Sunday, May 24, 2009

'The courage of the godly'

I'm concerned this will look inappropriate on top of two light-hearted posts but in any event, I can't bring myself to say much about this story. Instead, I'll direct you to some other people's thoughts on the subject, which overlap with my own. The title of this post is borrowed from Nick Cohen's here - and there's also this and this.

I would, however, like to express my heartfelt appreciation for Madeline Bunting's piece here. It is righteousness expressed as doubt - and I think it behooves people of faith to take note.

I would also like to express my utter contempt for an appalling article by Mary Kenny who claims that she has had nothing to say about the subject in the past because, "I honestly have no experience of it." I trust she'll remember this important restriction to her pontificating the next time she feels moved to write a column about abortion. And in an irrelevant discourse about priests having mistresses she says, "Yes, it's against the rules, but didn't Jesus Christ say that the just man falls 77 times a day?"

No Mary, he didn't. He did say that if anyone causes one of these little ones offence, it would be better for him to have a millstone tied around his neck and then thrown into the sea.

Two tribes

If you can watch the following without experiencing actual physical pain then you don't belong to the same one as me...

To be fair, Norm doesn't belong to either but frankly I don't think this is a good enough reason to be inflicting this o'shite on an unsuspecting blog-viewing public.

Expenses stimulation

Nadine Dorries gets a hard time, doesn't she? She was going on about how MPs were the victim of McCarthyism and some were on the brink of topping themselves - a suggestion too batty even for the Conservative Party so Dave has had to slap her down.

This is against the background of a plethora of blogposts suggesting she is frankly a bit mental. Most recently, the boring one from Liberal Conspiracy who writes unfeasibly long posts described her as, "The gift that keeps on giving".

Hmmm, maybe it's the febrile atmosphere generated by all this scandal but I have to confess: what she's giving me is the horn. I'm thinking if she got a hold of my right honourable member, it would be the beginning of a sexual journey so profound it could conceivably change her political views. She could then write about this sublime corruption on her blog - complete with photos. Ah, she can't. Nevermind, we would still have the memories - and the photos.

Mock if you wish, but I don't think I'm alone here.

I am, you say? Oh well...

Nadine Dorries MP: Grrrrrrrrr!

Democracy, demagogy and deficits

Hmmm, on the whole expenses thing Paulie's went and changed his mind just when I'm beginning to think he was right the first time. Well, not quite. I've always thought people like his and Aaronovitch's eagerness to defend 'politics' ran the risk of over-compensating and sliding into deference.

However, despite the fact I don't think there's any real danger of the BNP grasping or even coming close to holding the balance of power - nor do I think the Berlusconification of the UK political system is very likely - the present damage to the legitimacy of Parliament is causing me more concern than it has done previously.

There's two reasons for this. One is the economy. Haven't discussed it before because I didn't really want to give ammunition to the Tories but I'm thinking it doesn't really matter because a) the Tories aren't interested in economics anymore, b) hardly anyone reads this blog anyway.

But if I've understood the figures I trawled out of here correctly then I think I'm right in saying that Gordon Brown has presided over the fastest and deepest fiscal deterioration in postwar British economic history - and that's before the credit crunch. Furthermore, I would argue that those suggesting it doesn't matter are completely wrong because what it means is that unless something turns up - like someone striking oil when they're cleaning a moat or something - budgets for the foreseeable future are going to comprise of tax rises and spending cuts, thereby breaking the perceived relationship between the tax burden and the provision of public services.

This would put a strain on the legitimacy of government at the best of times but against a background of expenses scandals, it's going to be enormously difficult. This is why all this matters. The perception that they've been lining their own pockets and are then going to take more out of ours without giving anything back is going to create problems. But in the general 'what is to be done?' arguments I can find only things that are likely to make matters worse. I trust anyone reading this thinks all these 'anti-sleaze' candidates are likely to be a waste of time? Single-issue politics is almost always what Paulie calls 'anti-politics'. Ok, so you've got a white suit and you won't expect the tax-payer to pay as you wank off to porn. Good - but what spending are you going to cut and what taxes do you think should rise?

But the other stuff isn't going to do any good either. Most of the 'reforms' being suggested should be considered on their own merits, not as a response to an expenses scandal. Some of them I would support, like an elected second chamber. But what, exactly, has PR to do with any of this? The scandal has to do with how MPs behaved after they got elected and has nothing much to do with the mechanism by which they got elected. In what way does PR make MPs more accountable to the electorate? I appreciate not all systems do this but most of them take power from the local parties and the electorate and hand it to the party machine. I know who my FPTP MSP is - but the list member? Haven't a clue.

Not only this but PR often produces weak government - and this we don't need surely? In Scotland the parties couldn't even agree on a coalition, leaving us with a minority government that has the power to do precisely nothing except play silly buggers. Would a coalition government comprised of Esther Rantzens and a multiplicity of small parties be able to agree a first budget, which will of necessity be something of a horror show of tax rises and spending cuts? To describe this as doubtful is surely something of an understatement...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The scapegoating of Michael Martin

John Kampfner in Comment is Pants:
"Class is the last refuge of the political scoundrel. Amid all the column inches about Michael Martin is the ubiquitous reference to the "former sheet metal worker". His upbringing in the Gorbals in Glasgow and his difficult early life appear to have induced in his supporters and critics alike a sense of otherworldliness. Normal rules have, until this week when he finally bowed to pressure to quit the post of Speaker, not applied."
'Gorbals Mick' came from Anderston, not the Gorbals, and he isn't called Mick. At least Quentin Letts when he gave Michael this sneering nickname was probably aware of these facts, unlike John Kampfner. Just because you're a chippy trades unionist from Glasgow doesn't mean they're not out to get you. Michael Martin was an undistinguished Speaker and his attack on Kate Hoey was quite extraordinary - but what exactly are these 'normal rules' Mr Kampfner is referring to? The last Speaker to be forced out of the job was John Trevor in 1695 and this was for taking a bribe. There is no suggestion of anything matching this level of personal corruption with regards to Michael Martin.

I would agree that Michael Martin was essentially incompetent but to imagine this was enough to see him ejected from his role as Speaker is pure fantasy. Had it not been for the Telegraph's revelations about MP's expenses, he would have remained in his role. Despite having little respect for the manner in which he has conducted his office, I'm left feeling both saddened and with a sense of injustice at his abdication on this day. MPs, disgraced in the public eye, not only say, "it was the rules wot made me do it", but they add to their irresponsibility by saying, in effect, that the Speaker's failings allowed this to happen. As if this kind of use and abuse of the expenses system didn't pre-date Michael Martin's tenure as Speaker of the House of Commons. As if they were not responsible for their own behaviour. This generation of MPs is unfortunate in that they got found out. "It wasnae me", they cry - but the thing is, I reckon Michael Martin's claim to the excuse that every generation of Glaswegian schoolchildren reproduce is as least as good as theirs.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A few choice quotes

One or two on Thatcherite hooligan and erstwhile head of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools Chris Woodhead (not in Scotland, thank goodness) and his recent foray into social Darwinism, via Peter:
"Chris Woodhead..."...says the children of middle-class professionals are likely to have 'better genes'". Thomas Hardy would never have bothered to write Jude the Obscure if he had access to this startling, scientific insight. Know your place indeed."
Uh huh. Snoop's comment below Peter's post is worth reproducing too:
"Woodhead... talk about the crucial role a name can have in the person's life."
Barbara Ellen picked up on this in the Observer:
"You wonder, when running Ofsted, whether Woodhead was sneaking a tape measure in to measure the skulls of poorer children."
Indeed. And scrolling down one finds also this unexpected delight with regards to the smoking ban:
"Pubs are just plain wrong without smoking. For all the alcohol, without fags, they have the atmosphere of a 1950s Soviet tea dance. People who prefer pubs smokeless are the same people no one wants to drink with anyway, prissy bores taking umbrage at "going home smelling like an ashtray". As if their hideous aftershaves and perfumes aren't offensive to decent smokers.


As it stands, even those of us who don't smoke any more still think pubs have been ruined by the lack of smoke and lack of smokers, generally the most gregarious, articulate, amusing half-dead people you could hope to meet."
Is this delightful person seeing anyone at the mo - anyone know?

Anyway, here's a true tale from the trenches. One of the instrument tutors at my present school told me that a parent got in touch with him asking if her boy could get guitar lessons. She added that while he had never played guitar before, she didn't think he needed to start at level one because he was already at level three on guitar hero. Perhaps it's genetic...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

MPs and their expenses in perspective

I run the risk of being shot by both sides here because I'm finding points to agree with on both sides of the argument with regards to the 'scandal' of MPs' expenses.

On one hand, I'm in agreement with the arguments in favour of what Paulie and others annoyingly call 'politics'. People who complain about how much people earn invariably do so as a cipher for some more general disapproval.

So, for example, people who complain about the Queen's personal wealth are usually closet republicans. Fair enough I say - but I wish they would just 'come out' instead of bleating about the expense of the civil list.

In my own case, I find that people who bitch about teachers' pay, holidays, and pensions fundamentally don't like teachers and would probably only approve of them if they were employed by the private sector. As it is, most of us are employed by the public sector and this they hate in a barely concealed way.

So as with MPs' expenses and their pay. That it is symbolic is plain from the way that what animates and outrages people is not the fact that Prudence has been spending money like a drunken sailor with a credit card but rather the outrage that was Jacqui Smith's bathplug. Bathplug-gate, I dare say we should call it.

Here I'm with Paulie and others defending 'politics': I'd argue that those whose blogs (I won't link them, I'm assuming you've read them) have gone into overdrive on this subject are for the most part 'libertarians', which is to say semi-reformed anarcho-capitalists who give the impression of being perpetually on the brink of recidivism. These - who never seem to complain about corporate greed or corruption - are the mirror image of those closet republicans who wouldn't be happy with the monarchy until the Queen arrives at the state opening of Parliament in a taxi wearing a tracksuit.

On the other hand, I'm losing a little sympathy with the 'get perspective' crew too. If in doubt, reach for the Macauley quote: "We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality." It goes without saying that David Aaronovitch used this. (Can anyone remember a column from this writer that wasn't an apologia for what is? Neither can I.) Subtext: to complain about MPs' expenses is ridiculous. Because it's ephemeral, these outbursts of morality? Yet since there seem to be some people who think it's facilitating an eruption in our polity that is altogether more enduring - as they seem to be seriously suggesting that a few leaks published in the Telegraph creates a fascist-enabling environment. Methinks those calling for 'perspective' have rather lost it themselves. Here's Paulie, for example - imagining he's the voice of moderation:
"I'm...alarmed...about the anti-politics mood in the country. I think it presents a genuine threat - in so far as it can result in a new populist politics emerging. Populism of the Berlusconi, Putin or Pim Fortuyn variety."
Putin? Yes I'm sure that something like this is quite likely - because the similarities between the post-Soviet chaos of Russia and contemporary Britain are so close it's almost spooky. Or perhaps not. Berlusconi? Hmmm, emerges against a background of genuine corruption where the PR system beloved of complacent liberals tended to produce coalitions that lasted for about as long as a wine gum.

Not so in Britain where governments go on, and on, and on... This is something missing from the whole analysis, surely? We saw this with the twilight of the Tory years too - only these revelations were more sexy and interesting. Thankfully I don't live in London so I haven't disappeared into the Westminster-media navel-gazing loop that some of y'all live in but doesn't it work something like this: you stay in power too long, you expose yourself to this type of revelation because a) you've made too many enemies, b) as your power visibly fades, those in a position to leak lose any interest in loyalty to their political masters, assuming that they won't be the masters for much longer?

Or is that too boring for you - you'd rather imagine you're living in something akin to the last days of the Weimar Republic? Dare I say a little perspective is called for here? I can't claim to have done an exhaustive trawl of the commentary on this topic but as far as I can see only Norm is insisting one thing is not another thing; the rest of you have all gone a bit mental, if you don't mind me saying so...

NB: The scandal has inevitably raised the issue of what MPs should be paid as discussed by Chris Dillow here. I have no strong opinion about what MPs should be paid but I have to say I'm surprised that an economist would suggest that an MP should be paid on a scale similar to that of social workers. This completely omits risk: the MPs' job is very insecure - that of a social worker is not.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Labour's meltdown part 247

In my last school, at a time when everyone else in the department was battering out reports for a year group that I didn't take, my illustrious faculty head asked me to proof-read them. Working on the assumption that the devil makes work for idle hands, no doubt. My imminent departure from this particular citadel of learning allowed me the latitude to make an impertinent observation, which I put something like this: if you're going to write reports with snooty remarks about the kids' grammar and punctuation, one would have thought the least you could do is punctuate them properly.

Anyone noticed this is often the way? People whining about collapsing standards in schools who can't spell, people banging on about the decline in modern manners who are insufferably rude - and people complaining about other people doing the politics of personality and then go and do it themselves. Enter Dennis McShane. If you want to deepen your understanding of just how completely fucked we are come the next election, you could do worse than read his latest offering from Comment is Vacuous.

One scarcely knows where to begin with this piece of shit. How about the beginning, in the goddamn title?
"The Tories' sole offer is anti-Brownism."
It doesn't seem to have occurred to Mr McShane that this might prove to be something of a selling point because, in case he hadn't noticed, the Brown premiership is a car crash of really quite spectacular proportions. The background to his musing is, apparently, various noises of disloyalty coming from various quarters from... who cares where? Because this isn't re-arranging deck-chairs on the Titantic so much as arguing about who's going to be captain after the damn thing's just hit the fucking iceberg. Anyway, Dennis's bizarre analysis of the situation seems to have something to do with dividing the Cabinet into two helpful categories:
"A good cabinet should have both technos and electos."
'Electos' are, apparently, people who have actually had to fight competitive elections; 'technos' are people who have gone from 'policy-wonking' (sic?) to safe seats. I think we can dispense with any further discussion about what the exact balance of 'electos' and 'technos' is in the present Cabinet since Mr McShane is overlooking two details that one would have thought were rather important:

1) We don't have a good Cabinet. I suppose you could address the question and ask: to make this a good Cabinet, what do we need - more 'electos' or more 'technos'? Or - you could stop yourself and conclude that the question is a bit mental because it is avoiding what is to everyone else fairly obvious: this is the weakest Cabinet in living memory and the reason for this has to do with the second point Mr McShane has missed...

2) There's a third category in the Cabinet. Those who have never fought competitive elections - not because they've been parachuted into a safe-seat after a few years of policy-wanking but because they're Scottish. Unfortunately the most significant figure coming from this political culture where the selectorate is the electorate is none other than the primus inter pares himself. The fittest that survive in this political ecology are those who build networks of patronage where promotion and inclusion are based on loyalty rather than talent. Do you really think it's a co-incidence that the background that formed Gordon Brown also produced characters like George Galloway and Tommy Sheridan? If you can't see the similarity, you're blind. The difference with them is Galloway and Sheridan have charisma but no power; Brown has power but no charisma. But all three have political gangs - followers who are devoted to a person rather than a cause or even a coherent programme. And all three are complete fuck-ups as far as I can see.

For us to love our country, our country ought to be lovely - and if you're going to do the politics of personality, it helps if the personalities in question have something appealing about them. Failing that, you could always make unfavourable comparisons with the other lot - based on some prolier-than-thou shit that has fuck all to do with politics, socialism or even class as properly understood, leaving only culture - as exemplified in this dog-shit posing as a political argument:
"There is an alternative Labour narrative – whether "meta" or not I can't tell, since I don't know what meta means. [Is this supposed to be part of the appeal to the peepul - by putting your fucking ignorance on display? Honestly! - Ed] It was on display on Sunday. John Prescott and I were out with three of Labour's Yorkshire MEP candidates, together with about 30 Labour activists, knocking on doors in Rotherham and Sheffield. Prezza had already done Liverpool and Manchester and later would do Doncaster. He spent his first years in Rotherham and when he failed the 11-plus, that was our future deputy prime minister en route to a working-class future. He points to the church where he was not allowed to sing in the choir because he was always arguing with the vicar and, instead, was only allowed to pump the organ bellows. They know Prescott around here, and come out of terrace doors and retirement bungalows to be photographed with him."
Jesus H Christ on a pogo stick - are we reduced to this? But why stop there? I could run for Parliament at the next election on the grounds that I went to borstal for head-butting a nun or something. Doesn't get any more gritty and authentic than that. Plus I can down a bottle of Buckfast in one go. If that isn't qualification for high office, I don't know what is. It gets worse...
"It is a long way away from London and the public school tones of David Cameron and Nick Clegg."
Yes, don't vote for them - they aren't horny-handed sons of toil like Two-Jags; they're posh fuckers who went to expensive public schools. We don't want them. Unless of course they happen to be our posh fuckers, like Tony Blair. Remember him? The posh barrister fucker who went to Fettes and actually won an election or three?

I'm taking issue with this at length because this nonsense is fairly representative of the sort of garbage being spouted by quite a few Labour-leaning journalists and bloggers. The reason people like Ashley and Toynbee got all moist about the prospect of a Brown premiership in the first place was because they mistook being grumpy and Scottish for social democracy. He's serious, unflashy, Calvinistic... Oops! As it turns out, Mr Parsimonious Presbyterian has been running the Exchequer like a drunken sailor with a credit card. Oh dear.

I mean, honestly! Follow the logic of these numbskulls and we would have felt obliged to vote for John Major - a Prime Minister with a genuinely humble background. But we didn't because he was a Tory. That's enough, isn't it? That's why we're not going to vote for Cameron. Not because he's a posh-boy but because he's a Tory. A Tory like the decidedly less posh, grammar-school educated, Michael Howard. Is there any reason to think he would have been less evil than Cameron because of this? If you can answer this in the affirmative then you're mental.

Anyway, post-defeat no doubt there'll be lots of arguments about whether to move left, or right, in, out, or shake it all about. Here's my own suggestion: how about embracing democracy? The lack of it in the Labour party has been seen in the coronations of Brown in Westminster and Wendy Alexander in Holyrood. Do you really think the disasters that have followed were despite this sorry excuse for party democracy? Other symptoms include the dismal failure to reform the House of Lords properly or to carry out the 'renaissance in local government' that the late John Smith used to talk about. The alternative is to continue mistaking your core support for the electorate, which leads you to doing stupid things like prancing about constituencies wearing top hats and then going on to lose the election.

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