Sunday, 4 November 2012

Three videos showing the ignorance of those at the top of the Tea Party-dominated Republican Party

One of the most pernicious effects of the Tea Party takeover of the Republican party has been the fact that they have turned the GOP into a bastion of anti-scientific, anti-intellectual politicians who, in the words of David Frum "have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics".

Central to the Tea Party's world view is that facts themselves should be ignored or re-written if they do not fit the quasi-religious free market ideology they adhere to. That even applies to history itself. Three enlightening videos featuring the excellent Chris Matthews provide an introduction to where this approach leads.

First, up this quite hilarious clip of Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips claiming that in America politicians are never shot... singularly failing to remember most of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Second, Tea Party favourite Michele Bachmann claiming that the Founding Fathers abolished slavery - thus re-writing US history, not least reasons for the American Civil War:

And Finally, the 'birthers'. Enough said.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Today's neo-liberal Tory Party would rather risk devastation in the countryside than regulate the free market

The news that ash dieback fungus, which has wiped out 90% of ash trees in Denmark, has been detected in up to 20 new sites across the UK (on top of the two confirmed infected areas), has resulted in a last-minute dash by the government to ban imported ash trees.

Too little, too late. The government had the opportunity to ban imports, but chose not to. It's easy to see why. A ban on businesses doing whatever they want is, in the eyes of the neo-liberal right, 'red tape' and a burden'. Better to risk a disease that will wipe out 30% of all trees in Britain than legislate or regulate. Increasingly the UK Tories are resembling their counterparts in the US, with all that entails for the environment, the countryside and peoples' health.

Often this reticence to regulation, even where the downsides of not doing so are clear to see, is cloaked in ideas of 'liberty' and 'freedom'. Of course, in reality, the neo-liberal right will extend this notion only to the rich and powerful. And where scientific evidence encroaches upon this mission to protect large corporations from regulation - witness climate change - the modern right will simply deny the facts... occasionally with amusing consequences.

The case of ash dieback - or "Cameron's Contagion" as George Monbiot put it - perfectly illustrates why the Tory Party can no longer claim to be the party of the countryside. And neither, as the same commentator argued, can it claim to be the party of ordinary people:

"In March, the government published its kill list of environmental regulations. Among those being downgraded are the rules controlling hazardous waste, air pollution, contaminated land, noise, light and the use of lead shot. Ministers describe this as the shrinking of the state. In reality it's the shrinking of democracy. Regulation is the means by which civilised societies resolve their conflicts. It prevents the selfish and the powerful from spoiling the lives of others".

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

"Ed Miliband now rules the House of Commons"

An earlier post covered the quite remarkable coverage Ed Miliband received after his speech to the Labour Party Conference - remarkable not only for the fact that praise came from across the (media's) political spectrum, but also as he had until recently endured endlessly negative media coverage.

It appears this change in narrative has now filtered through the way in which he is reported on a more regular basis. Witness these range of headlines - from many right-wing papers - after today's Prime Minister's Questions:

PMQs verdict: Miliband wipes the floor with Cameron (

Ed Miliband now rules the House of Commons (Telegraph)

I’ve rarely seen the Labour leader more confident on his feet at PMQs (Spectator)

PMQs: Ed Miliband is starting to believe he can beat David Cameron (Telegraph)

PMQs review: Miliband's most confident performance yet (New Statesman)

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Republican Party's war on science will damage people's health

The excellent New Left Media, who recently produced a film to highlight the frankly jaw-dropping attacks by the Republican Party on womens' healthcare, have released a new video expose attempts by the GOP to reverse basic environmental protections that many in the US had assumed were here to stay.

It's clear that the modern US right, due to a combination of corporate lobbying and influence from religious evangelists, is now a bastion for hugely anti-scientific views. This is combined with a political outlook - shared by their staunch media allies - that will seek to blindly ignore evidence-based studies into climate change, or similar events, where their world view is challenged as a result (something, incidentally, shared by some of their counterparts here in the UK).

The result is toxic (in potentially more ways than one) for people in the USA - with the EPA, the decades-long guardian of clean air and water - under threat from a Republican Party so blindly ideologically committed to hacking away at government, regardless of the consequences, that they can't even remember what they are meant to be cutting.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Using the Saville affair to further their political ends shows how low many on the political right have sunk

It is instructive that the Tory press, and in particular the Murdoch press, has suddenly found a deep concern for the victims of sex offenders. This, of course, has nothing - absolutely nothing - to do with the BBC and (in the case of the Murdoch press) their own commercial interests and everything to do with their newly discovered moral compasses.

Yes: News International, the same firm that sat back silently as its reporters hacked the voicemails of dead soldiers, murder victims and countless others is now a paradigm of virtue.

And MPs from the Tory Party, the same party whose Mayor described said phone hacking as 'codswallop' are now launching crusades into the probity of the BBC, whilst, in the case of the latter, appear shamefully to be trying to downplay the wrongdoings of the Murdoch corporation.

The truth is the Saville affair was a product of a general culture in the country that existed prior to the 1990s in which child welfare was sorely lacking. There are very likely to be many organisations - public and private - that will undoubtedly in time be shown to be at fault. And there will be many very famous people that in the past used their authority to abuse with impunity or, in other cases, crossed the boundaries of what is acceptable today in 2012.

It is only right that as a society we atone for the crimes of the past and that we acknowledge where we were deficient, so that we do not repeat past mistakes. But it is - as with the Jonathan Ross/Andrew Sacks affair - very clear that a number on the political right are hiding behind the cloak of morality to further their political aims, namely attacking one of the few remaining non-profit making parts of British society.

Finally, as one commentator put it well recently, there is a difference between Auntie and many of its commercial competitors. The BBC constantly reviews, criticises and accordingly amends its own news coverage, in the full glare of the public. How many private corporations - News International included - can say the same?

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Better incremental victories than the havoc the US Republicans will unleash

An excellent recent post in the Guardian by Clancy Sigal in which he defends 'Obamacare' helps illustrate the dramatic choice US voters are faced with in the forthcoming election. In simple terms, the gains made by the health care legislation Obama passed will be sabotaged and ultimately destroyed by Mitt Romney and the mad and bad members of the Republican Party, with the support of their equally loopy media allies.

It is true that victory for Obama will lead to more incremental victories, as another commentator put it, rather than major advances, but in part this is less a result of the current President's character than a product of the US electoral system. Put plainly, the USA has a constitutional and political system built to avoid strong federal government - it is designed to make the kind of social democratic advances made in Europe immensely difficult to secure.

One example of this is the frequency of elections in the US: every two years in the case of the House of Representatives. This alone provides a difficult hurdle for centre-left governments; it takes many years more than that to train a doctor or to complete a major construction project. Therefore, raising taxes on voters to pay for these things becomes very tough - come the midterm elections, many of those same voters will expect to see evidence of a return on their investment.

Conversely, things are made easier for those on the political right. It takes next to no time at all to cut taxes, very little time for voters to see the cut in their pay packets and an awful lot longer for the impact on public services to be felt.

With this in mind, it is worth reflecting on the scope that Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan et al have to decimate the US social security system, to attack womens' health care rights and to set back action to tackle global warming. And, of course, to reverse the small victories that are tempering some of the worst aspects of the US health care system - a hugely expensive bureaucracy in which the ill and very ill are left to haggle with their doctors and mighty insurance companies, over what in Europe most would consider a basic human right.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Victory for the US Republican Party will set womens' rights back decades

The (very underrated) New Left Media produced the following video this summer, which is worth sharing in light of the staggering litany of attacks on women's health care rights in the USA, led by an increasingly insane (and no other word can now describe them) Republican Party. 

These have included attempts to restrict access to basic contraception and to prevent access to abortion even where there is a clear risk to the life of the mother. In this regard, campaigning videos like this one are increasingly essential. 

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

"We were told to close the shutters. That was it"

Fittingly, on the day that the historian Eric Hobsbawm died, this story was run on the BBC website, about the closure of sportswear chain JJB Sports.

The short quote from a staff member at a Scottish branch of the chain summed up one of the more depressing aspects of modern capitalism - a feature that the great man would have probably recognised:

"Fraser Harrower worked as a sales adviser at the Dunfermline branch of JJB, which was closed down this morning. He told the BBC that two administrators walked in unannounced:

"At around 11:30 this morning we had two administrators walk in and they were there for all of maybe 90 seconds and my assistant manager came out and we were told to close the shutters and the business was closed. 

That was it.""

Monday, 8 October 2012

LOL! Boris Johnson tried to hide meetings with News International

After many months fighting its release, Boris Johnson has had his diary published. And it reveals that the man who has ultimate responsibility for the police in London failed to declare a range of meetings and phone calls with News International executives at the height of the Met investigation into phone hacking (or 'codswallop' as he once put it).

These include a phone call with Rebekah Brooks in April 2011 and, a month later, a telephone conversation with James Murdoch and a meeting with NI lobbyist Frederick Michel.

Bear in mind Boris heads the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime - formerly the Metropolitan Police Authority - and so has ultimate responsibility for policing. You would have thought, therefore, that he would want to avoid any impression of impropriety. 

Well, Johnson clearly doesn't see himself as a man that needs to show such restraint:
  • In May 2012, it was revealed that News International had offered the Mayor millions of pounds of sponsorship towards pet projects - something that he got very angry about in a subsequent interview with the BBC.
  • In June 2012, Boris was forced to admit he had failed to declare in his official diary a dinner with Rupert Murdoch just two days before the launch of the Metropolitan Police investigation into phone hacking. 
  • In August 2012, the Mayor invited Rupert Murdoch to be his guest at the Olympic swimming finals, despite the clear evidence of wrongdoing in key parts of the media mogul's organisation.  
All of this paints a picture of a politician less interested in demonstrating an independence from the Murdoch empire than he is trying to court its support.

In the wake of the contemptible episode that was phone hacking - an episode that showed a hugely unhealthy relationship between the police, politicians and Murdoch's companies - Boris Johnson's actions are shameful.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

What a difference a week makes

In an era in which party conferences are supposedly of diminishing importance, Ed Milband's speech was perhaps the exception that proves the rule. This morning's YouGov poll has Labour maintaining a post-conference 14 point lead over the Conservatives, with a 45% vote share. This is small but significant shift compared to immediately before the Labour conference. Most notably, Ed Miliband's personal ratings are well up, and now approaching positive territory after many months in the doldrums.

This is mirrored in a poll by Survation, which found the number of people seeing Miliband as 'statesmanlike' almost doubling since last week (albeit from a low base). At the same time, Opinium has shown Labour maintaining (or possibly slightly increasing) its double-digit lead over the Tory Party.

Although much of the increase in Miliband's personal ratings are from Labour-supporting respondents, this isn't a bad thing at all for the opposition leader. Until recently, one of his underlying weaknesses has been the fact that many Labour supporters expressed unease about his leadership. Rallying these voters around him means that he may well have strengthened the Labour vote itself, avoiding a potential melting away of the vote as the election nears.

One of the most striking things about the speech, though, was the effect on the commentariat - and notably the fact that it won plaudits from everyone from the trade unions to the Spectator. Below are some of the many post-speech pieces that have all but ensured that Ed is now the safest of the three party leaders.

Ed Miliband’s speech verdict: a resounding success (Spectator)

Ed Miliband has just pulled off something that few politicians achieve (Daily Mail)

Ed Miliband takes a lesson in belief from Tony Blair (Telegraph)

Ed Miliband's breathtaking bravura and a One Nation stroke of genius (Guardian)

Today he gave an outstanding speech, without notes or text, a performance that was assured and confident, engaging and near-faultlessly delivered (BBC)

The most confident and fluent speech of his leadership (Daily Mail)

Ed Miliband's One Nation claim is cheeky, but David Cameron has a fight on his hands (Telegraph)

Five thoughts on Ed Miliband's speech of his life (Liberal Conspiracy)

Ed’s speech owes as much to Danny Boyle as it does to Disraeli (Political Betting)

Ed Miliband stole the Tories’ One Nation mantle today in a barnstorming speech without notes (Standard)

A triumph for Ed: the best leader’s speech ever? (Left Futures)

So much for the Tories’ 'secret weapon’ (Telegraph)

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The West Coast franchise debacle will increase pressure for renationalisation of the rail system

The rail franchise debacle, which the Government (in a piece of news management that seems right out of the pre-internet era) admitted to at around midnight last night, has brought the whole issue of rail privatisation - and public-private procurement - back into the spotlight.

This poses a large problem for David Cameron for three reasons:

  • Firstly, it sheds light on the serious problems that government procurement contracts with the private sector can create, at the same time as the Government is rolling on with an NHS reform programme that will dramatically increase this kind of activity in the health service.
  • Secondly,it appears to be a huge example of incompetence less than 24 hours after Ed Miliband referred to the Cameron's administration as an 'incompetent, hopeless shower'. 
  • Finally, it provides another example to the public of the key problems that come with our fragmented and privatised rail system, merely months after more huge price increases for commuters were announced. 
The Government will now have to choose either to bring the franchise under direct public control, or to hand huge amounts of money to Virgin (on top of their compensation) for extending the contract. Although it's pretty likely this particularly neo-liberal administration is likely to go for the latter option on ideological grounds (despite its costs) it has to face the fact that the majority of people favour rail renationalisation - including self-declared Conservative voters

This is another interesting example of where Tory-leaning voters show support for public policy choices usually associated with the political left.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Krugman on the failure of austerity economics

After almost two and a half years of the Osborne-led austerity experiment in the UK, all evidence points to the fact that those warning about the folly of austerity have been proven right.

One of the leading voices against austerity has been Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman. Here, for those that missed it earlier on this year, is him engaging in a debate with two right-wingers. And in a few minutes, Krugman puts the case for Keynesian economics very well indeed. To the evident discomfort of his right-leaning guests.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Under Boris and Cameron, London is becoming divided

What marks London out as a capital is the proximity in which the rich, the middle classes and the poor live. Unlike many of global capitals, London's rich and poor are distributed in a way that makes the city resemble a patchwork quilt.

So, for example, barely minutes' walk from the white-stucco terraces of Little Venice in Maida Vale is the more down-at-heel Harrow Road. Equally, although the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has the highest proportion of people on more than £60,000 per year, it also has above average levels of deprivation.

Any supporter of progressive policies understands that without this proximity - without those who control the bulk of wealth being able to see and interact with the poorest - the likelihood is that support by them for progressive public spending will decline.

However, it is within Kensington and Chelsea where polarisation of the rich and poor has started to take accelerate, with half of its benefit recipients living in one quarter of its neighbourhoods. The policies of the Government and the Mayor (or lack of them) mean this is likely to take place on a larger scale, with polarisation not just within London boroughs, but across the capital.

A divided city

The fact that London is not yet as divided geographically as many US cities, for example, certainly doesn't mean it isn't divided economically. In fact, as the excellent London Poverty Profile, points out, it is far more divided than other regions of the UK. So for example:
  • the top 10% of households by property wealth account for 45% of that wealth. The bottom 40% have no or almost no household wealth at all;
  • the richest 10% by financial wealth (savings and non-property assets) account for two-thirds of the financial wealth in London. The financial wealth of the bottom half is effectively 0%.

A key driver of inequality has been the impact of the recession - namely that a crisis created by reckless financial speculation by some of the richest individuals in the country has impacted them the least. So, as most people suffer from more wage freezes, increasing shortages of full-time employment and rising household costs, the rich just get richer. And the rich choose to live in London.

The number of "prime residential" schemes at planning or build stage is up 70% year-on-year, at a time at which there is an acute shortage of affordable housing. Prime London property prices - those of desirable houses or flats in richer areas - saw rises of 10% between September 2011 and September 2012 alone and are now 15% above their pre-financial crisis peak of March 2008. So-called super-prime properties, valued at over £10 million each, saw growth in prices of 8% in 2010 alone.

Meanwhile, a report from Future of London warns that 'overseas buyers seeking out homes for investment purposes risk pushing prices up and reducing the availability of homes to buy for local people'. It goes on to say that, rather like the financial markets, 'the London private housing market serves the interests of few people and fails to serve the needs of the majority'.

In 2011 this was epitomised by the opening of One Hyde Park, a development one columnist described as "a 21st-century monument to the ever-growing gap between rich and poor... that reached its triumphant moment of fulfilment on the very day that the government announced a youth unemployment rate of more than 20%".

Worsening trends

The trend for wealthy UK and overseas buyers to hoover-up and then horde large swathes of 'desirable' properties can only continue, as the number of people worldwide with assets of over $100 million (which has risen by almost 30% since 2006) is forecast to rise even further. This is coupled with an acute shortage in affordable property in London. An excellent report by Shelter illustrated the impact of this shortage of housing stock. In some of the most startling findings, they found that:
  • In 5 London boroughs, average monthly rent for a 2-bed property is now 75% or more of local median take-home pay;
  • The majority of London boroughs have median rents that cost more than 50% of median local full-time earnings.
Meanwhile, in August 2012, the average price of renting a home reached its highest ever level, jumping 4.8% in a single year to hit £1,272 a month. And for those hoping to get on the property ladder, the mountain gets ever larger: the average home in the capital now costing £397,000 – 70 per cent more than the UK average –  with the average price of a two-bedroom property at £483,000.

Leading Conservatives sit back and watch

The problems that these costs will cause for large numbers of Londoners has been compounded by the Mayor of London's utter indifference to the issue of affordability... although perhaps expecting a Tory Mayor in a modern right-wing Conservative Party to address these issues is probably too much to ask. Thus, Boris Johnson currently presides over a city that has almost 200,000 homes with planning permission already granted that are currently in stalled developments. He also leads an administration elected on a ticket to water down requirements for property development schemes to have a minimum proportion of affordable housing.

Unlike his defeated opponent, Ken Livingstone, who was going to introduce a New York-style cap on private rents and a 'London Living Rent', on housing Boris offers - as one expert put it - nothing but the status quo. Similarly, while his opponent had planned the creation of an energy co-operative to drive down gas and electricity bills, Boris offered not to do anything of note.

With ever rising rents, transport and energy costs, the victory of the current Mayor in this year's election at the same time as a Tory Party is at Number 10 means that - in the words of blogger Dave Hill - 'Conservatism now has the run of the city'. And, with the exception of a few woeful token schemes, that means sitting back and doing nothing.

Unfortunately, where Conservatism does offer a solution, it is to target the poorest rather than address systematic problems. This is best illustrated by the Government's policy of tacking the housing benefit bill by capping benefits (rather than tackling high rent), leading to some London boroughs proposing to exile families from the capital.

These trends might be self-perpetuating 

What all of this will do to the economic map of London is obvious: the city will become geographically divided, with the poorest driven to the outer edges of the capital - or perhaps outside it altogether. London will become more unequal and, eventually, mostly unaffordable for those from middle and lower-income groups.

In narrow political terms all of this could be beneficial to Tory Party in the capital, as these demographic changes may mean that one day the city that has consistently been the most left-leaning region in the south-east might become a Tory stronghold.  However, it could equally be disastrous for them, as rising poverty leads to rising crime and other social problems and a disaffected population, increasingly priced out by the asset-rich, turns on its government.

However, an issue for any progressive government that wants to implement policies to address these issues will be that the longer these trends continue, the harder it will be to convince its beneficiaries to vote for schemes to mitigate them. Convincing people to care about those less fortunate than them is easier if they are located in close proximity - it's easier to persuade a rich man to care for his neighbour than for someone many miles away.

Sadly, as one commentator asked, the rich are increasingly living in a manner that means this may prove very difficult anyway:

"Do they ever look out of their limousine windows and step on to pavements? Do they experience what we experience? Do they share the same concerns about a divided society, rising unemployment and beleaguered public services? Or do they exist in a separate space, behind their gated drives, ring-fenced from the rest of us and convince themselves that everything is fine?"

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Steve Coogan on 'pleb management' and the Tory Party

This short segment of Question Time, concerning the Andrew Mitchell rant, is notable for two things.

First, Jacob Rees-Mogg (continuing his tireless one-man crusade to ensure the Tories have zero chance of shifting their toff image any time soon) and, second, a sterling response from Steve Coogan.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Samuel L Jackson's foul-mouthed Obama ad

Although not quite matching the star-studded line-up of his 2008 campaign, Obama can still count on some high-level Hollywood support.

Although not exclusively Democratic - Republican supporters include an assortment of 1980s action movie stars, and (surprisingly) both Vince Vaughn and Adam Sandler - many of Hollywood's leading lights tend to sit in the blue camp.

And come election-time, they get wheeled out en masse. From Scarlett Johansson at the Democratic National Convention, to this latest video from the Obama campaign...

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Boris' vanity bus project costs London dear

Other bloggers, who have been admirable in their dissection of the vanity project that is Boris Johnson's new 'bus for London', have already pointed out the spiralling cost of the scheme.

The aim of the new bus project, for those not familiar with the background, is to continue Johnson's grand plan of replacing perfectly good and practical buses (that carry lots of passengers) with smaller ones that look nice from the outside for his core constituency of passing Chelsea Tractor drivers (and pretend journalist Andrew Gilligan, of course).

Anyway, in further developments shocking to those that have lived underground in a bunker for the last 4 and a half years:

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Nick Clegg: what he didn't mention in his speech

Nick Clegg's speech to his conference today was a piece of classic triangulation - the Tories are too right-wing, Labour too profligate. The Liberal Democrats are the only sensible choice. 

Except, of course, the speech itself was a straight-forward defence of Osborne's budget - his austerity delusion - and a rejection of any hope that Clegg has learned from the Tories' failure to remember the lessons of history.

Another notable part of the speech was this: 
  • Mentions of austerity (and why There Is No Alternative): 5
  • Mentions of the NHS (in the year in which the Lib Dems backed the effective break-up of the service): 0

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

HMRC boss given award for services to corporate tax avoidance

In a stunt that would make the guys over at The Revolution Will Be Televised proud, a group calling themselves "The Intruders" managed to present the outgoing head of HMRC, Dave Hartnett, with an award for his contributions to 'corporate tax planning' at a shindig for the good and great of the corporate tax planning world (that's avoidance to you and me).

The slick video of the stunt ends with charming footage of a lawyer who is clearly cut from the same cloth as Andrew Mitchell.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Jon Stewart on Fox News' mountain of Bull****

Fox News, that standard-bearer of impartial news, normally does a good enough job at self-parody on its own. 

Nevertheless, Jon Stewart had a fair whack himself recently, and he pretty much hit the nail on the head with this.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Meanwhile over in America...

Republican lawmakers, instead of bothering themselves to engage too much in the minor issue of sorting out the mess that is the US health care system, with its unfair and costly problems, have been busying themselves rolling out voter ID laws... prompting this sharp riposte from Sarah Silverman:


Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Kelvin "Gotcha" MacKenzie gets the tabloid press treatment

Kelvin MacKenzie enjoyed a long career as editor of Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper. During his tenure he memorably created a paper that cheered the sinking of a ship that killed hundreds, made xenophobic remarks a cornerstone of the tabloid, threw mud at any left-wing or centre-left politician or public figure, alongside hounding celebrities and anyone at the end of their chosen witch-hunt of the week.

Oh, and then there is Hillsborough, and the paper's disgraceful reporting of it - for which Kelvin was belligerently refusing to apologise until very recently... as this charming performance from Question Time demonstrates.

Given all this, it's hard to feel sorry for his own doorstepping incident, courtesy of Channel 4 News:

Monday, 17 September 2012

Now he's standing for parliament, let's remind ourselves of James Delingpole's finest moment

James Delingpole, the Telegraph's resident climate change denier-in-chief, is standing for parliament in the Corby by-election for an issue he describes as like "cancer", "one of the worst crimes ever perpetrated". There has never been, he says, "a political issue that makes me quite so cross".

Is it a major war? Or a major economic issue afflicting the lives of millions?

No, of course not.

It's wind farms.

Anyway, this act of vandalism by our Guardian-reading, environmental-activist Prime Minister has clearly vexed James so much he is willing to try to get elected as an MP.

Unfortunately for James, standing for parliament might encourage less charitable people to remind other people about videos like the following, from BBC's Horizon's Science Under Attack (subsequent to which, he claimed he had been "intellectually raped" - clearly a man with no problem substituting terms of horrific suffering for something far more banal that happens to him - in all honesty he could have said he had been "made to look like a prat" instead).

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Boris as PM is Murdoch's best chance to restore his waning influence in the UK

Much has been written in recent days about the miraculous way in which the incumbent Mayor of London has absorbed credit for an Olympics that he had little or no hand in winning.

Polls show he is now slightly more popular than Jesus, and - in probably one of the most jaw-dropping findings of recent years - that he is seen as the most in touch with the lives of ordinary Britons than other leading politicians. 

Yep - a man posh enough to make George Osborne look like John Prescott is now apparently man of the people. [Having said that, I've no doubt that a random multi-millionaire celebrity - Rihanna, say - included in the same poll would be voted as most 'in touch with the lives of ordinary Britons'... it's the nature of 'anti-politics' these days].

Now, this could be classic silly-season stuff. The kind of limited bounce that fades fast when times get tougher - think Cleggmania

Nevertheless, Boris as PM is increasingly looking more plausible. And, for those that laugh out loud at the notion of Borisconi winning the keys to Downing St, remember that even a year before his first Mayoral victory in 2008, commentators were very sceptical about his chances of winning that election. 

So, who would stand to gain from a Boris premiership, other than Boris himself? Well, for a start, the same beneficiaries currently gaining from the policies of Cameron and Osborne - and the same losers too. For, as another commentator has pointed out on many occasions, Boris' policy differences with his supposed rival are minute. 

One man who thinks he will be a winner is someone whose papers are lining up behind Johnson, just as they did in 2008 and 2012. A man who, even during his the height of the phone hacking scandal could rely on the support of the Mayor when others were - rightly - critical. A man who wined and dined him  and his executives immediately prior to a Met Police investigation into phone hacking scandal and during the Olympics.   

For Rupert Murdoch, backing Boris has two main advantages. First, Johnson is more likely - if the polls remain so positive - to keep the Tory Party in power, with all the benefits that holds for News Corporation. Second, the Mayor's instincts - on banking, on media regulation and other key issues - are far closer to those of the Tory Right, and Murdoch himself.    

Thus, a man that many are convinced has lost power and influence (despite little changing in terms of the scale of his media empire beyond reputational damage), could have an ally in Number 10. And, given a few years to allow those with short memories to forget Milly Dowler et al, he could presumably launch another bid to take full control of BSkyB sometime after 2015.  

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Tory Party are starting to take the same attitude towards intelligent thought as the US Republicans: and it can only damage us all

Many recent commentators have noted the dramatic leap to the fringes of the political right of the modern US Republican Party - including some of their former staunchest allies.

On economic policy and on social policy, leading lights in the GOP are now so right-wing as to make George Bush Senior look like Dennis Skinner. This is coupled with their almost complete intransigence, due in a large part to infiltration of their party by Tea Party members - who display an almost religious commitment to their ideology - and the influence of major conservative media outlets like Fox News and ultra-wealthy backers such as the Koch brothers.

However, it is on one issue in which the Republicans look ever more out of tune with reality. That issue is their attitude to science, to academia and, in fact, to anything that resembles intellectualism.

The modern Republican Party is, quite simply, hostile to scientists - wilfully ignoring scientific studies, refusing to engage in sensible debate and, when it suits them, plainly ignoring empirical evidence. In stem cell research and (most obviously) climate change they display antipathy to almost anyone who holds views at odds with their ideological positions.

At the same time, the long-running suspicion held on many on the right towards academia, universities and teachers in state schools has now been solidified. The modern Republicans thus define themselves against intellectuals and the so-called 'metropolitan elite'. This was demonstrated most recently in Clint Eastwood's notorious speech to the Republican National Commitee, in which he complained that an attorney shouldn't be a US President as:

 "you know they're always taught to argue everything, and always weight everything -- weigh both sides".

... thus sounding uncannily like the spoof President Schwarzenegger from the Simpsons, who had the memorable line: "I was elected to lead, not read".

The Republican Party, even ten years ago, wasn't quite like this. It is the takeover of the GOP by zealots from the Tea Party and their allies, whose political views are more akin to religious ones, that has spurred on this shift. It has also been provoked by certain issues - such as climate change or the banking crisis - where scientific or economic facts pose awkward problems for their ideology.

Where this has happened - where evidence contradicts elements of the conservative political narrative - many of their leading figures have taken the ostrich defence. As David Frum has pointed out, "Conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics". Other authors have drawn similar conclusions - that where evidence, underpinned by research, or events that occur require a re-evaluation of aspects of neo-liberal ideology - many on the right simply deny the existence of those facts.

Across the Atlantic

Thankfully, here in the UK, things aren't (yet) so bad. However, there are a range of indications that things are drifting that way - although suspicion towards intellectual thought arguably has a long history among British conservatives. First, there are the attacks (led by arch-ideologue Michael Gove and his colleague Nick Gibb) on the historical role of universities in teacher training - driven in part by suspicion of the supposed liberal and progressive values in higher education establishments and their influence over new teachers.

Second, there are ever-more commentators on the right holding the kind of evidence-free views that pervade so much of US conservatism. Take the likes of Benedict Brogan, who demonstrates that the undercurrent of anti-science and anti-intellectualism is now taking root in the Tory Party, by describing a contradiction between accepting the scientific consensus around climate change and being 'true blue'.

Meanwhile, James Delingpole's excruciating interview with the BBC shows how the bury-your-head-in-the-sand approach to science can make you look quite frankly like a bit of a plonker when you are forced to engage in a sensible debate.

Both of these pieces illustrate how so much of modern right-wing political philosophy is based on wilfully ignoring reality - facts, evidence, argument - in favour of an almost infantile attitude towards debate, engagement and politics. And the financial crisis and all it demonstrated about inadequacies in free-market theories in practice have only exacerbated this attitude.

It is, as Charlie Brooker wittily referred to once, "the Unlightenment". Except, in reality, when these views are held by politicians in major parties on both sides of the Atlantic with a good change of gaining power, it isn't so funny.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Osborne fails to understand history, and the country suffers for it

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, has written another told-you-so to the fans of austerity that backed Osborne's cuts in 2010.

Today's news is the latest in the long line of bleak economic indicators, punctured only by unusually rosy-looking jobs figures (if you ignore the huge number of part-time workers forced into such a position against their wishes).

For Osborne - and Britain - the end of this year could be a disaster: leaving us with spending cuts that have only led to more debt, with a neo-liberal government who would then turn to even deeper cuts. A vicious cycle the Greeks have found themselves in and something that some commentators - including Krugman - have warned about all along.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

How the Corby by-election could further weaken the PM

Conservative Home have released details of a (larger than normal) poll of people Corby that indicates the Tories are on course to lose Louise Mensch's seat by around 15% of the vote.

This contest is interesting as, to date, the various by-elections since 2010 have all been in Labour-held seats. That the Tories may lose a seat in this manner will have two impacts. 

Firstly, it will be another knock to Cameron - to add to the seemingly endlessly negative media narrative that surrounds him.

The second effect may be an interesting one, something that Mike Smithson over at Politicalbetting has recently discussed. A defeat for the Tories would mean that the electoral mathematics could allow a 'rainbow alliance' of the left and centre (including the Lib Dems) - but excluding the SDP - to have as many seats at the current coalition. This would strengthen the hand of the Lib Dems and further weaken the Prime Minister's bargaining position. 

Monday, 13 August 2012

The real winner from the Olympics isn't Boris - it's the BBC

The media classes can often get into a state of group-think.

So, in 2011, Ed Miliband is talked of as a failure with no chance of victory by just about every major outlet. Then, all of a sudden, there is a change of heart that sweeps everyone along with it, and the next minute Cameron is facing endlessly negative coverage.

At the moment the herd mentality is that Boris Johnson, our refined and shy Tory Mayor, has benefited hugely from the games. Indeed, he may have had some benefit - although the evidence, such as the latest polling on the matter, doesn't necessarily bear this out.

In fact, the latest ICM polls on a Boris-led Tory Party indicate he'd barely shift their position in voting intention. Put simply, Miliband would still be on course to win in 2015, even with Johnson as Conservative Party leader.

The real winner is the BBC.

It has won record viewing figures, and the public's reaction to the coverage has been hugely warm. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the response to the BBC's Olympian efforts has been mortal enemies of the beeb, such as the Daily Mail and Telegraph, have written about it in highly positive ways - almost unheard of. Some recent examples from right-of-centre papers include:

Hats off to the BBC for their Olympic coverage (Daily Mail)

Brilliant Beeb can use Olympics to create 'minor sports' legacy (Daily Mail)

London 2012 Olympics: united in BBC's isles of wonder (Telegraph)

Aunty Beeb does Olympics proud (The Scotsman)

Olympics that prove UK can still deliver (Daily Mail editorial)

The BBC’s Olympics coverage has been a triumph (Metro)

Red button Olympics: The event that got us all switching on in our millions (Standard) 

That the Mail can, in its own leader column, describe the BBC's coverage as "brilliant and insightful" would have been almost unthinkable merely weeks before. The corporation has strengthened its reputation greatly through the Olympic Games and, for the time being at least, its enemies are in retreat.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Clegg's revenge on boundary changes will cost Cameron dear

The decision by Nick Clegg today - in response to David Cameron's failure to convince his backbenchers to support Lords Reform - to kill off the boundary changes that would have reduced the numbers of MPs in the Commons is a huge blow to the Tory Party.

Analysis indicated that reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600 - as the boundary changes would have done - would have hit Labour and the Lib Dems harder than the Conservatives. In fact, the Tories would have been closer to a majority in 2010 (although notably would still have achieved to have gained one), had the election been fought over the proposed new boundaries.

The reason why this is so bad for the Conservative Party is because they will need every seat they can get. The failure of the reform will exacerbate the other four main reasons why the Conservative Party is unlikely to get a majority in 2015 - reasons the media frequently downplays or ignores:
  • First, its worth reminding ourselves that David Cameron and the Tory Party failed to win an election in 2010 after 13 years consecutive year of an increasingly unpopular Labour Party in power - the latter led by a very unpopular leader in Gordon Brown.
  • Second, Cameron's failure to win a majority in 2010 bodes even worse for 2015, considering no sitting Prime Minister has increased their share of the vote since Harold Wilson's re-election in 1974.  
  • Third, leadership ratings - an increasingly reliable pointer to election outcomes in modern politics - now show Ed Miliband and David Cameron neck-and-neck, after more than a year of Cameron being ahead on the measure. 
  • Fourth, the economy is in pretty dire state, especially considering the (now very optimistic-looking) forecasts the OBR were making in 2010 - with manufacturing survey after manufacturing survey after manufacturing survey also showing the 'rebalancing' of the economy is going nowhere. The Tories' original hopes that the history-defying attempts to create economic recovery through austerity and then bring in election-winning tax cuts just before the 2015 election are now a fading dream. It was a gamble, founded on ignorance of history, that has failed - as Nobel-prize winning US economist Paul Krugman never tires of pointing out.                

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Daily Mail and Telegraph: home of the best comment board-lurkers around

Internet comment boards are never the best place to hang around for sensible debate. More often than not, conversation descends into either a slagging-match or, equally often, an argument about who is most like Hitler.

However, for the crème de la crème of comment boards, you have to venture over to the stalwarts of mainstream political right, the Daily Mail and Telegraph. Here, you can see the loony right in their natural habitat, free to feed off each other's prejudices and to work themselves up into a frenzy.

There are four defining characteristics of regular posters on right-wing newspaper web sites, in particular the Daily Mail and Telegraph, and once recognised you could be forgiven for thinking it is the same handful of people posting under pseudonyms. 

These character traits - of flaws, depending on your point of view - are as follows:

1) A sense of barely suppressed rage, often manifesting itself in the use of RANDOM CAPITALS.

2) A powerful sense that everything is going down the pan, driven mostly by 'political correctness' and a pinko/commie-run education system. More often than not, the poster will pine for an idealised schools system that never quite existed, but mashes together elements of the Victorian-era and the 1950s. Amusingly, as Exhibit A demonstrates below, criticism of how far standards have dropped often takes the form of badly-written rants, complete with ironic spelling mistakes.

Exhibit A: You-couldn't-make-it-up spelling mistakes (this one from the Guardian comment thread)

3) Frequent use of painfully unfunny turns of phrase - that probably are rather witty to people that find Jim Davidson a cutting-edge comedian. Most frequent examples: NuLIEBore, EUSSR.

4) The most popular topic, of course, is immigration. It frequently rears its head in topics about the EU - and an EU referendum is a regular feature of the Mail/Torygraph Lurker Post - but what they really, really mean, is immigration. 

The best kind of post on immigration from these types is the post made - without irony - about the 'scandal' of immigration to the UK by people who sign off 'Mike, Singapore', or 'George, Costa Del Sol', or 'Jeff, Australia (left England when the imigrints took over because of NULieBore)'. That kind of thing. 

Or, as Exhibit B demonstrates, 'Long Beach California'. Or, in other words, someone who is themselves as immigrant

Exhibit B: Post made, without irony, about immigration to the UK from ex-pats (or, in other words, immigrants) 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

For the neo-cons, concern about 'liberty' extends only to the powerful

There is an interesting video of Michael Gove - the right-winger currently shaping the school curriculum around his own brand of patriotic, traditionalist, Eton-influenced conservatism - at the Leveson Inquiry.

In it, in his usual mix of self-satisfaction and condescension, Gove airily glosses over the staggering list of appalling behaviour that the inquiry has heard about - from the hacking of a murdered girl's phone, to the tapping of the phones of grieving relatives of the dead - in order to highlight his supposedly noble commitment to 'liberty' and therefore aversion to press regulation.

Apparently, for a man shaping the way in which British children will be educated for years to come, none of these events appears to warrant any major changes to the system of media regulation.

Gove at Leveson - click for video
Now, for Gove, the Leveson Inquiry is awkward. He is a tireless defender of News Corporation and a former employee of one of Rupert Murdoch's flagship papers. The two also share the same neo-conservative world outlook.

But there is something deeper here, that connects Gove to the multitude of think tanks across the UK and in particular the US, that profess to love 'liberty' and 'freedom', from the Heritage Foundation to the Taxpayer's Alliance. This shared commitment is to defend the freedom of the richest corporations to act and operate as they see fit, regardless of the consequences for the public at large.

So, US right-wing campaign groups endlessly attempt to undermine any efforts to defend the world's natural environment from being blighted by corporate decisions based on short-term greed. At the same time, neo-conservatives have actively resisted attempts to bring legislate to protect people from injury or worse at work through corporate malpractice or negligence.

This concept of liberty is therefore a one way street. And so, for Michael Gove and his ideological bedfellows, 'freedom' in the context of the media is the right of rich and powerful men to use their organisations to ruin the lives of ordinary people, without sanction.

How very noble.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Boris and News International

Boris got very upset about this story here (original video half way down the page) about Boris' close links to Murdoch's News International.

What happened next:

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Why Cameron, Osborne and Lansley are so desperate for a Boris victory in London

An earlier post highlighted just how symbolically important the Mayoral election is on the national stage - the reactions of David Cameron and Andy Coulson sum up how much Tory candidate Boris Johnson's victory in 2008 meant to them

Well, this time, it means even more. The Conservative Party are currently trailing badly in the polls. They are lurching from one crisis to another. And, in between the staggeringly incompetent reforms to higher education and the jaw-dropping right-wing reforms to the NHS - of which voters where given no warning prior to the 2010 election - the Government are well on their way to alienating many of the key professions.

It is almost certain that the Conservative Party will get bruised at the local elections on 3 May. It is also likely that they will continue to suffer badly from the fall-out from Osborne's disastrous economic strategy, from the unravelling of Andrew Lansley's NHS reforms and from the aftershocks of years of Cameron's cosying up to the Murdoch empire now coming back to haunt the Party.

However, there is one chink of light, one symbolic contest, on which all Conservative hopes are pinned - on the contest for Mayor of London. This high-profile contest would give senior Tories enough of a victory to allow them to press on unhindered with their programme of government.

In policy terms, the two main candidates for Mayor are in fact fairly traditionally split between left and right, with Ken Livingstone focussed on housing, public transport, education (and in particularly the EMA) and energy bills; Boris, meanwhile, has a limited manifesto reflecting his right-wing small-government outlook, with his most noticeable policy being more public spending cuts (as if Osborne's strategy needs accelerating).

For these reasons, an awful lot rides on Tory Mayor Boris winning to protect Cameron, Osborne, Lansley and colleagues from further pain. Don't want to take my word for it? Then how about the press:

City AM: "Defeat for Boris 'would be lethal' for Cameron and Osborne"

Daily Mail: "A Boris victory is the only thing that can save the Tories now"

Evening Standard: "Conservative ministers desperately need a Johnson victory in London"

Guardian: "If the London Mayor wins again, it will be hailed as a triumph for the Conservative Party"

Political Betting: "The big hope for the Tories now is that Boris hangs on in London"

Telegraph: "If Boris loses it will become Cameron’s Black Friday... Johnson is the final bulwark between his party and a complete rout"

Daily Mail: "Boris is out to win, and he could just save Dave's bacon"

Guardian: "Johnson's London Plan is the vision of a complete and utter1 Conservative... Boris is a facilitator of Tory policies in housing, welfare, transport and crime that are worsening London's woes" 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

What a Boris win means for Cameron, Osborne and Lansley

If there is any doubt at all about what a win for Boris Johnson means for the Tory Party, take a look at the images and videos below.

They show David Cameron, George Osborne and Cameron's then right-hand man, the now-disgraced Andy Coulson, watching with mounting satisfaction as Tory candidate Boris Johnson wins the 2008 Mayoral Election.

This is what a Boris win means - success for the Conservative Party and vindication for David Cameron, George Osborne, Andrew Lansley and Michael Gove.

It means a tacit endorsement of the assault on comprehensive education and of the trebling of tuition fees.

It means endorsing the massive reorganisation and privatisation of the NHS, of the privatisation of the police force and of the fire service - of which Tory Mayor Boris Johnson is a driving force.

It means an endorsement of consecutive budgets that have shifted resources from the poorest in society to the very richest, whilst withdrawing support from the sick and disabled.

And, for Londoners, it will mean a rapid shift towards an every more unequal city, as the social mix that has made London such a unique - and liberal - city is replaced by homogeneity and ghettoisation.

Andy Coulson and David Cameron awaiting the result

Osborne and Cameron awaiting the announcement

Coulson and Cameron celebrate as Boris' win is announced [Click for Video]

Click here to link to video - if you can bear it. 


On a lighter note, Cameron does produce an unfortunate David Brent impression towards the end, by trying to high-five a colleague at 1 min.53 whilst the latter merely sticks out his hand for a conventional handshake.

Cameron definitely not looking silly [Click for video]

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

For Cameron to listen on the NHS, Londoners need to send him a message and kick Boris out of City Hall

As the Health and Social Care Bill passes its final hurdle, it's clear that David Cameron is happy to ignore the thousands of health care professionals, the academic experts and hundreds of thousands of members of the public that have opposed the introduction of a set of reforms that no-one voted for.

Today cabinet members banged the table in delight at forcing the law through, thanks in part to a House of Lords with a number of members (one in four of Tory peers) with vested interests in passing a law that will lead to the inexorable privatisation of the National Health Service.

There is one opportunity for at least one part of the country to demonstrate to the Prime Minister their strength of feeling, and that is in London. In Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party have a talismanic figure that they are desperate to see returned to City Hall. On 3 May, voters in the capital go to the polls.

If voters in London signal their opposition to the dismantling of the NHS by kicking Mayor Johnson out of power, they will send a message to David Cameron more powerful than any petition or protest march. It is the best chance of making the voices of the public on this crucial issue heard.