Web Analytics Trust People (once an Englishman in Philly): 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Hogwash? From the Grauniad?

What a load of unreconstructed manure this article is. It talks about a "new study" (always a bad beginning!) "showing" that families with more daughters are less likely to vote Tory. Now, I haven't actually, of course, seen enough of the hard data to refute its findings - although I suspect it's because it takes a sample from just one election rather than looking at general trends - but I can attack its basic explanation, which is, of course, that fathers tap into their daughters' desire for greater public spending. What?!! That'll be why traditionally more women than men have voted Conservative, I suppose. Hogwash.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

"The Tories are back"

I have all sorts of minor gripes about the new Tory leadership but these are truly minor in comparison to the intelligent strategy being deployed by Cameron et al. This news, from this morning's Grauniad, merely confirms it's working. Some are sceptical and believe this is no more of a bounce than that received by Michael Howard; I shall look forward to reminding them of this in future months. There is a long way left to go but you cannot deny that Cameron, for good or ill, has injected something new into the political process. Surely those who ignore it are destined to be left behind?

James Graham is also critical of the Tory desire to tackle the inner cities and aim to recapture them. One commenters says that:

"The idea that the Tories are now going to target inner cities borders on the absurd. (1) They are way behind in most inner urban areas; (2) their activists are simply not interested in “pavement politics”; and (3) they do not need a single inner city seat to win the next General Election.

I think Mr Cameron’s Washington puppet-masters will be reading out the riot act. It would be like Charles Kennedy telling Liberal Democrat activists to go and fight Labour in the South Wales Valleys, or the Tories in Beaconsfield or Kensington & Chelsea. Far better to put resources into places where we actually can win."

Whether or not he is a Tory remains open to doubt. I am happy to be expressly critical of this commenters' line of thinking though. The Conservative strategy is actually ingenious and Danny Finkelstein - Cameron's ideas' man - knows this. Bush didn't target Hispanic voters and even address them in Spanish because they were the key swing vote he needed to win the 2000 Presidential election. He didn't even have great prospects of getting their vote. Instead he knew that the key voters he did need would be more likely to back a candidate who was sympathetic towards Hispanic voters and made the right overtures towards them. In making speeches to Hispanics he was actually speaking to and pitching for moderate "Middle America". He was trying to send a message that he was like the voters. In appearing to pitch for the inner cities, Cameron is getting his feet under dinner tables across the line. Scoff Lib Dems...and then wonder what you missed.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Liberal Democrats set to choose new leader!

It's tough for the LibDems at the moment with their credibility in meltdown, although those who I trust more than others have been taking it on the chin, even if Richard does harbour delusions of Mr Kennedy as a "Prime Minister in waiting". It could be over for them quite quickly, of course, as one potential new leader makes his pitch today. I hate to wheel out cliches about a week being a long-time in politics, but perhaps any small-L liberals of the classical variety left in the LibDems should jump ship now?

"Mr Kennedy has promised the Lib Dems will come back united - and combative - in the New Year."

Combative? So much for hohnest, constructive politics. Or has he seen in Cameron that there's only so much room at the inn for politicians playing the "positivity" card and that it doesn't excite colleagues?

John Hemming MP - that old friend of LibDemWatch (RIP) reckons the reports of the meeting at which LibDem MPs are supposed to have "backed" Kennedy and given him resounding support are largely inaccurate. At least some LibDems still practice "hohnest pohlitics"; or is it that the leader is desperately trying to spin himself away from oblivion?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Prescient? Me?

Having just blogged on the potentially negative impact of the Tory "Gold List" on campaigning and the question of whether the Party would have the capital to oppose positive discrimination in future, what happens? I stumble across this piece over at Tim Worstall's about this story in the Torygraph.

It appears that the Government's endless tinkering in Oxbridge admissions has resulted in the removal of the 800 year old tradition of colleges being autonomous bodies which decide their own admissions. Instead of tutors in specific subjects in specific colleges choosing the students they will teach, the great bureaucracies of the faculties will whirr into life with their tickboxes, their equal representation strategies and their centrally-imposed diktats as to the composition of male, female, black, white, Muslim, Christian students. Can the party which I see as the party of true meritocracy oppose it all, or even speak out with regret at the culmination of Labour's control-freakery? No. All the arguments being deployed in favour of the Gold List apply just as equally to this regressive step.

The only hope for Oxbridge colleges being anything different from glorified US halls of residence is that bastion of democracy, the University Parliament. Let's hope they stand firm to their principles.

Negatively positive on discrimination

I am, as regular visitors to Trust People will know, vehemently opposed to so-called positive discrimination. It amounts to nothing more than discrimination on grounds which, for me, are unacceptable bases for discrimination. As such I have concerns over Cameron's (or should I say Maude's?) proposals for a Goldlist of candidates. Although they say it will be based on merit, the press release I had read told me that 50% of the candidates would be women, 50% men, and at the same time there would be a set proportion of ethnic minorities and disabled people* amongst the top 140.

How can this be on pure merit? How can you predict that amongst the top 140, chosen on merit, that 70 will necessarily be men? You can't - unless you're junking meritocratic principle for presentational gain.

To seem more representative and to seem unprejudiced are the aims of the policy - it will probably achieve that. What they won't do is actually make the party truly more representative, make it truly unprejudiced or make it truly meritocratic. That could be achieved by dropping silly quotas and forcing the party to genuinely work hard to get the best women and ethnic minority candidates, by recruitment, head-hunting and changing its message, and strip away barriers to them which exist by placing responsibility for a representative party on its constituent parts. After all, we're meant to be Conservatives, we believe responsibility for results produces results.

I also know, however, that this is a distasteful medicine which it is vital I dislike for the good of the Tories. It is designed to rock the boat, so I shall squeak and then keep my counsel, whilst hoping this is not an ominous precursor of what will be the new leadership's approach to every question of localism. I appreciate that the message has to be sent out that we are not dogmatic on such issues - in fact I seem to recall (being told!) that when women were first allowed to vote Bonar Law set aside a third of Tory jobs for the girls. I also appreciate that the party does have to feel to the country more as if it is of the country. Sadly, although the road embarked upon will get headlines and help the Tory cause in the media, it will undermine it in the longer-term (as all-women shortlists did for Labour). It will merely act as a smokescreen for the underlying problems and allow us all to avoid facing up to them. Worse, it could even cede the arguments over such discrimination in university admissions and the like to Labour. Gulp...

*Supporting the party sporadically over the last few years has often felt like I've been poking my eyes out, but I never dreamt they actually wanted me to do it!

Lembit pokes it?

I know Lembit Opik is married to a weather forecaster; perhaps she could use some of his clairvoyant skills? Despite his railing against those "sniping" at Kennedy, this article he wrote recently for the slightly pitiful LibDem website "Meeting the Challenge" about the need for the party to take political risks seems remarkably prescient...then again maybe this sort of daring thinking is just what is driving those Liberals to try to topple Champagne Charlie...

"If you’re risk averse, you’re on the wrong planet. In the words of Hank Williams, “I’ll never get out of this world alive.” Death is the inevitable consequence of everything we do. So why is it that we’ve come to fear risk so much?

It seems to me that it’s all about fear of losing something you regard as valuable. People with nothing to lose feel utterly free to be themselves, because there is no sanction to hold them back. Often, these people come across as courageous and principled. By contrast, people with something to lose fear to speak out if, in their judgement, this compromises their chance to hold onto that valuable thing. It follows from this that those people with something to lose and the courage to risk losing it in the interests of the greater good who are the most courageous of all."

"There are those who say you have to chase votes in order to drive change. I disagree totally. I say you drive change and the votes chase after you. People aren’t really very interested in politics. So they don’t cut politicians much slack. They know the real thing and they can detect a fake, so there’s really no point in pretending you believe something when really you don’t. It’s far more effective to speak from the heart, even when heartfelt ideas are more controversial than the anodyne alternatives.

In practical terms, this courage should enable us to do something long overdue. We should, in essence, be willing to express the solutions, as we see them, in their bold simplicity, rather than worrying whether the country is ready to hear them."

Sadly, it seems from this morning's news that the party isn't quite ready for the Gospel according to Opik... At least this will run and run.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hot racial temperature on Oz's beaches

Militant Moderate looks at the causes of the recent riots down under and comes to the conclusion that it is a by-product of a government being elected which makes immigration a political issue of significance. At the same time he draws clever links between Howard's campaign in Australia and Howard's campaign at the last election; namely Lynton Crosby.

Not wanting to reopen old discussions about the Tories' misguided election campaign (my views were set out ad nauseam here and here), my own view is slightly more nuanced. I understand the logic of MM's views. I can't help but see telling comparisons with other more recent race riots though. In France, members of one perceived ethnic group suffered injury and this lead to outrage amongst other members of that group which spilled over into violence, albeit to differing degrees.

Ken concludes from his analysis that "whatever the cause, I think it shows the danger of pandering towards prejudice - whether overtly or slyly. Giving the impression that racism, or xenophobia, is acceptable in some way shape or form leads to this sort of behaviour. Demonising people makes you think the unacceptable is acceptable, as long as it's you doing the damage."

I would completely concur with this. It leads me to want a more wholesome and honest debate on integration and race, however, rather than to ignore the issue. The message I take from both experiences is that the solution is not simple - both railing against immigration and pretending it raises no real or at least valid problems and tensions is to ignore the complexities of the beast at one's peril. What is needed is renewed commitment to a serious debate about integration which is not debased by throwing around insults, which is not masked and distorted by tags designed simply to frame and shut out real discussion but one in which we accept the reality of immigration and talk about how we can create a society respectful of not only what Britain is today, and the ethnic backgrounds which make it up, but also of the history from which it and many of its inhabitants derive their sense of identity. Unless we have a core shared set of ideals relating to how Britons interact and lead their lives, it may not be long before Aussies and Frenchies are sneering at our societal failure be that caused by paranoid rejection of immigration, or blind rejection of the way pressures are exerted on each other by alien cultures .

UPDATE: Pub Philosopher identifies one manifestation of our inability to confront such tensions whilst allowing a monster to grow.

Revolting Lib Dems

So it seems as if there could be two lame duck leaders as the Times reports on revolting Liberal MPs (though I have to say I've always found them fairly revolting....boom, boom). Next to Cameron Mr Kennedy does look a little like yesterday's man, with a less slick trendy politics than the Cameroons are developing for their man.

My personal prejudice is for Mr Kennedy to stay on for a while. Clearly, after the apparent briefing to This Week's Andrew Neil this is set to run and run, and from pure personal prejudice I'd like it to run as long as it possibly can to make the Lib Dems seem even more irrelevant. Failing that, it would be nice to see bald Mark Oaten or metro-trot Simon Hughes in the "hot seat".

I shall be very careful not to reciprocate the kind of gloating glee at a nearby leadership election replicated all-too-frequently in recent years by those of a yellow persuasion. I can't wait to see what impact on the Labour leadership election these post-Cameron realignments will have though.

As this becomes a kind of catch all Lib-Dem-post-I've-been-meaning-to-make-for-ages, this blogger allegedly has ambitions for the leadership of the Liberals and, even, whisper it quietly, PM. I can't quite work out whether or not this is just a vicious rumour to humiliate him though.... It also couldn't be a better time for me to realise that old jousting partner Mr Graham, of Quaequam, is back blogging. More LibDemmery can be found here...

National Health Rationing System

Well, the wonders of the NHS continue to astonish me. My father was recently discharged from hospital only for him to discover some days later that he should not have been discharged, the diagnosis he was given was probably wrong, the person discharging him had no authority to do so and the consultant had no idea he'd left. In fact he'd gone to see my father and found somebody different in his bed. So in clearing a bed the hospital had achieved its short-term target. Problem is it's caused them longer-term inconvenience. You really couldn't make it up.

What staggers me about the whole system is the expectation that, despite working all your life to pay your taxes, you not only have to just accept the rationing you are, apparently arbitrarily, given but there seems to be an unspoken obligation you have to be grateful for it. The single biggest problem I can identify - and I'll happily accept I'm completely inexperienced in hospital management even though I am a consumer - is that patients and users have so little power. More than anyone it is patients who have the greatest interest in ensuring they are properly and expediently treated. They may not understand medically what they need, but they certainly know what should be done and if systems aren't delivering the result they need. The NHS should be forced to take greater account of these than their arbitrary systems, so that they actually provide the "S", the service, of the NHS. Until we have real and meaningful choice so those of us who are too poor to go private can exert real best-practice pressure on the healthcare we receive, it will continue to be the National Health Rationing System. A system in which patients are mere blocks to perceived short-term efficiency.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The White Witch

I didn't think there would be any time for a blog post today - I'm still mighty busy. Nevertheless I made the amateur error of reading the Guardian after breakfast. I stumbled upon an article by the reassuringly consistent Polly Toynbee which made my blood boil. What's worse it was meant to be a film review.

To summarise, Our Pol is bashing the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because it hints at that most horrendous of all concepts, Christianity. Yes, I know you'd have thought the oppressive nature of the White Witch may have irritated such a right-on defender of the masses (though we all know from recent experience it can't possibly be racist to positively suggest the baddy must be white...). Yes, you'd have thought the allegory about the impact of global warming (perpetual winter) or an analogy with the nuclear winter sure to plague us all unless we revert to coal-fired power stations or build a windmill on top of all our houses would have been just too satisfying to ignore. Despite this, she still goes for the Christian jugular.

"Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?"

This is probably the sentence which most irritated me. Now, I'm no fanatical Christian and I have many personal doubts of my own, but one thing which has never crossed my mind is disgust that this nosy parker Messiah decided to butt in and prevent my gentle slide to hell. Feigned indifference I could handle. This anger just betrays some serious underlying frustrations in Pol's psychology that surely can't be explained by Christianity alone. How can saving her soul be something about which she can even be ambiguous? Even if Jesus died in vain and she doesn't believe the gospels how can the fact he tried be anything other than admirable? Where on earth has someone else's sacrifice, vain or otherwise, caused her anything approaching mild discomfort? If you can help me, please do, but I see only one possible answer. Pol's actually ticked off since she quite likes her self-constructed view of the world with its leftist liberal utopian possibilities but she can't quite entirely dismiss the attractions of an alternative or the potential contradictions with a Christian alternative view. All she can do is rail against that alternative in such an irrational way.

Perhaps this is betrayed in the rest of the paragraph;

"Poor child Edmund, to blame for everything, must bear the full weight of a guilt only Christians know how to inflict, with a twisted knife to the heart. Every one of those thorns, the nuns used to tell my mother, is hammered into Jesus's holy head every day that you don't eat your greens or say your prayers when you are told. So the resurrected Aslan gives Edmund a long, life-changing talking-to high up on the rocks out of our earshot. When the poor boy comes back down with the sacred lion's breath upon him he is transformed unrecognisably into a Stepford brother, well and truly purged."

So it's all about her mum's nuns is it. What a fascinating insight. That's why she hates non-state endeavour so much....

"Tolkien hated Narnia: the two dons may have shared the same love of unquestioning feudal power, with worlds of obedient plebs and inferior folk eager to bend at the knee to any passing superior white persons - even children; both their fantasy worlds and their Christianity assumes that rigid hierarchy of power - lord of lords, king of kings, prince of peace to be worshipped and adored. But Tolkien disliked Lewis's bully-pulpit."

Finally, I think this is just ill-informed. Tolkein did not hate Narnia. He merely disliked Lewis' construct. What's more I'm certain that the man who converted Lewis to Christianity in one great night-long stroll until dawn would never have contemplated calling it a "bully-pulpit", whatever that may be (does she mean pulpit-bully?!). As far as I can remember there is nothing approaching a racial question in the Chronicles of Narnia or in anything written by Tolkein. Still, at least it explains and exemplifies Toynbee's completely irrational response to order and her equally irrational devotion to a leftist mantra. I just can't see what's so abhorrent with trying to help other people?