Friday, 30 April 2010

Prime Ministerial Debate III: Question Time

Watching the BBC debate show, Question Time, is a frustrating experience at the best of times. More often than not the panel of political representatives and media personalities are so busy spouting out their own sound-bites and prepared talking points that you are left screaming at your television set that they are not answering the question, or that they are lying, or that they have no idea what they are talking about, or that the views they are expressing have been outdated and discredited for twenty years… And even though the audience are allowed to speak and call these people to account, what usually follows is simply more of the same evasiveness and spin: the audience-member feels wonderful that their view has finally been represented, but the panellists air-time is longer and their voices carry more weight. The question is forgotten and only emptiness remains.

Last night’s episode of Question Time was doubly frustrating, because instead of being at home, where you are buoyed by a certain sense of detachment and the ability to turn the sound down, I was in the studio audience at Birmingham University and watched the entire thing live.

You would have thought that this would make it far less frustrating: instead of watching in futility at home, unable to get engaged with the debate and call the politicians on their spin and manipulation, in person I could actually put my hand up and get involved. I could ask my questions, I could state my opinions.

But I discovered last night that there is something much more frustrating than the impotence you feel at home when you see an entire panel of liars and idiots and there are no means of having your say: actually being in the audience, with your hand up for sixty minutes desperate to put forward your opinion, and not being called on throughout.

I’ll blame it on my positioning. We had no real choice in where we were seated and unfortunately I found myself at the far left end of a row quite near the back, not only out of the sight of most of the cameras, which concentrated mainly on the central section, but crucially – because of the placement of one of the main cameras that filmed the panellists – often out of the sight of David Dimbleby himself. Though he looked in my direction several times, for whatever reason, I wasn’t asked to participate. And so I had to sit, with my arm aching in the air, listening to hollow lies about the debate earlier that evening, awful and – yes – bigoted rubbish about immigration, the various ways in which the parties plan to cut public spending instead of taxing the rich and how democracy had changed for the better because of the implementation of vacuous television debates.

Still, despite not getting to add my own venom and bile to the vibrant melange of misinformation and spin, I had a thoroughly enjoyable time. It was nice, if nothing else, getting to boo Liam Fox in a roomful of people and hearing David Dimbleby tell us to “just bloody enjoy yourselves” before we went on air. It was also nice, in the sound-check portion of the technical rehearsal, to be able to ask a question of the fake stand-in panel even if I didn’t get to do it on TV. We were told we couldn’t address anything that might actually come up in the show, so I contributed this little enquiry to the proceedings: “This week, Stephen Hawking has told us that if we came into contact with aliens, it is highly likely that they will be hostile. Liam Fox, as Shadow Defence Secretary, should we go to war against the aliens?”

A heated debate ensued, with audience members and fake panellists suggesting that the rationale for war might be different if we knew that the aliens had oil and once we knew just exactly what the alien weaponry was like…and if they had weapons of mass destruction.

It was a hell of a long evening though. We arrived at the University at 5:45pm and didn’t leave until midnight. Once we’d arrived, we were bussed (quite needlessly – it was about a two minute walk) to the venue, where we sat around tables getting to know each other, eating free sandwiches and coffee and writing our second Question Time question.

We had already been asked to email a question earlier in the week. The question I had sent in was this: Would Conservative proposals to give parents public money to set up experimental new schools take vital funding away from the schools that we already have? I thought it would be something likely to come up being as how the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, was on the panel, and there had been such an excellent furore about the issue earlier in the week that saw Michael Gove absolutely eviscerated on Radio 4.

It didn’t, and I wasn’t asked to read the question. But my second submission was this: Is it really so wrong to call a person “sort of bigoted” after they have just expressed some “sort of bigoted” views?

That obviously didn’t fit in with the editorial take on the whole “bigot-gate” incident though, because the version of the question ultimately asked in the show was: Are you a bigot to ask the Prime Minister about immigration? With not a single person on the panel (including Ed Balls), or Dimbleby himself, attempting to clarify the fact that Gordon Brown did not explicitly call Gillian Duffy “a bigot”, but rather described her, undeniably “sort of bigoted”, views as “sort of bigoted”.

After the coffee and question-writing was done, we moved into the real studio, where the alien-based technical rehearsal occurred and people were told whether or not their questions had been chosen. Sadly, after spending the earlier part of the evening with a great group of left-leaning people (utterly by accident – we were obviously drawn to each other), somehow I ended up sitting next to an excitable Tory guy who clapped vigorously at every empty trope Liam Fox uttered all night and tried to convince me that David Cameron had “won” the Debate.

Indeed – the Debate. Before Question Time began, we had a giant screen brought into the makeshift studio and watched the entire Prime Ministerial Debate live as an audience. This was actually pretty cool. Unlike watching at home, with just me and my wife grumbling to each other, or even watching it live in the auditorium, where you are not allowed to make a sound, watching the debate cinema-style in a big room full of people meant that we could boo and cheer as we pleased to the various points the leaders put across. We could clap when they said something sensible and we could call out “RUBBISH!” when they said something we disagreed with. Unfortunately, it was quite depressing to see how many people cheered and got excited when David Cameron laid into the usual Tory memes of immigrants and people on benefits. Indeed, on Question Time too, my heart sank at how deeply so many people feel this hostility towards immigration.

Still, the biggest cheers of the night went to Clegg, and when we were polled later via a show of hands, in our room, Clegg won. If I were a focus group manager for Gordon Brown I would point out two major observations from last night: Gordon Brown smiling makes the entire audience laugh, and not in a good way. And everything that he says – no matter how valid, reasoned and true it may be – simply does not connect with voters who have been misled and lied to by a promise-breaking Labour government for thirteen years. If anything loses him the election though, it will be the shit-eating grin he whipped out right at the end of his atrocious prepared final statement. The statement was bad enough – an attack on Clegg and Cameron instead of a robust defence of Labour and positive reason to vote for them, that ended with him telling people he was “desperate” – and then when he smiled I have never heard such a groan fill a room. Just terrible, and I actually thought he did really well once you take presentation out of the equation. That said, I was fairly disgusted that he failed to point out the fundamental, £40 a week better off in work guarantee and rise of the minimum wage, that, according to the two manifestos, separates Labour policy on cutting benefits from the Tory one considerably. In a bid to out-Tory the Tories, he simply pressed on about “no life on the dole” and forcing people to work. That correlating rise in the minimum wage and promise that when you are forced into a job you will be guaranteed to earn at least £40 a week more in work than you would on benefits, however, makes the Labour policy much more humane, but not a single voter watching the Debate last night will know about it.

I also can’t believe that the opinion polls have Cameron winning the Debate last night. What did he actually say that was any different from any of the two previous Debates, or indeed from the Conservative manifesto? Absolutely nothing. I guess it just proves that old adage that if you repeat a lie long enough, people start to believe it as truth. He was evasive, he offered platitudes instead of arguments, his policies don’t add up and all have fundamental flaws, and yet he drills through all the sound-bites and pounds them into your head and by the end of ninety minutes you feel like you’ve been convinced; a sophistry of the highest order.

It would have been nice to have said that on Question Time too – but I guess there’s always next time.

I just hope that next time it won’t be Prime Minister Cameron I will be talking about, and that on May 6th, even without having heard me speak on TV, the great British public will show me that they’re not as dumb as I think they are, and go to the polls and vote for our future, instead of our draconian past.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

On Immigration, Gillian Duffy IS Bigoted…

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past twenty-four hours you will be aware that a lot of fuss has been made about a certain Prime Minister calling one of the residents of Rochdale a “bigot”.  Indeed, this fuss appears quite capable of completely derailing the already failing Labour election campaign and knocking them out of the race entirely.

Yet am I the only one out there who agrees with Gordon Brown?

The most important thing to take away from the “Bigot-gate” incident is not that Brown was caught calling a Labour supporter a “bigot” when he left his SKY News microphone turned on after waving her goodbye, but that what he in fact said was this: 

When asked what Duffy had said that had made the meet-and-greet such a “disaster”, he said, quite hurriedly, trying to short-hand his explanation: “oh everything - she’s just a sort of bigoted woman…said she used to be Labour”.

The difference between saying “she is a bigoted woman” and “she’s just a sort of bigoted woman” are immense.  In the one case you are dismissing a person entirely, whilst in the other you are stating a vague feeling about what was said and why it left a bad taste in your mouth.  Not that she is a bigot, but that what she said was “sort of bigoted” and it was surprising coming from a woman who “said she used to be Labour”.

And on this point Brown was absolutely spot on.  Duffy was not some misunderstood victim of a cruel and intolerant monster.  She was a woman who, in the midst of talking about benefits and the economy, suddenly said: “You can’t say anything about the immigrants…all these Eastern Europeans what are coming in – where are they flocking from?”

Now, just as Brown claims that what he said was not exactly what he meant, perhaps Duffy herself did not mean to sound as bigoted as she did when she spoke about “the immigrants” and their “flocking” in.  But in the one minute handshake conversation on which Brown was forced to make his opinion, all he had to go on was that she claimed to be a Labour supporter, yet spouted the standard right-wing tabloid garbage about “all these Eastern Europeans”.  If I had been having that exact conversation with Duffy, I would have come away thinking exactly the same thing too.

Furthermore, the media is also claiming that this off-mike/on-mike outburst was a public illustration of the exact kind of behind-the-scenes tyrant Brown has been portrayed as being over the past few months: an intolerant bully who blames everybody but himself. 

I did not get that at all from listening to what was actually said.  I just heard a tired and disappointed man who felt that the last few minutes had been a “disaster” say quite calmly that he thought it was ridiculous to have been put in that position and wanted to know who’s idea it had been.  He did not say he wanted anyone’s head on a platter; he did not shout and curse and scream.  He said that the meeting with Duffy had not gone well, he should have never been put in the position of having to deal with her, and when he was asked what she had said which had made him feel it had gone badly, he pointed out, quite fairly, that what she’d said had been “sort of bigoted”.

In any civilized country with a less-hysterical media, this private and reasonable conversation between a politician and his aides might have been mentioned as a point of humourous faux pas and then quickly brushed aside for more important things (for instance: the solid answer Brown had given Gillian Duffy when confronting her “sort of bigoted” views – that, though we have about a million EU nationals coming into the UK each year, we also have about a million UK nationals going into the EU so it all evens out).  Instead though, we had this empty, sensationalist flogging of the issue – filming Duffy’s reaction to what was overheard by deliberately misquoting what Brown had actually said; showing her (understandable) offence when she was finally played the tape and the word “bigot” was heard in a manipulated context; swarming around her house as if one woman’s obvious offence at an individual, heat-of-the-moment, personal evaluation of her principles were some vital crux of the election campaign; and mentioning the gaffe as if it were headline news every five minutes and having various talking heads dissect the ramifications of events now largely caricatured out of all recognition to the actual facts of what happened.

I also think it is important to note the source of this irrelevant hysteria: Rupert Murdoch’s SKY News. 

The mike which caught Brown’s statements was a rogue SKY News microphone that the Prime Minister had left on.  Murdoch, of course, is an arch-conservative; the owner of the US’s rabid FOX News Network, and, here in the UK, owner of Cameron-backing The Sun, The Times and The News of the World.  He is a highly partisan player in this election and his news organization is being used as a tool to help promote the Conservative cause.  This could be seen during last week’s Prime Ministerial Debate, when SKY host, Adam Boulton, violated the agreed rules of the debate and attempted to derail the surge in Liberal Democrat momentum by asking Nick Clegg an erroneous question about party donations which had already been cleared up and dismissed earlier that day, and it could be seen yesterday, when a reasonable man’s reasonable comments about an angry woman talking ignorantly about immigration was used to smear his election campaign and discredit an entire political party.

That our politics have come to this is a sad indictment of the current British system, and one can only hope that a hung Parliament, and radical voter reform, will help change all that on the morning of May 7th.

In other news: I will be attending the BBC’s Question Time tonight in Birmingham.  I don’t know if I’ll get to ask a question, but it sounds like it should be a good one: Ed Balls, Vince Cable and George Osborne were announced last time I checked, and we all get to watch the final Leaders Debate together beforehand – a political junky’s dream :-)  I’ll let you know how it went, and, of course, you can watch it tonight at 10:45 on BBC One, following the news and the final debate.


Friday, 23 April 2010

Prime Ministerial Debate II: The Quickening

Some thoughts on last night’s 2nd Prime Ministerial Debate:

Whilst David Cameron continued his efforts to manipulate and con the British public into anointing him Prime Minister through shallow sound-bites and comforting repetition, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown actually offered meaningful policy discussions on some of the major issues of the day.

Quite frankly, Cameron infuriates me.  After last week’s ridiculous and transparent anecdote about a “black man” who supports immigration (a 40 year old black man who Cameron claimed had served in the Royal Navy for 30 years – making him, at most, 10 years old when he joined!), this week we had an even more annoying gaffe: when Gordon Brown laid into Nick Clegg about his opposition to Trident, Cameron said – in a very well-rehearsed way - “I have never uttered these words before…but I agree with Gordon.”  A funny line in light of last week’s “I agree with Nick” catchphrase, but an absolute heap of rubbish because just a few minutes before, on a question about Afghanistan, Cameron had said “I completely agree with Gordon Brown” about how brave and heroic our troops were, and how we must continue to fight al-Qaeda around the world so that they cannot commit atrocities here in the UK.  The news agencies this morning have not seemed to pick up on this blatant bullshit, however, because it gets in the way of a good sound-bite.

I also found much of what Cameron said last night to be completely void and empty: tried and tested Tory tropes about “people who work hard and save hard not getting punished” under a Conservative government, “people who do the right thing their whole lives not losing out”, and how, if a thousand business leaders think something must be wrong, then clearly it must be. 

In many ways it was like seeing a magician try to do magic after you’d read the book on how all the illusions are performed: the newspapers and websites yesterday were full of inside information about what Cameron’s team were going to try and do in order to improve his performance from last week’s, and he did exactly what they told him.  Talk more directly to the camera (he did), paint a picture of the Conservative Party as being the only real possibility for breaking free of Labour (he did), sell the terror of a hung Parliament (he did), and tousle your hair a bit (he did!)  It was an absolute master-class in vapid talking points and well-rehearsed spin, which reached its crescendo when the same man who tells us that “Gordon Brown’s jobs-tax will kill the recovery” and that a hung Parliament will destroy the economy, accused Gordon Brown of scare-mongering!  Brown, who stated – quite reasonably – that the Conservative Manifesto makes no mention of free prescriptions or eye-tests for the elderly, was taken to task for leaflets which therefore claim that a Conservative Government would take medicines away from the sick.  This is apparently scare-mongering, whereas the entire Tory campaign, which is based around the fundamental premise that “we can’t go on like this”, is not?

But enough of David Sham-eron.  What of the other contenders?

Well, once again Nick Clegg showed that he was a serious political candidate and that the Liberal Democrats are a genuine party to vote for.  The only people to be amazed by this fact continue to be the media, but  nevertheless, although lacking in the novelty-value of last week’s debut (and in the willingness for Brown and Cameron, fearing a potential hung Parliament, to suck up to him) Clegg remained sound and innovative on policy and fresh and bold on politics.  Continually, he discussed new and practical ways of getting difficult things done, and showed that there were real alternatives to the fictional limits on action set in place by the traditional two-party system.  He not only did well, he did amazingly well, considering that both Cameron and Brown were out to get his blood.  After last week’s disastrous schmooze-fest, the game this week was expose the Liberal Democrats as a flash-in-the-pan novelty, and at that task, both Cameron and Brown epically failed.  When questioned and scrutinized about Liberal Democrat policies, Clegg had answers; when grilled and interrogated about the nature of his character, his opponents were forced to fabricate fictions and put words into his mouth.  No one managed to win a knock-out blow on Clegg, and far from showing he was a one-trick pony, he used this second debate to clarify and expand on positions put forward last week.  Indeed, his performance was decidedly Prime Ministerial.

Which brings me to Gordon Brown.

Gordon Brown is the man who bank-rolled the two unjustified and illegal wars on terror, continued the Tory economic policies of the 80s and 90s, and sat back and made friendly with bankers instead of giving them more regulation…yet last night, and the week before, I couldn’t help but be impressed by his contributions to the debate.  Just as I felt when reading the Labour Party Manifesto last week, whilst there have certainly been some tremendous failures and nightmares brought about by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, since 1997 the Labour Party really have done so many wonderful things for this country: be it the implementation of the minimum wage; furthering the equality of women, homosexuals, the disabled, and ethnic and religious minorities; providing better benefits for the elderly; improving health and educational services; attempting to shake-up the House of Lords; the Freedom of Information Act…the Labour Party have by no means got everything right (and even in their successes there could have been much bigger improvements and much better means to achieve them) but what they have done right has been important.  Crucially, it is these areas of social reform that are most at danger with a Conservative victory (we all remember how things were under Thatcher and Major), and I thought that last night Brown managed to remind us of Labour’s successes, admit to some of their failings, and put forward an clear and appealing vision of the future. 

When it came to substance and policy – Brown was a machine.  He gave figures, facts, agendas and aspirations, and he did it all whilst pointing out the stark ideological differences between the right and the left in 2010.  “Not everyone has the answers,” he told us, right off the bat, “but I say get the big decisions wrong and Britain’s security and jobs are at risk. Get the big decisions right and we can have a prosperous, fairer, greener and better Britain. Like me or not, I can deliver that plan and the way to do it is with a majority Labour government.” 

And that is Gordon’ problem – nobody seems to like him.  He could sit down and rationally explain an absolutely cast-iron solution to all of the world’s problems with a thoroughly costed ten-point plan of exactly how that agenda would be achieved by the end of the first year of Parliament, and still people would shrug their shoulders and say: “well how can we trust him?  We’ve been lied to by Labour before.” 

If anything is the subtext of this election it is that: Labour have badly let us down since 1997, we all know it, and we are desperately looking for an alternative.

Now, that alternative could be Nick Clegg, or it could well be the Labour Party themselves.  A revitalized and re-energized party, starting a new chapter in their political lives and admitting to the mistakes of the past with the first General Election of the Gordon Brown era.  Don’t forget – the past thirteen years were largely on Tony Blair’s watch, and because of the weird way in which Gordon Brown became our Prime Minster, he has never really had a mandate or opportunity to truly lead the party. 

It could, of course, all be bullshit, but the 2010 Manifesto suggests a Labour Party that is changing – a more responsive, more democratic Labour Party, that has looked itself in the mirror, been woken up and shaken about a bit by the fallout of the expenses scandal and the war in Iraq, and wants to remember why it was put in government in the first place.  In thirteen years the social and economic advances that the Labour Party have brought to this country have been significant and they have been welcomed.  They have not all been perfect, and there has been their fair-share of mistakes, but the good things that Labour have done have been entirely the result of the significant ideological differences between a party on the right and a party on the left.

The Conservative Party, ideologically, do not care about social justice.  They do not care about economic justice.  They do not care about equality, the environment, multilateralism, or human rights.  They simply care about what they have always cared about: keeping the better off, better off, and helping the rich get richer.  Yet I truly fear that on May 6th our disillusionment and cynicism with Gordon Brown and the Labour government might deliver this country in David Cameron’s hands.  When you’ve been raped and beaten for thirteen years, you don’t really care who rescues you, so long as you are saved.

No matter how much sense the Labour Party talks, and how much it fights to remind us of all it has done for us, the fact of the matter is this: thanks to Iraq, thanks to rendition, thanks to the economic crisis, and thanks to a thousand promises un-kept, the Labour Party is a broken brand.  It’s like Toyota – they can make the best cars in the world over the next few years, but because of the problems of the last few months, nobody will really want to buy them. 

“I’ve met some of the people who have rightly complained about the abuse that they were subject to when young” said Gordon Brown early on in the debate, discussing the Pope’s imminent visit to the UK.  “It never leaves them, it’s something that is with them always and no matter what you can try to do to help, there is always this problem that they have to face up to every day that they were abused, cruelly abused, by people in whom they placed their faith and trust.”

As much as I hope it isn’t true, and as much as I wish for a Labour or Lib Dem victory in two weeks’ time, there was a part of me last night that thought Gordon Brown speaking of the cruel abuses suffered by people in whom they had placed their faith and trust was like a eulogy for his own party.


Thursday, 22 April 2010

My Favourite Moment of Election Madness Yet…

My local UKIP candidate, Jeff Burgess, put his election leaflet through my door this week.  Though I have no intention on voting for such a hollow and xenophobic party I thought it’d be amusing to give the leaflet a read anyway.  I wasn’t wrong.

After a fairly standard UKIP ramble about declining standards and political correctness gone mad, the pièce de résistance came in the section headed: “My local issues are”.

Two bullet-points followed the heading.  The first was definitely a local issue: “Ensure that no jobs are lost at Cadbury due to the Kraft takeover, also to ensure Cadbury and its traditions remain in Bournville.”  He wasn’t clear exactly how he would achieve this, but to give Burgess his credit it is a far saner and much less disgustingly xenophobic statement than Conservative candidate, Nigel Dawkins, offered hysterically in his own new leaflet this week: “It was one of the saddest days of my life when Cadbury ceased to be British.”

Bullet-point number two, however, is possibly the maddest piece of election literature I have ever received. 

After the relative calm of the Cadbury promise, we are suddenly greeted with this nonsense:  The promise to “Expose the myth of global warming created through the use of falsified figures which are then used to raise excessive taxes.”

What the what?

Where the hell did that come from?  And how is it in any way a “local issue”, let alone an election priority?

UKIP: not just xenophobic pound fetishists, but climate deniers too.


Monday, 19 April 2010

Volcanic Ash and the Paucity of the Conservative Vision

If ever there was a working metaphor for exactly what is wrong with the Conservative Party’s vision of a decentralized Britain, with basic public services put into private hands, it is the current travel crisis.

With Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, sending dangerous plumes of ash into the skies of Europe and air-space now locked down, leaving thousands of people stranded across the world, the Labour government have decided today that it is time to call in the Navy to try and bring people home.  Alternative commercial carriers – ferries, Eurostar, coaches and cars – are simply pushed to capacity, and there are more people needing passage than there are seats, so the plan is to send out three Royal Navy ships to help repatriate those that the private sector have had no choice but to leave behind.

The lesson here is stark: for all the good-will in the world, the private-sector is not perfect, and we cannot rely on private enterprise when it comes to providing necessary public services.

Sometimes, as has happened here, human need demands more than the private sector can offer.  The system breaks down, or is ill-equipped to deal with requirements that extend beyond the basic drive for making profit, and we need some form of public, not-for-profit, intervention to perform the function unburdened by cost-benefit analysis.

Train, ferry and coach companies are not evil – but they are not able, by market economics alone, to cope with the sudden influx of needy passengers desperate to get back to jobs and loved ones across the sea.  They can only do what they can do, with the limited amount of tickets they have left to sell.  Meanwhile, it makes perfect economic sense, as demand for their product grows and grows, to start charging ridiculous amounts of money for the few tickets they have left; to exploit the needy and desperate willing to pay anything to get home.

Government cannot just sit back and let private enterprise perform its tasks for it.  It cannot abdicate its responsibility and hope the free-market will sort it out.  Sometimes, it has to act – to send in Navy ships where commercial ferries are failing, to regulate banks who are not regulating themselves, to impose fines and taxes on persistent polluters who don’t care about the environment they are poisoning so long as they make money, to provide welfare and housing to those the private sector has left behind.

We really are all in this together, and, until the perfect anarchist utopia materializes, part of that means creating some sort of permanent and responsive central safety net – or government – for when things go wrong…or, better still, for ensuring things don’t go wrong in the first place by allowing that central safety net to oversee the smooth and continuous running of various laws and regulations that protect citizens from harm, be it harm from natural disasters, or the harms that are more man-made.  This is something the Conservative Party do not understand, and just another in a long line of reasons why you should not vote for them on May 6th.


Friday, 16 April 2010

After the Debate…

If ever David Cameron was exposed it was last night, and boy did he look worried under the bright lights and scrutiny of the first ever UK election debate between the three contending Prime Ministerial candidates.  The format was perfect for perforating through all the Conservative sound-bites and exposing the hollowness of their “Big Society” programme, and both Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown, in my opinion, demolished the Tory candidate at every turn.  If it isn’t clear to you now that the Conservative programme is nothing more than empty and unworkable promises, arbitrary and compassionless punishments and stale and outdated rhetoric masquerading as something new, then you can’t have been paying attention.  There is nothing new here in David Cameron’s Conservative Party that hasn’t been tried and discredited already in the 80s and 90s, and the entire 2010 Tory campaign just a shameless grab for power based on a manipulative and dishonest platform of old wine in new bottles.  That said, there were some very sage words from Tom Clark in The Guardian today: "Amid the renewed excitement about breaking the mould, progressives would do well to remember that they will pay a high price if they forget the psephology of their own seat. They are desperate to smash an electoral system that forces them to choose between their heart and their head. But they will not succeed if they forget to follow their head in the meantime."

Along with what seems to be the majority of the country right now, I left the big debate last night thinking how nice it would be if Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats could actually win the General Election in three weeks time, and as someone who has voted Lib Dem in every General Election since I was old enough to vote, I began to ponder the possibility of actually voting with my heart on May 6th here in Selly Oak instead of holding my nose and voting tactically for Labour.

“I agree with Nick” is clearly the “I Like Ike” of our generation (at least until some hideous BNP supporter co-opts the phrase for the wrong Nick and puts it on a racist tee-shirt), and it amazes me that by simply being given some air-time in which to lay out the policies already available in the Liberal Democrat manifesto, the British public are finally waking up to the realization that this election is a legitimate three-horse race.  The media last night were quick to say things like “in many ways the debate served to introduce Nick Clegg to the British people for the very first time” and the question I kept asking myself was: why?  Why had the media done such a bad job up until now in portraying a central political party in our supposedly democratic country as somehow being outside the scope of electability despite their rising poll numbers each and every year?  As recently as Monday, I watched Jeremy Paxman interviewing Clegg for the BBC, and he was basically ridiculing him for daring to believe he might actually become Prime Minister.  It was disgusting, and I’m glad that this watershed moment has seemingly sky-rocketed the Liberal Democrats into contention and made the derisive and mocking commentators out there finally listen up.

However, as much as I would love to vote Lib Dem on May 6th, the fact of the matter remains that, in my local constituency, historically the Liberal Democrats have never even come close to winning a seat here.  Indeed, whilst the leaflets and letters from Conservative, Nigel Dawkins are endless, and Labour’s Steve McCabe is sending out mail-outs and pressing the flesh all over town, our Lib Dem candidate has been highly conspicuous by his absence.

If I thought he had a hope in hell of winning here, I would vote for him, but right now it seems highly unlikely, no matter how well Nick Clegg did on TV last night, and this is an important point to remember for whatever constituency you may be voting in.

For a political party to win a General Election, they do not need to win every seat – they just have to win a majority of seats.  If you think your local Lib Dem candidate could actually win the seat in your area, then you should do everything you can to make that happen if that is the outcome you wish for.  But if you are living in a seat, like me, where a Lib Dem victory seems improbable, then there is absolutely no shame in voting Labour to keep the Tories out.  Indeed, by keeping the eye on the prize – if either Labour or Liberal Democrats get in, they have both promised massive electoral reform; if both get a lot of votes but there is no clear majority, it is highly likely they will work together to form a coalition government – you make sure you avoid the worst of all scenarios: another George Bush moment.

For those who don’t remember, America in the year 2000 wasn’t a particularly inspiring place.  Eight years of Bill Clinton hadn’t really given the country the massive social reform that had been hoped for on the left, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal had left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.  Meanwhile, on the right, some clown named George W Bush was seeking to fill the shoes vacated by his daddy just eight years before.  Ralph Nader and the Green Party, therefore, thought it was high time to step in and try to force the issue of third party politics and offer the voting public a real alternative to political business as usual.

It was an admirable effort, and if I were registered to vote that year the chances are, I would have voted for them too.  The problem was though, that with an uninspiring Democratic Party to vote for, many of those who would have voted Democrat voted Green instead because they were so disillusioned with the party, whilst those who would have voted Republican continued to vote for George Bush.  What that meant in real terms was that the Greens still didn’t get enough votes for serious Presidential contention (because not enough new or swing voters signed up alongside the disillusioned Democrats), but as a result of the exodus towards the Greens, the Democrats lost a lot of their support.  We all know what happened next: the Supreme Court made George W Bush President, and one of the key reasons this travesty occurred was because the difference in votes between the Republicans and Democrats was so slim.

Now, this isn’t to blame Ralph Nader, as many have done, as some kind of “spoiler” in that election – if the Democrats had wanted their Green Party votes back they shouldn’t have sold their supporters down the river and conceded so much to the Republicans during the Clinton years (sound familiar?)  But it is a warning about voting with your heart instead of your head: if people like me on May 6th vote Liberal Democrat without being cognizant of the specific circumstances of the constituency in which they are voting, instead of shocking the world and getting the Lib Dem MP that they want, it is much more likely that they will split the Labour vote and return an unwanted Conservative to the seat.  And that would be a terrible thing in our first-past-the-post, majority-take-all, electoral system.

This needn’t be seen as cynicism, nor as the claim that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a wasted vote.  It isn’t.  I expect a lot of people to vote Lib Dem on May 6th and in a perfect world, they would even win.  But it is an endorsement of voting smartly instead of stupidly.  I agree with Nick as much as the next guy…but I agree with Gordon a hell of a lot more than I agree with David Cameron, and if it comes to a choice of risking a Cameron victory by taking an unwise gamble on Clegg, I think it’s far safer to stick every time.


Thursday, 15 April 2010

Before The Debate…Some Thoughts on the Manifestos…

I have spent much of this week reading the complete 2010 manifestos of the three main UK political parties – Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative.  I will never get that time back. 

The most important phrase I read in any of these three documents has got to be this: “our core values have not altered and our core beliefs remain consistent.”  That phrase is to be found near the start of the Conservative Party’s so-called “Invitation to Join the Government of Britain”, following a fairy-tale passage about how “the Party has remoulded itself for the modern era, applying its deepest values and beliefs to the urgent problems of the hour” after “a journey that began four and a half years ago, when the Conservative Party itself voted for change by electing David Cameron as its leader.” 

Once you debunk the fact from the fantasy – and once you have trawled through the massive 131 page manifesto – the paucity of this opening salvo becomes apparent.  A more truthful statement would read: we are the exact same party we always have been, “our core values have not altered and our core beliefs remain consistent”, but after losing three consecutive elections, four and a half years ago we decided to cynically manipulate public opinion with the appearance of change by voting in the seemingly young and vibrant, David Cameron, to reboot the party’s image for the 21st Century.  The only real change we stand for though is changing things back to how they were the last time we were in charge.

The big idea at the heart of the Tories’ manifesto in 2010 is the notion of their so-called “Big Society”.  The very use of the phrase “Big Society” here is a deliberate piece of theatre: how best to re-introduce many of the same selfish and individualist ideas of the discredited Thatcher government to a political audience who remember only the failings of Thatcherism and the unpleasantness of the “nasty party” of the 80s and 90s?  Why, you deliberately distance yourself from the most defining statement Thatcher ever made about Tory-style individualism and fend-for-yourself governmental abandon – that there is “no such thing” as society – and appear to embrace exactly the opposite idea. 

Don’t be fooled though – appearance is all that it is – and as you read exactly what Mr. Cameron means by creating his “Big Society”, you discover that, in the ideas within: “our core values have not altered and our core beliefs remain consistent.” 

The apparent push for “people power” and “we’re all in this together” sloganeering is, in reality, the same old Conservative shtick in a brand new 2010 window-dressing: deregulate everything, cut centralized government power and devolve the running of nearly everything to private enterprise under the facade of empowering local communities, give more tax cuts to the rich, take more benefits away from the poor, and make sure the City remains doing big business for the few, no matter how bad the unemployment gets for the many… 

“We will increase the private sector’s share of the economy in all regions of the country”


“We will improve Britain’s international rankings for tax competitiveness”

Yawn again.

“Anyone on Jobseeker’s Allowance who refuses to join the Work Programme will lose the right to claim out-of-work benefits until they do, while people who refuse to accept reasonable job offers could forfeit their benefits for up to three years.”

Yawn times three.

“We are proud of the last Conservative government’s industrial relations reforms, which helped bring about our economic revival in the 1980s, and we will always be prepared to build on them if necessary”

Yawn to the power of – what?  They’re actually proud of that horror?  Shit – this is worse than I thought!

“A Conservative government will reduce the amount of paperwork that the police have to deal with, starting by scrapping the stop form entirely and reducing the burden of stop and search procedures.”

And they want to go back to the stop-and-search prejudices of before?  “Our core values have not altered and our core beliefs remain consistent” indeed. 

Whilst the Tory manifesto has clearly attempted to appeal to the people of Britain with this seemingly radical idea of reclaiming government from Westminster and running the country for ourselves, throughout the document only one thing was made clear: “we’re all in this together” and “the Big Society” means, essentially, that once again under a Conservative government you will be entirely on your own.

Private businesses will run rampant, with no regulation and ever-more weakened unions, government protections and government services will be sold off to the highest bidder, or scrapped completely to pay for more tax cuts, civil liberties and basic human rights will be repealed once again in the name of “cutting red tape” and “reducing the amount of paperwork” for police, unemployment will rise up at the same time that benefits will be plummeting right down, education will become polarized, and citizen will compete against citizen for an ever-depleting pool of public resources whilst the wealthy will accrue more and more.

As an avowed anarchist, I actually found it quiet insulting to see how much the language of radical decentralizing and the self-empowerment of local communities was co-opted by the Conservatives to paint a picture so very far removed from what real self-governance would look like, and if ever my argument about the importance of tone in our inevitable oppression at the hands of external governments held true, it was in the reading of the Conservative manifesto. 

When it comes to the actual actions each party is proposing in this election, there is a vast similarity of objectives.  Everybody wants to cut public spending, balance the budget, fix our schools, protect the NHS, improve the environment, continue the war in Afghanistan, re-link state pensions with earnings, commit to an 0.7% budget for aid, support the Millennium Development Goals, etc, but the importance here is in the underlying philosophy which is guiding each party and the way in which this philosophy informs the spirit by which those objectives are intended to be met.

For instance – the Labour party intend to throw a lot of people off their benefits too if they are elected in on May 6th (for the record: I don’t condone this, but am working within the parameters of the given debate).  Like the Tories, Labour will similarly be implementing a new policy if elected in the new Parliament: after two years on benefits, unemployed people will be given a job that they have to take or risk having their benefits cut off.  But the difference here is the tone.  Whereas the Conservatives’ plan places sole responsibility on the unemployed, painting them in the traditional Tory light as work-shy shirkers and scammers and enforcing claimants to take whatever job they are given or risk being barred from collecting benefits for three whole years (a completely arbitrary policy which gives no guarantees of financial security to the claimant and could literally condemn a person to life-threatening poverty if they refuse to take a poorly compensated job), the Labour plan is made in tandem with two very important and co-related policies: an increase in the minimum wage, at least in line with average UK earnings, and the “£40-a-week Better-Off-In-Work Guarantee”.  What this means, in theory, is that when you are forced into taking that job at the end of two years of benefits, the job – whatever it is – will pay you at least the minimum wage, and that higher minimum wage will ensure that by working for a living instead of collecting benefits, you will actually take home £40 a week more than you do on Jobseeker’s allowance.  Instead of the cruel and stupid Conservative notion of just kicking people out of the system and leaving them to rot, the tone of Labour’s nearly identical plan is massively different, and with that tone comes a much more humane proposal.

All political parties running for government this year have put the environment high on their list of priorities, but whereas both Liberal Democrat and Labour manifestos make the moral case for tackling climate change alongside pointing out the business and job-creation opportunities that a green economy would bring, the Tories’ emphasis is purely on the business side of global warming: “We have a vision of a greener Britain,” they tell us.  “It is a country that leads the world in the market for green goods and services…Instead of pulling bureaucratic levers from above telling people what they can’t do, we will provide people with the information they need to make more responsible choices. Instead of holding businesses back by imposing unfair retrospective stealth taxes, we will unleash the power of green enterprise and promote resource efficiency to generate thousands of green jobs”     

Again: it’s all in the tone, but it is clear to me that the Conservatives don’t care about the environment, they care about capitalizing on the environmental markets, and the emphasis on “responsible choices” and not “holding businesses back” means an ineffective voluntary transformation to a green economy instead of making real legislative changes to enforce the urgent environmental changes that we need.  And whilst we’re on the subject of the Conservatives’ pro-business/anti-public stance, it should be pointed out that the Conservative manifesto – which repeatedly endorses private solutions for public problems in all areas of British life, and the underlying mantra that “the markets” will sort everything out – is the only manifesto out of the three main parties to not mention the BBC.  Whereas both Labour and Liberal Democrat documents pledge to protect and maintain the BBC as a vital public service broadcaster, the Tories – who have, of course, been endorsed by Rupert Murdoch, a long-time opponent of the BBC’s publically subsidized competition to his commercial media empire – remain worryingly silent on the subject.  Indeed, on the Arts and Culture in general, the Conservative manifesto is strangely mute.

It is the little things like this which show you that no matter how much the Tories may talk a good game, and say all the right things to appeal to people disgusted with the state of politics in this post-Iraq, post-expenses scandal, post-economic disaster world, fundamentally little has changed in the party that got us all here in the first place. 

I encourage all of you with sufficient time and stamina to read all the party manifestos, and I hope, like me, you’re looking forward to watching the first of the three live debates tonight.  Just make sure though that when you do, you keep this one vital thought in your mind at all times; repeating it over and over like a mantra that will protect you from harm; a mantra that might just save your lives: “our core values have not altered and our core beliefs remain consistent.”   

Don’t believe the smoke and mirrors: Same Old Tories, Same Old Dangers…


Monday, 12 April 2010

General Election 2010: Selly Oak Constituency. More reasons I will NOT be voting for Nigel Dawkins…

The announcement of the 2010 General Election means, of course, party literature falling through your door at an alarming pace, and I was delighted yesterday afternoon to see my local Conservative candidate, Nigel Dawkins, grinning up at me from a campaign leaflet pushed through my letterbox. 

“And so it begins,” I thought, and immediately began to deconstruct it. 

First off, we have the cringe-worthy photograph on the cover.  Ignoring the negative campaigning of the highly emotive and factually dubious headline (“My children’s share of Gordon Brown’s debt will be over £75,000”), we have a nauseatingly stage-managed picture of Dawkins sitting on a park table alongside his three children.  Two of these children are in their respective school uniforms: look! The picture says.  I’m a local dad with local kids who go to local schools.  My children wear the same school uniforms that yours do.  Vote for me!  Vote for me and my local children!  The third child is in her Brownies uniform, complete with badge-laden sash.  Again: look at my locally engaged and community minded kids.  I’m one of you.  My kids go to Brownies too!  Vote for me.  Vote for me please!

Beneath all this, we have what seems to be the running theme of Dawkins’ campaign at the moment.  A tag-line: “In 10 years of serving you as a city councillor, I have never claimed a single penny in expenses”.

No prizes for guessing why Conservative Central Office chose Dawkins to run for MP then?  Shameless opportunism?  Surely not.

Inside the leaflet, we have an expansion on this theme, framed around the damning details of local Labour opposition, Steve McCabe MP, having claimed not only £5,500 in expenses for a new bathroom, but recently having paid for a leaflet entitled “Annual Report 2009” with tax-payers money instead of funding the leaflet himself. 

The highly expensive, full-colour, glossy Nigel Dawkins leaflet I am reading this information in, Dawkins makes sure to tell me, is different than those of evil Steve McCabe.  “This leaflet,” he tells us, “has been produced, printed and delivered by Nigel Dawkins and the Selly Oak Constituency Conservative Association.”  Indeed, above that statement is a pledge: “I am not a member of any other organisation or political group other than my political party and nor will I ever be.  I promise that I have never taken any money, nor will I ever take money for any reason, including contributions to my election expenses, from any other organisation.”  “No talk, no expenses claims,” goes the slogan on the next page, “Just 10 years of action and hard work.”

Now, this all seems very admirable until you actually think about it.  First of all, we have to remember something very important when Nigel Dawkins tells us he has never claimed a single penny in expenses: whilst that may well be so, he has not been an MP either, and thus has not been entitled to claim from the clearly flawed and abused MP expenses system that was put in place by Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative Government during the eighties and nineties in order to circumvent the pay-freeze imposed on public sector workers and give MPs a package of bonuses and pay-rises through the back door.  I too have never claimed a single penny in MP expenses, because I too am not an MP.  “If I am elected as your MP”, Dawkins tells us, “I will only ever claim for travel costs and rented living accommodation”.  Well, of course he would, because we are now living in a post-expenses-scandal world.  Sadly, Dawkins has missed the gravy train years of ridiculous MP expense claims, and would no longer be able to get away with the sort of stuff his predecessors did.  Meanwhile, his record on expenses as a councillor, claimed through a completely different expenses system than that of MPs, is largely irrelevant when it comes to the hypothetical question of what expenses he might have claimed had he been an MP.  It is classic smoke and mirrors.

Similarly, we must look deeper into the idea that Dawkins will accept no money from anyone “other than my political party” for his campaign publications, or anything else.  That might be all very good and well, but where does his political party get its money from?  A related attempt to smear Steve McCabe comes from the “great shock” of discovering him to be a member of the UNITE union.  “Birmingham MPs should not be members of a trade union!” Dawkins’ leaflet loudly blares in big red writing.  Ignoring for a moment the patently ridiculous idea that no MP should be a member of a trade union (how far do we take that idea?  Should no one who has ever been a member of a trade union be an MP?  And what exactly is wrong with representing unions, and thus the rights and interests of organized working people – British citizens – in Parliament?  There seems to be no similar outrage when politicians court the professional lobbying organizations of workers’ bosses, such as the CBI?  But I digress…), wouldn’t you rather know that your local MP is getting support from Britain’s largest trade union, with over 2 million members across the country, who openly explain their goals, purpose and political ideals quite clearly on their website and let you know exactly what they want from the politicians that they lobby, than that he is getting his support from the usual collection of shady corporations and private donors whose lobbying and interests remain secret?  Councillor Dawkins may well only get his money from his own private coffers or from the Conservative Party, but unless we know exactly where that money is coming from and what it represents, that makes Dawkins no less bought or compromised than anyone else.  If anything, it makes his allegiances far less transparent. 

It would be nice if we all had vast sums of wealth to borrow from in order to fund our own personal political campaigns, but because of the great financial disparity in this country – as promoted in the individualistic economic policies of the Conservative Party – it is only the rich who do.  Do we really want a politics reserved only for those who can afford it, as Councillor Dawkins seems to suggest?

Finally, after a photo-spread rightfully celebrating some of the local council successes in improving near-by parks and leisure facilities (victories that Dawkins absolutely deserves to take some credit for, though it should not be forgotten that the Birmingham city council, though Conservative-led with 49 elected councillors, also has 36 Labour councillors, 32 Lib Dem councillors, and 3 Respect Party councillors who all work together to make these things happen.  Indeed, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Selly Oak, Dave Radcliffe, a Selly Oak councillor, has equal claim to many of these success stories and local victories, and Dawkins’ attempt to co-opt and spin these combined political efforts as his own personal crusade has been sticking in my throat for months), we come to the last page of the leaflet: “The issues that people want answers to…” and here we have the reminder, if one was ever needed, that we’re not just voting for friendly old Councillor Nigel Dawkins here in Selly Oak when we put a cross next to his box on May 6th, we’re voting for a Conservative, as part of a national campaign by the Conservative Party to get back into power.  Thus we have the usual Tory drivel – above a slightly suspect Union Jack-heavy photo of Dawkins that wouldn’t look out of place on a BNP pamphlet – about “Labour’s ‘open-door’ immigration policy” causing “the largest and most sustained rise in immigration in our history” and the promise that the Conservatives will “reduce immigration to the levels of the 1990s – tens of thousands a year, instead of the hundreds of thousands a year under Labour”.

In my mind, “immigration” in politics has always had a slightly nasty sense of racism about it, be in from the Right or from the Left.  It is to my great dismay that all parties here in Selly Oak seem obsessed with stemming immigration as a priority because, personally, immigration is just not something I feel too strongly about.  Indeed, I feel proud to live in a country that helps the disadvantaged from around the world and which offers opportunities to all people, no matter what their race or country of origin.  However, at least Steve McCabe’s position on immigration seems to be born from practical experience in government, with an inherent sense of fairness and human decency amongst his track record of proposed “solutions”, and isn’t just some nostalgic appeal to the past, based on fear and dangerously sweeping promises that offer no real explanations of what such a reduction in numbers would entail. 

The same veiled xenophobic “fear of the unknown foreigner” oozes from Dawkins’ position on Europe too: “A Conservative government would change the law so that never again would a Prime Minister be able to agree to a treaty that hands over areas of power from Britain to the EU without asking the people in a referendum”.  It smells like an argument for democracy at first whiff, but it doesn’t take long to register the same stench of anti-European prejudice beneath it that has for so long permeated the Conservative Party.  Not only is it based on some underlying fear about Europe, but it is an easy and disingenuous promise to make: the Lisbon Treaty has already been signed, as had Maastricht been before it (by a Conservative Prime Minister, I might add!).  Never again would a Prime Minister be able to agree to a treaty that hands over areas of power from Britain to the EU without asking the people in a referendum, because never again will such a treaty be needed; it already exists and therefore the issue is moot

Further redundancies like this are to be found throughout the rest of the page.  Alongside repeating his empty record on expenses as if new expenses legislation is a distinct Conservative policy and not just the universally endorsed consequence of all MPs – Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative alike – being caught with their hands in the cookie jar one too many times, there is the equally vacuous promise to “give teachers the power to restore discipline in the classroom”.  What does that even mean?  Give them guns?  Bring back the cane?  Or perhaps that ridiculous idea Michael Gove has already broached about putting soldiers in the classroom?  Whatever Dawkins means by the claim, it isn’t clear on the leaflet, and it isn’t meant to be.  It is meant merely to sound appealing, and remind us of the spectre of David Cameron’s infamous “Broken Britain” without offering any sincere evidence, solution or meaning to the problem allegedly being discussed.  Which is the same thing that Nigel Dawkins has been doing regarding “Industry and Jobs” ever since the Cadbury buy-out by Kraft: promising changes in policy and “woulda, coulda, shouldas” under a Conservative government that are simply contradictory and untenable under the free-market economic philosophy that guides Tory economic policy. 

“Labour’s ‘everything is for sale’ industrial policy”, which Dawkins calls “a disaster”, is simply a continuation of the exact same Conservative “everything is for sale” industrial policy that destroyed British industry and jobs throughout the 80s and 90s.  Labour’s “neglect of manufacturing” which has “wreaked havoc on jobs” is a direct descendant of the deregulation and privatisation enacted by the Tories during the reigns of Thatcher and Major, and still promoted by the Party to this day.  There is absolutely no sign whatsoever of David Cameron denouncing the misguided free-market economic system that has brought us here.  If anything, it will only get worse under a Tory government, as the continued insistence on public spending slashes and tax cuts for the rich as a solution to our economic woes show only a continued commitment to doing everything in their power to make life easier for the rich whilst crushing the lives of the poor.

Those of us who remember the 1997 election will remember the failed Conservative smear-campaign of “New Labour, New Danger”.  The idea they were selling at the time was that Tony Blair’s re-vamped new Labour was somehow even worse than the Labour Party of the past.  In 2010 I feel we need a similar slogan: “Old Tories, Old Danger”.  The Conservatives can try to spin it and distort it any way that they may like, they can even try to fool us with empty ideas about a vote for them being a “vote for change”, but once you actually unpack and unravel their hollow and meaningless platitudes the evidence becomes obvious: although the leadership may have changed and some of the faces we’re seeing on TV appear to be young and new, the Conservative Party of 2010 is the same old party we booted out of office back in 1997; the same old party it has always been.  And Councillor Nigel Dawkins is just the latest in a long-line of Tory opportunists trying to present himself as something different when, in fact, he is anything but.


Sunday, 11 April 2010

“It’s Been A While Since Last We Spoke…

…so much has changed, so much has not.”

That’s actually the first line to a song I wrote last year which, if all the stars ever aligned correctly, would be the opening track on the oft talked about but never actually pursued “Academy Morticians Reunion Album™”.  I think it pretty succinctly sums up the state of affairs after my month away from this blog.

So Much Has Changed

For one thing, the General Election is now no longer mere speculation, it is a fully announced reality, set for May 6th.  For another thing, the Digital Economy Bill is now law, which is the single stupidest thing the music industry could have done to itself, and the most backwards law we’ve seen in this country for a long time.  America has passed its weak and disappointing “healthcare reform” which has further enshrined the for-profit system of healthcare into law, and the Pope has shown the world that there are even worse things in his closet than being a former member of the Hitler Youth.  (Personally, I really hope he steps down over the child abuse controversy.  Not just because he should, but because I bought an awful Pope Benedict 2010 calendar as a joke on my honeymoon in Rome and would love to own the calendar that marked the very year of his downfall).

So Much Has Not

My views on the election, however, remain the same, and, all things being equal, it is highly likely that I shall be voting Labour on May 6th.  I shall also be doing everything in my power between then and now to make sure that David Cameron and the Conservatives do not get into power.  Normal service on the blog is therefore about to resume, and as we build up to the General Election, I look forward to convincing you all that a victory for the Tories will be far worse than our continued governance by New Labour’s Tory Lite.

I, and this blog, remain very much alive, and shall be detailing the whole sordid election right here on The Tone of Our Oppression in the weeks to come, so stay tuned, stay radical, and stay away from Cameron.