30 March 2012

The Gamesters of Triskelion

Having been off the airwaves for what seems like an age, a warm welcome back to those readers who have had nothing on the page to read that haven't fled for more fertile pastures. Regrettably the significantly smaller and more rapid-fire interaction available on Twitter has taken up much of my limited spare time whilst some of the rest has been taken on some winter vacations down to parts of the American South West. If 'A week is a long time in politics' is something of a trite expression, then four months seems like an eternity. Indeed last week revealed one of the most inept budgets I can recall in recent times, certainly since the heyday of the 'Iron Fist' or 'Man who saved the World' (sadly not a bastardised David Bowie reference but this man)

The title post refers, as always to a Star Trek episode, which I thought was going to be something of a tricky fit (I'm waiting for a John Redwood related story to try and fit in 'Spock's Brain') when coming up with the concept of posts encompassing all 79 episodes of the series, but the budget appears to me to show a worrying lack of political sense and direction. As Telegraph (!) blogger Iain Martin put it:

'At least Gordon Brown's budgets used to take a day or so to unravel'

This budget basically was two fingers to almost every sector of society, beyond the primarily London-based Super-rich. When even notorious Blairite blogger Dan Hodges wades in to the morass to condemn it and, to my great surprise even praise Ed Miliband, (whose Budget riposte, although perhaps not as much of a tour de force as certain Sino/North Korean collaborators in the Guardian would have liked certainly saw him have much the better of the exchanges.) You've got to know you've badly misjudged the public mood.

Indeed the reaction of the many UKIP and Ultra - Libertarian bloggers on Twitter has been one of almost total disbelief. As one, the irascible @Jim_Watford put it:

'I never thought he (Cameron) could lose to Ed Miliband but that's what's going to happen'

'Fuel Duty being raised again. does anyone in this government have a clue?'

So why does the Budget attract, in my opinion such justified opprobrium? For me, three measures stood out as politically naive or plain idiotic:

1/ Failure to scrap plans to increase the Fuel Duty by 3p a litre. Whilst the Green opposition has actually been relatively neutral on this, it had the effect of seriously annoying The Sun and by extension it's 3 million plus readers, many of whom are converted Conservative voters the party needs to win if it is to have any chance of retaining power after 2014 (although I have to say a 2015 election is looking likely if the current polling trends continue) I can recall (and more on the 'Second Petrol crisis' to follow, time permitting) the 2000 'Fuel protests' which took place when Petrol was hovering around the £1.00 per litre mark. Diesel is already hitting over £1.50 without the tax rises, and for most dwellers outside London, Public transport for grocery shopping simply is not an option. Indeed, Osborne needs to be looking to cut further into the Labour client state with a view to reducing Fuel Duty rather than increasing it!

2/ As both 'Stalinist state' advocate Richard J Murphy quite eloquently and Ken Livingstone, in typically racist fashion, have pointed out, and I have also understood, the threat of people moving from London to Dubai, Singapore or Sitzerland is typically overplayed. Thus at a time when living standards are stagnating, it seems insane to cut the top rate of tax. And even assuming that, as stipulated this was a revenue maximiser, then why cut it only to 45p - The political lack of nous is truly breathtaking. I'd certainly not have advocated cutting the rate to 40p, but at least such a move would have been intellectually coherent.

3/ By 'Freezing' the age-related allowances for pensioners Osborne appears to have reintroduced the famous 'Stealth tax' narrative into British Politics. As the CPS pointed out, even by 2004, Labour had, through this method, introduced 75 Stealth taxes. I, for one, didn't elect a Tory government just to see them do exactly the same as the 'Clunking fist'. Furthermore, the elderly comprise the overwhelming majority of Tory activists and much of their vote. As I have pointed out before, the kind of people who are manning the barricades at 'Right to work' protests, 'Occupying' Private property, or 'Marching for Alternatives' aren't going to vote Conservative no matter how much you try and appease them. Why, thus, put in a measure likely to alienate your base, especially at a time when due to the massive fiscal profligacy of the previous administration, elderly savers have been the victims of an almost ZIRP (Zero Interest rate policy) for nearly two years of this government, and 2 of the previous?

In short, the Budget was almost enough to push me, in Millenarian style, into the Miliband camp, if only to see if following five years of Hard Leftism, something reasonable might arise from the ashes. It seems I'm not alone, and recent polls now put a ten point gap between Miliband and the Tories. The by-election result alluded to in my colleagues earlier post seems, superficially to have been a respite for Cameron, only if we ignore that whilst the Labour vote was badly hit, the Tory vote collapsed to under 3000, losing their candidate her deposit. Thus the Tories face the very real prospect of being the next 'Heath government' with Miliband cast in the role of Harold Wilson - the parallels with the 1970s look more and more apt with each passing day!


Some brief thoughts on George Galloway's surprise win in the Bradford West by-election.

Firstly I should put it on the record that I was in the past - naively - a strong supporter of Galloway. In the run-up to the 2005 election it initially seemed to me that Respect was a genuine attempt to build a left alternative to New Labour, initially involving Greens as well as Reds, and Galloway's main point - that Tony Blair was a Bush poodle who should be in the dock with his mentor George W Bush for war crimes - made perfect sense to me.

My stance on Galloway has since changed and I'm now not a supporter of his at all, for two main reasons:
  • the unsavoury alliance between elements of the far left and reactionary religious extremists which Respect cultivates;
  • Galloway's next-to-useless record as Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in the 2005-10 parliament, where he turned up to only 7% of parliamentary votes while pursuing a full-time outside media career - including an appearance on Celebrity Big Brother, FFS.
Also it seems to me that other political groupings - the Green Party, Labour Left, Liberal Left, Compass and Occupy LSX - articulate a left political perspective more successfully, and stand more chance of widespread success, than does Respect.

That said, it is quite something for Galloway to win Bradford West despite being written off by the media and the Labour Party in the seat. What it shows, I think, is the fragility of the orthodox pro-cuts, pro-austerity consensus which the ConDems - and the right wing of the Labour Party - are spoonfeeding the public. There are a great many more people in this country who know bullshit when they see it than the Westminster bubble might believe, and that bodes ill for the centre-right's continuing attempts to convince the British public that the economic sado-masochism we have embarked on is (a) necessary, and (b) desirable.

Of course, the danger is that disenchantment with the current consensus can feed the hard right as well as the hard left. Galloway expertly combines elements of both, but in future by-elections I'd expect to find one or more of UKIP, the BNP, the Greens and Respect all making inroads. Less chance of that happening at a general election because the system is stitched up against these smaller parties - but even so, I would not rule out more Caroline Lucas style breakthroughs from the parties that are "fringe" at the moment but, as the economic situation deteriorates further, are likely to become the New Mainstream.

21 March 2012

Some good comedy for you on Budget Day

This is probably going to be the grimmest of grim days for anyone who doesn't want the UK to degenerate into a winner-take-all corporate fascist state, so allow me to lighten the load with a brilliant political comedy sketch courtesy of Robert Philpott, who has accused Michael Meacher of starting "factional warfare" in the Labour Party in a recent New Statesman article.

Coming from the leader of an organisation whose raison d'etre is factional warfare - with the objective of replacing any semblance of genuine socialism or social democracy in the Labour party with a compliant Tory-lite leadership who won't rock the boat and will agree with everything George Osborne says - this is nothing short of breathtaking, laughable hypocrisy.

And congratulations to Michael Meacher for telling it like it is a few days beforehand, in the same publication.