Friday, November 14, 2003

The Great visit of Mr Bush..

What a to-do. George W. Bush, (who is, alert readers will gather, apparently the President of something called “the United States of America”) is coming to stay and the country is up in arms. Pundits are scribbling frantically across the country and your humble correspondent is never one to ignore trends that are sweeping the nation. I have hula-hooped, I have body-popped, I have shoe gazed. I am therefore admirably qualified to comment on the geo-political and domestic implications of Mr Bush’s trip to London.

The first thing to tell our American readers is that we are just as prejudiced about you as the French, though slightly less ideologically. In our minds, you are either movie stars, or fatso’s gorging hamburgers and fries. There is no middle ground. Sure, we might occasionally bump into a slim American, but they are watched with a kindly interest, as one would gaze at a laboratory hamster, to see whether they will start scoffing burgers or taking leads in west end musicals. There is no other foreseeable outcome.

This binary approach to the US citizen explains why Elvis is still the most popular American in British history. He was both a movie star and a burger-gurgler. He encapsulated all our beliefs about America in one XXL sized rhinestone jumpsuit.

So, you can now understand our confused reaction to your politicians. Sure, Presidents have all the appurtenances of a top flight movie star; the private jet, the blacked out limo, the burly guards, the diva attitude, but not to put too fine a point on it, they couldn’t gross a hundred million on opening weekend if their lives depended on it. So what to make of them?

President Clinton was welcomed with open arms. Here was a man who fit our stereotypes of the nice American. He was clever, but brash and definitely a burger guzzler. He looked like a fellow who enjoyed a KFC. He didn’t seem to cause too much trouble. He didn’t want us to go to war with Russia or Vietnam or any other country where men with bombs lurked. He seemed unlikely to unleash nuclear warheads at anyone. On top of all of this, he very generously opened his private life to the delectation of the Tabloids just when we’d got a bit bored of Charles and Diana.

President Bush had a tough act to follow and suffers from a few disadvantages of his own. First, he appears to be a Christian of the televangelist school. Nothing dismays an Englishman more than an openly declared love of God. This goes back to the 16th century, when after decades of religious persecution, with vicars constantly making with the stakes and the burnings, the torments and the heresies, the nation exhaled a big sigh of relief when Queen Elizabeth declared she did not want to make a window into men’s souls, or even if she did, she’d be jolly upset if there wasn’t a nice net curtain blocking the view. Ever since then, our attitude to religion has been governed by the ancient motto to be found in houses across Britain. "No salesmen, no canvassers, no circulars, no Hawkers".

Secondly, Mr Bush seems to very much enjoy bombing people and making with the wrath and the vengeance. This offends our sense of fair play.

A clarification here, the vaunted sense of British fair play means fair play just for the British. When ruling the world, we were entirely justified in sending gun ships up Chinese rivers to support the opium trade and would have very miffed if some Yankee upstart had been going around shouting “no blood for dope” at Disraeli. Burger-scoffing surrender baboons in the war against yellowism, John Bull would have said. Jingoism? We invented it.

Mr Bush on the other hand seems to believe in fair play just for the Americans, which is very disturbing and amoral. He has the guns, he has the men, he has the money too. His desire to use them strikes us as forward. Typically American we sigh, always showing off about his F-18’s, his Apache strike helicopters and battlefield nuke capability. So lacking in reticence.

If Bush must use his overwhelming military might, could he not at least look a bit embarrassed about it? “Oh, what’s this?” he might say to the putative dictator, “the Sixth fleet?, gosh. Who would have thought. Sixth? Isn’t five enough? I’m terribly sorry about this, but I’ve got nowhere else to put it, so it’s going to have to be outside your capital. I hope you’re not too put out by the ten capital ships, air capability greater than your entire Air force, 200 nuclear warheads and 25 support ships, and I promise we’ll try not to make too much noise over your presidential palace when testing our computer controlled cruise missiles. Amazing thingummies, these missiles. Apparently, accurate to within 10 meters, so rest easy, it should be fairly simple to avoid having it slam into your bedroom, old boy”

Of course, people very much disagree with Mr Bush on issues of substance. I myself would happily demonstrate against him on the basis that he has piled idiocy upon idiocy since his correct decision to depose Saddam Hussein and seems committed to adding a few more idiocies to the ever-growing pile. These are topics for another time. On matters of style at least, If he was a little less, well, how to say this? A little less American. Perhaps, a little more…

It would be so much easier. We’d even forgive him for the cowboy boots.

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Thursday, November 13, 2003

Nicky Gavron stands down as Labour candidate...

I wonder who the Labour candidate for London Mayor will be?

Turn again, Livingstone....... It merely awaits the approval of the Labour NEC to allow him back in the party, and some sort of selection to confirm Ken as the candidate. I actually rather hope banks or someone stands against him for the Labour nomination- not to win, but to rremind Ken that not everyone in the party agrees with him...

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Well everyone got very excited about PMQ’s yesterday, didn’t they?

Before we begin to tot up the scores, I ask have only one request of my esteemed readers.

Please name an occasion when performances at PMQ’s significantly changed the political landscape.

The first example I thought of was Margaret Thatcher’s “No, No , No”, but that, as any fule kno, was actually a commons statement.

So to be honest, PMQ’s don’t really matter that much except as part of political theatre (I sometimes feel the same way about the whole chamber). Thatcher was awful in opposition, decent in power, Major average, Hague was very good. IDS was terrible. To go back further, I should imagine that Churchill would have crushed Attlee in the house, but Gaitskill would have been able to run rings round Eden or Macmillan. Try and draw a correlation between PMQ performance and electoral success for either party. There ain’t one.

That said, PMQ’s do matter in a very particular sense, because they are one of the few areas where our hungry press pack get to judge our party leaders and because they affect the mood of the MP’s in exactly the same way local Derbies affect football supporters.

To stretch the metaphor further, If Leeds United hired Roy Race as player manager and he scored on his debut against Man U, it still wouldn’t change the fact that the club is millions in debt, has a wage bill higher than its income, is bottom of the premiership. It certainly wouldn’t effect the economy of Leeds, Leeds education system or the state of Leeds general hospital.

However, it might make Leeds fans a little more cheerful, and as Arnold Bennett would assert, there is certainly something worthwhile in the great cause of cheering people up.

So, PMQ’s are fundamentally unimportant. But despite this unimportance, they still have significance. Clear, as mud, I expect.

As a result, I have to give two answers on the question of “How did they do?” In the first, Tony Blair and Labour are the massive winners. Tony Blair has one answer to every Tory question. “We’ve put the money in, and you’ll take it out”. This answer has the twin virtues of brevity and truth. No amount of verbal dexterity detracts from it.

In the second, Michael Howard has done fantastically well. His supporters in press and parliament are energised. At last a swashbuckling champion. Did you see his smartness in preparing for the poll tax parry? He’s a political fighter through and through. The Westminster political mojo is in his favour. Was that a commentator saying that the poll tax was ancient history? A columnist arguing that the patients passport sounds interesting? All this is good. A Tory MP on the train home this weekend will be in a very different frame of mind.

Trouble is, our dear friend the MP will be whistling to disaster. It’s the policies, stupid.

My prediction for the next round of polls? Still flatlining.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Honda Creatives must die.

After the stunning response to my 10 commandments of web advertising post. I would like to nominate a market leader in advertising that makes you want to decapitate the creative.

The early leader is the Honda ad that can be experienced in all its twisted evil when you access the Onion.

Flash animation? Check. Flashing strobe effect? Check. Obscures article you want to read? Check. Hard to turn off? Check. Annoyingly large? Oh yes. Selling product not available in the UK? Check. Has tiny off button? Check. Far too long? Check. Noisy? Very. Stupidly interactive? Oh yes. They give you the chance to endure the ad again. They think it’s that good.

Die, self important Honda Web creative.

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Of Ken, Blair and Brown

I was one of those Labour party members who wanted Ken Livingstone out of the Labour party, so now, when I turn round and say let him back in, I do so circumspectly. Throwing him out of the party tore London Labour apart, cost us the mayoralty and on the positive side, showed what the limits were for the left. This far and no further it said.

4 years later, with Ken ensconced in the mayors chair and governing (for Ken), responsibly, it’s hard to remember the approach he took in the first couple of years of the Labour government. Ken called for Gordon Brown's sacking on many occasions, authored articles on why Labour economic policy was leading to disaster, and was a reliable quote machine in opposition to the government.

At a time when Cook, Short, Smith, Meacher and Kilfoyle were loyal ministers, when even Skinner, Corbyn and Abbott were keeping quiet, Ken was doing all he could to destabilise the government. It was unacceptable, and the thought of him in office was one that turned the stomach of many reasonable Labour people.

I disagree with Ken on many issues. I find his posturing on the Bush’s visit childish. Yet over the last five years, as an independent, he has supported nothing that left wing Labour MP’s have not also supported. He has now accepted defeat on Tube financing. He has never done anything to step beyond the boundary of Labour politics. He is no Galloway. He may or may not be an asset to the labour party, but if the campaign group of MP’s are acceptable as elected representatives, then so, on the evidence of his time as mayor, is Ken.

Now, the rumour is that the Ken Livingstone decision is one of those that heighten tensions between Blair and Brown. Which is to say, according to reports, that Livingstone is one amongst multitudes in this respect. I find these stories terribly annoying, because as with a marriage, the secrets of the relationship lie only with the affianced. An aide may whisper here, or brief there, but what does the word of an under-strapper signify in such things? These miniature Steerpikes have their own agendas. Until there is a public break on the level of Thatcher and Lawson, dismiss it from your minds.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2003

It's the Triple H club; Hoggart and Hames on Howard! Hoorah!

Simon Hoggart pens a comedy gold column on the Tory Shadow cabinet unveiling.

"Out had gone fuddy-duddy old shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram, and in was young, thrusting, go-ahead shadow foreign secretary, Michael Ancram!

It was "sayonara" to failed party chairwoman, Theresa May, and a big "hai" to the new environment spokes-woman, Theresa May!

And we welcomed back an exciting new face from the last Thatcher government, David Curry"

Over at the Times, Tim Hames pens an intelligent and worthy column on the Tories trouble with tribbles. Sorry. I mean Policy, I just couldn't resist. One interesting point, the similarity to Ian MacCartney's article in Friday's Gurdian is striking. Aside from the Intro, the argument is the same, the examples are the same and the two columns even conclude on the same quote. Compare and contrast here.

Finally, Howard wants to sell CCO. He aims to raise six million from the sale of the lease. There you go, typical Thatcherite, selling off the family silver to meet current expenditure.

What happens once the Tories have spent their six million spondoolies on rent? They'll be stony broke and no assets. Perhaps they should buy a council house at knock down rates. I bet the next Tory leader/Chief exec will curse this decision.

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Identity Cards

So the Government wants us all to have ID cards.

This gives me great pause for thought. I am obviously delighted by the possibility of having a card to wave in the faces of people who seem to insist on asking my who the hell I am, there is a fatal flaw in the whole thing.

If I have an identity card, I will lose it. In fact i will lose it so frequently that it will become some sort of stock joke.I will be confined to my house, permamnently waiting for my new identity card to arrive, For a precious day I shall be liberated, able to venture from my home to peek happily at natures bounty, Then I will have the card stolen by a mischevious squirrel and be forced back to identity-less hibernation.

Therefore, In all conscience, I can only support ID cards if they come with some sort of elastic device that will secure it close to my person. I shall support iD cards when they are magnetically attracted to their true owner, seeking them out through rains and shine like a faithful dog returning to it's master.

The Government is waiting until 2013 to give me the chace to lose my papers. Surely the Human seeking ID card is not too much to ask by then?

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Monday, November 10, 2003

A modest proposal

In the long tradition of trolling for hits, I'm thinking of doing a long format e-mail each week on political issues. This was the suggestion of a reader, which made a lot of sense, but I was too lazy to get off my backside and implement it.

The intent would be a thousand word e-mail on the horse race aspects of politics, with my unique brand of serious comment and dodgy jokes (ahem). Think Matthew Parris having a fight with Popbitch in the strangers bar.

Thing is, I want to know who'd be interested in such a thing. If there's a reasonable response I'll start it up. While you're at it, let me know what you'd like to see covered. I can't think of everything. I'm a busy man.

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Tory Shadow cabinet..

My initial reaction to the trailing of Lord Saatchi as new co-chairman of the Tory party was that it was a sure sign that Howard did not have any particularly sexy shadow cabinet moves to announce.

If Portillo, Hague or Clarke had accepted, that would have been the Sunday news. Even Maude or Dorrell would have been newsy. Saatchi as Tory co-Chair? Well that smacks of a man desperately searching for a splash. So it proved.

Co-Chairmen are usually a bad idea. Who will actually run CCO? What does Fox feel about having a co-Chairman with nothing else to do but sit in CCO? What happens when they disagree. If I were Fox, I’d be secretly livid. It’s a recipe for division.

Second- Yeo as shadow for Health and Education? Wow. That’s a big job. It’s intriguing putting Mr Moderate Tory in charge of the two big areas of public spending- but he’ll need a lot of support not to be stretched beyond belief.

The other shadow appointments are as expected Letwin – Chancellor, Davis- Home affairs, Willetts- Policy development- and Theresa May should be relieved to have a job at transport and environment.

It’s apparently a very small shadow cabinet- 12 people. What to read into that? Howard wants to have a small leadership team with real power and he’s just not that impressed with his current team, and the decent people are too young. Alternatively this is a story about cutting down on government. It’s utter nonsense, but a neat swerve. The danger is that if there isn’t an army of junior spokespeople given a chance to shine, these 12 will be shattered and exposed.

Last, but not least. The Times buries the story on their poll today. The Tories have had their best week in recent memory. Yet they’re flat in the polls. Swing voters just aren’t convinced.

“More than half of both the public and of swing or floating voters believe that the change “doesn’t make much difference to the reasons why people have not felt able to vote for the Tories and is unlikely to make them do any better”.”

But why would they voters be so unmoved, despite the deluge of new dawn stories?
Hate to say it (again) but I told you so.

Politics is fundamentally about choices, and as I have said before, Michael Howard’s policy medicine is more of the same. Unsurprising really, as the rumour appears to be that he authored the current Tory policy process….

“Michael Howard has not signalled any yearning desire to utterly transform Tory policy. He has not signalled any attempt to reach out beyond the current Tory strategy.

”There are merits in this decision. To say “No matter how much money you put in, the NHS/Schools/whatever won’t work unless you do X” makes sense. However, it means you need an alternative. You need an X. The trouble is, the Tory X is massively unpopular.”

But how do the Times run this story about Tory flatlining? Tory donors back Howard! Well, gosh, Tory donors in supporting Tory leader shock! If this were the New York Times, and I were a right-wing blogger, I’d be frothing at the mouth about institutional bias, but I’ve learnt to live with the fact that our media is controlled by wealthy men with a right-wing political agenda.

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