Posts Tagged ‘politics’

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.

Housekeeping Note: In case you were wondering what happens to the blog after 31st December…

Well, the current plan is to run the blog through until ‘2022 plus 08‘, then there’ll be the usual anniversary post about Mike…

…and then both I and this blog take a break. The single Thursday in that ‘2022 plus’ run almost certainly won’t have a piece of new fiction. This Thursday’s is intended to be the last new fiction on the blog for 2021.

When I return — I’m currently thinking of the start of February, having taken the remainder of January off — I’ll have have think about what I want the blog to look like in 2022.

Now, unless something huge happens, January’s posts until the ‘plus 08’ will be light fair, with maybe more fiction from the vaults than usual. I’m not sure.

I do know that when I’ve tried to run the blog through into a ‘plus’ run, intending to keep it going for ages, I get to around eight or ten days and then burn out completely, taking months and years off.

I don’t want to do that again. So, I’m trying this.


It’s not exactly news that politics, that public opinions, that expressing a view on anything the past few years has run into a bit of a problem.

No, it’s not the ‘cancel culture’ thing; most examples of so-called ‘cancel culture’ are nothing more nor less than ‘consequence culture’. People complaining loudly that they can’t say [this] or [that] anymore without facing consequences for saying it. Tough fucking luck, pal.

What we should be angry about is that they’ve faced no consequences in that past, not that those expressing racism, antisemitism, homophobia and transphobia are facing consequences now.

It’s a truism to suggest that freedoms of speech and expression have never been freedoms from the consequences of that speech and expression, but in many cases, too many cases, those consequences haven’t been faced.

But no, this post isn’t about the specious argument that ‘unless i can say whatever I like, whenever I like it, wherever I like it without facing consequences of any sort then I don’t have freedom of speech. And no, it isn’t about the conflict between differing rights and which should have primacy.

No, this is about something else: the absence of nuance, of any grey areas, of the contraction of debate into binary alternatives. And furthermore, the polarisation to the point of there are only two alternatives, and you much not only choose one of them to fanatically support, you must also obsessively denigrate the other.

Iy’s been around in politics for a lot longer than is sometimes suggested; I certainly remember it being around in the 1980s, and I’m sure it existed long before that as well.

But it reached its apotheosis once social media made it easy for everyone to reply to everyone else in what should have been the world’s greatest debating chamber but instead became the world’s biggest and drunkest pub crowd five minutes before closing time.

Take the further restrictions some are suggesting are necessary to control the spread of the omicron covid variant. The vast majority of online commentary, and that of politicians, seems to be

yes, we need to have them, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t care if the NHS is overwhelmed/people die!!!

or

Over my dead body! Totally unnecessary and those calling for them are authoritarian fascists who don’t care about people’s mental health or their right to be free!!!

The attacks not only on the contrary idea but on those who are making it… angers me.

It’s back to the ‘once upon a time, those who differed were good people with bad ideas’ now they’re bad people with worse ideas‘.

Me? I’ve thought from the start of any restrictions that it’s both personally and perfectly reasonable to loathe the restrictions while reluctantly accepting their complete and utter necessity.


Sidebar: I’m quite self-servingly selfish about one part of lockdown, but I’m happy to admit that I’m quite self-servingly selfish about it.

As I’ve mentioned before, I live alone, and I’m not in a relationship. So the only people I saw on a frequent basis were friends who I stay with once a week in Richmond, and my ex-wife.

I went through the first lockdown having been deprived off both of those. By the time of the second lockdown, the government had at last recognised that it ain’t particularly healthy for people who live on their own to see… NO ONE for months on end. So they introduced ‘social bubbles’, whereby a household could invite someone who lived on their own to form part of that household for the duration.

My sole wish, if lockdown, or something like it, is reintroduced is that they reintroduce the bubbles. I really don’t want to have to lose that personal contact again.

A friend once described me as ‘dangerously content in his own company’. That’s probably fair. Or at least it was. Before covid. Because enforced solitude made me at first tire of my own company and then actively resent it. I really don’t want to subject my mental health to having to do that again.

OK, self-servingly selfish bit over.


I truly wish I could believe that we’ve come through the worst of the polarisation; sadly I don’t even believe we’re close to the peak.

The assumption of too many, on all sides of the political divide, not only re covid but re so, so, much else as well, is that any disagreement with the position they hold can only be malicious and in bad faith.

Years ago, a penny dropped for me when considering how the Tories and Labour regard each other, and why Labour’s assumption of inherent moral superiority in their position rankles so much. (This was way before Corbyn’s apotheosis, when it became blatant, and me and mine copped out as a result.)

Tories observe Labour and don’t understand for the slightest iota of a moment how anyone could genuinely believe in the stuff Labour believe in.

On the other hand, Labour sees the Conservative party beliefs and very well understands how people could believe the things they believe… but Labour people choose not to believe those things.

And Labour therefore thinks they are inherently better people because of it.

Labour’s always had a touch of the “We are Moral and Just and Good because we are Labour (rather than ‘because what we can achieve, and what we do’.)

It was ramped up under Corbyn to “We are Moral and Just and Good and therefore anything we do or say is Moral and Just and Good. Therefore any criticism of anything we do or say must, by an elegant inevitability, be Immoral and Unjust and Malicious.”

That at least has lessened. I fear that it could return at any time, however, and even if it doesn’t, the polarisation in politics will grow still further.

I hope I’m wrong. I fear I’m not.

 

See you tomorrow, with… the usual Tuesday ‘something else’.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 now scarily rapidly 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.

Two more ‘odds and sods’ today, provoked by a couple of British politics things in the news…

The Progressive Alliance

I’ve written before, in August, that I don’t think a Progressive Alliance is possible, let alone probable. I mean it. I don’t think the parties could achieve it, let alone would do so.

But, of course, it still does the rounds all the time.

Now I’m not talking about parties standing down – or effectively doing so, anyway – in one specific by-election to make a point. That’s happened for decades and only shows how powerless one MP is in a House of Commons of 650 of them.

No, I mean something like this:

Where do you start with this, to me, basic lack of awareness of what needs to happen first for that to happen eventually? And what the later – unwanted – consequences would be?

OK, let’s start at the beginning, and let’s assume I’m completely wrong about a progressive alliance not happening.. Me? Wrong? About UK politics? It’s not unknown, let’s be fair.

So, let’s say I am wrong… and the parties all come together in a pact, promising that in their first parliament, they’ll pass proportional representation and change the voting system without a referendum on the idea. I mean, it’d be without a referendum because the last time the government offered the British public the choice of changing the voting system, the result wasn’t exactly close. The final result had the Yes vote at 32.1% and the No vote at 67.9%.

Now of course, proponents of proportional representation claim that wasn’t proportional representation that was offered to the voters, and that’s why, among other less important reasons, it was firmly rejected.

Naah. Sorry. I mean, sure it’s arguable that was part of the reason, but the voters didn’t care about what form the change took; they just liked the voting system they had.

Which brings us onto the first reason why I think the tweet above is naïve at best and wilfully ignorant at worst: which form of proportional representation? A pure party list system? Or party list with multi-member constituencies? What will be the de minimus for a party to get MPs? Will it be constituency-based at all?

Next up, until or unless the Fixed-terms Parliaments Act is repealed, what are they going to do until the next election? And there’s no chance the Lib Dems, for example, will want to get rid of the FTPA; it’s due to them we have a FTPA. So what else will they do?

(And that’s leaving aside that creating the legislation, and getting it through parliament will take some time, even ignoring the FTPA. So what will their foreign policy be? Or their taxation policies? Or their environmental policies be?)

Because there’s plenty in each of the three parties’ manifestos that one or both of the other parties. Will they use the time squabbling? Or present identical manifestos to the public at the election? Of course not, so the manifesto and mandate a government will have will be to change the electoral system and… pretty much nothing else.

Of course they’ll claim they have a mandate for all sorts of other things. And the manifesto for government they’ll present to the public will be agreed behind closed doors; they’ll end up with a stack of policies for their term in office that no majority voted for. Ironic that they’ll claim the mandate the current government does, the only one that counts: “we won the election“.

A Geoffrey Howe moment

On 13 November, 1990, Sir Geoffrey Howe rose to his feet and delivered a resignation statement to the House of Commons.

Ministers who resign from government on a matter of policy disagreement are entitled, by convention, to deliver such a statement. Also by convention, the statement is delivered without interruption.

Howe was known at the time for delivering calm, factual, not particularly witty, speeches. He’d been cruelly dubbed Mogadon Man, and Denis Healy had once described bring criticised by him as ‘being salvaged by a dead sheep’.

So people were expecting a bit of a whinge. A calm, sensible, whinge.

Not at all.

Howe delivered a calm speech all right, but it was all the more shocking because of it. His calm, almost matter of fact, but calculated brutality, came out of the blue, and it was all the more astounding and effective because of it, as he slid the dagger in not once, but again and again.

Three weeks later,the subject of his ire, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the woman who’d won three general elections, the second with a majority of 144, the third with a majority of 102…

…resigned from office.

I wondered, the other day,

Now remember, only ministers who’ve resigned can deliver a resignation speech, so that takes out many on the government back benches who’d relish the opportunity.

Interestingly, the same three names kept coming up:

  • Michael Gove
  • Rishi Sunak
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg

For various and different reasons, I don’t think any of them could, or would, have the same effect.

Michael Gove is a non-starter in my opinion, simply because he already did it, in effect, in 2016. He did it by knifing Johnson in the back (after he’d said he’d back him for the leadership to succeed Cameron) and then saying he’s just not up to the job, and then running himself in 2016 and 2019… and then taking job after job in Johnson’s cabinets after Johnson succeeded May.…

And then defending Johnson again and again ever since. Simply put: Gove’s got no credibility left to spend on doing a Howe.

Rishi Sunak is a different beast entirely. But as Johnson’s Chancellor since February 2020, he’s locked into the policies, especially but not limited to those reading economic and covid. Further, as Chancellor, any Howe-type speech would be seen both as ‘former chancellor disagrees with PM. Hardly a shock is it?‘ and self-servingly aiding his own leadership ambitions. I’m also far from convinced he’d hold the House while he spoke.

Holding the House wouldn’t be a problem for Jacob Rees-Mogg; never been an issue for him. What would be an issue for him, however, is the sense of humbleness and calm, rational laying out of the facts necessary. That’s never been his… strong point, let us say.

There’s also the problem that Rees-Mogg, despite his professed adoration of the traditions of parliament – a professed adoration that’s entirely performative – has never thought that sliding the knife in with elegance and skill is… ‘the done thing.’

Rees-Mogg would rather try and bully with his wordage and pomposity. Against Johnson, that’s like fighting a forest fire with a cigarette lighter. It’d never going to work and you’ll look like a prat trying.

Another thought strikes me about this: there seems a distinct lack of front benchers… absolutely loathing each other, politically, professionally and personally. You know: utter detestation.

Its presence creates great moments of principle and drama; its absence leads to blandness. Add into that a personally and politically, principled and strong, leader and you get Thatcher/Howe.

Thatcher’s cabinet had people who disliked each other… but they were all more scared of her.

When that fear ebbs and evaporates, mainly because you’re seen by all as irrevocably ‘beaten’, well… you get a Geoffrey Howe moment.

We’re not there, nowhere close. But not because of the lack of a Geoffrey Howe to weild the knife, because of the lack of a Margaret Thatcher on whom to wield it.

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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

[Note; The pic I’ve used for this post has nothing to do with British politics; I just liked it and besides had I used a pic that summed up my feelings, it wouldn’t have been nearly as nice a pic…]

A short one today, as I genuinely have no idea what I’m writing about in this post as I start it.

This isn’t me cheating and doing a goingcheep, where I merely open the page and write what’s ever on my mind at that moment as an exercise to loosen up the fingers before doing some actual writing.

Not quite.

The reason I have no idea what this post is going to be about as I start it is because as I start it, it’s 5pm, half an hour after I aim to finish the post and hit ‘publish’. And because I’ve spent most of today glued to the tv news, watching the shitshow that is our government panicking and trying like fuck not to get caught out doing what they’ve been, y’know, doing.

As I type this, the government is on it’s fifth variation of its ‘there was no party at 10 Downing Street last christmas, definitely not and all the covid rules were followed at the party that we just told you didn’t happen.’

The journalist who’d been hired last year to be the PM’s spokesperson but who was, apparently, so bad at it that they cancelled the very idea of public daily press briefings (and ended up using the room they built for it at a cost of £3m for covid briefings…)

Well, she just resigned with a tearful apology for apparently having made light of the idea of Downing Street breaking covid rules by having that party they definitely didn’t have.

Whether you believe her apology and tears were genuine depends, I suppose, if you think she’s most sorry that she made light of it in a practice press briefing , or most sorry that the video of her making light of it in a practice press briefing was leaked.

I think it’s mainly the latter but then I’m a cynical bastard when it comes to people sent out to lie for their bosses.

I wish I could say that I was surprised at what’s gone on, but I’m not. Not really. I long ago ceased to grant any of our elected representatives – or those who work for them – any benefit of the doubt.

I struggle to accept there’s a single one who wouldn’t lie for political advantage if they thought they could get away with it… and, let’s face it, they usually do get away with it.

I wish there was an MP I thought wholly honest, full of personal integrity, and entirely reliable. NOt asking a lot, is it? To think of one MP, of any party, who’d satisfy those requirements, who’d have those attributes.

Sadly, I can’t think of any.

And I use ‘sadly’ advisedly, not for effect. it does sadden me. And anger me.

Which is good, I suppose. because it means I’m not completely resigned to it always being like that… that I’m not totally resigned to it as inherent in British politice… not yet, anyways.

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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

Two more ‘odds and sods’ today, provoked by a couple of politics things…

This bloody government

The government’s been in the news today. That’s not news. If the government is wonderfully good or egregiously bad, it’s going to be in the news. No surprise with this lot that it’s the latter. Whether it’s

  • the leak to The Times that the government is planning a once a year exercise when they can overrule judicial reviews they don’t like the results of, or
  • the suggested policy of removing the passports of drug users they don’t like, or
  • The government saying that the police don’t investigate things that happened a year ago (to be fair, Raab was specifically talking about covid related matters but even so…), or even
  • the court’s decision that Boris Johnson didn’t act unlawfully when deciding that Priti Patel didn’t break the ministerial code…

…this government seems anxious to suggest new things all the time so that no one will get to caught up on what they’ve done, or failed to do, in the past.

For the last of those items above, by the way, I heartily recommend David Allen Green’s piece on it. It’s far cleverer and more sensible than any of the media organisations takes I’ve read.

Now 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.

I don’t altogether sign up to the ‘dead cat’ theory to explain Boris Johnson’s government, because there’s never just one thing, one awful, horrible, thing to distract.

Instead it’s almost as if once again, those in Number Ten have watched a bit too much of The West Wing and have decided every day is ‘Take Out The Trash Day’. If you’ve not seen the show, the theory espoused is that newspapers only have so much print space. So if you dump a load of stuff at one go, they can’t devote too much attention to any one thing.

Some have suggested that with the lessening of newspapers’ importance in favour of unlimited webpage space, that no longer applies. That’s nonsense, of course. The ‘limited newsprint’ was always a metaphor for ‘limited attention span’. And that still applies as much, if not more so, these days.

Remember when it was suggested that the orange poltroon across the Atlantic had a plan to keep everyone constantly distracted? As someone else countered, that’s like proposing that your mum’s dog gets excited because he knows it’s his birthday.

But with Johnson, it’s more than possible. I’d say it was probable that the constant crowing about ambition and criticising those with a perceived lack of it is entirely designed to distract from lack of achievement. Johnson may not care about achievement but he’s smart enough to know that others do. Hence the policy of not wanting anyone to examine too closely his government’s entire lack of them.

How you vote

However, for the other point today, I want to get something off my chest that’s been pissing me off.

Yesterday I saw someone sensible, someone I’m on good terms with, or at least someone with whom I was on good terms, have a pop at ‘centrists’, blaming them for the Johnson government, ie for not voting for Jeremy Corbyn in December 2019… The implication being that anyone who didn’t vote for a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn was directly responsible for the shitshow in which we all now find ourselves.

I was genuinely so surprised to see this person tweet this that I at digest assumed it was a parodic piss take of those on the left who do claim this.

But no, further investigation showed he was absolutely serious.

Huh.

For the sake of clarity and to avoid any ambiguity, if for no other reasons, let me for the record state that I think such a position is unmitigated, unreserved, bullshit, and I view such an argument with unfettered contempt. Put simply: in an election, you’re responsible for who you vote for, not for who you don’t vote for.

Anything more complicated than that and you’re in a real world example of The Trolley Problem.

I didn’t vote Labour in 2019. Nor in 2017. I live in a safe Labour seat. But even had the seat been a marginal, I’d still not have voted Labour in 2017 nor in 2019. For me, the decision was made easy for me in September 2015 when Corbyn was elected Leader of the Labour Party. I had made the decision a few weeks earlier but I put it into practice that day: I would not vote Labour under any circumstances, for any elected position, at all, while Corbyn was leader. I wasn’t convinced at the time that he was personally antisemitic, merely that he was supremely indifferent as to whether his friends and political contacts were. I mean I knew some of his supporters were…

I was convinced, though, that from the moment he became leader antisemitism was no longer a deal-breaker for membership of office holding in the Labour Party. His actions, statements and personal history that came out then convinced me that he was personally antisemitic.

A couple of heart back, I was told on Twitter by a Corbyn fan who knew I was Jewish that even if I, as a Jew, believed that Labour was entirely antisemitic (a claim I never made, by the way, then or now) I should still vote for Labour because… Tories.

Two points: yes, you’re right, that’s someone telling a Jewish fella to vote for somoene they think an antisemite, telling a Jewish man to vote to make an antisemite Prime Minister.

Sadly, while I rarely got told that, I was often told similar: “…but Tories!” was the go to for a very long time, since antisemitism in labour was first raised. That and the “…price worth paying” argument, an argument that would never have been openly, overtly, made about any other form of prejudice and bigotry.

I understand the sentiment behind the often¹ good faith

“We need to get the Tories out, so you should vote for whichever candidate can best do that.”

argument.

I do, honestly.

But, fuck me, it takes some gall to tell Jews to vote for a party/candidate/leader they think antisemitic.

How will I vote in the next election? I don’t know. Right now, I don’t. I won’t vote for the Conservatives, ok. I mean, I can’t imagine voting Tory in a future, any future, election. Will I vote Labour, in whichever parliamentary constituency I find myself? I don’t know. Depends on the policies, I guess. And who’d put them into practice were they to win. If it was another Corbyn, with similar views? Not a chance.

And any look online at any Labour Party forum shows that merely because Corbyn’s no longer leader, the antisemitism hasn’t gone. It’s still there, as are his supporters… who’d vote for the next leader.

Who will I vote for? I’ll tell you when the next election comes.


¹not always, but often

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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

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 an 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 Mibnister 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 p art 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. 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 have either enjoyed it or 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: what’s your end game? 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.

Foot’s a bit better today,, but since this was the half written post I referred to, here’s the finished version. A bit shorter yet more meandering than intended, but here you go.

The first time I could vote in a general election… I didn’t.

Yeah, that feels weird writing that. Because there’s not been one general election since where I’ve not voted. Even when I’ve considered the candidates available to me from the ‘main’ parties to be disqualifyingly bad, I’ve still voted. Even when the candidates from the main parties have seemed to me a choice between shit, shite and shitty, I’ve still voted,

Occasionally, it’s been as a protest vote, to lend my vote to someone else almost as a ‘thank you for standing’. More often, recently, on such occasions, I’ve taken to giving my vote to someone specifically to try to assist in getting them ‘over the line’ so they at least retain their deposit.

(In the UK, it costs to run for election; you have to pay an amount of £500; if you get 5% of the vote, you get the deposit back. If not, it goes towards the costs of running the election.)

But no, I didn’t vote in that first general election, the one in 1983. The reason? I was at Manchester Polytechnic and I hadn’t bothered to register for inclusion on the electoral register where I lived. Nor had I applied for a postal nor proxy vote.

So, yeah, I could have jumped on a train to vote, but seeing as I was coming up to the end of my first year exams, and my brother was in hospital with a life threatening medical condition, andand… and…

Look, to be honest, I couldn’t be bothered. I lived – in Manchester – in a ‘safe’ Labour constituency, so what was the point?

(I’m still not entirely convinced by all the arguments most people give for ‘the importance of voting’ when you live in a safe seat, but that’s a separate point.)

As it was, more than a few people seemed to agree with me in the 1983 election, since Labour got hammered in the election, which was exactly what was expected. That they got hammered quite so hugely wasn’t expected by everyone, but that they’d get hammered? Yeah.

In fact, it was the worst result for Labour until… well, until two years ago, in December 2019, when Labour got their worst result for 100 years or so. And the one election that Labour’s 2019 result got compared to again and again and again on election night? Yeah, 1983’s.

I currently live in the safe Labour seat of Westminster North. For anyone who’s followed me over the past few years either on here or on Twitter, however, it won’t come as a surprise that even had the seat been a ‘balanced on a knife edge’ marginal, I wouldn’t have voted Labour. Not for a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn.

I like my MP, on the whole. She seems nice, and she has views which would under normal circumstances make me pleased to vote for her.

But as I’d said publicly, I would not vote Labour under any circumstances, for any elected position, at all… while Jeremy Corbyn was leader. I left the party the day he was elected (after an admittedly short membership) and I can’t ever see myself joining Labour again. Ever.


Sidebar: Oh, and the ‘…but you vote for your local MP!’ argument doesn’t stand up for two reasons:

1) yeah, in theory you do… but in practice, no. Most people still vote for the candidate of their favourites, and research by Stephen Bush of the New Statesman suggested that in London, only 6% of voters votes for the candidate not the party.

2) the leader of the party with the most MPs gets to be Prime Minister, whether or not an individual MP is a supporter of the leader. I’m wasn’t, and am not, going to vote for a candidate that’ll make an antisemite… Prime Minister.

Simple as that.

Oh, and you’re responsible for your vote; you’re responsible for who you vote for. You’re not responsible for not voting for someone else.


But leaving all of that aside, something occurred last week that made me think about when it’s important to vote ‘the right way’, and when it really doesn’t matter.

For a start, all such judgements are subjective. Of course they are, how could they not be? People who vote in the Eurovision Song Contest do so because theythink it’s important. I may think such a vote is unimportant, just as I do all of the talent shows that infest our tv schedules.

But I wouldn’t tell them that their vote is unimportant. because to them…. it’s not.

Elections for representatives, however, are votes that I do consider important, even if roughly 40% of the electorate, going by turnover numbers at general elections, disagree with me.

I thought it was important to vote in the two national referendums we’ve had in the past decade: the one to decide the electoral voting system; I voted to change the voting system; the other side got more votes and won. And I voted to remain in the EU; the other side got more votes and won.

Yeah, I don’t have a great record.

But both of them were, to me, important votes and I cast them happily.

As I have every general election, and every by-election I could vote in, and every council election.

The 2016 by-election in Richmond Park constituency (where I then lived) was an election that was marginal. Lots of by-elections are – as they’re often taken by the electorate, and the media, as a popularity poll on the government of the day – but this one was especially so. I voted cheerfully. Who I voted for, however, that I voted reluctantly, one of the very few times I’ve voted against someone. I loathed how that made me feel.

But going back to last week. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY: D) voted against the infrastructure vote in congress.

One of her supporters explained her vote (She herself explained her vote here) by saying that she had problems with the measures, specially its decoupling from a larger reconciliation package, but stressing that AOC knew the measure would pass without her vote, so her vote was merely a protest vote… but that had her vote been needed, she’d have voted with it. (It’s notable that AOC did not say the latter part.)

There’s a danger with that attitude. And it’s sheer arrogance for anyone to not only hold it, but to say it. (Which is why I suspect AOC didn’t, and left it for her supporters to say it.)

That danger? Well, what if it hadn’t passed?

What’s that you say? Of course it was going to pass.

Well, ‘of course we were going to stay in the EU.‘ The Brexit vote was a 52% : 48% win for the ‘Leave’ side.

And what was noticeable afterwards (mainly I suspect because the news programmes actively searched for it) was the number of people who claimed ‘oh, I voted to leave because I wanted to express my anger and upset at the government… but I knew we’d remain, I knew my vote wasn’t needed.

It’s dangerous to assume that your vote isn’t going to be needed.

I’m not saying that every vote counts. How can it? In my own constituency, Labour won in 2019 by 10,759 votes.

So one could argue that 10.758 Labour votes didn’t ‘count’, or maybe that no one else’s (other than Labour’s) vote counted.

But certainly, without doubt, beyond peradventure, one vote, my vote, didn’t make the slightest difference to the result.

So, why did I vote? Because I’m old fashioned enough to think that the actual act of voting is what counts.

(If you’re interested in the usual ‘reasons for voting’, why they’re wrong and what what I think is the single biggest reason – in theory – for voting is, check here. The author said it better than I ever could.)

But I think the best reason for voting – whether or not you feel is counts – is that it makes you feel part of the process. And that’s never a bad idea.

Some time ago, I wrote a piece on voting before the 2015 general election.

I finished it with the following words;

So, vote. Vote because you think it’s important, not because anyone else tells you it’s important. Vote because you want to, or you need to, or just because you’ve nothing better to do.

But vote.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Oh, before I forget, one more link. Every so often recently, someone will bring up the idea of a “Progressive alliance”. Three months ago, I expressed a fairly jaundiced opinion on the idea because of several reasons I laid out. If anything, over the past few months, my views on the subject have curdled even further.

 

See you tomorrow, with… the usual Thursday ‘something else’, one that will be written for a very special purpose.

 

 

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.

Years ago, I wrote for an amateur press association named Comicopia. It was fun and, despite the fairly rigid structure and deadlines, it never felt like a chore.

I usually ended my submission with some fiction, but occasionally I’d run out of time and ideas, and throw in 300 words of a story. They weren’t stories; they were excerpts of non-existent stories. A bit of fun. And I called them ‘offcuts’.

For this blog, I occasionally do something called “Odds and sods”, where I don’t have enough to write 800 or more words on a specific subject, so I’ll write a few hundred words on three different subjects.

They’re more formal than the offcuts ever were, but the ‘odds and sods’ title never quite seemed as accurate or as appropriate. Because they weren’t random, not really.

And I’ve wanted for some time to find a different way to describe them. Offcuts? No, because they’re not excerpted from anything else, nor are they entirely disposable.

And for this post, while I’m easing myself back into the daily blogging, I want to do another one of the ‘here’s some thoughts on different things’.

Hmm. So I came up with the title Short Thoughts: I’m not wholly convinced. But if the title of this post is “Short Thoughts”, then you know I didn’t come up with anything better.

OK, so on with the post…

Standards 

While it can mean any number of things, and indeed the dictionary has almost two dozen different definitions, today, the House of Commons is voting (indeed, they’re voting while I type this) on one specific meaning: those morals, ethics, habits, etc., established by authority, custom, or an individual as acceptable.

Now there can be lost of different standards and indeed, the House has had various standards at various times, and various ways of judging whether or when members have breached those standards.

Currently, there is a process where an independent arbiter makes a decision upon evidence and interview and passes a memorandum of their decision to a select committee. The committee then reviews the evidence and passes a judgement upon which the House of Commons votes.

Occasionally, very very rarely, the House doesn’t accept the committee’s decision. However, what’s happening today is that the House is voting whether, at the last moment, to change the very process in order to excuse a member of the governing party.

And they’ll likely – the result of the vote is expected momentarily – vote to do exactly that.

Oh, and the person moving the vote is, of course, the same person who – as leader of the House of Commons in 2019 – introduced the current system. So there’s that.

As others have pointed out, even if you grant the argument. Of “everyone else gets a chance to appeal” (I don’t – I think it’s bullshit.) The committee stage is the appeal bit. But anyways, MPs are not employees, and they don’t get employee protection.

BUT the “my defence witnesses wanted to give oral evidence to explain stuff but they were limited to written evidence only and could not answer questions or give further information” from Paterson has, y’know, some weight.

But that’s a discussion that should be held in a calm time and in circumstances which do not, do not, effect a specific member’s sanctions right bloody now.

For the House to approve this amendment would give every member permission to be corrupt.

And, since the vote result was just announced, that’s just what they’ve done.

There used to be a graphic that did the rounds about the Treasury’s preferred tax return:

How much did you earn?
Send it to us.

Today’s vote in parliament shows MPs’ standards decisions should and probably will now be:

What did you do wrong?
Oh, nothing at all?
Really?
Oh, OK, then. Carry on.

Often, the House of Commons disappoints me. Quite often it angers me. Rarely, as in today’s proceedings, do they upset and disgust me.

Technological Convenience

Just a quick other thought, since I’m currently typing this outside a coffee shop, near home, and opposite my local pharmacy.

Not entirely due to covid, but certainly it’s not hurt, I’ve been getting repeat prescriptions for the medications I take automagically for the past couple for years.

If I need a repeat prescription, it genuinely couldn’t be more convenient and easy. I open one of three different apps on my phone or iPad. Each of them – each has functionality specific to themselves, but they share this specific option – with a half dozen clicks… allow me to select a medication, and order a resupply. And once I click on ‘ send request’, I get a notification telling me that the medication will be available for pickup in two days.

I can’t remember the last time it took two days. By the end of that day, I can wander down to the pharmacy and know that it’ll be waiting for me.

Today’s? I ordered it at 8pm last night. It was ready for pickup by noon today.

I’ve mentioned before that I both like seeing my GP when necessary and not having to see them unless I need to. The ability to do so much – I can schedule tests, I can review read results, I can order medications, and I can send them messages – without actually ‘bothering’ the doctor.

I remember having to go to the doctor to be examined before a repeat prescription. While I’m pleased at the convenience now, I do worry that it will remove the personal relationship. I do worry about that. A lot.

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.)

(Yes, that is a confusing photo that accompanies this post. It’s meant to be.)

Certainty, as I wrote, a couple of years ago, makes it easy to get angry; too easy, as it happens. And social media makes it easier than ever to do so.

With strangers. With people you don’t know. With people you kind of know but not really. And with celebrities you don’t know, will never meet and who wouldn’t recognise you in a line up considering of two people.

With friends, however, it’s disappointment that leads to irritation, frustration, upset and anger. Usually, anyway.

And I don’t mind getting pissed off with people (including myself) for stuff that’s definitely their (or my) fault.

It’s a part of the social contract, I guess. I do something that pisses you off, you’re entitled, more than entitled, to be pissed off with me.

And if you do something that pisses me off, I’m equally entitled to be pissed off with you.

Now, at no point do I say, or aver, whether or not the person being pissed off has any objective justification for being pissed off. But objective justification or not, there surely has to be a reason (or reasons) to be pissed off with someone, yes?

And when I say ‘objective justification’, I mean, well, whether or not someone would agree the reason is a sensible, rational, one… Because there has to be… a reason, justifiable or not, shurely?

For example. Let’s say we arrange to meet for coffee. One of us doesn’t show because we’d forgotten about it, or something else comes up and we forgot to let the other know that we could no longer make it. But not turning up, while the other person is waiting – patiently at first, less so as time passes… yeah, I don’t know anyone who’d argue that the person who got stood up isn’t justified in being pissed off at the person who didn’t show. Now you can extend that to a meal, a date, a business meeting.

If you’ve agreed to show up and you don’t, without notice, that’s worthy of a ‘pissed off with you’ reaction.

On the other hand, same hypothetical, We arrange to meet for coffee. One of us turns up ten minutes early. The other turns up on time. It’d be as ludicrous for one to get pissed off at the other for being early as it would be for the other to be pissed off that someone turned up ‘on time’.

Because it’s not – in that second scenario – that there is a reason and all we’re debating is the weight of that position; the reason doesn’t exist, objective or otherwise. Unless one of you decides to get angry and uses that as the excuse.

But then there’s the other thing, the thing that angers me; anger – I hasten to add – that’s aimed squarely at yours truly.

Once in a while, I’ll tweet something like the following; when tweeted, it’s nothing but the unfettered truth, and yes, it speaks nothing well of me.

I wish I knew why I’m like that, why I too often get upset at people for stuff, about stuff, that’s 100%, unreservedly, totally, not the other person’s fault, not anyone’s fault at all, bar possibly mine.

I genuinely wish I knew.

I mean, I have my suspicions. For all my many flaws, I am, I like to think, reasonably self-aware.


Sidebar: It’s a genuine delight when I learn something new about myself, though, whether or not the thing I learn is a ‘nice’ thing or otherwise; knowledge is always valuable. A psych once identified why I did ‘a certain thing’ with such clarity, such simplicity, that it was a pleasure to witness the discovery. It wasn’t, I hasten to add, complimentary about me, but at least ‘something about me’ made sense that really hadn’t before.


There’s stuff, personal stuff, as well as the non-personal, that I long ago accepted would likely , overwhelmingly likely, not be part of ‘my life’. Usually it’s a fairly good natured resignation to it. Sometimes – less rarely as the years pass – I’m bad-naturedly resigned to it, very bad-naturedly.

And sometimes it’s wholly trivial, which almost makes the level of my genuine upset even more ludicrous, even dafter, than it is in and of itself. Which takes it to a whole new premier league of daftness. Kind of an exponential growth in the anger.

Take food, for example. While many of my friends might describe themselves as “foodies”, they’re not expert cooks nor bakers; they’re not epicureans when it comes to food. They just enjoy, genuinely enjoy, cooking or baking… and they definitely take pleasure in consuming good food. They might enjoy it more if they made it, but whether or not they made it, they enjoy good food. And they take equal pleasure in cooking for someone else, and even more enjoyment in that person expressing their pleasure in it.

All of which makes sense to me in a technical, objective, way. And none of which applies to me in any way whatsoever.

For all sorts of reasons, I tend to regard food as.… ‘fuel’. For me, food’s solely there to ease the ache of hunger. I’m – usually – as ok with a couple of slices of buttered toast as I would be with a cheese omelette, or as ok as I would be with a bowl of cereal, or as I would be a posh three course meal. It’s… food.

Sure, there’s food I actively dislike; I have a fairly bland palate, so I dislike spicy food, and strong, overwhelming, smells turn me off any type of food faster than you’d believe.

Mentioning odours, more than one friend has suggested my busted up nose might have something to do with my apathy when it comes to [nice] food, but a) I do have a sense of smell b) I do have my ‘favourite’ smells, and c) my indifference to food long pre-dates my nose being broken.

My mum was for the most part a very plain cook, and made very plain food. My old man liked the food that way. I’d say blame them for my lack if interest in food, bar for two things. First off, my dad really liked his food. He didn’t have a broad range but what he liked, he really liked. And mum encouraged all of us kids to experiment with food, to see what we liked. She was very much not a ‘this is what I’m serving, so this is what you’ll like. Also very much a ‘try it; if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it again, but try it now…’

So, yeah, food and tastes are not really a thing I do, Honourable exception for coffee, and again for scotch whisky. Not sure why those two in particular, but yeah, I do actually enjoy consuming both. Tea on the other hand, and most cold drinks, are again there solely to slake thirst. I like Oasis Citrus Punch, can drink loads of it, but if they stopped making it tomorrow, wouldn’t bother me in the least; I’m equally as happy drinking still water.

(Which reminds me of one of the sillier gags I like: “Waiter, I’d like some water, please.” “Certainly, sir. Still water?” “Yes, I haven’t changed my mind.”)

But much as it would be ludicrous to be upset at people enjoying a party that I didn’t care about attending, and indeed would have declined an invitation to had I received one (and yes, I’ve done that as well), it would be, and is, nonsensical for me to be upset at people enjoying food I wouldn’t care to eat.

And, yet, there have been times when I’ve felt exactly that.

Utterly daft, isn’t it?

Another example: there are genuine, long standing issues which I care about, politically. And that others might not care as much (as I said last Sunday) is something I’ve long gotten used to, as they have about me not caring as much about issues they put their energy and passion into.

And while there are any number of subjects and topics that I might query the priority someone regards it with, sometimes someone will care, obviously deeply care, about something that I genuinely cannot understand why anyone cares about it. I can’t get arsed about sport 99.999% of the time but I completely accept that makes me an anomaly. And I ‘get’ why it’s important to some. That’s not what I’m talking about.

Neither can I get arsed about where someone’s grandparents came from. Not to any extent beyond mild curiosity and, given the history of so many who died in the holocaust, that. I don’t really care about my own. I mean I know the basics of where my own grandparents came from, but not really much more than that. And I don’t care to learn more.

(Huh, I don’t really care about my family more than a couple of generations back, and I don’t enjoy food. Let me just check in my trousers to confirm I’m still Jewish. Ok, yes. Let’s continue.)

Combining the two above, a teenager named Emma Radacanu won a tennis tournament last night. I can’t say I truly watched it. It’s as on the background while I did other things; it was, for me, wallpaper television, to which I paid attention on occasion: the set points, long rallies, championship points.

From what I witnessed, she’s a fun, clever, teenager with an astonishing talent. The same applies equally to her opponent.

Radacanu is British; born in Canada but she moved to the UK as a toddler. And people have today been talking about where her parents came from, where her grandparents were born, either to proclaim with some sense of triumph that it shows Britain is great, or less pleasantly to cast doubt on her somehow.

I genuinely don’t care where her grandparents came from. Couldn’t give a toss; as far as I’m concerned the only people who should give the slightest damn about it are Ms Radacanu and her family. And it not only puzzles me that anyone else does, it angers me, for no accountable reason. It’s not other peoples’ fault that they’re interested in the cultural heritage and background of the first British woman to win a Grand Slam major in 40 years, and it’s none of my business that they are.

But it irks, to put it mildly. And I have no bloody idea at all why.

Two caveats to the above:

  1. As I was typing the above, something popped up on my twitter feed; ‘one of those exceptions that proves the rule’ things. The Mayor of London celebrated that she’s from London. I perfectly understand why he did it: politics. But I realised I should add a line: I completely understand people’s interest in where she comes from, and even where her parents originated. I am still at a complete loss to understand any interest intake background of her family beyond that.)
  2. Developing 1. above, where people come from, I understand an interest. Indeed, one could not support refugees without it. Where their parents come from, sure. But anything further back from that, I don’t understand. Someone born in the UK, say, today, whose parents immigrated or whose grandparents did, or whose great-grandparents did is exactly as British, no more no less, than someone who can trace the English, say, background to the 1200s. No more, no less.

Ok, now I’m done.

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 long ago got used to other people not thinking that

Thing I Think Is Very Important

is, in fact Very Important, or at least not as important to them, while not exactly liking the idea.

I also, very long ago, became accustomed to me not thinking that

Thing That Other People Think Is Very Important

is, in fact, Very Important. And, at the same time, that they might be over enthusiastic at the concept.

Everyone has their own priorities, everyone has their own Red Buttons, everyone has their own Very Important Things, and a limited time in which to express their support for [Thing] or opposition to [Thing].

Now, let me state up front that I’m not talking about where me and other people take a directly opposite position, where, for example, you think that greyhound racing is an abomination and I think it’s just great. Or where I think that musical comedy is great and you think it’s awful.

No, I’m talking about where you think, say, that greyhound racing is an abomination and I just… don’t care about it that much. Because my priorities are other things, other subjects, other injustices. Or say, I think that musical comedy is great and you don’t really have an opinion; you’re just not enthusiastic about it.

It’s part of the social contract, I guess. You get to decide that something I think is Very Important.… isn’t. And I don’t fall out with you because of it.

And I get to decide that something you think is Very Important… just isn’t… and you don’t fall out with me because of that.

Could be something as trivial (and yes, I know I’m setting myself up here) as to whether Star Trek is better than Star Wars or as serious as considering that one form of bigotry (in a political party) is worth paying in order to remove another party from government.

But there has to be a line, surely? There has to be – and experience shows there is – where someone concluding that something just ain’t that important… bites, and goes over a line into ‘by not thinking it’s that important, you’re in effect supporting its continuance.’

And then we find ourselves in the very nasty area of ‘silence = consent; silence = acquiescence; silence =support‘. I don’t agree with the observation, by the way. I think there can be any number of justifiable reasons for silence, depending on the specific subject, the law, the people involved, and the larger context.

I wrote in 2016 about my contempt, however, for those who do take that argument for matters they care about but then hypocritically claim it doesn’t apply when it’s stuff they don’t care about: 2017 minus 40: Sorry? I can’t hear you…


Sidebar:When I was a financial director, I was at a function and got chatting to some of my contemporaries. The subject of our own individual staff came up and one of my companions said something like:

I don’t pay them to make mistakes.

I have to say I wasn’t the only person to object to his comment. I was just the first one to actively disagree. I think that’s bullshit. Of course you pay people to make mistakes. That’s how they learn not to make them. They make mistakes, you explain what the mistake was; they learn from the experience and don’e make the same mistake again.

Because that’s what you’re paying them for: not to make the same mistake twice.


Same thing applies in a way online. I grew up in the 1970s; attended university in the 1980s. A lot changed – for me and in the UK – between those decades and the pace of change has continued, and increased.

I’m certainly not about to do a ‘some of my best friends are…’ to excuse fuckups I’ve made from ignorance, but I\’ve been incredibly fortunate to have friends that tell me when I’ve fucked up.

Because wvery so often, a friend‘ll send a private message with “thought you should know…” or “just a heads-up, budgie, but…”, letting me know that language I used is offensive or alludes to a trope, or… no, let’s be blunt about it: letting me know I fucked up.

I’ll delete with an apology, and I try to do better in future.

At this point, someone will usually pop up to argue “it’s not your friends’ responsibility to educate you”, a position I ‘heartily agree with. If it was their responsibility, it would be an obligation. This ain’t an obligation; it’s friendship.

So, no, it’s not on my friends to educate me; it’s not their responsibility to correct me. It’s mine, & my fault. But that’s what friends do; they realise it’s a fuck up, not malice.

I’m always very, very grateful to them; their knowledge and experiences are greater than mine and I learn from them. Much the same as, hopefully, they learn from me, when I repay the favour and let them know that a phrase they’ve used in all innocence has an antisemitic origin, or alludes to an age old antisemitic trope.

And, again I’m lucky with my friends, they do the “oh, fuck? I’ve fucked up, habven’t I? Shit. Thanks, mate… I’ll delete. Appreciate the heads up…”

But what happens if they don’t?

It’s no surprise that I loathed Jeremy Corbyn, and concluded, after many months of avoiding it, that he’s both personally and politically antisemitic.

And when it came to the general elections, in 2017, and especially in 2019, I could no longer pretend the line wasn’t there, not for me.

I had to draw the line.

And I lost friends over it. (Or at least, I’d lost people I’d thought of as friends. Whether they were actually friends or not is for the philosophers to argue about.)

I had to draw the line; anyone basically taking the positions of ‘antisemitism is all a smear’ or ‘ accusations of antisemitism are all a fabrication’ or ‘we can deal with the antisemitism later’ (aka ‘it’s a price worth paying’)…? They all crossed That Line I drew. And any relationship we had until that point… ended. Permanently.

For some: their own line is ‘debating their very existence’; I’m not about to tell them their line is anything other than correct. For others it’s ‘supporting political candidates and political positions that harm me and mine’; for still others, the line is drawn very narrowly, for others it’s far broader. And all of their lines are right, all of their lines are correct.

For while, sure, anyone can tell someone else their line is ‘wrong’, you’re a dick if you do so. Because everyone draws a line somewhere, whether or not they admit it.

Remember Laura Pidcock? She gave an interview during which she said that she wouldn’t be friends, wouldn’t go drinking with, Tory MPs who voted for policies that harmed her constituents. I read the interview after people had extrapolated from her words to claim she’d said “she wouldn’t be friends with a Tory”. Except she’d never said that, and indeed she said some of her family voted Tory at the last election.

And on Twitter – of course on Twitter – it morphed into a ‘would you kiss a Tory? Would you fuck a Tory?’ Utterly ludicrous, and yet if someone wants to draw the line their, that’s their choice.

And now back to the ‘staying silent’. While I don’t agree for a moment with the “silence = consent; silence = acquiescence; silence = support”, I will grant that position one thing.

There’s an old Jewish observation about those who do or don’t turn up for a shiva, the days of memorial, usually at the house of a mourner; for a week, peopel come in and out of the house; friends, strangers, people who knew him or her, people who just want to pay their respects.

The observation: you don’t always remember who turned up, but you never forget who didn’t.

Silence has consequences, and if you’re the one who stays silent, you’d better be prepared for them.

I don’t have An Answer; I don’t think there is An Answer, beyond this, and it’s very much not a satisfactory one:

You’ve got to be able to look in the mirror without wincing. Whether it’s while shaving, or putting make-up on, or just washing your face. You’ve got to be able to look without wincing, or without wincing too hard, anyway.

And yes of course, fucking idiots and racists/homophobes/trans phones… they can all do that because a) they’re fucking idiots, and b) they’re often proud of their actions. But I’m talking about those with a moral compass I’d recognise.

Now, can I look in the mirror without wincing? No, not usually, because the face that’s looking back at me is my own and no one should have to look at that ugly mug every day. But other than the whole looks and appearance thing, can I? Mostly, yeah. Not always, and rarely completely. But mostly… yeah.

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.

One of the mainstays of US comedy for the past couple of decades has been The Daily Show. Originally helmed by Craig Kilborn, it only really took off under his successor Jon Stewart. When Stewart retired from the show after 16 years, his successor Trevor Noah- after a fairly ropey start – managed to make the show his own.

It took me a good two years to ‘get’ Noah’s version of the show, though it wasn’t like I watched every episode. I wasn’t waiting for the show to work for me or anything. But I watched every so often, and after about two years, it hit me that the show was clever enough, professional enough, and funny enough for me to think ‘ok, now I want to see what the show does about this and what it says about that.’

Every so often, there’s an attempt to answer the calls and try to make a UK equivalent of The Daily Show.

And it has even been tried a couple of times; arguably. the most successfully (or least unsuccessfully with Trevor McDonald and Marcus Brigstocke. Others might point at 10 O’Clock Live with Charlie Brooker, David Mitchell, Lauren Laverne and Jimmy Carr.

Or, being cruel, maybe that should have been “Others might point at 10 O’Clock Live with Charlie Brooker, David Mitchell, Lauren Laverne… but Jimmy Carr.”

UK versions fail for a variety of reasons, but they always fail.

There are lots of reasons why, each specific to the individual show, but there’s one ever-present reason why all of them fail: UK comedy shows aren’t allowed to use clips from parliament for the purposes of satire, comedy or mockery.

Yeah, I know. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver even makes a thing of it; whenever they show something from Parliament, the UK broadcast has to replace the clips of parliament with something else; Oliver chooses to make it something entirely irrelevant and silly, like Gilbert Gotfried reading TripAdvisor reviews.

But comedy shows aren’t the only time permission or rights refusals have stopped an adaptation of a foreign show working in the UK.

A few years ago, there was a tv panel show called The Bubble; it was a success overseas but never really rose above mediocre when tried in the UK.

And mainly, thought not solely, that was because the main news media refused permission for the programme to mock up news items purporting to be real.

Why would that be needed? Well, the simple but superbly clever concept was this:

The Bubble asks three celebrity contestants to separate true news stories from fakes after spending four days locked away in a country house with no phone, TV or internet access.


The host will present them with a mix of news reports, headlines and images from TV, newspapers and celebrity gossip magazines.

And “all” the contestants have to do is say which stories are true and which have been made up.

The obvious thought is: “ok, some stories are obviously going to be true and some are obviously going to be false, it’s going to be the one that could be true that will be the tough ones…”

But I always think in response “No, it won’t. It’ll be the utterly ludicrous ones…”

Suppose instead of four days, the contestants had been locked away since 31st December 2020.. I’ll exclude celebrity deaths because every year has people die unexpectedly. And I’ll similarly exclude anything to do with the existence of Covid, since we’d had almost a year of it already by the end of last year.

But suppose when exiting, after six months, the contestants are given the following: 

  • An insurrection at the US Capitol with a genuine, armed, attempt to prevent Joe Biden becoming President
  • Elected representatives actively helping said insurrection, and letting rioters in to state legislatures
  • Elected representatives who downplayed the seriousness of the insurrection being proposed to sit on the committee investigating it
  • England reaching the final of Euros 2020… in 2021
  • A Canadian MP was first caught naked in a zoom call with colleagues, then was caught urinating on camera — and he’s NOT related to Doug Ford.
  • The Olympics, a year delayed, going ahead in a country with increasing covid infections, with only 1 in 5 fully vaccinated
  • All Nippon Airways, selling tickets for airline dinners on the runway, never leaving the ground
  • Matt Hancock has to resign after being caught on his own department’s CCTV in an amorous hug with an aide
  • John Bishop crashed his car to avoid “a big chicken”
  • Bibi Netanyahu no longer Israeli PM
  • Someone pays $2.9m so they could say they own a 15 year old tweet
  • Tussaud’s has to put Trump’s waxwork into storage because people kept punching it
  • Scientists officially investigate whether sightings of the Loch Ness Monster could be whale penises.
  • 1500 bottles of vodka made from radioactive apples grown near Chernobyl is prevented at the last minute from being exported to the UK
  • Australian researchers claim short sighted people have worse sleep than those with normal vision
  • In New York, a Catholic priest claims demons have been contacting people by text.

I think more than a few contestants would be repeat-pushing the “Made Up Story” button, don’t you?

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.

Prime Minister’s Questions. I’ve written on them before, so no need to go into the whole history of them, their basic usual pantomime level of Punch and Judy politics, but…

But there were three items of interest in today’s session that I think are worthy of commenting upon, or at least noting that they occured.

Because, to me at least, they were genuinely interesting, and two of them at least were – again, to me – unexpected:

Let’s get the expected one out of the way; Jeremy Corbyn looked tired. For once the subject matter of his questions was in his area of preference: foreign affairs. But where I might have in the past expected fire and brimstone from him on it, it just wasn’t there. As I say, not a huge surprise given the election result, and the past three weeks.

(Though the lack of passion and fiery rhetoric just might have been to do with the next ‘interesting thing’…)

But it was painfully obvious that he knows he’s on his way out. He seemed… less, somehow. Which didn’t exactly hurt Johnson’s ability to blather his way out of pretty much anything Corbyn asked.

But since Corbyn is on his way out, a comment or two about his performance in general in Prime Minister’s Questions. I make, and indeed have made, no secret of the fact that I think Corbyn is pretty useless at PMQs.

Now, I hasten to add, that’s entirely unrelated to what I think of him politically, or as a person. I mean, there are plenty of politicians I hugely disagree with but who I’ll quite happily acknowledge their skill in the House of Commons; when they’re at the dispatch box, asking or answering questions.

There’s very little I agree with Michael Gove about, say, but he is pretty good in the chamber, while maintaining a… flexible and malleable attitude with accuracy.

I quite liked Paddy Ashdown but – in part because the House was rarely kind to him when he was on his feet – he was never someone who commanded the attention of the House when he asked questions as Lib Dem leader.

And then there’s John McDonnell.

When Corbyn appointed McDonnell Shadow Chancellor, neither Corbyn nor he had ever been on the front bench, asking questions on behalf of the opposition or answering them on behalf of the government.

Both were – I think it’s fair to say – utterly, unreservedly useless.

Difference between them soon became obvious though. Both were, they must have been, told by people around them ‘you’re fucking useless; my gods, that was embarrassing.you really need to step up your game‘.

That difference became strikingly obvious, though, when McDonnell clearly listened, practiced – I’m genuinely curious who trained him, I’ll admit – and… upped his game. In well under a year, he’d gone from cringingly embarrassing to not that bad at all; six months later he was getting quite good. Six months after that he was very good.

He’s now one of the best Labour has at commanding the attention of the House, asking questions, and making hard, very hard indeed, speeches.

Whereas Corbyn? well, Corbyn is better than he once was. The ‘I’ve had an email from a Miss Trellis of North Wales’ idea was a clever one but Corbyn being Corbyn overdid it to the point of absurdity. He eventually found his way to the apparently entirely foreign to him concept of… asking a follow up question, and even later seemed to almost stumble over the essential Leader of the Opposition skill of

  • asking the PM a question you already know the answer to
  • Getting a non-answer from the PM, then
  • starting the next question with ‘The PM didn’t answer my question; the answer in fact is… [embarrassing answer for the government]’; now let me ask him…’
  • And then doing it again.

However, he’s been Leader of the Opposition for four and a half years and it’s only the past two, I’d say, where he wasn’t flat out lousy at PMQs. And it’s fortunate indeed for him that he faced Theresa May for most of it; anyone else and he’d have been crushed every bloody session.

(One thing May and Corbyn shared, and it’s an odd thing for an experienced politician, of any stripe: they’re both abysmal at reading out scripted gags. Both can be, rarely but it happened, pretty good at ad libs, even if they’d been prepared ages ago and the opportunity to use it just now occurred. But scripted jokes? No, both terrible at delivering them. I don’t however wholly blame them; their speech writers should have written gags that at least sounded like their bosses’ words; they never bloody did.)
 


 
Second point of interest: it looks as if the days of 45 minute PMQs sessions are gone. Speaker John Bercow slowly but surely allowed the length of PMQs to extend until they rarely finished before about 12:45pm and occasionally ran even longer.

Back in the day, by which I mean way, way back in the 1990s, the format was that a backbencher would open the session by asking the PM for their engagements for the day. The PM would answer with something like

“Mr Speaker, This morning I had several meetings with colleagues and others. Later today, in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings.”

The backbencher then asked another question, the important¹ question they’d always intended to ask.

Other MPs would follow the same format of questions. They’d first ask for the engagements, the PM would say “I refer the hon member to the reply I gave some moments ago”, then the MP would ask their proper question as what was known as a ‘supplementary question’. The idea was to prevent the PM knowing what was coming.

This all changed in the 1990s, when such ‘closed questions’ were for the most part abolished. They still occasionally happen, but only once in a blue moon. Now, an MP puts their name on the order paper without the question, to preserve the ‘the PM doesn’t know what’s coming.’

Bercow tended to allow two backbencher’s questions – one from Labour, one from the Tories – before calling the Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition to ask his six questions.

So in recent years, it tended to go:
 

  1. a couple of backbenchers’ questions, then
  1. Leader of the Opposition/Prime Minister, 6 questions, anything up to 15 – 20 minutes… long questions, long answers, then
  1. 3rd party leader/Prime Minister, 2 questions, 7 or 8 minutes, then
  1. Backbenchers’ questions, 20 or 25 minutes…

 
Not under Speaker Hoyle. Looks like we’re back to ‘the old days’ at least about timings.

Today’s had:
 

  1. single backbencher’s questions, then
  1. Leader of the Opposition/Prime Minister, 6 questions, 10 minutes… short questions, short answers, then
  1. 3rd party leader/Prime Minister, 2 questions, 5 minutes, then
  1. Backbenchers’ questions, 15 minutes…

 
Done and dusted in 31 minutes.

It’ll be very interesting to see if this continues and whether we’re really back to half hour #PMQ sessions all the time or whether – as with Bercow – it… stretches. I suspect the former, with rare examples of the latter. But we’ll see.


 
Third point of interest: the very final question in the session.

Karl Turner, a Labour MP, asked the following question:

I’d recommend you watch it to get the full impact.

In case you haven’t time, Turner asked about a constituent – someone serving life – who’d saved lives on London Bridge by tackling a knife-wielding terrorist risking his own life to do so, and asking the PM to pay tribute to his constituent’s bravery.

I have no idea what reply he was expecting from Johnson, but the Prime Minister’s professed admiration for the man’s bravery and hope that it be recognised in due course was probably² more than Turner expected.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow.


¹ I say ‘important’; I jest. There are and were so many planted questions of the ‘does the PM agree he’s just lovely?’ that the important questions are sadly the rarity

² It’s more than possible that the PM got a heads-up that the question was coming and that Turner had a pretty good idea what the response would be.

[Oh, before I start, just a reminder about the photos I’ve used in this blog this year. Other than shots I’ve taken myself, or have express permission to use, they come from an iOS app entitled Unsplash which supplies copyright free photos. Also on: https://Unsplash.com]

You’d think the subject of this post would have occurred to me during the amount of time I’ve spent on Twitter but no; the rising to the fore of this particular irritation was occasioned by me spending half an hour trying to wrangle a sentence, a bit of dialogue in a short story, into doing what I wanted.

Which it stubbornly refused to do.

For British readers, you have to remember in the next sentence that Americans call them lightning bugs, not – as we sensible Brits call them – fireflies. But Mark Twain once observed that for a writer

“The difference between ‘the right word’ and ‘the wrong word’ is the difference bewteen the lightning and the lightning bug.”

And while any writing I do is attempting to use the lightning rather than the firefly, I’ve spent part of today trying to use exactly the right word. And thinking about the vagaries of language.

For example, why do we listen to something, but merely read something. When I visit my friend’s place off Mainland Scotland, am I in Skye, or ‘on’ the Isle of Skye?

You know what irregular verbs are, right?

They’re when you say something like:

I’m single-minded
You’re determined, whereas
He’s an awkward bastard

Or, to steal from Yes, Prime Minister

I’ve just given an unofficial briefing
You’ve just leaked some information, and
He’s just been charged under section 2(a) of the Official Secrets Act.

What made me think of the above was when I wondered this morning, what’s the difference between “defending your actions” and “being defensive”? Or between “doing yourself down” on the one hand and “being realistic” on the other?

Where is the line between cockiness and arrogance? Or between modesty and faux-modesty. Or, I guess these days, between the brag and the humblebrag?

While some might justifiably argue that cynicism is very different to scepticism, does it matter when the two are [incorrecly] so often used as synonyms of each other?

Is gullibility merely an extreme form of open mindedness? Or are they fundamentally different?

If one is cruel when being scathing, are the two inherently linked? Can one be scathing without being cruel?

And then there’s ‘passionate’. I’ve come to intensively dislike the word, as it’s so often used as an excuse; he didn’t mean to be offensive, he’s just passionate about [insert subject matter], as if that excuses it. of ‘He got carried away and stepped over a line.… but it’s because he’s so passionate.’ Again, offered only ever as an excuse.

Or, of course the biggie… when is ‘it’ a lie?

You might think that everyone agrees: it’s when someone knowingly tells, propagates or invents an untruth, something that is, let’s face it, untrue; a falsehood.

But it’s the ‘knowingly’ that catches you out.

Can you ever know, know for a fact that there was an intention to deceive on the part of the politician you dislike? One might argue that if they’ve been corrected but continue to spread the misinformation, the incorrect statistic, the untrue information, that then they knowingly lie.

But not necessarily. They could disbelief the ‘correct’ information or could believe that the information itself is a lie. They could be fucking stupid. Any or all could happen.

In which case are they still lying?

I don’t know.

I think all you can do is form your own judgment and then act on it.

And for as much as I rail against the horror that is “…and you know it…” in a disagreeable social media post or tweet, I’ve as much faith that it’ll continue as I have in the sun coming up tomorrow.

At some point we need to start talking about how we find sources of information, fact checkers, that everyone can rely on, and everyone can cite, rather than assuming bias because we don’t like them telling us we’re wrong.
 
 
Something else tomorrow…

Two weeks left.

Well, a little under two weeks, I guess.

A little under two weeks.

And then 2019 will finally be over.

Done. Dusted. We can put it to bed. Gently rest its head on a pillow. Cover it with a blanket. Then take another pillow, and carefully, deliberately, smother it. Put it out of its pain and misery. I don’t even think it’ll protest. It’ll welcome that longest sleep, and succumb quickly.

But it’ll be dead.

Except it won’t. Not really.

For the consequences of decisions taken in 2019, and of events that have occurred this year, will linger not only into 2020 but far, far beyond.

The obvious, I guess, since it’s the most recent in pain, hurt and time is the 2019 election we’ve all just… enjoyed. The consequences of that election, both direct and indirect, will affect us throughout 2020, and into 2021 and longer.

In 2015, as part of this blog, I wrote a countdown blog to the election and wrote more than forty entries about the election. I took almost all of 2017 off from blogging, and so didn’t write about that year’s general election. And I hardly wrote anything about this one; the occasional piece, sure. But not a full blown ‘ok, let’s take a look at what the fuck is happening’ series of entries.

Partly because I had nothing to add, partly because what I saw, what I witnessed, was too painful. Partly because I knew I was going to lose friends over the campaign period, and didn’t wish to gratuitously, needlessly, lose more.

Because the campaigns were poisonous on all sides, and the poison infected everyone. I’ve long bemoaned the political climate of ‘our opponents are not merely good people with bad ideas, but bad people with worse ideas’ but it reached its zenith in November and December. Or at least I pray it did. For if it’s going to get even more apparent and greater in scope, then that’s not a country and not a world I’m entirely sure I can handle.

The fallouts from that election on a national, and on a personal, level are still painful. And for once that’s not a netaphor, nor a conceit; it fucking hurts, inside.

And I am so fucking tired.

I shouldn’t have to wonder, every time someone I know, like and respect makes a ‘dodgy’ crack; I shouldn’t have to ask myself every fucking time: “do they realise what they’re saying, how it’s coming across? or did they just go for the quick joke and it’s essentially ignorance, not malice”.

Never before has ‘no candidate/party is perfect, so you vote for the least imperfect‘ clashed so obviously, so blatantly, with the ‘there are lines I cannot and will not cross‘.

So, yeah, I very deliberately didn’t write much about the 2019 election.

Which means, at least, unlike in 2015, I don’t have to write a mea culpa post afterwards about everything I got wrong.

And now we approach 2020.

On a personal level, the start of any new year is always overshadowed by an anniversary that takes place a week and a bit into that new year: the anniversary of my brother’s death in 1998. As I’ve written before, and no doubt will again, the advent of 1998 was the last time, the final time, I greeted 1st January with “well, whatever happens this year, it can’t be worse than this last year.”

Who knew?

But even leaving aside that intensely personal reason for not greeting each new year with unalloyed joy, four weeks into 2020 the UK will leave the European Union. Oh, there’ll be a transition period of almost a year, during which most stuff will stay the same. But unless an extension is sought by July, no extension is gonna happen at the end of 2020.

So there’s every possibility, probability even, that at the end of 2020, the UK is out without a trade deal… after which the brown stuff truly will hit the spinning round whirly thing.

I read today that after 31st January, official British government policy will be to stop using the term ‘Brexit’, presumably so Boris Johnson can claim that ‘Brexit’ was… done.

Our primus inter mendaces knows it’s not true. As does his entire government, his entire party. And saying it, and believing it’s true because it was said, is more often associated with the orange poltroon in the big round room across the Atlantic. But Johnson is banking on enough in the country being gullible enough to believe it. And, given the past few years, who can unreservedly claim that he’s incorrect in that calculation?

All the parties in the recent election, every one of them, relied on a certain amount of gullibility from the people from whom they were seeking votes; all that differed was how much.

Talking of America, and the orange poltroon, we get to see the trial of President Trump at some point. I’ve no idea whether or not the trial will happen in January. And right now, no other bugger does wither. Pelosi seems to want to not send the articles of impeachment the House voted to approve to the Senate until she gets a cast iron guarantee of how the trial will be conducted.

Which, given Mitch McConnell’s fundamental untrustworthiness, may take until after the 2020 Presidential election.

Oh yeah, we’ve got that next year as well. Which will once again show the world’s countries how – whatever their own fucked up politics and fucked up electoral systems – America really doesn’t like being second place in the table of countries with fucked up politics and fucked up electoral systems.

Just as it’s irresistible to look at the results of a horrible car crash while you’re driving past it, there’ll be an overwhelming desire to watch both the trial and the election, to witness history in the making.

Because, like it or not, both will be history in the making. They’ll be events that will make pundits and public alike look at, years later, and.. and what? Shudder at? Cry at? Wince at? Who knows.

But history in the making? Certainly.

But then there’s always history in the making.

I was born in mid-August 1964, a few months before America decisively rejected Barry Goldwater’s offer to the American people, and almost exactly nine months after JFK was assassinated and after the first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast.

In the now over 55 years I’ve been in this planet, I missed some history being made, sure; I wasn’t even aware of anything outside what directly affected me and mine for the first, what half a dozen or so years of my life, and for the next half a dozen, didn’t care about them. So, President Nixon resigned in 1974, week or so before my 10th birthday.

At ten years of age, I’m not entirely sure I even knew it at the time. It’s possible my father might have mentioned it, and I heard it, but no, I have n memory of it. (I do remember the Beatles breaking up, six years earlier, but only because my aforementioned big brother was terribly upset.)

I honestly don’t know how much I’d have been aware of, though had social media and ubiquitous connection to the internet had been around in the 1970s…

But even if you say from the age of 13 – in mid-1977 – in my life, I’ve witnessed history being made dozens of times. Just off the top of my head, without thinking about it, in my teenage years, Elvis died, as did John Lennon. We had the first woman British Prime Minister, and shortly thereafter the miner’s strike. Soon thereafter, Labour showed how you catastrophically lose a general election, a lesson that took almost forty years to be forgotten enough… to do it again.

In my mid-20s, the Berlin Wall came down and the USSR started to collapse, and Nelson Mandela walked to freedom… and and and…

History is made all the time, and occasionally you realise it at the time, but almost never does it happen in such a way that instantly you know what the consequences will be.

You can guess whether they’ll be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but not much more than that.

And 2020 will bring more deaths; that’s inevitable. There’ll be much loved celebrities who die at the end of a ‘natural’ life span’, and some that go too soon; some that go far, far too soon.

Though, to be fair, there’ll be some who’ll die and my reaction will be… that I’m surprised they were still alive, either because of advancing age or, let’s say if Keith Richards dies, that they managed to last as long as they did.

My mother used to say that things came in threes… and if another thing happened, it wasn’t that things happened in fours, but that it was the start of a whole new series of three.

But you know, you already know, that when something – I don’t know what – but something will happen in the early says of 2020 – happens, plenty of people will cry in protest: “Oh fuck; I was hoping 2019 had ended…”

It did.

It will have.

This will just be the long, lingering smell of shit, like someone dumped a huge barrel of turds across the world in 2019.

Which, I suppose, in every important way… they did.
 
 
Something else, something happier, or at least smilier… tomorrow. And next week? Something on good stuff that happened in 2019, both personal and beyond.

 
 
 
 

Exactly 20 years ago today, I was looking forward to a holiday, a special one.

I’d recently started working at the company I was to spend the next twelve years working for, was enjoying it hugely, but we hadn’t been ‘away’ as a family for a proper holiday for some years, and I was very much looking forward to it.

My then-, but now ex-, wife Laura and I were taking our then four year old son to Anaheim, to Disneyland, immediately after Christmas.

And I’m thinking of that holiday today. Specifically, I’m thinking of a few minutes before midnight, before 1st January 2000. Just a few minutes before, you understand, and you’ll appreciate why in just a minute or two.

So, 31st December 1999.

As I say, we were in Anaheim. We’d already been to the park earlier in the week but we’d been told that greeting the new year in Disneyland was something special. We’d also been advised to get to the park early that morning, as it would be jam packed most of the day, and especially by the evening; indeed, it was.

We spent the day doing rides, walking around, enjoying our son’s sheer unfettered delight at the park; repeated rides on things like It’s A Small World, trying to capture forever the joy on his face at the prospect of doing this, then that, then this, than that… then that again, and this again… It was lovely, genuinely.

I can’t swear that Disneyland is always, as the slogan has it, The Happiest Place On Earth, but for our lad, that day? Yeah, it applied.

Utterly exhausted, Phil fell asleep in the stroller around half-past seven, and slept for most of the next four hours.

By half-ten at night, the darkness lit only by the million lights or so of the park, we were in our final positions, a good view of the fireworks to come.

And we were just waiting… waiting… waiting.

An hour later, with thirty minutes to go before everything went nuts, we miraculously saw people we knew, people staying at the same hotel as us, and we caught up with them. 

Packed like sardines, the warmth of the crowd uncomfortably increasing, seeing the forced smiles of Disney people slipping momentarily before being plastered back on, the time clicked away. Phil was awake by now, surprised by the crowds, wanting to be lifted up. The adults? We were tired.

Sure, we were excited about the forthcoming celebrations, the fireworks that we knew would be spectacular, the start of the year 2000, the fact that we were there, five and a half thousand miles from home… but we were tired, hot, crowded…

About ten minutes before midnight, I remember saying to one of my companions, “Thirty minutes to go… Thirty minutes to go…” 

Puzzled, he glanced up at the giant clock, then looked back at me. “Thirty minutes?”

“Thirty minutes…” I repeated, “…until we can get out of here…”

I’ve been feeling the same about this general election for the past couple of days.

I almost entitled titled this blog post “#ThisFuckingElection“, the hashtag I’ve used more than once on Twitter.

No one is, can be, unaware of my views on the leaders of the two main parties standing for election tomorrow. I’ve written of my views on Corbyn more than once, and named Johnson primus inter mendaces when he became Tory leader and Prime Minister. Neither of them are fit for the office they’re likely to have after tomorrow. Neither of them are fit to be leaders of great parties, let alone Prime Minister.

Now during the election campaign, everyone’s had to draw their own ‘lines’. And no matter where they’ve drawn that line, they’ve received grief for it, justified grief or not,

(‘Justified’ in my own opinion, of course.)

Before the election campaigns started, I wrote in a post:
 

It’s a mug’s game making predictions about elections. Only a fool would do it. And only an idiot would make predictions this early.

Let’s make some predictions this early.

 
And, surprisingly to me, only one of those predictions (including the final, ‘extra’, one) didn’t pan out, hasn’t come true.

This one:
 

Prediction Eight: I’m going to miss a typo at sometime in the next six weeks and I’ll type “I’m really not looking forward to the result of this erection.”

 
So, yeah, if one was going to be wrong, I’m content it was that one.

However, as I say, everyone’s drawn their own lines. And everyone’s had to judge for themselves when those lines have been crossed. I predicted in 2017 that I was likely to lose friends during that year’s election campaign. As it was, I didn’t. I’m not quite sure how, but I didn’t.

This time, I made the same prediction, with a very different result. I’ve lost friends, I’ve terminated friendships, during this fucking election and the campaigns leading up to it. And when I say the friendships have been ended, I should have added the word ‘irrevocably’.

I wish I felt worse about it. I wish I felt sad about it. Because I don’t. I don’t feel bad about those – some of them decades’ long – friendships ending. At all.

Everyone’s had to draw their own lines.

Still at least it’ll all be over tomorrow at 10pm.

I’ve loathed this election more than any other, unlike any other, in my lifetime. I’ve detested the campaigns, on all sides, and those who’ve supported various positions, parties and policies, while ignoring… certain other matters.

I wish, however, that what I wrote above was accurate: that it’ll be over in approximately 30 hours.

Because it won’t be. That’s the final gift this election, and the associated campaigns, have for us. And what a shitty gift it is.

Because whereas this election and its campaigns have made me look at some people differently, people I’ll never look at the same way again, will never fully trust, not when it comes to my safety….

…those same people will never look the same way at me again, will never truly trust me.

And whatever happens tomorrow, whoever manages to form a government, that’ll continue. That’s the legacy of this fucking election.

If Corbyn loses, the blame game will commence five minutes’ later and leaving aside the ever-present excuse of ‘Labour lost because they weren’t left wing enough’ (which is always offered), there’ll be plenty who will blame Teh Jooz. Oh, they might say ‘zionists’, but they mean Jooz.

There’ll be plenty of others they’ll blame as well: the media, ‘centrists’, Blairites, and any candidate who wasn’t labour. Oh, and the voters.

But yeah, Teh Jooz will be blamed for Corbyn losing. I won’t say ‘their fair share of blame’ even for flowing language, because it won’t be ‘fair’. Antisemitism never is fair.

It’s why I’ve been saying that I’ve been looking forward to 19th December. Not the 13th, the day after the election, but the 19th. Because, hopefully, if we’re lucky, the worst of the ‘blame Teh Jooz’ will have died down by then.

If we’re lucky.

Yeah, but how lucky have we been so far the past few years, eh?

No matter who you’re voting for tomorrow, vote. I think it’s important to vote, and you’ll get no ‘[my side] voters vote tomorrow; [the other lot] voters vote on Friday’. It’s tiresome and annoying. And never funny.

Vote tomorrow.

Something less hurty tomorrow.

About ten years ago, there was a big fuss about MPs’ expenses.

You may have read about it.

At the time, while there was righteous fury at the dishonesty and flagrancy of many expense claims, no one was arguing – well, no one other than the MPs who were caught making absolutely ludicrous expense claims – that MPs should receive no expenses.

Or if they were, they were idiots.

Oh, before I go on with this, I’m not talking about claimimg 50p for a pencil, say. Or a pound for a padlock, to take another example. Both of which I recall people throwing up their hands in horror at.

The size of the individual expense is, to a large extent, irrelevant as to its necessity or otherwise, both cheap and expensive. If they’re justified expenses, being exclusively and necessary to do the job, they’re justified.

Doesn’t matter if it’s a pound spent or a hundred pounds. And anyone who says “oh, they shouldn’t claim for anything less than a pound”, then all that would guarantee is more expensive alternatives being bought instead.

Anyway, back to the concept of expenses. Those arguing for a ‘no expenses; a flat salary, end of story’ regime are equally daft. It would have immediate and deleterious consequences for MPs representing constituencies outside London. It would penalise an MP with a constituency in, say, Glasgow.

Easy to say an MP who lives in London shouldn’t get travel expenses… in most of London, there’s a decent tube system and decent bus service, but an MP from Aberdeen? Or from Cardiff? Or even from Manchester?

They’re supposed to pay for travel to and from Westminster out of the same salary that a London MP gets?

No, of course not; they should get essential travel expenses paid for as part of the job.

Similarly, since the only non-government MP who gets more money is the Leader of The Opposition, it’s a bit daft to say that no MPs should get expenses to pay for staff.

Or, again, consider the difference between that MP from Glasgow and an MP from Camden. Perfectly reasonable to say to the latter ‘you don’t need accommodation paid by the state… you either rent or own your property in London already…’

Not so sensible to say that to the Glasgow MP. Much fairer to provide accommodation for MPs than expect them to commute shlap back and forth every day.

That said… that said…

Note what I said: “Much fairer to provide accommodation

There are 650 MPs. Knock off the half a dozen or so who get grace and favour accommodation provided. PM, Chancellor, Foreign Sec, Speaker…

But yeah, 650, say.

So, rather than MPs getting to pick their accommodation, and furniture and fittings, etc., and then bilk bill the taxpayer, why not provide accommodation?

Seriously… why doesn’t the state provide accommodation for MPs?

Either buy or build a few blocks of flats, totalling roughly 650 flats. Pretty basic three bedroom flats. (Otherwise it’s unfair to MPs with kids.) Nice flats, not crappy ones, but standard, basic, all pretty much the same. And all within walking distance to the Palace of Westminster.

Obviously, the buildings and all flats therein to be wheelchair accessible; completely accessible for disabled MPs, come to that.

And then each flat belongs to ‘the MP for [constituency]’. Start by drawing lots to determine which constituency gets which flat (otherwise, you’d end up, no doubt, with mates of the leaders getting ‘the best’ flats). But once drawn… that’s it.

You’re the MP for Luton South? OK, you’re in flat 23. You’re the MP for Glasgow East? Cool; you’re in flat 287. You’re the MP for Cardiff? You’re in flat 49.

The flats provided to MPs will be furnished with – again good, but not top of the range – furniture and fittings, computers, etc.

The only exception I’d make for ‘top of the range’ would be broadband; I do think it’s fair that our elected representatives get better than decent internet.

Anything more that they want, though… they pay for.

If they want to upgrade the furniture, or other tech, they pay for it themselves. And pay for the storage for the stuff they’re not going to use. And they’re billed to put the stuff back in the flat when they leave, whether from choice or because they lose at an election.

Security would be provided throughout; again, I think that’s [sadly] sensible, these days.

But yeah, MPs need somewhere to live in London; I just don’t see why they get to choose where while they do the job… and why if they do, we have to fund it.

If they want us to pay for it, then we get to pick it.
 


 
I’ve deliberately not mentioned thus far what you do with MPs who already own property in London, whether or not they’re MPs who represent London constituencies. Well, they can either hand it over to a property agent to manage while they live in the flat provided… or they can live at their own property, and choose to merely use the flat as a place to crash after a late night in Parliament, or a place to hold meetings in, if they want. Either’s good by me.

But we don’t pay for their mortgage on their home. If they want to be MPs, they can pay for their personal mortgage out of their MPs pay, or from the rentals.

 
 
The usual Tuesday ‘something else’ tomorrow.

A friend of mine used to work for an accountancy recruitment firm. Like all of us, in any job, he had his own rules, developed from years in his chosen trade or profession, and two of them were almost articles of faith to him.

One of them was why people stay at a job, and why they look for a new one.

He maintained that there were three attributes people cared about regarding a current job:

  • Your prospects – what you can reasonably expect if you stay: better pay, title, job, promotions
  • The benefits you currently get: who you work with, the extras you get from working there, the clients you have
  • A genuine vocation for the work.

He insisted that if you had none of them, you’ve already been looking for an new job for a while

If you had only one of them, you’re similarly already looking for a new job

If you had two of them, though, you’d probably stay at your job:

He suggested that people will put up with ‘no prospects’ if they like the job and have a genuine vocation for the work.

Also, even if you’re not crazy about the specific job, if you’ve great prospects and enjoy the work, you’ll stay.

And, obviously, if you’ve good prospects and have a vocation for the work, you won’t mind not liking this specific job for a while until those prospects are met, or you realise they won’t be.

Oh, if you claimed you had all three, he’s recommend you call The Guinness Book of Records. Because he’d rarely come across someone who genuinely did.

The other thing he viewed as aa certainty was: the worst question to ask – or be asked – in a job interview.

He had no time for the “how many dentists are there in London?” type questions. He viewed them – correctly, in my opinion – as merely examples of the ‘how would you approach solving this problem?’ type. That’s all, no more no less. They weren’t trick questions, nor impossible to answer impressively.

No, the absolute King Bastard Of Questions, he insisted, was:

If you don’t get offered the job, what do you think will be the reason why?

He recommended it to employers to ask in only two specific circumstances: when you knew you probably wouldn’t offer the candidate the role but there’s a small voice at the back of your head pushing you to, or when wanted to offer them the role, but that small voice voice is warning you not to… but you don’t know why.

And the reason why it’s such a bastard of a question is because there’s no right answer. (Well, there is, he suggested, but more about that in a moment.) But since no one in an interview wants to blame someone else, it forces the candidate to examine their own history.

And whatever they say reveals what they think are their weaknesses as a candidate.

If they mention their spotty job history, never staying long at a job, then they’re worried about that; if they mention their less than stellar exam performance, the same.

The only ‘right’ answer, my friend maintained was to walk a line between confidence and cocky, between assured and arrogant:

I don’t know. I hope I’ve done enough in this interview to convince you that I am the right person for this role.

For some years, I’ve been quietly irritated that the same question isn’t asked of politicians seeking our votes. “If you don’t win the election, what do you think will be the reason why?”

Not that I expected any politicians to answer it. In fact, on the rare occasions when they were asked something similar, the usual answer trotted out by politicians of all parties is ‘I don’t answer hypotheticals; I think we will win.”

And that’s an answer that infuriates me. A manifesto is, at its very heart, something that relies upon a hypothetical. And politicians have no problem at all with predicting the future will be golden under their policies.

They have an equal lack of issue with trashing the other parties’ manifestos, usually involving and creating or relating ever greater and more ludicrous hypotheticals, offered with even greater claims of calamity.

Any politician commenting on their [main] opponents’ manifestos will always assert that their opponents’ fiscal policies, if put into practice, will crash the economy.

Predicting, whether it’s the effect of ‘your ‘own’ sides’ policies or your opponents’ inherently relies upon hypothetical scenarios.

As I say, I’ve been frustrated that this question isn’t put to politicians, on the national scale, and at local hustings.

However, I’m neither irritated nor frustrated that the question isn”t being asked this time.

Because, unlike that job interview above, and unlike most previous elections, were the politicians to have been honest… this election, this time, every main party running for Parliament would – and will – blame other people and other things for them losing.

The Tories both overtly and by whispering campaigns, both at the national leadership level, and from their supporters, will blame the ‘enemies of the people’, will blame the EU, will blame the broken parliament that ended weeks ago. Not their leader, not their policies, but everyone else.

The SNP will blame the fact that they’re not independent and Brexit. Again, not their policies, but the system.

The Lib Dems will blame both the voting system, and the other party machines.

Labour? Well, the leadership will blame the media, and the gullibility of the voters. And the ‘centrists’ and the Blairites. Except for a large portion of Labour’s membership and suporters. Because, well, yes, we all know who they’ll blame.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow…

Oh, there’s so much about this election that needs serious, sensible, rational commentary.

It’s a pity there’s so little of that present in the punditry and commentary we do get, though.

And though I’ve commented previously about elections, including this one, and was even foolish enough to make some predictions, and will no doubt write some more before 12th December… something a bit lighter today while not completely leaving the subject alone.

This post was occasioned by the news that the Tories have today suspended a prospective parliamentary candidate for previously made antisemitic remarks.

They suspended him, and won’t be spending any more money on the campaign, and various people have rightly praised the Tories for doing both.

However, others have read far more into those actions that the actions themselves warrant.

From that reportage and those social media posts, you’d think that the Tories had “dumped’ the candidate, that the candidate will no longer be standing in the general election. Maybe that either another candidate will be selected in a hurry to stand for the party in that constituency, or even that no candidate was standing in that constituency representing the party.

Problem is, that none of that is true.

The final date for candidates to be formally – legally – nominated to stand for parliament was last Thursday, 14th November. From the moment nominations closed, no additional candidates can be added to the election for that constituency, nor can the ballot paper contain additional names.

What’s often missed, or less well appreciated anyway, is that from the moment nominations closed, no amendments at all can be made to the ballot paper.

Whoever were the nominees the moment nominations closed, their names are on the ballot when voters vote.

So, let’s take an example.

The constituency of Somewhere in the county of AnyWhere.

Mr Jones, Ms Smith and Mr Whatdjamacallit are, respectively, the nominated candidates from The Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems.

Mr Jones? The day after nominations close, he’s found to have worn blackface and dressed up as a nazi. The party suspend him.

Yeah, he’s still on the ballot paper on 12th December, with the words “Conservative party” next to his name.

Ms Smith? Oh, turns out she claimed all jews have hooked noses and only love money, oh and they’re all paid by israel to fiddle with kids. She’s duly suspended from the Labour Party.

Yep, she’s still on the ballot paper on 12th December, with the words “Labour party” next to her name.

Mr Whatdjamacallit, on the other hand, get caught with his hand in the till, ripping off the small charity she helps run. Police are called, he’s suspended from the party.

You guessed; he’s still on the ballot paper come 12th December, with the words “Liberal Democrats party” next to his name.

Ludicrous? Possibly, but that’s how elections run in the UK.

Oh, by the way, if any of them had died, ah, that might be different. Because then sometimes the election for that constituency is suspended… until a new candidate can be selected, after the general election. Most recently… Thirsk and Malton in 2010, where the election was suspended after the UKIP candidate died.

But no suspension if the party has just picked a racist, say.

Now I can understand there being a cut-off to the period for nominations; of course there needs to be one. I can certainly understand there being a cut-off before the election to allow ballot papers to be printed correctly, checked and verified.

I can’t understand, however, why those two dates are absolutely the same date, four weeks before the election.

Apart from anything else, it tells the parties,

“yeah, sure, suspend them formally, but you know in safe seats that the candidate will be elected no matter what. You and we both know it doesn’t matter; a [suspended] Tory candidate will still be elected in a safe Tory seat, a [suspended] Labour candidate will still be elected in a safe Labour seat.”

And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if, after they’ve won, the suspension is quietly lifted.

(And, literally, while I was typing this, it happened again; this time an antisemitic Lib Dem candidate. the Lib Dems have said they’ve removed him from election material and won’t campaign for him… But as above, he’ll be on the ballot paper come 12th December, with the words “Liberal Democrats party” next to his name.)

OK, so given the above, and that most people don’t know about the ‘no amendments from the day nominations close’ rule, I wondered what other arguably things, what other odd facts and figures about British elections, that people might not know.

Here’s a baker’s dozen:

Largest winning vote share in any constituency:
George Currie, Ulster Unionist, North Down, 1959: 98.0%

Lowest winning share of the vote:
Alasdair McDonnell, SDLP, Belfast South, 2015, 24.5%

Smallest Majorities (since 1945):
2 votes:
Stephen Gethins, SNP, North East Fife, 2017
Mark Oaten, Liberal Democrat, Winchester, 1997

Most recounts:
7: for both Brighton Kemptown in 1964 and Peterborough in 1966

Highest Turnout %:
Fermanagh and South Tyrone, 1951: 93.4%

Lowest Turnout %:
Lambeth Kennington 1918: 29.7%

Most candidates:
15: Sedgefield in 2005 (PM Tony Blair’s constituency)

Fewest candidates:
The last four seats to be uncontested at a general election were Armagh, Londonderry, North Antrim and South Antrim, at the 1951 general election. The last seats in Great Britain to be uncontested were Liverpool Scotland and Rhondda West, at the 1945 general election.

Three seats were contested only by Labour and Conservative candidates at the 1979 general election: Birmingham Handsworth, Dudley West and Salford East.

Most unsuccessful attempts to get back into The House of Commons:
Robert McIntyre, 1950, 1951, 1955, 1959, 1964, 1966, 1970, Feb 1974 and Oct 1974

Longest break from the Commons:
A contender for the longest gap prior to returning at a general election was possibly Henry Drummond (1786-1860), who returned to the House of Commons in the 1847 general election as member for West Surrey, after a near 35-year absence, though aged only 60. He was previously MP for Plympton Erle from 1810-12.

Shortest period between general elections:
7 months: November 1806 – June 1807
7 months: November/December 1885 – July 1886

Longest period without a change in government:
The longest continuous Conservative government was in office for eighteen years, between May 1979 and May 1997.

The longest continuous Labour government was in office for thirteen years, between May 1997 and May 2010.

Leader or Deputy party leader losing seat:
Always an event when it happens; most recent occasion was the constituent of Moray in 2017, when the SNP’s deputy leader, Angus Robertson… lost his seat.

 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

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…

Well, it is, isn’t it? A mug’s game.

Making predictions about elections, I mean.

Ok, with some elections, you can make a decent stab at a result, caveating your forecast to hell and back. And some elections, yes, are such foregone conclusions that the result itself is almost an anti-climax.

The obvious one that springs to mind isn’t 1997, to my mind, but 2001.

It was obvious in 1997 that Blair was going to have a thumping victory. But the size of the majority – over 160 – surprised many. That wasn’t the case in 2001. It was obvious from the moment that he called the election that the result was only going one way, the same way: another thumping majority. And after four years of a New Labour government, it was just a matter of whether the majority would be roughly the same as 1997’s, 20 seats fewer, or 20 seats more.

2005? Again, not a surprise that Blair won, and it was fairly obvious that his majority would shrink. Not sure everyone expected the final numbers, but yeah, not a huge surprise.

Since then, however, they’ve been difficult to predict. Partly because polling models never seemed to cope well with change, and overestimated this party’s support, underestimated that party. (For a long time, polls always overestimated Labour support; that seems to have been addressed, but we’ll see.)

2015 came along, and again, the result was a surprise to many who after five years of coalition government expected nothing but a coalition government going forward.

I did a countdown blog to the 2015 election, and — no, don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this 2020 countdown into an election blog, though there’ll no doubt be some election related material.

But no, as I say, I did a countdown blog leading up to the 2015 general election. It was fun, for the most part, commenting on stuff that was going on. But yes, I thought a coalition government was the inevitable result. I even wrote a piece about how Cameron was actively misleading the electorate, claiming that he really really didn’t want one, and you couldn’t vote for the Lib Dems again…

Well, more fool me.

After the election, before I did anything else on here, I held my hand up, admitted I’d got it wrong, and wrote a full mea culpa.

I started that piece with the words:

Notwithstanding Sir Humphrey Appleby’s view that you get anything potentially troublesome out of the way in the title of an Act Of Parliament (so you don’t have to actually do anything in the body of the thing), it’d be remiss of me to even begin to set out my thoughts on what happened on election day, or to suggest what I think will happen in the days and weeks ahead without admitting one, crucial thing: I was wrong.

I wrote something just under 40 blog entries specifically about politics, and the forthcoming election, and I was wrong. 

I was wrong about so, so much. Now, were I to start listing out all the things I was wrong about in regard to anything at all since only January… well, I’d take up far more of your time than you have a right to expect. 

But even limiting it to the election, there’s a lot. So, let’s get at least some of them out of the way in this entry and then we can move on.

About the only thing I was right about was my late-on-in-the-campaign prediction that whoever’s party lose the election, or didn’t do well…? Well, they’d speedily resign.

So, yeah, it’s a mug’s game making predictions about elections. Only a fool would do it. And only an idiot would make predictions this early.

Let’s make some predictions this early.

So early, in fact, that it might have escaped your notice that the election hasn’t actually been called yet.

Yes, the House of Commons passed that Bill, but it’s not an Act of Parliament yet. It still has to go through The House Of Lords, then – if unamended – back to the House of Commons and then off to Her Maj for Royal Assent.

Final day of Parliament will be next Tuesday or Wednesday, after which Parliament is dissolved. At that point they, all 650 of them, all stop being members of parliament (since parliament is no longer sitting) and those that want to get the job again are now standing for election as prospective parliamentary candidates, along with about 3,000 other people by the time the election takes place. (In 2017, 3,303 candidates stood for 650 seats.)

So, yes, the election hasn’t actually been called yet.

And that’s the first prediction: people will get stuff wrong. Not the politicians – but see later – not the pundits, but interested observers, people who don’t actually know this stuff inside out, so misinterpret, misunderstand. These aren’t people lying, nor actively seeking to mislead. They just get stuff wrong occasionally. They mishear a word or phrase, or don’t quite understand the rules, or procedures. We’ve all done it. We will all do it again.

My hope, a forlorn hope, no doubt, is that this is understood. That it’s appreciated that people fuck up from the best of motives, that mistakes are made and sometimes they’re in good faith. Not everyone making a prediction, or saying what is happening is doing so from bad faith. Sometimes they’re misinformed; sometimes they’ve misinformed themselves.

Second prediction: people will lie. Will knowingly mislead. Will deliberately tell untruths. And all for political advantage. Yeah, being open to all of that above doesn’t mean you should be a fucking idiot. If someone is openly promoting a political candidate and/or party, and is promoting untruths about political opponents, or casting separating aspersions on those who vote, or may vote, for someone else…

Yeah, they may well believe every word they say and type is gospel. Doesn’t mean you’re obliged to. And neither does it suggest that you’re mandated to assume good faith. And certainly not if they repeatedly do it.

Third prediction: Parties and candidates will call for clean elections. Third and a half’th prediction: they don’t mean it. Oh, they may mean it when they call for it; that’s possible, I guess. But the moment they think they can gain advantage by a bit of let us say not-exactly-ethical manoeuvring, either they or their staff/supporters will do it and sleep well afterwards. The purpose, their objective, is to win an election; as long as it’s not breaking the law – and sometimes not even that will stop them – it’s all fair, they’ll protest. It’s all part of the game.

Prediction Four: Each side will regard an opponent’s entire political history to be up for grabs, but anything in their own record more than five years ago will be decried as ‘dirty tricks’, “desperate smearing’ and, of course, ‘out of context’, that favourite of the caught out. I found it genuinely bemusing how the left regard, say, anyone who served in Maggie Thatcher’s cabinets as beyond redemption, but anything from a decade or two back, hell from 2012 (!), in Corbyn’s history is apparently off-limits. Or how the right will cheerfully pull up stuff from Corbyn and McDonnell’s pasts in the 1980s, but the contents of memos Letwin wrote about race are ‘in the past…’

Fifth Prediction: For some people, every poll that suggests ‘their’ party is doing well will be trumpeted; every one showing it’s doing badly will be ignored or the polls or polling company, will be attacked. The hypocrisy that surrounds polling never fails to astonish me. I might have more to write about this subject another time, but for today, I’m just slapping that down on the table like a wet, slightly smelly, fish.

Sixth Prediction: Four in one here. Whether or not tv debates happen,

(1) Someone will point out that they’re a new thing, someone else will point at the US, and someone else will publish a long piece on whether we’ve entered a period of presidential politics in the UK.

(2) Each party will claim the others are the reason that debates might not happen, and claim the rules they want are perfectly reasonable but the other lot are being wholly unacceptable.

(3) Smaller parties will demand they should be treated exactly the same as larger parties, including parties with no MPs currently, or only one or two.

(4) If they happen, when a party leader doesn’t do well, the format will be blamed. Or the host. Or the broadcaster. Never the leader just not being any good.

OK, four personal ones to end on.

Prediction Seven: I’m going to hate this election campaign. Not only for the obvious, pre-stated, reasons, but because the nastiness has already started.

I’ve already seen accusations that unless you vote for this party, you don’t care about the environment; unless you vote for that one, you don’t care about the poor; unless you vote for this party, you lack human empathy; unless you don’t vote for that one, you have no national pride.

Note: these aren’t ‘don’t vote for that party.” That I can understand. “Vote for anyone else…”, I get. “Vote for whoever gets rid of that MP”. Again, I completely understand and appreciate that. “Vote tactically.” Again, yes. I may or may not agree, but it at least makes sense to me intellectually.

What I don’t get, what I can’t agree to, is the “you must vote for this party, because they’re the only ones who care; they’re the only party who cares about [insert subject of choice]”.

I’ve whinged before about how I’m not sure when we went from ‘the other lot are good people with bad ideas” to “the other lot are bad people with worse ideas.” But we got there long ago, and this election campaign will prove it once again.

Prediction Eight: I’m going to miss a typo at sometime in the next six weeks and I’ll type “I’m really not looking forward to the result of this erection.”

Ninth Prediction: I’m gonna forget how bad I am at predicting election results. At some point, I’m sure I’m going to forget it. I’ll get carried away one night, or I’ll have one too many single malts, or I’ll just get pissed off with the incompetence of this politician or that campaign. And I’ll make a prediction.

Prediction Ten: I’m going to regret making any predictions at all, including the ones above.

Oh, and one more, not a prediction, resting on a sensible appreciation of the facts and the history, and forecasting an extrapolation, but a feeling of impending doom, as if I’m watching a car crash approaching. This is the final time, the final week, that I’ll regard some people as friends and that they’ll regard me in the same light.
 
 
Something else tomorrow…

So, we had Prime Minister’s Questions today. Or, more formally, “Questions To The Prime Minister”.

I’ve written about PMQs several times before, and even posted a transcript of my livetweeting of “The PMQs that never happened but should have” six weeks or so back.

But, yes, I’m writing about it again, with another take on it: why it may be tinkered with every so often, but why it’ll never be fundamentally changed. Not now.

Quick bit of context, though.

In a parliamentary system, where the executive is formed from the legislature, then the way they’re held to account is two-fold:

The first and certainly more important, though less well known or appreciated, is by the system of select committees. Every department has one attached to it. MPs, usually about a dozen of them are on the committed, usually in proportion to their numbers in the House of Commons. It’s chaired by an MP elected by their peers, again usually in proportion to the numbers in the House. So most of the committees are led by Tories, some by Labour, some even by SNP MPs. They get ministers and civil servants, representing that department, in front of them and subject them to questions, trying to hold them to account for decisions the government has made, the effects of a policy, and sometimes the unexpected consequences of that policy.

Sometimes, rarely, this actually achieves something. A minister torn apart by a select committee doesn’t tend to last very long. And it’s not unknown for a government policy, ripped to shreds by a select committee – either in person or in a written report – to be amended or even repealed.

The Prime Minister, by the way, not representing a department, doesn’t face a departmental select committee… but a committee known as the Liaison Committee, a committee made up of the chairs of all the other select committees.

(However, this is one committee whose sittings tend to be anything but consequential.. PMs tend to regard it as an annoying occupational hazard, and don’t expect anything that happens there to truly matter. They’re rarely incorrect in that. And, to be fair, they wouldn’t get to be Prime Minister if they weren’t used to avoiding questions and/or people trying to hold them to account.)

The other way ministers are held to account is in the Commons itself (or the Lords, but that’s a whole other thing, so let’s just ignore them, eh?) when they face questions from MPs and are supposed to answer, but rarely do.

That’s unfair. They answer questions. It’s just not unknown for the answers to be to entirely different questions, to the questions the minister wished had been asked. And they happen every couple of weeks or so. Treasury Questions, or Environment Questions. Or Foreign Affairs Questions. Sometimes the Secretary of State will answer the questions, sometimes a junior minister with specific responsibility for a policy area.

And the same thing applies to Prime Ministersm in theory.

OK, so Questions to The Prime Minister (ok, I’m going to call them PMQs from now on, since that’s how they’re commonly referred to) take place on a Wednesday.

Way back when, when the UK maintained the polite fiction that a Prime Minister was merely ‘first among equals’ – the ‘prime’ minister, but no more than that – PMQs were a far more leisurely affair.

A question would be asked, and occasionally, the PM would even designate another minister – with responsibility for that area – to answer for them. So the PM would be asked about the government’s recent tax rises, and the Chancellor would answer.

Bbut mostly the Prime Minister would languidly answer the question asked in a way that signalled the mild astonishment that the PM should actually have to explain themselves.

Back then, PMQs took place twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for two, fifteen minute, weekly sessions. The Leader of the Opposition got three questions, the leader of the ‘third party’ (for most of the 20th century, that was the Liberal Party/Liberal Democrats.) got one.

In 1997, however, on coming to power, Blair changed the format; it would now be a single session, thirty minutes long, the Leader of the Opposition would get six questions, the leader of the third party, two questions. Again, at this time, it was still the Liberals, or the Liberal Democrats as they’d then become.

By then, of course, PMQs had morphed into something familiar to watchers now.

A clash, a battle, a Q&A (or Q&A-to-something-else, that bit hasn’t much changed), between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Under Speaker John Bercow, that half an hour has stretched out, and it’s usually around 45 minutes now, but it’s been almost an hour on occasion.

That can be split, roughly, as follows:

  • Five minutes of introductory questions (usually, one tory, one labour)
  • Fifteen minutes of Leader of the Opposition questions (what most people think of, when they think of PMQs)
  • Seven or eight minutes of the third party leader’s questions (these days, the SNP)
  • And the remainder with backbencher’s questions, just under half an hour of those

And after all these changes of format, has anything really changed in the past forty years, say?

Not much, no. Oh, the format has changed a bit. Used to be that all questions would be two parters. The first part would be on the order paper, and the MP would just say “Question 6, Mr Speaker”. That question would be something asking the PM to list their engagements for the day.

Since the previous six questions had all been the same, the PM would respond with something like “I refer the honourable gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago.”

The MP would then stand and ask the question they actually wanted to ask: “does the PM think the latest unemployment numbers show his government is utterly fucking useless?” Or something like that, with less unparliamentary language, at least.

That was pretty much abandoned a few years ago as well. And now, MPs are just listed on the order paper as going to ask a question, without the question itself there. MP gets called, they ask the question they want to ask. (Or in the case of backbench MPs of the same party, the question they’ve been fed by the government: ‘Would the Prime Minister agree that the leader of the opposition smells? or “would the Prime Minister agree that the government is on the right course?”)

Now I’m a heretic: I’m still of the opinion that PMQs should matter; it’s just been a very long time since I’ve thought they do.

I recall Tory leader William Hague, who regularly ‘won’ the clashes when Tony Blair – no novice at PMQs – was PM, commenting that the sessions matter little outside the Houses of Parliament but are important inside; it didn’t matter so much if you weren’t excellent at them – either asking or answering – but if you were utterly crap at them, you were finished.

Well, Jeremy Corbyn put the lie to that some time ago.

He’s much better than he once was; but it took years to get there, and in ‘ye olde days’, his dire performances at PMQs for well over two years would have meant he’d have been replaced.

He’s still there, you note.

But what do they accomplish?

Honestly? Not much

Not much at all.

Corbyn has turned them into five questions you can basically ignore; he regularly lost the clash with Cameron. he came out about evens with May (because both were utterly awful at it) and it’s too early to tell with Johnson though Corbyn did well today. But Corbyn’s. turned his sixth question into a mini-speech, hitting the lines that do well on social media, and the clips are released to the faithful minutes later.

So, if it’s so bloody useless as an event, and it never accomplishes what it’s supposed to, then why don’t we do away with them?

Well, every Leader of the Opposition comes to power as PM having promised to reform them. Cameron pledged to do away with the ‘punch and judy’ style. And he tried… for about three weeks, before he got fed up of trying to be polite, while others took chunks out of him.

But why won’t they at least change to do exactly that: remove the punch and judy stuff?

Two questions there:

Why won’t they ever really change?

What are the excuses they offer for not changing?

The simple answer though is: because no one wants them to. Not enough, anyway.

No, really, no matter what backbench MPs say, and no matter how often ministers and Prime Ministers later say they hate PMQs, it’s still their moment in the spotlight, their moment to squash their foes. And if they didn’t manage to this week, then there’s always next week.

There’s tradition, that word always trotted out when people are desperately searching for a reason not to do something, whether it’s amend PMQs or ban fox hunting, and for the same reason.

And there’s parliamentary inertia; to change something in parliament, without the support of the party leaders, takes forever, is complicated and rarely occurs.

And there’s always the One Question per session, the one serious question asked by a backbench MP, about a disaster, or a constituent in trouble, or a local employer that’s failing… the House falls silent. The MP is heard; the PM stands, slowly and carefully. The tone is serious, the compassion offered is often fake-but-looks-sincere, the House hears the PM in silence.

That’s the ‘cover’; that’s what MPs point at, and protest: ‘See? That’s what PMQs can be. That’s what we can get it to, so it’s always that serious, that important.”

They’re wrong. They don’t even believe it themselves.

And most of them don’t want it to change, because there’s still a small part of them that thinks ‘it could be me asking the questions, the eyes of the House, the eyes of the nation – hey, I never said they’re realistic – on me… hell, it could be me answering them.”

Why won’t it change?

Well, you raise a very interesting point. I’m extremely obliged to you for doing so. And I refer you to the answer I gave some weeks ago.

Next question!
 
 
Something else tomorrow…

One of the nastiest, though perhaps inevitable, consequences of the past few years is the growth of the binary this/that, one or the other, that we’re obliged to make.

When I say ‘obliged’, of course, I mean, obliged by others, that it’s presented often as a moral choice as much as anything.

If you don’t overtly and actively support [cause A], then you’re, in fact, supporting [cause B]. Doesn’t matter what the causes are, nor the stupidity of the idea that you can reduce everything down to a strict binary choice. It’s both insulting and contemptuous.

I’ve written before that silence never equals consent, and my own contempt for those who use that argument – that if you don’t speak up, then you acquiesce – who also, at best stay silent about antisemitism, at worse regard it as a price worth paying to achieve something else.

And, sure, there are situations that cross lines for people, that mean those people cannot support this cause or that campaign. But not supporting the cause or campaign doesn’t always, inherently, mean you support the opposite.

And yet, today, that’s what we’re told, again and again. If you don’t protest against welfare cuts, you support them. If you don’t support this measure, then you support those who seek to damage it. Unless you vote for this person, you’re really voting for, and support, the other fella. Because it’s always reduced down to that binary choice. One or the other.

There are not just two ‘major’ political parties right now. Depending on where you are in the UK, you can add the SNP or Plaid or several NI parties to Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems. There are the Greens in Local Government, and, heaven help us, The Brexit Party.

Someone choosing not to support one of the parties doesn’t mean, can’t mean, that they inherently, in fact, support one specific other party.

Plenty of Green party members out there; they don’t support Labour or the Tories, but they’re told that if they don’t support Corbyn, they’re actually supporting the Conservatives. Same applies to Lib Dem supporters.

Or those on the right, told that if they don’t support the blonde bullshitter, they’re actually in effect, supporting, Corbyn’s Labour.

The Lib Dems, of course, get it from both, from all, sides. They’re told if they don’t support the Tories, then they’re really supporting Corbyn, and if they don’t support Corbyn, then theyr’e really Tories.

(Small diversion to say that the current leader of the Lib Dems, Jo Swinson, during the leadership contest she won, explicitly said that she wouldn’t support a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party or a Boris Johnson-led Tory Party. I find it both faintly amusing and hugely hypocritical that after years of attacks that ‘you can’t trust a Lib Dem not to break election promises’, so many now apparently want her to do just that.)

Whether it’s Brexit, the likely forthcoming early general election, or internally within parties, it comes down again and again to you’re with us or you’re against us.

In that linked piece. a sentence ago, I wrote that I was dreading the next election, truly dreading it, and that the dread merely grows. I’m ok with acknowledging, with admitting, the dread has grown exponentially since then.

So, rather than leaving both you, dear reader, and me, less than dear writer, completely pissed off with everything, here are three entirely non-political either/or things that I don’t subscribe to.

Tea / Coffee
I like both. There you go. I mean, sure, I used to be a tea drinker only, but that went the way of all things many years ago, to the point that the only true response to ‘how many coffees a day do you drink?’ has been, for years. ‘about half of them’.

If I had a choice for tea, I’ll take Brooke Bond Choicest, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen. that, so it’s usually Twinings English Breakfast. Hey, I like tea.

Coffee? I do like coffee shops, and I drink a lot of coffee, it’s true, but at home? It’s Tesco Finest Sumatra Ground. It’s strong, but not bitter, tasty but not overpowering.

Chess / Backgammon
For the past few years, it’s been backgammon every time. I do prefer it as a game, and I’ve enjoyed Chess less over the years but that’s wholly laziness on my part. I haven’t played chess regularly for years, and when I do play, I don’t treat it with the seriousness in which the game should be played. It’s been far too long since I knew he was I was doing on a chess board. I play it with a ‘well, let’s see’ attitude which always seems disrespectful to the game, somehow.

Sing / Dance
Oh, this is an easy one; neither. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, and can’t dance at all. Small caveat with that last one; I can shuffle my body slightly from side to side,with only a coincidental correlation to the music that’s playing at the time. But I can’t… dance. Several reasons. I don’t understand it, I don’t ‘get’ it at all, and I derive no enjoyment from it as a result. I’m also far too self-conscious. I know people who don’t like to dance figure that everyone’s looking at them. I don’t think that (yes, I do), but I think they’re deservedly looking at me with scorn.

But I never learned to dance, and the foot for once is a useful excuse.

Thing is, no one ever gets upset with me that I like both tea and offer, or chess and backgammon, and don’t like singing or dancing.

I’m not told ‘ah, you don’t like dancing, you MUST LIKE singing. No one says ‘you’re not allowed to like both tea and coffee’.

Lesson learned; I can’t do either because of my foot. I can’t suport either Corbyn or Boris Johnson because of my foot. I can’t support this measure or its opposite, this policy or what I’m told is the opposite… because of my foot.

Yes, I’m sure that’ll work.
 
 
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…

Housekeeping: OK, so I’ve now been back in London for two weeks, and while I’m pretty much physically recovered from my stay in hospital in Edinburgh (50 plus 05: er… e.r.? Eh? No, A&E.) and a couple of visits to GP and hospital since I returned to London, I’m still utterly shattered most of the time, and any stamina I got back seems to have deserted me the past couple of days. I really don’t want to bother my GP again, but if I’m still feeling like this tomorrow or Tuesday, yeah another visit beckons.
 


 
OK, so one other thing about Edinburgh I hadn’t mentioned this time around, because I hadn’t quite realised how unusual it was, and it’s only been sinking in slowly since I returned. (Look, I’ve been ill, and you have to remember that, even in good times, I am exceedingly stupid on occasion.)

In fact this thing has only occurred on one previous visit: 2014’s. I doubt that my earlier than usual visit is the reason. (I usually get up there after my birthday, but in both 2014 and 2019, I celebrated my birthday up there.)

In 2014, I attended the Edinburgh Fringe a few weeks before Scotland’s Independence Referendum. It was only my second visit to Edinburgh, so I didn’t have much to compare it to, but I’d already discovered how much I enjoyed sitting in the main food court area outside the Gilded Balloon of an evening, having a drink, doing some writing and watching… watching performers promoting their shows, watching people enjoy themselves, watching people chat away.

But as I say it was my second visit, so I had no idea whether the seemingly ever present politics chats among other groups were common or unusual, whether how everyone seemed to at some point or another express an opinion on the politics of the day, and seek another’s opinion, was usual or uncommon.

Future years showed me just how uncommon, how unusual, it was, by the way. Most years, it’s shows they’ve seen that people are chatting about, shows they’re about to see that they’re animated by. And the telling of gags they’ve heard. Seriously, you hear some cracking gags, and delightfully, all credited to the right comedian for once.

But in 2014, the referendum chat was everywhere. Not only in the food court chats, but almost every political show covered it, everyone’s topical material had ‘a bit’ on it. And rarely, very rarely, it got angry. Occasionally, but only that. Even many of the political comedians got angry, very angry, then punctured it with a joke that returned everyone to enjoyment.

And in the food court, usually, it was informed, sensible, rational debates, addressing the arguments in a way that I wished politicians would follow. I even saw people make a point, get called on its potential unreliability, or flat out falsity, and then one or other of them would look it up on their phone or tablet… and then both would agree whether or not the point was valid. (Small caveat for the potential post-independence Scotland’s finances; only occasional agreement on that, but on everything else to do with the Referendum? Lots of agreement.)

I got asked my opinion loads by strangers at the same table while up there, and despite my always saying ‘well, not really my place to say is it, I’m not Scottish‘, I was courteously encouraged to give a view, and where I said something the other person disagreed with, there was a genuine attempt to change my mind, not an insult to my intelligence, or honesty, or parentage. (The less pleasant exchanges I had were all online in 2014.)

Well, 2019’s Fringe was similar and dissimilar. Sure, yes, the politics chat was back in full force, moreso than in previous years, and yes, plenty of heated chats, but what was missing was the ‘huh, yeah, you have a good point there, my friend, but what about…?’ That wasn’t merely less, but was entirely absent, as was the implication of good faith on the others’ part.

Anyone who was still pro-Brexit (an important caveat; people seemed to have far less of an issue with people who’d voted Brexit three years ago, mainly because it was three years ago), and there were a few I heard, well, their views were treated not with contempt but flat disbelief.

And the anti-Brexit positions weren’t merely “anti No Deal”, they were flat out anti-Brexit.

I’ve said before that one of the things I like about The Fringe is that I’ve rarely seen angry drunks up there. Plenty of drunks, sure, but few who were angry. And those few either calmed down or were escorted off the premises by very big security people.

This year, it wasn’t anger, but heated frustration that I saw a lot of: a complete lack of ability, not mere refusal, but an inability, to see, or even attempt to see, the other person’s point of view.

That scares me, genuinely.

Because I’ve seen more of it the past two weeks since I’ve returned. I see it in politicians, I see it online, I see it with some friends. And no matter what happens in the next few weeks, I suspect it’s going to get worse.

I wrote a couple of weeks back about why I’m dreading the next election. What I was foolish enough not to realise when I wrote it was… we’re already in the election campaign, whether the election comes in a few weeks or a couple of months. And the battle lines are already being drawn.

This will be an election of double standards, of fervently supporting your ‘own side’s’ actions and behaviour while vehemently decrying and condemning the same actions and behaviours of your political opponents. And both sides, all sides, will hold themselves out as the morally superior, the only honest one, the only rational one.

And that scares me as well.

Here’s just one example. Amber Rudd, until today Secretary of State for the Department of Works and Pensions, quit and said it was because she was no longer convinced the government wants a deal to leave the EU and is in fact going for a No Deal Brexit. She was previously very anti- that, seemed to swallow the possibility when she joined Johnson’s cabinet but now has quit.

And the responses to her resigning have been many, but one notable one is “well, I’ll take her support, sure, but dont forget she did this and that and this and that, so it’s two cheers at best; she’s no hero”.

And I get that as a reaction, I honestly do.

In fact, it’s the same response I have to people leaving the Labour Party, or at least trashing the current leadership, from people for whom antisemitism in Labour wasn’t a deal breaker but apparently Brexit is.

Again, I’ll take any anti-Corbyn support I can get, but I’m not going to celebrate someone discovering a backbone but for whom antisemitism was – if not fine and dandy – at least not something ‘up with which they would not put.’

And yet, when I express this view, I’m told, ‘but no, you must welcome them warmly and fully, embrace them.”

Well, I won’t. I’ll give them the same two cheers. And sadly, but invariably, wonder, at what point, if Labour changes their Brexit policy to something they can live with, the antisemitism will once again be something they can similarly live with.

Something else tomorrow, I think.

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.

I’ve been thinking about two Burkes today.

No, not two berks; nothing specifically about Trump and Boris today.

But two Burkes, Messrs Edmund and James of that clan.

Edmund Burke is usually on my mind whenever I consider British politics, to be fair. He’s a useful fellow to quote about representative democracy, the idea that – to borrow from the old saw – we exercise our judgement to elect others to use theirs.

The basic idea behind representative democracy is that matters are too complicated, too detailed and, to be brutally frank, too boring for most people. And it’s too inconvenient and too stupid for everything to be decided by plebiscite. Instead of everyone deciding every matter, societies – hundreds of years ago – developed so that we elected people to decide these matters for us. And then, once every few years, we get to express our judgement on how they’ve done via elections. If enough of us decide they didn’t do well enough, we vote them out and vote other people in.

So it’s kind of a second-hand, almost arms-length, form of democracy. We elect representatives – members of parliament in the UK – to go to A Big Place and debate Big Issues, and argue, and finally decide, What Must Be Done.

(That’s entirely apart from David Allen Green’s The Something Must Be Done Act 2014, which I recommend reading in its entirety. It’s quite short.)

Those standing for election tell the people what they plan to do (in the form of manifestos) and then they – in theory, you understand – do it… and then at the next election, we choose whether or not to reelect them to do it again.

A moment’s brief thought about the past few decades will reveal so many ways this can, and does, fall apart. There’s no obligation – beyond fear of not being re-elected – to actually do what they said they would. And political parties have, for the most part, sewn up the selection of candidates. And, anyway, individual politicians have no say, no real say, in the manifesto, the platform, on which they stand.

Say you voted for Joe Smith of [insert your preferred party] last time around. Odds are, not only did he have no input into the manifesto on which he stood for parliament, there are parts of it he hugely disagrees with. But the party selected him as the official candidate of the party, so whether you like him, trust him, or not… it’s vote for HIM or vote for another party’s candidate.

Well, now it’s a few years later and – unless a) his party was in power, and b) he was a minister in that government, he had fuck all to do with whether this policy made it to the statute book as legislation. And, if he wasn’t a minister, he may well have voted against the manifesto pledge he was elected on.

Small sidebar: I remain entirely mystified why anyone thinks any opposition party, let alone an individual MP, is bound by the manifesto upon which they stood for election. The manifesto is a programme for government; it is – or should be – a list of policies, of policy pledges at least, that the government will – all other things being equal – attempt to put into law. If you lose the election, your individual MPs may have an individual electoral mandate, but the party doesn’t. It lost the election. It’s manifesto was rejected by the electorate in favour of another party’s. And until it does get into government, under a new, different, manifesto, the only purpose the manifesto serves is – if printed – as a paperweight.

“But MPs were elected by the people who voted for them to do what the voters want!” People cry.

And I also cry, partly from laughter, partly from shame… that anyone so misunderstands what representative democracy is.

And that’s when I think of Edmund Burke’s speech in 1774, to the electors of Bristol:

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.

But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

I side with Burke on all of that. The whole speech is worth reading, though.

I’ve written on manifestos before, how I think they’re no longer fit for purpose, and made a suggestion or two on how they could be. But they won’t be changed in the foreseeable future any more than the electoral system, one that hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, will. And maybe for the same reason: no government kicks away the ladder upon which they ascended to power.

The whole ‘representative’ (per Burke) vs ‘delegate’ (MPs have to do on every occasion what the voters in the constituency, or even the local party representatives, want them to do) is an age old one. In recent years, the ‘ok, they may be representatives but they should be delegates’ claim has been huge inside Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, but in recent months, it’s taken root in the Tory Party over Brexit.

I cannot begin to express my utter and complete contempt for such an assertion. And I’m not going to try right now. I’ll just once again say that I agree with Burke and I’ll take representatives – even when I disagree with them – over delegates every fucking day of the week, and twice on Sundays.


The other Burke I’ve been thinking about today is James Burke, the science historian and pundit. If you’ve heard of him, much like Douglas Adams’ laws of technology, how you’ve heard of him will depend on your age:

  • 50 and above: science news, Tomorrow’s World, the moon landing and of course Connections and Days That Changed The World
  • 45 to 50: probably only his Connections tv series
  • 30 to 45: Possibly being bored by your mum and dad mentioning him
  • 20 to 30: seeing his name on social media posted by those above and wondering who the hell this fella is.

I fall in the first set and I remember him clearly for all of the reasons above. I also sadly partly agree with one of the reasons he gives for few people hiring him for tv work these days: ‘Anyone under 50 doesn’t know who I am, and anyone over 50 thinks I’m dead.

I was fortunate enough to see him a few years ago at the Royal Institution and he delivered a speech I felt truly honoured to be in the audience for. A year or so later, he recorded it at another occasion and put it up online: Admiral Shovel and the Toilet Roll.

As a general rule of thumb, he concentrates on the past, the history of science, and the connections between various scientific trends and discoveries. As he says “I’ve been asked why I stick to the past rather than predict the future. The answer is simple: I prefer to be right.”

However, towards the end of the speech linked to above, he does make a prediction. And it’s a biggie.

Burke is firmly of the opinion that the current concept of the nation state has under 100 years left, not due to politics, nor any ‘natural’ phenomena – disasters, etc – but solely down to his conviction that, in the next few decades, ‘3D makers’ will be available.

Maybe not in his/my lifetime, but certainly in my kid’s. Commercially too expensive for most, at first… and then plans will inevitably be leaked onto the net and then everyone will have them. And once you’ve got one, it can make the next, and they make the next… this isn’t nanotechnology gone wild (the ‘grey sludge’ fear) but just reasonable extrapolation once you’ve got a machine that can make anything from… anything.

And once they’re available, every current political, electoral and economic model – which at the end of the day are merely different ways of allocating scare resources – goes out the window. Why work when your maker can make anything for you? Why bother voting? What can they do for you that you can’t do yourself? You can, not will but can, end up with a nation of 300 million nations. You can, very definitely however, know that political, economic and social systems will need to change, and change radically.

I’m not wholly convinced by the argument, but I tell you: I’ve not yet seen a conclusive argument against it.

I’ve been thinking about both Messrs Burkes, and – looking around at the world today – I don’t know whether I want both to be absolutely right, or wholly wrong.

Something else tomorrow.