Daily Archives: 5 January 2008

When Jo Swinson met Joe Stalin

London Young Labour Press Release on Jo SwinsonThey teach airbrushing technique young in the Labour Party it seems. You may recall, dear reader, that I took Chair of London Young Labour Omar Salem to task before Christmas for manufacturing a story about the Lib Dem reshuffle by selectively quoting this website and getting a whole heap of facts wrong, a story which sadly Independent Political Editor Andrew Grice allowed himself to be taken in by. Now it would appear that Omar has gone back and tried to destroy all the evidence of his stupidity.

Of course, that leaves me with a bit of a problem – I’m now open to the accusation that I made the whole thing up. Fortunately, someone saw fit to send me Omar’s press release in PDF format for your perusal. Enjoy!

London Young Labour Press Release (web version) - bottomLondon Young Labour Press Release (web version) - topUPDATE: It occurred to me I ought to include the web version of the press release for you to compare and contrast (and just in case Omar decides to change it back again!). Plus, I should point out that, as a researcher for Emily Thornberry MP, Omar has of course learned from the best when it comes to doctoring press releases.

Building a better compass

Peter Dunphy wrote an interesting post last week about the limitations of Political Compass.

Of course, in the blogosphere there is very little new under the virtual sun, and this was a topic of debate 5 years ago. The late and much missed Chris Lightfoot was a great critic of the application and wrote his own version, along with this explanation. Entirely open source, it is ripe for someone to adapt and inflict on Facebook. Having said that, I’m not sure Chris would have approved of this in light of Facebook’s somewhat lax attitude towards user privacy – I do miss his postings.

The rise of the spamblog

One of the more annoying trends of the past few months has been the rise of the spamblog. I’m not sure if that is the correct term for them (although I notice at least one other person refer to them as such), but they are those weblogs, apparently entirely bot created which do nothing other than steal/reference other people’s blog posts in the hope of going up the Google ratings.

I don’t know if it is simply that this site has become more popular of late, but I’ve been bombarded with them recently. Where they get annoying is you end up finding copies of your own post (and others) littering search results (see homeophobia as an example).

Obviously I don’t approve any trackbacks I get from these, but anyone know the best way to scupper them in their tracks? Is there a way one can report them to search engines?

James Purnell: Renaissance Man

James Purnell at the Last SupperJames Purnell is quoted in the Guardian today as saying:

“When Brian [McMaster, a former director of the Edinburgh International Festival who wrote a policy review to be published on Thursday commissioned by Purnell] talks about the potential for a new Renaissance, I don’t think that’s an overstatement. It’s exactly true.”

There can be only one response to that (pictured).

On a slightly more serious note, and we will clearly have to wait for the full report, but the suggestion that a) a renaissance can be contained within national borders and b) that it can happen within the arts exclusively is rather crass. One could argue that we are a good 50 years into a renaissance already – look at how the quality of life has been transformed. We’re waiting for the established arts to catch up, not lead the way.

My prediction for 2008: the Tories will have a bad year

One of the things I find amusing about the modern media, and society in general, is how quickly well-known-facts become orthodoxy after an amazingly short period of time. Six months ago, Cameron was looking extremely shaky. Then, following Brown’s wobble and Gideon Osborne’s promise of tax breaks for dead rich people, it became an established Truth that the Tories were unstoppable and Labour is in terminal decline.

But neither of these “facts” ring true to me. Take the argument about Labour’s implosion. Iain Dale yesterday observed that “there’s so much about the present day Labour Party that reminds me of the Conservative Party circa 1996.” This is one of those seductive openers that memes use to invade our brains; it is after all a fact that history repeats itself and it follows that these things go in cycles. But what proof does Dale cite? A blog post on LabourHome being rude about cabinet ministers. It isn’t even particularly harsh, and Dale makes veiled attacks on Tory frontbenchers all the time. The fact that he has to grasp for such weak “evidence” speaks volumes. If anything, I’m rather surprised at how unsplit Labour are at the moment, given the situation they find themselves in.

In the same week, Iain made it clear how appalled he was by Tory environment spokesman Peter Ainsworth’s press release listing his “heroes and zeroes” of 2007, a view clearly shared by his commenters and those at Conservative Home. And the environment is only the start of it. There was of course the Grammar schools debacle, which forced Cameron to eventually wave the white flag by demoting David Willetts and peppering his speeches with exhortations for something called “grammar streaming”. There remains the issue over what exactly the Tory policy on the EU reform treaty is, and the rumble of discontent over this can only grow louder over the next 12 months. In 2007, the majority of Tory MPs defied Cameron by opposing the Sexual Orientation Regulations, just as they refused to back their own (now quite longstanding) policy for a reformed House of Lords.

The inconvenient truth is this: 16 years on from the signing of the Maastricht Treaty and the Tories remain the most internally divided mainstream political party. A vote for the Conservatives is the epitomy of a vote for a pig in a poke. Cameron may, or may not be the enlightened “liberal” conservative that he claims to be, but he is still a prisonder of a reactionary old guard (and even reactionary Davisite “modernisers”) who simply ignore what he has to say if they don’t like it. And all it takes is a badly spun speech like Willetts’ on education earlier this year and they will resume their time-honoured practice of tearing strips off the leader.

Cameron knows this, and we’ve seen a shift in stance over the last six months whereby the Tory front bench offer their rabid party totemic hunks of meat to get their teeth into. Osborne’s IHT reform was one such hunk, which admittedly managed to hit the zeitgeist even though it only helped the very richest. This week we’ve seen two more ridiculous pledges. One for locking up the relatives of foreigners who outstay their visas (at a time when we already locking up more people than at any time in the past and have simply run out of room – who’s going to pay for it?) and another for replacing “target culture” with a system of fines on hospitals where patients are infected by so-called superbugs.

What is most remarkable about the latter is that it demonstrates that Cameron clearly has no idea about what is wrong with the target culture. The problem is that all targets are subject to the law of unintended consequences; but then so would a system of fines (a point made by the BMA).

Cameron has become keen on this sort of totemic gimmick, possibly under the stewardship of Andy Coulson; back in November he came up with that hare-brained scheme to force referendums on local authorities which exceeded a government-set target (sorry, “threshold”) for raising council tax. He called this the removal of council tax caps, possibly one of the most disingenuous statements of 2007 (what local authority would dare go above the government-imposed limit under such circumstances?). This appears to be what consists of Tory policy these days: a series of short, snappy, panaceas that will achieve nothing. They’ve learned all the wrong lessons from 11 years of New Labour.

A vote for the Conservatives is a vote for the worst excesses of the Blair era combined with the divisions of the Major era. My prediction is that in 2008, with the Tories having failed to put that much distance between themselves and their opponents in the opinion polls by the end of 2007, the penny will start to drop.

Where does this leave the Lib Dems? As potential beneficiaries for one. Even a cursory glance at their CVs should tell you that Clegg has far more substance than Cameron. Clegg’s challenge is to press this advantage home. But we should be wary of those siren voices who seem to want us to jump in bed with Cameron. While it is true that Cameron sounds more like a Lib Dem than Brown, a deal with him is a Faustian pact with his backbenchers. What would be the value in agreeing a shared position with Cameron – assuming we could – if the likes of Patrick Cormack can simply veto it retrospectively at a time of their choosing, to the loud applause of Conservative Home, Iain Dale et al?

Going nuclear?

One developing story I didn’t get around to blogging about over the past couple of weeks is nuclear policy. There have been several stories in the papers recently on this. Most recently, the Nuclear Consultation Working Group issued a damning condemnation of the government’s second consultation on nuclear energy. This is bad news for them as they’ve already had one consultation thrown out in court.

The most bemusing line I’ve read about this was on the front page of the Guardian yesterday was this:

The government is expected to insist it has a mandate. In meetings in the autumn, more than 1,000 people were asked their view of nuclear power after seeing videos and taking part in discussion: 44% said power firms should have the option to build nuclear; 36% said no.

I accept that the first sentence is a journalist’s embellishment. Nonetheless, if the government is claiming a “mandate” it has another thing coming. Nuclear energy, along with Trident and a basket of other important issues, was one of the topics Labour would not mention during the general election, either on the stump or even in the small print of their manifesto. And if they are basing their consultation on the balance of responses received, this would be a government first. Normally, government departments are the first to point out that to do so would be to cede policy to the views of a vocal minority and that they are not statistically signifcant. It would seem to me that it would be unwise to set a precedent on this.

The second nuclear theme is rather more tricky. David King, the Royal Society and the European Commission have come out urging the government to consider reprocessing and using the UK’s stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium. This is a different argument to the standard go nuclear one: we already have tons of the stuff – enough to provide 60% of the UK’s electricity needs until 2060 – and there are serious safety and security implications in just stockpiling the stuff.

Personally speaking, my main objections to going nuclear are geo-political. I simply cannot see any merit in exchanging an oil economy for a uranium one. Most supporters of nuclear seem to think the UK exists in a bubble, that we alone are facing this decision and that there are no economic or security implications for increasing the global demand for uranium by a factor of ten or even one hundred. The prospect of us waging our first “uranium war” or propping up some corrupt African regime simply to ensure security of supply doesn’t exactly entice me (note – I accept the argument that we only have 30 years of supply based on current levels of consumption is bogus; demand creates its own supply. But the truth is we simply do not know how much uranium there is out there or how much it might cost to extract it – the counterargument that you should base future supply of uranium on an oil-based model is, if anything, even more bogus). And the cost appears comparable to investing in renewables to the point where they would become economical. With solar now threatening to, erm, go nuclear, I’m not convinced by the TINA argument that fission is the future. Introduce a UK feed-in tariff before lecturing me about what is or is not possible.

Most of these arguments however do not apply to reprocessing. This is about making the most of our past mistakes, not making new ones. It would be potentially cheaper, and I’m prepared to buy the argument that nuclear buys us time for renewables to develop (so long as investment in renewables goes hand in hand with it).

If this was what the government was pushing, rather than its bleak vision of making the UK economy entirely dependent on a non-renewable substance we don’t produce and have no guarantee of supply over, I’d be more sympathetic.

Grant Shapps is no potty mouth – official

The Conservative Party’s campaigning guru Grant Shapps has had another setback, almost losing a council seat in his Welwyn Hatfield constituency on a 22% swing. Apparently it was all a cunning stunt to undermine Nick Clegg, just as his Ealing Southall Lits-up was a ploy to get rid of Ming.

So much for the partisan willy-waving. What ticked me the most is this follow up comment from Sal Brinton:

I’ve just had an email from Grant, who says he doesn’t swear, and given that it was an amicable (albeit exciting!) count, shall we just say that he certainly made his surprise known.

No, Shapps doesn’t swear. Whenever he feels the urge, he always counts “1234” first.

I promise to start writing about something other than Grant Shapps soon – the stories just keep coming!