribers, compared with 8,000 before the attacks, and sales profits since January stand at around €12m before tax.
That's a big, new audience, and their political persuasions are unknown.  But I would be interested in knowing how many of them are actually French, and how many overseas; how many actually read it because they are passionate supporters of free speech, or very interested in the satirical portrayal of French and European politicians and issues, and how many are buying it in the hope CH will say something rude about Muslims.  In other wards, a rough parallel with the Islamic hate-mongers who circulated the originate obscure and naff cartoons and kept impinging them on the consciousness of the unhinged.

I suspect the long term prospects for CH are not good.  Even if they manage to resolve their internal differences (and they won't, I suspect, as there is too much money involved, and they didn't before when there was less money to squabble over), there is still the nagging issue of going to work every day wondering if today is the day for rough three of Charlie vs Allah.  And even if it does survive - and I've been wrong about most of my postulations this year, so I don't see why I should break my remarkable run of form - the magazine may have to change to meet its audience, shedding whatever left wing credentials it ever had to pander more and more to the mad hater bigots that are buying it.

Saturday 23 May 2015

Truly Depressing

Yesterday a thought crossed my mind that was so appalling that I decided not to mention it to anyone for at least 24 hours so I could b sure it was a real notion and not just an emanation from a heat oppress'd brain.  Unfortunately, the grisly phantom refused to depart, in fact it seemed to grow more substantial.  And eventually I saw it clearly.  It was Alan Johnson, bearing the crown and septre of the Labour leadership.

Because, given the current crop of wannabe hopeless hopefuls, he really is likely to be the best choice as an interim leader while the Labour Party pulls itself together and works out its problems.

Still it is early days. Johnson isn't even a contender yet, and quite likely won't ever be. But given how Burnham and Cooper seem to be hoovering up the nominations of the (pitifully small number) of MPs, it seems unlikely any fresh face can hope to garner enough backing.

Whoever ends up as leader, they need to deal with the myth of overspending.   He or she must not be trapped into mealy mouthed condemnation of public spending that was quite justifiable. Labour did not wantonly overspend in the years up to 2008. Labour invested in schools and hospitals and infrastructure to make the lives of British people better. Tories can not attack Labour for this when the George Osborne said, in 2007, his party would match Labour's spending.

Not a word from Osborne then about the need to mend fiscal roofs and austerity. No prophetic warnings about imminent financial apocalypse. Just a pledge to spend as much as Labour, happily demolishing the roof - if you accept his new improved post GFC stance - to let more sunlight in.

Just as Tories can't complain about Labour's failure to adequate regulate the city when the same George Osborne - in 2006 - complained in a letter to the Telegraph about 'burdensome' regultion that 'threatens the global competitiveness of the City of London'

So let us hear no more hypocritical, disingenuous palaver about over-spending when the Tories were pledging to do exactly the same, or about failure to regulate the City when the Tories were arguing the regulations were too onerous.

Or - since the Conservatives will no doubt continue to bleat that chorus like the sheep in Animal Farm - at least let us not hear Labour leaders trying to deny that they over spent. Simply tell it like it was. Labour invested in the means for making Britain a better country and achieved far more than the current government of antediluvian dingbats, Europhobic madpeople, ideologically crippled malcontents and Ken Clarke can ever hope to do.

As for the myth of Conservative confidence, bear in mind the opposing plans to respond to the 2008 crisis.  Recall, if you will the Tory pledge to eradicate the deficit in a single term, and contrast Alastair Darling's more measured target of halving it in the same period.

The Tories failed to deliver their planned austerity, though. Osborne failed, but - wittingly or not - DID manage to achieve Alasdair Darling's goal of halving the deficit in 5 years. Which goes to show that the Darling Plan was the sane, sensible and honest one, if you must go down the austerity route. The country is still here, in spite of the right wing howls that Britain could not afford another five years of Labour.

In essence, Britain re-elected the Tories because Labour's plan worked.

Go figure.

Which brings us back to the mess of the Labour leadership.  Perhaps the biggest argument against Johnson (other than the fact he's a Blairite relic) is strategic. Cameron will likely seek to repeal the Fixed term Parliaments Act, giving him the choice of when an election is held. he - or his post-EU successor as leader - can then 'go short' and hold an election before his majority is whittled away, rather than hang on Major style in the hope that something will turn up.

So is no guarantee this parliament is going to last five years and allow a successor to emerge to fight in 2020. I imagine the EU referendum will mark the end of Cameron's reign. If he wins, he'll pronounce His Work Here Is Done and resign as PM. If he loses, he'll proclaim a new leader is needed to energise the party. Assuming BoJo or Georgie wins it, they call a snap election if they think they can win, "Too confirm our mandate," rather than making the mistake that Callaghan and Brown did.

So suddenly the 'interim' leader is fighting an election - which Labour will probably lose otherwise the Tories wouldn't call it - and Labour is back in the same situation - carry on with Interim Alan for another three years, or start the whole sorry process again.

Still, even Johnston would be better than Burnham or Cooper.

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Avaunt, and quit my sight!

From the Indie:
Ed Miliband pitted “one half of the nation against the other” in a “class war”, one of the masterminds of New Labour has said.

Writing for the US newspaper the New York Times, Lord [Peter] Mandelson said he believed Labour lost the general election because Mr Miliband abandoned the ‘one nation’ rhetoric of his earlier speeches.

“The bigger reason Labour lost the argument is that the British, on the whole, do not like income disparities being turned into class war,” the former business secretary said

“Earlier in his leadership, Mr Miliband fought on a platform of social justice and fairness, using the language of ‘one nation.’ In the campaign, he seemed intent on pitting one half of the nation against the other.”
Mandelson is a massive sucker of privilege so probably does feel he is the hapless victim of some communist inspired class war revolution fantasia. A ghastly spectre of an ancient era that will not let itself be consigned to the dustbin of history.  An unquiet spectre forever shaking its chains and gibbering.  He is also, of course, an idiot.

A mildly rightwing programme such as Labour proposed at the election - basically a slightly less vicious version of the Tory austerity fetish - is not class warfare.

Mandelson is a relic, and almost always wrong. In office, he achieved nothing more than exposing - multiple times, and unintentionally - the contemptible, despicable, power and money worshipping side of the New Labour project.

Why does he feel the need to carry on sticking his irrelevant oar into the business of a party that he has little real understanding of or interest in any longer?

Monday 11 May 2015

Oddly, I don't recall seeing them much BEFORE the election ...

But here they are, crawling out of the wood work immediately after their vote-shedding faces are no longer likely to jeopardise Conservative prospects.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr Michael Gove:

And by 'charged' I mean 'told to by David Cameron' not 'in legal trouble because of'!  Though you'd think taking a blow torch to the legal protection of British citizens might merit the latter sort of charging.

And here is Mr Iain Duncan Smith, showing Ed Miliband that there is life after losing the leadership:

Iain is clearly very happy.  And who can blame him for feeling chipper?  He's just been charged (again, in the 'told to by David Cameron' sense) with hacking a further £12 billion out of the welfare budget. Obviously, Iain isn't going to be feeling any of these cuts, otherwise he might not be looking quite so smug.

Saturday 9 May 2015

In Tony's Shadow

Well, there have been better nights in the history of the left.

First of all, I would like to point out that I was, of course, completely right.  While suggesting a potential Labour plurality of seats was a likely outcome, I was sensible enough to add the crucial rider that, "anything up to and including a slender Tory majority is still possible, based on just minor shifts."

So unlike Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, Jim Murphy, Ed Balls, Vince Cable, Charles Kennedy and many many others, I survive and with my reputation for prescience enhanced.  I may not be quite as good at calling elections as I thought I was, but I am good at covering my own arse.

Anyway, on to minor matters.

It was, without doubt, the most fascinating election since 1997.  And it managed to eke out it's drama to the very last few seats, when Cameron crept across the line and achieved a wafer thin majority.

Some thoughts.

First of all, commiserations to Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report.  He's been happily analysing and discussing polls from all parties for years, with an enthusiasm that even I find a little bit odd and unnerving.  He is always measured and thoughtful in his comments.  And, it turned out, completely wrong.  Not just him, but virtually every polling company as well, to the point where the few that might have been pointing to a Conservative surge looked like outliers.  If it is any consolation, he was working with evidence, and the evidence al pointed the way he said it did.  But it can't be fun watching your life's work go up in flames.  He's not the only one who endured that last night, of course, but the rest of them deserved it more, one way or another.

Second, a nod to Ed Miliband.  He's a decent man, but clearly, not the man needed.  He managed to be right on most issues and still lose.  It happens.  It must be galling to go through what he has done - the family trauma of his so-called 'betrayal' of his brother, the constant vilification in the press, the mockery and disrespect from his own party - and find it has all been for nothing.  Tactically, Labour fought a good campaign, strategically they lost this election about 20 years ago, when Tony Blair started his process of 'modernisation', dragging Labour to the right until it became the mess it is today.  Ed Miliband was praised for preserving unity after the 2010 defeat, keeping the left and the right of the Labour party together - but perhaps a more ruthless attitude towards the Blairite faction might have been preferable.  Too many of them were left to fester in high places.

Interestingly, for the first time in the history of things, perhaps, First Past the Post has delivered a representative result.  The combined Conservative and UKIP vote is about 50% of the total cast, and the Tories and UKIP hold about 50% of the seats.  The British people voted for a government of small minded, reactionary, xenophobic, economically illiterate, right wing buffoons, and that is what they got.  Still, this election has highlighted the screaming, desperate need for electoral change in Britain.  While I despise everything about UKIP, 3.7 million people voted for them, a massive increase on votes. But they managed to win just one seat, while less than 1.5 million voted for the SNP and they get 56. The Greens polled about as many votes as the SNP. And got one MP. Something has to change. Everyone, except the Tories, seems to understand this now. Scotland should not be virtually a one party state; The Greens and UKIP represent people whose voices should be heard, or people will continue to becom disengaged from politics; the political 'elite' can't be protected by an unfair anachronism of a voting system. Though as Labour found out last night, the protection is somewhat illusory.

There were many silver linings to be found amid the dark clouds that gathered last night.  First of all, the notion of the supposed political influence of Russell Brand will hopefully be consigned to the rubbish bin.  Let's never, ever, ever have to endure the sight of a Labour leader trying to win an endorsement from that self important, vacuous, hypocritical clown.  Second the Tories are effectively isolated.  No-one is going to go into coalition with them, ever, after seeing how the Lib Dems were punished by the electorate for this.  They have to win by themselves, and it looks like their final share of the vote in 2015 is 36.1%, virtually the same as in 2010.  They barely improved their standing with the electorate and I think this is their high water mark.  They are the party of the 36%, and the feeble majority Cameron obtained last night. His administration will be weak and ineffectual, plagued by rebellion and being dragged to the right by the gang of loons and xenophobic 'bastards' that made John Major's later years so miserable. And recall what happened after that miserable administration was put out of its misery. A Labour landslide and 13 years of opposition for the Conservatives, blocked from power by the combination of First Past The Post and Balirite cynicism.

There is a whiff of the mid-90s already about Cameron's new government.  A PM that no-one actually wants any more (even Cameron himself doesn't want to be PM), a dubious economy and the prospect of civil war in the party over Europe.  That 12 seat majority won't last long, and won't insulate him against any significant rebellion. Isolated from other parties terrified of catching the electoral plague that did for the Lib Dems so viciously, and with the British economy still looking a bit peaky, and the prospect of even more ghastly spending cuts to come over the next five years, as Osborne continues to hack away at the deficit that defeated him last time, in defiance of economic sanity, it seems likely Cameron's second term will be a painful one.

Still, a lot of the 'Old Guard' have gone, the Blairite poison is mostly flushed out of the system, though it is a shame that the patient has had such a hard tme of it. Because 2015 is very much the result made inevitable by Tony Blair's ascension to the leadership of Labour. And yet the Blairites never saw it, cawing after 2010 about how Labour won when it was New Labour, and lost when it reverted to Old Labour - as if there was any significant difference between the manifestos of 1997, 2010 and 2015. Blairism was sold as a process of modernising, which was essentially a hollowing out of the party, and an obsession with pleasuring the rich and powerful, followed by a cynical rejection of the democratic reform when it became selfishly expedient to do so. All those that lost last night did so in the shadow of Blairism.
... he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Many found their graves last night, honourable or dishonourable or indifferent.  Or to borrow another much quoted line about statues, "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.  Or to nick off with another bit of Will, the evil that men do oft lives after them.  Blair's baleful influence lives on, though perhaps now enough pain has been inflicted on Labour for them to realise it has had its day.  Or perhaps, lemming like, they will insist on being more like the Tories, more pro-business and cozy up ever closer to the right-wing media.  And continue to ignore the little people who are expected to actually vote for them.  Because, you know, that's what worked for Tony.

Looking ahead, it really does make you wonder how Labour rebuilds from here. Caroline Flint? Chukka Ummuna? Keir "But I only just became an MP!" Starmer? The talent pool was shallow when Ed was chosen. Now it it more a dried out waterhole with the bones of defunct animals in it. Dennis Skinner won Bolsover with more than 50% of the vote. Maybe he could be leader? I have a horrible feeling the Labour Party might go for Andy Burnham or Alan Johnston, the slimy Blairite relics. Or Chuka Ummuna, who looks and sounds suspiciously like Tony Blair re-imagined for the post 'Cool Britannia' Britain.

Today, I'm very glad I live in New Zealand.  I wish Britain well for the next five years, though you did kinda bring it on yourself, and I suspect good wishes may not help much.  And I'm not sure how much longer there will be a Britain to wish well to.

Friday 8 May 2015

Two minutes to Milinight?

Final Guardian / ICM poll shows Ed Miliband played his infamous 35% strategy to perfection:

Labour 35%
Tories 34%
Ukip 11%
Lib Dems 9%
SNP 5%
Greens 4%

If Labour 'win', it would be like Iain Duncan Smith winning back in the day when he was (briefly) Conservative leader - somewhat disturbing, more than a bit worrying, yet oddly reassuring that British politics isn't (yet) all about spin and superficial nonsense.

And on the subject of nonsense ...

Thursday 7 May 2015


The polls, essentially, are telling us nothing.

The key factor isn't going to be which party is a point ahead in the final day. When they are this close, the result will be down to who gets they vote out, and where the variations are.

Labour may punch above its weight a bit because its vote may feel more motivated to ... um ... vote. The Conservative vote probably doesn't have as much reason to get out - Cameron's campaign has been rubbish and negative and no-one really likes what he's offering. The rightwing vote will fracture in some critical seats, just like the left vote did in the 80s, allowing Labour and Lib Dem wins on poor vote share.

Scotland seems mysterious and ineffable. Anything like a clean sweep seems unlikely, though the SNP will make massive gains. I think there will be a god turn out in Labour's vote, and perhaps in the recent converts to Sturgeonism, there will be a reluctance to jeopardise Labour's chances of forming a government by forcing them into an awkwardness with the SNP ... But it is just a hunch.

So, with the expectation of being proved hideously wrong, here goes ...

Labour 281 (Based on getting more of their vote out)
Conservative 274 (Right wing vote wastage due to UKIP)
SNP 40 (I just can't believe the total annihilation the polls are predicting will happen. Does. Not. Compute.)
Lib Dem 30
Green 1
PC 4
Irish 18
UKIP 2 (Big vote, no seats. Gotta love FPTP!)

Which might put Labour+ LibDems JUST within reach of a majority without the SNP, based on Sinn Fein abstaining and the SDLP voting with Labour. Greens and PC as possible additional partners.

But anything up to and including a slender Tory majority is still possible, based on just minor shifts.


 From the Guardian : The  Observer  understands that as well as backing away from its £28bn a year commitment on green investment (while sti...