Monthly Archives: September 2008

Michael Gove is not having a threesome with me!

Just what is it about Tories and “families”? I for one recognise that having “family friendly” policies is both desirable and important but while Labour take that as a green light for interference, the Tories become obsessed with moralising. And interfering.

So it is that while David Willets is claiming that family breakdown is due to women becoming too big for their boots (er, the Bridget Jones generation was like 10 years ago), while Michael Gove goes one step beyond.

I don’t have a problem with increasing the number of health visitors per se (although I do have a big problem with yet another national politician seeking to micro-manage the NHS yet again), but what on earth is all this stuff about offering “counselling to couples about to get married”?

Apparently “people should not have to feel they were on their own when building a relationship” – er, excuse me but while polyamory is a perfectly valid lifestyle choice, I’m quite happen being “on our own” in my personal relationship thank you very much. I don’t need a state-sponsored person from a voluntary organisation on hand to proffer advice. Sheesh!

Who walks around saying “if only there was a third person in our marriage” (apart from Prince Charles of course)? If society really has collapsed to such an extent that people lack anything resembling a support structure via friends and family, we really do have much more fundamental problems than are being indicated here. If it hasn’t, then it is a non-issue. Which is it?

This sounds distinctly like one of those things like anti-social behaviour 12 years ago – an issue you never knew existed which politicians magic out of the air to have something to say but which soon becomes an “epidemic” and the subject of a moral panic. If you get to the point of getting married and have no idea of what you are letting yourself in for, a couple of counselling sessions are unlikely to help you. By contrast, if you think you need counselling you probably don’t – the path to wisdom is found acknowledging ignorance and all that. The voluntary sector already provides this sort of hand holding and there appears to be little evidence that, at this time of insecurity, this is even a real problem let alone a priority, so why bang on about it now?

What next? Hen and stag weekend planning services on the state? Free cake for every couple? An official to intervene if the father of the bride is not able to give her away for any reason (subject to a waiting list – with targets!)? If Gove doesn’t see this is an area for the state to back off, there’s no helping him.

But it does tell you all you need to know about the Tories’ attitude to love: one part financial arrangement, one part psychological disorder. That’s Eton for you.

Is groupthink really the correct response to financial meltdown?

David Cameron has announced his party will work with the government to tackle the continuing financial turbulence, whatever that means. Nick Clegg has apparently said much the same.

But is this really the correct response? There are certain instances – for example when the country is physically under threat at a time of war – when suspending party politics may be a good idea. But outside of such extreme cases, when has cross-party co-operation ever lead to good policy?

In the immediate aftermath of 7/7 and 9/11, opposition parties agreed to “work with the government” – the result has been a massive curtailment of civil liberties which continues unabated. Even though the opposition parties quickly regained their senses and resumed scrutiny of legislation relatively quickly, the agenda of detention without charge, identity cards and even internment was set. 2005’s “compromise” of setting detention without charge at 28 days was in many ways a tactical defeat on the part of civil libertarians.

Rolling further back, we have legislation such as the Dangerous Dogs Act – initiated due to a nation-wide panic. This is widely cited as a brilliant example of how badly Parliament can get things wrong, yet isn’t the ground being laid for similar poor groupthink?

It strikes me there is a massive ideological debate to be having at the moment. Outside of Parliament, the Keynsians are having a resurgence. But with all three parties signed up to a monetarist agenda and the drawbridge being self-consciously drawn up, will they even be heard? Regardless of the rights and wrongs of this or that economic society, surely at a time of FAIL we should be encouraging debate in an open society not battening down the hatches? It’s also pretty meaningless with Labour holding a majority in the Commons. Sure, the other parties have some influence in the Lords but it is distinctly limited.

So I’m afraid to say I’m quite, quite wary of this latest development. It is time for a massive ideological punch up in the Houses of Parliament not a group hug. The fact that this is the automatic reaction to every reaction suggests that our political system itself is broken in a way that isn’t the case even in the US.

Come on Nick, this is your big chance: don’t throw it away because of a desire to be establishment!

Was Monday the beginning of the end of the Cameron bubble?

By rights, it should have been. The Tories are in a total mess over the economy. I have to admit, I held my peace on Sunday over this idea about having the Bank of England step in when banks get in trouble. It sounded pretty much identical to what the government is doing now, only with even less oversight, but I felt that I must have been missing something obvious. 36 hours of listening to the empty soundbites emanating from the mouths of Cameron and Osborne and I can safely say it is every bit as vacuous a policy as I thought it was.

Ditto this idea for an Office for Budget Responsibility. We live in an era where the government ignores its own watchdog regarding compensating the people caught up in the Equitable Life scandal; why should they worry about another quango wagging its finger at it?

This issue also threatens to divide the party. Hardliners are unlikely to take this lying down. At a stroke, Osborne has directly contradicted two of the main principles behind Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell’s much vaunted “plan” – specifically:

* Devolving power to the lowest practicable level
* Replacing the quango state with genuine democracy

Quangos are now the panacea for everything while localism has been completely abandoned. As Carswell and Hannan like to remind people, they speak for a growing number of Tories these days, Tories who thought all that stuff about Cameron representing a new kind of Conservativism actually meant something. All that has been trashed now.

I actually got it wrong yesterday. I assumed that the Tories would underwrite a council tax freeze if inflation was running at 4-5%. Inflation may well be at that point if the Tories seize power at the next election (I hope not, but a massive interest rate cut now looks likely), yet Osborne only committed himself to a 2.5% freeze and even that was contingent on local authorities making cuts in their own public spending. So he isn’t willing to commit to public spending cuts at a national level but he is willing to impose them on perhaps the most efficient arm of the state, local government. Clue, anyone?

But perhaps the greatest indictment of the Tories on Monday was the video below. Highly reminiscent of Spinal Tap (note the shots of people sleeping during the speech – approx 1 min into the video), Osborne and Cameron manage to come across as feckless amateurs who are treating the whole thing like a jolly lark:

Seriously. Does anyone watch that video and not think “novices”?

See also: Sara Bedford, Jackie Ashley.

Lembit versus Lembit

Lembit OpikLembit is making a great deal out of the fact that he has more Facebook supporters than Ros Scott, which is fair enough. I’ve never bought into this idea that this election is a shoe-in for Ros Scott. He can also claim a mini-coup in the fact that Mark Littlewood has abandoned ship and is backing Lembit over and above his Liberal Vision colleague Chandila Fernando.

One thing that confuses me about the Lembit Facebook strategy though is how come he has two, apparently official Facebook groups? One has 516 members, the other features an official video. It’s almost as if they launched an official Facebook group but it was less successful than a disparate group of supporters who had managed to get more people to sign up in the same amount of time, so they abanoned ship. With the website change as well, it certainly does seem as if there has been a mini-coup d’etat within Team Opik. But if you have to save your candidate from himself, is he really worth saving?

Osborne calls for more centralisation

That is the effect of calling, similar to Alex Salmond, for a two year council tax freeze. Ploughing national revenue into local government may sound attractive in the short term, but in the longer term it means even less fiscal autonomy. Given this will be happening during a higher than average period of inflation, we’re talking about a real shift here. My rough calculations put that as representing local government going from raising £1 in every £4 it spends to nearer £1:£5. How can the Tories continue to claim to be localists?

High Speed Rail: Tories and Greenpeace are right

Theresa Villainous is absolutely correct to call for the cost of a third runway in Heathrow to be ploughed into a new high speed rail link between St Pancras, Manchester and Leeds. But Greenpeace are even more correct to say this:

“The true test of their commitment will come when, like the Liberal Democrats, this position is written into their manifesto.”

That’s cheers all round then.

The week Labour finally abandoned liberalism?

Last week I attended Labour’s autumn conference as an exhibitor. These are my thoughts on how it went.

By Labour’s own standards, they have had a good conference – but it is a sign of how far they have fallen that those standards were so low.

Simply put: the widely predicted civil war didn’t happen, or at least fizzled out as soon as they had to look each other in the eye last Saturday. That the coup attempt failed quite so spectacularly suggests they didn’t really know what they were doing in the first place, which in turn poses serious questions about the competence of Miliband et al.

The people who unquestioningly had a good conference were the left and more specifically Compass. Speaking to some Compassites immediately after Brown’s speech resembled a game of Compass bingo, with them ticking off the stock phrases and themes that he had pinched (freely given, to be sure) from what they had been arguing for eighteen months ago.

Now, I disagree with a lot of what Compass say – in particular their proposals for a windfall tax which violates a pretty important principle of good public policy for me, namely that there has to be a much stronger justification behind it than petty avarice and base popularity. Indeed, while Compass have published the occasional discussion paper which suggests they may have something more intellectually robust to say about tax, broadly speaking it doesn’t get more sophisticated than “squeeze them ’til the pips squeak.” But they have played a canny game within the party itself and now find themselves in the rather odd position of being the party loyallists at a time when the Blairites and Brownites are fighting like rats in a sack.

I don’t think Compass are the answer to making Labour electable again (although they do) but they are what Labour needs to weather the storm in opposition. They provide the party faithful with a comfort blanket. By contrast, the right of the party offers nothing apart from a few ten-year-old platitudes, fear of the Tories and a lot of bitterness. There are no new ideas coming out of “new” Labour. It is no wonder Compass seem so appealing.

The general mood of conference delegates that I detected this week was stoicism. They weren’t in denial and they weren’t panicking, they were simply preparing themselves for the oncoming storm. That is more or less where I felt Gordon Brown pitched his speech as well. If he can keep it up, I think he’ll close the gap – not completely, but by enough to prevent the opinion polls from looking like a complete Labour rout. He might even be able to deny Cameron a majority. But that in part depends on whether the right resume hostilities again.

On the last day of conference, a woman working on one of the other exhibition stands pointed out to me that not only was attendence down this year (which it surely was) but that there were so few black faces. She had a good point – in terms of ethnicity the Labour conference was down to almost Lib Dem levels of hideous whiteness. Partly this could be explained by the relative lack of BME-related exhibitors. The stall for the National Assembly Against Racism – one of Lee Jasper’s fronts which badly needs friends at the moment – was largely abandoned. But I don’t think that entirely accounts for it.

I can’t help but wonder if this has something to do with the other detectable trend within Labour this year – the authoritarians have won. For all Compass’s warm words about civil liberties, when it came down to it in the counter-terrorism bill, both Cruddas and Tricket voted for extending pre-charge detention without trial. They both then symbolically resigned their places in Compass but it is clear from their website this is nowhere near a priority for the organisation. At the Observer fringe, a big majority of attendees revealed they supported ID cards. The only people arguing for liberalism within the Labour Party are in the Blairite wing, and they are now hopelessly compromised.

For a party that likes to claim that fairness is in its DNA these days, it is clear that they are all too comfortable with the idea of arbitrary authoritarian state control. That battle has now been decisively won within Labour. It isn’t surprising that black people are more alienated from them than ever, as they will inevitably be on the sharp end of this brave new world.

What film should I watch?

Empire Magazine has published its Top 500 all time greatest films. Some surprises, and there are inevitable problems with popular polls purporting to list timeless classics – The Dark Knight is ranked surprisingly highly for example. But as with all of these polls, I thought I’d go down the list and see which films I haven’t seen.

I actually do quite well, having seen 41 out of the top 50 and 69 of the top 100 (I gave up after that), but there are some embarrassing gaps in my film knowledge. The problem is time – I can only see so many films at a time.

So, I thought I’d see what the readers here think. My latest poll is a list of the ten most highly ranked films that I haven’t seen. Your job is to tell me which one I should watch ASAP. I will then do so (hopefully you will select one of the three already sitting on my shelf). For extra homework, I’d like you to explain your choice in the comments below.

That is all. Thank you.