June 2008


No, not another David Davis post.

Coldplay are in trouble - the far better-named Creaky Boards reckon they’ve stolen one of the songs on their new album after Chris Martin attended a Creaky Boards gig.

We in the People’s Republic are harbouring related suspicions.

Look. Come on, guys. The result of the Haltemprice & Howden by-election was effectively announced at the moment when David Davis resigned today. Once he had pulled that stunt, he was made for the by-election. It doesn’t even matter if the majority of his constituents are pro-42 days. He’s the “guy who resigned on principle”. Some narratives are irresistable.

I’ve read a lot of tirades this evening about what a cynical stunt this is and how it’s appalling we are letting this character stand for British liberties and how these two things mean we must stand against him. I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. Yes, it is a cynical stunt, and yes his civil liberties record is far from perfect, but this does not make one whit of difference to the positioning he has created for himself. It’s a done deal.

At best, we could have stood wimpily. Yes, we agree with him on the one issue he is campaigning on. And yes, well, admittedly we have far less chance of being in the governing party than he does come the election. But, look, we have all these other nice things as well! Green taxes and… where are you going! Come back!

At worst, we could have stood aggressively, negatively, petulantly. Ner, well, you don’t want to believe anything Tories say. Our civil liberties are the real civil liberties.

What these twin poles translate into is at best a worthy-but-dull second, and at worst being the meanie, jealous nasty kid who pulled the popular girl’s hair. If we wanted to be in the position Davis is now in, we should have thought of it first (easier said than done mind, given that we don’t have MPs in quantities to give away free with breakfast cereal, and our own Shadow Home Secy is balancing on a knife-edge of a majority in Eastleigh).

Please, rather than self-harming, let’s try and look at this from the outside. Go onto any news website tonight, from the Hate Mail to the Groan, and I guarantee you’ll find dozens of self-proclaimed normal people wetting themselves with admiration at David Davis – and not a few of them will be extending their generous incontinence to Nick Clegg for giving him a free run. I actually saw someone suggest on CiF earlier today that the incident proved that Clegg “has backbone after all” which just goes to show how unbelievably convoluted most people’s brains are. Further, go onto ConHome, where the fall-out from this is as complex and multi-faceted as ours – it’s a disaster! It’s a triumph!

Believe it or not, the electorate as a whole is neither as concerned with Liberal Democrat triangulation as we are, nor as concerned with the “Cameron project” (as I learn it is disturbingly called) as the Tories are. They just love a good story with a nice, neat tied up ending. Please let’s, all of us, keep a little perspective, and concentrate. Nick Robinson’s personal weathervane happens to be point in our direction at the moment and we must use the momentum, as I hope Clegg is doing.

Splits in the Tory party are of course hotly cooly denied by all one of the sides. Rumours abound to the contrary, many of them started by me, but one alternative dimensional scenario doing the rounds is giving me genuine pause for thought. If DD had stayed in post, ground his teeth, bided his time and waited to get into the home office in 2010, he could repeal the 42 days legislation before he’d got his feet under the table.

So, er, why didn’t he?

Why stand down, not just from his seat as a somewhat clumsy and melodramatic way of “taking the issue to the country”, but from the one post in which he could actually get his heart’s desire? I don’t really buy all this toss about him being an unprincipled weathercock out for glory and seeking to embarrass his party leader. He has had ample opportunities to move against Cameron since the leadership election and hasn’t taken them – why pursue his cunning plan now that the Tories are looking stronger? He has never come across as much of a showman either.

And there’s another important strand to this - Tory HQ will not be funding his campaign. Why the hell not? He’s still a Tory (rumours of his independent status and invitations from the Libertarian Party notwithstanding). He looks like becoming a very popular Tory very quickly. All Cameron has to do to ride the surf here is back him delightedly, fund him amply and promise him his portfolio back on the achievement of said glorious victory. I see a number of people on both Lib Dem Voice and Liberal Conspiracy are convincing themselves that the whole thing must be some preternaturally devious evil Tory plot but they don’t appear to consider this. If it is a Cameroon plot, it’s backfiring on them bigtime.

The only alternative explanation for DD giving up his front bench post is because he has learned, or it has become clear to him, that some of his more neocon fellow front-benchers (neocon sounds daft in a British context, somehow, and particularly a Tory context; neodweeb would be nearer the mark) hold beliefs about civil liberties that are inimical to him. If he stayed where he was, come 2010 he would be a lone wolf home secretary in his own government. We’ll see how things look in the light of morning, but currently my feeling is that this is way too ridiculous and overcomplicated to be a plot. There are far easier ways for the Tories to win the next GE, not the least of which would have been “Carry on as you are”. I don’t for one moment believe they would go to this trouble and raise all these questions. This is a split, pure and simple.

As a sidelight on the whole business, I must say that Iain Dale’s Diary has been nothing if not helpful and it has not been helpful. Sweetie though he is, I don’t read the dear man much. He’s a news conduit rather than a writer to turn to for interest and enlightenment, so I tend to enter the blue and white portal only when some pressing event is occurring. And what do I find? A soapy tribute to the great man so soft you could wash babies’ bottoms with it. If he knows the back story (and given his links with DD, he should) he ain’t telling.

Meanwhile one of his commenters is gravely concerned for the Dalester’s integrity:

The MSM have a narrow view of the world that is adrift from the reality faced by the people.

That is why blogging, at its best, is important. It derives its vitality from a direct connection with that reality.

It is also, at its best, immediate. Guido had the news before the BBC and well before Reuters and comments flowed, unmoderated, from the moment he posted.

Your appearances on TV showed you think BBC and Sky News are more important than the two most important blogs in the UK: this one and Guido’s.

They are not. Far from it when you hear Nick Robinson yet again telling us all what we think and getting it horribly wrong.

You had an opportunity today to show what blogging can do.

But instead of thinking “today is the day my blog goes bigtime” you headed for the TV studios.

Bad decision. Very bad.

We in the People’s Republic assure Mr “Johnny Frontpage” that we would sooner be hiding under a blanket with a cup of tea and a slightly tea-stained keyboard than go and be all urbane and knowing and wear exciting ties on Sky News any day.

Recently, I started a video collection. Owing to my current drive to Buy Lots of Self-indulgent Crap, I frequent the charity shops of Haringey quite a lot, and on my first video purchase venture I secured Fight Club, Abigail’s Party, Midnight Cowboy and Alfie, three of which I had never seen, for the princely sum of £4.

I happen, you see, to have a newish and little-used TV with a built-in video player. This is just one of the hand-me-downs I recently inherited via a family bereavement thanks to my mother’s house-clearing efforts (there is something in our DNA which prevents either of us throwing anything away if there is any possibility that we, or other people, or a charity, or possibly just a dog really down on its luck, could make use of it). So I thought, maybe I’ll pick up a few videos, since they’re cheap…

And videos are brilliant! Really – they’re available in shoals in every secondhand outlet in the country for a pittance (it actually costs more to have a video tape rendered into DVD format than it does to buy a videotape), they’re pretty much indestructible so long as you don’t actually suspend them over a flame and attack them with a pair of garden shears, and – this is really great – if, if, if like you miss a bit, you can wind it back to the exact moment and watch it again! No more impenetrable chapter headings, or trying to detect from a flickering sequence of jerky stills where you want to pick up the story! No more rubbing them on your jeans to make them work! No more sudden square green bogies on the screen! Ok so videos do wear out after about ten years, but hey, how many of those films are you still going to be regularly rewatching after ten years – and for those you do, at these prices you can replace the lot with your lunch money.

Best of all, you get the fun of not knowing what you’re going to watch that evening. Just walk into a charity shop or log onto ebay and ask yourself, do I feel lucky? Going to Blockbuster is rarely as exciting – they never have the older or obscurer stuff for a start, and going to an online rental store just blows all the fuses in my brain. Who on earth originated this nuts idea that being able to watch whatever you want whenever you want was a good thing? Whatever happened to delayed gratification? Seriously, videos are the future.

This has been on my mind today because of this CiF article by the lovely Jeremy Seabrooke:

Just as the age of heroic labour – the Stakhanovite idea of selfless dedication to the building of Communism – perished, so heroic consumption – that equally selfless dedication to sustaining capitalism – has also had its day. Stakhanovites were so called after a coalminer in the Soviet Union in 1935 who exceeded his work quota by 14 times the fixed level, producing 102 tons of coal in six hours. This became a kind of “spontaneous” official policy in the construction of socialism.

How laughably old-fashioned this now sounds. And how swiftly things that appear immutable can change. It should be our ambition to ensure that the work of predatory individuals upon the fruits of the earth comes to appear as archaic and futile as the sacrifice of human energies in the Soviet Union to release the resources which, according to Marx, “slumbered in the lap of social labour”.

Yes, some of his rich-bashing rhetoric elsewhere in the article is as old-fashioned as the soviet Marxism he scorns. And no, a girl who has just spent £200 on ebay (hey, thirty items of clothing, though! A whole summer wardrobe! Last year’s, alas, no longer fits…) can hardly claim to be wholly anti-consumerist.

But he is playing with an interesting idea in this piece – that consumerism in the sense of shiny newness and having the socially acceptable “best” of everything is not fixed for all time as a cultural trend. To replace all your perfectly good videos with DVDs may, in a couple of hundred years, look like the height of self-indulgent folly – probably, in that particular case, because data of all kinds will be as freely available and co-operative as open source software by that stage.

Even allowing for the idiosyncrasies of fashion in media, the model holds good for all areas of consumerism. People will look back and wonder why the hell we bought so much new Stuff – furniture, clothes, kitchen equipment, DVDs whatever – when it was not only using up the oil supply but also much cheaper secondhand.

Was it not, after all, William Morris himself who said:

Have nothing in your house that you do not believe to be beautiful or know to be from an e-bay seller with a 100% positive feedback score.

What if you’re a liberal, but 95% of the people you represent aren’t? Alternatively, what if you’re not really a liberal, but are pretending to be one, and 95% of the people you represent still aren’t?

Bernard Salmon (in entertainingly sarcastic mode this evening) alerts me to this blog post by Jayne McCoy about organising a protest outside a shop that sells smoking paraphernalia – not drugs, nor anything else illegal. Just smoking paraphernalia. This has already caused ructions over Essex, though I think Chris Black misreads the case somewhat – stating your disagreement with a particular protest does not for one moment mean you disagree with the right to protest. 

Anyhow, Cllr McCoy has since explained more of the background to the decision of her and Tom Brake to mount the protest. This is something “95% of the parents” at the (very) local primary school are concerned about.

It’s a problem, isn’t it. Without wishing to comment on Cllr McCoy’s personal views, because I don’t have a clue what they are, how do you set about faithfully representing an electorate which would happily club a baby seal to death with a copy of Mein Kampf and then wrap its remains in the Daily Mail if it prevented their little mop-headed darlings being thirty feet away from anything new and culturally unfamiliar and hence a DANGEROUS INFLUENCE for ten seconds? (Liberal Provocateur started it with this capital letters thing. I blame him.)

Now we might surmise, in our cynicism, that Cllr McCoy would hardly have responded with enthusiasm to this call to arms if she had liberal objections to her own actions – but how much scope does she or any other councillor really have to follow their liberal instincts? And what of regional differences? We’re a localist, decentralising party, aren’t we? It often occurs to me in unquiet moments that there are an awful lot of Lib Dems out there with whom I agree on just about every matter of substance who would be very, very uncomfortable with allowing true localism to run free.

It’s a question I think we should test ourselves with. Could you, yes you, look over the fence into a jurisdiction where drinking and smoking in public were banned? ok bad example, pretty much true where I live. What about, where movement and im/emigration were prohibited? Where there was one rigid school system where everyone was tested at 11 and if you didn’t do well, you were on the scrapheap? Or where it’s ok for a party of outraged, over-hormonal people whose human reproductive powers* bestow on them a dubious moral guardianship to decide they want to put a legal trader out of business?

Another such borderline case of illiberal councilling is this one, courtesy of the The Gob. I was going to comment on the article as “Worried Lib Dem”, and thought better of it in case the local Labour party picked it up. But actually, sorry, I couldn’t care less. These people deserve to be picked up on. This is what the Lib Dem councillor concerned has to say about binge drinking:

Why are we trailing on these issues? Our Government should be at the forefront, not lagging behind. It is just another example of New Labour’s ineffectiveness…

When is the Govenment going to tackle binge and excessive drinking? To start, there could be a ban on alcohol advertising, as happened with tobacco. Not only are binge drinkers at risk of damaging their health but also the many others who drink in excess of the recommended limits.

This woman is a Lib Dem councillor and she thinks the government are not doing enough to “tackle” binge drinking? The letter only mentions bans on advertising, and dear god, I hope her ambitions are limited to that. Should we give her the benefit of the doubt, and assume that all the emotive language is just so much window-dressing to please the more authoritarian elements of her electorate, while what she’s actually advocating is a ban which will infringe the “rights” of companies, not individuals? Maybe we could, but understandably the commenters take a different view.

For all that the British electorate is said to be not ready for liberalism, these people make the connection instantly:

What sort of a country are we becoming? As tobacco and alcohol are legal products we should be able to buy them where we want. I am sick to death of being told what I can and can not do.

And even more demonstrative of the direct damage caused to the party:

Typical of the Limp Dims this one – why not put Pies and Chips under the counter too, to stop the obese getting fatter!

The setting, to put the pie and chips into context, is Calderdale.

It’s not that I don’t have sympathy with the dilemma councillors face. They’re councillors, not visionary cult leaders. But presumably they had some idea, when they came to office, that some people wouldn’t agree with their views. So did they ever work out a method for working through such disagreements and remaining true to your principles while still serving your community? Not easy, I’m sure, but hey, they were elected!

Or are they, actually, just a bunch of authoritarians hiding behind the Big Yellow Bird who deserve to be exposed for the drag factor on British liberalism they really are?

* I continue, by the way, to misunderstand why so much of our political culture is pulled towards the moral centre of gravity of people who have either fertilised an egg or successfully carried said egg to term. But I’m sure there are smug tossers out there just bursting to tell me that I will understand this one day.

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