A Far Fetched Resolution

I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end up in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council, a Labour council hiring taxis to scuttle round the city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers. I’ll tell you.. You can’t play politics with people’s jobs and with people’s services.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Groundhog day

Revelations that the Conservatives spent £1,269 for five Groundhogs plus £1,410 on a Whack-a-Mole animated game during the general election have amused me this week...

But it's Groundhog day for another reason. Antonia has already blogged the details of this but Charles Steele the Conservative candidate in the ward where I'm living in Oxford spent some time at in one of Her Majesty's local establishments the other week after having a number of names on his nominations queried, apparently by the people who's names they were.

This appears to be an unfortunate way to end one's political career before it starts. Charles Steele was President-elect of OUCA, The Oxford University Conservative association which was famously and tastefully once advertised as the largest youth political society in Europe, since the Hitler Youth. He was also pictured in a number of national newspaper Diary columns dancing hilariously with diminuitive Shadow Cabineteer Alan Duncan.

OUCA is the Alma Mater of William Hague, Boris Johnston and a host of others. But this bastion of modern, compassionate Conservative values, had a brush with the law in suprisingly similar fashion not so long ago.

"Oxford Student > TT2002 Week 7 > News > Election fraud
Election fraud"
By Amy Pickvance
It has emerged that signatures were forged on local election nomination forms for Conservative Party candidates against the wishes of Oxford University Conservative Association members.
Christian Langkamp, a finalist at Lincoln College, discovered his name had been used to nominate a Conservative candidate for Carfax in the May 2nd elections after a friend noticed his name on their website. "

I haven't been able to find anwhere on the Web anything that confirms how this sorry tale ended.

I should remember as I was the Labour candidate at that election, finishing behind both the Lib Dems, the two Green candidates and my fellow Labour candidate Tim Waters who picked up 3 votes by going to a residents association meeting on the eve of poll (whilst I was helping out in a key ward elsewhere I hasten to add) and hence beat me into a respectable 6th place. We did, however, leave the Tories trailing in 7th and 8th.

I was also Chair of the Oxford University Labour Club in the same term, as Nick Bennett, the accused candidate in 2002 was President of OUCA. I always thought he was a decent if deluded bloke and therefore was a bit sad to see him get himself into such trouble.

A hilarious incident should have alerted me to the potential for malpractice that year when a Conservative candidate for the ward I lived in at the time rang to beg me to sign his nomination forms as he couldn't find ten people. (The perils of waiting til the holidays to get nominations in a ward that's more than 90% student).

I pointed out that:

1. I was a candidate
2. I was a member of the Labour Party and would be kicked out for nominating him
3. I was in Liverpool
4. I didn't like Tories

He seemed disappointed and asked for the mobile number of a mutual friend to ask him.

So I pointed out that:

1. He was a candidate
2. He was a member of the Labour Party and would be kicked out for nominating him
3. He didn't like Tories

The poor guy sounded desperate, but we have no reason to believe that he didn't succesfully get 10 nominations as none of his ten reported their surprise at being so named.

In another amusing post-script, Nick Bennett the accused Conservative candidate was apparently later made Returning Officer for the Oxford University Students Union elections.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The now merely comical Dave "Flopsie" the Chameleon

I've realised a few things.

Has anyone considered the "Karma" aspect of the Karma Chameleon charge against Cameron? Not only has Cameron been "A liberal Conservative" "Green" the "Heir to Blair" and "A true Conservative" or whatever in the past few months alone, but in a former life he was in fact Rt. Hon. Jimmy H. Thomas MP, who was expelled from the the Labour Party along with Ramsay Macdonald and Phillip Snowden for their continued participation in the National Government.

Jimmy H. Thomas (Or "Dave the Chameleon" to his mates) was, according to Wikipedia:

"raised by his grandmother and began work at twelve years of age, soon starting a career as a railway worker. He became an official of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants and, in 1913, helped organize the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR, now part of the RMT) from the amalgamation of several smaller unions"

He served as colonial secretary in the 1924 Labour administration and Lord Privy seal in the 1929-31 administration. He was dominion secretary in the National government, followed by returning to Colonial secretary shortly before being forced to resign from politics for leaking budget secrets.

Wikipedia notes "It was revealed that he had been entertained by stock exchange speculators and had dropped heavy hints as to tax changes planned in the budget. For example, while playing golf he shouted "Tee up!", which was taken as it was intended: a suggestion that the duties on Tea were to rise."

Clearly, by virtue of a. Treachery and b. Outrageous corruption he had very bad Karma, which is why he's now come back as a Chameleon. What's more my history A level text book described him in relation to the 1931 betrayal as "Ramsay Macdonald, Snowden, and the now merely comical Jimmy H. Thomas."

"Now merely comical" has a nice ring to it. "The now merely comical Dave the Chameleon".

The evidence I have in support of this whole theory is unfortunately classified so you're just going to have to take it on trust.

Other things I've noticed this week...

1. Although it has taken me six years of prevarication "it" (the degree) is now down to the final 6 weeks.

2. That means I'm proper busy, hence the lack of blogging amongst other things

3. So you won't get my thoughts on the new Dave the Chameleon movie. Suffice to say it's good because a. the reasons given last week b. It's harder on the fact that he's true blue and as responsible for the blunders of the last Tory government as anyone c. And it spell out some areas where he's definately already done a total flip flop in the past year or so.

4. I love Karma Chameleon by Culture Club. I was already aware of this as I remember being a toddler and dancing to it when I went on one of my mum's school trips around the time it came out. But I really do - and I'm delighted that I get to have it played to me at Labour Party events for the next four years. Although there was that period in about April 1997 when "Things can only get better" started to become a bit demonic. It soon recovered it's gloss though, with eventualy victory. I'm sure the same will happen with Karma.

5. Dennis Skinner has already called George Osborne "Boy George" (a few months ago whilst accusing him of taking Coke in parliament, hilariously claiming "It must be true, it was in the News of the World)". This is something we should stick to. If Gordon calls him Boy George at Treasury Questions then the next election is practically in the bag.

P.S. I don't mean George Osborne was accused of actually taking coke actually in parliament. I mean the accusation was made in parliament. Clearly when Dave "Flopsie" H. Thomas The Chameleon said "Legislators should not be law breakers" the very minumum requirements of consistency (which the current front bench are renowned for) mean that actually snorting coke *whilst legislating* is a big no no.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Dick Dastardly and Muttley - Photo Exclusive.

"Christ you've got bad breath. Is that tapas? it is isn't it. Urgh, fresh octopus and serrano ham. Did you go to 'Galicia' on Portobello? It's gone downhill a bit I hear...Anyway I recommend Listerine. I eat rotten meat half the year - I'd be lost without it"

What a goon. Frankly I can't be bothered to blog about this. He looks so pleased with himself. it's not cute, flopsy, it's nauseating.

Assuming he's being genuine about his concern for the environment (excuse me whilst I giggle a bit about that, but let's play his game for a while..), is it not a bit bloody convenient that he gets to talk about fluffy animals and dick around in the snow and nobody gets to ask him some simple questions like;

'Dave, when you said you'd "share the proceeds of growth", did you mean by redistributing money from rich to poor through support for poorer families with children and better public services? Or did you mean tax cuts for your mates?'

They do 19 types of Rioja at 'Galicia', Dave's "local". Apparently it comes in any colour you want, so long as it's red.

Anyway thankfully Ros Taylor at the Guardian has vented her spleen re: this yippie (Hippy/Yuppie) vagabondage here. So you can read that if you really can't bear to ignore the fool.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

It's the final countdown...

The exam timetable is through....

And oh dear oh dear. In in 48 hour period I have a 3 hour exam in Political Theory, The History of Philosophy from Descartes to Kant, Ethics, and British Social History in the 20th Century. I suppose I shouldn't complain. I've actually read some books for, errrr, two of those so far.

That's essentially 6 hours of exam on Thursday 25th May and 6 on Friday 26th. And that's just half of them.

On the plus side, they start on the 25th May which is a few days later than I'd thought which is a bonus - three extra days revision will make all the difference at this stage. I say "revision"...

Also my final exam ("Modern British Government" as distinguished from "Modern, Compassionate Conservatism") finishes at 5:30 on Tuesday 6th of June. So I have a target to aim at.

I've been told it is traditional to get very drunk when one finishes ones exams. Having succesfully avoided exams throughout this millenium I'm in no position to argue. All are welcome to join me. I will be starting at 5:30 prompt, and will be probably be on the piss til the end of June [looks at watch].

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Dave the Chameleon hits the Roadblock to Reform

Final proof, if any were needed, that the world has gone mad?

Actually I quite like this "Dave the Chameleon cartoon. (Available here.)

I remember the first locals after Michael Howard was leader there were a series of pretty strong attack ads against him used. I think the point of them at this point in the cycle is to create as much of a row as possible as early as possible in a new leader's time in office.

The aim I suppose is to cement an image of them in the public consciousness early - whilst people are still making their mind up about them. Probably very effective. I wasn't around during the mid 1980s but I imagine it was done pretty effectively against Kinnock - although the Tories probably didn't need PPBs to do it with, since they had every paper except the Mirror and the Guardian at his throat from the off.

If this gets the message accross loud and clear that you simply can't trust what Dave the Chameleon says since he's just abandoning evey appearance of being a Tory - whilst not actually changing at all - then it'll have been worth it. I think it would be fair to say this is about the next general election - as much as it is about the local elections. Which gives a lie to the fact that Tony and Gordon are squabbling with Gordon (as if!) trying to sabotage the local elections and Tony not bothered about the next general. This is a long term and agreed plan from what I can see.

And before anybody pipes up and says that it's negative and why are Labour doing this to poor David...

Why do you think he's harping on about how great Tony is all the time - and how Gordon is the "Road-block to reform"? That's their mirror image strategy. They're trying to make out that there's some mythical consensus where Chameleon and Tony love to frolick in the centre ground whilst Gordon is grumpily off to the left blocking common sense reforms out of some dogmatic fervour.

Well sorry chump. Gordon "Prudence" Brown is no rigid dogmatist. You're going to have to do better than that. Trying to paint Brown as that before he becomes leader is canny - but ultimately No. 10 is a hell of a platform from which to confound expectations. Especially in your first 100 days as a new PM. I don't know - I have no way of knowing - but I'd put a lot of money on some pretty radical stuff coming out pretty sharpish once Gordon gets his feet under the table. "Road-block to reform"'s going to sound a bit tired, and a fair bit out of touch, by the time that happens.

Meanwhile, Cameron's going to have to do a bit better than running round pretending he agrees with everyone without actually being prepared to stick his neck out on anything. As I've pointed out - it isn't enough to just ride a bike to work without pledging anything on the environment, to pledge to end child poverty without pledging the means, to waffle on about Africa. You've got to walk the walk as well as talking the talk. And right now - Cameron's doing no such thing.

And Dave, after the treatment you and your cronies in central office meted out to Kinnock in the 80s you're in no position to whinge.

It's Karma, Chameleon.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Raining Cats & Superlambananas

Spent a few days in Liverpool where I succeeded in doing only marginally less work than I have been doing here in Oxford - and an awful lot less than is absolutely necessary to make finals anything other than a complete stab in the dark.

Anyway, aside from seeing the finest moggy on the planet (see photo) .....

...the dearly beloved lady of Leeds came to visit. It's testament to the rebirth of Britain's cities under Labour that she was able to comment, on seeing the (UNESCO World Heritage Site) Albert Dock and waterfront, "Oh my god, I thought Liverpool was skanky like Manchester, but it's not". Which I think says it all.

And that was before we made the pilgrimage to the truly greatest piece of public art anywhere in the word. Ever. Anywhere. The Superlambanana. It's a comment on genetic modification. And the trading history of Liverpool. But mainly it's half lamb, half banana, all yellow.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I'll tell you what happens with impossible promises...

David Cameron has finally lost the plot. Apparently Oliver Letwin has committed the Conservatives to matching Labour's pledge to end child poverty by 2020. (See here - it's actually true)

I think this would be like Neil Kinnock turning round in 1987 and announcing his intention to 'Nuke them Russkies back to the stone age'. ("I warn you...")

I mean, there's "modernisation" and there's "modernisation". In 1997 Labour did move to the centre ground - but Labour didn't actually pretend to be the Conservatives - I know people liked to joke about it but, really. Labour were pledged to bring in a minimum wage. To devolve power. To abolish the NHS internal market and bring down class sizes.

If Cameron actually wants to get actual Tories to vote for him at some point he's going to have to have at least some Tory policies. But if you're promising to end child poverty how on earth are you supposed to "share the proceeds of growth" [read: slash taxes] as he's pledged to do?

What are you going to do, flipper, have a few jumble sales? no matter how many rice crispie cakes Auntie Mavis sells, the voluntary sector is hardly going to make up for the fundamental inequalities of the modern, globalised economy.

But as discussed here before, that's Cameron's vision. This is him in February;

"You cannot have a smaller state unless you have bigger, more responsible people. Growing levels of social breakdown are creating growing demands for welfare and other forms of government intervention. Limited government is impossible without renewing the forms of behaviour and social structure that prevent poverty and create community. Communities are not created from the top down, but built from the bottom up."

"Here, I don't think the voluntary sector has an important role to play. I believe that the voluntary sector has the crucial role to play."

Aside from this garbled wishful thinking, and Letwin's vague waffle about "Social Entrepreneurship" (which I think is Tory for "motherhood and apple pie") there's no actual commitment to do anything about achieving this target. Which incidently has been downgraded to an "aspiration".

So herein lies an opportunity. With the Tories committed to matching this pledge, as well as NHS spending, as well as spending on international development, there is a real chance the public will end up taking a position that a fairer tax burden is simply the only way to go to make that work. And if we can achieve that much then the next election is half way won - since Cameron will have to commit to tax cuts, having made "sharing the proceeds of growth" a leadership pledge. (nothing, of course, is certain with "Flip Flop").

At the very least this frees up a Labour Prime minister (whichever or whoever) to take more radical action to achieve the pledge (It's still a pledge on the Labour side of the house). Which, frankly, is no bad thing.

For once I agree with Tebbit - Cameron is selling the Tories down the river. And it's a pleasure to watch it. What's even more striking is how ill-thought out this rather rushed statement is. As Kate Green from End Child Poverty pointed out to the Guardian;

"If the Conservatives really want to end child poverty, they must also commit themselves to further increases in child benefit and child tax credits, alongside greater investment in things like affordable childcare and decent housing,"

So whilst I think it's a huge strategic blunder right onto Labour ground, until they commit to spending real money on real things for real kids then I'm just going to have to tell Cameron, Letwin, IDS and the rest of that rather creepy gang of patronising snake-oil salesmen that I'm just not buying it.

This is old fashioned heartless Tory populism at it's best - not compassionate Conservatism. Willing the ends without willing the means is morally bankrupt opportunism.

So come on flopsie, Show me the money. Show me the money.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Keeping track...

Leeds was fun. Having compromised on writing a Norse Saga for "the parents" (poem was vetoed, as was my singing voice) I ended up reciting that for most of the first evening I was there. After that was out of the way and the ice was broken we got on famously. I hope.

The saga was appreciated I think, it's quite appropriate since Leeds is quite near Yorvik Viking Centre, after all.

Now I'm back I've been playing around with Tracksy.com which allows me to tell just how few of y'all actually read this thing. (thanks to jo for the tutorial - and for the proportion of people who come to this site from yours!)

Nothing fun has been discovered yet - other that that someone in Malmo googled "Pickles Niklas Albin Svennson" and found their way here.

I really don't know what that's about - but fair play I suppose. If you google that the second entry is called "Hot Lips Page".

All in all, I think my Scandinavian audience will have plenty to contend with. Next time they visit maybe they'd be up for contributing some lines to my next saga?

Friday, April 07, 2006

In defence of the political levy.

Buried at the bottom of this article is a little gem from the new
"moderate" Cameron's Conservatives:

"Mr Cameron - himself still under fire for allowing lenders to the Tories, some of them foreign,
to remain anonymous by repaying their loans - attacked the century old
tradition of union financing as "a hangover from the corporatist past"
and demanded a token £50,000 cap on donations. "It's profoundly unhealthy
and I'm offering a solution to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown," he said.

"Here is a solution: a cap on donations applying to everybody and modest state funding that can help you break that unhealthy link with unions and help you to be a genuinely social democratic party. I'm up for it: are you?"

"Big institutional backing of parties is unhealthy. Donations have to be an individual thing," he insisted."

I don't like state funding of political parties - I think if people don't want to have a particular party governing their country it's a bit of a slap in the face to have to pay in order to be persuaded. There is always the opt-out from the political fund for trade unionists - there's no opt out from tax.

What I dislike even more is hypocrisy. The fact is that it's a lot easier for businesses to circumvent £50,000 limits on donations than it is for unions. And Cameron's still not told us which foreign sources he got his loans from - so I'm not going to take anything he says on this issue seriously until he does.

This is all about rigging the ground in favour of the Tories. And it stinks.

And it's also based on a completely false premise. Trade unions aren't faceless institutions. They are mass membership organisations - which significant democratic control. The donations they make to the Labour Party have two levels of democratic control on them - there is a vote within each union to affiliate, renewed every 10 years. And there is an opt-out option whereby any individual can nevertheless opt out of contributing even if the affiliation is carried.

Both of these restrictions were imposed by right wing governments (sometimes repealed and brought in again) with a view to cutting Labour's ground from under them. The assumption being that most workers either don't know that they are or don't want to contribute. Yet at every hurdle the union funding model has survived an encounter with the broader opinion of union members. This has been true throughout history.

In 1910 the conservative judiciary combined with a minority of conservative trade unionists in the Osborne Judgment to try to block union contributions to Labour by insisting on an opt-in process for donations. But they failed to sufficiently block contributions, and hence the rise of Labour.

That's because most workers actually want to contribute - and it's the final realisation of that that makes David Cameron so angry. And why he wants to ban them doing so.

Ironically it's that model, of many smaller donations making up the funding of political parties so that no individual has undue influence, that most sensible people I've spoken to would want to see.

I think part of the future for party funding is tax breaks for smaller donations - and I think that applies to the political levy too.

now, get cross-party consensus on that!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The myth of Sisyphus...

You know the one about the guy who had to roll a rock up a hill...and then it kept rolling back again.

My greek mythology is a bit shaky - and Camus' always been a bit of a [Left] "Banker" for my liking, so I can't tell you what awful sin he's supposed to have committed.

I mention the poor fella because I've finally figured out what it must have felt like.

Every day I go into the library. And every day I read. And the more I read the more I realise I don't know. The more I realise I don't know the more I need to read. And the more I realise I need to read the more I read. And the more I read the more I realise...

Reading is taking over my life. What's worse is that If I had just a couple more months I know I'd do ok. But I don't. I suppose given this stupid degree has in fact taken me almost 6 years I'm really not in any position to moan. (6 years mostly spent in the pub, on the doorsteps of various marginal constituencies, or in an office fulfilling completely unrelated tasks - so I'm not a total loser...)

However I have had a couple of brief excursions away from library oblivion.

The first was to meet my Uncle Stan from Johannesburg who I've never actually met, and his wife Geraldine. We went for a walk in Hyde Park and then lunch at "Diana's" which is an insufferably kitsch cafe near Kensington Palace where Diana used to stop for brunch after going for a jog. (apparently. Whilst we were there, My Dad claimed further that her "usual" had been a lettuce leaf and glass of hot water. I haven't inherited his distasteful sense of humour.)

They were both really lovely. My Dad claims that Geraldine has fairly right-wing politics, for a (white) South African. Which is pretty right-wing I'd guess. But unless you count her 'firm but fair' instructions to the waiter over the lunch ("DON'T over-cook the EGGS!!!") I didn't notice anything untoward.

But this got me thinking. My Dad's uncle and aunty were imprisoned under Apartheid. My Dad left the country rather than practice law there and took up acting and writing - much of his early work dealing with the Apartheid question. My Granny Rose is pretty gung-ho for democracy and the like. Although being an 86 year old Jo'burger she'd probably be a prime case for "equal opportunities training". Basically, Uncle Stan's politics aren't exactly Aunty Geraldine's.

My Dad tells me that his brother has "reached an accomodation" with his wife's politics. I.e. he zones out and stares into the middle distance whenever she talks about it. (I noticed he did this a lot - even when she wasn't talking politics) .

So the question I asked myself was whether I could ever deal with a relationship with someone whose politics were so different from mine. Stan and Geraldine have been married nearly 40 years. I can't imagine being married that long - but I can imagine even less being married to someone with whom I disagreed on everything I felt strongly about.

I just don't think I could. But then the next question is - does that make me an intolerant person? I don't know. I don't suppose I care very much.

On a (slightly) related note - I'm "meeting the parents" this weekend. A quick trip to Leeds and a couple of days out of the Library. Wahey. Although I'm a bit scared. My plan to write a poem to her parents as a means of breaking the ice has been vetoed. So I'm not sure - maybe a song or something?