Monday, May 31, 2010

The lexicon of doom

A quick journey into the industrial tons of "crowing" churned out by the Mail, daily...

One day scientists are going to come up with findings that reading certain tabloids really is detrimental to the reader's health. It can induce misery, depression, negativity, fear, paranoia and hypochondria.

I don't know if today is a particularly negative one but, as you quickly scroll through today's edition of the Daily Mail Online, you find that almost each single headline contains at least a word of severe doom.

The overall result is so gloomy that, put next to it, a Radiohead or Joy Division track would look like a Vengaboys song by comparison.

If you feel unconvinced, just check this roll call of despair from today's headlines:

...19 activists are killed in a bloody Israeli commando raid; Girl, 15, raped...; Falling 30ft nightclub sign knocks woman unconscious; ...badly sunburnt baby...; Girl, 5, severly injured after being mauled by American bulldog; Katie Price's unhappy family day out; Huge clouds of sand looms large over remote village; Near death experiences explained...; ...rare hormone disorder sees her weight QUADRUPLE; ...'killing kit' of saws, knives and body tissue; Tragedy of brilliant student [...] altitude sickness; War on bogus sales...; Britain's got talent will end with suicide if ridicule continues, warn mental health experts; American cage fighter rips out still-beating heart...; ...teenage fisherman found dead in remote pond; ...Now cabin crew threaten to strike through summer; Being at birth 'can make fathers feel a failure and damage paternal bond'; Former model kicked in the face with stiletto...; Britain shivers on typically chilly bank holiday...; Miracle escape for drummer who fell from balcony and impaled his head on a fence; BP oil leak could last for month...; Royal Marine killed by explosion...; Frenchman with no arms or legs swims set to swim 22 miles...; Career women battling with alcoholism; etc etc...

I need to make myself a cup of tea.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Policeman just told me to take off my England shirt...

...what's the going rate for a tabloid interview about it?

The other day we wrote about the imbecilic paranoid "siege mentality" of nationalism as the sole possible explanation for the urban myth that police are banning England tops from pubs during the World Cup.

Within days the ban on tops doubled up as a ban on flags and, in no time at all, tabloid non-stories multiplied. Apparently, the "Cornish banned England flags", as did PC managers at rubbish collection companies and taxi firms.

Needless to say, the urban myth is snowballing. Outraged Facebook groups have been mushrooming up and the stories, each increasingly embellished, have multiplied on forums and various websites where people are venting anger and frothing at, to quote the Daily Mail, the "clampdown on public patriotism".

Nevermind it's a non-existent clampdown, like flies following a cantering horse's arsehole, those "outraged" Facebook groups members and tabloid commenters insist it's "time2 make a stand" and "take off ur turban too cuz im offended by it2".

But then, courtesy of both Tabloid Watch and Enemies of Reason, I discovered that there's even more to it.

There is now a new and even more pathetic breed of associated stories coming to the fore.

I'm not suggesting that someone, somewhere, may have spotted a milking cow or a golden goose (or an horse's arsehole, to continue with our earlier analogy).

I'm just asking a question. If a clever person contacted the Daily Mail, or the Daily Star, or a local paper, with a story like this ("Driver orders toddler off bus for wearing 'offensive' England football shirt") or this ("Policeman told me not to wear England shirt, claims woman"), how much dosh would they offer?

And if this same person then also agreed to pose with their kid for couple of pictures holding a slightly concerned face while proudly wearing the patriotic outfit, would the papers stick an extra pony on top of the initial offer?

Because it's quite baffling that more similar stories are springing up which fit the outraged they-won't-let-us-fly-our-flags tabloid posturing like a turd in a toilet bowl.

But the real drama is that these stories are all turning out to be untrue. The "evil foreign bus driver" one was followed by a full investigation by the bus company. They concluded that "no such incident took place". The bus was packed, apparently, but nobody saw any evil Eastern European driver kicking a kid off the bus for wearing an England top. Needless to say, the Mail didn't publish any of that.

Similarly. Dorset police could not trace the officer mentioned in the "Policeman-told-me-not-to-wear-England-shirt" fable. And it couldn't have been otherwise, as the force stated categorically that such behaviour is not part of their policy.

So here it is. This morning I was going about my own business when a police officer, accompanied by a man from the Council's Diversity Office and also by an Eastern European bus driver (who also turned out to be Muslim), stopped me and ordered me to take off my Alan Shearer shirt.

As I expressed my objections, they all replied that I had no other option other than to follow their orders. And when I noted that walking around with my torso on display was not the best idea, they handed me a made-in-France European Union t-shirt.

If any tabloid is interested in finding out more about it, please contact me at the usual e-mail address. I offer competitive rates.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Heysel: 25 years ago

A look back at the tragedy that changed football forever.

I was around seven or eight when I decided football was to be my favourite sport. I'm pretty sure I was still totally unaware of the technicalities of the game, but around 1983 I started developing a fascination for football kits and, of course, the game itself.

By the end of the 1984-85 season, I remember looking forward to the European Cup (now known as the Champions League) final between Liverpool and Juventus that was to be played in Brussels.

I was really excited. To me, that was the best of all possible worlds, English football vs Italian football. What was back then the best British team taking on Italy's most prestigious representatives. I hated Juventus with a passion (my favourite Italian team was Roma, I never understood why), so I was truly hoping for Liverpool to mop the floor with Platini & C.

I was at home with my mum and we turned the telly on. The match wasn't on yet, but it didn't look like the usual build up to a final. There were live scenes on telly I'd never seen before, certainly not associated with a football match. The pitch was all messy, the whole thing was all over the place with people running about and lots of mounted police and what looked like officers in riot gear.

As minutes went by, we gathered from what the commentators were saying that something had not gone according to plan.

I can't remember much anymore after twenty-five years, but it felt like forever until the match started. I still recall the two capitains, Phil Neal and Gaetano Scirea, making a public announcement asking for supporters to calm down so that the game could go ahead. Everything was so surreal.

In the heat of the moment I don't think the scale of what later emerged was clear and, to this date, both sets of players deny they were aware of what was going on otherwise they wouldn't have played.

I don't know exactly at which stage the viewers were informed that many people had been killed prior to the game and that many more were injured, but I distinctly remember feeling really disturbed. I thought that football was just the most exciting sport, and that such a huge final could only be a big occasion to celebrate. My brain had not yet made the connection that football could also bring on primeval levels of violence and confrontation.

The telly showed the images of a collapsed concrete wall, crushed people and various scenes of despair and devastation. People, friends, dads with their kids had travelled all the way to be part of a historical event. Little did they know.

What happened proved a watershed moment in European football. UEFA finally vowed to clean up their act and never again allow matches to be organised under such shambolic circumstances. On their part, the British authorities finally decided to clampdown on the worst aspects of terrace culture. The rules of football policing changed forever and, credit when due, British stadiums are now way safer than in most European countries.

Yet, back to May 29 1985, several factors concurred to provoke the worst tragedy in the history of international football.

First. The mid-Eighties represented the peak of English hooliganism. By 1985 the behaviour of hardcore English fans had become intolerable, with trouble erupting both at domestic games and in Europe. With hindsight, Heysel and -though through different dynamics - Hillsborough were simply accidents waiting to happen.

Two. In selecting Heysel as the venue, UEFA got it seriously wrong. The stadium was falling to bits and was clearly unfit for purpose. Both the pitch and the structure were in desperate need of maintenance work, walls and chicken wire fences segregating different sectors were clearly decrepit and the crumbling stands so battered that bricks and other potential missiles were readily available.

Three. The ticket allocation had gone terribly wrong. Sure, the two sets of organised fans were placed at the two opposite ends, but the one bit right next to some of the most confrontational Liverpool fans was a so-called "neutral" section", the infamous section "Z", thinly policed and naively intended for Belgian people. Except that it was never going to work. Many non-organised Juventus fans (i.e. expats or families and people travelling individually) had managed to get hold of tickets for section Z from touts, meaning that they were only yards away from hardcore Liverpool supporters.

Four. Policing was absolutely inept. Officers and stewards were not present in sufficient numbers and thousands of people got into the ground with the stub still on their ticket.

Five. No precautions had been taken in spite of warnings that English supporters had sworn revenge after a number of Liverpool fans got assaulted in Rome the year before. There is evidence that some of the most unsavoury elements at Heysel were not only Liverpool supporters but also contingents from other English firms looking to get their own back against the Italians (even though supporters from Juventus and Roma absolutely detest one another).

About an hour before kick-off, groups of Liverpool fans started charging towards section Z. This was typical of football disturbances of the time, when hooligans would literally try and take over "enemy territory".

With nowhere else to go, the people standing in section Z retreated towards the perimeter wall at the back with the result that a huge number of fans ended up being crushed. Many suffocated or got severely injured, but the worst happened when the wall collapsed under the sheer pressure of fleeing supporters and dozens were trampled underfoot.

In total 39 people died (32 Italians, 4 Belgians, 2 French and a man from Northern Ireland) and over 600 were injured.

Belgian police took half an hour to arrive, but just in time to stop the Juventus "ultras" from the opposite end of the stadium seeking revenge as news of the massacre began to circulate. Riots followed and the kick-off was delayed.

Controversy lingered on for years as both sets of players were criticised for starting the game in spite of the appalling circumstances. In particular, Juventus players took a lot of stick for publicly celebrating their 1-0 victory when they should have kept a more sombre approach.

Two days after the events, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher didn't have to try very hard to talk UEFA into banning all English teams from European competitions. She returned immediately from an official visit abroad and declared: "There are no words, there are no possible justifications: the blame is entirely for England".

For five years (and seven for Liverpool), no English teams whatsoever were allowed to contest the European Cup, the Cup Winners' Cup and the UEFA Cup, with the result that the Premier League took years to recover both in terms of attracting top players and international reputation. From being the dominant force in European competitions in the late 1970s/early 1980s, English teams suffered some difficult years, having to wait until 1999 to lift a European Cup again.

When I look at photos of what happened on that night twenty-five years ago, I still get goosepimples. For all attempts at rationalising hooliganism and football violence, it remains the most disarmingly braindead manifestation of mankind.

David Laws: "The years of plenty are over"

A new politics, eh? Minister in charge of reducing government spending apologises after being caught red handed with taxpayers' money.

Remember last year's mega MPs' expenses scandal, the outrage and all the promises of a brand new politics?

Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Laws MP must be a clairvoyant. Four days ago he publicly pontificated that "the years of plenty are over".

Sure, he was only referring to the public sector, as he illustrated the "shockwave" of £6.2bn worth of cuts across government spending.

But look at the irony. The famously loaded former investment banker has now been caught red-handed using taxpayers' money (£40,000 over a period of five years- £950 a month) to rent rooms in two properties owned by his secret partner. He said he'll pay back immediately. Indeed, "the years of plenty" appear to be over for him.

For the record, David Laws is one of the LibDems' most prominent "orange bookers", that is to say the free-market wing of the party which strongly advocates a much smaller role for the state.

Like the Telegraph remarked, Laws is the man "charged with rescuing the Government's finances". Keep the faith.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Peter Tatchell: Moscow Gay Pride has been banned

As the EU, the UK and the US have all failed to condemn the decision, activists gather in a secret Moscow location to defy the ban.

In a shameless display of feeble deference to the Mayor of Moscow, a court in the Russian capital today upheld Mayor Luzhkov's ban of the fifth attempted Moscow Gay Pride parade. The judge acted in defiance of the Russian constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression and the right to protest.

This is a sad day for Russian democracy. It is the latest of many suppressions of civil liberties that happen in supposedly democratic Russia. Many other protests are also denied and repressed, not just gay ones. Autocracy rules under President Medvedev.

The EU and western embassies are hypocrites. They support Gay Pride events in Poland and Latvia, but not in Russia. The UK and US governments have not protested to the Russian authorities. Their ambassadors to Russia have offered no support to the Moscow Pride organizers. They have ignored suggestions that they host Gay Pride events in their embassy grounds and that they fly the gay rainbow flag on Moscow Pride day, 29 May.

On the eve of the banned march, activists are arriving in Moscow from all parts of Russia, to join the Saturday parade. We are being billeted in secret locations across the city. To outwit the FSB security services, who have previously tried to locate Gay Pride activists by tracing their mobile phones, we have surrendered our mobiles and been issued with brand new Russian sim cards.

I am holed up with a group of activists in an apartment in Moscow. We've been asked to remove all badges and ribbons that might identify us as gay or as activists. All the beds and sofas, and much of the floor space, is taken up with activists form far and wide. Everyone is messing in to organize food and household chores.

We are ready and determined to make a stand for gay rights and the right to protests. The courage and resolve of the Russian LGBT activists is really inspiring. We'll take whatever the authorities, and neoNazis, throw at us. We are hoping for no arrests and no assaults, but we are ready for the worst.

Peter Tatchell is the coordinator of the British gay human rights group OutRage! and human rights spokesperson for the Green Party of England and Wales.

Click here for information about Peter Tatchell's campaigns.

The 'siege mentality' of nationalism

The tabloids are unable to deal with patriotism without turning hysterical: the equivalent of an aggressive pisshead unable to handle his drinks, convinced that they're all looking at him funny.

Why can't people just be proud of their country and their flag without having to turn their nationalism into a brain-dead Neanderthal-like fetish based on paranoia and "siege mentality"?

Like clockwork, with each World Cup or Euro Championship comes the urban myth based on some grand anti-English design or some hollow conspiracy theory whipped up by tabloids for the populace to consume.

The fact is, an alarming number of Brits are happy to be treated like imbeciles the moment there's a whiff of international football in the air.

And so you may have heard of the current uproar surrounding the myth that police are trying to ban England football shirts and flags in pubs and public places during the World Cup.

The rumours appear to have been kickstarted by (make a wild guess) the Sun when they published an article under the header "Bid to ban England tops in World Cup pubs".

Anyone with more than a brain cell would have detected that the headline had nothing to do with the facts. The article itself refers to none other than "suggestions" sent by the Met to a few pubs in Croydon with a history of football-related disturbances. Just a couple of non-compulsory tips about hiring security staff and introducing dresscode restrictions (see Tabloid Watch for a better analysis).

Yet the frothing at the mouth took no time to kick in. Several Facebook groups (see here, here and here for a sample) were set up before you could even utter the word "idiot" and, like dogs who've just been ordered to sit, lie down, bark and run, people started spewing up disturbing amounts of online rage, working themselves up against not just the "PC brigade" and "elf & safety" killjoys, but also immigrants (see this delightful group called "if our england tops am banned your sari should b2")!

And yet police forces up and down the country have been stepping forward to dispel the myth. Staffordshire police said that "there is no truth in [the rumours] whatsoever", while West Midlands Police denied that there is any directive whatsoever about a ban. A spokesperson dismissed the rumours as "nonsense".

But, no. That's not enough. The Sun seems to be unable to show its "patriotic" credentials without having to whip up more imbecilic siege mentality. They just can't do it, can they?

And so the tabloid decided to produce the headline Ooh-arr ya? Cornish ban England flags. Except that no such thing ever happened in Cornwall or elsewhere. The Sun just concocted the headline on the basis of a Facebook group comprising 55 people and a quote from a man representing the minute Cornish separatist movement. That became Cornish ban England flags. You can only imagine the outrage amongst Sun readers.

Today the Daily Mail joined in with the words "Clampdown: Workers are increasingly being banned from flying England flags", based on two stories about a private refuse collection firm in Liverpool and taxis in Canterbury not being allowed to wave flags for visibility reasons. Nevermind the taxi firm made it clear that "[they] have been fully supportive of [taxi drivers] wearing England shirts", the Daily Mail insists it's a "clampdown on public patriotism".

Again, siege, threats, bans, enemies, paranoia: the equivalent of an aggressive pisshead unable to handle his drinks - as he works himself up that everyone's looking at him funny.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Is this just?

Dumbbell attack: the teacher has been fired.

Peter Harvey, the teacher who notoriously hit a pupil with a dumbbell following a string of both physical and verbal attacks over months has now been sacked from his job.

Instead of allowing early retirement on grounds of ill health, Harvey's employer decided to end what had been a 20-year-long "exemplary" teaching career without notice, leaving the 50-year-old teacher with no income and zero career prospects.

But if punishment is meant to offer deterrence and rehabilitation, how is this decision supposed to do any good?

Welcome back, good old Tories

From "cuddly" government to Iain Duncan Smith: here's the Coalition in all its glory.

After the election binge and the disappointments that came with it, this blog had made a vow to stay away from politics for as long as possible.

We learnt that objecting to proposals and bills is the wrong thing to do. Apparently you have to keep quiet and wait until they've been tried and tested. Even if it's tens of millions of pounds axed from children services and transport. Even if that may cause mayhem - it's in the national interest, so that's alright.

We learnt that fighting for a manifesto on May 5 and then doing the exact opposite on May 7, a-la Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, is perfectly fine. It's your problem if it doesn't add up. It's in the national interest, so we should get on with it.

We learnt that, no matter what, Britain will enjoy fixed parliaments and that, in three years' time or maybe longer, we'll have a referendum on AV which the Tories will campaign against, so everything else is alright.

And in any case, with a coalition government so fluffy and cuddly that 90% of the media are currently offering their love, what could possibly be said against them. They're working in the "national interest", after all, so we decided to stop whining for a while.

Two weeks on and after the declarations of love and national interest, however, this caring government needs to be pulled up over something.

Today the limelight is on über Tory Iain Duncan Smith and his plans over at Work and Pensions, which come straight from the darkest days of Thatcherism.

In a speech that sounds like the a tabloid's wet dream, IDS laid out his no-bullshit action plan consisting, amongst other things, of: the unemployed being forced to do community work in exchange for benefits; immediate requirement to sign up for training schemes; benefits suspended to those who refuse job offers; a "significant number" of those on incapacity benefits moved into work asap.

Let's ignore the fact that -especially post recession- millions are on the dole through no fault of their own. Let's turn a blind eye on the fact that when you can't find a job it's absolutely disheartening and the last thing you need is national campaigns that make you feel even more worthless and in need of self-flagellation. Let's ignore all that.

The thing is, IDS forgets three enormous things.

1) There's a massive recession out there. Unemployment is at its highest in twenty years. There are less jobs available around. The "aggressive cuts" (to quote David Laws) will mean even less jobs available in the very near future. So, very simply, how are millions of alleged lazy layabouts going to find a job?

2) IDS repeated that at present the rewards for choosing to work were "very minimal" or even "none at all". His party however, have consistently ferociously campaigned against the minimum wage.

I will swallow humble pie if I'm proven wrong, but they're extremely unlikely to rise the minimum wage in the foreseeable future. So how's that going to be rewarding?

3) Also, the famous "tax incentives" outlined in the Queen's Speech fall well short of the original promise to raise the tax threshold to £10,000. So how are dead-end McJobs that will still be paid a pittance supposed to suddenly turn from demoralising to "rewarding"?

Welcome back, good old Tories.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lost in the supermarket

The show went from having the right balance of mystery and intrigue to a cross between Dr Who on speed and Nick Clegg's pre-election manifesto.

I see that Lost has finally come to an end. But I also see from reading around that the final episode didn't answer any question and that it all ended up in a big puff of Billy Bollocks.

Like this blog wrote last year, within a few seasons Lost went from being one of the most compelling and refreshing TV series of recent years into the most unfeasible collection of inconsequential crap ever known to man.

Personally I gave up at the end of Season 4 because it became apparent that there was no point in getting carried away with all the suspense and anticipation. You just couldn't trust the story line anymore.

Too many events were being undone, reversed and neutralised and the show went from having the right balance of mystery and intrigue to being a proto sci-fi cross between Dr Who on speed and Nick Clegg's pre-election manifesto.

It wouldn't matter if a character had snuffed it. He or she would just resurface five minutes later with the justification that it's all a "parallel universe" or that "the island has been moved" (by turning a rusty handle), or that - didn't you notice- Sawyer was none other than John Locke wearing a syrup all along, while Kate-was-also-Jack-who-pretended-to-be-Charlie-who-was-also-the-dog-who-was-also-Ben-in-Purgatory. That sort of stuff, y'know.

Given how profitable the whole Lost circus had become (just check the action figure dolls for evidence), the end of the show suggests that, truly, the writers must have run out of every single possible twist and turn, even the most bollocksy one available.

What are the bets on a film version coming soon?

Reverse offshoring: Ford leads the way

We are so used to companies closing shop and moving abroad to increase profits. How the Obama administration got two birds with one stone.

In the grand scheme of things, 170 jobs is not an enormous amount. The significance, however, is priceless. After two decades of business operations or entire companies relocating overseas to maximise profits and further reduce costs, a world-famous company decided to do the opposite.

Following an agreement with the United Auto Workers union, and with the help of a federal grant, Ford Motor Co. decided to invest $135 million in Michigan to design, engineer and produce components for its next generation of hybrids and fully electric vehicles.

The parts are currently built in Japan and assembled in Mexico. The move will mean 170 new jobs in the Michigan area.

Some observers noted that this could mean that the offshoring tide may be turning, after years and years of companies racing to the bottom for the lowest possible salary around the world.

But this is also good news because "Ford plans to sell five electric or hybrid vehicles in the U.S. by 2012 and Europe by 2013". A sign that President Obama's stimulus programme to boost development of plug-in electric vehicles is now a reality.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Worried About the Boy

The BBC drama portraying Boy George's pre-fame years and the rise of the "new romantic" movement.

Whatever you think of Boy George, you can't argue with the fact he's an integral part of Britain's artistic heritage and that, as a cultural icon, people like him only come once every two generations.

But even if you're not particularly interested in what motivated him into pursuing his popstar dreams, Worried About The Boy will make excellent viewing as it recreates one of the most fertile periods in the history of pop culture.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Britain was at a crossroads between punk and new wave - with at least another dozen youth cultures mushrooming up at the same time: ska, skinhead, heavy metal, goth, mod revival etc.

The rise of early electro along with the legacy of the glam rock years spawned one of the most interesting subcultures - the so-called "new romantic" movement. With his androgynous fashion sensibility and music taste, Boy George found himself at the core of the new eclectic scene.

Worried About the Boy is possibly the first official full tribute to the new romantics ever seen on national television. Thirty years on, this unique "youth subculture" that produced a number of legendary bands (aside from Culture Club, think Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, the Human League, Visage, etc) is finally portrayed in all its glory.

The TV Drama focuses on Boy George's pre-fame days: his spell as a squatter in London, his time as a cloakroom attendand in what was to become the mecca of the new romantics (the Blitz Club) and, above all, the singer's most tormented aspect: his lovelife.

There is one scene when George confesses to his mate Marilyn that he seems to have an uncanny tendency to pull "straight" blokes. His meeting with future bandmate Jon Moss will fall exactly within the same pattern.

And while their love affair may twistedly provide the fuel for Culture Club's meteoric rise into one of the most successful bands of the Eighties, it will also prove their eventual undoing.

Worried About the Boy is part of the BBC Eighties Season.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Maps and Legends

D.C. Harrison on the bogus Facebook story about England tops being banned during the World Cup and the meaning of nationalism.

[This is a guest post]

Mark Twain knew what he was talking of when he said "A lie can make it half way around the world before the truth has time to put its boots on". I was reminded of this by the latest farce of nationalistic pride to sweep the nation.

It's been well covered in many other places, but to recap: Croydon police sent out memos to several pubs advising them how to curb anti-social behaviour this summer. One line mentioned banning football tops. This is already policy in a fair few bars in Manchester, at least. However, this got warped by a certain tabloid rag into a ban on England tops during the World Cup.

In no time at all, a Facebook campaign was launched stating that England tops were to be banned to avoid offence to immigrants and the like. Yes, that old chestnut. Mercifully, I refuse to engage with any social networking sites, but it would appear it's still going strong despite all evidence to the contrary. Indeed, it would seem the truth is struggling to tie it's laces on this one.

I've never quite understand patriotic fervour in any big way. 30 years ago, two people got it on in a town in the North of England. Nine months later, this screaming jaundiced mess was dragged into the world. I didn't get much of a say into any of that.

Yet, I'm grateful for the incredible luck I had in where I was born. Sure, I can moan about just about anything but I also recognise I live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. There is no real chance I am going to starve to death or do without the basic essentials needed to survive.

If any, it's these things we should drop to our knees and thank blind luck for being born in Britain. Instead, tens of thousands of people express rage against other people for a reason that doesn't actually exist.

On the flipside, I can understand patriotism in some forms. I've been to Estonia several times, and can appreciate why they express their nationality so much. It's a young country, and it's people have had many years under the rule of others. It makes sense that they need to embrace their new found freedoms.

But here? I don't see it so much. Unlike Estonia, there's no 'real' English people in any ethnic sense that I can make out. I can't understand who the English Defence League are looking to defend against. If we're going to celebrate Englishness, then let's make it because the vast majority of us get to live with a roof over our heads and clean water coming through the taps.

D.C. Harrison blogs at The Tedious World.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Cure, Disintegration (deluxe reissue)

Robert Smith's finest moment is re-released. Here's the story of my first Cure encounter.

They say the first band you fall in love with will always hold a special place in your life. In which case, for me it was The Cure.

Twenty years on, I may not be their biggest fan anymore, but the impact that discovering them had on my life is impossible to overstate.

As my teens kicked in (it was the late eighties), I didn't think I was ever going to love music. On one side there was my older sister with her pukesome, Worst-Of-The-Eighties taste (recently deemed acceptable by endemic revivalism) comprising anything from Nick Kamen (hands up if you can remember him) to Rick Astley and from Madonna to Kylie & Jason. I remember finding her music saccharine and artificial. In short, absolutely revolting.

On the other, it was the peak of hair metal bands. Some of my friends and my cousin introduced me to the world of Guns'n'Roses, Motley Crue and also Metallica and similar stuff. I found bits alright, but it pretty much got on my nerves right from the start. I just knew it wasn't for me. For a while, I seriously thought I was going to turn into them people without any specific music taste.

And then I heard The Cure, and it was love at first sight. I became obsessed with music.

Laugh if you want, but I still sometimes wonder if my teenage years and then my twenties, my preferences and my personality, would have been shaped slightly differently had my music taste taken another direction.

I just instantly took to them. The first time I heard Lullaby on the radio, I was blown away by how different it sounded. It just didn't fit in with any type of music I'd heard up to that point. It just sounded so quirky, so odd. It was repetitive but I mean good repetitive - in a haunting, mesmerising way. I remember thinking that there was no proper chorus and that each guitar clank fell exactly in line with the snare drum. And that whispering voice. Jesus, I had to find out more about them asap.

Remember there was no internet back then. Finding out about any potential new favourite band was such an intriguingly elaborate task. You'd have to find out from record shops and any snippet of second hand news you'd catch from music magazines or even word-of-mouth. Luckily I caught The Cure right at the peak of their career, so that made things a bit easier.

Other singles were very big around 1989-1990. Lovesong, Pictures of You, Fascination Street. Those days you'd find The Cure on Top of The Pops and generally everywhere.

I loved the way the singer looked, and the rest of the band as well. The weird shirts, the nest-like hair, the smeared lipstick, the paleness. And the bass player looked so cool, I thought.

I also adored the sleeve. I'm pretty sure I was able to stare at the cover of Disintegration for something like an hour and ogle at the pictures and the typeface like a total ejit and just think of nothing. To me, The Cure had created a universe of their own, and I was applying to be part of it.

I quickly discovered that their new album Disintegration (like its follow-up Wish) was being acclaimed around the world and that they had an incredibly devoted fanbase, many of which would model their look after the band.

I also discovered that, buried under her sea of compilation tapes, my sister owned a dusty, handmade Cure Best Of, courtesy of one of her schoolmates who'd taped it for her. She didn't like it, so I snitched it straightaway. It was a precious window to their back catalogue. Amongst others, I heard A Forest and Inbetween Days. That was it. I instantly knew from that point that my pocket money was slowly going to finance Robert Smith's pension fund (though of course these specific words didn't cross my mind back then).

But, of course, I'm diverging.

I wonder how many tens of thousands of teenagers around the world had their lives suddenly lit up by Disintegration. I know there's a lot out there. Most Cure fans would tell you it's by far their best record ever.

Yet it's such a morose record that it's difficult to believe, at first. But it's precisely the intensity and the ernestness that both strike you. I'm sure I'm not wide of the mark if I say that Disintegration is possibly the most commercially successful sad record ever produced.

If you think the singles are quite dark already, try the album in full with its elegant layers and its gently resigned, dark tones. It grabs you right from the start, the windchimes gently heralding the epic first track Plainsong. And then there's Closedown, Prayers for Rain, Homesick, Untitled and many, many fantastic others.

Twenty years on, The Cure are now re-releasing Disintegration. The album comes with two extra CDs, one with demo versions and previously unreleased tracks from the recording session, and the other consisting of the excellent live album Entreat, which was recorded during their 1989-90 tour and which originally came out the year after Disintegration.

Obviously we all move on in life. Also thanks to The Cure, I discovered other bands and gradually broadened my music taste. I also believe that, from the mid-1990s on (barring some exceptions), Robert Smith generally ran out of steam. Maybe it was the line-up changes. Or perhaps my taste really did take a different turn...Who knows...

What I know, however, is that now I'm going to get up and put Disintegration on and listen to it from start to finish. Twenty years on, it hasn't aged one bit.

Disintegration (Deluxe edition) is out on 24 May 2010.

Thirty years ago: Ian Curtis

Remembering an amazing singer, lyricist and frontman.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Whatever happened to 'the Swine Flu'?

We were told that it woud kill 350 people every day in Britain alone. Aren't we lucky...

This is good. I am here glued to a PC (and so are you), in a fairly safe and civilised environment. Only a year ago, the mainstream media was predicting that our streets would soon resemble the catastrophic scenes from 28 Days Later.

The H1N1 Pandemic, or Swine Flu, was steamrolling into our homes. Or so we were told.

The tabloids, of course, led the panic rush. The Express famously sported the headline SWINE FLU WILL KILL 350 PEOPLE EVERY DAY on the front page.

The Daily Mail also did their bit, though at least they picked the verbal form 'could' as opposed to 'will', as they announced that "one in three could be infected" and that retired GPs were drafted in to tackle the end of the world.

The Mail also contributed to the clogging up of NHS helplines as they spread the false news that schoolgirl Chloe died of swine flu within 48 hours.

And who remembers their priceless headline Obama's swine flu scare after shaking hands with archaelogist who died a week later? That was to churnalism what the Mona Lisa is to the world of fine arts.

As for the Daily Star, they beat everybody as they reported a "deadly" mutant "superflu" resulting from an unholy coalition of bird flu and swine flu (or perhaps they were just predicting the post-2010 election UK political scenario).

Their piece was textbook. They just threw figures around like confetti: "100,000 Brits were infected with swine flu in the week ending July 19, double the number the week before."

All of the above, of course, turned out to be a right load of Billy Bollocks.

As 2009 ended with everyone clocking that the Swine Flu had simply turned into the equivalent of WMDs six years earlier, the official number of all Swine Flu cases in the UK tallied at 28,456. As you can see, infinitely below the "100,000 a week" mentioned by the Daily Titties and its sister paper the Express.

As for the number of deceased, there were 412 in the United Kingdom. In most cases, the people affected were suffering from other pre-existing conditions. And bear in mind that each year 3,000-4,000 deaths are attributed to normal seasonal flu in the UK.

But it wasn't just the tabloids that panicked.

A "leading economic forecasting consultancy" issued the apocalyptic warning that "the pandemic could knock 5% off the country's gross domestic product", while Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England, famously said that "up to 65,000 people" could die of Swine Flu.

In the end, the government splashed out at least £1bn last year on Tamiflu and vaccine, a good chunk of which remained unused.

Until, of course, the next bout of collective hypochondria.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The LibDems as the 'Tory Dream'?

Are Nick Clegg and his party jumping on the "Big Society" band wagon? Contribution by Jane Watkinson.

Melanie Phillips usually writes utter rubbish, but her article yesterday is one of her worst. Apparently, the Tories have made more concessions than the LibDems. Hmm. I don’t think so.

Apparent ‘gains’ for the LibDems include the AV referendum, fixed term parliaments, and their ‘progressive’ income tax cuts!

When you consider that AV is arguably less proportional than FPTP, there is an undemocratic 55% proposal attached to the fixed term parliaments (fixed term parliaments themselves are a good idea, but only if perused in the right manner), and that their income tax cut is now described as a 'Tory dream', then one can hardly see them as gains.

I find the ‘Tory dream’ analysis particularly interesting. This LibDem tax policy had been attractive before the election, however, it was far from redistributive in the true sense of the word, with those on higher incomes benefiting more. However, it will now be funded primarily through public spending cuts as the policies LibDems intended to fund it with(e.g mansion tax) have been dropped.

I think Melanie will have more to smile about then the LibDems given a few months in power. She should remember that a Tory minority government would have found it harder to of got unpopular policies through, and the LibDems could have voted against, not merely abstained, when it came to policies such as the marriage tax.

With the news that the LibDems and Clegg are jumping on the ‘Big Society’ band wagon, it really reinforces how much the Tories have gained from this partnership. It is rather suprising given the attitudes of some LibDems to the idea before the election:
The ‘Big Society Day’ is just patronising nonsense, particularly for the thousands of dedicated people who are working to make their communities better every day. David Cameron will say anything to get a headline. Instead of gimmicks, the Liberal Democrats will give people real power over things that matter like their local police and health services.” – Julia Goldsworthy
Like I have said countless times before, the ‘Big Society’ sounds great. It really does. Will it work? I doubt it. Well it depends what you mean by work (tax cuts, yes). But, to me – it looks as though the LibDems are trying to change their spots too quickly. Or were they ever that against the ‘Big Society’ in the first place? We have to remember that at the heart of the Tories’ ‘Big Society’ is cuts and a promotion of unreliable charity and voluntary organisations. I have written quite a lot about the ‘Big Society’ in the past, so I wont go into too much detail here (see here for example, a much better analysis can be found at Left Foot Forward – where I got that picture from).

It seems that Cameron has got Clegg wrapped around his little finger – treating him to a shared 115 room estate with William Hauge at Chevening for example, so much for new politics hey? I am all for more local power, but I am very doubtful the ‘Big Society’ will provide real power to the local community. They could have of least changed the name so that it looked more like a compromise instead of another central Tory policy getting the nod.

Honestly, is it fair to say that any of the LibDem’s four central policy commitments have really entered into this coalition deal unscathed?

Tax reform has been watered down to the point of being regressive, there is an AV – not PR – referendum, the other political reforms that were set out to be achieved are largely sidelined to nothing more than committees or aspirations, the pupil premium was already in the Tory manifesto, they will have to abstain if there is a proposal for tuition fees to be uncapped (even though some LibDem MPs are confused and think they can go against this – that will be interesting) and they are not helping the enviroment – they have just welcomed the creation of even more nuclear power. Happy days.

Jane Watkinson blogs at My Political Ramblings.

Yesterday in the Commons

Did anyone notice?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More bad news for Labour: Cruddas pulls out

Nobody, outside the ivory tower of professional party politics, think tanks, academia or journalism, seriously believes that the Milibands or Ed Balls will go down well with the public at large.

Jon Cruddas is a popular backbench Labour MP who doesn't come from a posh background, who went to a comprehensive, who speaks like a fairly ordinary human being and who never served in any New Labour government.

He just published the most enlightening and progressive article in a national newspaper.

Refreshingly, it was a far cry from the hollow, uninspiring stuff laid out by the two Milibands in the past few days (see here and here), showing empathy with the masses of 21st century low and low/middle classes: manual workers, people on low pay, people plagued by job insecurity.

Can you believe it, here's an MP actually publicly accusing Labour's high ranks of taking the "decision not to better regulate for agency workers, and to not introduce living wage agreements".

Cruddas also mentioned the great ghost of the election campaign, the housing crisis ("but it hasn't been the crisis of the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, where one's biggest problem is achieving a dream sale price. It has been a crisis of cramped living conditions where family life is undermined. It has been a crisis of waiting lists that suck the hope from a young couple looking for stability"), and the fact that "[i]mmigration has been used as a 21st-century incomes policy" for the benefit of "rogue employers looking to shave costs to make a bigger buck".

But here comes the bad news. His article could have been the best platform to launch a leadership bid.

Unfortunately, instead, in the same article Cruddas stated clearly that he's not going to run ("Hand on heart I do not want to be Labour leader"), which is a massive disappointment for Labour and the left in general.

For the life of me, I can't understand how anybody outside the ivory tower of professional party politics, think tanks, academia or journalism, could seriously believe that any of the Milibands or Ed Balls may actually go down well with the public at large.

It's a sad indictment of the state of Labour that those three are the best the party can offer after 13 years in power.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Coalition to appoint 172 Lords?

"Change", is what David Cameron pledged all along. Well, you certainly can't accuse him of leaving things as they are.

If the Times is to be believed, the House of Lords is set to become the fattest parliamentary chamber in the world.

There are currently 736 sitting Lords, or 707 if you take into account disqualified ones and other exceptions- see here for a full summary.

The coalition government, however, has agreed to appoint up to 172 new peers (77 extra Tories and 95 extra LibDems) in order to "rebalance the upper chamber", which is currently under a Labour majority. According to the Times, "[t]he first wave is expected soon".

This will potentially bring the total to a maximum of 908 peers, nine times the number of the US Senate and thirteen times that of the German Bundestrat.

Luckily the place is generally empty, so at least fitting them all in shouldn't be much of a problem. Costs however, will sore big time.

Officially, the coalition has agreed to reform the House of Lords and increase the number of elected members.

For the time being, however, the Lib/Cons' looming act of political patronage would even tower over anything attempted by Tony Blair. And that says something.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Where now for Labour?

Another leader coming from the robotic, bureauspeaking, professional-politician inner core of New Labourism would finish the party off for good.

After 13 long years in power, and what looks now like a totally different political landscape, it's time for Labour to start all over again.

And while the Lib/Con coalition is looking shaky right from the start, Labour should not take it for granted that a few months or years in opposition will automatically return them power.

While the Blair years produced an unprecedented three consecutive election victories, the overwhelming popular impression became that the party was clinging on to power for power's sake - with Blair and the New Labourite clique cutting increasing bits of ground from the party's feet.

For a start, like this blog advocated just over two years ago, Tony Blair (and Gordon Brown to a lesser degree) gradually chipped away at Labour's reason to exist. Today, Labour is left with little ground of its own.

Two or three examples. Imagine the new government increasing tuition fees (which they will). Labour will have no credibility to oppose it in the Commons. Because not only did they introduce top-up fees but, with a notorious about turn on a manifesto pledge, they also tripled them.

Iain Duncan Smith in charge of Work and Pensions seems - in spite of what rose-tinted-spectacle-wearing Lib Dems may say - a truly scary prospect. But the memory of James Purnell in charge of "welfare reforms" is also too fresh for Labour to take any moral high ground.

Or imagine new anti-terrorism laws and curtailment of freedom in the wake of, god forbid, a terrorist attack. After thirteen years of one draconian measure after the other, any opposition coming from the Labour Party benches would look like a joke.

And so on.

The good news is that, with the Liberal Democrats jumping in bed with the Tories, there is at the very least one million voters (roughly the numbers that Labour lost to the LibDems since the days of Iraq and tuition fees) squandered by Nick Clegg's new course that could prove crucial for Labour's future electoral success.

But, in order for Labour to woo them back, a clear break with the past is absolutely essential. The party is in desperate need of fresh leadership: people who are able to effectively oppose the new government without the embarrassing burden of having sat at the core of thirteen years of Blairism and Brownism.

Take, for instance, a new Labour leader apologising for the Iraq war, saying that it was a bad mistake never to be repeated. It was one of Barack Obama's winning cards. Can you imagine the energy it would re-ignite on the centre-left?

Which is why the prospect of someone like David Miliband as leader is the worst possible mistake, and one that could actually finish the party off for good on two grounds.

One, presentationally, as good chunks of the electorate (and most progressive voters) have had enough of disconnected, patronising, professional "think tank" politicians waffling in bureauspeak (which New Labour's Cabinet was stuffed with).

Two, factually: David Miliband has been a senior partner throughout the entire New Labour project, presiding over and actively defending some of their worst decisions.

Widely described as a firm "Blairite", Miliband would hardly represent an alternative to Cameron and Clegg, with the added deficiency of being spectacularly uncharismatic.

The same can be said of Ed Balls, or Milband's little brother Ed. The latter's younger age means he didn't have enough time to be associated with New Labour's machinations in full. Still though, we're talking about the difference of a rizla in terms of policies, with the added worrying factor that Ed Miliband's leadership bid was stuffed with proto-Daily Mail drivel about immigration and unemployment. Again, we've already seen where that road leads when New Labour embarks on it.

I know that the last decade has meant a purge of Labour MPs from ordinary backgrounds (note I'm not using the expression "working class") but, quite simply, why can't Labour just elect someone normal? A person who's held an ordinary job. A person who speaks without sounding like a posh robot or a professional politician unable to give a yes or no answer. A person who doesn't come across as aloof, who doesn't do constant triangulations. Who can debate with balls, without fear that the Daily Mail-reading classes may not vote for them (they just wouldn't anyway!).

Have you noticed, also, that -during the election campaign- Labour's most effective tricks (and those they were constantly clinging on to) inevitably referred to their earlier period in power? The minimum wage, SureStart, LGBT legislation, tax credits.

Labour are at their most popular when they just get on with their own flagship policies and original beliefs without any fear or hesitation. Labour scrapped Section 28 and brought in civil partnerships against a sceptical public opinion. Now, society is overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT equality. It was a battle that Labour won hands down and made history, as even David Cameron conceded. The same can be said about the minimum wage.

This doesn't mean going for a far-left candidate (which is nevertheless brilliantly advocated for by blogger HarpyMarx). For better or for worse, that would never work electorally.

Yet an MP who's never served in the Cabinet, who has the humility to accept that the Iraq War was wrong, who's not interested in courting the right-wing tabloids and their illiberalism, and who can speak the language of most ordinary people...this type of person could seriously save the day.

I say John Cruddas is the best candidate for the Leadership of the Labour Party.

Thank you, Charles Kennedy

Support for the coalition wasn't "unanimous", like Clegg said.

The former Lib Dem leader and current MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber explained in today's Observer ("Why I couldn't support Clegg's deal with the Tories") why he "felt personally unable to vote for [a coalition with the Conservatives] when it was presented to Liberal Democrat parliamentarians", describing the alliance as a blow to "the long-nurtured 'realignment of the centre-left'".

Kennedy's remarks are the most high profile display of dissent within the Lib Dems since the coalition took shape five days ago. It adds to criticism received from Southport MP John Pugh and disquiet amongst grassroots activists, all of which is at odds with Nick Clegg's remarks that his party's backing of the coalition is "unanimous".

Kennedy also remarked how the option of letting the Tories form a minority government on a "confidence and supply" basis was dismissed too quickly and warned of the risks of "assimilation within the Conservative fold" as history may repeat itself. Cameron, wrote Kennedy, is "happy to describe himself as a 'liberal Conservative'. And we know he dislikes the term Tory. These ongoing efforts at appropriation are going to have to be watched".

Good to know not everybody has been lobotomised just yet.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Clegg the trickster strikes again

The Tories would have scrapped ID cards and the third runway anyway. Clegg is trying to pretend it's to his party's credit.

In an article penned for today's Guardian (recently turned into the Liberal Democrats' official organ) the Deputy PM in the Conservative/Liberal coalition argues that "the third runway at Heathrow has been cancelled. ID cards have been scrapped. There will be no more child detention", boasting that "[th]ese are some of the early achievements of a government that had its first cabinet meeting just two days ago".

The joke is wearing thin though. Nick Clegg managed to deceive people once with his public plea that the election was "a choice between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems" (see here).

But he must really have a low opinion of us all if he thinks we don't know that a Conservative government would have scrapped the third runway and ID cards anyway (see here and here). As for child detention, though the Tories had made no official commitment prior to May 6, they were said to be overwhelmingly against it.

Yet Clegg the trickster is trying to pretend that it's because of the LibDems that those changes will take place. It's not true. Quite simply, the Lib Dems didn't have to join a Tory government and ditch entire chunks of their promises to achieve all of the above.

Cameron's Deputy is obviously desperate to pull the wool over the public's eyes and sell the spectacular about face to millions of voters who are struggling to make heads or tails of the Lib Dems' somersault.

The impression is that the party's high ranks know that they're at risk of being wiped off the face of the earth, which is probably why the Guardian is looking increasingly packed with pro-Lib Dem articles. Today alone, alongside Clegg's piece, there's a lengthy interview with Vince Cable and an article by Shirley Williams.

Also: read Nick Clegg's 2008 conference speech, including the quote: "Will I ever join a Conservative government? No. Will I ever join a Labour government? No. I will never allow the Liberal Democrats to be a mere annex to another party's agenda".

More jobs went to UK nationals in 2009...

...But don't expect the Mail and the Express to write anything about it...

Good piece by BBC home editor Mark Easton on his blog. The headline ("British jobs for foreign workers") may be a bit ambiguous, but the content is clear.

In spite of the galloping hysteria we see on a daily basis on our right-wing tabloids, the share of British jobs going to UK nationals has actually started to go up again.

Easton explains that, after peaking in 2007, immigration figures began to go down again. He compared figures from 2008, when 91.9 per cent of jobs were held by UK nationals, with those from 2009. Last year, British nationals made up 92.1 per cent of the UK job market.

Non-EU workers took 4.4 per cent of the share and EU ones 3.5%.

Rest assured though, Daily Star, Express, or Daily Mail readers. You're unlikely to ever find out.

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Things can only get better" all over again

With the media en-masse comparing the new government to sunshine and blue skies and the Labour Party still stunned, Britain is currently almost without an opposition.

It must be human nature. The so-called "honeymoon period" that follows every new government has begun and the Lib/Con coalition is no exception.

Just like in 1997-98 when, barring a bitter old grannie or two with pictures of Maggie hanging in their bedroom and the Sun going on about a Gay Mafia running the government, it was virtually impossible to find a single person not mesmerised by Tony Blair, "the Third Way" and "things-can-only-get-better", Britain enters the first weekend under a new government with practically no official opposition.

Take a look at the media.

The Murdoch machine is in genuflection-mode. Yesterday's Sun (BRING US SUNSHINE on the front page, New Politics as main article) was soppier than a Wet Wet Wet hit and today the paper is plastered with pictures of smiling David (Mr Blue Sky) and "lovely" Samantha.

The Times too. Their leader yesterday was also called New Politics (what else) and oozed more optimism than a weather lady uttering the words "glorious" and "sunshine" on the BBC. Take this, for instance: "The generosity and optimism of Mr Cameron’s acceptance speech and the remarkable sight of Tories and Lib Dems lauding each other was a signal that the expenses scandal has changed politics for good, in both senses of that word".

Then there's the Express. The normally superbitter, rabidly right-wing tabloid had the words IT'S LOVE on its front page. "Dave and Nick's brave new world" is how they called it, next to the two leaders' smiling faces, making Eric Clapton's Wonderful Tonight sound like Napalm Death by comparison.

The Telegraph seems to have buried its initial doubts and is now fully endorsing the coalition: Out of confusion comes David Cameron and clarity, they wrote. Key words again: optimism, dignity, coolness, leadership, maturity. Unlike, of course, Labour which "was true to its tribal, scheming self".

Unconditional support also comes from the Daily Star (see here and here), while the Guardian, which famously endorsed the Lib Dems a week before the election, is also going incredibly soft on the coalition. Yesterday's editorial oozed positivity and was rounded off by the words "right now this government deserves its chance".

The Daily Mail too.

Put aside the fact that Littlejohn found room for pre-pubescent playground homophobia (comparing Cameron and Clegg to Brokeback Mountain, absolutely vile even for his own standards) and that Jan Moir and Stephen Glover (the latter made indeed a couple of good points) highlighted the two leaders' similar background.

Overall, even the Mail has officially endorsed the coalition. In an editorial, they dubbed it "our only hope of stable government", while another comment yesterday mentioned "a word or two of caution", while spelling out: "Let the Mail say at once that we join in welcoming this auspicious start to the coalition, which raises real hopes of a stable Government with the authority to tackle our nightmare deficit".

This officially leaves two critical voices: the Independent (with the excellent Johann Hari explaining today exactly why this coalition is potentially poisonous) and the traditionally pro-Labour Mirror.

This is possibly unprecedented. Not even in the days of Blair enjoying Murdoch's support was there such an overwhelming support for a government.

Initial critics within the LibDems seem to have realigned themselves and those who haven't are being locked in a cell with the refrain "there-was-no-alternative-there-was-nothing-else-we-could-do" being played on a loop.

Britain's main left-of-centre blog, Liberal Conspiracy, is even calling for a soft approach on the LibDems ("Do not vilify the Lib Dems" and "Let the press do your work for you").

Add to the equation the fact that Labour are still leaderless and directionless (an interesting activity could be that of counting hollow articles that are being penned daily by Labour MPs calling for "renewal" and "listening to people") and we can safely say that, barring a handful of MPs, this country is currently without a proper opposition.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Lib Dems' campaign: misleading advertising?

Nick Clegg, 30 April 2010: "I don't think the choice is between Conservative and Labour – the choice is now between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats".

Some of the people defending the so-called Lib/Con coalition point at similar scenarios in countries with more proportional voting systems.

If you want to avoid distorted landslide majorities, their argument runs, coalition governments are the price to pay for electoral fairness.

This view, however, is flawed on several levels.

1) Most parties joining coalition governments in Western Europe (i.e. France, Germany, Italy) run their election campaign openly declaring where their allegiance is. The process is not as murky as what we saw in the wake of May 6 in the UK. Someone voting for the Green Party in Germany knows that their party will either remain independent, or form (like they did from 1998 to 2005) a coalition with the SPD.

Similarly, someone casting a vote for the Northern League in Italy will know already that their party will be a firm ally of Silvio Berlusconi's party.

Of course there are exceptions (like when the Catalan nationalists CiU backed Aznar's right-wing government in Spain in 1996) but, understandably, they don't tend to go down too well with the electorate.

2) The Liberal Democrats campaigned consistently as an "alternative" party. The reason why so many Lib Dem voters are up in arms at the sight of Nick Clegg jumping in bed with David Cameron is that, for many years, the Lib Dems portrayed themselves as "the real alternative" to both the old parties. "The party that is different", in fact.

Their recent "Labservative" campaign was launched as the party preened themselves as "the only real alternative" to the other two.

But the most atrocious piece of politicking can be found in an interview Nick Clegg gave to a national newspaper six days before the election. Two weeks ago, the Lib Dem leader remarked: "We have taken Labour's place in UK politics".

Most importantly, he added: "I don't think the choice is between Conservative and Labour – the choice is now between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats". Clegg couldn't have been any clearer: a vote for the LibDems would be alternative to the Tories- and that was said on April 30.

More, he also said: "I think if you look at the debate last night, there is just a gulf between what David Cameron stands for and what I stand for – in terms of values, in terms of internationalism, in terms of fairness, in terms of progressive tax reform, in terms of political reform, in terms of simply living in denial, as does Labour, about a major problem of their creation in the immigration system."

I guess even a five-year-old could see why millions of voters and activists now feel shafted.

Particularly, there are entire areas in England (particularly the south-west) where, traditionally, Labour have been a non-entity and the only alternative to the Conservatives have been the Liberal Democrats.

Just imagine thousands of activists working their arse off to fight off the Tories in several constituencies only to find out that a week or two later all that had been an exercise in futility.