Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Admit it, we secretly laugh at the poor.

I spent, for reasons that need not concern us here, much of last night reading some of my favourite Latin poetry. (In translation, I hasten to add, lest I be eyed suspiciously as an Old European.)

Anyway, I was reminded during the course of my reading of the following quote by Juvenal.

“Of all the woes of poverty, none is harder to endure than this, that it makes men ridiculous”

Later I was watching Little Britain, the brilliant new Matt Lucas/David Walliams show and the Juvenal quote occurred to me again.

Schoolgirl horror Vicky, Useless Lou and Andy. It’s their very poverty that makes them ridiculous. The joke wouldn’t be funny without their poverty. The haircuts, the tracksuits, the bad clothes. It’s all there, as it was with Paul and Pauline Calf, and a host of others, going all the way back to much abused Thersites, the ugliest soldier in all the armies that marched on Troy, and the only commoner.

It’s something that we do too easily, to use comedy to dehumanise those we cannot, or will not help. Thuggish, or stupid, or thick, or just plain pointless. These are the poor they are, by implication, beyond our reach.

I know we don’t laugh just at the poor (and I have seen the rest of little Britain!), but there is a cruelty in the joke which is absent in the portraits of the foibles of the wealthy. I’m not advocating less jokes or (heaven forbid) less comedy brilliance by the likes of Walliams and Lucas, just an awareness on our part that when we laugh at the truth in the observation, we don’t simply accept the stereotype as reality.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons I like the Royle family, or even 2 pints of lager. There’s a humanity there that much comedy misses when talking about those who fall below the plimsoll line of middle class respectability.

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Memo to the President: Could we lose Britain?

From: Ambassador to the Court of St James

Mr President,

First, let me say welcome to Britain. You've chosen a perfect time to come, with overcast weather, a royal sex scandal, and traffic chaos. The latter is attributable to your visit, but don't worry- on this subject the British like to blame their own governent alone.

With the Media focus on your visit to the UK this week and the protests planned against your presence here, I wanted to pre-empt any thoughts you had about British public opinion. Let me pose the most provocative question possible. Could we lose Britain? Is it possible that International politics has created a situation where our biggest ally could turn into a neutral power?

This is not a new concern. President Johnson faced it over Vietnam, where the Wilson government refused, despite huge pressure, to send even a token force to SE Asia. Successive Administration were concerned about the balance of power inside the labour party, with the fear that an anti-US left-wing element would take over. This actually happened in the early 1980's, and the economic crisis of the time made it a real possibility that the Hard left could have taken power. Thankfully, the moderate wing of the party split from the hard left and the Falklands War took care of the rest.

On the face of it, the danger today is much less great than in the 1980's. There is no risk of the Labour Party falling into the hands of the likes of left wing London mayor Ken Livingstone. The departures of former Foriegn Secretary Robin Cook and International Development Secretary Clare Short have not elevated them to potential challengers for the premiership. In addition, Tony Blair enjoys a huge majority over the conservatives, and as you know, the dominant faction in the Conservative party is even more pro-US than Mr Blair.

However, our need for UK support is much greater than it has been at any time over the last 30 years. Our determination to take action over Terrorism and rogue states today has only two strong international advocates, The UK and Spain. For various, rather unfair reasons, the UK is our most important ally.

That alliance has much to do with the leadership of Tony Blair. Blair has taken major political risks to support the USA on terrorism, on Iraq, on international policy generally. It has cost him the support of significant sections of his own Labour Party, earnt him the distrust bordering on loathing of many on the far left and allowed opponents, notably the Liberal Democrat party, to gain significant public support for their more "Old European" views.

So Blair is weakened. Our Question must be, Could he fall? If so what would replace him and what would their attitude to the US be?

The short answer is he could fall and be replaced with a more critical PM. For this to happen would take a US policy specifically designed to undermine the Blair. Unfortunately, this appears to be the policy we are currently following.

There are two ways Blair could lose power:

1. Conservative Victory at the next General Election

Unlikely. The swing required to put new Conservative Leader Micheal Howard into Downing Street is unprecendented. Despite small signs of a conservative revival over the last few weeks, it would take an political earthquake to put the Tories in power. Even they recognise this. Indeed, as I predicted in a recent memo, polls post leadership change show them still flatlining, well behind the government. While you might want to encourage the Conservative party to build strong links with senior US policy makers, this should be viewed as a project with a 2009/10 fruition point.

2. An Internal Coup

The Government face what are effectively mid-term elections in June 2004. These are likely to produce a heavy defeat. If the Iraq situation is still difficult, the economy sluggish, and there are prospects of tax rises with little public service improvemnt, there may be significant internal party pressure for a change. There would be clear warning signs of political rough water, such as trade union unrest, arguments amogst MP's (and not just the usual suspects) and internal party dissent over key domestic issues.

The mechanisms of a challenge need not concern you, but it is not likely to be an outright challenge. More likely, a major resignation, combined by the kind of whispreing campaign that dogged John Major.

The most likely replacement to Tony Blair is Gordon Brown, the Chancellor. He has been a quiet supporter of the invasion in Iraq and is a strong supporter of free trade. He is more sceptical of the European Union than Blair, but also more sceptical of us. If Prime Minister, he is likely to follow a pro-free trade, pro-globalisation course, offsetting this with strong campaigns on Third World debt forgiveness. however, he would likely oppose any further Iraqi investment, and be more outspokenly critical of US Foreign policy. However, you might be relieved to note that he is exptremly unlikely to want to see a more intergrated and powerful European Union, and in geo-political terms, his occassional criticism might be a price worth paying to prevent that.

The more worrying alternative is a more left of centre replacement, perhaps Peter Hain or Robin Cook. This is much more difficult for us, as their campaign for the leadership will draw support from those opposed to our policy objectives. If this faction succeeded, it would be a major setback to us.

The good news is that these gfigure are not currently regarded as serious contenders and will only succeed if we deliberately alienate British centre-left support. The bad news is we are doing just that.

The British centre-left who back Blair want proof that their support for us is paying off. They were torn on the war, understanding that the Iraqi regime was despotic, yet worried about what would follow. They want to see action on various touchstone issues, like the Enviroment, Human rights, Trade, Third world aid and support for international institutions.

On each of these issues, they have seen very little movement from our administration. As a result, centre left figures have recently become much more vocal in their critiscism of the US, with one key ally of the Prime Minister calling for trade sanctions against the US over tarriffs.

The question is how important to you is the Blair Government. If it is important, then it would be very wise to take the domestic political heat for movement on a number of these issues. Movement here would secure Blair in power.

The alternative is the continued destabilisation of your key ally.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Rhetoric should have consequences, George.

Geoirge Galloway is to lead a "Unity movement" of Stop the War groups, Socialist Workers, Assorted Trots, FBU and RMT activists to combat the government. George will stand in London, presumably for the European parliament.

(sourced from Gallery news)

Now, I loathe George Galloway anyway, but there is somethingly uniquely distasteful about his choice of metaphor in his annoucement.

"Unless Labour rids itself of this anti-Labour clique which has taken it over, this group of hijackers who are flying the Labour party into destruction... then I believe their days are numbered"

There's no doubt what Galloway is trying to imply here. Just as he trid to imply that his expulsion from the Labour party was a "Show Trial", trying to muddy the issue of his support for Stalinism and neo-Stalinists, He now tries to imply that it is Tony Blair who is the real terrorist, the real Al-Qaeda. Classy.

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The Guardian and George W Bush

It's an interesting yet little known fact (Well, interesting to me, and little known to everyone else) that I have acquired the habit of formulating an idea for an ideal blog commentary in the morning, ruminating over it, cogitating, and letting the germ of said idea bloom as the sun reaches the zenith, only to go over to Harry Hatchett's place to find he, or one of his minions, has already blogged it.*

Such is life, and so it was this A.M. I was pronging a moody forkful of the old e&b when I happened upon the Guradian's "60 people write a note to Bush" feature. It is based on the conceit that the president is mugging up for his trip to see the Queen by poring over the Guardian G2 section and that, as a consequence, the Guardian can open up it's pages to the wise and they will have a hotline to the big man.

Which, you never know, may be the case. I can't speak for Airforce One, but if you're on the back of the flight on a Euroshuttle, by the time the Stewardess get to you, it's pretty much pot luck on whether you get the Guardian or some ghastly german paper with an unpronounceable name. Perhaps the President faces the same quandry.

Going back the the Guardian's "letter to Bush" conceit, it would be more accurate to say that the writers had a hotline to arts graduates and bearded men the length and breadth of Britain, but I suspect this would not pull in the punters in the same way.

This is a shame, as I have always sought the delicious prospect of 60 members of the great and the good sending a message to me, ending the existential doubt I've always suffered over Julie Burchill's opinion of my lifes work. What would Julie do? I ask myself when confronted by a tough life decision. I am thus consoled that the answer is likely to be lie in bed, and I follow her example to the letter.

On waking from this pleasant day-dream, I decided to blog on the subject of the Guardians wise advice to our young prince Hal. What could be a more pleasing prospect for a mid morning break than cutting out someone else's opinion, and adding the soupcon elements of mockery/reverence to taste? Sadly, Harry had got there first.

Not to be discouraged I plunged deeper. There must be more here to parody, I thought. how right I was. lucky for me eh? For you too, I assure you.

Two Harry Pinter's, there's only twwwoooo Harry Pinters.

Tow Quotes from playwright Harold Pinter, but which one is the parody and which one Britain's greatest living wordsmith?

I'm sure you'll be having a nice little tea party with your fellow war criminal, Tony Blair. Please wash the cucumber sandwiches down with a glass of blood, with my compliments.
Harry Pinter the First

There's a bomb/Up your arsehole/Chum/And if you want to shit it out/You can't/Chum/Because the president won't bloody let you/Chum.
Hal Pinter the second

Who's the shaggy-haired loony in the dress?

Which person writing here is a strange looking "comedy terrorst" wierdo with suspect personal hygiene and which the distinguished business woman with her very own beauty products chain?

"Most of the people demonstrating against you will be the latte-rati - people whose experience of oppression is having to wait four hours for the cable guy to come round. I am the child of two refugees from totalitarian regimes;

I don't care why you got rid of Saddam, and neither does any Iraqi I know. He's just thankful the Hussein dynasty is gone; a dynasty that, under Saddam's sons, would have carried on mass-murdering and asphyxiating natural freedoms for a few more decades. Although your country will requisition all the oil, the Iraqis are now able to protest. "
Insightful Businesswoman Aaron Baarshak

"You represent rank imperialism and warmongering - neither of them American traditions or values - so I wish you were not coming to this country. Since you are, let me warn you that millions of us here will not tolerate our government if it follows your lead...."

"I wish that "we, the people" had demanded that you and Blair, who promoted this war, should have personally participated in the hostilities like medieval kings had to."
Shaggy haired loon dame Anita Roddick

Ahh.. that's better. I've achieved my weekly anti-Guardian quota, mandatory for all bloggers. I want you to know Guardian on-line man, that i won't bend the knee just because you offer cash prizes. Think you can buy me? Think again.

*Note to minions. As Harry is a fictional character, there is no shame in your grovellingly subservient status. I myself have long hoped to be a minion to Cruella Deville, but sadly my youthful dreams have been to no avail.

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Monday, November 17, 2003

Seismic media stuff..

So Murdoch may back the Tories and Conrad Black resigns, hinting he may sell the Telegraph?

This is a big weekend in big media.

I don’t think the Murdoch story is particularly huge- I mean, he would be stupid to bestow his blessing on Blair now, with so many issues up for resolution in the next two years. So I’ll let that pass.

But who knew that Lord Black of Crossharbour liked giving himself large wodges of cash (millions and millions of the folding stuff) through the medium of a company named after his wife?

One has to wonder what the attitude of the Telegraph’s hard-line on crime editorial team is to this flagrant fraudulent act. Should a rich man get easy treatment after stealing from shareholders? Sure, he’s promised to pay it back, but that doesn’t cut it for muggers.

So to review: Our purer than pure media moguls have a track record of the following:

Murdoch (Sun, Times, Sky): Cringing to and funding propaganda of Chinese communists, Tax Avoidance , Nepotism.

Maxwell (ex- Mirror): Where to start? Fraud, Communist fellow travelling, stealing from pensioners.. but hey, he's not doing it any more.

Black (Telegraph): Fraud (see above). Nepotism

Desmond (Express, Star): Porn magnate

Rothermere clan (Mail, Standard): Nazi fellow travelling, Nepotism.

These are the people to whom some people wish to turn over all your daily news intake.
A bunch of communist backing, corrupt, nepotistic, fascist sympathisers.

Makes the Guardian and the BBC look pretty good, doesn’t it?

Aside from the innocent pleasure of poking sticks in the eyes of disgraced plutocrats, the interesting question is who can buy the Telegraph. How about Trinity Mirror? That would make an interesting change- They lack a broadsheet, would be able to get past the competition commission, and their CEO needs to make a splash. Might lead to a more one nation Tory Telegraph.

PS: Bad news for Barbara Amiel and Mark Steyn. Couldn’t happen to nicer ideologues.

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Sunday, November 16, 2003

Spin compliments Tory spokesman horror

I've been accused, with plenty of justification, of not saying too many nice things about the Tory party political strategy.

So here goes. Although I disagree with him, David Davis's announcement that he favours the death penalty for serial killers is smart politics. It's moderate enough not to have him painted as an extremist by the press pack and hardline enough to appeal to the law and order crowd.

Extra bonus points are awarded for getting coverage for a policy a) You won't legislate on, b) you won't win on even if you did, and therefore c) Is absolutely meaningless.

Kudos to Mr Davis.

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