Wednesday 28 April 2010

Signs of a coalition?

Could these signs mean something???

Actually the most significant thing about this picture is that by no means all of the fields round here are voting Conservative. That may reflect the mood of only a few people, but in terms of the change in thinking necessary for it to happen, it's seismic.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Nick Clegg and privilege

I think Nick Clegg (and the rest of us Liberal Democrats) are letting the media, and the other parties, get away with stabs at his privileged background. You're just the same as Cameron, they say, privileged background, posh school. And they get a defensive and faintly embarrassed response.

But that's not the point. You don't get to choose your parents. You don't get to choose where you're born or (rarely at least) where you go to school. What matters is how you react to that when you get to the age and stage where you do make choices. And there the difference is clear. Cameron has chosen privilege. He believes in it; it oozes from every pore. He thinks he is part of the elite who he thinks deserve to run the country. Clegg has chosen the British liberal way, to regard every citizen as being of equal merit. Cameron has chosen the elite, Clegg has chosen everybody. He should say so.

Peter Oborne never spoke a truer word

From the Mail today: "Voters scored him [Cameron] very low indeed for cherished assets such as honesty and charisma - and alarmingly high for slickness and poshness." The rest of the article is the usual tosh.

Sunday 18 April 2010

The honest truth

This is a series of musings brought on by quick flicks through the ash cloud of coverage we've had of the leaders' debate and the subsequent polls. Somewhere in it, I think there is a coherent narrative, which is about how much easier it is to tell the truth - hence the title.

Let's start with David Cameron's stories. They've been thoroughly covered (taken apart) in many places, such as in the Guardian. Now, using stories, including fictional ones, as a communication technique has a long and honourable history. Reagan and Ted Kennedy in particular were masters of it. One of Reagan's favourites - you can tell it was a favourite because he repeated it so often, was "One for the gipper" where a crewman in a stricken warplane told his mates "One for the gipper" as the plane crashed and they all died. Self evidently a fiction because of its ending, and strangely amorphous in its purpose (something to do with heroism for the cause) yet very effective at rousing the campaigners and voters. Cameron's mistake was to get details wrong, which resulted in a thorough media wide fisking. Even though the incidents are true, in that they happened, he manages to get the details dreadfully wrong because he is trying to use them inauthentically.

Jane Merrick and Brian Brady in the Independent point out that Clegg used stories too. But presumably he got the details right. I haven't checked any of them, but I have no doubt that some of the fresh faced youth in the Tories' rebuttal team have been working feverishly on them, and are currently biting their knuckles because of their inability to find anything to critique. (If they had found something it would undoubtedly already be in the Mail and the Telegraph.)

That, in my view, is the main difference between Clegg and the Terrible Twins. His performance looked effortless and natural, because he basks in the luxury that we have for years fought, worked and campaigned ceaselessly for. He is telling the truth. When he says we're different from them, it's true. When he says that our tax and spend plans are fully audited, it's true. I loved the bit in Matthew Ancona's piece in the Telegraph where he reports George Osborne saying that our policies will come under the scrutiny that we've been avoiding for so long. Pray, George, when exactly have we been avoiding scrutiny? Nick went straight on to the Paxman show for a Paxo grilling on his policies, unlike Cameron, who, like Brown, has had to be dragged there because they now know they can't avoid it. For years we've been begging the media for more time, more time, more time. It's not us who've been avoiding it, George, it's your friends in the newspapers and the TV stations who haven't had the gumption to look at us properly.

There's another thing I like about Matthew Ancona's piece. It's the complete disjunction between the narrative Ancona attempts to put across with the facts that he actually uses. Ancona's piece is entitled "David Cameron must sweep aside the impostor who stole his act". He wants to position Clegg as the impostor. The trouble is that nothing in the piece he then writes lends any credence whatsoever to that narrative - it's all about Clegg winning because he's telling the truth, and Cameron having to find ways to adjust because his dodgy "honest, guv" strategy is failing badly. Cameron himself has always been an impostor, and he's being found out.

Ancona's blindness to the realities of life is evident in his belief that Clegg stole Cameron's act as the "insurgent". That he can genuinely believe that Cameron, who oozes privilege and his belief in it from every pore, can be an insurgent, suggests that he is on a prolonged course of happy pills, and shows no sign of coming off them in the immediate future.

One final thing I like. Andrew Neil on his BBC blog says "A growing group of influential Tories want "Cameron to be Cameron" in the next debate." Please, please, let it be so, that's all I ask.

Friday 16 April 2010

Sunday 11 April 2010

First Tory leaflet

The first Tory leaflet of the campaign has just been delivered by a little old lady in a hat and dark glasses. Perhaps she didn't want to be recognised.

Same old Tories

So the boy George says the Conservative Party has changed over the last four years (in a Times article, get it while you can, fifteenth paragraph). It's such a pity that the party and its supporters keep reminding us that it hasn't. Today the star turn is Henry Angest, who donates millions to the Conservatives - £7 million in donations and loans in the last nine years, including a £5 million loan last November which helps to bankroll this election fight (not that Dave needs it with all the free flights he gets from his rich mates). Meanwhile Mr Angest also funds UKIP, various climate change denial organisations and fiercely anti-EU groups, among others. He's quite a clever chap, Mr Angest, reportedly worth £45 million, despite all the millions he's given away, so we must presume that he knows what he's doing. Which means that in his view the Tories, UKIP, the climate change deniers, the EU sceptics, all stand for the same thing, and are equally worthy of his patronage. Sorry, George, try pulling the other one.

Saturday 10 April 2010

It's good being a Liberal Democrat

I was at Norman Baker's adoption meeting last night. He was introduced by Lord Oakeshott who told us what we knew already – that Norman has been a fantastic MP both in the constituency and in Parliament, and will continue to be a fantastic MP if he is re-elected. Lord Oakeshott had some words for us about not letting the Tories in on the back of dislike of Brown, replacing one bad lot with another. I particularly liked his line about not wanting to have a Chancellor on work experience (an original Oakeshott line, though one he's used before). To get Norman back in we have to overcome the standard Tory tactics of throwing money at a seat. Despite not having Lord Ashcroft's money, this not counting as a marginal, we are up against a very well funded Tory candidate with over £200,000 raised in the last two years. We compete with enthusiasm, good people, good policies and endless foot slogging.

It feels better than ever to be a Liberal Democrat at the moment. I have a wonderful MP, now candidate, to campaign for. I have an excellent set of policies to sell to voters on the doorstep. I can talk about genuine fairness, I can talk about properly thought through and funded tax proposals, I can talk about decent proposals for schools and hospitals.

I can talk about a great team. Nick Clegg as the leader, Vince Cable for Chancellor, Norman Baker himself on transport with many excellent ideas for getting Britain moving better, Chris Huhne's great common sense in the Home Secretary role, Ed Davey as Foreign Secretary, Simon Hughes on energy and climate change, where do I stop? Nick Clegg doesn't mind which of them gets photographed with him, unlike Gordon Brown who is photographed with his whole cabinet in the hope that he will sink into oblivion among them, and David Cameron who is photographed with none of his in case they remind people what they're really like.

And I can talk about a great record. Our consistency over the last few years is one of our strongest selling points. Consistent opposition to the Iraq War - fully justified by subsequent events ( and one that goes hand in hand with a realistic and hard headed defence policy for the future). Consistent opposition to the whole waste of money on ID cards. The fact that we heralded some of the problems brewing in the recession years before either Labour or Tories had a clue. A record on MPs expenses and other abuses that cannot be touched by Labour or Tories. Norman Baker began his campaign to reveal MPs' expenses with a Freedom of Information request in 2005, and his filibuster was crucial in 2007 in preventing Tories and Labour uniting to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act (reason alone to be proud of him). We proposed rules on lobbying in 2006 which were thrown out by the combined forces of the gravy train, Tory and Labour again.

So I can talk about a history of genuine honesty, fairness, consistency and principle. Yes, it's good to be a Liberal Democrat today.

Thursday 8 April 2010

Michael Caine

Michael Caine appears for the Tories. He says it's non-political and it's on behalf of the forgotten youth of today. Presumably that was part of the "great ignored" theme that the Tories have now apparently ditched. So what's going on there, I wonder.

I think Michael Caine, non-political or not, is a bit of a coup for the Tories. I've seen a few tweets about the Tories getting a 76 or 77 year old tax exile to front a campaign for the "yoof". Born 14 March 1933 according to Wikipedia, so it must be true, which means he is actually 77. The tax exile thing I can see as a good thing for the opposition - another example of the only people who the Tories actually appeal to. But the 77 year old thing is a red herring in my opinion. Chronological age as a determinant of appeal has always been a non starter. I remember Matthew Parris writing a column about this when William Hague became leader, and there was a lot of talk about the Tories electing someone so young to lead such an elderly party. Parris wrote that it made perfect sense. His theory was that people had a natural age, which had nothing to do with their chronological age. Hague's age was around 50, and always had been. That is why his later adoption of the baseball cap was such a failure.

Michael Caine's natural age is about 15, about the same as mine, though he does it much better.

I assume that the Michael Caine thing will simply wither and die, rather like Cameron's idea of a volunteer army will wither and die. The Brits just don't take to being that organised. If he tried it in Switzerland it would go down a storm.

But if Caine doesn't go away, I reckon we can see him off by showing clips of any scene from Secondhand Lions in which he speaks. I love that film actually, for two reasons. One is the ending, which I won't spoil. The other is Caine's attempt at a southern US accent which deserves cult status. It is so cringingly awful that a few renditions will embarrass him into taking a sudden holiday somewhere else.

Monday 5 April 2010

Phone taps and Andy Coulson

Today's Guardian "Police 'ignored News of the World phone hacking evidence'" shows how the police restricted the scope of their investigations into the News of the World phone bugging scandal under Andy Coulson's stewardship. Peter Black has covered this in detail already. I will just consider the figures. Whereas the police have been saying all along that only a handful of people were victims of the NoTW's illegal behaviour, they in fact had, according to the Guardian, "4,332 names or partial names ..., 2,978 numbers or partial numbers for mobile phones and 30 audio tapes which appear to contain an unspecified number of recordings of voicemail messages". The behaviour of the police themselves, exacerbated by their obstructiveness over responding to the FOI requests which finally unearthed these figures, is questionable to say the least. But the most interesting political facet is whether David Cameron's press chief is going to find himself becoming the story just when he is supposed to be running a general election campaign. Andy Coulson has always denied all knowledge of these goings on. But when they get to this scale, his story begins to look rather thin.

Liberal Democrats pledge biggest rail expansion since the Victorians

Norman Baker launched a Liberal Democrat plan for massive rail expansion today. He said, “High speed rail is hugely important, but it is only part of the 21st century rail network Britain needs. Our plans will reopen thousands of miles of track across the country and make our railway great again... The Liberal Democrats will transform the railways with the biggest expansion since the Victorian age."

The plan is to create a Rail Expansion Fund of nearly £3bn from which councils and transport authorities can bid for money to pay for rail improvement and expansion projects. The reaction from the motoring lobby was immediate and predictable: according to the BBC "the RAC Foundation said it would be a waste of taxpayers' money when only 7% of UK journeys were made by train, compared to 90% by car". Maybe more routes and cheaper fares will make a difference to that proportion.

Some of the plans include, again from the BBC, "the electrification of lines from Manchester to Liverpool, Leeds and Preston; from Birmingham to Bristol and Basingstoke; and between Leeds and York. New or reopened stations could be funded in Ilkeston, Kidlington, Wantage, Corsham, Tavistock, Middlewich, Ashington, Blyth, Washington and Skelmersdale. New lines could link Southport with Preston, Bournemouth with Ringwood and the Midlands main line with the Birmingham-Derby route. And track could be reopened between Exeter and Okehampton; Tavistock and Plymouth; Penrith and Keswick; and Galashiels and Carlisle."

No sign of the Lewes to Uckfield line in there, but maybe, maybe...

Update 6th April
The plan does include reopening the Lewes Uckfield railway. Norman says: "The reopening of the Lewes - Uckfield line is something I have campaigned for locally for over twenty years. It is vitally needed, not just to link the two towns again, but also as a key building block in providing an alternative to the heavily congested Brighton main line."

Sunday 4 April 2010

Not such a great story for Easter Day

For some time now I have felt very sorry for my various Catholic friends at the way they have been let down by the hierarchy of the Catholic church over the issue of child abuse. It's not the fact of abuse, it's the way the church has reacted, and continues to react. They continue to keep secrets and to say anything they can that will get them off the hook without them recognising that things really have to change.

They reached the pits, I think, with the Pope's preacher saying that the abuse the Pope had received over this was akin to the collective violence suffered by the Jews. He obviously doesn't do much arguing, or he would know that the first rule of arguments is that whoever compares the other side to Nazis has by definition lost the argument. But, that aside, it indicates just how far the hierarchy of the Catholic church has strayed from the message of Christ.

I am myself a staunch Anglican, and yesterday I was happy for a few hours when I read of Rowan Williams' words to the Catholics. He said the church in Ireland "has lost "all credibility" because of its poor handling of the scandal of paedophile priests [and] the child sex abuse scandal that has engulfed the Catholic church had been a "colossal trauma" for Ireland in particular."

I thought briefly maybe we have the best archbishop I have known in my lifetime, one who is prepared to speak the truth in love. He was prepared to say to his peers in the Catholic church that they need to travel miles and they have hardly been prepared to budge an inch. And heaven knows they're not listening to anybody else. Every step they have taken has been forced out of them by public opinion.

And then he went and apologised. And blew all that good work out of the window. And the Catholic church hierarchy go on in the same old way. They are not going to be "swayed by 'petty gossip' about child sex-abuse allegations". Only a Catholic cardinal could call well founded questions about the role the Pope himself played in covering up these scandals "petty gossip".

And the good old Anglican church is back to faith, hope and niceness, and the greatest of these is niceness. Jesus must be weeping.

A great story for Easter Day

From the UK Department for International Development's website - women clearing land mines in Sri Lanka:

"The work is hard, but I don’t mind as I’m helping my family. I don’t get scared. I just want my children to be able to go to school and live in peace."