Sunday, April 25, 2010

Layer 288 . . . Bravo Cleggo, Leadership Debates, Mos Eisley Spaceport, Spin Alley, Satire, Universities, Geriatric Judo and Aerial

Nick Clegg was on Andrew Marr's programme this morning, and was very good indeed. He was confident, convincing and didn't stumble in any way. He's making the case extremely well for a sizeable vote for his party as an instant demonstration that Britain is sick of the old two-party monopoly and needs a proper proportional voting system in order to have a more mature and credible democracy. As it happens his party's priorities are right in line with what Britain also needs. He's managed, with the help of his colleagues, to position the Lib Dems perfectly as the more radical and progressive party. If there's any justice in the world the electorate will do the right thing and ensure that neither the Tories nor New Labour get anything like an outright majority. S'exciting!

It's true that prior to the financial crisis Clegg was on the right wing (the 'Orange Book') side of his party, and supported the Chicago School / Friedmanite vision of neo-liberal economics, but that was then and this is now. It's reasonable to suppose he's learnt lessons, as have millions of others during the financial catastrophe that's gripped the world.

And in any case, as has been said elsewhere, this is now, chiefly, a one-issue election - proportional representation.


The Leadership Debates - Part Two

Last week's debate (on Sky News!) threw up no surprises, and most reactions suggested there's a pretty even split in public perception over who was the 'winner'. Oxzen, however, took issue with the Guardian editorial about the event -

"all three leaders agreed on the fundamentals of every question. If voters want to see real difference between the three main parties they will have to look elsewhere."

Really? The one thing that stood out in this debate was Clegg's brave and principled insistence that it's foolish to renew or replace Trident with a similar weapons system, that fresh thinking is needed about the place of nuclear weapons, and that we should take a significant step towards ridding the world of nuclear weapons by not rushing into the purchase of a new generation of such weapons when there's no actual need to.

Brown certainly seized on this difference during the debate. How come the author of this piece didn't even notice it? Whether or not you agree with Clegg you must give him credit for remaining consistent on this fundamental difference, which Brown and Cameron are too afraid or too lacking in vision to grapple with themselves.


Marina Hyde wrote a brilliant piece about the insane happenings in the interview area - 'Spin Alley' - immediately after the debate:

Sky leaders' debate spin room: the live abortion of democracy

"Mos Eisley spaceport," sighs Ben Kenobi in Star Wars. "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy ... " Evidently Obi Wan never visited Sky's post-debate spin room, which – pound-of-flesh for pound-of-flesh – must have been one of the most distasteful places to be in this galaxy or any other tonight.

The venue was an interactive science museum in Bristol, magically transformed by Rupert Murdoch's news network into a fully operational 10th circle of hell. Behold, the cream of Britain's arseoisie, as journalists, spin doctors and politicians interact in scenes that just scream "Come, friendly bombs …"

It was like watching the live abortion of democracy. Had the network decided the evening should have been immortalised in oil paint (surely only a matter of time), Hieronymus Bosch would have declined the commission on the basis that it was a hellscape too far even for him.

Still, the premise is simple. Even before the party leaders have finished debating, legions of spinners and spinners' lackeys materialise to explain exactly why everything you thought you saw and heard was wrong.

Having vapourised seconds before the debate, the spindroids were suddenly all back in the room, presumably having just slid through a haunted TV screen to begin immediately the task of dispensing weapons grade wisdom.

In America, they call these media pens Spin Alley, so those searching for a suitably small-time UK equivalent should alight on something like Fibbers' Close, or Bollocks Avenue.

To isolate the biggest whopper told in the room in the wake of the debate would be a task for a more sophisticated listening system than the human ear, but an audit even of those overheard in a mere six foot radius would have to include Douglas Alexander's "Gordon dominated the debate tonight. He left Nick and David Cameron trailing in his wake." In fairness, everyone was giving their best Iraqi information minister. "The infidels are nowhere near the airport! No one could ever want to slap David Cameron round the face with a wet fish!"

The entire affair is, quite simply, a two bath event, which is to say that when one finally escapes it, a single immersion in scalding water doesn't begin to get the psychological dirt off.



Last week's 'In Our Time', as it happens, had satire as its subject.

In ancient times satirical attacks were known as satori!

Mocking the so-called elite in order to correct folly was seen as a noble calling.

Democracies need those who are prepared to attack the pomposity and snobbery of political elites, and need those satirists to be aggressively outspoken and even rude in order to drive home their points. The hypocrisy, pretense, falsehoods, self-indulgence, love of luxury and depravity of the ruling classes ought to be targeted.

The father of the genre, Lucilius, is the writer credited with taking satire decisively towards what we now understand by the word: incisive invective aimed at particular personalities and their wrongs.

All this happened under the Roman Republic, in which there was a large measure of free speech. But then the Republic was overthrown and Augustus established the Empire.

The great satirist Horace had fought to save the Republic, but now reinvented himself as a loyal citizen of the Imperium.

His satirical work explores the strains and hypocrisies of trying to maintain an independent sense of self at the heart of an autocracy.

This struggle was deepened in the work of Persius, whose Stoicism-inflected writing was a quietist attempt to endure under the regime without challenging it.

The work of the last great Roman satirist, Juvenal, was famously savage - yet his targets were either generic or long dead.

So was satire a conservative or a radical genre? Was it cynical or did it aim to 'improve' people? Did it have any real impact? And was it actually funny?


Polly Toynbee's column yesterday was very good, and so far has attracted well over 1,000 comments on CiF:
Your heart might say Clegg. But vote with your head

Until the electoral system is reformed, progressives are stuck. If you do not want a Tory government, it's tactics, not romance

Get real. Keep your head screwed on. What result do you want? I will assume, dear Guardian reader, that like me you have two prime purposes. One is to prevent Cameron walking into Downing Street on 7 May. Equal first is to secure electoral reform so that we are never again presented with such a disgraceful voting choice. If that's not your view, you can save time, stop reading here and push off to some Murdoch organ that will amply satisfy your needs.

Hundreds of posters on Guardian threads yesterday wanted a Liberal Democrat win. No surprise, since there is no doubt that Clegg was the best in both debates. He talks human not slogans, he is sincere, and he stands by unpopular positions without trimming. Those who squirmed at Gordon Brown asserting that Trident will protect us against Iran and North Korea – or his failure to answer on what to do about long-term illegal migrants, their children and, soon, grandchildren: stateless, exploited and paying no taxes – will think Clegg a brave and decent man. So he is on human rights, and how to "punch above our weight" in Europe. He might make a good prime minister. But it won't happen this election because the abominable voting system makes it impossible. Win electoral reform and he might win next time, if there is a rerun after we have got voting reform.

But until that day, never take your eye off the ball, whatever it takes. If many go with heart not head against such ferocious odds, and Cameron gets the crown, electoral reform will be a dead duck, and it's back to square one.

I have never much minded what the best anti-Tory party is called, I just want the left of centre to win. I will always back whichever group combines being furthest left with winnability: that's always a trade-off.

It's not a game. The people who always, without fail, get hit hardest by Conservative governments are the powerless, the weakest, the voiceless – and they may not even vote. It is an absolute certainty that inequality will always worsen under the Tories, always did, always will.

This time it will happen faster . . .

It's low tactics, not high romance. Vote what best keeps the Tory out where you are. Buck that arithmetic at your peril.


Cif comments included:


These damn Tories take people for simpletons.

If you are reasonably well off, there are good reasons to vote Tory, so why not just be honest and admit you vote Tory out of self interest, instead of persisting with this ludicrous conscience-salving charade that the Tories have social mobility and the poor's best interests at heart?

It always amazes me that Tories dislike Modern 'broken' Britain so much. It was, after all, built in their image by Thatcher, and sustained by Blair.

What do you people think this is? a fucking game?

We're heading for a Libcon pact. Ideas of a Libdem clean sweep are fanciful rubbish. The task of the clued-in social democrat is to frustrate Toryism when and wherever you encounter it. The Tories are not a political party in the same sense as Labour and the Libdems. They are a Conspiracy, funded by business and corporations, and kept in power by the power elites and media barons, class interests and landowners.

They, in Bevan's words, are lower than vermin, and our job, as left of centre voters, is to don any kind of nose peg, plastic bag or gas mask and put down the seeds of democracy everywhere they feed.

Democracy to Tories is poison.


YouGov 22 Apr - Con 33 Lib Dem 31 Lab 27
Seats: Con 253, Lab 256, Lib Dem 112

OnePoll 24 Apr - Con 32 Lib 32 Lab 23.
Seats: Cons 262, Lab 213, LD 146

Now then Polly, remind us which one of these massive Tory overall majorities it is that you're so worried about?

That's right - there isn't one.

One poll I spotted an hour or two ago gave me pause for thought:

Mums Net voting intentions following 2nd debate - LD - 50.3% Lab 20% Con 18%

Seats: Lib Dem 598, Lab 23, Con 3, others 26

Funny how close the MumsNet 50.3% is to the 49% who would allegedly vote Lib Dem if they thought the Lib Dems had any chance of winning...

Maybe that's what both the Guardian and the Murdoch empires are so worried about that they want to frighten you into not voting Lib Dem.


A very good article, one of the few truly intelligent pieces of journalism produced in this election.

For all the excitement Clegg has generated a couple of facts remain;

If we have a Tory government after May 6th Clegg might as well never have existed.

If we have a Tory government after May 6th there will be no electoral reform.

If we have a Tory government after May 6th the LibDems will find it much harder to achieve a breakthrough next time.

If we have a Tory government after May 6th Cameron has said he will actually make the current electoral system worse and even more skewed against the LibDems.

If we have a Tory government after May 6th Clegg will go back to being a nobody.

I am now a member of Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Party and I am risking being thrown out by saying this but everyone, Labour as well as LibDem voters, should vote tactically against the Tories.

In doing so you are voting positively for PR, social justice, a sensible economy and better public services. Cameron and Osborne's malicious, mendacious incompetence is the last thing the UK needs.


Graduates: a problem in four parts

Only when students, academics, employers and politicians can agree what university is for will answers emerge

Oxzen's comment:

How would it be if universities were places where people of all ages could go in order to pursue their own educational agendas, with a right to be as narrow or as broad in their learning pathways as they see fit? Maybe we could have universities that set out to meet the needs of learners, whatever they might be, with a view to creating a nation of well-balanced, highly intelligent, creative, enlightened and productive individuals who could make creative, enlightened and useful contributions to society? This might even make a refreshing change from generations of narrow, over-specialised and uncreative individuals pursuing self-interest and greed to the exclusion of any other goal in life.


The end of the affair?


Elderly 'should learn martial arts'

Fighting disciplines such as kung fu, karate and judo involve techniques that can help brittle-boned patients fall more safely, research suggests.


Album of the Week - Aerial, by Kate Bush

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