How do you solve a problem like gobshites?

Conservatives,politics 6 April 2014 Tell me what you think

That the newspapers have been keen to hoist Maria Miller, the minister responsible for the shepherding the press regulation legislation from a lamppost for continuing to claim a level of expenses on a mortgage after a favourable change in the lending interest rate is not surprising.

That the affair has been so badly managed by the professional party and the MPs so close to an election should probably raise some eyebrows.

That the PM still reckons he doesn’t have a woman in the party good enough to promote into her place is lamentable. I reckon he’s also wrong.

The Conservative Party’s elected women are a remarkable bunch with real substance – they should be presenting the PM with an embarrassment of promotable riches – but the bias in the party at the last election towards creating good constituency MPs at the expense of the executive has created a pool of talent with outspokenness and principle in abundance, loyalty and ambition in short supply.

That’s good for constituencies but fucking awful for the executive whose job must be appointing people of competence to positions of consequence.

Politics, red in tooth and claw is the reality for the PM today. He wanted to keep Maria Miller in position – she is obviously competent and capable, but her judgment in her dealing with IPSA was evidently flawed.

Truculence is the correct response to a stupid and incapable bureaucracy, but not if you’re in the cabinet.

The PM should take the opportunity to appoint at least two more women to the cabinet – this would disabuse backbenchers of the notion that they can be in Parliament without the risk of government and would send the message that there is no women problem in the Conservative Party.

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Sometimes a view is just a view

this blog 1 January 2014 Tell me what you think

Every so often I reboot this blog, and every so often someone comes along to give me a reason why I should constrain my blogging. I already do.

I work for an organisation which has Political views in many areas, and which is led by democratically elected people. Those people speak on behalf of the organisation and I do not.  Nothing I say purports to be the position of the organisation for which I work and I am very happy to establish that fact publicly.  I don’t (and won’t) speak at all for the organisation, though a million years ago, I was elected to lead it.  Those days are long gone.  Today I am retained and paid to do the work of managing the affairs of the place so that the political leadership doesn’t have to concern itself with stamps, plumbers and rent.

I have no ‘office’ and therefore I have no official view on the positions held by that organisation (except that I am often astounded by the frequency with which I privately agree with them) and I have no input whatsoever into the formulation of those positions. I’m a civil servant. People get paid, rooms get booked, trucks get sent to the right places.

I am well aware that some people, particularly on the left of politics, don’t like what they think are my views on the politics of the day.  I don’t particularly care – because we think what we think and we believe what we believe.  In particular I don’t care because I assiduously do not express any disagreement with the leadership of the organisation for which I work – because policies and their public expression are not my job – in any case I would not be capable of doing it as effectively as the leadership, because they reflect the position of the electors. 90% of the time any view I express publicly has no bearing at all on the positions or affairs of the country in which I live, let alone the organisation I work for.

Those of us who work in non-political jobs inside political organisations often experience similar problems.  We’re hired to do jobs, not determine or interpret the policies of the organisation we work for. We have lives outside the political organisations we work for – and how we live those lives are, frankly, none of the organisation’s business so long as confidentiality and the law of the land are respected.

My request is this -if you dislike my views, then challenge me on them.  They’re only views – and believe me, the chance to chat ‘outside’ politics with someone outside the policy debates which occur inside my workplace would be rather lovely.

I’d leave the rugby though.  I’m Wasps and England till I die.

A happy, healthy and fulfilling 2014 to you.

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We’ve failed humanity.

syria 29 August 2013 Tell me what you think

Tonight the UK Parliament voted in favour of dictators gassing their people. I’ve never ever felt ashamed to be British before, but this is a terrible decision. When soman, tabun and cyclosarin starts being dropped on innocents and protesters, the regimes will use tonight’s vote to give them comfort that one of the few nations which could make them answer for their crimes against humanity hasn’t the guts any more.

The only good thing to come out from tonight is the proof that our Parliament works, just as it failed to do in 2003, and we now have a PM who isn’t afraid to suffer political knocks and get on with the job. But if Assad uses these weapons again, let those who voted against action do the honourable thing and take the Hundreds.  After they’ve learned the names of each victim.

This vote was not about taking sides – it was about protecting those people powerless to even take a side.  This vote was about taking the action in principle to warn the world that rule-of-law nations will act to prevent lawless and murderous regimes from simply wiping out their oppositions.

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Late to the party

tweets 29 July 2013 Tell me what you think

That there are some men in social media who get their jollies from threatening strong, intelligent women online is not exactly surprising. Sick puppies abound.

That the response of some feminists is to decide on a day in the near future to not engage in Twitter is more surprising, partially because of how effectively it plays exactly into the hands of the men who want to silence the women in the first place.



Making a playlist for a killer

A Graveyard,Books 2 June 2013 Tell me what you think

An MP5 SD, disassembled yesterday.

An MP5 SD, disassembled yesterday, presumably in the opening few bars of Old Love. Pic stolen from because I do not have a silenced submachine gun.

I have been taking advice from writers on how to actually knuckle down and finish a project I’ve been working on.  Some of the best advice seemed to involve not drinking coffee, some involved sitting in cafes with just a cup of coffee until bored enough to knock out a chapter.  Most convincingly lately has been ‘think as the character’.

My primary protagonist, Chris,  has constant need for music.  He needs to be kept interested by the world, partially to exclude interest in the world.  Deep or bullshit, your mileage may vary.  But he has the latest smartphone.  He has Spotify – we know this – it’s part of his character.  So thinking as him, I decided, I need to make a playlist – a Desert Island Discs of music he’d like.  This is a strange thing to do – but it’s strangely instructive on his moods, his character and his values.  Or it can be.  He is terribly old fashioned, a bit of a wallowy deep thinker, a bit of a worrier and, as the story develops, deeply guilty about his work.  Here’s his playlist:

1.  Eye in the Sky – Alan Parsons Project

This track fits the actual thoughts and feelings parcelled up in Chris’ life.  It’s also lyrically quite apposite given his job and relationships in the book.  It’s also a cracking tune, with that classic Alan Parsons ‘produced until it hurts’ feel.

2. The way she was before – Black (AKA Colin Vearncombe)

Black suits Chris’ aesthetic.  Brooding, slightly melancholy but constantly optimistic.  This is a beautiful track, speaking wistfully of past love and fond remembrance.  This jars with Chris’ character a bit, but deep inside, we all want to feel a bit of a romantic.  In contrast with the next track…

3. Sugar on my tongue – Talking Heads

Chris’ sexual and somewhat detached side is hinted at here.  Talking Heads’ manic best from the album 77.

4. Because the night – Patti Smith Group

Dancing and singing into a shampoo bottle in the shower, this allows Chris to rock out with his Glock out.

5. Reveller – Diane Cluck

Uncertainty about the whole actually being alive and enjoying it thing permeates his whole being.  He’s constantly guilty about being happy, which is reassuring given his job.

6. Old Love – Unplugged – Eric Clapton

The crowning achievement of the MTV Unplugged projects, this is the best track on the album.  It’s an important song in the book.  Stripping and cleaning a well looked after MP5SD takes around 8 minutes.

7. Welcome Home – Dave Dobbyn

One of New Zealand national musical treasure Dave Dobbyn’s schmaltzier tracks, this track plays in a hotel reception in Belfast where he waits for both his lover and a phone call to confirm or quell his suspicions about one of his team.

8. Sway – Bic Runga

The day before their graduations, Chris has this song sung to him by his girlfriend at an open mic night in the Students’ Union.  Awkward.

9. TV Dinners – Robert Palmer

A job needs to be done – this track speaks to a certain hard headedness he develops as time progresses.

10. Sisters of the Moon – Fleetwood Mac

Realisation is a bitch.  Awe of the awful is even worse.  This is the musical expression of both.

11. Stay with me till dawn – Judie Tzuke

His romantic, petulant soul puts Chris and the whole plan in extreme danger – but they get to see the sunset.

12. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five – Paul McCartney and Wings

Resolve and resolution

13. Bones and Born Again – Diane Cluck

The old love is gone – and though he has no right to expect a new one, he has the basic sense to do the only thing one is expected to do with love, and accept it.



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Thoughts after a funeral.

feminism,politics 17 April 2013 Tell me what you think

On the day Lady Thatcher died, people in Dublin spoke to me with worry on their faces, as if I might spontaneously combust or ascend back to my starship. “Here is a man”, they probably thought, “who is upset about the death of someone I thought was a bit of a bitch.”

They were right. I was upset, as any reasonable human would be at the death of an old lady who had played such a central role in our society for the first years of my life. But I was upset in a disconnected fashion – she was Baroness Thatcher, Lady Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher, Maggie. For people as far removed from her as I was (and that’s pretty far removed – she had never been a Constituency Secretary) she stood as an icon, a power – a symbol of pure conservatism, blue in tooth and claw.

I saw her and her politics as the unattainable, lost cardinal of conservatism – the rare, elemental form which tarnishes readily when exposed to the air. Those who painted themselves as ‘thatcherite’ seemed destined to forever seek its rare essence through alchemy – as if mixing a harsh disrespect for the other with something vaguely right-of-centre and heating in an atmosphere of fear for the future would deposit crystals of Thatcherite, more chemically and politically stable than the gold standard, and, when viewed under the microscope, emitting a blue cerenkov glow.

These alchemists tended to turn up to parties in expensive suits and appalling shirts, with ties chosen to reflect something or other from the second world war. They wanted to be Mark Thatcher with better map reading skills. Not one of them could hold their whiskey like Margaret Thatcher.

They didn’t get the fucking point.

Margaret Thatcher’s politics were the politics of loyalty to her country. She had a vision of a nation where people were independent of the state so they wouldn’t be subject to the predations of the state. She had a vision for a people who understood their responsibilities as superior to their entitlements. She saw in the people a desire to be set free from other people telling them what to do – the unions, the civil servants, the politicians. She knew that the power of the Prime Minister to change the tone and the course of the nation’s history is immense – and she sought to use the power to the best of her ability.

Margaret Thatcher’s loyalty to her country was breathtaking. The Falklands War – which arguably couldn’t have come at a better (political) time, was the last popular war in the UK primarily because people knew it was right to do – and that the Prime Minister’s resolve and determination to stand up for the people in the South Atlantic spoke to how she would stand up for the UK’s interests.

When I was asked in the past whether I was a Thatcherite, I usually replied that I had immense respect for her, but I was closer in thinking to John Major, William Hague and David Cameron. The last ten days have allowed me to contemplate that more carefully. Major, Hague and Cameron’s political instincts are not so different from the late Baroness Thatcher’s – although their methodologies and presentation enormously differ. David Cameron’s stewardship today, cleaning up the mess of the overspending Labour administrations and taking responsibility for the mistakes of successive UK governments, is the legwork of a PM aware of his duty to put the national house in order. Very Thatcherite indeed, in my view.

When I look back on the history of the big decisions Margaret Thatcher had to take in leading my country, which all took place in my lifetime, I believe she made the right call on almost every one of them. Hindsight and progress, which tarnish every historic decision, make me wish she’d put some women into cabinet (nobody can tell me Virginia Bottomley wasn’t good enough) and that she’d done more thinking about the Community Charge.

Margaret Thatcher made the UK great again. She led the revolution which again gave citizens, not Trade Unions, control of their country. She stood up to terrorism and aggression and she brought Gorbachev in from the cold. She understood what she had to do, and she won the support of the people three times to do it.

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Labour’s messaging and other catastrophic failures

Labour Leadership,politics 7 April 2013 Tell me what you think

Noting the continued push for the Labour Party to embrace the ‘One Nation’ absurdity in their branding, the party’s machine decided this weekend to launch a rather poorly thought through poster campaign ‘Who wants to bung a millionaire?  Dave Does’.

It’s not very good

Quite apart from the clear effort to divide the nation into two economic groups in the poster, which negates the ‘one nation’ motto, the development and deployment of the campaign, based as it is on a TV gameshow ident from 1998, appears to have been handled by a four-year old or a competition winner (for which approach we thank for the ‘Fire up the Quattro’ campaign just before the 2010 General Election).  The problem is that the advert just isn’t very good and deeply misses the current political narrative.

  • It’s too late.  The media messaging on the purported tax cuts to millionaires has already been used months ago.  The campaign feels warmed-over and stale
  • The design is derivative of an old TV show nobody watches anymore
  • The media narrative is about welfare, not millionaires
  • There is a widespread understanding that Ed Miliband himself is a millionaire, thereby creating a cognitive dissonance (the ‘ah, but’ moment) for the reader
  • It’s the politics of envy writ large
  • The figures don’t look convincing.

To expand on the last point, Labour claims that the average family will lose £891 per year from the new budget, but according to the Channel 4 Fact Checker Blog:

In attacking Mr Osborne this week, Labour went for a much higher figure: an average household loss of £891 this year, based on IFS research.

There’s nothing wrong with it mathematically but it’s based on what the government has done compared to doing nothing, an incredible scenario given that Labour would undoubtedly have had to introduce austerity measures too.

The verdict

Mr Osborne is probably right about the nine out of ten [better off under the new budget], although by choosing to frame the debate in terms of working households alone he has made it difficult for independent assessors to FactCheck him.

At the heart of the problem with Labour’s messaging is of course that they don’t have a message to put out.  Ed Miliband is dithering on welfare, on NHS Policy, on crime and punishment, on Trident and on the whole economic scene.  Without a message to put out, poster designers have ‘fuck all’ to work with.

Ed Open Goal

Ed Open Goal

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A shambolic week for Labour.

benefits,politics,trident 5 April 2013 Tell me what you think

Advice Ed Miliband is not receiving.

Advice Ed Miliband is not receiving.

That the Labour Party has no formulated policy response to the government’s welfare reforms was predictable – that Red Ed’s shadow cabinet and war-makers within Labour have so failed to provide an alternative narrative to the reforms other than line-by-line opposition  is appalling.  That the whole abject failure to find a line for Ed Miliband to trumpet is shambolic.

But the fact the whole Labour Party has had to be saved today by the Mirror running a ‘parking in a disabled spot’ splash on its front page is completely hilarious.  Under Ed Miliband, what could have been an opportunity for a effective counterattack has collapsed into a total failure to grasp the news cycle – with the effect that at the end of the week with the single biggest shift in welfare policy in decades, the people are left none the wiser what the opposition would have done differently.

Nobody is minding the circus in Labour HQ – every backbencher with a Twitter account has seemed louder than the front bench.  Every semi-sentient chimp with a red-rosette has had more to say than the shadow chancellor of the exchequer.  And every one of them, without strategic guidance from Ed’s Cominform has reverted to type, calling for more spending, no cuts, total denial of the political and economic crisis in which the country finds itself.

Nobody knows what Labour thinks about the Philpotts.  Nobody knows what they would do about the spare bedroom subsidy.  On the single biggest tax spend area in government, people now know what the Conservatives want to do but have no idea what Labour would do.  In the policy vacuum, bad policy has room to expand, as it now will among the comrades – and the first flourish of the approach appeared with the first week of spring – they would think carefully about scrapping Trident.

That’s right – in the week of the first time since 1967 that any nation has actually threatened nuclear war, Labour and Lib-Dems would consider scrapping our independent nuclear deterrent.

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Lessons from Philpott? Unlikely, but let’s see.

politics 4 April 2013 Tell me what you think

I'm not putting a picture of Mick Philpott on this blog.

I’m not putting a picture of Mick Philpott on this blog.

When George Osborne waded into the tragic case of the Derby fire deaths today, all eyes turned to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to identify a gaffe, an insensitivity or a slight.  When they didn’t detect one, they decided to make one up.  The Chancellor seems to be calling for a further debate around the extremes of ‘benefits culture’ in the UK.  He’s right – it needs to happen.  For the sake of the preservation of benefits as a stigma-free support for people who need them, we need to be satisfied that the Philpotts are the absolute extreme and not in any way representative or even suggestive of wider trends.  The problem for us all is that we worry about abuse of benefits – we need to be reassured.

Jade Philpott, 10, John, nine, Jack, eight, Jesse, six, and Jayden, five, died on the morning of a deliberately set fire in Derby on 11 May 2012. Duwayne, who was 13 years old, died later in hospital.  The courts have determined that ‘the Philpotts’ – Mick and Mairead, and Paul Moseley, their friend, were responsible for the action which killed the children.  The courts have also sentenced them, in Mick Philpott’s case to the maximum permitted for the crime of which he has been convicted, and in the cases of Mairead Philpott and Paul Mosely, they will serve little more than eight years apiece.

The Chancellor correctly identified the responsibility for the crime and the tragedy lay with Mick Philpott, and that it was the court’s responsibility to sentence them, and went on to observe that the Philpotts’ circumstances were worthy of consideration.  Should taxpayers be expected to pay for lifestyles like those of Mick and Mairead Philpott?

It is clear that benefits, and access to them, are not the reason for these crimes.  It’s further clear that the benefits system is a positive and important element of our overwhelmingly compassionate and non-judgmental free society.  Nobody I’ve heard speak on the issue has suggested any link between availability of benefits and the tragedy – and the Daily Mail’s appalling front page this week was spectacularly wrong-headed.

What we discover very quickly is that Mick Philpott was an extremely vile man.  Whilst the women around him had work, which brought in the in-work benefits, Mick Philpott had no inclination to work.   He had a history of violence, attempted murder, misogyny and sloth which identifies him far beyond the pale of any reasonable and balanced society.  It’s further clear that he was driven by greed and self-regard.  His appearances on Jeremy Kyle and with Ann Widdecombe were testament to his need for the limelight. It’s perhaps surprising that social services in Derby didn’t take much notice of him (but I suspect we’ll soon discover something in that area very soon).

Other than that, and that he was extremely selfish, lazy and prepared to burn down his house to get back at his ex-girlfriend, I’m not sure that other lessons can be gained from a forensic investigation of this case for lessons we don’t already know.  I’m certain that there is political mood-music to be gained from it, and that it’s worth a roll of the dice for the dog-whistle semiotics of it all – but the obvious lessons lend themselves to wish-thinking:

  • Don’t let people convicted of attempted murder have lots of children
  • Don’t let people who refuse to work live in council houses
  • Keep an eye on every misogynist who goes on Jeremy Kyle
  • Keep a further eye on everyone with seventeen children if they refuse to take a job

In short, in retrospect, every sign seems to present itself in the case of Mick Philpott that some agency (or agencies) of the state should have been able to do something about it all – but who, what and when?  Between child 12 and 13?  When his conviction for attempted murder by stamping was noticed by the registrar of births?  Should payments towards his children have been stopped?  Should he have been sterilised?

People who seek to use Mick Philpott as an example of something need to be clear what examples they seek to expose, and what answers they have to them.  If, as seems likely, there are a very limited number of his ilk about, it seems more than likely we’ll just have to despise them and tolerate their abuses – but whatever we discover, we can’t seek to tar other benefits seekers with his vile brush.

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Labour, predictably, is the enemy within. Let’s not abet them.

Labour Leadership,politics,stupidity 2 April 2013 Tell me what you think

The UK is beset by an enemy within.  The enemy is not the unemployed, it’s certainly not people with disabilities, the sick or immigrants.


Nor is the enemy the businesses, large and small, which want to employ people and pay their fair contribution to taxes and employers national insurance.  The enemy isn’t even the UKIP, which is more a menace to commonsense than an enemy per se.

The enemy within the UK is the cabal of millionaires and opportunists on the petty-left whose modus operandi is the pursuit of electoral power without economic responsibility, and whose proposed method of achieving their goal is the purchase of a class of people at the cost of the stability of the whole nation.

Labour’s way of winning power is to convince the downtrodden, the unemployed and the poor that the world is against them, in the shape of the Conservatives who deny them their right to their benefits.  They carefully construct an idea of society where everybody is eligible to receive something from someone else – they seek to assert that everybody’s needs can be met by the rich, until it becomes pretty clear that what Labour means by rich is anybody they haven’t made clients of, plus you and me, but not the millionaires at the top of the Labour pile.

The Labour way of winning power is to reinforce their carefully constructed client state through the promise of yet more bounties to come for those who seek to strive for nothing.  They will oppose the plans to help more people with milder disabilities into work and they will outright reject those plans which make it more difficult for people without a genuine reason not to work.

They will seek to encourage those in underoccupied houses that they have a right to keep their empty rooms and that the tories are vicious in their attempt to free up the larger housing stock for larger families.

They will seek to portray the tories as the party dismantling the NHS, when in reality the health service started almost actively killing people and seeking to cover it up under Labour’s last watch – and actual spending on the NHS has risen every year under the coalition.

They will promise more spending and less taxation.  They will oppose every cut without exception.  They will welcome none of the measures introduced to make the welfare system fairer and encourage people to work.  They will seek to demonise businesses and lead the chorus of indignation when the necessary steps to generate growth and investment are undertaken.

For every necessary step to be taken to rebuild our economy from the rubble left by the shower of morons in red from the last government, there will be a Labour campaign to spend more money.  For every balancing action which seeks to reduce the size but increase the impact of the state for those most in need of its support, Labour will decry what they need to portray as nasty tories doing nasty things.

The economic history of the UK after the war is predictable – Labour comes into power and promises to spend money, and it does, leaving an enormous mess.  Conservatives come into power and tell everyone it’ll be a nasty job to undo the mess, and it is.  The difference in the past has been that Labour has backed off when it’s been clear that they bore responsibility for the crisis.  Not this time – the party prefers to ignore the shame of Labour’s years of spend and ignore the steps needed to fix the problem.  Instead of acting as a friend of the recovery, they act as if everything was perfect in 2010 – and seek never to take responsibility for the biggest overrun in spending since records began.

Labour has no interest in a recovery based on a society paying its way.  Labour needs clients – a working class to patronise, an urban poor to promise green grass under a red government.  Conservatives have an interest in rebuilding our society, supporting communities to support themselves, building growth and employment for all.  Conservatives know the enemy within is Labour left alone to coddle the client state – and we should be prepared to name that enemy and shut it down.



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