Monthly Archives: September 2007

The Conservative Party: a better class of bonkers

It’s the 30th, so it must be the Tory conference in Blackpool and thankfully the final leg of the annual Party Conference Odyssey. Thus far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the relative niceness of our B&B (believe me, I’ve been in much worse in this town) and am slowly getting my lay of the land with regards to the culture. Thus far, it all seems to boil down to hats. You don’t see Lib Dems or Labour wearing fedoras or something that wouldn’t look out of place at Ladies Day at Ascot. Having spent much of this afternoon handing out free magazines, I can also attest that I’ve been dead-eyed by more delegates than either of the other two conferences put together. This is also the first time I’ve come across delegates informing me that they don’t want to be a citizen, “I want to be a subject of the crown!” Fair enough.

Whereas last week I could wander about in relative anonymity, here my blogging and regular appearances on 18 Doughty Street get me recognised everywhere. It was nice to finally meet Peter Cuthbertson last night after all these years, although being mid-fever and encountering a particularly tricky madras meant that I wasn’t exactly at my best. I also understand that Croydonian is about to out me on the basis that I’m wearing a Conservative lanyard.

One thing that is particularly distinctive at Tory conference is the rich seam of loons. That isn’t to say the other parties don’t have them as well; we sure do. But the Tories take this one step further. The Free Society and Forest are having a reception stuffed full of delegates behind me as I type in which they are giving out a CD containing “songs for swinging smokers” – even DELGA has struggled to make free love a mainstream issue in the way that seems to be taken for granted here (the reception certainly isn’t about smoking as I’ve just seen a couple of people get ejected for the temerity of lighting up).

And then there is the UK Column (incorporating the Plymouth and Devonport Column), a newspaper which has been handed out all day today. For more information about where they are coming from, see the accompanying website and this YouTube video with their editor David Noakes. I hasten to add that this newspaper is in no way affiliated with the Conservative Party, but it was clearly decided that the Lib Dem and Labour conferences would be much less fertile ground.

This paper is fantastic, bonkers stuff on the extreme end of the Euro-nihilist fringe. Pretty much everyone is listed as EU collaborators involved in a grand conspiracy to foist an EU Police State on the British people, including Cameron, John Redwood, Francis “pornographer” Maude (I bet he’s a smokin’ swinger!), UKIP and Thames Valley Police. As for the mainstream parties:

“The ruling EU marxist cliques in the Labour, Lib-Dem and Conservative parties are heavily into sexual practices which most of us would not regard as normal, with a significant amount of paedophilia amongst them, both nationally and locally.”

The Grand Conspiracy has apparently been orchestrated behind the scenes by the Bilderburg Group, German Intellegence, Freemasons, the Legal Profession and the sinister sounding Common Purpose. They have surprisingly accurate seeming percentages for how much each organisation is dominated by The Conspiracy. We therefore are to understand, for example that the Lib Dems and Labour are 60% dominated (some hope for us then) while the Tories are overwhelmed by a 75% dominance of conspirators. Surprisingly, 4% of the Bilderberg Group, we are to understand, are not in on the conspiracy. How Jewish Bankers, the Catholic Church and Zeta Reticulans fit in in all this is sadly left unexplained.

One thing that might confuse the casual reader of this august organ is that despite being called the UK Column, they have what appears to be a flag of St George as part of their logo. Surely that is English imperialism of the worst kind? Apparently not.

It is explained that it is in fact the flag of Arviragus (Arthur?), a Cornish Prince who was friends with Joseph of Arimathea and who kicked the Roman’s arses the last time those dirty continentals invaded. So it isn’t English imperialism at all; it’s Cornish imperialism. So that’s all right then.

And how is this paper funded in the face of such a grand conspiracy? Through local advertising. All well and good, but my humble suggestion to the customers of BDL Denture Clinics, based in Plymouth and Bodmin, is to look very carefully into their credentials. Just a suggestion.

Oh, and there’s a rumour going round that Zac Goldsmith is about to defect to the Lib Dems. I don’t personally believe it for a minute, but then again I don’t really understand what he’s doing here either. And it doesn’t look as if he’s going to be having a very good week.

Will Gordon Brown disenfranchise me?

Okay, I accept that the chicken entrails are all currently indicating an autumn election. Iain Dale and Vicky Ford have just made me realise something: am I going to lose my vote to suit Gordon Brown’s agenda?

I moved house back in January and dutifully filled in the registration form this summer (okay, okay, with some prodding, I admit). But with the new canvass not set to come on stream until December, I’ll be one of those awkward people who find themselves between two registers.

A November election will be a miserable one; it is no surprise that most Scottish Labour MPs are loath to have one (hat tip: Jonathan Calder). With Brown only calling it if it is to be a forgone conclusion (as best as he can tell), the question will be not so much whether we have a low turnout but how low can the turnout get. Will this be the first UK General Election to have a turnout of less than 50 per cent?

Labour’s capacity for self-delusion

Back from Labour conference and in a bit of a mess if truth be told. The problem with cheap B&Bs that haven’t been dusted in decades is that they can turn a mild cold into a nasty cough that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I’ve got two days to recover before doing it all again with the Tories in Blackpool. I’m sure the B&Bs there can’t be as chintzy and grotty as the ones in Bournemouth. Er…

Anyway, it’s been an interesting week. Labour conferences – I’ve been to 3 now – are so completely different from Lib Dem ones its hard to know where to begin. Obviously, there is the security, although compared to 2004 where they wouldn’t let you bring fluids into the conference centre and insisted you prove your mobile phone was genuine before letting you through, this one was relatively low key. The beards and sandals combo – largely mythical these days – is replaced by the rather more sartorially challenged baseball cap and crumpled suit. Indeed, everyone who isn’t wearing a trade union approved t-shirt wears suits, making me stand out in my standard attire of jeans and a short sleeved shirt.

The psychology of the two conferences couldn’t be more different either. In Labour, collectivism is all. The mindset, even among relatively sensible people, is that you are either one of us, or you’re the enemy. Back in my student and BYC days I used to encounter this on a regular basis and it would drive me insane; you simply could not reason with these people who would back anyone who was a card carrying member in an instant, no matter how reprehensible they were. Back when I was a student, the Labour membership card was a passport which guaranteed you votes at NUS conference even if you publically denounced Labour and claimed to be an independent. On the other side of the coin, former IDS adviser Quentin Davies can rely on the party faithful to give him a standing ovation.

Labour is quite unapologetic about this mindset. Indeed, Brown’s emphasis on shared values and national identity seems to be a calculated attempt to sell collectivism to the wider public. Around the conference centre there were posters everywhere emphasising the “strength” to make Britain better.

At the Fabian / Centre For Um fringe, both Angela Eagle and Michael Wills readily cited it as the crucial difference between the Lib Dems and Labour and parodied the Lib Dems for flirting with libertarianism. I suspect that my friend Tristan Mills would have responded by saying “if only”.

The simple fact is, collectivism is in many ways a strength of the Labour party. It is what has made them electable over the past decade, and what has made the Conservatives so woefully unelectable. It is this key difference more than anything else which currently appears to be guaranteeing Gordon Brown a win whenever he chooses to call the next election.

And I should also point out that with a few exceptions, I don’t see many Lib Dems who are opposed to collective action per se, so long as it is ultimately centred on the interests of individuals. But I struggled to find any Labour delegates at this conference who placed any emphasis on the individual at all. The bitter irony is that I doubt any of them believe it. Why else have people been leaving in droves? Why else do super-unions such as Unite campaign so hard to defend the interests of the relatively few Remploy workers?

Fundamentally, I don’t believe that the Labour Party believes its own hype about unity through strength. It knows where that leads. But the inability of its members to talk about collectivism as anything other than an unalloyed good does cause me deep concern. We have seen how this attitude causes them to struggle to criticise their superiors. The fact that Tony Blair remained in power – purely because of the lack of enthusiasm for Parliamentarians and members to conduct a coup – ought to worry us. I can imagine far worse people than Tony Blair finding themselves at the top of a political party; if they rose to power in Labour would we see little more than the determined foot-shuffling we’ve witnessed over the past four years? For the good of the country we must hope that Labour reconciles itself with liberalism again before too long.

Back to the Fabian / Centre For Um joint fringe, much of this debate was taken up with allegations about “dirty tricks”. Most of the attacks came from a contingent from the Colchester CLP. Now, I don’t doubt those delegates’ sincerity, nor am I naive enough to believe that no Lib Dem has ever indulged in dirty campaigning, but it is rather ironic that almost a year ago to the day, a Lib Dem councillor in Colchester was outed in a national newspaper.

I was pleased that Vince Cable and David Laws did a grand job at defending the party’s record under pressure, not resorting to crowd pleasing tactics by condemning alleged activities that they knew nothing about. Yet Michael Wills was keen to continue twisting the knife, making the “no smoke without fire” smear that because Labour and Tory MPs agree that Lib Dems are the dirtiest campaigners, it must be true.

To make such a statement, without providing one scintilla of evidence, is to indulge in the very same groupthink that Miranda Grell manipulated in Waltham Forest last year. He ought to know better. The Lib Dems threaten an order that both Labour and the Tories have an interest in defending, and it is extraordinary how they can be blind to both their own faults and each others. The recent by-elections showed both parties at their worst, yet that gets forgotten. Tom Watson‘s reliance on the rent-a-mob got him promoted. The Tories’ attempts to portray Mark Hunter as a rapist in the Cheadle by-election even gave ConservativeHome pause for thought, but it was quickly forgotten. I could go on, but Rob Blackie has already done much of the work for me.

When senior MPs make such allegations in public, it is unfortunate politicking. When they do it in the relative privacy of an audience of mainly Labour members (albeit were at least one journalist was present), it smacks of self-delusion. No-one is pretending that the Lib Dems are perfect, but when Labour have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar so many times, it is time to stop being so precious.

Overall, my advice to Labour friends is to be careful. Don’t believe your own hype. This week I saw an awful lot of that. The biggest problem with Labour is not that it’s evil but that it still believes it is whiter than white. With the scapegoat Blair now safely dispatched to the middle east, that delusion will only continue. A party that believes that is capable of anything, which is how it ended up invading Iraq, doling out peerages to people it was indebted to and marginalising human rights in the first place.

The Benn political dynasty rolls on…

I watched Emily Benn giving a media interview at Labour conference this week and she certainly seemed to be very self-confident and able. So congratulations for her selection to fight East Worthing and Shoreham, even if she does stand very little chance.

The BBC very helpfully failed to mention that the full name of St Olave’s School in Orpington has a “Grammar” in it (I should know, I went there!), particularly when one remembers that this is the very same school that Harriet Harman got into so much trouble for sending her son to. Not sure her auntie Melissa would approve.

Dawkins’ influence over party politics

The Labour Humanists have been quite high profile at this conference and have been actively promoting their fringe meeting with A.C. Grayling on Monday. A year old, the group is mainly campaigning against faith schools. My erstwhile Doughty Street sparring partner Kris Brown is their Vice Chair and has been running around all week.

This is part of a growing trend. The Humanist and Secularist Liberal Democrats also only formed in the last few years. I have to confess to not joining this group when it was first set up. I remain wary of humanism in its more happy-clappy guise and the full page advert of the BHA in New Humanist this month, emphasising the need to “belong,” doesn’t exactly help (while recognising my own hypocrisy in that it is a sense of belonging that is one of the main attractions of party politics for me). But Richard Dawkins’ rallying cry, following the increasingly vocal anti-secularism of organised religions in the UK, has forced me to consider getting off the fence. It would appear that this is a cross-party phenomenon.

The BHA have also been high profile this past fortnight. I don’t remember them having a stand at the Lib Dem conference exhibition in the past and they are at Labour as well this week. Clearly they too are sensing the need to be more vocal and visible at the moment.

Where this will all lead is unclear. The anti-Dawkins’ backlash is already midflow, while a veritable anti-God publishing industry has taken the book world by storm. What is clear is that there is a lot of latent frustration out there. The emergence of these political groups is definitely a positive development but we need to be clear about our aims and I suspect will need to work together on a cross-party basis to be effective.

Blog Labour’s lost

At Labour conference and struggling to type using a godawful metal keyboard which appears to not have a control key (clearly they have a problem with Labour delegates having even that level of power). Blogging will be lighter than last week, at least until I figure out how to access the free internet access.

Meanwhile, you might want to visit my guide to Lib Dem bloggers over at Our Kingdom.

Oh, and I get a name check on Iain Dale’s guide to political blogging on the Torygraph. It’s all gravy.

Anyway, Britain’s Got Talent Finalists the Kombat Breakers are about to start playing in the foyer so time I headed off in the opposite direction.

Why Gordon Brown will wait for a May 2008 General Election (UPDATED)

I could be proven wrong here, but I’ve been coming to the conclusion that there is no way Gordon Brown will call a snap poll. What’s more, it has increasingly come to my mind that he might have a rather devious plan up his sleeve.

First of all, he won’t do it for several reasons. Labour’s skint and the unions are being finnicky at the moment. Labour is also lazy – more so than either of their main opponents. They’re activists need more signposting than the competition before they’ll get off their arses. A snap poll is tough to manage in the most ideal of circumstances, and this will not be the most ideal of circumstances.

We should also remember that British Summer Time ends on 28 October after this point, it will be getting dark in late afternoons. That makes campaigning tough and getting the vote out even tougher. Differential turnout will be key, and Tory supporters are notoriously better at coming out than the others.

He could, of course, call it for 25 October which was widely speculated on during the summer. Personally speaking that would be disastrous as it would be on my birthday, but I somehow doubt that Gordon will consider my social calendar to be a factor either way. He is however likely to be wary of calling it a week after the start of the IGC in Lisbon to finalise the EU Reform Treaty. That would mean 4-5 days in which the EU will be in the headlines and a whole weekend in which he’ll be out of circulation at a crucial time. It would be completely unpredictable – it might go well, it might end up a total disaster. It would be a total gamble, and a reckless one at that.

On the other hand, Brown has to neutralise the Treaty issue in such a way that makes it a non-issue for the voters and (preferably for him) seriously distracts the Tories.

If I was in his position, this is what I’d do. I’d come back from Lisbon proclaiming that I’d negotiated a couple more token concessions. I’d reassert that it was for Parliament to ratify the treaty but that in the interests of having a wider nationwide debate I will declare that the ratification won’t happen immediately. Instead, there’ll be a period of reflection of, say 7 months. Promise lots more citizens’ juries.

This will of course send the rightwing media into a tizzy. Cue months and months of them denouncing the treaty and calling for a referendum. This will of course bore the vast majority of the public to tears. The exception will be the hardcore UKIP/Tory supporters who will get extremely agitated. Cameron will come under sustained pressure to do a Hague, something he will resist at all costs but this will disappoint a lot of donors and activists whose support he can ill afford to lose. UKIP by contrast will be on a roll.

Then in April 2008, when most of the public are one Sun front page comparing Jose Manuel Barroso to an unfortunately shaped vegetable away from fetching the rusty razor blades and running a warm bath, Brown will call the election. He will declare at the start that he will seek a mandate to ratify the treaty but other than that will spend the entire time going on about bread and butter issues. Cameron will be torn between pissing off his core support and alienating everyone else. Another disaster for them awaits.

That’s my theory. Anyone want to tell me what I’m missing?

UPDATE: I forgot to mention another reason why I don’t expect him to declare the election this week. On the second day of his Premiership, Gordon Brown announced plans to invest the Royal Prerogative power to declare an election in Parliament. It would be absurd for him to then bypass Parliament completely. Still, on the other hand, I could just be being naive here. We’ll know in 48 hours.

In praise of the nation’s youth

Not only did they organise together to get the Blue Peter cat to be named “Cookie” but after the BBC’s censorship had been exposed, they got their way anyway. A quick visit to the Urban Dictionary reveals their plan. The BBC producer who tried to stop them from getting their way has not only been over-ruled but may end up getting sacked over the affair. Sheer genius.

After finding my hit count rocket up when I used the phrase “Konnie Huq modelling the latest in tweenie fetish wear” it has been made quite clear to me that there is a subculture out there which is desperate to catch Konnie stroking Cookie live on air.

Who says the young are apathetic?