Friday, May 02, 2003

Well what do we make of that then? The elections considered...

Well, these were devolved elections indeed. Good gains for the Tories in England; everyone bar the fringes a bit doused in Scotland (though Labour are decidedly damper than the rest, and the Tories in Scotland can point out that they did far better than anyone predicted, taking three first past the post seats) while a night of joy for Welsh Labour, as they gain seats and, in effect, gain a majority in the Assembly. While to top it all off, the Tories 540 odd gains are marked by resignation, not celebration.

So what conclusions can we make about these elections on a night when Labour lost Birmingham because of Iraq, and the Liberals re-swept Torbay because of the parish pump issues?

First off, this was a workmanlike electoral performance by the Tories. They revived in Scotland and Wales (counter to most comentators predictions)- though they are still bit players. They made steady gains in England, though no stunning gains. The councils they gained were places like St. Edmundsbury, Worcester, Mid Suffolk, Melton, Kings Lynn and West Norfolk. These are councils the Tories should control. Interestingly, on the first look, their performance in the Unitary and Metropolitan (more urban) authrities, was much poorer than in the rural districts, which suggest that this was the Tory base coming out to vote (only one gain in Darlo must be a bit of a dissappointment, Peter).

It would be foolish to deny that the Tories have made progress. The question is, how much, and is it anywhere near enough? The answer to these questions is a small amount and no, respectively. To take my native North-East, the Tories lost Carlisle (Lab majority 4000) made 1 gain in Stockton (Lab maj 8000) and 2 in Tynemouth (Lab maj 8000). Not enough, I'm afraid. Still, the Tory recovery in local government continues, and they now have more local councillors than Labour. This is of no small import at election time.

For Labour, though, the only pleasure is in the Valleys (and in Sheffield). The results were in the middling range of Labour predictions, but the illusory "Baghdad bounce" had raised expectations. The Scottish result were on the poor side of acceptable (some very close defeats in some of those seats) and the results in Castlepoint (probably the Tories best result of the night) and Birmingham were pretty awful for the chaps in red rosettes.

Birmingham is probably a special case. The Muslim vote appears to have deserted Labour for the Liberals en masse. It remains to be seen whether this is a protest or a major shift in alignment. Results in other areas seem to suggest not, but perhaps the energetic Birmingham Kashmiri community is more motivated on these issues than other Muslim groups?

Labour will point out that they gained Oldham, Sheffield and Plymouth (the latter superbly). The best that can really be said is that Labour achieved results that most mid-term Government's would be quite content with.

For the Liberals, this is a triumph in vote-share and a small disappointment in Councils and seats. They do not seem to have made significant gains in key Tory marginals (though i need to look at this more closely). It may be that they did better in Labour areas than in Tory- or that they once again got screwed by first past the post.

A very bad night for Plaid (4 losses) and a disappointing one for the SNP. A very good night for the Greens in Scotland - a real breakthrough- and for the Scottish Socialists.

As for the BNP- Very strong in Burnley, poor in the North-East, and spotty elsewhere- but still, sadly a major advance, perhaps putting them in a position to win an MEP seat in the North-West. there will be more than enough comment in other places to allow me to draw a veil, though not underestimating the significance of the vote.

The big question- whether IDS will be able to hold his job, depends mostly on whethr Tory MP;s now have the nerve to defenestrate a Leader who has made gains, but not a breakthrough. This will only become clear in the next few days. Remember, all it takes is 24 more signatures.

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Thursday, May 01, 2003

Election Day…

Well, it’s election day, and I hope you are all going to use the hard fought right to vote.

Since this is supposed to primarily a site for political obsessives and not for proselytising (I know I slip sometimes, but I do try) , today I propose to open a prediction competition. Everyone is invited. All you have to do is enter your predictions in the comments box on the following topics.

There will be a prize for the winner- First prize, a copy of Simon Henig and Lewis Bastons’ political map of Britain, a wonderful reference book for any political anorak and a prize worth a stunning 24 Earth pounds.

Second prize, the chance to get me to right a post on whatever you want. Yes the runner up prize is a chance to be my commissioning editor for the day. Woo-Hoo.

I will decide the overall winner on accuracy of prediction and also on how well the predictions fit with the overall tone of the night- EG, if you get 4 right and screw one up terribly, that’s about as bad as getting three right and two nearly right. All judgements are final.

So, onto the topics:

1. Scottish Parliament

Give the number of seats for the main parties, (Lab, SNP, Lib, CON, SSP, Greens) and number of gains losses.

The 99 results were Lab 56, SNP 35, Tory 18, LD 17, SSP 1, Green 1, Ind 1. You may find this site useful in deciding your predictions.

2. Welsh Assembly

Give number of seats for main parties (Lab, PC, Lib, Con) and number of gains losses.

The 99 results were Lab 28, PC 17, Con 9, LD 6. You may find this site useful in making predictions.

3. Local elections

Number of Cllr Gains/Losses for each main party (Lab, Con, Lib)

Most National papers today provide a round up of this.

4. Tiebreakers (these will be used to tip the balance between accurate predictions- or if no-one gets it all right):

Biggest shock of the night?

How many seats for the BNP?

Sum up the likely media reaction to the night in a sentence.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Now, this is damn funny.

McSweeney's is my favourite literary website (I even subscribe to the quarterly (smug, pretentious git, moi). So Imagine my joy at reading their exclusive preview of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn's commentary on the DVD edition of Fellowship of the Ring. Let us listen in for a while to their Tolkien related wisdom.

Zinn: "Sauron the Deceiver." That is what Strider, the ranger with multiple names, calls Sauron. A ranger. I believe today we call them serial killers.

Chomsky: Or drug smugglers.

Zinn: And notice how Strider characterizes the Black Riders. "Neither living nor dead." Why, that's a really useful enemy to have.

Chomsky: Yes. In this way you can never verify their existence, and yet they're horribly terrifying. We should not overlook the fact that Middle Earth is in a cold war at this moment, locked in perpetual conflict. Strider's rhetoric serves to keep fear alive.

Zinn: You've spoken to me before about Mordor's lack of access to the mineral wealth that the Dwarves control.

Chomsky: If we're going to get into the socio-economic reasons why certain structures develop in certain cultures… it's mainly geographical. We have Orcs in Mordor — trapped, with no mineral resources — hemmed in by the Ash Mountains, where the "free peoples" of Middle Earth can put a city, like Osgiliath, and effectively keep the border closed.

Zinn: Don't forget the Black Gate. The Black Gate, which, as Tolkien points out, was built by Gondor. And now we jump to the Orcs chopping down the trees in Isengard.

Chomsky: A terrible thing the Orcs do here, isn't it? They destroy nature. But again, what have we seen, time and time again?

Zinn: The Orcs have no resources. They're desperate.

Chomsky: Desperate people driven to do desperate things."

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Iain Duncan Smith shores up the Telegraph. Or does he?

You’re the leader of the opposition. It’s two days before the biggest non-Westminster elections in the UK. You’re predicating a net gain in seats of 0.3%. You give an interview to the Daily Telegraph in order to encourage your base to get out and vote (and also, perhaps to shore up the Telegraph in the leadership election that some of your former allies confidently predict will come immediately after the local elections).

Well, it’s fine as far as it goes. We’re going to win the election, We’re going to start making progress in the national polls soon, there’s no magic wand, only hard work and unity will win the election. The Tories new policies are really exciting.

But am I alone in detecting a hint of scepticism running through the reporters account of the interview. It’s almost as if they are saying, ”Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?" Some quotes from the interviewers “his traumatic first 18 months as party leader, during which he has been variously criticised as too bland, lacking in conviction about the direction in which he wants to lead the party and not up to the job.” “behind the impression of cheery confidence… desperately playing down the importance of the mid-term elections” “A paltry 30 gains” “But if the policies are so good and the leader so strong, why were the polls not moving - especially in mid-term when the popularity of governing parties normally dip?
Mr Duncan Smith had his explanations ready”
“….there did appear to have been a failure to communicate his brilliant policies to the public.”

Now, for me, that is a less than hagiographic account of Mr Smith’s tenure at the top. I have said before that I suspect that The Telegraph might be willing to turn on IDS if the Tories do badly. To be fair though, The Telegraph also runs an op-ed piece by Janet Daley which is far more flattering and supportive.

Her op-ed reminds me a little of the debate in the Labour Party under John Smith. At that time there was a argument between the “one more Heave” school, who argued we had to tweak our policies, stay on the centre left and wait for the election to come to us, and the modernisers, who argued for a radical transformation of the party. It’s very hard to find any one-more-heavers today, but they were plentiful between 1992-94.

Ms Daley appears to be a member of the provisional wing of the one-more-heave faction, She is a no-more-heaver. Her argument seems to be that there is little point in the Tories doing anything until Labour screw everything up. Perhaps she too, is waiting for Gordon to become PM .

I find it hard to believe that this is an appealing strategy for the Tories. I mean, exactly how bad do things have to get for Labour before people will return to the Tories? An unpopular War? Strikes? Tax Increases? Accusations of non-delivery in public services? Worries about Crime and Asylum. Ooops. I forgot, that’s just this month’s stories. I humbly suggest that sitting around and waiting for a complete economic collapse is a less than perfect strategy for an opposition party. Perhaps they're just waiting for Labour to call a General Election during a fuel strike.

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Elections Round up

Could Labour gain seats in Wales? There’s a chance they could get an Overall majority, but according to this poll, it’s going to be a damn close thing.

It looks like it’s where you were in Scotland, except for the Scottish Socialists, who might get big gains.

Various Election summaries- the Tories need to score 200 to even look respectable says the Guardian

The Times points out that Labour is suffering for a lack of candidates and activists, but some of this may be due to local Lib-Lab pacts. and they also have a good go at IDS’s campaigning in pointless places.

The Telegraph has a big interview with IDS, and a Janet Daley Op-Ed saying all the Tories need to do is wait, but is it really that good for IDS? More later today.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2003

A couple of additions to the Blog-roll.

I try and keep my Blog-roll fairly select, and it usually takes me a while to add people to it. So if they're there, it generally means that I've been reading them pretty frequently for a month or so and approve of the quality 9if not agree with the content). Think of me as a blog wine taster, swilling appreciatively for an age. I guess that makes my Blogroll a spittoon though, which isnt the metaphorical image I was looking for..

I'm now also going to try and keep it in a kind of casual "how often I read" ranking order. It excludes people who I read all the time but are Huge Blogstar Americans (Like Josh Marshall, Daily Kos, Electrolite) and is not intended to be a guide to quality- just where I've been reading stuff frequently. A couple of thoughts- there now seem to be a lot more left-liberal bloggers around than when I started (or at least, now we know about each other and link to each other) and I now read threm more often than I do right wing bloggers. Though I still do read the righties, but it tends to be somewhat less frequently (all too often you can just go to NRO online and pick up the story of the day, which is no fun).

Anyway, a couple of eclectic choices.

First, Jackie from Au Currant. She's American, she likes low-brow culture and is proud of it, and i think has has a writing style that could fairly be described as wittily acerbic. Anyway, I'm certainly not going to be sexist and mention that she has a photo on her site, which looks jolly nice (Who-ever said that British men have no sense of romance?). I'd have a photo on my site, but that would give away my secret identity as being that Irish bloke off Cold Feet who apparently women fancy. Did I mention that if a woman moves in with me, she'll be saving the planet? Not that I'm obsessed or anything.

Oh, and i think Jackie works in advertising, which is a fine career and not the profesion of scum sucking leeches bullying us into submitting to consumerist hell by spending a fortune in understanding our innermost fears and weakspots about our appeaance, success, popularity and style, with no regard for our innate individiuality and humanity, as some nay-sayer would have you believe. Admit it, your life would be worse without Safestyle UK and Elephant Car insurance. Or rather, it would be better if they employed half decent agencies (unless of course, that advertising works, which is a really scary thought).

Second, Tom Watson, the Member of Parliament for West Bromwich East (what a great name for a constituency. It's even better than Northampton South) who is being put second out of the two of them in a pathetic attempt on my part to thumb my nose at authority. I mean he's only an MP, at the age of 36, and tipped to be a minister (though I bet he gets to be a whip first). Bastard. I hate him and want his life, but it's a good blog so I'll link to him anyway.

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Should we stop giving the BNP the oxygen of publicity?

One of the things that infuriates me about the media coverage of these elections is the way that the BNP is getting local and national coverage that so far outweighs it’s possible electoral significance.

The BNP is standing 200 candidates and may get about 10 councillors elected in the May elections. This is obviously big news for them, but 10 out of 10,000 councillors is small beer. Why, it’s only a third of The Tories predicted gains (I love asides, so can I just point out that the ludicrousness of that projection appears to be working. No-one can remember any other number)

So why is the BNP such a huge issue in the media? Not just nationally, but locally. In the North-East, where I live, the BNP have had more media coverage than any other political party in the run up to the elections, with articles like this one in our populist Sunday Sun.

Or on the national level, The Daily Express, which has given the BNP two successive front page leads (both of which quote my friend and colleague-in-blogging, Tom Watson- who must get on well with the Express’s PolCorr as he appears to be something of a backbench go-to guy for them).

Now, I don’t doubt the good intentions of these stories, all of which are trying to show up the BNP for being the foul racists that they are, but as the man said, the only bad publicity is no publicity. We live in a strange world where convicted criminals can make millions from their crime, and disgraced politicians on the take can become chat show regulars and rather liked. The same applies for the BNP, for a party whose main promise is to shake things up, the chance to show the great and the good running scared of the BNP (as they will be putting it) and giving a degree of credibility.

Think about it this way, while conventional parties struggle to get coverage for tedious issues like council tax and the environment, Even I can recall BNP messages on Asylum, Labour letting down the North, and putting “local people” (ie. not Paki’s like me) first. The first need for minority party’s is to get the attention of the media. The BNP is succeeding in, beyond their wildest dream. If I were a BNP campaigner (shudder) I would be delighted by the Express coverage. It gives me a chance to put my case to people who might be open to the idea. It’s not anti-racists the BNP are interested in, remember, it’s people who want a way of making their racism respectable.

I’m not advocating censorship, just editorial judgement. Clearly, in Oldham, Burnley, Sandwell, Stoke and Sunderland there are real stories to explore for the local media. I’d be interested in running stories exposing how BNP campaign promises make no sense, or how their candidates fail to turn up to meetings, balanced against equal coverage for other parties.

For a national Newspaper, however, the concern has to be made that excessive, sensationalist coverage of the BNP gives them a credibility they crave. What I’m saying is, that if the BNP get two Express front pages for their local election campaign, the Liberals, Tories and Labour deserve about thirty each. In addition, the BNP will be wandering around on their canvassing rounds, telling each other that they’ve got the media scared.

There is a danger in our political coverage that the more sensational and outrageous your politics, the more likely you are to get media attention, which if played right, can fuel your popularity. The BNP benefit from this, but so do extremist Muslim groups. My call is not for the ignoring or censorship of the BNP, but for political reporters to treat them by the same standards of other parties.

But, hold on, I hear you say, the BNP really are repugnant, nasty, racist scum. What harm can it do to tell everyone that? Well, the problem here is that even the most anti-BNP piece gives them a chance to put their line, and when they’re only looking for 5% conversion rate, that chance to put their case is good for them. What’s worse, is being treated like the insignificant slime that they are.

Now, The BNP have to be taken on and beaten. The best way to do that is twofold. First, The fears and concerns of people have to be addressed- on crime, on housing, on regeneration and yes, on asylum. That doesn’t mean pandered to, but they need to be addressed.

Second, local political parties have to work hard on the ground, campaigning, listening, and being present and vocal. One of the reasons that the BNP are getting support is the destruction of the inner city Tories as any kind of force another is that in seats where the Labour councillor is seventy and not doing much, the BNP can look less incredible. Some MP’s are very good at this (Hello, again Tom, who is apparently an ever-present in the West Midlands Media), but some others regard ringing up Journalists and declaiming about the BNP as a replacement for being on the ground often and visibly.

That is the duty of politicians, but the duty of the Media is not to get so excited by the “Story” of the BNP that they give them attention far beyond their significance, attention that helps them win votes.

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Monday, April 28, 2003

Galloway admits error, but why did the UAE want to help?

I believe I have noticed the first recorded example of Gorge Galloway admitting he may not be purer than pure- he may have made an error. In the course of remarking that the funding of politics is a dirty business, he points out:

“If newspaper critics had focused on the incongruity of a Left-wing MP obtaining support for his campaigning organisations from semi-feudal monarchies and rich businessmen, that would have been a legitimate line of attack.

My defence would have been that needs must.“

Well, since it's a legitimate line of attack, I think we should explore it a little further. Surprise, surpise, it turns out that the funding of the Mariam appeal is not so much dirty as dripping in Crude Oil.

It’s an interesting political question. George Galloway takes money from foreign governments to run a political campaign under the cover of a humanitarian appeal, a political campaign that is directly related to the interests of yet another Foreign state.

Mr Galloway claims that he took the money simply because it was the only way he could campaign to get the sanctions flifted.

But why did the UAE want to give George Galloway’s appeal £750,000 over 1998-2000?

In such a complicated situation, one has to wonder, was the humanitarian question the means or the end?

Well, according to, the UAE was the first Arab nation that called for the lifting of UN sanctions on Iraq.

There are also a number of stories detailing the gifts of aid, food and goods from the UAE to Iraq in 1998.

Now, leaving aside the humanitarian aspects, why might the UAE be so keen to establish a rapprochement with Iraq in 1998?

Well, I suspect the answer lies in the UN crisis that led to the expansion of the Oil-for-food programme from £4billion dollars a year to £10.4billion dollars a year.

Now this means two things. First, that you could suddenly buy more than twice as much Iraqi oil. And second, that Iraq had an extra £6 billion dollars a year to spend on food, infrastructure, and other essential supplies. This is not piddling money.

As the UAE had been the leading Arab supporter of Iraq’s case during the early 1998 crisis, it might expect a good share of these new contracts.

If one was particularly devious, you might suggest that sending humanitarian aid, publicising the consequences of sanctions for the Iraqi people (without ever mentioning the wealth of the regime) might be a smart move for any country looking for some oil for food contracts.

The doubling of the oil-for-food programme was announced in February 1998. The first wave of contracts were announced in May 1998. According to this press release, The UAE has benefitted from Oil for Food contracts of £3 billion, joint fourth largest in the world.

Here’s just one example for two contracts for a total of a million and a half barrels of oil awarded to the UAE in 2000

Of course, this is in addition to the huge smuggling trade, where UAE destination for refining where UAE contractors benefited by buying smuggled oil at $200/dollars a barrel.

Now, the UAE might just be interested in Britis MP’s money to run political campaigns out of the goodness of their heart. Or they might regard ait as a price worth paying to continue getting a big share of newly expanded Oil-for-Food contracts.

So even by Galloway’s account, The Mariam appeal was a puppet campaign coming and going. Funded by people with an economic interest in Iraqi oil exports, running a campaign that would benefit the Iraqi regime. The fact that Galloway used the money to pay his wife salaries, pay for his flights and stage propaganda visits to Iraq is almost irrelevant. The campaign was a front for the interests of oil money.

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