Daily Archives: 5 November 2007

Conspiring with lefties

This evening I attended the launch party of the Liberal Conspiracy, the latest brainchild of Sunny Hundal of Pickled Politics fame. Sadly, they didn’t supply us with sparklers or have any of those rubbishy indoor fireworks you used to be inflicted with at children’s parties, but a fun time seemed to be had by all.

As far as I can tell, I was the only Lib Dem there; to what degree I was the only Lib Dem who attended or the only Lib Dem who was invited was not clear, although I understand that a lot of people were at the Hackney Empire.

Sunny’s ambition is to produce nothing less than the hub of the liberal-left. First impression? It includes a lot of people I like and respect, but seems to lean more towards the left than the liberal, and that this is reflected by their ideals as well.

For example, the FAQ states:

You can join in as long as you somewhat share our broad goals and aims (social justice, equality, eradicating poverty etc.)

Where’s the emphasis on liberty? And:

The Labour party may represent the best vehicle for our political goals as they are in power, but our allegiance is towards liberal-left policies and ideas than specific parties.

Sure it may, but it may not. The inference I read in that statement is that the Labour party does represent the best vehicle for the liberal-left. From what I’ve seen so far, the left tail is very much wagging the liberal dog; indeed, their definition of liberalism doesn’t appear to get much more sophisticated that the Nick Cohen-esque critique of it meaning little more than moderate and middle class. Not so much a political philosophy as a belief in the importance of being nice.

The thing is, that’s almost the same definition of liberalism that I’m pretty certain David Cameron is thinking of when he calls himself a liberal conservative.

As for me, I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently and am reconciled to the fact that I am leftwing. I’ve been resistant to this, partly because it gets ingrained into you during your Liberal Democrat indoctrination that the party defies such lazy characterisation. At my first LDYS conference, Simon Hughes went on about how the party was “not left, not right, but forward!” I think I’ve heard him make the same speech at least once a year ever since.

Ultimately, equality is a leftwing concept and I believe in equality. As we’ve seen on this blog, it isn’t a concept that is without controversy within the Lib Dems. I plan to be returning to it soon following Andy Mayor’s laying down of the gauntlet this weekend (I have to say that I find it ironic being accused of being a paid up member of the “Church” of Leftology from someone who is demonstrably a member of the long dead cult of Manichaeism*, but that’s par for the course I suppose).

But even someone who is as unforgiveably leftwing in Andy’s eyes as myself believes that in the final analysis equality must always be subordinate to liberty. I wonder if the Liberal Conspirators feel the same way? Is it, in short, really liberalism – left or otherwise – that they really want?

I’m hopeful that they do. Sunny has showed himself to be on the side of liberalism time and again in recent years. If they plan to make progress, the robustness of liberalism will beat the mushiness of moderatism hands down, and we shouldn’t read too much into an FAQ on day one of a project. Lib Dems (of a liberal-left persuasion of course) could do worse than to help them hone themselves, and we know a thing or two about campaigning as well.

* I’m in despair at Lib Dems at the moment who seem determined to dumb down. The response on Lib Dem Voice to Chris Huhne’s interview on GMtv was to crow about his use of the word Gadarene. Many of his sternest detractors were Oxbridge graduate public schoolboys for fuck’s sake.

If you watched that interview unsuspectingly on the telly, I doubt you would even be aware of Huhne making a Biblical reference. I may have my criticisms of Huhne’s campaign and ability to communicate, and I know that to an extent this is Clegg-heads playing games but is it really so outrageous for party leaders to occasionally let it slip that they are rather more widely read than Janet and John?

Plus, nobody laughed at my bacon joke which was frankly fantastic. Philistines**.

** Presumably in Clegg-head Wonderland, that is too elitist a reference as well.

A case of overclegging the pudding

Bold words from Young Master Clegg in his campaign email today:

On our core liberal issues, I believe we must be bold. We must take our ideas, and turn them into action. This week I took the first step: we have always opposed identity cards but I became the first national politician to pledge to refuse to register, and risk going to court for my principles.

This blog doesn’t make a habit of saying nice things about Simon Hughes, but doesn’t he beat Cleggy on this score by at least two years? Indeed, I seem to recall him making much out of it during the last leadership election.

The second NO2ID pledge also lists Matthew Taylor MP and Nick Harvey MP. I’m sure people with more time on their hands could probably come up with others.

Taking a principled stance is fine and dandy, but let’s not get carried away shall we?

Elizabeth: The Golden Age – too much wind

I loved Elizabeth, the original Shekhar Kapur / Cate Blanchett film. Sure it was historically inaccurate, but it was done with such aplomb. Basically the film was The Godfather Part I in a frock.

So I was expecting Elizabeth: The Golden Age to be the Godfather Part II. Sadly, it was rather closer in quality to Part III, with the excrutiating romantic subplot, but without the downbeat ending. At least no-one makes pasta at any point.

First of all, the two most interesting and potentially cinematic aspects of this period of Elizabeth’s life were the rivalry with Mary Queen of Scots and the Armada. Neither of these are handled particularly well. What we get instead is a silly romantic triangle between Elizabeth, her lady in waiting Bess Throckmorton and (Sir) Walter Raleigh. Raleigh is an interesting figure in his own right, but hardly a central part of Elizabeth’s life, so it is questionable why he is included at all. Worse still, he is elevated to the status of Greatest Living Englishman, singlehandedly discovering America, defeating the Spanish and (almost) bedding the Virgin Queen. Legend aside, only the former has any basis in fact. Francis Drake is reduced to a two line, two scene part, ceding his role entirely to Raleigh (they should have gone the whole hog, Monty Python style and referred to him as “Sir not appearing in this film”). I’ve got only one word for that: bowls.

As for Elizabeth, Blanchett remains a fantastic actress and does the best with what she’s been given. But ultimately, the characterisation of her is unbelievably crass; it boils down her being a middle aged woman in dire need of a shag. While this is a fairly interesting refrain up to a point, bringing Raleigh into the equation leads to the film getting swamped in melodrama. Poignancy is sacrificed in favour of operatics.

As for Mary, while she is ably performed by Samantha Morton, she is given almost nothing to do. I would suggest that this should have been the central relationship in the film, yet Elizabeth’s initial refusal to execute her and final acceptance that she should is got out of the way in the course of a single scene, all tension lost. At least she gets a good death scene, dolled up to look all the world like Björk.

The film alleges that the Babington Plot was botched deliberately to force Elizabeth to execute Mary and thus give the Spanish a pretext to invade. But the more famous conspiracy theory – that Walsingham framed Mary to get her out of the way – would have been much more interesting to film (Walsingham in general is presented in a remarkably sympathetic manner – he gets away with brutally torturing people and still gets to be the good guy – Donald Rumsfeld must love this film). Indeed, none of the court intrigue of the first film is retained – the conclusion we are invited to believe is that only Catholics are capable of such cloak and dagger stuff. Indeed, a more anti-Catholic film you are likely to be hard pressed to find. It’s almost like the English’s revenge for Braveheart (albeit directed by an Indian).

The final invasion is disappointing. This is one of the greatest sea battles in history; all we get are a few close up shots of sailors crawling around with missing limbs and Clive Owen looking all moody and heroic. What we wanted was something like a reined in version of the fight scenes in Pirates of the Carribbean; what we got was TV movie cheapness.

There’s a motif throughout the film of people going on about wind – obviously foreshadowing the events leading to the destruction of the Armada – but quite what point they are trying to make evades me. Sure, I get the fact that there was a “wind of change” going through Europe at the time, but I get the feeling they are trying to make some kind of more deeply profound point which I missed completely.

The first film ends on an ambiguous note, with Elizabeth adopting the persona of the Virgin Queen. This film ends with her effectively becoming the persona. This itself should be an ambiguous ending, but what happens is that the botched invasion convinces Elizabeth that she is chosen by God and she essentially is Born Again. Fair enough, but the director appears to agree with her; the wind that destroyed the Spanish fleet is all-but suggested to be the Holy Spirit Itself. Maybe it is my atheism showing through, but to conclude this is to paint Catholics as not only bad during this period of history, but as fundamentally Godless; this is a pretty brave theological statement. But it also makes for boring cinema. So you got lucky, Liz, get over yourself. Isn’t the randomness of history so much more interesting than lazy notions about destiny?

Ultimately, the core cast are excellent (apart from Clive Owen who is just Clive Owen), but the film is one long list of missed opportunities. Where the first film gave us shades of grey, here we have only black and white. Ultimately this smacks of a political agenda that simply gets in the way of what should have been an excellent film.