Wednesday, 12 May 2010

How quickly things change in politics...

I just happened to stumble across Chris Huhne's website. Huhne, of course, is the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in this new, perverse, coalition government. As if to reinforce the duplicity, double standards and u-turns that were required to forge this unholy alliance, check this out from his (not edited since before the election) homepage:

A vote for Labour in Eastleigh could help David Cameron into government.
Indeed. And the Liberal Democrats really wouldn't want that, would they? Would they? Oh.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

So the Tories are back. Some initial thoughts.

So the Tory beast returns to power. Although this beast will be hamstrung, tethered and muzzled. I am indifferent to this particular turn of events given that I cannot see it as being anything other than short-lived. I'm prepared to be proved very wrong on this, but I think a coalition with the Lib Dems is destined to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. Personally, I'm going to sit back and enjoy the theatre. It's certainly going to be very interesting to see how things turn out, especially when Cameron picks his Cabinet. Early indications point to Nick Clegg being made Deputy PM. Which sounds grander than it is, of course, given that it isn't even a real position. John Prescott did it for ten years for Christ's sake. You could draw a smiley face on an orange and give it that title.

Whoever came to power in this election was going to have to confront some rather harsh economic realities: a huge deficit and record levels of national debt. Any new government is going to have to take an axe to public spending - I'm happy for the Tories to play the role of pantomime villain, providing fresh impetus to regard them once more as the "nasty party". This was a general election worth losing.

Gordon left with dignity and - I suspect - enormous relief. Good luck to him. He wasn't cut out for the centre stage anyway. I expect we'll see David Miliband taking on Cameron at Prime Minister's Question Time in a few months, thus giving us the scenario where the Conservative's answer to Tony Blair goes head to head with Blair's true successor. (Here's a question: if Clegg does become Deputy PM, will he stand in at PMQs when Cameron is away?)

This is going to be the most fractured and ineffectual Conservative government since the last one. It's going to be very interesting....

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Everything's alright. Everything's alright. It's OK. It's fine.

Made in 1994 but still eerily prescient, The Day Today is one of the finest comedies ever made. This particular segment seems more appropriate right now than ever.

Don't worry. Everything's fine.


On the face of it, the prospect of a working coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats seems about as likely as Stephen Hawking representing Britain in the 400m hurdles at the 2012 Olympics. But exceptional circumstances make for unusual bed partners. This was pre-ordained a couple of weeks ago when Nick Clegg stated that he would not be able to enter talks with a party that did not win the biggest share of the vote. He tried to backtrack on that in subsequent interviews but on pure point of principle he could not go straight into talks with a party and a Prime Minister who effectively lost their position of power.

So now he and his party are locked away, reading each other's manifestos and using highlighter pens to identify what, if anything, they can both agree on. So far I expect it's a very short list indeed.

If this unholy marriage is to go ahead then it has my blessing on the condition that Clegg stays true to his principles - he should settle for nothing less than an agreed referendum on electoral reform within the next year. First past the post creates strong governments in a two party system. It's pretty plain that we do not have a true two party system anymore - we need an electoral process that better reflects the views of the electorate at large. The chaos of the last few days again underlines the need for a more formal written constitution - another subject that is close to the Lib Dem's heart and not something they should compromise on.

Whatever settlement is reached, the union is probably doomed to fail and I would expect to see another election within a year. Conservatives and Liberals working together - it's like cats and dogs getting married. My ideal scenario is another election within the year, producing a progressive pact between Labour (minus Gordon of course) and the Lib Dems.

Anarchy for the UK?

Well, this isn't quite what I was hoping would happen, but it's very interesting all the same. A hung parliament always looked inevitable but the collapse of Liberal Democrat support was a surprise, pulling in even less seats than they did in 2005. I was expecting/hoping that they would win at least 70 but I expect that, as often happens, people had a late change of heart alone in the booth and reverted back to the main two parties. I know I was tempted. In my own constituency, the Tory candidate won by a mile (and actually with a majority of the votes) with the Lib Dems coming (a very far) second. So, like millions of other people, my vote did not count at all.

Now we have the Conservatives and the Lib Dems in frantic power talks hoping to put together some kind of coalition before the weekend is out. Good luck with that. I predicted a Con-Lib pact about six months ago (should have put some money on it). It seemed clear that the Conservatives were never going to get the swing needed to form a working majority and that Gordon Brown had about the same prospects of winning as Champion The Wonder Horse.

So now here we are, living in an anarchic state. Although observe how life simply carries on unabated for pretty much all of us. The markets are doing their whole "wooah, woooh, what's going ON?" thing, but with the Greek (and general European) debt crisis, they'd probably be doing that anyway. Who's in control now? The Civil Service I guess. So little change there then.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Some news about an old friend...

I'd like to take a moment to pause, reflect and remember an old friend and - alas - casualty of the 2010 election. It was with great sadness that I learnt that the hardest working politician in Westminster - Mr George Galloway - failed to win the seat of Poplar and Limehouse. Not only that but, it chokes me to say, his 'Respect' Party lost their only seat in Bethnal Green and Bow. Yes indeed, ladies and gentlemen, the 'Respect' Party now has no representation in the House of Commons.

It's a damn shame and no mistake. Why do bad things happen to good people?

I am further saddened to report that George's radio show "The Mother Of All Talkshows" on the inspirational TalkSport Radio station was also recently killed off. Such a shame that I never listened and now never will. But there is hope! Because George plans to start his own internet radio station - "Rebel Radio". I can't wait for that one.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Nick Clegg: some doubts

Mind you, it's not like I'll be voting Liberal Democrat without some reservations. Nick Clegg did well on the televised debates and made the most of the opportunity to sell himself to the general populace and muscle in on the usual two party domination. He's a good speaker and a convincing leader who comes across as far more "normal" than the other two. Not difficult to look normal next to Gordon of course. Cameron, meanwhile, has always carried a whiff of implausibility about him: like he was built to order by Conservative Party HQ under the instructions "give us a Blair". The best description I have ever read of David Cameron was by Caitlin Moran of The Times who declared him to be "like a C-3PO made of ham", a "slightly camp gammon robot". Absolutely spot on.

So Clegg has had a good campaign, but I still have issues with him and his party. I'm voting for them really for two reasons: 1) his party probably have the best opportunity of winning my constituency from the Tories and 2) I would like to see electoral reform and a hung Parliament with Clegg holding the balance of power is the best opportunity we have ever had to see this happen.

Serious doubts were raised in my mind about Clegg in the third and final debate when he touched upon the subject of the banking industry. Attacking the banks is such an obvious thing these days and I understand why politicians do it: it's an easy, populist target. But when he's banging on about how it's necessary to separate high street banking from investment "casino" banking to avoid another crisis like the one we have just witnessed you realise he can't understand what he is talking about. The consolidation of investment banks and retail banks had nothing to do with it, Nick. Lloyds TSB, HBOS and Northern Rock were all, exclusively, traditional lending banks. Meanwhile the major investment banks that went under, or nearly went under (Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch) were all exclusively investment banks. Really the only bank (and, admittedly, a major player in the crisis) that combines both elements is RBS and there isn't really any convincing argument that breaking it up into smaller parts would be of any particular benefit to anyone.

Some thoughts on the general election

Hard to believe that it's been five years since the last general election. So much has happened in this time, much of which could not have even been imagined in 2005. I was just re-reading a couple of posts I wrote on my old blog Liberal Elite: one was a (lukewarm) endorsement of Labour, the other just some general observations. It makes for fascinating reading (for me, unlikely for anybody else).

The biggest contrast between 2005 and 2010, as far as I am concerned, is how little enthusiasm I am able to muster for the entire thing. I don't know if this is because the party leaders are so uninspiring or because I have become so old, jaded, cynical and tired that I can barely bring myself to care. It's probably both. At least in 2005 we still had a (just about) credible government led by a credible Prime Minister. Meanwhile the alternative was a spiteful Conservative Party obsessed with immigrants and Europhobia and led by Michael Howard who still makes me involuntarily scratch myself whenever I hear his name. The Liberal Democrats weren't fit for office. (I actually just had to check who was leading them back then as I honestly couldn't remember: was it Kennedy The Drunk or Ming The Elderly? It was the former.)

But in 2010? The current Labour Party is a shambles, led by a blundering, injured bear who has something of the Midas touch in reverse, given that everything he does or says turns to excrement. Gordon Brown has been an appalling Prime Minister. Admittedly he has had to oversee the most dire domestic and international economic situation since the 1930s - and to his credit, some of his actions were correct: e.g. the highly unpopular (but highly necessary) bail out of the British banking system, something that the Conservatives and Lib Dems actually opposed - but overall his leadership and people skills leave much to be desired. Those that doubted Brown's ability to take on the big job were spot on - he doesn't have the requisite skill set. His stiff demeanour resolutely fails to hit a nerve with the general public and, oh my, when he smiles for the camera! It's so forced, so unnatural. He looks like a ventriloquist's dummy having a prostate examination. His coffin was finally pinned closed this week with the disastrous events of Bigotgate - he is officially a dead man walking.

So who to vote for? 1997 was the first general election I was able to participate in. I voted Labour and have done in every general election since. But I will not be doing so in 2010. I tentatively nibbled at the Conservative offering and wracked my soul thinking about it. There is no question that the Tories are a very different party under David Cameron. He has shed a lot of their social conservatism, which is what I have always found most repellent about his party. I could never align myself with the Telegraph reading, flag waving, Proms attending, Queen respecting, Euro bashing, protect-the-pound-at-all-costs brigade. Cameron has alienated a lot of this contingent, forcing them to sit and fume quietly in the corner (or join the feeble, impotent and raging UKIP) while his leadership drags the party towards the liberal centre. Which is all well and good and Dave has gone some way to ticking some of the boxes on the wish list I wrote in October 2005 where I wondered out loud what could make me vote for the Tories. But then I see stories like this about how up-and-coming Tory MP Philippa Stroud helped to found a church that believed it could "cure" homosexuals by the power of prayer. You see, I read something like this and I just think "Oh, fuck off". This ridiculous woman apparently played a significant part in formulating Conservative social policy. Sorry Dave, while your party still gives shelter to deluded arsewits such as this, you will never get my vote.

So after much tribulation I have decided to vote Liberal Democrat in this election. Not without reservations: I have issues with many of their policies. Principally, this is a tactical vote. The constituency I live in is usually as blue as Papa Smurf's arse but the 2006 by-election saw the Lib Dems reduce the Conservative majority to only 633. The general uptick in Lib Dem support nationally may, just may, see them nick it this time round. Here's hoping.

Ideally I want to see a hung Parliament. National sentiment towards the main parties is so divided, not one of them deserves to form a government on its own. Ordinarily I would have liked to have seen a Lib-Lab pact but, as Nick Clegg pointed out, if Labour come third in terms of number of votes actually received, it would raise serious question marks over its legitimacy. I predicted a Con-Lib pact about six months ago. It seemed ridiculous but now it doesn't look entirely unlikely. It would certainly be... interesting. Whichever way it goes, the Lib Dems will make electoral reform a pre-requisite policy, something which is long overdue - this ridiculous system that distorts public opinion to perverse effect in the House of Commons needs to be addressed. Some form of proportional representation is required to give credibility to our electoral system and, depending on the outcome on Thursday, its time may - finally - have arrived.

The outcome of this election is going to be very interesting, even if the candidates we are voting for are not.