Sunday, May 30, 2010

A bit of Gove Watching...

The things you learn via Twitter, part whatever. Charlotte Higgins (chief arts writer of the Guardian):

Michael Gove at #Hay speaks from audience and asks Niall Ferguson to help build a new history curriculum for UK schools.

See, almost on topic. Gove, semi-Decent. Niall Ferguson, partner of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, idol of Nick Cohen etc.

If there's one thing worse than a curriculum being set by a committee, it's one set by an ideologue.

'I warned you about this' comments may be deleted. :-p

A brave stance against moral relativism

We can't abandon Afghanistan.

Our soldiers have shed enough blood: it is time to come home from Helmand.

Lest comment is free delete what is the best comment so far, I'll copy and paste it below:

OUR TROOPS HAVE SHED ENOUGH BLOOD ? YOU SEETHING HYPOCRITE MUCH OF THEIR SPILT BLOOD IS DOWN TO YOUR PARTY AND ITS COMPLETE LACK OF INTEREST IN THE ARMED FORCES ESPECIALLY THAT INTROVERTED , SHORT TEMPERED , SELF SERVING MORON BROWN WHO STRIPPED THE DEFENCE BUDGET FOR HIS OWN pointless PET PROJECTS AND TO GET AT BLAIR . These deaths and those maimed are on your hands and your so called party who were to busy filling in expenses sheets remember it was moonlighting servicemen paying for equipment who lead to the uncovering of this enormous underhand fiddle .
The only saving grace is that we still have such people in our armed forces unlike the political systerm which throws up scum like you oh and I am working class unlike you and your colleagues we didnt vote for you notice that? you got your arses kicked !

In a perfect world, that would the number one result in every search engine for Denis MacShane.

Nick in boycott call

IIRC, to call for a boycott of a state with a strongly ethnic character is "racist" partly on the grounds that it involves "indirect discrimination" against British citizens and residents who share the ethnicity in question. Did Nick not get the memo from David Hirsh?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Announcement of death may have been premature

Oh, crap. Published yesterday (the 27th). Not much to disagree with, although this seems a touch unfortunate.

Laws’ laws are not natural ones, and the coalition needs constantly to be reminded of how its policies impact upon the vulnerable and the disadvantaged, as well as the ordinary.

Does anyone understand this paywall thing? BTW, those of you who want a 'Gove Watch' could follow DAaronovitch on Twitter. AFAIK, they like each other, but their differences are quite fundamental. Civilised disagreement between friends is much more edifying than criticism "filled with loathing" (© Nick Cohen).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

This week in Decent abuse of human rights organisations.

Remember, these people are passionate supporters of Amnesty International and the Red Cross, and only do this out of a Very Genuine Concern for their mission ...

I think this one can be chalked up to HP stupidity rather than anything else - failing to understand the principles on which ICRC operates.

But this one is clearly doing the rounds; I think Sunny is right here - Gita Saghal is really beginning to migrate from a place in which one had a lot of sympathy for her (albeit that she handled her dispute with very poor judgement) into a place in which she's actually providing negative value. Some of the things in that article just aren't true.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

March on Berman on Ramadan and Berman on March on Berman on Ramadan (repeat until fade)

Andrew F. March and Paul Berman trade blows over here - one - two - in the electronic pages of Dissent.

My own view, for what it's worth, is that March comes out of it best, but that's probably because I've basically been of the opinion pretty much since I read Terror and Liberalism that Paul Berman is as shifty a writer as he thinks that Tariq Ramadan is, whereas Andrew F. March, by contrast, has always struck me as a fine man and an excellent scholar of political ideas. But the Bermanisti out there can content themselves with the thought that I probably would say that, wouldn't I?

Good and Bad Reviews

Since we've been discussing Decca Aitkenhead's interview with Christopher Hitchens, I thought of posting some links to reviews of Hitch-22. (I only read the print Weekend FT review today, and realised that reviews would be being published.) However, although they're all different - they focus on different aspects of a quite long (352 pages according to Amazon; 448 according to the FT ?!) book - they seem to share a certain diffidence or ambivalence. I've not seen a red-blooded endorsement by a professional reviewer yet.[1]

So, to provide some contrast, here's very positive review of Ayann Hirsi Ali's Nomad by Tunku Varadarajan.

I had cause to recall this ugly episode [The writer had asked a New York cabbie what he thought of Ms Hirsi Ali, to be told, "We think she is a bitch. We hate her."] when I read this week—in just one sitting, it is so brilliant—Hirsi Ali’s new book, Nomad: From Islam to America. (It is subtitled, with a very un-PC tip of the hat to Samuel Huntington, “A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations.”) If I had my way, and the resources to pull off the idea, I would commission translations of the book into Arabic, Urdu, Somali, Farsi, Turkish, Pashto, Kurdish, Bengali, and Bahasa, and air-drop thousands of copies into the Muslim lands (and arrondissements) where these languages are spoken. And with any luck, these books would find their way into the hands of some of the immiserated women who live there.

I think he liked it. Against that, the reception of Hitch-22 is -- well, diplomatic might be a good word. My feeling is that even if reviewers found Hitchens charming at essay length or an amusing speaker or otherwise lauded his virtues, 400 pages (plus or minus 48) of Hitchens writing about himself had an effect closer to tea laced with bromide than Jack Daniels over ice.

To begin, one of the strangest reviews I have ever read: Trading Places: ‘Famous Amis’ Runs Into ‘Hitch-22’ By Brendan Bernhard, Special to the [New York] Sun.

Mr. Amis plays a prominent role in it, just as Mr. Hitchens himself is granted a hefty cameo in “The Pregnant Widow.”

Mr Bernhard doesn't commit himself to a personal opinion, yet he implies that Amis's fiction is far more revealing that Hitchens' memoir.

Edward Luce in the FT (link above) strains to find at least a redeeming compliment:

Such is Hitchens’ intellectual journey. From one certainty to the next, he has leapt across the stepping stones of life, only rarely dipping a toe into the murky waters of doubt. Hitch-22 has its redeeming qualities – perhaps most vividly in Hitchens’ telling of his mother’s quiet determination to turn him into an English gentleman. Yet the book mostly fails to accentuate whatever redeeming qualities its author has. Indeed, the further it progresses, the harder it is to escape the feeling that its subject deserves a much more nuanced biographer than this.

I'm not even sure that John Crace of the Guardian has even read the book. Funny if you think Hitchens is a blowhard with an ego the size of Mount Rushmore. Probably not, if you don't.

In the Times (I'm not sure how much longer this will be available) Joan Bakewell calls it a rollercoaster ride across the political spectrum. Ms Bakewell ends on a high (and with a very different opinion to Edward Luce):

His final insight is that because he loves an argument he will often protract one simply for its own sake rather than concede even a small point. Within this book we learn why: it displays the best of his persuasive skills, the sharpness of his dismissive put-downs and something else too: self-knowledge.

His mother, however, "is the only woman he refers to with tenderness in the book." My personal favourite bit is this:

They would visit a brothel together as research for Amis’s novel Money. We learn, almost by accident, that Hitchens is married and has three children.

[1] Amazon's sole review, presumably there were two, contains this gem:

Christopher Hitchens' memoir, Hitch-22, will not be released for another week. As a simple consumer with no ties whatsoever to the publishing industry, I have not read it yet. Therefore, it may seem stupid that I am writing a review of the book, and giving it a five-star rating no less, but this brief diatribe is essentially a rebuttal to the blitherings of Neil McGowan, who wrote amazonUK's first review of Hitch-22 and gave it one star, lowest rating, despite having not read it himself, as far as I can gather from his pathetic review.

There's more in that vein, if you like that sort of thing, and I do.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


The Professor doth protest too much, methinks.

I wonder if she [Decca Aitkenhead] knows the meaning of 'preponderance'.

Well, readers. let's find out.

When the invasion of Iraq was first debated, one couldn't fail to notice the preponderance of left-wing men of a certain age who came out in support of the war.

Preponderance: "the quality or fact of being greater in number, quantity, or importance" (Apple dictionary).

Professor Geras then goes on to name those he thinks refutes this theory: himself, "Hitch [Christopher Hitchens whom Ms Aitkenhead interviewed], but also with such other of the lads as David Aaronovitch[,] Nick Cohen[,]... Michael Ignatieff[,] Paul Berman[,] Adam Michnik[,] Václav Havel[,] Ann Clwyd and Julie Burchill.

Why yes, that is a preponderance of men of a certain age. The presence of two women doesn't disprove the claim, rather it shows that Ms Aitkenhead chose the right word.

What gained my support for the war wasn't the fact that Saddam Hussein was a foul tyrant whose regime had presided over genocide, torture and other crimes against humanity; it was, rather, a concern about the size and potency of my penis.

Oh right. But Saddam was was all that before the 1991 one invasion. It's a shame that Professor Geras didn't start blogging until July 2003 (at least one reader may find that link amusing or embarrassing now), so we don't know his views on the Gulf War or indeed on Iraq between the wars. Ann Clwyd at least had consistency: she vocally opposed Saddam before the Marines arrived to back her up. But the Hitch? Not so much.

[Iraq] has been strengthened externally by her support for revolutionary causes and by the resources she can deploy. It may not be electrification plus Soviet power, but the combination of oil and ‘Arab socialism’ is hardly less powerful.

I'm not convinced by the argument that it's about virility. It seemed to me at the time that it was odd how men when they were younger had no bellicose convictions suddenly developed same when even the most desperate recruiting sergeant would sadly shake his head. Some may think it a tragedy to suddenly hear the call to arms when too old to take them up. Others may call it convenient.

Nick in TV amnesia shock

Nick wants people to watch the dramatization of his mate Martin's novel. Well fair enough, we all try to help our friends out sometimes. Still there's no excuse for this:

Writers and directors were so consumed by loathing, they did not think about how union militancy and the Marxists' attempts to take over the Labour party forced much of the electorate to the right; they passed over or mocked the pride in Britain Thatcher undoubtedly gave to millions.

Did Nick not watch GBH then?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Not me gov

Some Aaro Watching on Twitter:

So this is the narrative for new Labour leaders - 'sorry' over Iraq (ie, not me gov) and 'listening' on immigration. Ugh.

I doubt many AW readers will disagree with the second sentiment. As for "listen" David Miliband referred to it four times in his leadership launch speech.

My parents came to this country having fled persecution. They saw the power of ideas to cause suffering on a monumental scale. But their response was not to close down debate. They championed new thinking. I listened and tried to learn.

I'm trying to work out if that's a joke or not. David Miliband's thinking is certainly 'new' when compared to Ralph's.

New Labour did fantastic things for the country. But now we are out of power, what counts is next Labour. Listening, idealistic, open, engaged, thoughtful, radical, decisive, Labour.

So that's 'next Labour'. What was 'New Labour' then?

  • we will listen to every MP and candidate, whether or not they support me, for their ideas about what the country needs and the public want; they’ve just spent weeks on the doorstep and we need to make the most of that knowledge

  • we will listen to the country as well as campaign in the party; we will take the party and its ideas out into the constituencies we have lost as well as those we have won

There's "we will listen" twice. As if they didn't before. But, here's Simon Hoggart from Tuesday 8 November 2005:

Which brings us to New Labour's answer to Mr Sarkozy, Hazel Blears. I don't know what she does to the bombers, but by God she frightens me. When she said, "and we are a listening government, yes, we are a listening government", I felt like someone hearing Genghis Khan talk about being responsive to our consumer base.

I think 'listening' goes back further than the early months of New Labour's third term, but that's the earliest I can find easily. So shorter me: New (Next) Labour always claim to be listening in the present and in the immediate future, while also claiming, somewhat unconvincingly, not to have been listening in the past. What this means, re immigration I think, is some bloody awful rhetoric, perhaps culminating in a fireside heart-to-heart between the most desperate candidate and Richard Littlejohn, and, a few years down the line, the same thing all over again.

I know a few readers are political activists, and probably did knock on doors during the election campaign. I didn't, but I bet the feedback wasn't at all straightforward. Here's How Britain Voted in 2010 (Ipsos Mori). Labour did lose votes from the famous C2 class (Men: -11; Women: -15) but those votes didn't all go to the Conservatives (Men: +4; Women: +7); some went to the pro-immigration Lib Dems: (Men: +3; Women: +5). From that, I would not conclude that immigration lost it for Labour. Either it's irrelevant, or the C2s are split, a small majority against, but a significant minority in favour.

But I meant to write about Dave's first problem: well, it wasn't them. Neither Ed Balls nor Ed Miliband "were MPs when the decision to invade Iraq was made." (Political historians: are there other precedents for party leadership candidates who have only served one term as MPs? Cameron only entered Parliament in 2001. Is this new?) Via Sim-O, Balls claimed to the Telegraph, "For the first time I’m free to be myself." Presumably, he means "for the first time, since being in government" but ministers are always free to resign if they disagree with government policy. I'm starting to warm to Balls, mostly because Nick Cohen hates him. But he's entirely wrong here (coming back to Dave's tweet):

“We [the leadership candidates] all have similar messages, on welfare reform and immigration, because we’ve all had lots of conversations with people like Mrs Duffy. Gordon would have had a better campaign and a better time of it if he had spent a lot of time in public, having those conversations. You can’t do politics through the speech and the delivered message.”

PMs don't spend a lot of time meeting the public: they have to run the country - and that means doing politics by doing stuff rather than just making speeches and delivering messages. You really can't blame Gordon Brown for that. He had advisors, one of whom was Ed Balls of course, to keep in touch with public opinion.

The thought of Gillian Duffy's uninformed prejudices swaying the Labour leadership election - to quote Simon Hoggart quoting the Duke of Wellington - frightens me.

The fun thing, of course, is how they're all running from Iraq now. Well, it was too much to listen to Hans Blix or Robin Cook or two-million odd marchers at the time. Labour will listen now, and if they don't, well, I will never believe another thing that I am told by our government ... ever again.

(Personal note: coming back from the shops this morning I was asked by my new neighbours, whom I hadn't met before - well, I wouldn't have, as they've only been here three days - to look at their boiler, which they couldn't get to produce hot water. People who know me will understand that this was life-endangering on their part, and an explosion, fire, flood, or other disaster could have followed, as happens when I try to 'fix' things. The neighbours are a little girl and her grandmother, who were housed by the refugee council, which they confuse with the local council, who actually provide the house. I know they're from Pakistan, and the refugee council has placed them in a home with next to no furniture, and I also know that people are basically conservative. Emigrating is fine is you're young, skilled, and seeking your fortune. It's not the natural course for the very old or the very young. And so I conclude - I didn't ask - that they moved because of something pretty bad. Not having been able to fix the boiler, or contact the council - they don't even have a phone; I'll have to let them use mine on Monday when I come home from work - I was nearly in tears when I closed my front door. So, fuck everyone who wants to cut immigration and make it harder. Ed and Ed and David and the rest, perhaps you could talk (that means listen) to some refugees too. Or is that unimportant?)

Friday, May 21, 2010

An Open Letter To Denis MacShane, from President Lula of Brazil

Dear Denis,

I'm trying to broker a deal on Iran's fucking nuclear reprocessing, for the benefit of those countries within missile range of Tehran which last time I checked Brasil was not one. Did you not realise that? Thought not. Last time I do a favour for you.



PS: I am glad to hear you had a nice time chasing the birds round Copacabana in the 70s, but frankly I don't know you from Adam, or any other specky twat from the British labour movement of that era. To be honest, all your pasty asses tend to blend into one at the best of times.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Closing down sale ...

As CC says below, the Times is going to go paywall at the end of this month, and that seems to us like a natural point to bring "Aaronovitch Watch" to a close. Whatever the ease or otherwise of getting Aaro's weekly column on the down-low, the fact is that with his disappearance behind the paywall he's going to be a less influential and less important columnist - with the passing of New Labour as well, this was always going to be the case anyway.

In the wider "World of Decency", I also feel that a historical moment has largely passed by. There are still imperial wars out there, of course, still ludicrous double standards on human rights and even the New Labour project is not 100% dead yet. And Harry's Place and Normblog and all will presumably continue to be as ghastly as they ever were, while Nick Cohen is unlikely to shut up as he is to ever write a readable column again. And all of these baleful social phenomena will still have their crowd of cheerleaders from a soi-Decent Left perspective, with willyoucondemnathons and all. But, well, do you care as much as you did five years ago? I know I don't. If we carry this thing on beyond its natural life, it's almost certain to end up as another site about bloody Israel.

So, we're now entering wind-down period. I have a few things I want to post, particularly the intellectual biography of Sir John Birt I've been promising since the site began, plus a few other essays wrapping up themes of "The Aaronovitch Years". Any requests, put them in comments.

Aaro, in the Times, also appears to be in valedictory mode. Still with the ID cards and DNA databases, but now they have no funding, who cares now? Bye bye, old hobbyhorse. Ah, here's Brian Haw, remember him? All these things must pass. Aaro's new theme appears to be to oppose some of the more mindless "decentralisation" initiatives, and I rather agree with him on that. In general (although the irritating trope of believing that the public's disdain for politicians is rooted in some weird psychopathology, rather than accurate assessment of their delivery), I suspect that Aaro will be a lot more worth reading (and paradoxically, thereby less worth Watching) as he sinks beneath the waves ... and so do we.

Everything Must Go!

Silence will fall

There are cracks in the universe. They are small, but big enough to push the largest legal coins through. There will be information on the other side, but we won't be able to read it.

Silence will fall. Not just over there but here too. Whatever else happens, the fun will go. So it ends, with "I'm not paying two quid for that!"

We'll have a good butcher's soon. It may be our last.

Monday, May 17, 2010

March on Berman on Ramadan

Andrew March's review of Paul Berman's book about Tariq Ramadan in The American Prospect is now available here.

I'm told that quite soon Berman and March will be tearing strips off each other on the Dissent website, but my guess is that March will come out of the exchange somewhat better, as he knows a bit about what he's talking about (i.e. Islam), and Berman just doesn't.

Good god, what happened?

I'm thinking of returning to blogging under my own name again, and I occasionally scan the referer files of my site. (Oh OK, that's the home page I use on Safari.) And so I came across Curse Those Islingtonistas! pre Aaro Watch Nick Cohen blogging, by me. I was going to call this, 'Nothing Changes' because back in July 2005 Nick was banging on about the abysmal state [school] system and why religious education is better. But what strikes me as really odd now is just how much I agreed with the first half of his column from January that year.

I live in an area which isn't so much a place made up of streets on the map and people on the electoral register as a curse on and shorthand for all that is wrong with Britain. I live in Islington. If you believe most of the politicians and journalists you will hear in the run-up to the general election, 'Islington' and the 'liberal elite' who slurp their lattes in its cafes are responsible for depraving the morals of the public and sapping the strength of the nation.
The limp-wristed are surprisingly strong. In the past few months, Robert Kilroy-Silk reported with rage a survey of the 'metropolitan media elite' which found that they are 'invariably left-wing, live in north London - Camden and Islington - [and] read the Guardian.' The Daily Telegraph described the decision of Islington council to change the name of St Mary Magdalene School because the 'saint' was divisive as a 'symptom of something very sick'. Other cuttings show that the liberal elite is responsible for drug addiction, crime, yobbishness, sluttishness, incivility, insolence and ignorance.

Tony Blair asserts that 'people have had enough of this part of the 1960s consensus'. New Labour will appeal to 'hard-working families' in the election campaign with some good promises on childcare and the usual 'eye-catching initiatives' on ID cards, asylum seekers and the rest. Launching the Conservative pre-election push on Tuesday, Michael Howard said that he wanted to talk to the abandoned Britain, the slighted Britain, the hard-working, law-abiding Britain of the 'forgotten majority'.

I've been dissecting this humbug for so long I can do it in my sleep now.

All excellent stuff. What's odd is that he went on -

The few gentrified streets did once house members of the leftish intelligentsia.

But since the property bubble inflated, the old Islington middle class is being steadily replaced by partners in City law firms, venture capitalists and Spectator journalists with their harems of mistresses.

(He then moved to attacking the anti-war left, yada, yada, yada.) But in July, he wrote:

Surrounded as I am by New Labour's Islington supporters, ...

It seems unlikely to me that "venture capitalists and Spectator journalists" are "New Labour's Islington supporters" so something must have changed. Also in January, most of Islington was "miserable". In July, it was "a far cry from Islington to the slums of the north."

It's like he was abducted and replaced by a pod person who just repeated the usual received wisdom about North London sometime in between. Also, it's interesting that Michael Howard talked about the 'forgotten majority' - a group which Ed Miliband seems to have just discovered. Tory Manifesto 2005 = Next Labour Manifesto 2015?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Well, that's like hypnotizing chickens

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Pétain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

Politics and the English Language

Dylan Thomas defined an alcoholic as "someone you don't like who drinks as much as you do." Our Nick defines 'middle-class' as people he doesn't like, who earn less than a national newspaper columnist.

Satirists caricature Liberals – and I think we can now stop calling them "Liberal Democrats" as their alliance with the right has sundered their links with the social democratic tradition – as muesli-munching, Observer-reading, real-ale-drinking members of the progressive middle class. The events of last week have smashed that caricature into 1,000 pieces. Instead of going with Labour, the leaders of middle-class liberalism went into David Cameron's coalition. Far from adding grit to an administration dominated by the children of the rich, they toffed it up and raised the average cabinet member's net worth by tens of thousands of pounds.

Oh, good grief. First, all alliances in various European Parliaments - well, they must have sundered the myth of social democracy there too. For instance, Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU):

From 2005 to 2009 she led a grand coalition with the Christian Social Union (CSU), its Bavarian sister party, and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), formed after the 2005 federal election on 22 November 2005.

This shows convincingly, I believe, that so-called Social Democracy is just a pragmatic sham behind which the reactionary running dogs of bourgeois capitalist oppression continue to oppress the honest hard-working sons of toil. Etc. Or something.

I have my muesli in front of me. And I'm partial to real ale. But you can stick progressive where the sun don't shine. "Toffed" doesn't mean that the LDs in the cabinet can trace their ancestors back to William the Conqueror or Henry VIII, it means that their parents were rich. And that net worth has to include Nick Clegg's parents. (Clegg isn't broke by a long way, but some of his money comes from his wife, who is a partner of international legal practice DLA Piper. I can't remember what Cherie Blair did. Wasn't she a cleaner, or did she take in laundry? I'm sure scanning at a checkout in Sainsbury's would be practically middle-class, what with staff discount on wine and organic tofu.

As so often, foreign journalists see Britain more clearly than we do. During the campaign, a puzzled Susanne Gelhard, London correspondent for German radio station ZDF, noticed that the British media talked incessantly about Cameron's privileged background, but never added that Clegg's was no different.

I've a good mind to dig up George Orwell and give him a good dig in the ribs for not including that highly ambiguous word 'never' in Politics and the English Language. Who knew in the pages of the Observer (before they become bespattered with fair trade coffee and muesli with organic soya milk) it could mean 'very very often'? Like in the Daily 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts' Mail. An old BBC profile mentions: Mr Clegg's father, a banker, is half Russian and his aristocratic grandmother fled St Petersburg after the tsar was ousted....Mr Clegg was educated at Westminster school, one of the country's top public schools.

On leaving Cambridge, he [Clegg] behaved in a manner any young Tory on the make would recognise by...

Working for Christopher Hitchens at The Nation, a left-wing magazine? And being a civil servant? Look, you can all hate Clegg as much as you want. I voted LD and I'm happy I did. But Clegg's background is pretty much on a par with Tony Blair's if not slightly more left-wing. (Will no journalist comment that Adam Lang in both the book and film The Ghost was an actor, as was Clegg, who acted with Helena Bonham-Carter?)

Lord Adonis, one of Labour's negotiators in the frantic talks, hints strongly that a freemasonry of the privileged determined the fate of the country. "The Liberals are pretending there was no alternative," he told me. "But they could have formed an alliance with Labour. Nick Clegg went to the Tories not because he had to but because he chose to."

Seriously? I don't trust the Murdoch press, but here's the News of the World:

It has also emerged that Mr Cable repeatedly told Gordon Brown he didn’t want to team up with the Conservatives.

It seems that the Tories were prepared to make a deal. Labour wasn't. It could have been Gordon Brown's arrogance, or Ed Balls's or Alastair Campbell's or even the party not wanting a deal because Brown would stay on. The Lieberals (if we're not calling them Liberal Fascists this week) could have made a deal. George W Bush could have sent Americans to Mars. 'Could' is a good word.

When the then Conservative establishment made Sir Alec Douglas-Home our last Etonian prime minister in 1963, comedians ridiculed him to within an inch of his life. He was an establishment relic stopping a supposedly meritocratic country realising its potential.

As we all know, comedians of the time (the anti-Establishment David Frost, John Cleese, Peter Cook, the Private Eye crew) were all unemployed Edinburgh heroin users living in Pilton. Wait, that's Trainspotting, my bad. Didn't they all go to public school and Oxbridge? Why, so they did.

Here's a short video about life for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown at school at Fettes (the Eton of the North, don't you know) and Fife.

The rage of the suffragettes in the 1910s and the second wave of feminists in the 1970s has declined to a whimper, and succeeded merely in propelling the docile figure of Theresa May to high office. The children of the new Commonwealth immigrants of the 1950s feature not at all among the cabinet's elected members. Meanwhile, the Thatcherite revolt of the 1980s is now so infirm it could not bring David Davis, the only senior Tory left who can speak the language of the lower-middle class, back into Cameron's circle.

Isn't the point of revolutions is that the beneficiaries are more docile than the revolutionaries? Who can forget Diane Abbot as a high-ranking Cabinet member under Blair? You have? How very strange. I think Norman Tebbit can "speak the language of the lower-middle class" (as well as the language of Begbie, or at least he used to give the impression that he took 'tete-a-tete' rather more literally than most) and he's not included either.

I really should give up this lark. Only read Nick because Jack of Kent said 'Nick Cohen in fine form in the Observer'.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Praise for Alan Johnson

Not the minister, of course, because he's now in opposition. Anyway, the praise comes from David Aaronovitch.

But yes, this is the New Politics, brought about with amazing suddenness. And just as excellent as Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron was the outgoing Home Secretary, Alan Johnson. His quick understanding of how things have changed, his clarity on his own position, his support for electoral reform, all marked him out as a New Politician. His backing went to Miliband D., who would be, if elected, the one main party leader educated at an inner-city comprehensive.

Were Johnson himself to have run for leader (he seems to have ruled this out), the former postman would be yet another grammar school boy. Miliband went to Oxford as well, which is more or less a requirement for being PM (Clegg studied at Cambridge).

We now have an alliance of the two great middle-class parties and my assessment is that it is the middle classes who will benefit.

There's an undercurrent of class war running through the piece. Better the middle classes than the ultra rich, say I, and Dave's commitment to the great unwashed has never really convinced me -- nor New Labour's for that matter. The rich have got richer over the last 13 years. I know I didn't vote for that. (Ooh, Daily Mail not pleased: Middle classes pay price of Cameron's deal with Clegg in triple tax bombshell: NI hike to go ahead, NO inheritance tax cut and hike in Capital Gains rate. Inheritance tax affects the middle classes? Really?)

Generally, good stuff, though. This is sailing close to the wind:

Myself, crocked by a detached retina and forced to lie draped across a sofa lying on one side and one-eyed, like the ugliest odalisque, watched the whole thing play out on the 24-hour news channels, with their clinical hysteria and rotating pundits. I could take a PhD in Adam Boulton and Laura Kuenssberg studies.

Bet Dave is more a Campbell man than a Boulton one.

Cleggened Cameron marks the crushing defeat of the Telegraphiat and the Tory Right.

James Delingpole is not taking it well.

Dave, slightly surprisingly, comes out for voting reform. Labour only seem to like it when they're losing. When they win, it's a non-issue. He's happy with the AV system. Surprisingly, the Staggers wasn't, from which you would never suspect that the Jenkins Commission actually recommended AV over STV.

Still, there's plenty to nit pick. So get to it...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What's wrong with this picture?

Hey readers, want to see a curious spectacle?

Here's the curious spectacle of Martin Bright, trying to play ethnic politics with an ethnic group of which he is not a member and about which he seemingly knows little and cares not much more.

Fun fact: in the JC roundup of what happened to the Jewish vote, a grand total of 11 MPs are mentioned (and two deposed former MPs, both Labour). Only one is Conservative. Is this really representative of the political views of the Jewish community in the UK? Are they really more interested in the fact that Khalid Mahmood (I am not kidding) won Birmingham Perry Bar for Labour than the result in, say, Hampstead and Kilburn? Even given that Brighty's contacts and history are all on the Labour side (although this is going to be a bit of a liability going forward), was there really no space to mention Sir Gerald Kaufman or Fabian Hamilton? It really is a "will this do" piece which underlines the fact that MB's main qualification for the job is bashing Ken Livingstone for being soft on Islamists, which he more or less admits himself. How long can this go on? As long as Stephen Pollard remains as editor, I suppose. How long can that go on?

Sunday, May 09, 2010


Dave on Thursday:

This has been the most peculiar election. To emphasise its strangeness I received a personal letter yesterday from someone I hadn’t seen for a decade, who I am not sure particularly ever liked me (it does happen) and who is now a baroness, asking me to vote for the candidate of her party, as a “personal favour” to her.
So, I see the need for a change, but I don’t want a Tory majority. Maybe I should vote Lib Dem, as my new friend, the baroness, asks me?

We know Dave likes to be coy with details, like revealing people's names, even if they're writing to all and sundry.

Craig Murray today:

I received - along with other party members - a rather stalinist email from someone called Baroness Scott, President of the Liberal Democrats. Somebody should explain to her the meaning of each of the words in the party title, because her email said this:

We have all worked hard and for that I thank you - my travels around the country showed me just how much everyone has put in. We have achieved this not only due to that effort, but also by sticking to our fairness message. In order for us to maximise our chances of delivering our fairness agenda we now have to keep this discipline up, avoiding speculation as to what happens next.
Baroness Ros Scott
President of the Liberal Democrats.

By "speculation" she evidently means open and democratic discussion of what the party should no next. We can't have that, can we Ros? All those people whose hard work you applaud are just meant to put the highheidyins in power. They are not supposed to have opinions on what is done with that power, or if they do they should keep them quiet.

On Twitter he calls it "a rather stalinist email." Ugh. The same baroness?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Time to chuck our toys out of our prams

What Malky Muscular said of Oliver Kamm.

This is a time not for calm reflection and for taking stock, but for recrimination and bitterness. The first thing that Gordon Brown should do is step down. He is unlikely to do so, I fear, and will instead waste time trying to form a government. Partly this is because of Labour's baroque constitutional procedures, but mainly it's because he can't grasp what's in the party's best interests. Being a failure, he will be embraced by Labour with sentimentality and gratitude. It's the successes, notably Brown's immediate predecessor, whom the party can't forgive.

The thing I like about that paragraph is that I disagree with every sentence. Yes, even the bit about GB standing down. While there's hope for a Lib-Lab pact or progressive partnership, Labour needs a leader. (If Brown resigned, who would deal with Clegg? Probably Mandelson, and I definitely don't want that.) Brown is entitled to form a government, no possible combination looks workable, but Lib-Lab might at least deliver PR and keep Osbourne out of Number 11 - it's not a waste of time. Although the Labour Party's constitutional procedures are baroque, that's not a reason to stop Brown resigning: it didn't stop Blair, Kinnock, Foot, Callaghan, and Wilson from doing so (Wilson also resigned as PM mid-term). What seems to be in the best interests of the party to me is trying to form a government, but Oliver thinks that's a waste of time. (Which it may ultimately be because the looming debt crisis probably will make the incumbent party unelectable in future. I wouldn't like to sell that reason to backbench MPs or activists though.) I think Brown's deeply flawed, and not at all a good leader, but if I could arrange for Brown to debate the best interests of the party with Oliver Kamm, my money would be on the PM.

Of course it's the last sentence I really disagree with. People like Atlee, Bevan, Bevin, Michael Young, and more controversially to most of you, Roy Jenkins seem to have been not only forgiven, but embraced, by the people's party. Damn them for winning in 1945, setting up the Health Service, and so on. I consider Roy Jenkins to have been a huge success.

Jenkins refused to authorise the birching of prisoners and was responsible for the relaxation of the laws relating to divorce, abolition of theatre censorship and gave government support to David Steel's Private Member's Bill for the legalisation of abortion and Leo Abse's bill for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Wilson, with his puritan background, was not especially sympathetic to these developments, however. Jenkins replied to public criticism by asserting that the so called permissive society was in reality the civilised society.

There are past leaders the party can't forgive. At least one anyway. Oliver likes him; I do not. I think that's for reasons quite other than success or failure and a lot more to do with political orientation.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

A minor but irritating rewrite of history

Just noticed this in the Aaro election column:

When Tony Blair introduced tuition fees in 2004, against opposition from G. Brown and the Lib Dems, he didn’t do it because it was popular but because universities needed to be funded. In the 2005 election the Lib Dems won several university seats by frighting the air with predictions about how college applications would fall among the poorest students (who weren’t going to be affected by it anyway). So when this prediction turned out to be completely wrong, did they apologise?

Emphasis added. The point here is that yes, they were going to be affected by it. The safeguards for poorer students were not in the original bill brought forward by T Blair. They were added, at a later date, in order to bring Labour rebels back on side. I have no idea why the Libs (or Gordon Brown, if he did actually oppose it) should apologise for the fact that they manage to prevent the problem they predicted.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Important election advice from Nick

In his latest Standpoint blog, Writing versus Propaganda, Nick bravely tells us he prefers the former.

Minds are changed not by corporate propaganda but by individuals making an argument brilliantly. Only two pieces from this campaign have made me pace the room, and with admiration and envy muter that the author had said what I knew to be true but could never express myself.

I hate to interrupt, but isn't the point of journalism telling us things we didn't know? Can't say I learned anything from Roy Greenslade's argument that "although press campaigns ... have an effect, newspaper readers are quite capable of ignoring the advice newspapers editors give them". Really? Well, well. The two pieces are JK Rowling in the Times and Janice Turner in the, er, Times. One convinces the reader "not to back the Conservatives" (not as well as Johann Hari does, IMO) and the other that "on no account should Gordon Brown be allowed to return to office" (nicely written, but misses the point that Gillian Duffy's concerns are those of a bigot).

So that's Lib Dem then? Or Green?

Just noticed on preview in the quote above: Minds are changed ... by individuals making an argument brilliantly. Only two pieces [where] the author had said what I [already] knew to be true ...

Monday, May 03, 2010

Every picture tells a story

Nick Coren is insulting me (and the other proprietor of AW)

Hmmmm ...

What would you say the defining characteristic of these faces was? A certain, well, hollowness, around the eyes? (NB: that name also indexes a handsome rogue who apparently discjockeys around with his shirt off. Not him).

Sheesh. If I'd been called a "big-foreheaded onanist" or a "scruffy wanker", or as the long departed and not very much missed "Drink Soaked Trots" blog had it, a "ginger cunt", I think I'd have less cause for complaint. Presumably there are no mirrors in Nick's house.

What we don’t want to hear

Aaro was pretty good in his movable slot (this time is was a Friday; I guess that's why they call it 'The Times' - no? anyone?).

Since the whole business kicked off in Manchester two weeks and a day ago, my profession has looked with ambivalence at the leaders’ televised debates. These confrontations have marked a limit in our ability as the media to continually interpose ourselves between the politicians and the voters. By and large you have seen and you have judged.

If true, it's not as if the Murdoch papers and Sky haven't tried. I've hoped for the last three elections that politicians would get websites and thus be able to write directly to the public: in paragraphs, not soundbites. They have got websites, but my hopes are mostly vain.

Look, on 'bigotgate' my opinion is very simple. People say this sort of thing all the time. It's really embarrassing if you get caught, but you've all done it. And Brown was right, she did seem bigoted. (No one has even discussed this, but she also seemed to think that if you were of pensionable age, perhaps also if your spouse had died, you shouldn't have to pay tax. We will now look for a comment on this from Mr Paul McCartney. Brown fobbed her off; he used to be able to calculate this sort of thing in his head.)

As the Institute for Fiscal Studies — one of the great new institutions in our monitory democracy — said this week, none of the parties has told us how it will reduce the deficit.

Dave doesn't care for "our monitory democracy". I do. I don't see how we can make informed decisions without good auditing. If the country can be compared to a large company, we are the owners, and we're entitled to look at the books and weigh the directors' decisions. Curiously, Aaro backs the IFS here, and for the right reasons.

Generally, he's right. We need a better quality of debate. (Not that we'll get it; pretty much everyone believes that Kennedy won because Nixon sweated more.) Feel free, as always, to disagree.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Lang may yours slums reek

National insurance against sickness and disablement.

Contrary to what I guessed yesterday, Nick has come out for Labour, with only a nice word said about Evan Harris (and that seems to have been withdrawn, jokingly, I'm sure).

Too many Westminster politicians and journalists regard debates about political principle as eccentric distractions from the vital questions of who is up and who is down, who has gaffed disastrously and who has spun successfully.

I'm still waiting for any sign that Nick has read any party's manifesto. Nick concludes his 'argument':

Alongside all Labour's scoundrels and freeloaders, you can still find honourable men and women who believe in equality and internationalism. Their presence shows that even if the party's leaders cannot make it, and even if it takes a gut-wrenching effort to make it on their behalf, there remains a case for voting Labour – despite everything

Lots of 'political principle' there. Labour has some honourable people. He's already concluded that the Lib Dems have too, so even that's not the killer reasoning he seems to believe it to be.[1] Michael Gove is a sort of honorary Decent isn't he? He seems likeable enough on 'The Review Show' although I think he's a pretty useless politician.

Interestingly, while Nothing British About the BNP and other Conservative groups oppose ultra-reactionary politics in both their white supremacist and clerical guises, the Liberal Democrats are absent without leave from the battles in the slums which will determine the character of Britain.

Eh? My Concise OED defines slum as "1. A room. slang. Long rare or obsolete. E19. 2. An overcrowded district of a town or city having squalid housing conditions and inhabited by very poor people...." The Labour Party tried to abolish slum housing in the 1960s following the Parker Morris Committee. The proposed standards were naturally abandoned under Thatcher - and not revived by Labour since 1997. There are squalid areas in every city, I don't know if 'slum' is the right word or not: I think not. If there are slums, isn't that a point against Labour which should have done something by now?

What does the Labour Party manifesto 1.4Mb PDF say about housing?

We understand people’s concerns about immigration – about whether it will undermine their wages or job prospects, or put pressure on public services or housing – and we have acted. Asylum claims are down to the levels of the early 1990s and net inward migration has fallen.

That's good to know: we've reduced asylum claims because of possible pressure on housing. How very... internationalist.

Have fun. I'd also appreciate it anyone can explain Oliver Kamm's take (via Harry's Place); it's over my head.

[1] Is Labour really an internationalist party? A few weeks ago, Brownie of Harry's Place brought up Enoch Powell in our comments. He thought Powell was a failure politically. I'm much more ambivalent about this. As I said in an earlier thread, I thought Heath was right to sack Powell - both morally and tactically. Powell left the Tories and made a speech which in effect said, Vote Labour because, at the time, Labour was the anti-EEC party. I think this is Powell's great legacy: the Tories have been split ever since (and possibly since the question first arose) on whether to be part of Europe or not. I think Daniel Hannan's objections to the EU can be traced back to Powell. Labour has a similar fault-line, but it's much more pragmatic and less ideological. Without going into too much history, I think Labour has a pretty strong tradition of scepticism to trans-Atlantic alliances (what Nick would doubtless call 'anti-Americanism'), the EU, and to links with the former Soviet bloc. Equality may be in Labour's DNA, so to speak, but internationalism - not so much. I've never understood being an internationalist as any kind of basic condition for membership.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

We will bury you

Cynical readers may think that the Labour Party these days is populated solely by scum-sucking warmongers dead set on privatising hospitals and scaring people off claiming benefits. Did you know that sailors used to wear gold earrings so that their bodies could have a decent funeral if they were drowned at sea? From Harry's Place, we have a touching new policy from the Labour Party (not necessarily officially endorsed): We will bury you. That saves me some worry, and means I can put the money I'd set aside for my cremation into the economy and fight the recession.

Is this relevant to this blog? Nick Cohen has tweeted[1]:

Have praised @DrEvanHarris in pre-election column. Potential Tory gain in Oxford West in Abingdon now a certainty

Look out Nick, Harry's Place is angry at the Guardian Media Group. This will push them over the edge. Best comment so far from Bill D:

Oh dear. This really is a King Lear moment for Labour: “I will do such things, what they are I know not yet, but they shall be the terrors of the earth”. You probably don’t need me to remind you how Lear was in a considerably better condition than Labour at the time. This is more akin to the ravings of a urine-soaked tramp hurling incoherent abuse outside a railway station while waving an empty can of Tennants Super; people just give him a wide berth and feel more pity than revulsion.
While Ben rails against metropolitan elitists places like Oldham, Rochdale, Redcar and Dunfermline are tending towards the Lib Dems. Even parts of Newcastle, Sheffield and the North East are going to turn yellow on election night.

Nick's blocked me, so I can't read his tweets (if I'm signed in), but Evan Harris retweeted that one, so I saw it. I don't really understand Twitter, but I think that's a bug, not a feature.

'If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said:
'If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread';
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

WH Auden Refugee Blues

I think How Brown's Gaffe Reveals Labour's Larger Problems (via Gene) merits a post.

I think Brown’s disdain for that anxiety captures a wider problem—the fraying of the relationship between the Labour Party and the working class as three big sources of anxiety have been put off-political-limits.

The 'three big sources of anxiety' are the government's 'failure to regulate economic globalization' (NTM doesn't suggest how it should have done this), European integration, and mass immigration. Maybe Daniel will pop along to comment on globalization (surely 'economic' is just a tautology), but I think it's a good thing. If you want some informed commentary on European integration, you could do a lot worse than reading Clive's Nosemonkey blog. But as far as that goes, while there is a great deal to be critical of in the EU (I go along with many of the 'undemocratic' complaints; "oh, let's just hold another referendum as the electorate got the last one wrong" etc), a lot of the reason why there is anxiety is because certain newspapers like (cough) the Daily 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts' Mail blatantly scaremonger.

Ah, immigration. Channel 4 News' splendid Factcheck thinks Brown was wrong although he 'was in the right ballpark when he talked about 1m Brits living abroad'.

A week or two ago I fell into conversation with a constituent, a middle-aged, quite ordinary working man employed in one of our nationalised industries.
After a sentence or two about the weather, he suddenly said: "If I had the money to go, I wouldn't stay in this country." I made some deprecatory reply to the effect that even this government wouldn't last for ever; but he took no notice, and continued: "I have three children, all of them been through grammar school and two of them married now, with family. I shan't be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas. In this country in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man."
I can already hear the chorus of execration. How dare I say such a horrible thing? How dare I stir up trouble and inflame feelings by repeating such a conversation?
The answer is that I do not have the right not to do so. Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that his country will not be worth living in for his children.
I am going to allow just one of those hundreds of people to speak for me:
“Eight years ago in a respectable street in Wolverhampton a house was sold to a Negro. Now only one white (a woman old-age pensioner) lives there. This is her story. She lost her husband and both her sons in the war. So she turned her seven-roomed house, her only asset, into a boarding house. She worked hard and did well, paid off her mortgage and began to put something by for her old age. Then the immigrants moved in. With growing fear, she saw one house after another taken over. The quiet street became a place of noise and confusion. Regretfully, her white tenants moved out.["]

See, constituents, ordinary working class people, tell MP about their fears. Said MP gets on hind legs and makes long speech to Commons. Leader of his party (then in opposition) sacked him and never spoke to him again. He also won the next election. If that's being out of touch and disdainful, bring it on.

Happily, there is a party which is concerned about immigration. Contrary to popular misconception, it also supports foreign intervention, thus:

The Falklands campaign was an obvious example where Britain needed to act, but more recently there were clear grounds to rescue people of British descent from the murderous regime in Zimbabwe.

I haven't read the manifesto, and I don't intend to. Sim-O apparently plans to go through each policy and mock it on his blog.

About the only sensible thing I've seen on Harry's Place recently was a comment by KB Player here (it's the first one):

The whole thing is ridiculous. Who hasn’t got off the phone to someone they’ve been super polite to, then snarled to their colleagues:- “That was that *&£$%^ +_&%*% again.” Social and professional life wouldn’t survive without great dollops of hypocrisy.

Everyone else seems to talk about Brown 'sliming' Duffy: no he didn't. I totally agree with Angry Mob here.

When I was a member of the Labour Party in Tufnell Park back in about 1988, I remember some old 'authentic' member of party complaining about Camden Council (how much will Nick hate me now) allocating money to gay and lesbian causes rather than giving it to pensioners. (It wouldn't have gone very far if they had, of course.) He wasn't well received by the rest of us, as you can probably imagine. I know I'm a bruschetta eating liberal - I even like salads - but I'm not terribly enamoured of the 'white working class' when it's motivated by spite and taking things off others. We (I use 'we' very loosely) should educate people like Gillian Duffy, not genuflect to them.

I'll be voting LD, but Brown was right.

Coda: I do believe Harry's Place could find an ally in their campaign against Hugo Chavez here.

Update 14:40 I forgot to thank OC for finding the Harry's Place post. Thank you, Mr Cheeseboard. Also, continuing our theme.
Spock dressed as a Nazi in Patterns of Force
Fear of foreigners is not logical.