Thursday, 30 July 2015

The party of the party

The game is up.  John McTernan has finally confirmed what we all suspected about the Labour party - that it doesn't care what the grassroots supporters want.  We must therefore conclude that all the Labour party is interested in is power for its own sake, and it will do anything and say anything to get it.  Not that this is surprising.  We've all thought that this was the case for some time.

 Of course, this will not go down at all well with the Labour supporters in the rest of the UK as well as the few who remain in Scotland.  They're all just the little people after all.  No-one cares about them.

I'm not a strategic political thinker by any manner of means, and even I can see that, as politics goes, this is as stupid as it gets.  Plotting a coup against a leader who hasn't even been elected yet?  Alienating your core vote by telling them that their hopes and wishes don't matter?  I'm beginning to think that a dead ferret would have more cunning that the current Labour 'hopefuls'. It would certainly be considerably more entertaining.

What a tragic end to a party that was created to stand up for the working man.  A long drawn-out suicide, starting with shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly and working up from there.

Mind you, this does explain a lot about their strategy for dealing with the SNP, which basically consists of shouting 'SNP Baaaad!' at every opportunity without committing themselves to an alternative strategy for solving political problems.  After all, if the point of the Labour party is to be the Labour party, they must assume that it's the same for all the other parties.  Power for power's sake, that's the ticket.  So much easier than actually trying to solve our problems with some original thinking

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The wrong sort of voter

The Labour party continue their very public disintegration.  Over the weekend there were calls for the UK leadership contest to be put on hold while 'bogus' voters for the leadership were weeded out.  And why do they need to do this?  Because they've suddenly realised that letting anyone pay three quid to have a vote on their next leader might not be such a wizard wheeze after all, since the people who pay their money might not, dare we say it, be entirely sympathetic to the Labour party and their policies.  The vote can, in fact, be rigged.  As proof of this, the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is currently in the lead clearly shows that both Tories and the hard left are signing up in droves apparently.  Panic ensues.

Now it is entirely possible that Mr Corbyn's support is indeed being inflated by Tories (who think his leadership would make Labour unelectable) and the hard left (who see his policies as a step in the right direction).  Or it could be that ordinary Labour supporters, tired of the shift towards Tory-lite, are voting for change.  There's no way to tell.  However, Labour, with their customary political deftness have pretty much said that they don't want the 'wrong sort' of voter, which kind of gives the game away.  As excuses go, it's up there with 'the wrong sort of snow' and 'the wrong sort of leaves', as trademarked by the railway companies.

Meanwhile David Cameron has declared that the SNP will not be entitled to hold a second referendum within the current parliament.  I suspect he is employing a bit of reverse psychology here.  Telling Scots that they can't do something is a surefire way to prod them into do it, crying 'Oh ye think so?' as they do it.  And why would David Cameron want the Scots to have another referendum?  Because rushing into another one gives the Unionist side their best chance of winning.  The polls have seen some small movement in favour of independence, but it's not yet large enough to be confident of winning a Yes vote. The No side, however, would prefer another referendum sooner, on the basis that if they win a second one, it effectively puts the issue to bed for at least a generation.

The SNP are biding their time until the polls show a regular majority in favour of independence and they are wise to do so.  Waiting until the time is right is the correct strategy in the circumstances.  For David Cameron, a Yes voter is the wrong sort of voter, and we need many more of those if we are ever to gain our independence.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Dreams of glory

On yesterday's Guardian there was an article on Mhairi Black and her criticism of some of Westminster's outdated traditions.  In it were listed such things as politicians who are out of touch with ordinary people's lives, not being allowed to applaud and having to make odd noises instead to show approval, the long working hours and the outdated voting system.  Nothing particularly controversial you would think.  A look at the comments below the article is instructive however.

There are hundreds of anti-Scottish comments, of a type we have become used to and which boil down to 'sponging racist English-hating Jocks who all live off benefits that we English pay for'.  I find it amusing that such people are all about how Scottish nationalism is bad, while being apparently unaware that they are indulging in British nationalism.  Either nationalism is bad or it isn't - you can't have it both ways.  The stupid thing about it is, that if such people really want to UK to stay together,  they have chosen a very odd means of going about it.  Why would Scots feel positively about the Union if they are constantly belittled and treated with contempt?  I don't think people think this one through.

A fair proportion of the comments also fall into the category of 'Mhairi Black, she's only 20, what does she know anyway?', along with questioning how she was 'imposed' on Westminster.  Of course the fact that she has a degree in politics might be a bit of a clue as to what she knows, and being elected by your constituents, same as everyone else is the obvious answer to the second point.  And how did she get elected?  By knocking on doors and speaking to people in her constituency, something which some other members of Parliament might want to try, as an aid to being more in touch with ordinary people.  Oh, hang on, maybe not.  Some honest opinions might not go down so well with some of the millionaire MPs.

So far Ms Black seems to be doing a good job as an MP.  She, along with the other SNP MPs, have an excellent attendance record at the House of Commons, as can be seen on the TV broadcasts from Parliament. Long may that continue.  However, it's unlikely that Westminster will drag itself into the 21st century any time soon, preferring instead to cling on to its dreams of a glorious past and the outdated traditions that go with it.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Labour red in tooth and claw

The UK Labour leadership contest is hotting up, and the gloves are off, revealing the unedifying spectacle of public in-fighting and dirty linen being washed.  The latest Yougov poll gave Labour a shock when it showed the left-wing candidate, Jeremy Corbyn, in the lead by 6%.  Such a big shock that one of Labour's big beasts was wheeled out to put everyone right on the way they should be voting.  Shades of the referendum and the deployment of Gordon Brown when the polls weren't going the way Better Together wanted.  Is this a new entry from Labour's Ladybird Book of Tactics?

Tony Blair duly gave his speech, which essentially boiled down to 'you want someone like me really', and included an incomprehensible reference to Star Trek and its being old-fashioned. 
“We lost in 2010 because we stepped somewhat from that modernising platform. We lost in 2015 with an election out of the playback [sic] from the 1980s, from the period of Star Trek, when we stepped even further away from it and lost even worse. I don’t understand the logic of stepping entirely away from it.”
 I don't understand the logic of that passage at all, since all the Star Treks were set in the future, but I digress.

According to Mr Blair anyone whose heart leads them to vote for Mr Corbyn 'needs a heart transplant', which is quite amusing coming from someone who appears to have no heart himself.  For Mr Blair it's all about how to get power, and he and his followers seem to be willing to run after whatever populist notion their focus groups throw at them in order to get it.  Principles are clearly for the weak.

Today Liz Kendall, trailing badly in the aforementioned poll, rejected the suggestion that she should drop out of the leadership contest in order to try and prevent Mr Corbyn winning by allowing her supporters to vote for another of the anti-Corbyns.  She seemed quite annoyed by the idea, even though she has only about 4% support according to the polls, and has reacted by sticking a metaphorical boot into Mr Corbyn and his left-wing views.

Then we had several MPs proclaiming that they would not serve in a Shadow Cabinet led by Mr Corbyn: step forward Liz Kendall (again), Yvette Cooper and Chuka Umunna.  This is being referred to as a 'potential exodus of talent', although it seems that the major talents in question are backstabbing and character assassination.

Labour has always had a reputation for factionalism and internecine warfare, but rarely has it been quite so public.  No thought seems to be being given as to how the electorate will be viewing this embarrassing spectacle.  If they keep this up they may well find that UK Labour is headed down the same path as Scottish Labour.  Time to get their act together and start acting like grown-ups, or they may find that the next few elections see them sent to the naughty step located somewhere in Siberia.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The beatings will continue until morale improves

As a result of last night's vote on the Welfare Bill. Labour appear to have finally committed electoral suicide.  184 of their MPs abstained from voting on the Bill, at the instruction of the party whips, apparently on the basis that they liked some of the things in it, and that they could get the things they didn't like thrown out at the committee stage.

Now, it may well be true that things will be changed at the committee stage, although given that the Tories dominate the committees by dint of their parliamentary majority, one has to assume that Labour will not get its own way very much of the time.  Thus, you would think, better to vote the Bill down now and send the Tories away to think again.  Then again, I'm not a politician, so what would I know? 

It was possible for the Bill to be voted down.  There are 645 MPs who could have voted (650 minus the Sinn Fein MPs, who don't take their seats), and of those 308 voted for the Bill, leaving 337 who could have voted against it.  And 184 of them chose not to vote at all, which inevitably leads to the question of what Labour is for if it doesn't oppose bad legislation such as this.  No wonder Pete Wishart asked the Speaker as a point of order whether the SNP could be made into the official opposition.  He may not have been entirely serious, but it does give pause for thought.

Meanwhile Harriet Harman shows that she is not much of a strategist.  By abstaining her party has shown that at best they don't know what to do and at worst that they don't care about the poor.  That is not going to play well with their constituents in either case.  The exceptions are, of course, the 48 members of Labour who refused to follow the whips' instructions and voted against the Bill.  At least their constituents have something to be proud of.

There have been some attempts to rationalise away the mass abstentions, most notably by John McTernan in today's Times, giving us the excuses about not voting against the bits they did like and how the Tories might reverse some of the changes once the deficit has been paid off. Because the Tories don't have an ideological motive for getting rid of the welfare state and are quite cuddly really.  Yeah, right.

Presumably Ms Harman thought that this ill-conceived action would play well with soft Tory voters in the home counties, the electors that she and her ilk appear to be chasing now.  I think Labour might be in for a shock in that case. The soft Tory voters will continue to vote Tory, or maybe LibDem if that party can pick themselves up by their bootstraps, while the traditional Labour voters will continue to move away to other parties.  In Scotland the main beneficiaries will be the SNP, not so clear which party will benefit in England. 

Labour are currently leaderless, which may explain to some extent their current paralysis.  However, given that three of the leadership candidates abstained from voting, this does not bode well for the future of the Labour party.

Monday, 20 July 2015

British way of life

Today David Cameron announced in a keynote speech in Birmingham the government's five-year strategy to tackle 'extremist ideology', a plan which apparently includes powers to take action against individuals or groups considered to be espousing extremist views.  This latter was said by Teresa May not to be attack on the principle of free speech.  While saying that free speech is important she also said
...we have to look at the impact that some people have in terms of the poisonous ideology that they are trying to implant in people’s minds
 We are told this plan is to be put in place to deal with Islamic extremists, and it comes in the same week as it has been revealed that British forces have been involved in bombing missions in Syria, despite Parliament voting against military action in Syria two years ago and no further vote having taken place since.  Indeed Mr Cameron is known to be in favour of Britain taking part in further military action in Syria.

The article above was introduced with the following quote as its strapline
There are people born and raised in this country who don’t really identify with Britain
Now while currently the policy on extremism is targeted at radical Muslims, it doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to see that, in the fullness of time, the above sentence could easily be used to justify action against Scottish and Welsh nationalists, especially if there is another referendum on the cards.  Maybe it's paranoia, but it doesn't mean they're not out to get us.

Meanwhile, what are we being distracted from by all this?  Possibly from the Australian TV programme '60 Minutes', which yesterday broadcast a special report entitled 'Spies, Lords and Predators'.  This investigated the allegations of a paedophile network operating around Westminster and the cover-ups that have has taken place by the Establishment to protect people holding high office in Britain.  There was much discussion of the programme on Twitter under the hashtag #60mins, but strangely the hashtag never appeared on any of the trending lists.  More paranoia?  Maybe.  But if there's a shred of truth in the allegations, what does that say about the British way of life and why would we want to preserve it at all costs?

Monday, 13 July 2015

The pizza party

Harriet Harman, acting leader of the Labour party, said yesterday that Labour will not oppose the welfare cuts in the recent budget and should not oppose the two child limit on child benefit. In doing so she has almost certainly driven the last nail into Labour's coffin, especially since Liz Kendall, one of the front-runners in the Labour leadership contest, has defended Ms Harman's views.

So, now we have an opposition that is curiously reluctant to oppose the government.  Where has it all gone wrong?  I think a lot of the blame lies with Labour's over-reliance on focus groups.

A focus group is a research tool where a small group of people is interviewed about a particular topic (for example a product), led by a trained moderator.  In the group people are free to express their own views in the discussion in any way they please.  The group will be reflective of the general population demographically speaking, with appropriate numbers from each age-group, social class, etc.

Labour have relied on focus groups for a number of years to try and guide them into shaping policies that people like and will vote for.  They have moved from being a party with principles to being a party that will try to give you what you want.  This explains a lot about their drift to the right.

Focus groups for political parties make me think of asking a group of children what they want for dinner.  Mostly they're going to say pizza.  Some will want chips with it, some will want potato waffles.  None of them will want to share their pizza with the others.  Sure, you can offer them healthier alternatives and ways to share, but in the end they're going to vote for the person who gives them a pizza to themselves.

One thing that we found in the Scottish independence referendum is that a large percentage of the population don't want to think about things.  Instead they will believe whatever their newspaper of choice or TV programmes tell them.  This explains why many people believe that, say, immigrants only come to the UK to claim benefits, when in fact most immigrants are working and claiming benefits as an immigrant is not nearly as easy as people think.  You can offer them the facts, but most will stick to what they've already decided is the truth, right or wrong.

Given this, it's not hard to see why Labour's policies have drifted to the right, since a fair percentage of their focus groups will be regurgitating opinions based on the mainstream media, especially since most people, not unnaturally, are self-centred in their approach to politics ('what's in it for me?').  Labour then end up formulating policies that are imitations of Tory policies with a few tweaks.  They are then surprised when people vote for the Tories rather than Labour, on the logic of why vote or Tory-lite when you can vote for the real thing?

I am no supporter of the Tories, but I will give them this.  They have principles.  Vile, self-centred principles to be sure, but they have them and they're not afraid to try and implement them.  Labour, by abandoning its principles, have lost their way, and I'm not sure they can find their way back.  To be honest, most of them might as well join the Tories, for all the difference it would make.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Book review: Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires

I have been reading 'Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires' by Will Black this week, and I would thoroughly recommend it.  Mr Black discusses psychopathy in general, outlining the characteristics often found in such people, such as selfishness, greed, impulsivity, risk-taking and lack of empathy.  He then goes on to note that some professions such as banking, politics and the law tend to attract more psychopaths than might be expected, and how such people will tend to 'infect' such cultures with psychopathic characteristics which may persist long after those who introduced that culture have moved on.  This is not to say that all bankers or politicians or lawyers are psychopaths, but that the tendency of most people to the herd norm will tend to perpetuate such cultures once established.

The book makes a convincing case for such cultures being present in our current society, with the cult of austerity, for example, being shown to be a toxic construct based on greed and selfishness.  Mr Black also references recent child sexual abuse scandals involving people such as Jimmy Savile and demonstrates how such people influence the culture round about them to lead ordinary people to look the other way when faced with abuse taking place in plain sight.

This thesis also explains something about the differences in culture between Scotland and England in terms of the independence debate.  It's often been observed that, when surveyed on matters political, respondents in Scotland and England are more alike than different.  This then leads to claims that, as the two countries are very similar, it cannot be argued that they are sufficiently different to justify independence for Scotland.  However, this feeling that the cultures are different can be explained by the observation that psychopathic tendencies in a culture can be stopped by societies observing that psychopathic behaviour violates group norms and therefore encouraging the humane norms and discouraging the undesirable behaviours.  Scotland is a very much smaller country in terms of population than England and has a 'kent his faither' attitude which is used to counter tendencies to arrogance and feelings of superiority.  This can, of course, be limiting, but is also a useful way of providing a 'norm' against which behaviour can be measured.

Mr Black argues his case well and adds a new dimension to our understanding of our current society, and because we have a better understanding we can begin to try and move away from 'infected' cultures to something far more humane.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Power to the people

It's been said for some time now that the internet is the great equaliser.  Everyone has equal access to it and no-one knows you're a dog, as the old saying goes.  For that matter, no-one knows you're a celebrity, a politician or a convicted murderer.  Anyone can have a blog, a Twitter account or a website and make their voice heard.

The old media hate the internet.  They were used to having control over the dissemination of information - what to tell, what not to tell, how to express information to influence opinion.  Now they can craft their articles with whatever slant they like, only to find it deconstructed by the denizens of the internet.  Sites like Wikileaks mean that information that governments don't want the general public to see can be made available.  Contrary opinions to those peddled by the mainstream media are freely available to people.

This is not to say that the internet isn't full of bad information, trolling and sometimes repugnant content.  Nevertheless, there is still a great deal of information out there at everyone's disposal.

Recently, however, things have moved up a notch, courtesy of a very simple idea called crowdfunding.  It has been used to raise money for a court action against Alastair Carmichael following his admission that he lied about his knowledge of the 'Frenchgate' memo.  And today we have another one to try and raise the 1.6bn Euros needed to make Greece's next debt payment.  That last one may seem ridiculous, but at the time of writing it has raised just under 1 million Euros.  Yes, you read that right, 1 million Euros.

Suddenly, courtesy of crowdfunding, justice is no longer the exclusive domain of the rich.  Solving financial problems is no longer restricted to politicians and their posturing.  Ordinary people can subvert the existing political systems.  Suppose the Greek bailout crowdfunder succeeds (unlikely I know but bear with me).  Where does that leave politicians?  All their posturing and backroom deals are for naught if the ordinary people can simply bypass them and solve the problem collectively.

I sense a shift in the zeitgeist from individualism to collectivism.  Won't that put the cat amongst the pigeons.