Sunday, May 31, 2009

Paradise Lost, literature admired, humanity demoted

I really enjoyed Armando Iannucci’s BBC programme on Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ last week (available to watch here until Tuesday).

I’ve never read or even dipped into it, even though I picked up a copy in a second-hand bookshop some years back, which has been sitting on my shelf ever since, making me feel slightly more cultured by its mere presence.

The great thing about the programme was that it mostly consisted of an intelligent person being really enthusiastic about something he adored. Very good to watch. I think my two favourite parts were when he went through the ‘darkness visible’ passage, stopping every few words to remark on the ingenuity of the construction, and when he sat down with a first edition and said that it might not make very good television but that he just wanted to read it!

My only critical thought – and I say this, perilously, as someone who hasn’t read the thing and who dropped out of English lit A-level after three weeks – was his discussion of the last few lines:

Some natural tears they dropt, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

Most of what Armando says about these seems fair, but he claims that the ending is “intensely secular” with “no mention of God”.

Not directly, but think about how two people, “hand in hand”, could be said to take “their solitary way”. The paradox equates godlessness with solitude; Milton suffuses these last lines with God’s absence.

It’s a terribly sad attitude, and a common one - voiced more recently and more feebly by a preacher that Ophelia Benson heard on a radio programme:

Then the preacher goes off on a little rant… of the 'how do atheists do it?' variety. He can't even conceive of it - it must be so bleak - if this is all there is - with no one to turn to. Davidson [the programme’s host] says, mildly, 'We have each other.' The preacher says, in a pitying voice, 'But human beings are not...dependable.'

I think that attitude is one of the enduring tragedies of humanity: that we aren’t good enough for ourselves or for each other.

If it weren’t a beautiful sunny day that I wanted to be out in, I might now launch into a rhetorical riff about how the invention of religion was our own Fall – when we ate the fruit of the tree of fantasy, and came to imagine that we could be newly clad in divine silk, like the fairytale emperor.

But that would be a bit glib, and a bit combative. Milton was no fool, and ‘Paradise Lost’ is clearly far more than a clever and elegant piece of Christian PR. Well worth a read, methinks.

Second article allowance

There’s some really cheap journalistic ripping-off going on here. Glen Owen in the Mail on Sunday and Jamie Lyons in the News of the World write about David Cameron’s second home in his Witney constituency. I’ve blended the pieces together so you can see exactly, sentence by sentence, how feebly the wording has been changed:

MoS: By nominating it as his second home, he was able to claim for the mortgage interest payments under the now-infamous Commons’ Additional Costs Allowance (ACA).
NotW: By naming it as his second home he was able to claim around £20,000 a year for the mortgage interest payments under the now-discredited second home allowance.

MoS: Just four months after securing the £350,000 mortgage, Mr Cameron paid off the £75,000 loan on his London home, taken out only six years earlier.
NotW: Yet just four months after securing the mortgage he paid off a £75,000 loan on his London home, which he had taken out six years earlier.

MoS: There is no suggestion that he broke any rules.
NotW: There is no suggestion he broke the rules.

MoS: But mortgage experts say that if he had kept the loan on his London home and borrowed £75,000 less on the Oxfordshire property, taxpayers could have been saved more than £22,000 between 2002 and 2007.
NotW: But if he had KEPT the loan on his London home and borrowed £75,000 LESS on his Oxfordshire home, mortgage experts say he could have saved taxpayers over £22,000.

Shoddy. On the substance, the Tories deny any wrongdoing – see the MoS story for details. I lack the nous to adjudicate, but just wanted to point out how crap some journalism is.

Accountable authority vs rampant populism

Amid the calls for MPs to be regularly horsewhipped and pelted with dung, and for all political decisions to be subject to the constant approval of taxi drivers and headline writers, Clive James makes the case for representative democracy on Radio 4’s A Point of View (from 8 mins in):

The whole democratic system depends on the realisation that we don’t know everything. The people know enough to know when the government needs to be changed in order to preserve democracy. But a fully developed democracy contains within it all kinds of areas where specialised knowledge really counts, and popular opinion – especially when it is whipped up by the press – is largely irrelevant.
We don’t have popular elections to a medical board. We ought to have government oversight of a medical board, through the people’s representatives, but a popular election in every field would be government by plebiscite; it would produce more injustice than it avoided. Within a properly constituted democracy, there is room for all kinds of alternatives – as long as they are enlightened.

It’s an essential part of democracy that it can shape and employ the idea of authority, so that authority can stave off the effects of populism run rampant. As for authority running rampant – well, in a democracy it can’t, or at any rate shouldn’t – a consideration which makes democracy superior to any system where power is concentrated perpetually in a few (or sometimes only two) hands.

Well said.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

“Not that I can think of”

This is nice: from a feature on David Cameron by Ginny Dougary of the Times:

I only get one flash of that Mr Nasty streak in Mr Nice when I raise the question of the Camerons’ various properties. We had been talking about his bewilderment about the depth of dislike that some people in the Labour party have towards the Conservatives: “Where I think Conservatives tend to feel Labour are misguided and wrong, there are some people in the Labour Party who just think the Tories are awful and evil, which is ridiculous and wrong.”
In my attempt to explain why they might have these feelings – I confess to shuddering whenever I see that photograph of young David and Boris in their Bullingdon Club regalia – I mention the four houses: “The four properties thing is rubbish. Touching that you believe everything you read in the newspapers!” You patronising git, I exclaim.
“I don’t mean it like that, but…” So how many properties do you own? “I own a house in North Kensington which you’ve been to and my house in the constituency in Oxfordshire and that is, as far as I know, all I have.”
A house in Cornwall? “No, that is, Samantha used to have a timeshare in South Devon but she doesn’t any more.” And there isn’t a fourth? “I don’t think so – not that I can think of.” Please don’t say, “Not that I can think of.” “You might be… Samantha owns a field in Scunthorpe but she doesn’t own a house…”
The rest of the interview was punctuated with Cameron’s nagging anxiety about how this exchange was going to make him sound: “I was wondering how that will come across as a soundbite”; “‘Not that I can think of’ makes me sound… I am really worried about that…”; “I am still thinking about this house thing”; and his parting shot was: “Do not make me sound like a prat for not knowing how many houses I’ve got.”

That last bit is much like saying that the expenses system is to blame for making a moatload of MPs look like prats.

(Posted in response to Don’s question.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In which Tom gives karma a helping hand and kills two birds with one stone

We used to have a marketing manager who was a real horror. Not particularly competent at her job, and she’d do nothing without considering the internal politics of it. In the 18 months or so that she was here, she bullied two good members of her team into quitting, in one case refusing someone compassionate leave after the death of a parent.

But she’s been gone for over a year.

More recently, we had a temp whose job was to edit and proof copy for our website. He was deeply inept at this, yet had a preposterously inflated sense of his own ability. A couple of us had to spend a fair amount of time sorting out his serial blunders. He was also pretty weird personally, being given to excavating his ear during meetings and (despite being married) borderline creepy semi-flirting with female colleagues a decade or two younger than him and a light year or two out of his league.

But he’s been gone for a couple of months.

So: today, the ex-marketing harridan gets in touch to ask whether I know anyone who might want some freelance proofreading work.

Well, maybe I do. Maybe I do…

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Oh fuck off, you stupid lying fucking evil little shit

Being my first reaction to the BNP election broadcast (I’m not going to link to it; Google if you want to).

My second reaction is to single out this bit:

In the end, the answer to the question of by what right should native Brits be put first can be seen on every war memorial in the country. Just think with me for a moment of all those names carved on those cold, sad slabs of stone: English names, Scottish names, Welsh names. Irish names. Our British names. Nobody else’s because, overwhelmingly, it was our people who did the fighting and the dying for our country.

(NB “be put first” = “not get kicked out of the country”.)

This, as anyone who loves this country enough to find anything out about it, is horseshit. I’ll bet there are many ‘non-native’ war memorials in Britain, but one that I know of myself is the Memorial Gates:

The Memorial Gates are situated on Constitution Hill in London, SW1 and were officially inaugurated by Her Majesty the Queen on 6th November, 2002.
The gates are a lasting symbol recognising the enormous contribution made in the First and Second World Wars by the five million men and women from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Africa and the Caribbean who volunteered to serve alongside the British Armed Forces. They also celebrate the contribution that these men and women and their descendants continue to make to the rich diversity of British society.

Ooh, “rich diversity” – you can almost hear Griffin’s bile ducts bubbling.

Look at how the holocaust-denying turd has staged himself sitting in front of some medals, to give the impression that he’s ever been anywhere near a war, and in front of some books, to give the impression that he can read. Goebbels would have been proud.

But the fact is that very, very many people of foreign origin and dark skin (subjects of the British Empire) fought against fascism – too many for their names to fit on a memorial. And now these little snakes want to bring fascism in through the back door. Well, bollocks to them. No BNP, please, we’re British.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gategate!

How, I mean, really, HOW can you possibly reveal that a millionaire Tory frontbencher claimed £5,000 on expenses to have automatic gates installed at his house and not call it Gategate?

IT’S A SCANDAL ABOUT A GATE! It’s everything you’ve always wanted!

And it’s not just the Telegraph missing the trick – the Graun and the Beeb don’t get it, and the Mirror and even the usually reliable Sun manage to report on Jonathan Djanogly without seeing the angle.

And it’s no better elsewhere:


What IS the world coming to? Do I have to think of EVERYTHING???

Gategate, you fools. You had your chance and you blew it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Hitler closed the private schools! Oh, and gassed some Jews

Harry Phibbs says:

The BNP is in fact an extreme leftwing outfit. It wishes individual liberty to be sacrificed to state control. It seeks the overthrow of capitalism, and rages against profit and speculators. It wishes to institute a siege economy with protectionism and the nationalisation of foreign-owned companies. In this it is being consistent to its founding inspiration. Hitler nationalised the banks and insurance companies, the economy was rigidly centrally planned, there was an extensive programme of public works, independent schools were banned.
Then, of course, there is the BNP's extreme racism.

Oh dear.

If the BNP does want to introduce protectionism and mass nationalisation, then I disagree with that (just as I disagree with Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party on similar grounds). But that’s not something I really devote any thought to.

The SLP is not a party I’d ever vote for, but as far as I know they’re within the civilised mainstream of political parties (even though way off to the left on economic policy). The BNP is different. And Hitler was different too. The Nazis are not reviled for nationalising the banks or banning independent schools, even if these were bad things to do.

You don’t say: “Then, of course, there is the BNP's extreme racism.” The BNP’s extreme racism is the very first thing you take notice of. And then, having seen it, you’ll know that they’re abhorrent and that there’s really very little point in looking at the details of whatever else they might be saying about other policy areas.

Whack-a-kitty!

If this doesn’t make your day, you’re a heartless, humourless monster:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

You can tell they’re useless just by looking at them

I’ve just had a client query the type size on a brochure we’re doing for her. She’s worried about the “visibly impaired”.

Another nice source of linguistic fun (yes, I’m that sort of person) is the live subtitling on TV. A demanding job, and there are inevitably slips. Lately at the gym I’ve seen a Sri Lankan politician supposedly saying “Ice pick to you on this historic day”, and some churchy-type person talking about “fake issues”.

I get around

I do like to cock a snook at the mainstream media, but I still go weak at the knees when one of them gives me a moment’s attention; I have a letter in the Guardian today, briefly making the point I made here yesterday.

Alas, the editing has made it appear that I accept David Cameron’s argument about the need to go to the polls. In fact, I agree with Hopi that a snap election now would only get in the way of dealing with the expenses fallout.

Oh well. It still means I’m famous and therefore brilliant.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Heptaphilia

Norm has tagged me with a ‘seven things I love’ meme. Self-explanatory, really, and nice to think about. So:

  1. Understanding something for the first time.
  2. Thunderstorms.
  3. Unexpected kisses.
  4. The brief interval between coming up with a really good pun and then saying it and realising that it probably wasn’t all that good after all.
  5. Large expanses of greenery. With a little birdsong and possibly the sound of a flowing river.
  6. Flexing my fingers just before I start typing something I’m excited about.
  7. Having nothing to do and all day to do it in.

And now seven other bloggers to have a go: Liam, Sadie, Aaron, Matt, Nicole, Andrew and John. If you like.

Now David Cameron must resign

Yes, I’m being quixotic and mischievous. But not completely.

Last week, he explained that he was going to take immediate, decisive action by changing his party rules rather than waiting for the government or parliamentary authorities:

An independent inquiry into MPs’ expenses is underway, but it won’t be reporting until later this year. I don’t want my party to wait that long. So I want to set out this afternoon the action I’m taking right now.
And by that I don’t mean things I’d like the Government to do. I don’t mean things I’d like the House of Commons Committee to look at. I mean things that my Party, the Conservative Party; Conservative MPs, the things that they will do – right now.

This week, he explains that the cash-for-pretty-much-anything scandal can only really be dealt with at the ballot box:

I think there is now only one way of sorting out the mess, and that is for Parliament to be dissolved and for a General Election to be held right away. This political crisis has been caused by the politicians, so I don't think the politicians alone can solve it. The public have got to be involved. Think about the big questions that we as a country need to answer.
How can we make sure, in a fair way, that everyone has the chance to express their views about their MPs' behaviour, except by letting them vote in a General Election?

But why wait for Gordon Brown to call an election? Cameron and his MPs can do something right now to address their side of this problem: they can all do a David Davis.

Now, Davis’s reasons for standing down and seeking re-election last year were pretty incoherent, but this situation actually makes that sort of byelection antic a lot more logical: many MPs have had their integrity called into question by the publication of their expenses antics, and the rest are being tarred with the same brush. Any MP who thinks it’s a good idea in these circumstances to refresh their mandate can do so just like that.

Cameron could take the lead now and urge the rest of his MPs to follow. It’s hardly likely that Brown would call an early election when he’s so far behind in the polls. So quit, Dave, if you really mean it. Quit while you’re ahead.

Like I say: quixotic and mischievous. But not completely. Imagine if the Tories actually did this. Imagine how they could say they had the guts to go directly to the voters without delay while Brown cowered in his Westminster bunker. Imagine the constitutional earthquake of 200-odd MPs suddenly quitting the Commons. I’m not in the business of giving strategic advice to the Tories, but it’s a intriguing thought.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Profiteering bankers cash in on credit crunch bailouts

The scandal, the infamy, the outrage, the horror:

The Bank of England revealed yesterday that it had racked up record profits of almost £1 billion in the year to February as its fee-earning activities burgeoned amid the global financial and economic turmoil.

The Bank's soaring profits have come as a direct result of its massive interventions to shore up Britain's banking system, as it has levied fees and interest on stricken high-street and commercial banks in return for the financial lifelines that have seen them through the financial storm.

Yesterday's report showed that included in the year's bumper profits for the Bank were £7 million earned through its support for the collapsed Bradford & Bingley and a further £4 million from its backing for the failed Northern Rock. The Bank has also earned large amounts from the £185 billion loaned to banking groups in the form of Treasury bills, under its Special Liquidity Scheme (SLS).

Two things I could really do without

(1) A weapons-grade hangover on a Tuesday.

(2) A pension statement telling me that I don’t get to retire until February 2042.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Speaker’s cornered

It’s getting ugly.

A lot of the Tories have never much liked Michael Martin; more recently, more and more Labour backbenchers have turned against him and the Lib Dem party line is not that he should go. A no-confidence vote may loom, depending no how Commons business gets scheduled this week.

But the ferocious reaction to his ill-judged statement this afternoon surely makes his imminent departure that much likelier.

I’ve never been a great fan of him (admittedly, Betty Boothroyd was a hard act to follow), and his handling of issues such as the Damian Green police investigation and his attitude to (not) releasing information about MPs’ expenses have not gone down well.

But for me I think the last straw came when he laid into Kate Hoey last week. I’m not a great Hoey fan, either, but when the Speaker keenly wades into a parliamentary row he loses the ability to preside over the chamber. It’s as simple as that. And today he’s confirmed his desire to beat Gordon Brown to the title of Most Politically Inept Man in Westminster.

He is no longer able to do the job. He has to go.

That said, the sheer energy with which some MPs have been gunning for him since the cash-for-pretty-much-anything scandal broke does suggest that they’re engaged in some sort of displacement activity. Michael Martin didn’t force all those MPs to make all those rotten expenses claims and more than ‘the system’ did. The Daily Mash gets this right: ‘Bunch of shits turn on chief shit’.

Does coverage for the BNP help UKIP?

I think it does.

To my shame, I forget what this effect is called (anyone?), but there’s a phenomenon in psychology that influences how people choose between options.

Say you give people a choice of wines (they’re not paying): vintage red or vintage white. They might divide 50-50, let’s say. But if you offer a choice between vintage red, bog-standard white and vintage white, something funny happens. Unsurprisingly, nobody picks the bog-standard white, but the balance between vintage red and vintage white shifts significantly in favour of the latter: 40-60, perhaps.

Why? Well, within those three options, there’s an immediate and easy comparison between two of them: the vintage white and the bog-standard white are the most similar pair of the three, clearly the same sort of thing – and one is obviously superior. This comparison, though, serves to boost its standing across the board, and so while it might in a one-or-the-other choice be on a par with the vintage red, in this case its first-round win (so to speak) gives it the momentum to score a clear victory in the final.

It’s as if the choice of ‘good red/bad white/good white’ is understood as ‘good red/worse white/better white’: ‘better’ beats ‘worse’ but ‘better’ also beats ‘good’.

So: to the BNP, who will be delighted to play the role of the bog-standard white.

Given a choice between the mainstream parties and UKIP, people might split 90-10 (purely illustrative numbers). A choice between the mainstream parties and the BNP might result in 95-5. But, in a choice between the mainstream parties, UKIP and the BNP, you might get something like 77-20-3.

What’s going on is this: with the options of both a thuggish, overtly racist nationalist party and a more middle-class, somewhat xenophobic nationalist party, there will still be some who prefer the racists. But the more genteel nationalists could actually increase their vote as a result of the BNP presence, because by contrast they are the more acceptable face of nationalism. Those voters leaning in that direction will be more tempted by the ‘better nationalists’. The BNP, rather than taking votes away from UKIP, could actually boost them by making them look more moderate and desirable.

And in this case there’s an added dynamic: a fair bit of energy from the main parties (and other groups) is – rightly - going into attacking the BNP for being dangerous extremists; this effort diverts them from attacking UKIP.

It’s a bit like the sort of triangulation that Blair and Clinton used to do (having seen right beat left too many times, they found that new left could beat old left and new right) – except that for UKIP, it’s the other parties doing all the work for them.

Yes, a higher media profile for the BNP may well help the BNP, but it could end up helping UKIP more.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Lovely

From The Clare People, a local paper in County Clare, Ireland:

A NORTH Clare resident who admitted to masturbating while following young women around Galway City may be stripped of his crown as Ireland’s Most Romantic Man.
Northern Ireland-based publication, The Irish Wedding Journal, awarded Aidan Clifford and his partner Ellen Spence the title of Ireland’s Most Romantic Couple following a nationwide competition last week.
...
The couple beat off stiff competition from dozens of other entries from the whole island of Ireland to win the prize.

One for the News Quiz, methinks. Hat tip: MKL.

A ham fist in a woollen mitten

One thing that cash-for-pretty-much-anything has demonstrated – as if we didn’t already know – is that Team Cameron’s feel for how to respond to a public mood is a thousand times better than Team Brown’s. Brown and his advisers seem to have all the political instincts and sureness of touch of an incontinent, narcoleptic rhino.

Another case in point: look at the new party election broadcasts from the two big parties.

To save you from having to watch them, the Tory one is basically: “I’m David Cameron. I like meeting people. Yes, real people. And they like meeting me. We don’t always agree, but that doesn’t matter. That’s not what politics is all about. Aren’t I dashing?” And the Labour one is basically: “David Cameron will beat the living shit out of you.” I’m not kidding.

(Neither dares to mention MPs’ expenses, or indeed the European Parliament or local councils – unless I blinked and missed it – but there you go.)

The logic behind these broadcasts is obvious: the Tories, at a time when people think politicians are nasty, out-of-touch bastards, have chosen to focus exclusively on what all agree is their greatest electoral asset and make him out to be nice and in touch. Labour, on the other hand, at a time when people think politicians are nasty, out-of-touch bastards, have chosen to focus exclusively on what all agree is the Tories’ greatest electoral asset and be nasty about him. Great work, guys.

Actually, the Labour broadcast is worth a bit of a look just to get a flavour of its weird disjointedness.

Brown is far from being the sole cause of Labour’s unpopularity – people were pretty sick of the government before he took over, and his approval ratings are higher then the government’s as a whole – but he’s certainly not helping matters.

Update: It turn out that the Tories have decided to go with a different broadcast - just Cameron, talking to camera, apologising and saying what he's doing about the expenses pile-up. He can't resist lapsing into soundbite a fair bit, but he's at least grasped that the voters are in no mood for any other political subject right now.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

We’re so sorry we got caught. We’re so sorry it looks bad. Please vote for us

Amid the pious words of self-disgust, contrition and resolve, amid the scramble to repay the iffiest claims as determined by (mumble, mumble) and dating back to (mumble, mumble), amid the setting up of reviews to flagellate MPs once more… one voice spoke the truth.

Hazel Blears, surely without realising, explained what the cash-for-pretty-much-anything affair is all about:

What's really important to me is what people think about this issue and what people think about me.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Poverty: a tale of two and a half terms

The latest figures on poverty and inequality are out, covering 2007/08, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has crunched the numbers.

Let’s be completely clear about the bad news. For the third year running, a Labour government – a Labour government – has allowed child poverty to rise. Now, these rises haven’t been big, and things are still better than in 1997, but even so – what the hell? This is not what they promised, this is not what we voted for, this is not nearly bloody good enough.

Percentage of children in households below 60% of median income (before housing costs):

And looking at the overall population, the income distribution has also recently shifted in the wrong direction. The IFS helpfully divides Labour’s time in power into its three terms, which have been very different. The first term saw pretty even income growth across the range from rich to poor; the second term was strongly redistributive; and the three years of the third term that we have data for have seen the sort of rich-get-richer-poor-get-poorer that we associate with the Tories.

Annual real income growth by quintile group, poorest to richest:

Across the whole two and a half terms:

Taking the period 1996–97 to 2007–08 as a whole, incomes have grown relatively evenly across the bulk of the income… However, income growth at the very top and very bottom of the distribution looks more similar to the pattern seen under the Conservatives – with the lowest growth at the very bottom of the income distribution over this period and the fastest growth at the very top.

broadly, the income distribution became more equal between around the 20th and 85th percentiles, but it has grown more unequal at the very top and the very bottom.

Not nearly bloody good enough.

So what happens next? We have a recession on – what might that do?

There are two main effects to bear in mind when thinking about relative poverty during recessions. First, increasing levels of unemployment seem likely to lead to falls in household incomes, thus leading to greater numbers of individuals being classed as living in relative poverty. Second, these falls in income will also lead to falls in median income, which on its own would tend to reduce relative poverty, as the threshold for classifying people as living in relative poverty will also fall. Therefore, in principle, the likely effects of the recession on relative poverty are uncertain.

But there’s also a third factor affecting the years beyond 2007/08: government policies that have been announced but were not implemented in time for the latest figures.

Another IFS study has calculated that child poverty would fall by 600,000 by 2010/11 as a result of such policies, “even after accounting for likely falls in earnings and employment”. That would make the first chart look like this:

Percentage of children in households below 60% of median income (before housing costs):

The government’s record – particularly their more recent record – is, as I think I may have mentioned, not nearly bloody good enough. They did pretty well for a while, then took their eye off the ball. But stronger redistribution – even given how politically spent the Cabinet seems, even given the recession – seems to be in the pipeline.

Two big caveats. First, these are just predictions. We won’t know the results this side of the general election. Second, with the explosion of the budget deficit, it’s hard to see how much any government will be able to do after that.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Brown refuses to meet Gurkhas to discuss Joanna Lumley

By our correspondent Frank Blunt

Gordon Brown’s latest desperate bid to be anything other than a pitiful failure has ended in pitiful failure after the Brigade of Gurkhas slammed him for refusing to talk about Joanna Lumley.

Ms Lumley, a grade II listed celebrity, was for many years that one who used to be in The New Avengers; more recently, she has reinvented herself as that one who used to be in Absolutely Fabulous. But still she has been denied the right to be taken seriously as a social commentator.

The National Treasury says that it has no plans to promote Ms Lumley to grade I, which would entitle her to last-minute walk-on rights six times a year on ‘Question Time’ and the staging of a David Hare play about her.

The Gurkhas – who do not themselves have individual names or personalities but exist to symbolise the contradictions inherent in our self-image as a nation – have taken up her plight, lobbying the government to raise her public profile.

But, in what will be seen (by me, my mates on the other papers and anyone reading this uncritically) as the worst political blunder since Michael Foot pissed all over the Cenotaph while whistling ‘Deutschland ├╝ber Alles’, Mr Brown has declined to meet them to hear their case for Ms Lumley to be granted more gravitas. The government was in crisis last night as an avalanche of criticism threatened to knock the Earth off its axis.

David Miliband was seen weeping in a Bermondsey gutter, while Alistair Darling was taken into police custody after smashing a near-empty whiskey bottle into Fern Britton’s face during a daytime television interview, screaming “It’s all gone to hell! Why don’t you just leave us alone, you bastards?” Reports of a suicide pact between Jacqui Smith and Ed Balls are unconfirmed.

At a vigil outside Ms Lumley’s London home, David Cameron said: “This is not just about some dough-faced creep sucking up to a bit of posh totty for votes. This is about justice, fairness, change, irresponsible debt, YouTube and the poison turd monster that has turned our fair country into a charnel-house of Lovecraftian horrors. I can promise you that in government I will dote on whichever celebrity happens to emerge at the front of an arbitrary media shitstorm.”

Nick Clegg added: “Excuse me, I was here first, actually.” Somewhere, a dog barked, and the leaves rustled in the wind.

The PM himself was unavailable for comment, but unattributed and indeed unfalsifiable reports said that a low, ghastly Scottish howl was emanating from Downing Street, very possibly causing all who hear it to bleed uncontrollably from their ears. Truly, these are the end times.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Labour governments lose fewer jobs in recessions

Don Paskini has blogged (also here) about Tory economic competence, taking a longer view:

Over the past half century, every time a Conservative government has come to power, it has introduced disastrous economic policies which have plunged the economy into far greater crisis…
The last time that a newly elected Conservative government managed even minimal competence was when they were led by Winston Churchill in 1951.

Hmm. I’m all for a jolly bit of Tory-bashing but I was a little sceptical here. The “58 year run of messing things up” that Don condemns basically amounts to ‘twice’: after 1951, they’ve only come to power in 1970 and 1979.

But here’s another historical way of looking at it: compare changes in UK unemployment under Labour and Tory governments, using US unemployment as a comparator.

Ta-da (1971-2009):


So: the Heath government started badly, with unemployment rising as it fell in the US. The Barber boom managed to create jobs in the UK, but at no faster a rate than in the US. Then the bust came, and under Wilson and Callaghan we lost far fewer jobs than across the pond, although there was no subsequent recovery in employment to speak of. Even so, throughout the 1970s we had lower unemployment than America.

It couldn’t last. Labour, apparently, wasn’t working. The early 1980s recession, in which Thatcher used the fiscal tightening that David Cameron so admires, caused far greater destruction of British jobs than American ones. Unemployment doubled, and stayed agonisingly high for far longer than it did in the US. The only thing that eventually turned it around was the Lawson boom, which (shockingly) ended in bust.

Once again, the early 1990s recession hit the British labour market far harder than the American one, as our interest and exchange rates were held punitively high; once again, our recovery was slower.

Then, one sunny day in 1997, Labour came to power. UK unemployment continued to fall, getting closer and closer to US levels. The early 2000s recession cost millions of American jobs – but in Britain, we held steady and, for the first time in over 20 years, outperformed the US. After a couple of years, the US recovered, while UK joblessness shifted up and down a bit. Then, of course, we got the credit crunch, which – so far at least – has cost many more US job than UK ones.

The moral of the story is: under Labour, economic slowdowns cost fewer jobs than under the Tories.

(Also: Andreas has a good post about the national debt under both parties.)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

‘Nice guy, shame about the policies’

...being my sloganising execution of the Mike Smithson/Alan Johnson anti-Tory strategy: acknowledge David Cameron’s personal appeal “but raise the spectre of what in the party is behind him”.

Could it work at all? Maybe.

The genius of my slogan (even if I do say so myself) is that the ‘shame’ is unspecified – it could mean any doubts the individual voter has about what the Tories might do in power. Still too socially reactionary? Too keen on cuts? Too pie-in-the-sky? Too non-existent? Shame.

In this respect it’s a bit like ‘New Labour, new danger’, which could equally well allude to any number of supposed dangers. And that particular slogan worked out, er, um... not too well. But it was too overtly, ferociously hostile and went against the public grain. ‘Nice guy, shame about the policies’ meets the swing voters halfway.

(One other point: in light of the Damian McBride smear emails, it could be risky for Gordon Brown to run a poster campaign against Cameron using the words ‘nice’ and ‘shame’.)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Petites petitions

You may have heard of the Downing Street website petition calling on Gordon Brown to resign. At time of writing, it’s by far the most popular one on the site, with 48,136 names.

There’s also one saying: “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to resist any attempt to get him to resign or call an Election.” Which is nice. It currently has 171 signatures, including: Gordon Brown; You are totally mental; Damien McBride; Joseph Stalin; Baldrick; Gordon's mum; joseph fritzl; Robert Mugabe; Bollocks!; Brown is a Bell End; Do I get expenses for this; Lazy bastard workshy sponger; cocknose; Elvis; David Cameron; One word - UNELECTED DICTATOR; David Cameron's mum; Half a million Asylum seekers; The Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Child Catcher; Adolf Hitler; Beelzebub; Shergar; David Cameron; Joseph Stalin; David Cameron; Jesus H. Christ; Mick Jagger; Abu Hamza; and David Beckham.

Good luck to them all.

But that got me thinking: what about the less popular petitions? If this blog stands for anything, then it stands for the right of lonely aggrieved weirdos to howl into the dusty caverns of the internet. So I looked to see if there were any petitions signed by only one person. And there are plenty (click on ‘last’ to get to them).

A select few:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to…

  • Reduce the overall cost of Labour by 20%
  • allow all cadets that are part of drill team in the atc to wear no1 uniform
  • Support the Somali Government
  • instruct the Department for Health to offer elective removal of cervix to post-menopausal women
  • Repeal the Trinitarian Act 1812
  • seek out those who use amature radio elegaly
  • Make Justice Fast, Cheap and Easy Wherever Possible
  • reduce road tax and petrol prices on vespas, and to remove V.A.T. on fred perry shirts and sta press jeans
  • Stop the noise from the M56 disturbing the residents of Frodsham and Helsby
  • Ban the use of Methyl Methacrylate (MMA) in the Nail Industry
  • make a State Funeral compulsory for a serving Prime Minister
  • Educate for reducing populations
  • Do freespeak in the chamber
  • To introduce a Statuary Law Offence Compensation Order or to use an acronym S.L.O.C.O
  • make school in britian start and finish at the same time
  • make it so that, as well as having a legal drink age of 18, one must also seek to attain a license to prove that they can drink responsibly
  • exempt all those that receive Incapacity Benefit from having to pay the Council Tax
  • buy a already working nhs computer system from a manufacturer who has already sold the system and it is known to work
  • Ban All Loudspeakers

A fine mixture of the good, the bad and the freakish.

In case you were wondering: the Trinitarian Act 1812 is what legalised the practice of Islam; Frodsham and Helsby are just south-east of Runcorn in Cheshire and the M56 runs right next to them; methyl methacrylate is used on fingernails (not carpentry nails) and is banned in the USA, although not here, because it can damage the nails; a Statuary Law Offence Compensation Order may have something to do with statues or it may be a typo for Statutory etc., but makes no sense either way, and the mere giving of an acronym for a vague phrase that you’ve made up is no sort of explanation, you fool; and loudspeakers are bloody loud.

The Conservatives would certainly agree that the cost of Labour is too high, and I suspect that many of the ‘Brown resign’ petitioners would be happy to go along with “make a State Funeral compulsory for a serving Prime Minister”. Making school “start and finish at the same time” would doubtless be popular with kids.

If you like any of these ideas, why not sign up today?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Hazel Blears cunningly proves own point about poor communication

First:

Labour ministers have a collective responsibility for the government's lamentable failure to get our message across.

Then:

Any suggestion that I intended what I wrote as criticism of him or his leadership is completely wrong.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Enunciation proclamation

Huzzah for May Day and all it brings!

Heard (if that’s really the word) marching past the park at lunchtime:

Whadda we want?
Mummuner noomle!
Whedda we wannih?
Nah!

Diction, comrades, diction!

Here are “two” fine blog’s

The other day I showed you a rare example of an apostrophe used in a hand-painted sign to absolutely perfect effect. Now (via Liberal Conspiracy), I discover:

Apostrophe Abuse

And:

The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks

These make me very happy.