Thursday, April 29, 2010

Letter to Nick Clegg

Hours away from the final Leaders' Debate, here's a plea to the Lib Dem leader. Your plan to scrap tax on the low paid is your winning card. Use it.

Dear Mr Clegg,

I know you're never going to read this letter but, as the clock is ticking towards the third and final Leaders' Debate, there is one thing in particular I'd like to ask you.

You're probably aware of this already, but did you know you have a real trick up your sleeve that you didn't quite use up in the previous debates?

There is in fact one of the Lib Dems' manifesto policies that chimes with voters more than any other. I read last week that over 80 per cent of the electorate agree with it.

I'm talking about your excellent plan to lift the low-paid out of taxation altogether. Around 4m workers in Britain earn under £10,000 a year and pay a precious 20% of that sum to Inland Revenue.

Your proposal will mean £700 in extra cash available to all of them. This is a true vote-winner and you need to spell it out loud and clear tonight on the BBC and maybe even repeat it a couple of times.

While the other two can waffle about with words like "challenge", "big society" and "tough times ahead", the Lib Dems' tax plan would definitely stand out.

And that's because it is factual, fair and progressive. It would have the same impact the minimum wage had. It would show whose side you and your party are on. It would strike a chord with people - the millions of voters who know far too well what it feels like to struggle with bills and trips to Poundland in a quest to make ends meet.

£700 a year may be spare change to a City gambler, a Tory donor, or a Premier League football player, but to most ordinary people it can really make a difference.

It could mean less chances of slipping down the circle of depression. It could help most families torn apart by poverty-related rows and assorted dramas. It could mean an end to red letters, final demands and defaulting on repayments. It could mean treating kids to better clothes or a small holiday. It would allow a lot of people to afford better and healthier food or, who knows, it could even be put aside for savings, the kids' future education or whatever.

Not only that. The Lib Dems' tax plan would ruthlessly expose Labour's ineptitude (they had the time and the numbers to come up with something similar in the last 13 years but never did).

It would also humiliate David Cameron. What better chance for the viewers to compare the Tories' inheritance tax cuts in favour of millionaire's kids with your proposal in favour of millions of ordinary workers and pensioners? Have you noticed how embarrassed Cameron looks each time their inheritance tax plan is mentioned on TV? The guy knows this is deeply unpopular, especially in the middle of a massive downturn.

In short, your plan to scrap tax under £10,000 is a serious vote winner. Please Mr Clegg, use it.

Wishing you all the best for tonight,

A potential Lib Dem voter.

Bigot in a teacup- why no-one looks good

The British love failure, and nothing pleases us more than when the powerful end up putting their foot in it.

Contribution by Mr S.Pill

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few hours, you’ll have seen that today Gordon Brown referred to a voter – Gillian Duffy – as a “bigoted woman” after she brought up the issue of immigration with him.

As has been noted, the original conversation actually made Brown look good – he answered her questions with politeness and understanding, and according to sources she had been persuaded to vote Labour once more.

It was, then, unfortunate in the extreme that Brown – perhaps unused to media-management – neglected to check his microphone and made the remarks he did.

It’s no secret that Brown has a temper; indeed just before the election stories were flowing of bullying going on at Number 10, mobile phones being thrown, backroom staff being on the end of torrents of verbal abuse. The difference now is that the public have had a glimpse of Gordon Brown in his natural environment – and it’s not really a pleasant sight.

But no-one comes out of this incident looking peachy.

Gordon Brown, obviously, should not go around insulting voters. At a time when Labour is reaching record lows in the polls they need every vote they can get and this incident will not play well with those yet to make their mind up. The somewhat forced apology also only reinforces that there are many things we’ve not had an apology for from Labour – the Iraq war, the erosion of civil liberties, the utter failure on constitutional reform et cetera ad nauseum.

Mrs Duffy, on the other hand, should not escape criticism for being ignorant of immigration policy, particularly in relation to the EU. It’s been fact for a very long time that EU law permits free travel between member states – hence why around 800,000 British people live and work in Spain, and why no decent party can say immigration from and to the EU will stop. If Mrs Duffy doesn’t like the huge benefits of migrant labour and the EU in general, and if the arguments have not been made sufficiently, then there are other parties she could vote for. If she merely doesn’t like foreigners working in the UK then yes, frankly, she is a bigot.

The media, too, do not come off well in their reporting of this incident. On a day when all three major parties were accused of hiding huge spending cuts, Labour unveil plans for yet more CCTV, the Conservatives sack a homophobic PPC, and UKIP back the Tories the best the media can do is camp outside a pensioners house in Rochdale. Waiting, hoping, and praying that their literal press-ganging will gift them that oh-so important interview with Mrs Duffy.

According to some reports she has been offered £50,000 by one tabloid newspaper, which should ensure this spectacle of the absurd will drag on and on. With wearisome predictability it has already been dubbed “bigotgate”, which does tempt me to propose a new ‘suffix law’, insofar as the next journalist to add “-gate” to any scandal would be shot.

Lastly, there is us. Yes, dear reader, you and I are also at fault here – in that we love this stuff. We love getting high and mighty, arguing the ins and outs, the whys and wherefores, the yes-buts and no-buts. Like a well-rehearsed scene we know how the shocked’n'appalled script goes and we just change the characters.

It is our lust for these so-called human-interest stories that turn such molehills into mountains, typhoons furiously raging in the tea-stained china while we email, tweet, blog, text, phone, facebook-update the outrageous news that someone, somewhere, has done something wrong. The British love failure, and nothing pleases us more than when the powerful end up putting their foot in it.

This will, with any luck, be old news by 10pm tomorrow night – the final leaders’ debate before May 6th. Notwithstanding another incident like todays, there is still everything to play for.

Mr S. Pill blogs at the excellent Sugar the Pill.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Clegg's great-great-aunt was a spy!!!

The Murdoch-owned Times joins the Sowing-the-Seeds-of-Doubt Operation on Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems. The focus, this time, his "genetic inheritance".

The right-wing press thinks you are all a bunch of sub-human idiots.

The tabloids have been packed with crap and lies aimed at poisoning the atmosphere in the run-up to May 6, but you wouldn't have thought that even the "respected" (if Murdoch-owned) Times would decide to pay heed to his master's voice and join the very public massacre of Nick Clegg.

OK, I hear you saying. Surely a newspaper like the Times, Britain's most prestigious, would at least not get bogged down in rubbish. No doubt their angle will consist in the analysis of the Lib Dems' tax proposals.

Or maybe they will scrutinise their position on electoral reform. Or perhaps foreign policy, the war in Afghanistan, education, public services, immigration - all those subjects that are close to people's interests and concerns.

No. Today, the Times decided to run a story about Nick Clegg's great-great-aunt. Not even his wife, his mum or his dad. That's right, his great-great-aunt. Not because the British public is obviously gagging to know about her. But because it's another desperate attempt to cling onto anything, even the most remote and absurd crap, that may cast some doubt over the integrity of anybody who threatens the century-long Tory/Labour duopoly.

The reason? The woman, writes Ben Mackintyre, "was a Russian aristocrat, writer, spy and double agent" so, even though she may have popped her clogs in 1974, the Times insinuates, there may be "a bit of the baroness in Nick Clegg".

The article concludes that "The Liberal Democrat has often cited the inspiration of his Dutch mother and grandmother, who were interned in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, but he seldom mentions the equally remarkable female on the other side of his family tree".

As we all do, don't we? Because we all routinely talk about our great-great-aunts in daily life. Go through interviews with celebrities, politicians, public figures and rockstars and they're all -invariably- rambling on about nothing else but their great-great-relatives.

Another pathetic piece of right-wing journalism.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Domestic violence "in the Clegg household", Daily Mail implies

Is this really how you profess your love for your country, Mr Dacre? How low do you want the level to sink?

I know the sentence has been used millions of times but, really, there is no depth to the lows the Daily Mail can reach in their quest to the brutalisation of public life.

Jan Moir (remember her...the one spewing out homophobic bile on Stephen Gately's grave the day after the singer's tragic death) has now added her contribution to the paper's smears against the hated Lib Dems.

Today, the hyaenas of Fleet Street decided to pick on Nick Clegg's wife Miriam.

Look at what Moir the bully writes:
"Miriam is also in an arm sling, although these two incidents are apparently not connected. The wife of the Lib Dem leader claims that she simply broke her elbow when nipping out to buy groceries at the weekend. As you do".
Yes, she really is implying what you think she is. Because then she continues:
"Yet pro-wrestling observers suggest that Mrs Clegg's injury looks far more like it was sustained during the execution of a classic elbow smash; seemingly a routine response in the Clegg household when Nick doesn't empty the dishwasher quickly enough".
Of course, this could be a classic case of psychological projection and Moir may be simply accusing other people of something that is sadly familiar to her own life. Fact is, however, that Moir is trying to imply that domestic violence is routine in the Clegg household.

By mentioning "as you do" and by using the words "wrestling" as well as "classic elbow smash" and, especially, "routine response in the household", Moir is sinking to new lows in the world of political debate, if you can still call it that.

Our spoof Daily Mail headlines (1, 2, 3) last week joked that, after being accused of everything, it was only a matter of time before Nick Clegg was going to be depicted, in turn, as satan, a murderer and a laptop thief.

However, we couldn't in our wildest dream predict that, within days, the Mail would seriously come up with allegations of domestic abuse "in the Clegg household".

Is this worth selling more copies, Mr Dacre? At which point are you prepared to concede that enough is too much? How low do you want the level to sink?

"Earning £5 a year and you say you're poor? Stop talking shite..."

Back to the future with the old Blairite rhetoric that we're-all-middle-class-now.

A blogger called John B has just come up with this gem of a sentence:
"Thanks to the combination of capitalism and socialism that has prevailed in the UK over the last 100 years, everyone has enough to eat. Anyone who says otherwise on the Internet is talking shit".
Now, John B is a clever chap. He's a good debater and, aside from gratuitously borrowing from Shakesperian sonnets ("talking shit", "worthless prick", "half a brain", "mental capacity", etc), he's generally quite articulate. He also, no doubt, makes a number of good points.

I'm with him that capitalism should be regulated and not abolished. He's bang on the money when he has a pop at the "arty types [...] 'pretending not to be middle-class'". Definitely.

However, aside from the extremely unfortunate remark at the top, John B also treads into unadulterated manure when he comes up with this other sweeping statement:
"75% of the country [are] basically middle-class".
You read that. 75% of the country are middle class. SEVENTY FIVE PER CENT. Which is the type of distorted social commentary you normally see coming out of the gob of well-pampered City bankers, and not articulate leftist bloggers.

I don't know if people cling on to such remarks so desperately as a way of exorcising subconscious wealth-related guilt, like "I'm doing alright therefore, surely, everyone else is", just because we all have "enough to eat", we can all access the internet, and you no longer spot Oliver Twist being chased by Mr Brownlow down the high street.

John B reminds me of my old mate Dave circa-2000, at the peak of Blairism, when most people in Britain seemed so uncritically in awe of formulas such as "things-can-only-get-better", "we-are-all-freelancers" and "we're-all-middle-class-now".

We all have enough to eat, therefore sod over-complicated dilemmas about the nature of poverty in 2010, galloping inequality, the quality of what people eat, or the obscene gaps in life expectancy existing in such a developed country (i.e. in some Glasgow areas, males have an official life expectancy of 54. It's 83.7 for their counterparts in Kensington and Chelsea).

Nah. Stop moaning. Can't you see we're-all-middle-class-now? I am, so you must be too! Less and less people go to work dressed in blue overalls. Less and less people work in steelmaking or car manufacturing. Therefore, we're-all-middle-class-now, nevermind a skilled factory worker may earn more than a call centre chap clad in a shirt and tie and that almost 10% of the population work in the super-low-paid hotel and catering sector.

Forgive my generalisations, but John B reminds me of those people who look at illegal DVD sellers and conclude that, because they're all fiddling with a fancy mobile phone, surely they can't be doing so bad financially. I bet they-have-access-to-clean-water and they're middle-class-now as well.

Or, the old school of thought that it's surely outrageous to claim you're a bit poor if you can afford a Playstation for your son. You've gotta be middle-class-if-you-buy-that-too.

I mean, look at that glass collector on the minimum wage. How dare he say is on "low pay"? You're not telling me he hasn't got a mobile phone, an email account, and chances are he also "twitters" as well and he's even aware of inequality-related issues! He can't be doing so bad, can he, John?

Yet look at the figures. Did you know that over 7 million workers in the UK earn less than £10,000 a year? And that's the actual workers, people earning a living and paying tax.

If you consider that the median (correction: mean) income is £22,800 per year, more than 20 million people of salaried workers in Britain are below that.

Add a good chunk of the estimated eight million who are economically inactive (and don't forget the 2.5m currently on the dole), and the notion that SEVENTY FIVE PER CENT of the country "are basically middle class" is already collapsing like a castle built from arse paper.

And yet John B maintains that if you're "having the unqualified right to reside in a developed country, then you’re not poor, even if your income’s a fiver a year".

Of course.

So next time you toy with the idea that your minimum wage should be raised a touch. Or that it's unfair that people earning £6,745 should give 20 per cent of that away on income tax. Or that living on jobseeker's allowance is a bloody nightmare. Or that "[W]e are getting wealth inequalities in London now as far as we know that have not been seen since the days of a slave-owning elite", like someone said recently. Next time any of the above crosses your mind, just shut the fuck up, you "worthless prick".

Because John B said so. Just recite with him:

"Even if your income is a fiver a year, you live in a developed country therefore you're not poor".


Sunday, April 25, 2010

The UK election in the European press

How the European papers are covering the pre-election campaign.

"An underdog triumphs"
Die Welt (Germany, centre-right)

The situation has changed the chemistry of the British election campaign overnight, making the outcome completely unpredictable.

The second of three TV debates reaffirmed it on Thursday: many people are excited over the possibility of marking their dissent against the two-party system. In the polls, the Liberal Democrats are almost on a par with their major competitors. After 80 years, the insignificant party may finally return to the center of politics.

Should the trend continue, the output, a "hung parliament" seems almost inevitable - a situation in which no party has a majority over all others.

Nick Clegg today enjoys the double advantage of being the island's popular underdog: he has to fight not only the leaders of the two great parties, but more importantly, the constraints of the British voting system under which the Liberals' true strength has never translated into an appropriate number of seats. In 2005, they received 22 percent of the votes cast, but only ten percent of the seats in Parliament, that is 62. In February 1974, they got 19.3 percent of the vote, but only 14 seats.

The public seems prepared to no longer accept this unfairness against the underdog. Anti-establishment sentiments are throwing ash and lava into the political landscape. All calculations are still facing a potentially revolutionary process. Coalitions in Westminster? British politics would look "more European". But would it also be more stable?

"Clegg resists attacks"
Le Figaro (France, centre-right)

Nick Clegg didn't flinch in the face of his opponents' attacks. He did not mince his words against David Cameron, accusing the Tory anti-European attitudes: "We are stronger together and we're weaker separately".

"Spreading fear does no good", he also replied to Gordon Brown. "Don't believe all these ridiculous horror stories about the Apocalypse and economic policy" that a Lib Dem victory would bring, he finally said.

"Churchill, Obama or just a bubble?"
El Pais (Spain, centre-left)

The Liberal leader is making some tremendous effort to stop the current success from going to his head, if anything because he hasn't received the voters' backing yet.

In recent days, the Tory press has attacked him with brutality. Some tried to turn a simple irregularity into a scandal: donations to the party going through his private bank account. Nevermind all the donations had been declared to the parliamentary authority: the important thing was to cast doubt over his honesty.

Others have questioned his legitimacy to become Prime Minister through allegations over his bloodline: his mother is Dutch, his father is of Russian descent, his wife is Spanish.

The third strategy to burst the Clegg bubble was to expose him as a posh boy. The same press that for months ranted against the injustice of Labour attacking David Cameron's wealthy aristocratic origins in an attempt to discredit the Conservative leader, is now portraying Nick Clegg as a product of money and elitism.

"Gordon Brown clutches at the economy in last ditch attempt at survival"
Publico (Spain, left)

Times have changed. The British no longer feel obliged to choose between two parties only. In 1992, 75% of the votes were cast for the Tories and Labour. The percentage has been dropping relentlessly ever since. It was 68% in 2005 and opinion polls suggest this time it won't be over 60%.

"Cameron wins second debate but a Clegg-Brown alliance is born on TV"
La Repubblica (Italy, centre-left)

"I must be the only politician who has gone from being Curchill to being a Nazi in under a week", Clegg joked with the press just before walking into the TV arena. It was inevitable that, put under the microscope, he'd betray a blemish or two, yet the UK Tory press unleashed an attack of rare virulence, almost portraying him as a monster.

Corrupt: only because they found out that three businessmen transferred the staggering amount of £750 per month (roughly €850) into his personal account. He was yet to become Lib Dem leader and he'd done nothing illegal. The sum- he explained- was needed to pay the salary of a research assistant. And yet the press is talking about little else, portraying the man who is promising to clean up politics into someone who's got something to hide instead.

An aristocrat: because they unearthed the news that his great grandmother is a Baroness, evidence - according to the media hullabaloo - that Clegg is not a man of the people.

A former "eurocrat": that is to say, an ex EU bureaucrat, an accusation that - to most Britons- is worse than being dubbed a serial-killer.

And so on. All the way to "Nazi", as reported on the front page of the Daily Express, referring to some allegged slur [Clegg] was accused of having spelt out against his own native country.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Causes of inequality according to the right*

From surreal and absurd to shallow and hypocritical. How the Tories and the right-wing press reacted to the inequality report.

The National Equality Panel has published a comprehensive report on inequality in Britain, more confirmation that thirteen years of peripheral adjustments and papering over cracks did little to stop the growing gap between a super rich minority and a poorer majority.

The roll call of findings is depressing. In short, the richest 10% of the population are more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10% of society; the gap is wider now than 40 years ago; the gender pay gap is significant and persisting; the UK is the seventh worst country for income inequality out of 30 industrialised countries; Britain has the highest poverty rate in Western Europe and social mobility has declined sharply.

That Labour failed there's no doubt. Thirteen years in government -and with humongous majorities, lest we forget- is an awful long time. They were hardly going to turn into the Robin Hoods of Westminster, but they certainly had the chance to make a more structural impact.

What's more interesting, however, is the clueless reaction from the right. They're barking at Labour's failures yet:

1) They've consistently sniped at any proposal directed at addressing poverty: just think of their fits of rage when the minimum wage was introduced and their fury each time it was raised; or their firm opposition to basic agency workers' rights; or the daily bombardment against social benefits for the unemployed;

2) Only two weeks ago Tory supremo Ken Clarke denied that class divisions exist at all in Britain. He said that society is "classless" and "meritocratic", indeed "transformed" from decades ago - an enviable grasp of the real world for the cigar chomping MP.

And so, according to the Telegraph, "today's equality gap is not a problem that results from the rich getting richer". No. "That is generally a good thing for society", the Tory paper says (without explaining why, of course). "The problem is that the poorer are not getting richer, too". And how do they do that, given that any notion that the low-paid should be paid a little better is invariably seen as a cross between Stalin and the Cloverfield monster?

Rest assured, here's the solution. Look at this:

"the core of the problem [...] lies in education and welfare policy [...] the growth of welfare dependency has crushed aspiration within the family. If you pay people to stay poor, you will never run out of poor people...".

So basically if you're amongst the 1.3m people who lost their job through no fault of their own during the recession, you should forget about help, otherwise you will stay poor. Knock it on the head altogether and bob's your uncle, we're all rich. Just take a look around, the country's bursting with well-paid jobs for the "aspiring" masses, isn't it?

Then there's Max Hastings in the Daily Mail. To him, the root of the problem is even simpler: "It's not the middle classes but social engineering zealots like Ms Harman who are to blame for Britain's inequality gap", he writes. His article takes the scattergun approach: a combination of PC gone mad (based on this non-story from his own paper), the end of grammar schools and lack of good old discipline.

Bring back the cane and get those chavvy kids to sit properly and, sure enough, millions of well-paid jobs will materialise and no-one will work for £4 an hour. Ever again.

Because, Hastings informs us, "[i]t is no longer a class divide which disadvantages Britain's poor. Nobody is denied a job or promotion because they don't speak proper or hold a knife and fork right". And stupid us thinking that that was the problem all along.

Then there's Theresa May, Conservative MP and Shadow Minister for women and equalities. She said:

"Labour has had a one-dimensional approach, looking at the symptoms, not the causes. For example, one in six children are growing up in a workless household. We need policies that can make equality a reality."

But Ms May is wrong on two fronts.
First, sod one in six children, under the glorious Tory days of the 1980s and 1990s unemployment was consistently higher than it ever was under Labour- regularly topping 3m. In fact, the last fifteen years have seen, by far, the lowest unemployment figures since the 1970s, a trend that only ended with the crisis kicking in in 2008.

Secondly - and more importantly - low unemployment is hardly tantamount to equality. Like I've just said, dole queues were at their smallest in the years 1997-2007, yet the levels of inequality galloped anyway.

And this is because you stand better chances of winning the lottery than hearing a British MP questioning the "quality" of employment.

Tories and Labour alike had better get this into their head and quick. It matters little if unemployment stands at 5.5% or 6% if so many people in employment are paid a pittance, casualisation continues unabated and so does the erosion of basic rights in the workplace. The minimum wage was a step in the right direction, but obviously not enough.

Look at this ordinary example. A 40-hour working week paid £5-60 an hour. It pays £890 a month. You detract national insurance, council tax, rent and bills to pay and how on earth are you and your family going to escape a circle of depression? You'd have thought that the new Cameron-era would be good at empathy!

Which leads to the only factor that can make a difference. Higher wages. Which, in turn, can either come out of your boss's own goodwill, or from redistribution - read taxing higher incomes.

In Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark the top rate of income tax ranges between 52 and 58 per cent. All of them officially boast the lowest levels of poverty and inequality in the democratic world.

* This blog entry was first published in January 2010 but, in the run-up to the General Election, it's a relevant snapshot of the Tory mindset.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Why the right-wing smear machine will backfire

The British people are more intelligent and independent than the country's press barons and their spoilt kids seem to think.

"Nick Clegg's loony plan". "Nick Clegg hasn't a clue". "[H]is policy as pure folly". "[Clegg is] faltering". And this is just a single rickety piece in today's Sun.

We already saw what the Daily Mail are capable of. The last 48 hours have seen a parody-like, unprecedented number of outright lies, smears and hatchet jobs aiming at nothing but the pure destruction of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats (click here and here for a light-hearted idea).

Clegg has been accused of everything under the sun: he stole public money and he's pro-Nazi Germany; he's a Brussels stooge and he flies business class; he's a liar and a cheat; he's not truly British and he's pro-paedophiles; he wants all prisoners to roam free and he's anti-God; he's elitist and a snob and, in case you didn't know, he also has a foreign wife, which is very very bad.

Another couple of days and the right-wing press will make him look like Fred West if he'd embraced satanism.

Remember that, in Britain, the right-wing press have the lion's share of daily publications. Together, the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Express, the Daily Star (aka Hairy Palm) and the Telegraph constitute a staggering grandtotal of over 7 million copies circulating every day. Add the Murdoch-owned (but at least slightly more balanced) Times, and that's another half a million copies with their weight firmly behind the Tories.

The remaining bit consists of the pro-Labour Mirror (1.2m copies- but it hasn't been nice to Nick Clegg either) and, finally, the Guardian and the Independent (both fairly neutral towards the Lib Dems), whose combined circulation is 1/6 (one sixth) of the Sun alone.

Anyone with half a brain would see that the anti-Nick Clegg hysteria is a brutal, massive-scale operation to stunt the development of a level playing field campaign.

Here is a party tallying anything between 25% and 30% of the popular vote which is fighting an election without a single friendly newspaper on their side and with most of the others out in force to literally destroy them and bully them out of a positive electoral outcome.

It emerged this morning that the Sun censored an opinion poll showing that "if people thought Mr Clegg's party had a significant chance of winning the election, it would win 49 per cent of the votes", way ahead of the other two.

That's what people think. But the Sun doesn't want you to read about it. The Sun wants to ram down your throat the notion that Nick Clegg is a conniving/evil/loony piece of shit. Anything that threatens the status quo must be torn to pieces.

However, the good news is that the British people are more intelligent than the country's multi-millionaire press barons and their spoilt kids seem to think.

People are clearly fed-up with the rotting two-party straighjacket.

Not only that. The British love an underdog and chances are this industrial-scale assault against the newest party will backfire tremendously. And it will be a fine day when we see the Sun and Rupert Murdoch's spoilt little rich kid licking the unexpected winner's arse.

It won't cost them much: they lost their dignity a long time ago.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Six reasons not to vote Conservative

Earlier on we reminded you of the minging face of New Labour. Now look how manky a future under the Tories would look.

1. Strikes and social unrest
History shows that when the Tories are in power they tend to antagonise whole categories of workers. When they governed between 1979 and 1997, Britain experienced an unprecedented number of major strikes with tens of millions of hours lost to industrial actions, way more than post-1997.

The Tory years were also packed with riots and social unrest. Brixton, St Pauls, Moss Side, Toxteth, Handsworth, the Miners' Strike, the Poll Tax... The list is a scarily long one.
Are you sure you want that again?

2. Economy and welfare
David Cameron's priority is not to recoup the billions lost each year through tax dodging or to reign in the greedy banks. No. It's all about pleasing the tabloids with the trite anti-scrounger rhetoric, even though Cameron's speech on benefits today suggests that their policies will remain very similar to those of Labour. The party is bankrolled by multimillionaire donors. Of course their priority will be to help them and not you. Even a kid could figure that out.

3. Marriage tax breaks
Again. The Tories excel at arbitrarily singling out groups. Their proposal to give married people an extra £3 a week to reward "marriage" is financially useless but discriminatory in practice. It penalises or rewards certain people on the basis of circumstances, good or bad luck.

4. Etonian politicians
Labour is packed with ivory-tower think-tank professionals, but "David Cameron has more Etonians around him than any leader since Macmillan". Hence the inept remarks about "chicken feed","no class division", or the "whingeing" Cadbury workforce. These people will pass legislation on your working conditions, hours, public services, bills and tax without genuinely having a clue about the living standards of most ordinary people.

5. Reform
How can the Tories market themselves as the "party of change" when they don't even want to discuss constitutional reform? The Tories don't care that increasing numbers of votes (millions and millions) are wasted at each election and that apathy towards the Big Two Parties is at an all-time high. To quote Matthew Norman in today's Independent, David Cameron's slogan should be "Change By Keeping The Old Crap That Drove us To This Desperate Need For Change".

6. More money for the rich
The Tories oppose the LibDems' proposal to lift 4 million low paid out of taxation. The Tories think that a better policy is to cut inheritance tax for the super rich. They know it's electorally repulsive so they never elaborate on it when questioned in public. A Tory government will increase inequality without even pretending that they're trying to do otherwise. If you're an ordinary worker and you're planning to give your vote to a millionaire Prime Minister, then you're probably a masochist.

Click here to read "Six reasons not to vote Labour".

Six reasons not to vote Labour

Real change can only mean a vote for anyone but Labour or Tory* on May 6. Here's a quick reminder of what Gordon Brown and Tony Blair's party looks like.

1. The Nasty Party

Look at this appalling, borderline libellous leaflet circulating in Birmingham Hall Green, designed to smear their opponents as the defenders of convicted criminals and pederasts. This is straight from the book of tabloid barbarism at its worst, which the New Labour bullies have been generously perusing for 13 years.

2. The Economy
Barring this and this, the way Labour handled the economy for thirteen years has nowt to do with what most of their voters asked. Thatcher may have created the conditions for the UK economy being over reliant on the City, but thirteen years of Labour made it worse. While their rhetoric on welfare recipients got increasingly patronising, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. They had the chance to sort it out, they failed.

3. Think Tank politicians
The Tories may be packed with Etonians, but Labour is crammed with professional politicians straight from the ivory tower-world of "think tanks" and political research. Most of them have no idea what an ordinary job looks like. Think of all the time you heard New Labourite robots reciting pap like "tough times ahead" on TV or the radio, no matter what the interviewer asked. Do you really want 13 more years of that?

4. Reform
Labour had 13 years and unprecedented majorities to reform the House of Lords. They also actively and repeatedly turned their back on making the voting system fairer and less antiquated. In 2005, almost 3m votes going to none of the biggest parties were literally wasted. They translated into zero seats.

The Lib Dems were voted by 22% of the electorate but only got a measly 9% of seats. Labour grabbed 55% of the seats with just over 30% of the votes. This system is rotten at the core. Labour won't change it.

5. Civil Liberties
42-day detention laws. ID cards. Conditions in privatised detention centres. Suppression of dissent. The super draconian Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Rendition flights. Belmarsh. Labour has a terrifying record on civil liberties.

6. Foreign policy
One word: Iraq. Not a single senior Labour politician has yet conceded that the Iraq war was wrong. Not even a little bit, a tiny admission, a contrite face. Don't forget that on May 6.

*and the BNP of course

Coming up: Six reasons NOT to vote Conservative

Pathetic Sun on Nick Clegg

The manic swiping at the Lib Dems is direct indication that Britain's own bible belters are taking the prospect of a Tory defeat very very seriously.

The right-wing press are up in arms over the prospect of the Conservatives squandering what, until recently, looked like sure victory.

The Sun is a case in point. While no less right-wing and populistic than the Mail, the tycoon-owned red top is instinctively more shallow and tends to appeal to attention spans the length of a fart.

If one is the rambling, frothing sermoniser, the other is the pitchfork-waiving lynchmob.

And so today's Sun attempt to smear Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is possibly one of the most pathetic pieces of churnalism of 2010. The front page screams LIBDUMB EXCLUSIVE: Clegg's secret election dossier found in a cab but, as you go through the article, the way the paper is trying to make a story out of nothing is actually touching.

The EXCLUSIVE "secret election dossier" simply contains a number of tips regarding Nick Clegg's forthcoming television debates. Big deal.

Look how ridiculous this sentence is: "the Lib Dem leader was painstakingly coached", meaning that the Sun have just learnt that politicians are coached before TV debates. Wow. Keep goin' lads, don't let that pair of tits take your eyes off your daytime job!

I mean, use your brain. Think before you put that crap to print.

Because David Cameron isn't "painstakingly coached", is he? He doesn't get all spruced up and poked about before the cameras are switched on. He doesn't hire the most expensive PR teams available. He doesn't go on telly wearing more make up than The Cure's Robert Smith circa-1989, does he?

Then, ever more desperate, the article tries to make a big deal out of one of the Lib Dem's bravest and more popular policies, scrapping the £100bn cold-war style nuclear deterrent system called "Trident". Clegg's notes simply say "Avoid unilateral disarmament implication", meaning make sure it doesn't sound like we're giving up unilaterally on defense.

The pervy rag reads it as "leaving us at the mercy of nuke-armed rogue states".

And then there's more hollow fuss made about Clegg's advisers' notes on the other two leaders, the tricky bits to avoid and how to best exploit their weaknesses.

Amazing EXCLUSIVE, Sun. If that's the best you can do then just keep'em coming.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Harry Brown

A highly entertaining onscreen version of a tabloid's wet dream.

If you're of the opinion that films should be judged solely on their entertainment value, then you will probably give Harry Brown the thumbs up.

Any story about a seemingly harmless OAP turning into Death Wish-era Charles Bronson against the evils of the most barbaric council estate ever is guaranteed to pin most people to their seat.

If, however, you think that a film can't do without a feasible story line lest it all turn into a pile of bollocks, then no doubt you won't add Harry Brown to your list of personal favourites.

Too many elements in the film are unnecessarily OTT. Two examples. The bit where the arrests escalate into the biggest urban riots in the history of mankind, making the 1981 Brixton riots or Handsworth 1985 look like a tame pub brawl by comparison.

There's also the highly implausible chronic emphysema-suffering OAP in his late seventies strolling out of a deserted hospital (what did you say about the NHS being overstretched?) to make it back in a moment just in time to rescue a specific car in a specific car crash in the middle of Baghdad-style warfare.

But there's also the fact that Harry Brown is a tabloid's wet dream. It's as though the producers decided to consult our legendary DAILY MAIL REPORTER for added effect to a story centred around deprived council estates.

And in fact no-one is denying that Britain has a worryingly high number of dodgy estates. No-one, with the possible exception of this dying Labour government, could in their right mind play down the impact that some seriously brutal crimes have on communities as well as the fear and insecurity that reigns supreme amongst our older and more vulnerable citizens. And it's certainly commendable if more films set out to depict gritty realism.

But this is just too much. It's unbelievably over the top. You thought that knife crime and drug abuse were bad? Watch Harry Brown and you'll come to the conclusion that every council estate in the UK is populated with terror professionals casually carrying kalashnikovs, molotovs and hand grenades as they loaf about shitty underpasses.

There's the homosexual abuser, the idle tracksuit wearers, a completely wasted drug addict/dealer living in the midst of the biggest inner-city weed cultivation in history, gangs with their staffies and run-of-the-mill drive-by shooting. Add the penpushing and unsympathetic police and you've got each and every single unadulterated ingredient of a Daily Mail Best Of.

And, exactly like the Daily Mail, which can be quite entertaining to read (as long as you're aware of its industrial amounts of bullshit and exaggeration), Harry Brown will most certainly grab your attention. The acting certainly helps. While he may have lost a mark or two for his recent pre-election endorsement of the Tories, you can never fault Michael Caine for good acting and added entertainment.

Just hope they don't watch it abroad or else its consequences for the British Tourist Board may turn out even more devastating than a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Daily Mail: Shock! Queen is by blood the least British leader

Revealed: The United Nations that make up Queen Elizabeth

Despite her Anglo-Saxon name
and her official role as sovereign of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth territories, Queen Elizabeth II is the least British leader in the United Kingdom.

As a great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II bears lineage from a number of ethnicities, including Arab, Armenian, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Serbian, and Swedish.

"The Queen has many international influences in her family", said an insider to Buckingham Palace, adding that "Her Majesty also speaks French quite well".

Her husband, Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh, was even born abroad (!) - on a Greek island called Corfu'. Philip's father was none other than the Prince of Greece and Denmark and his mother lived in Germany and Greece. He's fluent in at least three languages and he can also speak Greek, so much so that it is said that the Queen Mother did initially frown upon her daughter's marriage.

Queen Elizabeth’s cosmopolitanism even extends to one of her translators and interpreters who spent significant time in foreign countries to study languages.

When the Daily Mail approached Buckingham Palace, official spokespeople played down her international background.

When it was pointed out that her husband is not really English, the reply was: "Well, biologically...yeah. But the Queen was born here, brought up here, went to school here, and she feels very proud to be British".

For saddos with no grasp of irony: This post is a parody. Get a grip.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Nick Clegg Effect explained

The Lib Dems' amazing surge in the post-TV debate opinion polls proves how hungry the British public is for progressive policies.

Both Gordon Brown and David Cameron must be pulling their hair out in frustration for agreeing to a Leaders' debate with the Liberal Democrats.

They obviously underestimated the risks, because the moment they accepted a debate with someone largely unknown to the public and alternative to the tired old Tory/Labour choice, Brown and Cameron gave up their exclusive right to a duopoly - a privilege resulting from a rusty, old-fashioned, bicephalus voting system.

The moment a third party was allowed the same air-time and the same chances as the other two, the public were handed a preview of what a fairer political system would look like.

The last ten years in British politics resulted in a succession of political raspberries blown at the public. In spite of overwhelming public opposition or scepticism, Labour and the Tories fundamentally agreed on most things that matter: foundation hospitals, the Iraq War, tuition fees, the banking system as well as the £100bn nuclear deterrent called "Trident".

Time and again, even when two thirds or more of the electorate disagreed, the public had policies rammed down their throats and not a chance in hell of finding their voice represented fairly in Westminster.

The press robotically go on about the BNP benefitting from Labour's crisis but, if anything, the recent surge of sympathy for the Lib Dems (and the Green Party as well) suggests that the majority of disillusioned former Labour voters are looking to the Left and not at Nick Griffin's knuckle draggers instead.

The Leaders' debate proved that the British public are not as right-wing and conservative (with a small 'c') as the dynamics in Westminster would indicate.

Of course, it helps that Nick Clegg is a slick communicator and a fantastic debater. He looks new, young and on the ball. But what lies behind his rising star is the fact that the British public are tired of hollow formulas like "tough-times-ahead" and "we're-all-in-this-together". They're hungry for clear, factual and -why not- often progressive policies.

And in fact, with the possible exception of immigration, the Lib Dems are at their most popular when they spell out policies that sit to the left of both the Conservatives and Labour. Take a look at three examples.

Opinion polls confirm that Nick Clegg's fierce opposition to Trident is backed by an overwhelming majority of the electorate. Most British people don't think that £100bn should be spent on a nuclear defense system that was designed for the Cold War, the USSR and Frankie Goes to Hollywood singing "Two Tribes".

Similarly (and this is a point Nick Clegg will have to insist on at the next debate), 84 per cent of the public agree with the Lib Dems that people earning less than £10,000 should not pay a penny in tax. Rather than an arcane system of wage top-ups and other benefits, it would be a lot fairer if low earners and pensioners were lifted out of taxation altogether.

This would give most workers an extra £700 each year. Those on the breadline would certainly notice the difference: 4m people in the UK earn less than £10,000. The public would much rather money was spent on this than the Tories' manky tax break for the married or Labour's expensive weapons of mass destruction.

The same again with the so-called "Mansion Tax". The Lib Dems propose that, in times of crisis, people owning mega houses worth over £2m should pay a little more on their properties. Over three quarters of the electorate agree. Compare it with the Tories' proposal to cut inheritance tax for the super rich. It is so unpopular that David Cameron doesn't even have the guts to mention it while he's on telly.

Leaders' Debates: More of the same?

Ceri Ames: the TV debates are a further move towards the trivialisation of political debate.

As you may have noticed, Nick Clegg has been declared the victor in great leaders' debate. Even if the surge in support for the Liberal Democrats 'sticks', I fail to see why this is in some way a vindication of these debates.

Sure, an election where the LibDems achieved 30-odd percent would almost inevitable lead to a hung parliament, and give the LibDems their shot at a governing pact.

Presumably they would try to get agreement on electoral reform, but they have been very cagey about what exactly they would insist on- and given the hostility of both Labour and (especially) the Tories to this, I can see this being jettisoned in favour of other polices.

Given the choice between making no deal by insisting on electoral reform, or of taking the opportunity of getting some say in policy (and of appearing responsible etc), I think the LibDems will make the latter decision.

Obviously, I would love to be proven wrong, as electoral reform would make the LibDems' showing, and thereby these debates, the watershed moment some commentators are trying to claim for them.

However, for me these debates have been a further move in the trivialisation of politics and political debate. Given the level of disengagement and disillusion with politics in the UK at the moment, the leaders' debates have been presented as a way of re-engaging people, of fostering interest in politics.

Now if this were the case, I would be all in favour. But these debates are not doing this, they are not engaging people with issues; instead they are being presented by the media as the issue, the personality and performance of the individuals are being judged. It is appearances, and judgements on the appearances, that are being discussed, rarely the actual policies and the issues to which they respond.

Politics is messy, political issues are often difficult to assess and to decide upon. They can't be reduced to the level of these debates, with their one minute answers and emphasis on avoiding mistakes.

I've no objection to trying to engage people, the majority of whom think politics is 'what politicians do' and is therefore corrupt, boring and has little to do with them, just as visiting the Science Museum can enthuse and engage people with science. But that isn't what these debates are doing or are designed to do, any more than a visit to a museum makes you a scientist.

In the long-run, the debates, by focusing on individuals and continuing the type of coverage of politics that we endure now, can do no more than temporarily arrest the decline in trust and engagement in politics that they are trying to address.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Leaders debate across the papers

The verdict is unanimous: clear victory for Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.

"The Liberal Democrat leader was given a great opportunity to introduce himself to the millions of voters who scarcely knew him and he took it with gusto".
Nick Robinson, BBC News

"Nick Clegg seizes his moment in historic TV debate"- "A Populus poll for The Times gave a stunning victory to the Liberal Democrat leader as he used the limelight of the historic ITV broadcast to devastating effect".
Roland Watson, The Times

"Clegg smashes through two-party system".
Andrew Grice and Nigel Morris, The Independent

"Nick Clegg's star rises in great showdown"- "Nick Clegg emerged as the early winner of the first televised leaders' debate last night by successfully positioning himself as the Westminster outsider".
Robert Winnett and Andrew Porter, The Telegraph

"Clegg seizes moment in TV spotlight" - "Lib Dem leader makes powerful pitch as he depicts his party as a significant change from Labour and the Conservatives".
Patrick Wintour and Polly Curtis, The Guardian

"Brown beaten into third in debate"- "A YouGov snap poll for The Sun put the Lib Dem leader clearly ahead of his rivals, winning just over HALF the full vote".
Tom Newton Dunn, The Sun

"Clegg wins the TV war of words: Viewers are turned off by Brown's aggression but leaders fail to land knock-out blow"- "While the two main leaders clashed repeatedly, it was [...] Mr Clegg who seemed to have the advantage".
James Chapman, Daily Mail

Obama: equal hospital visitation rights for same-sex partners

The landmark decision will apply to almost all medical institutions in the country and will prohibit discrimination in hospital visits.

Barack Obama issued yesterday a Presidential statement that will extend hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners. Patients will also be free to choose whoever they want as next-of-kin in case of medical emergencies or medical decisions.

In the US, it is common for hospitals to bar visitors who are not related to patients through either blood or marriage.

The decision was inspired in part by the case of Janice Langbehn, who was kept from seeing her partner, Lisa Pond, as she slipped into a coma. Last September a federal judge rejected Langbehn's lawsuit against Florida's Jackson Memorial Hospital, saying there was no law requiring the staff to grant Langbehn access to Pond's bedside.

In a memo released yesterday (pdf), the President said that gay and lesbian Americans are "uniquely affected" by relatives-only policies at hospitals. He added that they "are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives -- unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated".

The President's move was hailed as a major step toward fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

American pro-LGBT rights group Human Rights Campaign saluted Obama's decision. "Discrimination touches every facet of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including at times of crisis and illness, when we need our loved ones with us more than ever", was the comment from HRC President Joe Solmonese.

Right-wing Christian group Family Research Council criticised Obama's move. According to one of the group's leaders, Peter Sprigg, the new rule "undermines the definition of marriage" and "clearly constitutes pandering to a radical special interest group".

No surprises there, from a group whose mission statement says: "Family Research Council believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed".

Volcanic ash cloud: Littlejohn calls others "brain-dead imbeciles"!

Coming soon: Katie Price says celebrities look "plasticky" and Jose' Mourinho accuses his colleagues of being arrogant.

You couldn't make it up, really. His favourite "brain-dead" catchphrase has come full circle as the only possible way to describe his pathetic Daily Mail column.

Following the most extraordinary ash spewing in decades, as a volcano erupted (it's still at it now) in Iceland, air traffic across the north of Europe has been paralysed with most flights grounded and airports in the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark all shutting their doors for the time being.

The consequences of flying through clouds of volcanic ash are well-known. Particles are likely to jam a plane's engines and cause very serious incidents.

Not, however, according to Top Aviation Expert Richard Littlejohn of Daily Mail fame.

In his words, the massive volcanic eruption doesn't "justify the knee-jerk stupidity which closed every airport immediately". He adds that "[i]t was a breathtaking demonstration of the elf 'n' safety paranoia which has engulfed this country over the past decade".
To him, immense ash clouds that can be actually smelt as far afield as Oslo are the equivalent of a car skidding or a 'crime-scene' investigation. In Littlejohn's brain, grounding planes on the basis of huge amounts of ash that are taking days to clear draws comparisons with a "supermarket butcher" fiddling with a sharp knife.

"The brain-dead imbeciles in charge take a perverse delight in causing the maximum possible inconvenience", adds the man described in 2006 as "the highest-paid newspaper columnist in the country".

As if his own paymasters at the most paranoid newspaper in the country wouldn't be first in the queue to whip up shit if, god forbid, an accident took place because the authorities "had not taken every possible precaution".

'Tell you what, Littlejohn. How about you fly a plane through the volcanic ash cloud and check for yourself and see what happens? That would be a good experiment.

If, after all that, you're still fit to scribble your imbecilic column, then we'll be happy to take your Expert Advice.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Why Plaid/SNP should be at the Leaders' Debates

Look at the picture. Only the big parties from the grey bit are going to be part of the televised Leaders' debates. That is unfair, writes Marcus Warner. And he's right.

I think Plaid/SNP should be present on the Prime Ministerial debates.

This is based on my view that many of the issues discussed are devolved. Not enough so far is done to offer the ‘England Only’ health warning.

‘Free Schools’, ‘Cancer Guarantee’ – are all meaningless to Welsh and Scottish voters.

It’s also worth remembering that:

* That voters in Wales and Scotland are often in seats whereby the fight does not include either Labour, or Tory or both.

* That the BBC has a right to be fair to other parties

* Plaid get 1000 votes in every single seat in Wales. Unlike the three major Westminster parties, who do not.

* We do not have an elected presidency – voters in Wales vote for an MP, and in places like Aberconwy, Ceredigion, Llanelli, Ynys Mon the battle is not between two westminster parties, but Plaid/Lib Dem, Plaid/Labour/Tory.

Secondly, from a liberal left perspective:
* English voters hearing about devolved policies is good for understanding the system, but also hearing different ideas. There is a westminster consensus on things, often teetering centre right at times.

* The Lib Dems are being asked about their views on a hung parliament, but it is just as valid for English voters to hear the SNP/Plaid views too.

The opposing arguments are also worth arguing against:
* That Plaid/SNP leaders cannot be PM. Nor will Nick Clegg.

* That you open the floodgates to other parties – which is not true, both those parties have elected westminster representatives. UKIP, Greens and the BNP do not.

Marcus Warner blogs at Plaid Panteg.
This article originally appeared on Liberal Conspiracy.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

France condemns Vatican for anti-gay slur

More on the Vatican's massive own goal.

The French government has joined the queue of officials condemning the words used by the Vatican's number two, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

He recently claimed that the church paedophilia scandal is to be blamed on homosexuality and not on the Catholic clergy as such, even though many cases of abuse took place against girls as well as boys.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said the remarks linking the abuse to homosexuality were "unacceptable" and added that France is committed to the struggle against discrimination and prejudice linked to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Vatican blames gays for child sex abuse

Peter Tatchell: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone says gays caused the church paedophilia scandal.

The number two in the Vatican hierarchy, the Pope's Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, claims there is a link between homosexuality and child sex abuse.

He has, in effect, blamed gay priests for the paedophile scandal that has engulfed the Church.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone is a blatant distorter of the truth and an outrageous homophobe. His vile smears against gay people bring shame and dishonour to the church.

The Vatican is trying to deflect attention from the sex crimes of Catholic clergy by blaming gay people. This is really sick.

The truth is that priests and bishops abused girls and boys alike. There is absolutely no connection whatsoever between paedophilia and loving, consenting adult gay relationships. It shows the depths of dishonesty and homophobia that infects the Vatican at the highest level.

The Vatican leadership is morally bankrupt and is rightly scorned by all decent Catholics.

The Vatican and its clergy are responsible for child sex abuse, the cover-up and the protection of paedophile priests. Yet it is trying to blame everyone else.

First, the Vatican attempted to dismiss and hide child sex abuse. Then it tried to silence the victims with pay-offs and threats of excommunication. In 2001, the Pope ordered Bishops to observe 'papal secrecy' and he ignored paedophile abuse cases that were bought to his attention.

More recently, the Vatican accused the media of waging an anti-Catholic campaign. It compared criticism of the Pope to the Nazi persecution of the Jews. These are insulting lies and nonsense.

Peter Tatchell is the spokesperson for the UK 'Protest the Pope' campaign.

petition to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, against the Pope's State Visit to Britain in September, is on the Downing Street website. It already has over 12,000 signatures.