Posts Tagged ‘politicians’

The title, if it confuses you for any reason, or if you’re a newcomer to the blog, refers to our current Prime Minister, a position known as ‘primus inter pares’, first amongst equals; the polite fiction of the Prime Minister being, at the end of the day, just another minister of the crown.

Upon his becoming Prime Minister, though, I named Boris Johnson primus inter mendaces, first amongst liars, based upon his actions and statements before his ascension in 2019. I don’t think his actions since has lessened the accuracy of that description/appelation.

But almost since he got the job, one of the games people have played is ‘…but when will he quit? Or be forced out? And for what reason?’

Because the game has been played, the questions have been asked. My gods, have they been asked.

I’m in two minds whether he’d rather be forced out, or whether he’d prefer to quit. The former would give him the ‘I woz betrayed’ angle, which he could parley for the next decade into tv appearances, books and… money.

The latter would give him the pretended dignity to which he’s always aspired.

And both, of course, would allow him to continue to do what he’s done since long before his election to leadership of the Tory party and residence at Number Ten.

The penny dropped for me when it comes to Johnson during the long negotiations in the Withdrawal Agreement. (I originally typoes ‘losing negotiations; I’m entirely unsure it wasn’t a Freudian accuracy.)

I mean, the thought had been coming into focus for me for a while, but it was one interview where it came into focus.

It was a genuine lightbulb moment: I realised that Johnson not only prizes ambition over achievement, but that Johnson so prizes ambition over achievement that he’ll readily sacrifice the latter to promote the former.

(I of course mean ‘promote’ in terms of ‘encourage’ and ‘hype’, not promotion of his subordinate ministers, evidence of his cabinet appointments notwithstanding.)

It’s why I don’t think, have never thought, it’s quite right to say that, as many have, that Johnson wanted to be Prime Minister, and he wanted to have been Prime Minister, but he never gave any thought to actually doing the job.

In my view, it’s more primal, more simple, than that: he wanted to get the job of Prime Minister, and he wanted to have had the job of being Prime Minister, but he never really wanted to be Prime Minister. Not really.

Oh, he wanted the trimmings and fun stuff, but again, that’s not ambition, nor achievement. The ambition was always to get the job, and to have had the job. The achievement of actually being Prime Minister soured within minutes of winning. (Much as the achievement of ‘winning’ the Brexit referendum soured the moment the result was announced; the pictures of him certainly bear that out.)

And so we return to the questions above: ‘…but when will he quit? Or be forced out? And for what reason?’

The assumption made by many – an incorrect assumption, in my opinion – is that Johnson has been looking for a way out for some time, and that as soon as the moment comes when his various opportunities to do so are at a maximum, he’s gone.

There’s a very simple reason why I don’t think he’ll do that, not from choice anyway.

And the reason is…

I think he now, now he’s been in the job a couple of years, wants to serve as Prime Minister long enough so he’s not on the list of five shortest serving PMs in modern times.

Which means, he’s got to last longer than Ted Heath did. I don’t think he can.

Right now, as of today, Boris Johnson has served 2 years, 158 days. That puts him second in the list of shortest tenures as Prime Minister in modern times.

(Edit: Rob Cave points out that Alec Douglas Home served as PM from 1963-64, for only 363 days. True, but I don’t think Douglas Home counts in such lists, as he was in the House of Lords when he first became PM.)
 
1. Anthony Eden: 1 year 279 days
2. Boris Johnson: right now 2y 158d
3. Gordon Brown: 2y 318d (Johnson beats Brown on 8th June 2022)
4. Theresa May: 3y 11d (Johnson beats May on 5th August 2022)
5. Jim Callaghan: 3y 29d (Johnson beats Callaghan on 23rd August 2022)
6. Ted Heath: 3y 259d (Johnson beats Brown on 10th April 2023)
 
Johnson would like to stay in Number Ten longer than Heath. He won’t make it in my opinion.

But he desperately wants to be in Number Ten longer than May. Lose office before Theresa May of all people? His immediate predecessor? Thing is, he won’t beat May in terms of tenure until August next year.

Right now, I’d say it’s no better than a 50/50 shot whether he can make it.

 

See you tomorrow, with… the usual Thursday ‘something else’, the last original fiction of 2021.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 almost here.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Many have said, with a great deal of justification, that while Boris Johnson desperately wanted to be Prime Minister, and desperately wanted to have been Prime Minister, he gave perilously, dangerously, little thought in advance to actually being Prime Minister.

And, to the largest possible extent, I agree with them.

Because, notwithstanding Brexit, and covid, and the latest corruption allegations hitting his party and government, he doesn’t appear at any time to have enjoyed being Prime Minister.

Now, before you jump all over me on this, I appreciate and agree that it’s a serious job, or ought to be, and should be occupied by serious (in both senses of the word) people. And Boris Johnson is not a serious person in any sense of the word.

But I was Financial Director (US: Chief Financial Officer) of a tv company. It – though on a much smaller scale – was a serious job. And while I can’t say that I enjoyed every moment of the time I was FD, I loved doing the job, and loved the mechanics of it, the daily grind of it, and most if not all of the multiple bits of the role.

Again, yes, there were bits I loathed, a very few of the obligations and responsibilities that came along with the rights it gave me. But I knew what they were, going in. I’d worked for a very good FD beforehand and when he left and I was offered the role as his successor by the Chief Exec, I grabbed it with both hands, very aware that I was responsible for the financial stability and security of a multmillion pound company, and equally responsible for the financial security (insofar as it fell within my purview) of the 50 or so employees.

And there were bits – most of the job, to be honest – that I actively enjoyed; the feeling of actually running the company with the Chief Exec and the other directors; the authority that came with the job; the running of my department, training people up, making – in the smaller scale – Big Decisions. And then the satisfaction of them coming to fruition, or the learning experience when I’d made the wrong judgement call, and knew not to make that call again.

But just now I was trying to remember the last time a British politician seemed to be actually enjoying the job they had.

Leaving aside those who seem to revel purely in the power and prestige, but not the actual job itself (Jacob Rees-Mogg – the current Leader of the House of Commons, and John McDonnell, previously Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, both spring to mind)…

…I’m struggling to think of any front line politicians who even seemed to be enjoying the job.

That’s quite apart from those who seemed to be doing the job they were, after all, paid to do and should have regarded as one hell of an honour to be doing.

Talking of that latter, I’ve on occasion mentioned that whatever my thoughts on David Cameron (and they’re often scathing, to put it mildly) the final words of his resignation statement as Prime Minister, was one of the few times I believed he was being completely and totally honest.

Specifically, the bit when he said the words: I love this country and I feel honoured to have served it.

Theresa May’s resignation statement, similarly, when she talked about the ‘country I love’.

I’m not saying that anything else they said was honest, nor that the speeches weren’t very deliberately political and self-serving. But at least they treated the job with appropriate respect and seriousness.

And I truly believe they did regard it as the pinnacle of their political careers, and were honoured to do the job. Moreover, despite my views that neither of them actually did a good job as Prime Minister, Cameron at least acted in a way you could believe he was Prime Minister. May occasionally did, as well. But Cameron was the last PM who acted like he knew he was PM.

But with rare exceptions, neither Cameron or May seemed to honestly and genuinely enjoy any part of being Prime Minister.

Brown before them? Yes, again, I never doubted that he knew the responsibilities that came with the job, but until him, I’d never experienced a Prime Minister who so obviously loathed being Prime Minister. It’s possible, of course, that he was the subject of the curse of ‘be careful what you wish for’ and also that had he not followed Blair’s decade in Number Ten, consummate media performer that he was, that Brown would have enjoyed it more.

I doubt it, to be honest.

But ok. Tony Blair. Yes, Blair. He was the last PM in my experience who actually, genuinely, enojyed being Prime Minister, and fully appreciated the rights and obligations that went along with it. (I don’t, by the way, think he had any real clue of them before he got the job; hardly anyone in Labour front line politics had even been a minister 18 years previously, the last time Labour were in government.)

Again, this is entirely separate to the Blair governments’ policies, good and bad, while he was in the job. He enjoyed doing the job, possibly despite the actions he took, but more likely as part of them.

And John Major, for all that his premiership ended mired in sleaze and weakness, I think that for much of his term, he enjoyed being PM, and again, fully appreciated the rights and responsibilities as well.

Before Major? Well, there was Margaret Thatcher who absolutely fucking loved being Prime Minister, probably the first to have absolutely fucking loved it since Wilson, and possibly the person who’s most loved being PM of any Prime Minister in my lifetime.

OK, so that’s PM. Other cabinet roles? Well, the obvious example is Gordon Brown as Chancellor. THE exemplar of someone who loved doing the job. No one else comes close. Ok, if you push me, I’ll grant that possibly Ken Clarke as well. But I wouldn’t bet money on it.

Foreign Secretary? Can’t think of anyone who truly enjoyed doing the job. Not a one of them. Some might suggest Boris Johnson, but if so it was the bliss of ignorance in his case, as he fucked up so royally and never seemed to care.

Leader of the Opposition? The only one that springs to mind is David Cameron, who grew into the role. None of the recent Labour leaders have enjoyed being Leader of the Opposition; they’ve neither enjoyed it nor have even pretended to. Corbyn loathed the job, very obviously, as did Michael Howard. And Iain Duncan Smith seemed to have to summon up what reserves he had merely to stand up for most of his time in the job. Much as, to be honest, Keir Starmer is starting to look like he’s doing.


Small digression before I leave this piece, in the absence of any real conclusion, any lesson. (I wish I had one or either but I don’t beyond ‘it’d be nice if we had someone competent, honest, moral and hardworking in the jobs of Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. Yes, I know it would be a novelty but I think it should be tried….)

One question I wish would be asked of every politician running for office on a reforming agenda/platform… which., let’s face it, is all of them: what’s your end game? Seriously, if every one of your policies is put into place, and all of them work, what will [education/environment/the tax structure] look like when no more reform is required?

Because I don’t think any front line politician would be able to honestly, intelligently, answer.

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 slowly approaching.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

An ‘odds and sods’ post today, as we run down towards the end of ’57 plus…’; There’ll be no valedictory post at the end, though, as I’ve effectively done a couple of ‘how it’s gone‘ already. I might do a housekeeping note or two, but not much else.

So, yes, a bit of a rambling post today, a couple of brief ponderings and a look back into the not too distant past. As I type this, I genuinely have no idea where or how this post is going to end up but, hey, they say it’s the journey that counts, and that it’s mostlypeople who own bus and train companies who say it is neither here nor there.

OK, first off, online criticism; it’s been around as long as online life has been. But, the past few years, the bitterness and venom and sheer nastiness that was once rare or at least not common has instead become the norm; it’s shot up, both organically and manufactured. And it’s easy. That’s the thing. It’s easy both to up the level of your own nastiness, and it’s easy, too easy, to assume bad faith on the part of someone who criticises you or something/someone you support.

It’s easy, too easy again, to impute the anger you feel at the message to the person who wrote the message; easy to see the stupidity of a message and extrapolate that stupidity to the person who wrote it. And thereby to assume or conclude bad faith intentions.

Whether it’s a political position or party, or a tv show, or a genre of art, or anything cultural you like, it’s the easiest thing in the world to dismiss the criticism as being dishonestly made.

I’m guilty of it myself, no doubt. There are times when I conclude that someone’s criticism is made in bad faith and that even a resulting ‘apology’ is not made nor offered in good faith. I put that word in quotes because as often as not the ostensible ‘apology’ is not in fact an apology; it may be an explanation, it may be an excuse, it may be an attempt to escape censure; it may just be one of those ‘I’m sorry if people were offended’ (sticking the blame on the offended/abused rather than the offender/abuser.)

But what it’s not is an apology.

Happened the other day; someone mocked the looks of a child who was killed by the Nazis in the holocaust. When they were… remonstrated with, they eventually ‘apologised’, claiming it was ‘Irish humour’.

A reminder that while an ‘apology’ might be offered, it’s never obligatory to accept it, especially when you – or I – don’t believe for a second that it would be, or is, offered honestly, in good faith.

(That was, by the way, why I never gave the slightest bit of weight to calls for Jeremy Corbyn to apologise for his antisemitic statements or his friendships with antisemites or his campaigning for and defending of antisemites. Any apology from him would be meaningless as it would neither have been honest, nor offered in good faith. As was shown when he did issue statements that his supporters called ‘apologies’. Not once did he accept his own complicity, nor any personal fault. More about that subject though later.)

And while it’s easy (that word again) to assume bad faith, what’s substantially harder is to put aside that often instinctive reaction, or reaction from experience, and take a cold, hard look at the criticism, to decide whether the attack has any justification.

That many attacks on Diane Abbott are racist in motive, intention and effect is beyond doubt. The vile cesspool that she wades through is and should be utterly and unreservedly concerned. I don’t like Diane Abott. I don’t like her politics, her associations, nor her denial of antisemitism. All of that said, if you’re racist towards her, I will utterly and unreservedly, without any mitigation whatsoever, spurn you, condemn you, decry everything about you.

That many attacks on Ash Sarkar are racist in motive, intention and effect is beyond doubt. The vile cesspool that she wades through is and should be utterly and unreservedly concerned. I don’t like Ash Sarkar. I don’t like her politics, her associations, nor her denial of antisemitism. And I think she’s as dishonest as they come.

All of that said, if you’re racist towards her, I will utterly and unreservedly, without any mitigation whatsoever, spurn you, condemn you, decry everything about you.

The undoubted racist attacks on both of the above, however, make fair criticism almost impossible, for two reasons: first, their supporters have seen so many racist attacks that it’s not wholly unfair for them to at least consider and often conclude that the motivations for any new attacks are racist in tone and intention. I can’t blame them at all for considering, and often concluding that.

The second effect is on the non-racist critics. It has become in many cases almost impossible to justifiably criticise either Abbott or Sarkar, in many cases, both because of the aforementioned assumption by many that the motivations are racist, and there’s a ‘she’s had so many racist attacks, why add to her load?’

I’m definitely guilty of the latter; there have been times when one or the other of them has said something stupid, or ridiculous or even given credence to antisemitic tropes… and I’ve just stayed silent. Because a) I know they’re going to get racist motivated shit and b) I know, from previous experience, that no matter how often I’ve criticised Corbyn, McDonnell, Milne, Jones… none of those criticisms will be considered before the ‘you’re just attacking here because she’s black/Indian/a Muslim/a woman…’ start.

I’ve more than once said that anger too often leads to certainty; the problem right now is that it’s hard to look around and not be angry; angry at the people who run things, and at those who make it difficult if not impossible to change that.

I’d say we need to find a way of being able to criticise where your motives are not questioned, but to be fair, a simple and justified response to that would be

“You first.”

And that strikes home harder than I’d like.


Not exactly tangential to the above: “Exciting.”

It’s a good thing, yes?

Well, sometimes. And sometimes it’s very much not.

The legal and constitutional commentator David Allen Green once observed that discussions about the constitution should, for the layman, be boring. If discussions about the constitution (he was talking about Brexit, but it applies more widely) was exciting, that’s a sign that something has gone badly wrong.

But still, ‘exciting’ is seen as something to strive for.

Take our current Chancellor of the Exchequer, a normally bright, intelligent man who I wouldn’t trust further than I could throw him,

He said

“Exciting.”

Righto.

You know what? After the past five or six years, I’m more than ready for a bit of being bored stupid by real life. Those past five or six years in British politics, in US politics, around the world, in health, have all been ‘exciting’ I guess, but I’d quite like to be bored please.

When I mentioned this on Twitter, someone referred me to the attached. I kind of see their point.


One more thing, that I came across in my notes; I must have written it about three years ago, intending to do something with but I never did.

It was the speech that Corbyn could have made to puncture the poison.

I say could have because I quite like living in a world where friends write fantastic and fiction and science fiction… and the piece below definitely falls into one of them.

At the time I wrote it, I prefaced it with this:

I’m still of the opinion that there’s an astonishingly easy get out for Corbyn and Labour over antisemitism, a get-out that none in the Jewish community would like… but I recojon they’d live with. It’s such an easy get out, though, that the only reason Corbyn et al are not using it is because they know they and their supporters could never keep their end of ‘the deal’.

It’s this: Accept IHRA in full; Corbyn makes a major speech saying antisemitism is abhorrent and, in that speech, goes though the examples one by one identifying why each is antisemitic and explicitly saying Labour will view ALL breaches as antisemitic…

BUT… and here’s the kicker:


“This has been a long and arduous process, and I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate. Let us be clear: Labour has failed its Jewish members, and obviously there has been heated and intemperate language used by everyone involved. The very situation in which the party now find itself clearly demonstrates how opaque and complicated our rules have been.

Well, that stops NOW.

That stops TODAY.

As of [theatrical glance at watch] thirty seconds ago, ANY future examples that breach our code, and breaches the IHRA definition, and its examples, WILL be subject to the harshest disciplinary procedures. Antisemites will be expunged from the party we all love, and which has been our home.

And I say this to former members, those who left because of antisemitism: come back, we welcome you. You are welcome in our party.

And to those who would not welcome them back, you’re wrong. And it’s you who are not welcome.

But there needs to be a line drawn, and I’m drawing it today. We cannot spend the time and the effort we need to fight this awful government and its damaging and dangerous policies while also constantly reliving who said what, who praised who, and who reposted what.

The past is the past. We should leave it there. No party is perfect, no party is free from mistakes, but no party should give succour and comfort to racists.

Comments made years ago will no longer be considered for disciplinary action and all current disciplinary actions solely in respect of antisemitism are suspended.

Members who were expelled for bringing the party into disrepute… [beat] brought the party into disrepute. They are and will remain outside the party, as they should be. They can re-apply to join at the appropriate time, but if their behaviour and postings online remain the same as those they were expelled for? They will, and should remain outside this party.

Now, finally, I speak directly to our members. I believe in the essential goodness of our members, of the utmost good faith of all of you, no matter to what wing of the party you belong. And similarly, I have faith in your abilities, your intelligence, and your motives, that you can criticise the policies and actions of the State of Israel without being antisemitic.

Now, from today, from this moment, show me, show our political opponents, show the country, that you deserve that faith. Thank you.”

 
 
Yeah, fantasy is right.
 
 
See you tomorrow, with something else…
 
 
Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

There are some manoeuvrings going on today in British politics, and, indeed as I write this, more recent news is coming through.

And while I really don’t want to get into the party politics of who’s doing what to whom and why – I mean, Matt Hancocks’s not back, so thankfully we’re spared that – since there are three different things going on today, why not a bit on each?

I’m tired and irritable. So, yes, why not indeed.

OK, first off, there was the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session earlier. I’ve written about PMQs before, more than once, and, in general, things haven’t much changed in the past few years. And the changes there have been haven’t improved matters.

Boris Johnson, like every PM since Tony Blair, obviously loathes PMQs, and like his immediate predecessor, has no worries about showing it. Unlike Theresa May, however, our primus inter menaces‘ disdain for it isn’t shown by bad temper nor by obvious irritation, but by ramping up the bullshit machine, and spewing out whatever is on his tongue without in any way engaging his brain in the process.

Every PM seeks to avoid questions they don’t like, but most – not all, but most – do so by pretending to answer the question, while saying something quite different entirely.

Or they make one or two sentences ostensibly in relation to the question, then carefully steer the answer away from the original subject matter… and then say something about a subject they want to talk about. And if the question is repeated, they’ll say something like ‘I’ve already answered that [he didn’t] and then say something else that he wants to say. Or “I think the real question is…” then say what he wants to say, abouy something quite different.

Johnson does none of that. He just ignores the question entirely, bullshits his way through a couple of sentences, throws in the odd statistic (that neither he nor anyone else knows the accuracy of) and then says something like “hurrah!” And sits down.

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a Prime Minister so obviously contemptuous of the entire process of PMQs.

I have no idea whether it’s true that Napoleon asked about his generals ‘are they lucky?’ But fuck me, Johnson has been lucky with his leaders of the opposition.

Corbyn was utterly useless at PMQs at the start of his leadership of the opposition, and not much better by the end. He’d learned a bit, but my gods he was bad. And Starmer, who should have been better, whose training as a prosecutor should have helped him… is… just bad at it.

He makes the mistake, every week, every bloody week, of thinking that he’s dealing with someone who values truth as a concept in the chamber of the House of Commons. And when he’s disappointed in it, every bloody week, it’s like he’s surprised at it once again.

He makes Charlie Brown facing Lucy and the football seem actively cynical.

As for Ian Blackford, the less said the better. His attempts every week are pitiful and maybe one in ten, maybe, questions. does he actually achieve what he set out to. Some of his sentences are longer than Judge Jeffries and, usually, by the time he finishes his questions, no one – including himself – can remember how they started.

Every PM comes to power promising to reform PMQs. Except Johnson, for whom PMQs is in one way exactly what he wants it to be: half an hour to three-quarters of an hour wherein he can bullshit like crazy and get cheered to the rafters for doing so. And, yet, he’s smart enough to detest the house for letting him get away with it with nary a raised eyebrow.

His contempt for PMQs itself is only matched by his scarcely hidden contempt for those backbenchers who praise him with planted questions of the ‘Will the Prime Minister agree with me that his policies are just lovely and wonderful and superb?’.

You know what, I’m starting to share his contempt.

OK, moving on. There’s a government reshuffle today. About 100 jobs, about a hundred ministerial positions. And to use the old phrase, time for them to have a little spin.

As I write this, Dominic Raab has been sacked as Foreign Secretary and been both demoted and promoted; he’s gone to the Ministry of Justice, where he once served as a junior minister. An unquestioned demotion. But he’s also become Lord Chancellor, which, technically, outranks the PM. Ah, but ‘technically’ could equally mean ‘meaninglessly’, and in this circumstance it very much does.

He’s also been moved from ‘First Secretary Of State’, a meaningless job title that means Deputy Prime Minister, to actually being Deputy Prime Minister, a meaningless job title of its own.

(While the job of Prime Minister is coming up on 400 years’ old. the first Deputy was Clem Attlee during WWII, and for most of the past 80 years, we haven’t had anyone in the job.)

Who’s got Raab’s old job of Foreign Secretary, you ask? Well, Liz Truss, the – as of this morning – International Trade Sec. I’m genuinely puzzled who was more ‘what the f––?’ at the news of Truss’s appointment, me or Dominic Raab.

Both Rishi Sunak and Priti Patel have kept their jobs, which doesn’t really surprise me. Johnson’s not strong enough to dislodge Sunak and Patel is one of Johnson’s (in his mind, anyways) star performers.

Most PMs loathe reshuffles and I’m sure that Johnson is the same. I’m mildly surprised he actually fired those leaving government in person rather then delegating it or texting them,, but only mildly.

Every reshuffle though is an indicator of how strong a PM thinks his control of the parliamentary party is. This one is showing, and will continue to show, that Johnson’s none too sure of how strong – or weak – it is.

OK, finally…

There’s an Opposition Day in the Commons today. Now, that’s not Opposite Day, although it might as well be. Nothing done in the chamber will actually matter. Any unimportant votes won’t be binding; and yes, while the subject matter may be important, is important, the votes won’t be. How can they be if they’re not binding, and the government cares so little about it that they don’t even bother to vote against; they abstain. The only purpose is so that Starmer and his team can say to the party… here, look at that, yes, at that. Look, we did that…

And, sadly, with the state of British politics being what it is, that counts as an achievement as far as Labour are concerned.

I’ve said for some time that the secret to understanding Boris Johnson as Prime Minister is that he prizes ambition over, even at the expense of, achievement.

Whereas Starmer is still so stung by Corbyn’s/Labour’s collapse in the 2019 election, and the many many poison chalices with which he was left by Corbyn, that he’ll claim anything… including a meaningless debate and a consequence free vote – are achievements of the greatest stature.

(Starmer had his own nightmare reshuffle a few months ago; any criticism that he aims at Johnson should bear that in mind.)

I wish I was less cynical, less sceptical, less fatalistic about the state of british politics. I really wish I could see the light somewhere.

But I realised last week that I don’t trust a single politician in the House of Commons – not a one of them – not to lie through their teeth if it was convenient; for personal advancement, for a political win, to get one over on their opponents outside and inside the party. They’d all break manifesto pledges, televised promises, pledges made inside the House of Commons… and sleep well afterwards. While hypocritically attacking those in other parties for doing the exact same thing.

Bah.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

I’ve avoided writing about politics so far this run, and – to be honest – it’s not been that difficult. There’s nothing I’ve felt that I could write about current British politics that I haven’t written before. Well, for the most part, anyway.

Corbyn is no longer Labour leader, which is nice. Johnson – who I named primus inter mendaces – is still Prime Minister… which is less nice.

And just last week, Labour just proscribed four groups for holding values ‘antithetical to Labour’s values’. (Which isn’t entirely a polite way of saying they’re a bunch of antisemitic pricks, but it isn’t not saying they’re a bunch of antisemitic pricks.)

The Lib Dems are somehow even less relevant right now than they were ten minutes after the 2015 election result was declared. And, oh, yeah, there’s Brexit. Remember that? That’s going just swimmingly.

And there’s been a pandemic. So there’s that.

I don’t really want to talk about any of the above. And since it’s my blog, I don’t have to. So there.

But I do want to spend a bit of time on something that’s been gaining traction on Twitter. Which has absolutely no relevance or impact, of course, upon what we laughingly call ‘real life’, but anyway.

It’s the idea of A Progressive Alliance. The idea being that parties who hate each other’s guts, but who all hate the Tories even more, get together for a one-time deal, don’t stand against each other at a general election, then sweep the board, kick the Tories out of office, form a government, then… well, erm, that’s up for discussion, apparently.

Lots of people have ideas what they should do, but there’s nothing they actually have to do. They’ve already done the main thing the alliance was formed to accomplish: prevent the Tories forming a government. OK, that’s not quite fair: the primary aim is to prevent the Tories from ever winning another election, from ever forming another government. Primarily, this will be achieved by reforming the electoral system, including instituting proportional representation.

(I do have to say that I wish more people were a tad more honest about why they’re pushing this progressive alliance thing. Lots of people are honest about it, but too many pushing the idea still maintain they’re doing it for ‘fairness’ and ‘so that everyone’s vote counts’. No, they’re not. They’re doing it so the people-they -want-to-win will win and the people-they-don’t-want-to-win won’t win.)

Now, often, I can say that this idea, or that idea, has been around since I first started following politics, and maybe before even then. I can’t say that about a progressive alliance. Not really. I genuinely don’t think the idea is that old.

When I was in my teens, there was the ‘Lib-Lab pact’, from early 1977 to mid-1978. Due to by-election losses, Labour couldn’t govern without Liberal support, and the Liberal Party gave them just enough support to get them through.

And it wasn’t the first such pact, although they’re not common in Westminster by any means; less of a union than a coalition, more formal than a ‘confidence and supply arrangement’ (where parties agree to support a government at least on the budget and on votes of confidence).

And of course there’s been, within the past decade, a formal coalition government that only ended at the 2015 general election, six years ago… and three general elections ago. It’s kind of weird to think that just over six years ago, we had a coalition government in Westminster.

A progressive alliance is neither of those. I guess you could call it a pact. I mean, you could call it whatever you want; it’s never going to happen.

Never. As in not ever.

There are so many reasons for this, and if you want detailed political analysis, I suggest you look for professional pundits to give you it.

For this post though, I’m going to concentrate on just four reasons.

One, which with goodwill on all sides could be overcome. (But won’t be.)

One, which with goodwill and fear on all sides, might, possibly, be overcome. (But won’t be.)

One which no one wants to admit to but if they did, they might just bring the public along. (But they won’t, so they won’t.)

And one… which kills the idea stone dead in its tracks.

All share one thing, but they’re addressing very different issues. I’m reminded of Matthew Parris’s superb piece on ‘the seven bad reasons people give why you should vote, why they’re all wrong, and the only reason that actually matters, but it matters SO much, it supersedes all the wrong ones‘.

Ok, he didn’t call it that, but he might as well have done.

Well, that last of the reasons I mention above – the ‘ kill it stone dead’ one – might as well be called “the reason that matters SO much, that a progressive alliance won’t ever happen”.

OK, so the reason which with goodwill on all sides could be overcome. (But won’t be.)

Party rules might be bent at times to allow parties not to stand a candidate for election in a parliamentary seat, but most parties have rules against campaigning for another party, and especially campaigning against your own party’s candidate.

Now there’s a big difference, I acknowledge, between campaigning for another party who’s standing against a candidate of your own party on the one hand, and campaigning for a candidate of another party when your party isn’t putting up a candidate on the other.

BUT that assumes that if the main party instructs a local constituency party not to put up a candidate, that the local party is going to listen and obey.

And I think many constituency parties won’t obey; they’ll tell the party headquarters to go fuck themselves, especially when it’s one of the main parties. You’re going to have to get hundreds of local parties to agree not to stand a candidate, and then get the local party to campaign for another party’s candidate to be the MP for that constituency. Forget about trust issues – I’ll deal with them in a minute, I promise – you’re asking people who’ve campaigned for years to win a seat, for decades in some cases,… to not even try this time around. And more, to actively help someone else do it.

Even if you can get them to agree to that, who decides, for a start, who has to stand down? Do you go for ‘who came second last time?’ What if the last election was an anomaly? Do you go for the average vote over the past five elections? Or does the decision get made beyond the closed doors in what used to be called ‘smoke filled meetings’?

Who decides who’s included in this alliance for a start, and decides whose judgement carries more weight?

(One of my favourite quotes about US constitutional law is ‘the purpose of the Supreme Court is to answer two questions: Who decides…? And who decides who decides?”)

Would it make sense for every party to be counted equally? Really? Labour has – even now – over 200 MPs, the Green Party has… 1. SNP don’t fight seats outside Scotland, so are they only going to have to stand down candidates in Scotland? Yeah, that’s going to go down well north of the border. Lib Dems a decade ago had 60+ seats; now they have a dozen. Should they be punished now because they were in a coalition in 2010? Why? They have a different leadership now.

If it’s votes not seats that count, then Labour have to ‘give’ more. Will they? Why would they?

So, yeah, all of those can be dealt with, if everyone is willing to give a little, or give a lot in some cases. But it needs everyone to go along with it. And they won’t.

OK, moving on: The reason which, with goodwill and fear on all sides, might, possibly, be overcome. (But won’t be.)

People don’t vote in an election for one thing. Or at least, not everyone votes for the same reason. Not everyone votes for the same party for the same reason. It’s why manifestos (too long, admittedly) have umpteen pledges and umpteen promises and contain appeals to contradictory demographics. And parties assume, with some justification, granted, that each demographic group will actually believe that they’ll get what they want from a government of that party, while the stuff the group doesn’t like in the manifesto… probably won’t happen.

How can a manifesto with hundreds of policies be consistent throughout? It can’t be. It just can’t be. Parties know that, and they hope like hell that it’s just consistent enough to get people to vote for them.

Problem is that if you want a progressive alliance, all of that is an obstacle, a fucking huge one.

If Labour and the SNP and the Lib Dems and the Green Party and Plaid Cymru agreed on anything beyond ‘we’d like to be elected please’, or more accurately, if they didn’t disagree on shitloads that each party holds very dear to their heart, such an alliance would already be taking place.

And it’s not. And it won’t.

And even if it was, and it did, parties are assuming that the public will vote for who the parties want them to, who they instruct the voters to. You’re asking people who’ve voted Labour their entire lives to vote for another party… and then assuming that they’ll vote for you again later, when it suits you. It’s arrogant, and the public aren’t that stupid.

I mean, portions of the voting public are very stupid, but even that portion isn’t that stupid.

Which brings us on to the next reason.

The reason which no one wants to admit to but if they did, they might bring the public along. (But they won’t, so they won’t.)

The message given out isn’t the truth. The activists calling for this are treating the public like idiots. More than that, they’re treating the public like idiots with the memories of goldfish.

Activists and parties who want this are effectively saying to the public:

This is for the best. Listen to us, the people who care, the people you should trust. Listen to the politicians, you know, those people you can always trust. This is solely to ensure that your votes are reflected in parliament. Look, we can’t win without changing the electoral system. And we don’t like that we can’t win. We’d rather win. And, yes, we know we asked you if you wanted to change the voting system only a decade back… and you said a clear and loud ‘fuck no!’ But we know better than you and since we can’t win without changing it, and we’d really like to win… we’re going to go shit or bust and hope like fuck you’ll let us do it, because… We Know Best.”

Yeah. Not entirely sure that’s a wining play.

OK, and now The Big Reason why a progressive alliance won’t happen.

The reason a progressive alliance won\t happen, no matter how much people protest they want one…? Because it involves doing something that party activists, that party members, Do Not Want To Do, And Will Not Do: believe people who are members of other parties, councillors from other parties, MPs from other parties who have voted for things you loathe and detest…

…are not bad people.

That’s it, that’s the problem. Long ago, it’s not wholly a recent thing – though it’s more openly acknowledged these days – people in other parties, people who’ve voted for things you despise, who’ve supported politicians you loathe, detest and wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire… were good people with bad ideas.

That went the way of the dodo decades ago.

When people inside the party can’t stand each other (Tories at war over Europe and austerity, Labour at war over antisemitism and Brexit), you’re seriously asking people to trust, campaign for, defend and support people in other parties? Are you kidding?

You’re asking people in Labour to not only forgive but irrevocably do so, the Lib Dems for 2010-2015, to forgive the SNP for wiping out Labour in Scotland. You’re asking the SNP to work with Labour, for the Lib Dems to forgive Labour activists for regarding them as Tory fellating scum? You’re asking the Greens to support parties who won’t support green issues?

I repeat: who are you kidding?

You’re asking a demographic whose tribalism is one of their foremost attributes (for good or bad) to abandon – even if temporarily – that tribalism and support another tribe? Many tribes? While saying ‘it’s only temporary, but we’ll pretend is isn’t to con the voters..’

Once again: who are you kidding?

Not. A. Chance.

You want people to trust people they don’t trust, to recommend people they don’t like, to campaign for people they don’t believe. And to tell the public to vote for people they don’t respect.

Yeah, how do you think that’s going to go?

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Ah, the joys of winter. Have a throat that feels like it’s been sandpapered, and a chest that is more that a little wheezy, so I’ve stuck the past I was working on – a Ten Things post – into drafts and you’re getting a quickie today.


All over Twitter today has been a video clip of Boris Johnson being asked a quetssion he obviously didn’t expect, and then blustering his way through… well, it would be too kind to call it an answer.

Not the first person to blag his way through sometihng, though most of the people who’ve tried aren’t currently, and hoping to continue to be,The Prime Minister.

But it sparked a conversation online about how he’s not asking people to vote for him because “he’s relatable”. well, no, but that misses the point somewhat.

He’s just crap at answering questions he doesn’t know are coming his way, or dealing with people who aren’t fawning over him.

Corbyn is the same, but he usually responds not with bluster but with irritation, as if the message is ‘How dare you have the effrontery to ask such a question of me? Who the hell do you think you are?’

For a long time I maintained that we had the worst politicans in a generation. I now think I was wrong on that.

Whatever you think of Farage – and let’s face it, who doesn’t? – you can’t deny that he had an ostensible political aim, and again ostensibly, got it.

I stress ostensible because I don’t believe for a second he ever wanted the UK to leave the EU. What he wanted, what he really wanted, with all his heart and soul, was to be able to continue whingeing for decades about how the establishment wouldn’t let the UK leave.

And, despite so many promises from Brexiters at the time of the referendum, somehow over the past few years, The Only True Brexit has switched from

“a brilliant deal, where we keep all the advantages without being tied into the political project’

to now being

“we leave with the harshest possible No Deal”

And I’m not entirely sure how it happened.

But that’s for another day.

Today, it’s just noticeable that politicians in the UK (and in the US, to be fair) think we’re back in the days when interviewers’ only questions should be of the ‘have you anything you wish to tell the nation?’

Problem is, that with many of those interviewing, we’re not that far from it..

Something else tomorrow…

Small amusement to start today’s entry. One of the things I like about iOS, have liked since the very first iteration of it is keyboard shortcuts. They’re basically a way of typing a combination of letters which will then automatically resolve into a pre-written word, phrase or sentence. I have a few, but the three I’d always recommend to set up are: your email address, your phone number and… well, I’ll come on to that in a ducking minute, ok?

Being able to type ‘bbbb’ and have ‘budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk’ automagically appear saves so much bloody time, I tell you.

I set up ‘::’ (two colons) as a shortcut for my mobile phone number and ’44:’ as the same number but in ‘international format’. Which is fine and dandy… right up until you need to type “55 plus 44:’ as the title of a blog entry. Heh.

Oh, and the third? Since I rarely need to type the word ‘ducking’, I set it so if I do type the word ‘ducking’, it resolves instantly to ‘fucking’. Which is great until I sent a tweet during a session of Prime Minister’s Questions asserting that ‘David Cameron was fucking the question’. Which may well have equally accurate, now I come to think of it…

Anyway, all that is what occurred to me just now as I started today’s entry.

(Thanks for the private messages I received regarding yesterday’s entry, by the way. A more personal post than many, I was genuinely unsure of the wisdom of posting it. I’m glad that, so far, I’ve not regretted doing so.)

So, what’s new today? Or rather, about what can I write?

How about stupidity? Not mine for once, but politicians’. It’s been on my mind for a couple of weeks, since I heard the redoubtable lawyer and legal commentator David Allen Green (who you may remember from the Twitter Joke Trial if for no other reason) comment a couple of weeks ago that the mark of Boris Johnson’s government has been its complete stupidity and incompetence in its attempts to prorogue parliament. It’s a fair comment. One can argue the toss over whether we have the worst politicians in generations, but, surely, one cannot argue against the position that we have the most incompetent?

I’ll come back to that in a moment, but I remember then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s budget in 2012. In that election, you may or may not recall, the Conservative/Lib Dem government reduced the top rate of income tax from the rate it had been at for a couple of years – 50% – to 45%, the rate it remains at today.

Now, despite the rate only having been at 50% for a couple of years, one of the last things Alastair Darling did as a Labour Chancellor, it was seen at the time, widely seen, as Osborne giving the rich a tax break, while stinging the poor. It was also perceived as making a nonsense – maybe fairer to say, making yet more nonsense – of the government’s claimed ‘we’re all in it together’.

Osborne claimed at the time that the additional tax rate brought in hardly anything (arguments in favour of, and against, this claim vary in both detail and credibility).

But I remember observing to a friend at the time that had Osborne said ‘in the next five fiscal years, we will reduce the higher rate of taxation by one percentage point in each fiscal year‘, he’d have almost certainly gotten away with it.

A reduction of one percentage point per annum? Yeah, there was so much else wrong with that 2012 budget (the ‘omnishambles budget’ as it became known) that I thought at the time, and still think, that it would have been relegated so far down the list of problems people had with the budget that it would have been at the end of page 37. As a footnote.

But Osborne wanted the appearance of something big – yes, appearance; he said the tax rate didn’t bring in much, remember? So he wasn’t giving much back at all – while risking, and then achieving lousy headlines and a gift to Labour.

Over the Atlantic, we had “stupid Watergate”, as John Oliver dubbed it (Watergate, if everyone involved had been a fucking idiot), and we now have Even Stupider Watergate… Trump et al couldn’t have been more incompetent in what they’ve done, how they did it, how they attepted to cover it up, and how they tried to cover up the cover up, if they’d gone out of their way to do all four.

And then there’s Boris Johnson, whose government’s incompetence in the attempt to prorogue parliament led the Supreme Court to conclude – 11 to nil – that not only was there not a good reason to prorogue parliament for five weeks, but that there was no reason at all other than to frustrate parliament.

And again, I’m struck by the incompetence and stupidity whereby had Johnson had gone for a three week recess and then a prorogation for a week or so, he’d have gotten the same effect he ostensibly¹ wanted: party conferences, no scrutiny in the chamber itself, no PMQs, and a Queen’s Speech into the bargain…

(¹I say ostensible because I’m not at all sure that that’s what he did want; I remember that the day after parliament had the prorogation-that-never-was, Johnson was due to face the Select Committee made up of all the Select Committee chairs… an appointment that prorogation made moot.)

Instead, he went for the big gesture, in which he’d effectively gain little, but risk everything… and it blew back on him, like a well-deserved bucket of shit.

Johnson continued his lack of competence, following half a dozen votes in parliament, of which he lost every one, not a single civil servant nor minister of the crown providing a witness statement – due to dangers of perjury, being slapped down hard by the Speaker of the House of Commons, by MPs, by the Scottish Court of Sessions and the bloody UK Supreme Court.

David Allen Green said, a couple of weeks ago:

It’s an observation I’d not considered before; now it’s one I won’t forget.

Y’know, I miss when politics was efficient, when politics was boring, was predictable, was… forecastable, with a reasonable degree of success.

I also wonder when was the last time that anyone could predict, say, the next 6 months in world politics with any reasonable chance of being correct. I’m not talking about individual events, here and there, but the major events, who would win elections, how politicians would ‘do’, etc. I mean, lots of people thought Trump would fuck it up, but surely they didn’t see scandal after scandal and fuckup after fuckup to this extent?

I reckon mid- to late-2015 was the last time.

Say August 2015.

I think late-2015 was when even (especially?) knowledgable folks went “Well, I dunno…”

You know what? I think I’ll stick with my own observation made since late 2016, but semi-regularly since then:

 
 
It’s Tuesday tomorrow, so the usual then…

Quick short one today. And something unrelated to politics.

I mean, I was planning on writing something on the shitshow currently occupying our ‘leaders’ in Parliament but as I talked about on Twitter, I’m not going to.

Definitely not.

I’m unsure, to be honest, whether that’s merely because no-one knows what the hell is going on, and what’s likely to happen. No-one does know, by the way, and the more honest of the pundits will at least admit that.

Or whether I’m just too bloody tired right now, too exhausted by the whole thing to write about it.

And by ‘the whole thing’, I don’t just mean Brexit, but British politics as a whole. The past four years have wiped me out. And that scares me a bit. Why does it scare me?

My honest fear is that, at some point, that exhaustion is going to turn into ‘resigned acceptance’ of whatever fresh hell is current happening; friends of mine in the US tell me the same fear surrounds them as well.

In their case, they’re well used to politics never stopping, never calming down. The US, of course, has elections for their equivalent of MPs every two years. The entire House of Representatives is elected, or re-elected in most cases, every other year, whenever the year is an even one. Which makes sense, I guess. If they limited it ‘odd’ years, you’d have elections every bloody year.

But it means they’re – well everyone is – only just over a year until the next set of national US elections. Not only the US presidential elections – can you believe Trump’s election was almost three year ago?! – but 435 US members of Congress. (And just over 30 Senators, since a third of them are elected for six year terms.)

But in the UK?

No, I’m not going to write about UK politics.

I’ll stop.

In a minute.

Because it’s likely that by the end of this week, we’ll know that an election is on the way. Not definitely – see that comment about nobody knowing right now – but as mentioned fairly recently, until 2011, general elections were held… pretty much whenever a Prime Minister wanted one. OK, if an election hadn’t been held in five years, you had to have one. That’s why we had elections in 1992, and in 1997, and again in 2010. Because ‘time had run out’ for the PM. In the past 100 years, we’ve had 26 general elections in the UK. So the average length of a parliament was between just under four years, around three years ten months.

(Which is in part why, despite my naively supporting the introduction of The Fixed-term Parliaments Act in 2011, I always thought the term of government, the time between elections, should have been set at four years, not five.)

A parliamentary ‘session‘, by the way, is a different, technical, thing, usually lasting roughly a year. It’s been longer on occasion, and we’re currently in the longest one n history.

But no, let’s not talk about that.

Let’s talk about something else.

Did you watch telly last night?

I didn’t, because I was at a comedy night, by which I mean that I was attending a regular monthly thing at which professional comedians made me laugh. As opposed to the unprofessional, entirely amateur, bastards currently making speeches in the Palace of Westminster, speaking untruths and self-serving nonsense, showing less concern for the ‘good of the country’ and more for their own careers and the good of their own parties.

But, today, I did watch the latest incarnation of that now ludicrous thing entitled Prime Minister’s Questions.

It was Boris Johnson’s first as Prime Minister, and Jeremy Corbyn’s… oh, I dunno how many he’s done in four years, well over a hundred, though. Usually he comes off badly in them. He gets six questions, and it’s rare that he – against Cameron or May – is judged to have ‘won’ the clash. Occasionally, surely, and it’s unquestionable that he’s far, far better at them now than he used to be.

Anyways, today’s was Johnson’s first and he started his PMQs not quite ‘as he meant to go on’ but how he’s spent his entire political career this far: bullshitting, dodging questions, insulting other people and blaming anyone else for the mess in which he finds himself.

Corbyn didn’t do badly per se, but he hardly did well. And when Ian Blackford asked a couple of questions, again, he didn’t do badly, but he hardly distinguished himself.

Odd thing is, though, that all three would have finished their ‘bit’ pleased with their performance, convinced they bested their opponent… and I’ve no doubt whatever that partisan supporters of each of the three would and will confirm that impression.

No, no, no, I want to talk about something else.

In a second.

Because I’d be remiss, now that I have mentioned PMQs not to highlight the question from Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi:

Johnson was rattled after it, and deservedly so.

( I saw Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson praise the question, decry Johnson’s response and also demand that the Prime Minister shouldbe “more careful” in the use of his language. I doubt I was the only person watching who thought Johnson being careful at all would be a good start.)

Erm… er… something else. I was going to talk about something else, wasn’t I?

Comics. Not comedians, but comic books. I’ve been rereading Freakangels the past week, the fantastic series – originally done as a webcomic – by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield.

Basically, the set up is ‘what if the Midwich Cuckoos grew up?’ A bit more than that, obviously but set in a flooded London.

The blurb says:

Twenty-three years ago, twelve strange children were born in England at exactly the same moment. Six years later, the world ended. This is what happened next.

Every page sparkles with class, and the story about what happens when you have power but are too immature to know how to use it properly and…

…oh, ok, I’m angry again about what’s going on in Parliament.

Fuck it.

Something else tomorrow.

Some maintain that it’s unfair to accuse a politician of lying, because lies require the intention to speak or write an untruth. I agree with that second bit, but not always with the first.

And, yes, with some politicians, some falsehoods, it’s difficult if not impossible for a member of the public to know whether the politician did know they were being untruthful. A common phrase these days is ‘you can’t see into their soul’.

True. With many public figures, politicians among them, I’ve no wish to see into their soul. Not without industrial strength disinfectant handy for afterwards.

So, yes, with some politicians, some untruths, it is genuinely difficult to know whether the politician did know they were promoting bullshit.

Some.

Some… not all.

And we’re under no obligation to give a political a benefit of the doubt they no longer deserve if they’ve repeatedly made a claim, and the claim has been repeatedly and comprehensively debunked, proven false, taken apart, taken out back and shot.

I entitled this blog entry He lied and lied and lied; it’s a headline from the Guardian. I’ll confess that I’m mildly but truly curious how many, or indeed whether any, of you remember to who that quote refers without seeing the image below.

For those of you who either don’t remember, or are too young to remember, it was a front page headline in June 1997, referring to Jonathan Aitken, a former government minister, who’d been caught out in a scandal and tries to lie his way out of it.

(Unsuccessfully as it turned out; he served seven months of an eighteen month prison sentence for perjury.)

I was reminded of that front page yesterday evening when I saw a tweet from Duncan Jones. It set my mind bouncing around memories, and thoughts, and recent discussions, until, as the process sometimes does, I had ‘a lightbulb moment’, when something finally ‘clicked’ in a way it hadn’t before.

I’m neither naive enough nor stupid enough to pretend that there was ever a Golden Age of British politics when politicians always spoke the truth, and never told the odd porky.

But the time when an MP would, of course, apologise to the House of Commons if they ever uttered an untruth in the Chamber is long gone. The days when a minister would at least offer to resign because they had conveyed a fact that wasn’t accurate are so far in the past that it’s mostly regarded as almost quaint to wish they’d return.

Even ignoring the big orange poltroon who lives in the big round room in the big white house, and remaining on this side of the Atlantic, the blond bullshitter is far from our only politician who apparently regards lying as merely another tool in the modern politician’s armoury.

It’s not limited to any one party, nor any one political faction, nor even any particularly political personality. It’s an equal opportunity tool, grabbed by, and used, by politicians across the British political spectrum.

The tweet that set me thinking was this one:

And, reading it, a large penny dropped.

Again, leaving the past to the past for a moment, that’s what the problem today – well a problem, anyway – is:

Politicians – and their most passionate, their most vocal, supporters – no longer regard lying as… ‘cheating’. They don’t see politicians lying, by which I mean ‘intentionally telling or promoting untruths’ as ‘cheating’.

Instead it’s rhetoric, or hyperbole, or even justifiable because the point they were making was important.

Whether it’s

  • ‘health tourism’ (doesn’t exist, or at least it’s tiny), or
  • ‘No, we won’t call a general election’ (the morning that you did), or
  • ‘I didn’t attend that meeting with those people’ (there are photos, mate), or
  • ‘I didn’t falsely claim expenses’ (ok, but the police think you did… and so did the jury in your trial)
  • “Nothing’s changed” (after you completely abandoned a manifesto pledge days after it was published)
  • ‘Turkey’s going to join the EU soon’ (no, they’re not), or
  • “The UK sends £350m a week to the EU’ (no, that’s the gross amount, not our actual contribution’, or
  • ‘People knew they were voting for No Deal when they voted ‘Leave’ (no, they fucking didn’t)
  • ‘I said zionists’ (yeah, but everyone, critics and supporters alike, knew you meant ‘Jews’)

Lies are explained away as somehow never lies. It’s never… cheating.

Except, of course, it is; you’re gaining political or personal advantage by promoting an untruth in service of getting what you or you or party want. That is, after all, what most political lying is all about.

“The other party wants to do [xxxxxx]” – when they’ve previously denied it. So, one of you is lying…

“No, no, we’ve no plans to do [yyyyyy]” – when there are policy papers showing exactly that

“The minister said [zzzzzz]” when not only was that taken out of context, but there’s no possible context in which it’s accurate.

“No, I say what I mean. I meant what I said. There’s no hidden meanings with me.” Followed a week later by “No, I didn’t mean that. That was just politically collegiate language. What I really meant was…” Again, one of them is a lie.

So, if we know why politicians lie (because it’s very useful, and they usually get away with it), why did it start being ok with their supporters for them to lie, and to take a lead from their politicians, and politically lie themselves?

For if you’re told you’re not cheating by lying, why not continue to lie?

Why not indeed?

And why do politicians think it’s not cheating?

Well, The Labour Party’s always had a touch of the ‘We Are Good And Just And Moral Because We Are Labour’ about it. That’s nothing new. But it’s made it far easier at various times for Labour and their supporters to justify behaviour and actions that they’d vehemently condemn in other parties. For if We Are Good And Just And Moral, then any criticism of Us, any condemnation, must perforce be Bad And Unjust And Malicious. And any tactics, any methods, even intentional lies, are more than justified… against the Bad And Unjust And Malicious.

The Tories have turned that around, of course, taking the conclusion, making it the premise and going from there. Because the Conservatives regard Labour as inherently Bad And Unjust And Malicious Because They Are Labour, any action taken against them, any decrying, any lying is justified. For if Labour are Bad And Unjust And Malicious, taking those actions is by an elegant inevitability Good And Just And Moral.

See how it works?

Both arguments are bullshit, of course, whichever premise you start from. But they do allow lying about the other lot to be trumpeted as something condonable, and even on occasion praiseworthy.

No doubt they’d argue: no, t’s not cheating; it’s just politics…

I’ve mentioned this example before, but bear with me.

It’s pretty well universally acknowledged that the government’s administration of health assessments for benefits eligibilityhas been, was, and is a disaster, a clusterfuck of legendary proportions.

But, a while back, a statistic started doing the rounds that surprised and horrified even those who supported health assessments: 10,600 people had died within six weeks of their claims ending.

And the DWP itself admitted that 10,600 people died ‘within six weeks of their claim ending’, didn’t they? Well, yes, they did, in official stats.

As many people pointed out, however, 10,600 number isn’t the number of people who died within six weeks after their claim ended. That 10,600 included people who died and then their claim ended… because they’d died. 

Now, given that a number of people who were on the benefits suffered from very serious physical or mental disabilities, it’s not the hugest surprise to discover that some of them died while receiving the benefit. And then their benefit, obviously, ceased.

How many died while receiving the benefit? I’ve no idea – the DWP statistics didn’t separate them out. Could have been 5,000, could have been 10,599.

No-one knew. The only thing anyone knew for certain was that some of those 10,600 died before their claim ended, which tells us that of the 10,600 people who died within six weeks of their claim ending, fewer died after their benefits ended than was claimed by the statistic doing the rounds..

Again, how many? No definitive number; could have been 1,000, could have been 5,000.

And here’s where it got ugly, very ugly. Because if you pointed that out, you were decried by those who were justifiably and passionately upset, angry and furious, at the system, so [rightly] angry at any deaths, that they abandoned, no jettisoned, any requirement for accuracy and claimed that it didn’t matter whether the 10,600 number was accurate or not, and by insisting on accuracy, you didn’t care about those who died.

(A false dichotomy, right up there with “if you dare to criticise Jeremy Corbyn, you dpon’t care about the poor, the sick, the ill, the disabled’. But British politics loves the false dohotomy; it’s baked in now.)

But it’s because people cared about those who’d died that they/we thought it was important to use accurate numbers, numbers that the supporters of benefits health assessments couldn’t attack as false, as inaccurate, as bullshit.

But no, we were the bad guys. For supporting the government, apparently.

And that’s leaving aside the astonishing number of out of context stats that do the rounds, attached to an image of a politician.

I recall an attack on Margaret Hodge by a prominent Corbyn supporter on Twitter; a pic of Hodge, with the comment attached that her salary and personal expenses from 2010 to 2015 were £1,044,829. The critic found this amount “outrageous”.

Fortunately, such a claim was easy to check, thanks to MPs’ expenses being online, and searchable. Of the amount, (over five years) roughly £336k was her MP’s salary. £552k of the rest was for other people’s salaries, another 154k was for rent for her MP’s office, and about £1.5k for travel. Over five years.

A picture may tell a thousand words, sure; nowhere, however, does the observation claim the words are accurate.

Again, when I and others pointed this out, we were at fault for doing so. When I pointed out that the salary Hodge received was the same as Corbyn received for that period, the response was… less than ideal, claiming that Corbyn had the lowest expenses of any MP. (Untrue, by the way.)

I can’t think of a single instance in which a politician or activist using a false statistic or misattributing a quote, or indeed, misquoting, brings anything beneficial to the discussion.

If the truth is inconvenient or the unaltered facts don’t back your case, then maybe, just maybe, it’s your case that’s at fault. 

But that can’t be the position, can it?

Well, not for many.

For remember, that false dichotomy writ large: ‘our side can do no wrong’. Occasionally, that’s not quite true. Sometimes, people do see the faults in their own side… and then excuse them, defend them, trivialise them, either because the other side is “worse” or because they take solace in an adaptation of Stephen Decatur’s line from the late 18th Century: “my party right or wrong, but my party”.

I struggle at times to decide which is worse: not caring it’s a lie, or knowing it’s a lie and promoting it anyway. Either way, it’s cheating.

Mitch Benn summed the current situation up quite nicely recently with the attached, which he entitled Political Ethics (2019 version).

Every so often, I ask online whether people think it’s acceptable for a politician to lie, to flat out lie.

You know what? I think people lied when responding. I only hope is that they didn’t congratulate themselves for doing so.

 
 
Something else tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

I love the English language… I’m just not so keen on those who misuse it.

Actually, that’s not true; I quite like people who misuse it in gloriously, wonderfully, absurd ways. When they make language do stuff it’s not supposed to. When they combine words in a way that breaks all the rules, but somehow… works. There are plenty of writers who I’ll read for the sheer pleasure at what they do with words, how they treat sentences, how they spoil the reader with superbly written paragraphs.

I merely don’t like the misuse of language when it’s incompetently done, when it’s been achieved through ignorance, or malice, or stupidity.

But on the whole, yeah, I like language, and I take pleasure in the glorious ambiguities that can arise from time to time.

There’s a building around the corner from where I used to work. On the door was the legend:
 

This door is permanently alarmed.

 
I can’t tell you the number of times that I wanted to go up to it and say “Boo!“.

Similarly, not far from where I live is a roundabout with traffic signals; on each of the traffic signals is attached a sign that reads:
 

Part Time Traffic Signals

 
I surely can’t be the only person who wonders what they do on their days off…?

I was thinking today about language, particularly about why ‘in’ and ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ aren’t followed by prepositions:
 

I was in the room; the UK is inside the EU; the UK will be outside the EU.

 
But out is.
 

I was out of the room.

 
And I long ago gave up wondering whether one is on the island of Skye or in Skye.

But while I have just about managed to restrain myself on every occasion from grimacing when someone uses “decimate” to mean utterly destroyed – when the word means to “reduce by 10%” – there are some words and phrases that still annoy me when they’re misused.

Let me agree: I’m not talking about misuse through misspellings. Sure, they irritate but for an entirely different reason.

But folks who type ‘effect’ when they mean ‘affect’, for example; as often as not, it’s just a misspelling, or an autocorrect.

Typos, again, I have less of a problem with. For all the ‘the world is divided into two types’ gags around, one that’s invariably true is the division between those who’ve made a typo in an important document or popular social media post. and those who merely haven’t… yet.

After all, surely one of the first skills that anyone acquires online is the ability to read fluent tyop.

No, it’s the actual misuse of words that bugs me; the use of a word to mean something other than what it, y’know, means.

And yes, of course words’ meanings can and do change though the decades, through the centuries, through common usage.

But when a word is flat out incorrectly used, it… bugs me. It irks.

Mark Twain once said that for a writer, the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.

But that’s really about choosing just the right word, using a word that ‘works’ for the piece of writing, using not ‘claimed’ but ‘asserted’, using not ‘criticised’, but ‘condemned’, using not ‘damp’ but ‘moist’.

Twain wasn’t opining about using ‘bemused’ as a synonym for ‘amused’. The former means ‘bewildered’, not ‘found it funny’.

Here are some more that literally figuratively bug the hell out of me.

And yes, let’s start with that one: literally, when it’s used for emphasis. “I was literally over the moon”. No, you weren’t. You may have been using it to emphasise how delighted you were, how happy you were at an event, or a result, or even your own achievement, but unless you were either in a spacecraft, or are Superman, you weren’t literally over the moon.

Disinterested, to denote lack of concern, or to show you’re apathetic about something. The word you”re looking for is ‘uninterested’. Disinterest means you’re unbiased; you have no personal stake in it.

Imply vs Infer. As a general rule of thumb, the speaker/author might imply, while the listener or reader infers.

Similar to Nauseate vs Nauseous. Again, general rule of thumb? Someone or something else¹ might nauseate you² so that you feel nauseous.

Begging the question, when you’re suggesting a new question, or when you mean ‘raises the question, suggests an additional question’. Say that instead. Say it ‘raises the question’ or ‘of course that suggests an additional question’. just don’t write that begs the question’. Because ‘begging the question’ means a statement is inherently assuming something, and you’re questioning the assumption. “The politician said I should trust him because he’s a politician”. The statement inherently assumes that politicians are trustworthy, and begs the question.

Enormity doesn’t mean huge, at least not other than extreme evil, or extreme badness.

Reticent doesn’t mean reluctant, at least not unless it’s because the person is restrained or overly shy.

Ironic means weirdly incongruent, not funnily inconvenient or coincidentally unfortunate.

And now the two biggies. The two that will have me swearing at the television whenever I hear a politician – for it’s usually, politicians at fault – utter the words:

REFUTE DOES NOT MEAN DENY. At least not in and of itself. Refute means to prove with evidence that an accusation is incorrect. (It doesn’t imply the accusation was malicious, by the way.) Again… to refute something is to prove it false. To deny something is true, to claim something is false, with or without evidence, is to ‘rebut’ something.

I’ve pondered on occasion why so many seem to have a problem with this.

I don’t believe – as some have suggested – that politicians who use ‘refute’ know they’re using it incorrectly, that it means ‘to prove false’ but are banking on their supporters (and critics alike) either

  1. not knowing, or
  2. accepting that the politician can prove it but is saving their proof for another occasion.

I just think they think that ‘refute’ sounds more ‘official’. And theyr’e too lazy to use the proper word.

Also, while we’re here:

UNACCEPTABLE DOES NOT MEAN UNFORTUNATE. If something’s unacceptable, then it means, with an elegant inevitability, that you will not accept it.

If you then, reluctantly or otherwise, behave in a manner that – in every material and measurable way – is exactly how you would act if you eagerly consented… guess what? Turns out you don’t find it unacceptable at all.

Because you fucking accepted it.

Again, politicians think that ‘unacceptable’ is a good word to use. Because it sounds strong, it sounds decisive, and it sounds firm… unyielding.

That it’s incompetent and lazy use of language is less important to them.

Yes, yes, I know – politicians being lazy or incompetent?

Now there’s a shock.
 


 
And here’s one that doesn’t bother me in the least: fewer versus less. I genuinely don’t care about it. (Note that I don’t say ‘I could care less’; if I ‘could care less’, that means I currently care about it a great deal.)

But while there are rules about using fewer and less, there are plenty of occasions when the rule just doesn’t work, or an exception has been artificially created to let it work.

If I’m estimating how far it is to Manchester from London, I won’t say that it’s ‘fewer than 200 miles’; it’s ‘less than’, or – to be honest – under. And it’ll take less than six hours to drive there, not fewer.
 


 
See you tomorrow, with something else.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.
 


 
¹ this blog entry, for example
² you, the reader

Since I’ve just got back to Edinburgh after a lovely few days in (or is it ‘on’?) Skye, I’ve been thinking of satire. It’s difficult not to think of it in general, to be honest, having several stand up comedians as friends; not all of them would describe themselves as satirists by any means, but enough do.

Long time readers of this blog, and its predecessor, will know that in the dim and distant past, I used to write for – at that time – BBC Radio 4’s main weekly satirical show, WEEKENDING. Did I consider myself a satirist at the time? I’m not entirely sure I did; I just thought of it as a writing job, where part of the commission was to make a satirical point, and another perhaps larger part of the job was to make people laugh. Because that’s the difference between satire and comedy.

My favourite observation on the subject of satire remains that of the late Peter Cook, who said that:

“the purpose of satire isn’t to make the audience laugh; it’s to make them uncomfortable.”

which is very similar to what’s been said by others, about both satire and journalism: that its purpose is to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted.

(On a tangent, it’s always struck me as similar to what Warren Ellis said about horror: not a direct quote, but something along the lines of great horror doesn’t scare you, but it makes you feel as uncomfortable as hell… Anyway, tangent over. Back to satire.)

During the London run of Beyond The Fringe, it was reported at the time that portions of the audiences walked out at two points; the first won’t surprise you, the second may well do.

One sketch dealt with the futility of war and the necessity, it was felt at one point, for a meaningless sacrifice. Given the relative nearness of the Second World War, it’s perhaps no surprise that some felt angry and upset. However, another sketch poked fun at then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. In a memorable line, Cook-as-Macmillan, said “I have been around the world on your behalf… and at your expense.” And some of the audience got up in disgust at the very idea that it was acceptable to have a pop at the Prime Minister.

However, despite the success of satire, Cook was sanguine about its long term consequences, and satire’s ability to influence politics. When he opened The Establishment in London, he was asked whether he thought it would have an effect on the politics of the day. His reply?

Oh, I think it will have as great an effect as the Kit Kat Club did in preventing the rise to power of The Nazi party.

I think that everyone agrees that good satire, like good comedy, punches up. Punching down, taking a pop at those who are already disadvantaged in and by society, and at those who are already the targets of the ignorant, the stupid and the malicious, is seen – quite correctly – as lazy.

When I write “lazy”, I’m not necessarily talking about “playing to the crowd” nor being a “crowd pleaser”. It always puzzles me when comedians are thought of as less valid because their style is popular and when “crowd pleaser” becomes a perjorative criticism. As I wrote above, I’m fortunate enough to know a number of professional stand up comedians. Pleasing a crowd is hard work and if anyone thinks otherwise, they’re welcome to prove to me how easy it is.

But if you agree that satire should always punch up, then how do you decide what constitutes “up”? And who should be entrusted with that decision? There’s the one-size-fits-all description I used a moment ago:

those who are already disadvantaged in and by society, and at those who are already the targets of the ignorant, the stupid and the malicious

However, what about someone in a position of privilege who is unable to punch back? One can argue, for example, that politicians are always fair game; indeed, if you take a look at James Gillray’s cartoons and caricatures from the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, they’re at least as vicious and just plain nasty as anything Spitting Image ever produced. And his weren’t the only ones…

Take a look at this cartoon. The subject? Our first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole.

And this, from the time of William Pitt the Younger, about the Bank of England policy to do with the bank only circulating paper notes from then on, instead of honouring amounts in gold coinage. Rumors circulated that the Bank’s coin was merely being held in reserve to send to the Continent in support of and to finance the war.

The bank, portrayed as an elderly virgin, says:

‘Murder! Murder! Rape! Murder! O you villain! What, have I kept my honour so long to have it broke up by you at last? O murder! Rape! Ravishment! Ruin! Ruin! Ruin!!!’

Where did you think the nickname of the Bank of England of The ‘Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’ came from?

So, politicians are fair game, and banks and bankers always have been. Each of those, and individual examples of those, can hit back, of course. It wasn’t unusual, in the times of Spitting Image, for the politicians to comment that the puppets of course, of course, were wonderful, but the scripts were peurile and just flatly inaccurate. Such responses were always common when Yes, Minister and its sequel were broadcast. Politicians always said that the series got the civil service spot on but were unfair to politicians. And those civil servants who would comment, usually off the record, of course said the reverse, that Yes, Minister got the politicians exactly right, but were woefully inaccurate about the civil service. The same comments once again came to the fore when The Thick Of It was on television.

So, what about the Royal Family? They are surely fair game; exemplars of privilege, the epitome of inherited privilege in fact. And from the eighteenth century onwards (maybe before) satirists have been taking a pop at them. But is it punching up to do so… when they can’t hit back? Constitutionally, I suppose, there’s nothing actually stopping them doing so, but they don’t. They can’t. They just… can’t. And on the rare occasions when it’s let slip that a cartoon or a piece has been received with great hurt, there’s something faintly icky about both the piece and the reaction.

Once again, who decides what punching up actually constitutes? Would satire written by someone with fewer advantages in life be inherently more satirical than something written by someone from a solidly-middle class background? Are there targets that would be considered ‘punching up’ by some but not ‘punching up’ if someone from another background wrote exactly the same piece?

Because that would imply, horribly, that there’s a class structure to satire beyond the targets themselves; that the quality of satire depends upon the origins and lack of privilege of the satirist. And that’s something I suspect Peter Cook would have had problems with… and not for the first time, I’d be in complete agreement with him.

It’s well known in the UK – or at least it used to be, I’m not so sure nowadays – that’s there’s no formal job description for Members of Parliament.

Partly of course, that’s because what you do in and out of Parliament while being an MP depends to a great extent on where you are in your political career, and upon what career path you’ve embarked. If you’re a minister, for example, a fair amount of your time is going to be spent on ministerial duties. If, though, you’ve either given up on, or survived through, ministerial ambition and have instead looked to select committee membership/chairmanship to fill part of your time, then those duties will inevitably take up increasingly large proportions of your time.

Or, of course, at the start – or very end – of your time in Parliament, then being a ‘mere’ backbench MP will be your lot. I put ‘mere’ in quotes there to indicate my contempt for people who think that just being a backbench MP means you’ve failed in some way. You’re elected to serve as a member of Parliament, not to be a minister, or a select committee chair, but to be a member of Parliament, representing your constituents in Parliament, ideally helping to hold the Executive to account.

I’m sure that many reading this have their own ideas of what would constitute an MP’s duties, and could write their own job descriptions of a member of Parliament; the more politically astute could even come up with something that would take into account the ministerial and other duties alluded to above.

I’m not sure that ‘being a competent politician’ would be on the list, and after thinking about it over the past few years, I’m puzzled about something.

Do we truly now have the most incompetent politicians in generations?

The more I think about this, the more convinced I become that the answer is yes.

Note the question though – I’m very specifically not asking whether we have incompetent ministers. We’ve always had some ministers who have been incompetent, and I’m certainly not going to start comparing individual ministers, though I do lament the apparent and effective end of the Convention of Individual Ministerial Responsibility, under which a minister would resign if his or her department screwed up. The last agreed resignations under this convention seem to be Lord Carrington (and two of his departmental ministerial colleagues) over the run-up to the Falklands War, though I think there’s a strong case for giving that honour to Estelle Morris who resigned as Education Secretary, saying she wasn’t up to the job, in large part because her Department hadn’t achieved self-set targets.

But I’m 49 years old, and even allowing that I started getting interested in government and politics in my mid-teens, let’s limit it to the time from when I could vote. That’s over thirty years ago now; while I remember Ted Heath [Prime Minister from 1970 until 1974] as PM, the first general election in which I could vote was the one that took place in 1983. I was 18 years old, and although I’d taken part in a mock election at school four years earlier, I don’t think anyone involved was more concerned with the Gross Domestic Product or inflation versus unemployment; the winning candidate, as I recall, prospered on a campaign to abolish school uniforms and the ability to sack teachers for not having a sense of humour.

But back to 1983. I had completed an A-Level in Government and Politics, and was at Manchester Polytechnic; my memories – such as they exist – are that a sizeable proportion of the student body was engaged with the election. Groups sprung up, holding debates and educational discussions on examination of the main parties’ manifestos, the history of protest candidates, the pros and cons of the existing electoral system.

And then I voted. And I strongly recall the anti-climactic feel of my first vote. Until that night, watching the election results on television, feeling for the first time that I had a stake in it… because I’d voted.

But what I remember about that election isn’t the awful press coverage. (And anyone who thinks the personal attacks on politicians now is anything new, the attacks on Foot were astonishing to me then.) Nor the triumphal nature of Margaret Thatcher who seemed to take immense joy in others’ incompetence.

No, it was that despite television debates between the leaders being some thirty years in the future, the politicians at the time did their best to convince the public, the potential voters, that their policies were right for the nation and that the other parties’ policies were, and would be, disasterous. Note that: they didn’t just state it as a matter of fact. They didn’t merely attack the other parties’ policies and state their own. They said why the other parties’ policies were wrong, and they said why their own parties’ policies were better.

At the time, and for at least the next couple of dozen years, I’d argue, that was one of the skillsets necessary for anyone hoping to be elected to parliament; you said why your policies were better. You attacked the other parties’ policies point by point, policy by policy, and you hoped like hell that you were better at it than the bloke (it was almost always a man in those days, something that thankfully has changed for the better) attacking your policies.

And now…

Now we have a situation where a politician says something and he or she expects it to be taken as a statement of fact.

“Labour spent too much and made the financial crisis of 2007-08 worse.” – Really? Really? Then say how, and why. Justify your fucking argument with facts, and with defendable statistics.

“The Lib Dems lied about tuition fees.” – You say so? Then prove intent. Go on, prove they knowingly said something they believed was untrue.

“The Conservatives…” Well, where do you start?

So, I’m not saying that we have the most incompetent ministers or select committee chairs: no, but we do seem to have incompetent politicians. I can’t remember the last time a politician convinced me, by the strength of his or her argument, that they were right when previously I’d thought that they were wrong.

(And while friends of mine will roll their eyes and say ‘well, no, that’s just you being you, Budgie’, I’ll admit that I have had my mind changed by the strength of debate on any number of occasions; the most obvious being the death penalty, where I went from being a ‘yes’ for years to a ‘no’ forever more over the course of one debate.)

If anything, hearing politicians debate now convinces me more than ever that debating is a lost art; maybe I’m dreaming of a golden age; maybe this complaint – that politicians are now incompetent – was made thirty years ago, and thirty years before that, and thirty years before that.

Quite possibly. But that just makes me even sadder, that having come so low previously, we’ve sunk even further.

And in an age when image appears to be everything, it’s only incompetence that explains how, even though a speech on the economy is traditional at The Mansion House, the Conservative Party could have allowed a speech on how further austerity is necessary to be made in these surroundings and with this… message.

Well, to be fair, it’s always the month of MRD Syndrome, but I’ve noticed over the past few years that for whatever reason, it’s particularly prevalent in the penultimate month of the year.

Now it’s also fair to say that barely anyone reading this has a clue what MRD Syndrome is. Some might, but very very few. And that’s a pity.

So, what is it? What is MRD Syndrome?

Well, some years ago, I helped run a UK Politics Forum on CompuServe. There may be some people reading this who remember CompuServe, and even one or two who remember that they encountered me first there…

And, despite the Forum being a large part of my online activities at the time, I’m sorry to say that I no longer recall when, or who said it, someone first responded to a comment with “MRD.”

For anyone British, while the initials didn’t immediately mean anything, the explanation was simple: Mandy Rice-Davies, who uttered one of the most recognisable political quotes of the mid-twentieth century.

A figure in the Profumo affair, while giving evidence at the trial of Stephen Ward, (charged with living off the immoral earnings of Christine Keeler and Rice-Davies), the latter made a famous riposte. When the prosecuting counsel pointed out that Lord Astor denied an affair or even having met her, Mandy Rice-Davies replied, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

That became thereafter, on the forum, a standard response not only to politicians’ statements of the bleedin’ obvious but for when anyone made one.

But taking a look at the news recently, MRD Syndrome does appear to be particularly contagious at the moment. The following are just from the BBC, this week:

Prime Minister attacks Labour’s NHS record in Wales

Npower boss dismisses forfeiting bonus as ‘gimmick’

Tories defend EU referendum plan amid Labour blocking efforts

Murder ‘must not besmirch Royal Marines’, Cameron says

Iran blames Western powers for nuclear talks failure

Tell me, honestly – don’t they all make you think “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

With apologies to the songwriting team of Ray Evans and Jay Livingstone, who wrote Mona Lisa, as most excellently performed by Nat King Cole,

Manifesto, manifesto, MPs adore you…

Something’s been bugging me since 2010’s general election, and the formation of the coalition government.

Now, fair enough, many things have bothered many people, including the arguable destruction of the NHS, the abandonment by both government parties of various pledges, the callous attempt to dismantle the welfare state, an austerity programme that isn’t working and an ever-growing social division that has been created and deepened either by incompetence, apathy or cruelty.

Further, the apparent wilful unwillingness of the government to acknowledge the harm of its policies and the austerity programme in its current form goes beyond normal lack of decency and well into the realm of negligence.

But yes, while all of those are important… They’re for discussion on another day. That’s not what’s been bugging me, at a low level admittedly, for almost three years. Before I get to that though, let’s address some myths that seem to have arisen since May 2010, myths that say – for the main part – far more about ignorance than incompetence.

And it’s specifically ignorance (or possibly naiveté, I’ll grant you) about the constitutional arrangements for government in the UK I’m talking about.

1. No-one elected this government. To be precise, no-one elects any government in the United Kingdom. I haven’t had any part in electing any government in my lifetime. And nor have you. What you’ve done is helped elect an MP. What we do, individually, in constituencies all over the country (or up to four countries, if you want to argue the point) is elect members of Parliament, who may – not will – then go on to form a government. But the voters do not get to decide who’s in the government. The Prime Minister does that by selecting ministers. A backbench MP of the governing party is no more a member of the government than a backbencher of the main opposition party. Hell, the voters don’t even get to decide which is the governing party, which brings me on to myth 2.

2. The leader of the party with the biggest mandate gets to form the government Well, yes… and no. It’s only since the rise of the whips who can keep control of backbenchers’ votes (by threat and by favours granted, withheld and called in) that this even starts to apply. What’s needed to form a government is the ability to command a majority in the House of Commons. That’s it. The Monarch will ask whoever can do that to form a government. Usually, fair enough, it’s the leader of the Party with the greatest number of MPs, but it doesn’t have to be.

3. Governments are morally obliged to implement their manifestos once elected. Really? Does anyone believe this? Seriously? It’s impossible, literally impossible, for a government to bring into policy every one of their manifesto pledges. Even if the government had a landslide majority, there isn’t nearly enough parliamentary time to pass the legislation necessary, if – that is – the legislation is to be subjected to the right and proper scrutiny that all legislation should undergo on its way to the statute book.

And no matter how important the legislation is, I’d be wary of anyone who wanted to circumvent the usual processes of scrutiny, debate, amendment and the rest.

We’re getting closer to my concerns now, by the way…

4. The Lib Dems broke their promises! Well, yes, they did, and no they didn’t. They broke some but not one very big one, one stonking HUGE one.

Many friends, and some pundits, made the following comment after the 2010 election:

“I don’t know what was in people’s minds when they voted for the Lib Dems, but I bet it wasn’t to put the Tories into power!”

This astonished me then, and it astonishes me now. Surely only the very stupid, the very naive or the very ignorant weren’t aware that the Lib Dems had repeatedly said what they’d do in the event of a parliament in which no one party had a majority. They’d said on several occasions, in interview after interview, that they’d first seek to enter government – in the event of a hung parliament – with whichever other party had the biggest mandate.

Now, fair enough, the Lib Dems left themselves a tiny bit of wiggle room, as they didn’t say how they were measuring “mandate”: by total number of votes cast, or by number of MPs elected. It didn’t matter: in the event, the answer was the same in both cases – the Tories had the biggest mandate, by some way.

Not only that, it was very, very likely before the election that the Conservatives were going to be in that position: all the polls pointed to a hung parliament with the Tories having the most MPs. You don’t like that the Tories had the biggest mandate? Sorry, feel free to blame who you like for that, but please don’t be stupid enough to deny it.

5. The Lib Dems had no mandate to do what they’ve done Yes, the Lib Dems voted for (and did) things in government that they said they wouldn’t before election. You know what? They had every right to do so – the coalition agreement gave them that right. See above, but just for the record – there’s no obligation for a government to implement their manifesto. In fact, looking back over my lifetime, I can’t remember a single government that’s even managed to legislate for a majority of their manifesto, let alone all, or nearly all, of it.

6. The Lib Dems gave up everything and the Conservatives got everything they wanted. How can I put this? Ah yes, bollocks! I can think of at least half a dozen things the majority party of the government junked as a cost of going into government with the Lib Dems. Take a look at the 2010 Conservative Party manifesto and see how much of it made its way into the coalition agreement. Just for a start, the increase in the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million (which had been trailed as a central part of the Tory taxation plans) went the way of all things, as did various pledges regarding VAT, capital gains tax, no referendum on voting reform and a plan against the zombie apocalypse. (I may have made that last one up.)

7. The Lib Dems have no justification for doing what they did. Yeah, they do. They have the best one of all, and what’s more it has the advantage (strange for British political excuses) of being true. You ask Nick Clegg why he didn’t block Tory plans for this or that, even though it’s in direct contravention of the previously expressed policy of his party, and he’ll say one thing:

We didn’t win the election.

Often, he’ll clarify that by saying

We’ve got one in six MPs in the coalition; if we’d had more, we’d have had more power within the coalition, but we didn’t. And we don’t.

And you know what? He’s absolutely correct.

Now, one can certainly argue (and to my mind, quite convincingly) that what he did get for his party wasn’t worth it, that he prioritised the wrong things; that he should have sacrificed a vote on AV and fought for a guarantee about welfare; that he shouldn’t have bothered trying in vain for House of Lords reform, but devoted time and energy to preventing devastating NHS reform.

(I think you can argue against that, by the way, but I think you’d lose the argument. Convincingly.)

However, again, that’s an argument for another day.

But we’re now at the crux of what’s been bugging me, and it follows directly on from the above, from all of the above.

What is the purpose of a manifesto?

No, seriously.

A paper, written for Essex University after the 2010 election, went into huge details about the purposes of manifestos and how much they mean to the parties before an election.

“Manifestos are important. They reflect the parties’ enduring values and policy programmes…

Utter nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that. Let’s strip away the polite fiction maintained with an air of complacency and look at how they’re regarded today, by pundits, by politicians and by the public.

Manifestos might, just might, have been the basis for policy once upon a time, in the long ago. Now, however, they’re more like a personal statement that a candidate writes on a job application, hoping that he won’t be asked too much about it, and praying he can remember why he put this bit in, or why he wrote that bit that way.

So, again, I ask… what’s their purpose: what’s the point of election manifestos?

When a government knows in advance that it won’t be able to translate all of their party pledges into government policy, their assurances into statute, what’s their point?

When a government can blatantly lie, using its “mandate” to justify policy because it was in the manifesto, even though it was the universally acknowledged least popular item in there… what’s their point?

When a party can abandon almost every pledge in their election manifesto and can excuse such abandonment with a simple “we didn’t win”, what’s their point?

The answer is obvious: they have no point.

Not in their current format.

Read that again – not in their current format.

The biggest problem with manifestos is not that we have no idea what will be dropped upon entering office, it’s that we don’t know what won’t be…

I’m far less concerned by what a government doesn’t do than by what it does.

So, taking the very neat idea that a couple of the parties used in recent elections, that of the pledges on a card, let’s take it further… Let’s propose the following:

The manifesto of a party seeking election to office in the UK is from now on split into three parts:

(I) The dealbreakers: these policies (limited to six items) WILL be in any government policy document/coalition agreement; these are the items that will be translated into statute. If another party has a contradictory item in their list of dealbreakers, those parties cannot form a coalition without a further election, at which point different dealbreakers can be put to the public vote.

(II) The aspirations: the intellectual backbone of the party’s agenda, limited to twenty separate points. These are the policies that the vast majority of the party’s supporters (and potential voters) would like enacted in a world where the party has a secure working majority and “events, dear boy, events” don’t get in the way. They’re the policies that a government should get through: a Tory party might have a reduction in regulation in here, a Labour party an increase in progressive taxation, the Lib Dems, another crack at reforming the voting system. But – and it’s an important but – everyone understands that if a coalition is formed, these are the things that may have to go by the wayside. These are the negotiable points for a coalition agreement.

(III) The wishlist: the policies that, with a fair wind, a strong working majority, a weak opposition, a lessening of international tension thus allowing concentration on domestic issues, a party (and its supporters) would like to have on the statute books at some point. They’re not urgent, though, and they play no part whatsoever in any coaltion agreement negotiations; they’re simply not on the table. The list is unlimited in length, since no-one genuinely expects more than a handful – if that – to make it into debate in the House of Commons, let alone into legislation.

So now the voters know where the parties stand, as do the pundits, as do other parties, as do the rank and file of the parties.

The battleground for hearts and minds is concentrated, first to the dealbreakers, then to the aspirations. Everyone knows on what grounds the election is fought and – crucially – what’s up for grabs in a coalition. Voters make their mark knowing that some policies are sacrosanct, while others may have to be postponed this time. Fewer secret deals, greater transparency.

The only people who could possibly object, with what they’d say were perfectly valid arguments against this, are the politicians themselves who’d undoubtedly hate to have their freedom curtailed; freedom, that is, to continue to abandon policies with no fanfare, to lie to their voters, supporters and the general public.

We’re in the twenty-first century. We’re told by government that no public institution should escape escape modernisation and reform, yet Parliament and the formation of governments is accomplished in a manner that a 19th Century politician would recognise with nary a raised eyebrow.

We’ve already changed how they behave in office (with amendments to ministerial codes, reform of expenses), but in doing so ignored how they got there.

It’s long beyond time that we looked at changing how governments are formed in the United Kingdom and what we expect them to do once in office.