Wednesday, April 28, 2010

And just when you thought it couldn't get any worse...

This, which you can't have failed to have seen already, is pretty excruciating.

Honestly - you can't say anything about bigots these days. It's political correctness gone mad, I tell you...

"Where are all these Eastern Europeans coming from?"

Um, Eastern Europe? More specifically, perhaps Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia? These would be EU member states whose citizens are perfectly entitled to be here - every bit as much as all those ex-pat Brits are entitled to live in Spain. So is it just me who's wondering: what's the fuss?

See also: this.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tribalism: Labour's besetting sin?

A number of pundits and bloggers have been speculating whether this election marks the nadir of tribal politics? Short answer: no - but it left me wondering if tribalism isn't more of a problem for Labour than either the Tories and the Lib Dems?

It isn't that the others are less so; I'd argue in particular that the Tories are, if anything, more so. But it's a special problem for Labour in two ways:

1) They do it more explicitly than anyone else. Can anyone seriously doubt this? If you do - do come to Scotland and we'll show you how it works here. Disagree with my position? Here's why you're wrong... Nothing could be more alien to the Scottish Labourist tradition. Disagree with me and you are a traitor to the long-suffering proletarian. You know the man - the one most Labour politicians have had described to them. Now tribalism can have it's attractions - provided you feel you belong to said tribe. But if you don't, it's this sort of thing that is designed to draw the line between those who belong and those who don't more sharply. It leaves us with a problem: for every one Chris Dillow who feels drawn to Labour for aesthetic and nostalgic reasons, there's at least three who do not - which leads us to the second fatal problem with Labour's tribalism:

2) It's that the aforementioned tribe is shrinking. This is something those who were Brown's cheerleaders never understood. I would compare him to Michael Foot in one respect only: he was a candidate who was the very incarnation of the malady that sometimes afflicts (losing) political parties - the malady that has to do with mistaking your 'grassroots' for the electorate. Blair on the other hand - despite his faults - was two things: he represented an understanding that Labour has to reach beyond its natural constituency - and he was a party leader who also actually understood this personally. I still take the view that Blair could not have continued but I also take the view that it is because Labour no longer has what Blair represented that it is now facing electoral oblivion.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mystery solved

I was wondering why there was so many drunken yahoos in the pub at 7.30 on a Sunday night.

Here's why.

Football: a very popular sport in the West of Scotland amongst loud fat bastards who couldn't touch their toes if their lives depended on it.

Leaders' debate III: SNP launches legal bid

From Scotland on Sunday:
"THE SNP will go to court this week in an extraordinary legal move to block the third crucial party leaders' debate being shown on TV in Scotland if the BBC does not give it a podium place, Scotland on Sunday can reveal."
Jeff at SNP Tactical Voting thinks this is a politically smart move:
"It is a great move, a potential masterstroke with so little time to go until the election itself and a near-guarantee that the SNP will be seen fighting for what it believes in for the remainder of the race."
He might be right about that, although someone with my political disposition is unlikely to think he is. But I'm wondering if it will be considered quite such a good idea when the case actually gets down to the arguments. What are these going to look like?

SNP: It is unfair the Nationalists have been excluded from the UK leaders' debate - so people in Scotland shouldn't get to see it.

BBC: Alex Salmond is not a leader of a UK party and he doesn't want to be the Prime Minister of Britain.

I really don't see where the argument can go beyond that - although I would say that, I suppose. We'll need to see. Meanwhile I have to say you are going to be impressed that the SNP are fighting for what they believe, provided you are convinced what they are fighting for isn't completely stupid. But it is. And parochial. And arrogantly censorious, since Salmond's aim it to stop Scots from watching the telly! I'm sure at least some of the 'Scottish people' agree with me on this and we would like to remind Mr Salmond - again - that he does not speak for us.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reflections on the election: leadership debate II

Didn't see the first one. Watched about half of that one, then couldn't stand anymore. Amongst the questions raised by this debate are:

For Gordon Brown: what exactly the fuck do you think you're doing to yourself?

And a related point: why hasn't whatever adviser who said, "Leadership debate? Go for it Gordy - you'll knock 'em dead" been shot yet?

If it's about the politics of presentation, then we are fucked. Never mind who looked into the camera, remembered names, who was the tallest. Big presentation problem for Brown? When he smiles and tries to act jovial, he looks completely insane. This point was made years ago by Andrew Marr in the Independent - back in the days when it used to be a newspaper. I'm talking about when Labour were in opposition to Major's Tories. Has nothing been learned since then? Would it have killed team Brown to say something like, "Leadership debate? Might be appropriate in a presidential system but we are a Parliamentary democracy and we're all too busy for this shit".

They could have put it in a more refined fashion, obviously - but does any other Labour-supporter disagree with me on this point? Cameron and Clegg remind you of your two boys at bath-time. So your boys are forty-something men, are they? No they are not - so who the fuck do you think you are convincing with this painfully over-rehearsed clunky shite? Honestly!

I had other questions but I've forgotten what they were. I'm left only with the urge to repeat what I've said before: Brown cannot win this election. Part of the problem is that Brown has never won a competitive election in his life and he's too long in the tooth to learn how to do it now.

Prediction: the 'yellow surge' gives absolutely no grounds for optimism amongst Labour supporters. We are fucked. Completely. The only thing to fight for that has any reasonable grounds for success is to avoid third place.

Being of a slightly perverse melancholy disposition, I like to make predictions that I hope are proved wrong while simultaneously fearing I won't be. The rise of the Lib Dems will damage Labour more than the Tories. Then Cameron will be invited by the Queen to form the next government.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Reflections on the Election, 2010

I appreciate there are some who think this election is, like most others, rather boring - finding as they do changes in government that don't involve bloodshed so very tiresome. The rest of us find them fairly engaging - and this one is shaping up to be a little more interesting than most. Here's a few preliminary thoughts.

On presidentialism

One of the few arguments for the monarchy that I've ever found appealing was the notion that the whole soap opera of having a 'First Family' was, in the British Constitution, absorbed by the House of Windsor - leaving the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to get on with the more mundane business of politics. But even this is looking redundant. The leadership debate was just the latest in a number of developments, including the parading of leaders' wives in the tabloid media, that show how presidential our system has become. Presidentialism is inevitably more about personality than Parliamentary democracy has traditionally been.

This is had more serious consequences than anyone could have foreseen. Now while there is obviously something fairly superficial about this sort of event, you would be making a mistake to dismiss the 'Yellow surge' as pure X-Factor politics because behind it lies something more significant, which brings me to the second point...

The winner of the election is already the Liberal Democrats

You won't see Nick Clegg waving, walking into Downing Street on the 7th May. But they are the only party that has the prospect of emerging from the election with a result that was better than anyone could have imagined before this election was called. They might not. Nick Clegg might wet himself live on television - or be caught in a compromising position with a goat. But assuming he doesn't, this is surely the most likely outcome? Their best result since 1983 in terms of share of the vote seems likely, at the very least.

The other two, on the other hand, are in a very different position. This election is interesting, not only because the outcome is now less certain; it is the range of consequences that face both Labour and Conservative that has become compelling. It is not a question of just winning and losing. Both have a third possibility - that they will confront electoral catastrophe on the 6th of May.

I can't share the optimism of some fellow Labour supporters - unless their optimism is restricted to denying Cameron an overall majority. I do not believe Labour can win this; what they have to avoid doing is being pushed into third place. Because if they don't, this would be a result that would take a generation to recover from.

The prospects for Tory disaster are more interesting - and from an opponent's point of view, infinitely more enjoyable. So far, gratifyingly, the Tory campaign has been fairly appalling. Consider how dismal their position was before 'Cleggmania'. Opposing an incumbent government of thirteen years - lead by someone with the charm and finesse of a Sherman tank - who just so happen to have presided over the fastest and deepest fiscal deterioration in postwar history: all this and the Cameroons can't seem to break through the crucial 40% barrier? We shouldn't just say he hasn't 'sealed the deal' - we should be asking: if you can't do it under these circumstances, what would it take for you to do so?

It is for this reason we can say that anything less than an overall majority for the Tories on the 6th of May would be a disaster for them. And in the unlikely event that they should fail to emerge as the biggest party? This would surely raise questions as to their viability as a political force in British politics? Yet you still get self-described leftists announcing they're going to stay at home because of some wanky principle they feel deeply about. Grow up, for fuck sake...

I digress... Anyway, my suspicion is that the Clegg phenomenon isn't merely X-Factor politics and that is has enhanced something that was already latent within the electorate. I don't know exactly what this consists of but can I make a suggestion? Presidential politics is about personalities - and we have with Labour and the Tories two of the most unappealing ones in living memory. Personally there's one thing in particular about both Brown and Cameron I find particularly nauseating: both exude a sense of their assumption of a right to rule which simultaneously communicates an arrogance that makes one think they are rather unsuited to it.

Cameron with his to the Manor born air, which he is genetically incapable of concealing, has obviously put many voters off.

But Brown is the same - Scottish version. He comes from the ruling class, almost as much as Cameron - it's just that the Scottish ruling class are grumpier and more crumpled than their sassenach counterparts. It was the failure to recognise this cultural difference that led the Polly Toynbees and the Jackie Ashleys to mistake Brown for a socialist.

I don't want to extrapolate from my own experience - but on the other hand I can't imagine it's only me who's getting a little fed up with this. The fact that Clegg went to public school isn't the point; he does not carry the assumption of kingship the way the other two do because he does not belong to one of the two political machines that have dominated electoral politics in this country for nearly a hundred years. All of which brings me to the final point, which has to do with the voting system.

FPTP may not survive

I'm agnostic on voting reform. The idea that one type of system is suitable for all polities everywhere is childish. A majoritarian 'winner-takes all' system would obviously be unsuitable in the case of Northern Ireland, for example. But PR doesn't do what some of its more zealous proponents claim for it. STV in Scotland hasn't, for example, broken the network of corruption and patronage that is local politics in Glasgow and North Lanarkshire. Suffice to say anyone who argues that the case for PR is somehow unanswerable yet can't be bothered to acquaint themselves with how it has actually worked within the borders of the United Kingdom makes no serious claim on our attention. But the British electoral map is increasingly looking like one where the defence of majoritarianism will look ever more difficult. Last time Labour won with 36% of the vote - a postwar low. It could have been an aberration but what if this kind of thing keeps happening?

Here I'll go for a prediction: after the election, David Cameron, as leader of the biggest party in the Commons, will be invited by Her Majesty to form the next government. This might be on his own or with the support he needs from other parties to make a majority. But regardless of which, he will do so with less than 40% of the British electorate supporting him. If he requires support, the push for voting reform will be irresistible for obvious reasons - but even without it, one wonders how long the British constitution can stand the strain of choosing governments that win by such a narrow margin.

This will be the lasting legacy of the 'Yellow surge'. Like a lot of people I snorted in derision when the leaders' debate was described as 'historic' and like a lot of people I was wrong. The Liberals have already made a historic breakthrough because even at the high watermark of the 1983 election they never registered as the front-runners in any opinion poll. This isn't the uniform result now - and isn't going to translate into vote polled on the 6th of May. But I doubt after this British elections will ever look the same again.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On injustice

Some of us have to work for a living - others get paid for writing shit like this:
"But surely you have to establish that there is a God to have such a relationship with! This impatient criticism superimposes a model of empirical inquiry on to religious discourse, and takes it for granted that talk of "belief in the existence of God" means something akin to empirical existential belief. Let's just say it. The point is not that there isn't a God after all but that there is no such belief as the belief that there is a God. It sounds paradoxical to claim that believers do not believe that there is a God, but this is only because it seems to imply that they believe that there isn't. We should take "belief that there is (or isn't) a God" out of the equation."
I appreciate it isn't one of the world's greatest injustices but I feel this acutely because I'm going back to work on Monday after a two week break - just when I was beginning to feel like a member of the human race again. Consider what is happening here: he writes this - and gets money in exchange!

Via: Norm

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sting, the theodicy problem and bloggers' priorities

I usually eschew 'whatabouttery'. You know the sort of thing: "Why do you go on about Iran when you have nothing to say about Tibet?", or whatever. But I feel the need to make an exception today and question bloggers' priorities. Because everyone's having a go at Devil's Kitchen and his pathetic performance on the Daily Politics. Fair enough, in as far as it goes - and Chris Dillow's defence of the aforementioned Mr Kitchen is desperately silly in the way only very intelligent people can be.

But methinks a little perspective is called for here, people. Mr Kitchen isn't rich and has no influence - he's just a guy with a blog. Sting, on the other hand, has loads of money and, inexplicably, a certain amount of influence in the sense that his opinion on matters is sought and published by the media. Moreover, unlike Mr Kitchen the existence of Sting raises profound questions about the nature of the cosmos.

Take the theodicy problem, for example - re-worked to take account of Sting:

God is supposed to be all-loving and omnipotent. Yet Sting exists. This raises a problem for the believer because either God wants to be rid of Sting but is unable, in which case He is not omnipotent - or He is able but unwilling to do so, in which case His claim to be a loving God is in serious doubt.

This is the sort of argument that would appeal to the Dawkins/Hitchens school - but it is one that suffers from a failure to understand the emotional needs met by religion. For example, while the above formulation might be theoretically neat, it fails to take account of the consolations of religion. Who, for example, doesn't feel a little warmer at the idea that there's a special place in hell for people who display the kind of breath-taking hypocrisy that we see here?
"Once again we must ponder the question "how much money is enough?", inspired by reports that Sting accepted between £1m and £2m to perform for the glory of the brutal despotic regime in Uzbekistan."
Yet on this matter there is precious little in the land of blogs. Perhaps they are too young to remember the evil that is Sting? Personally I'm waiting for Bono to be in some way implicated with the whole Catholic abuse scandal and then my vindication will be complete.

Sting: not merely aesthetically repugnant.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Blogging at its best...

When you read someone saying what you think, but doing it much better...

School gate

It's the name of a middle-class angst-fest blog on the Times, often good for a laugh. Times tables, spelling, homework, music, nutrients! The question here is, as always: are they getting enough? Or perhaps they're getting too much? It's hard to say - which is why we're all living on a knife-edge here...

Anyway, of the many questions it poses its nail-biting readers, I though this one a little odd:
"What are the toilets like at your child's school?"
Well, I would have investigated the matter but the thought occurred to me that lurking around in the boys' toilet in a primary school might be construed as being a little strange - so I have to confess this is a weighty issue surrounding my son's education that I am completely ignorant of. Woe is me!

Update: They are, according to the fruit of my loins, a 'wee bit small'. I don't mind telling you I'm deeply perturbed. What am I supposed to do with this information? Need time to think. Thank God it's the holidays...

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

On election 2010 and ageing

There are a host of obvious reason for not voting Tory on May 6th - but if you personally find yourself short of reasons, I'd like you to consider the fact that a Conservative victory will mean that the British Prime Minister is going to be younger than me. And this makes me very unhappy.

Part of a whole reflecting on old age thing for me. People are different nowadays. Take tattoos. The only people who had tattoos when I was young were criminals, bikers (not always distinguishable) and people in the military. Now just about everyone of a certain age has them. I don't mind them, to be honest. But please don't try to tell me - as one ex-girlfriend implied - that there's something rebellious about them. Samantha Cameron has a tattoo, for fuck sake! How anti-establishment is that? Not very, I'm thinking.

Millstones vs therapy

According to this report, a hotline set up by the Catholic Church to deal with the victims of paedophile priests melted down on its first day:
"The numbers were far more than the handful of therapists assigned to deal with them could cope with. In the end only 162 out of 4,459 callers were given advice before the system was shut down.

Andreas Zimmer, head of the project in the Bishopric of Trier, admitted that he wasn't prepared for "that kind of an onslaught." The hotline is the Church's attempt to win back trust in the face of an escalating abuse scandal that threatens the papacy of German-born Pontiff Benedict XVI in Rome."
Jesus said, "It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones."

I wouldn't accuse the bishops of Rome being ignorant of these words. Rather, one can only assume that given the obvious scale of the problem here, they concluded that applying the words of their lord too literally would involve an unfeasible amount of heavy lifting, which is why they opted for 'therapy' instead.

The crimes are an abomination. While fresh revelations about the scale of these are unfolding continuously, they have been well-known for some time. What is truly astonishing is the response to them. It's as if the Vatican formed a committee and set its members the task of finding the most offensive self-justification possible. The hands-down winner was the Pope's preacher who compared adverse media coverage with European anti-Semitism. It takes a special kind of chutzpah to deliver this grotesquely offensive anology on Good Friday, of all days - a date in the Christian calendar that European Jews had even more reason than usual to feel a little uneasy.

I was left wondering: is this Rome's Ceau┼čescu moment? There was something about the reaction - from old men accustomed to obedience and deference, responding with arrogant incomprehension to the fact that they are no longer receiving it, that reminded me of this. A phenomenon that is both tragic and repulsive.

But it is unlikely that Rome will suffer so immediate a downfall. It has been around so much longer and so will die so much more slowly. Or it may survive if it painfully adapts to the modern world that it despises so much. But its survival is by no means guaranteed. This is something Our Maddy of the Sorrows might want to consider. In her latest she uses the present travails of the Roman Church as a peg on which to hang a tedious spiel about the 'New Atheists'. Religious believers are multiplying, she points out, and nowhere more than in China.

Yeah, but she fails to make the distinction - a common failing of religion's opponents too - between religious belief and the institutions that codify it and claim a monopoly over it. The former seems to be flourishing; the latter, on the other hand, are clearly having a few problems.

In the case of China, for example, the form of Christianity that seems to be expanding the fastest is the protestant Christianity that owes it origins to the underground 'house church' movement - a phenomenon that appears to owe nothing to any episcopalian structure.

The Chinese experience repeats what has been observed in history many times. China's Christians have flourished under persecution. This would be real persecution - imprisonment, torture - as opposed to the light and momentary experience of adverse publicity in the liberal media.

The relationship to state power seems to be crucial here. It was the same in first century Rome or Bismarck's Germany. Religion also seems to flourish when it is confronted with legal indifference, as in the United States. But the prognosis when it is sponsored by the state is not so good. Organised religion suffers the most when it is associated with state oppression - and especially if said state is overthrown and a revolutionary regime takes revenge, as in Jacobin France or Stalinist Russia. But while less catastrophic, it also seems to wither on the vine if it has the sort of state patronage that it has in the English constitution.

This raises an interesting paradox for those religious believers that whine about a lack of religion in 'public life' and also for those of us who are strongly opposed to it: perhaps what we wish for has exactly the opposite effect from the one we desire. For arguably organised religion is Britain's oldest and least efficient nationalised industry.

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