Because once I’ve popped, I can’t stop…

I am amused, as well as sicky-sick with disgust, to discover that Tory GLA member Brian Coleman has run up an £8,000 taxi bill over the year to March 2008. For why, because it was precisely halfway through that period that he penned this rather telling objectionable-old-Tory-plonker diatribe against my former home, the good old LB of Haringey:

The pre-1965 Borough of Hornsey, once a centre of suburban middle class respectability which was subsumed into ghastly Haringey is an area where decent folk lock their car doors as they drive through and has returned no Conservative Councillors whatsoever since 1998.

So that’s why he takes taxis everywhere. He’s scared. He continues to dissect his reasoning thus:

The combination of allowing huge Edwardian family houses to be converted into bed sits and the ‘white flight’ in the face of rising crime has meant that areas such as Streatham, Wembley and Willesden have changed beyond all recognition.

Yes, how very dare young professionals rent rat-holes at stratospheric rates from semi-legal landlords in order to keep their daily commute into their chosen slave-pit below the two-hour mark. It shouldn’t be allowed, I tell you. And how dare people be black, a demographic categorisation which is known to be associated with higher crime rates. Have they no shame?

When Sir John Betjeman made his famous documentary on ‘Metro-land’ no self-respecting Suburb was without a flourishing Rotary Club, Townswomen’s Guild, Cricket, Bowls and sundry other Sports Club.

They boasted a selection of Churches, a Tory MP and an active Local Amenity Society. Now with most women working, intense career pressures on the whole workforce, vast mortgages to pay and the changes in family life, most of the voluntary sector in Suburban London is in meltdown with endless organisations unable to get anyone to serve on their Committees.

This is a man with his finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary London, as all concerned whist-drive-goers will agree. I’d go so far as to say that this is the kind of big picture overview one could only derive from travelling everywhere in a taxi for a year.

After a long period of internal strife in the People’s Republic while we moved house, my revival to blogging is partly inspired by The Call from the party about renewing my membership subscription (“Are you enjoying being a member of the Lib Dems?” Yesyesyes, really, honest, I will blog, I will I will I will! Poor woman never knew what hit her. I felt so guilty I even paid the full recommended membership fee) and partly by a Citizen who has recently claimed, on my Facebook wall, that I am his only source of news, a state of affairs which, if true, induces in me the sort of chronic low-level panic I normally reserve for running late for long pre-booked train journeys.

So to celebrate, let’s relaunch the beleaguered People’s Republic with a champagne reception, a gourmet picnic, live cutting edge music, elegant surroundings and an altogether fabulous party!* Did you enjoy it? Right then, to business, and where better to start after a lay-off than a bit of Tory-bashing?

Make it happen (and if you’re going to click on that link, be ready for the springiness of the hair which will quickly fill your browser) is the handle of the relaunched Lib Dem tax policy With Bells On - as you will already know if you haven’t been living under a rock for the last week or if I’m not your only source of news.

There’s not much I can say about this welcome firming up of liberal principles that hasn’t already been said here and, hehehe, here. But I would add that, as a slogan, Make it happen forms an interesting counterpoint to the Tories’ You can get it if you really want it tagline. In both cases, the “it” is critical. “It” is a flexible word that fills the space in people’s heads marked “What I want/the world needs”. “It” is the common goal shared between catchphraser and catchphrasee. Whether they have the same common goal in reality is another matter – but it’s something the catchphrasee will generally have worked out from the accompanying policies and mood music.

The difference in mood music is, of course, that our tagline talks about what the world needs. It’s a call to action, an exhortation to create and/or better something. The Tories’ tagline appeals directly to individuals’ self-interest (it’s actually the tagline for their recruitment drive, I see. Figures.) As a piece of semantic positioning, this heartens me. You can get it if you really want it always did strike me as preternaturally ghastly, a 1980s Mazda advert throwback of a catchphrase, and our related idea is just well, light years more appealing unless you’re a self-caricaturing estate agent**.

But more than that, an appeal to self-interest is an increasingly nonsensical position for the Tories to take, given that they are on record last week as refusing to rule out tax rises, which is code for fully intending to send them through the roof. If you’re going to set out your stall to the nakedly self-interested, you should make sure you can satisfy their greed. What kind of self-respecting self-interested person doesn’t want to pay less tax? What is there left for people to get if they really want it?

Presumably, only the chance to lock up everybody under the age of 25. And their mums. Expect the Tories to continue majoring on the “You can force everyone you faintly disapprove of to starve in the gutter as a sort of sop to your self-respect as your employer goes down the tube, your living costs rocket and your house plummets in value if you really want to” message.

* Owing to insurmountable technical difficulties, guests are asked to provide their own champagne, gourmet food, music, company, ambience and venue. Dress formal.

** Not that all estate agents aren’t lovely and wonderful people, of course. Particularly those in Devon.

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.

I see that Boycie, commenting on his Lib Dem Voice piece, would rather like it if we shot Mad Nad full of holes on account of the fact that she is a twisted lying stupid fundamentalist harpy who disgraces politics, women and, indeed, stupid liars, fundamentalists and harpies, and then asked David Cameron what he was gonna do about it, punk.

I concur, so I am delighted to point you towards my occasional bunk-up over at Liberal Conspiracy where Sunny Hundal, Unity, Tim Ireland and The Gang are part way through Mad Nad Week the launch of the Coalition for Choice campaign. Watch out in particular for the fun Tory troll who evidently believes that blogs have to be “run and funded” – makes you wonder how anything ever gets done in the right-wing blogosphere if those are the parameters they assume necessary for the act of sounding off into cyberspace.

An interesting postscript to the debate we’ve been having on my last exposition of Elementary Logic. I’ve no particularly bitter axe to grind here because I didn’t vote for Boris, but I am nonetheless enraged by the almost instantaneous discovery that he’s a rubbish liberal.

It appears Bojo and David Cameron are of one mind* on the link between petty crime and serious crime. Bojo has made his first policy announcement, and yes, it’s “Ban More Fun”. We’re no longer allowed to drink on the tube, or we’ll get it confiscated from our little mits by the fun police.

I firmly believe that if we drive out so-called minor crime then we will be able to get a firm grip on more serious crime. That’s why from 1 June the drinking of alcohol will be banned from the tube, tram, bus, and Docklands Light Railway.

You may well be thinking, haaaang on. Drinking in public isn’t actually itself a crime, is it? Well, you’d be wrong. Traditionally, public order legislation has only given police the power to make arrests for actual drunkenness, and/or disturbance of public order. That was before NuLab. As of 2001 it became possible, under the Criminal Justice and Police Act of that year, for local authorities to designate public places as alcohol free zones, and after that the police can issue on-the-spot fines to those who infringe the zone.

Thus, drinking becomes a crime. Cripes! Just as well NuLab passed that particular intrusive mumsyish measure, eh, Boris? Will these cretins ever realise that they’re helter-skeltering together down a tight little blue-and-red spiral of ever-decreasing policy difference? Remember the wisdom of The Thick Of It:

She doesn’t just think inside the box, she’s built another box inside it and she’s doing all her thinking in there…

* Dave Monday to Wednesday, Boris Thursday and Friday, and the brain gets the weekend off.

In the days running up to the local elections there was an excellent reminder, if it were needed, that Tory logic is very much of the push-me-pull-you* variety.

Their Dave was around and about in Manchester (a digression: did anyone else pick up on the cringeworthy Cathy Newman segment on C4 news when Their Dave, on being asked to speculate on how the elections would go for the Tories “in his wildest dreams?” replied “Well, hur-hur, not all my wildest dreams are about local elections, Cathy.” Hgaggaaaaaaaah! Gnnnaaaaaaah! Ick! Gn! Make it go away!) busy putting paid to the totally unfair perception (perish the thought!) that he was a Notting Hill namby-pamby. Having thus reassured the denizens, he contined to discuss local problems and suggest solutions.

People are desperately worried about crime, about antisocial behaviour, about what is happening on our streets. Conservative councils will clear your streets and have a zero tolerance policy because we know that clean streets are safe streets… If you get rid of the litter and the graffiti you can get rid of the vandalism and the yobbery that spoils so many of our town and city centres

I would, in all seriousness** welcome any reading Tory who wants to have a go at explaining this chain of causality. Because, I mean, what? Picking up litter will solve all the problems of disaffected youth? Cleaning graffiti off walls will actually lower rates of mugging and burglary? Try as Dave might to disassociate himself from the charge of being a Notting Hill lightweight, it betrays itself in his thinking. The pretty wedding cake streets of Notting Hill are of course extremely clean and extremely safe, but those two mutually exclusive facts proceed from a third fact – they’re rich. Only someone totally wrapped up in their culture could fail to appreciate this as a root cause.

What escapes Their Dave at some quite fundamental level, I reckon, is that the culprits actually live in these areas. Perhaps he thinks they get bussed in at night from some out-of-town anti-social behaviour megastore? As long as certain factors drive people to what Labour has taught us to call, without even mid-air quotation marks any more, anti-social behaviour, they will practise it, on this wall or the next. But the Tory solution recognises no such painfully obvious reality. Move’em on, bang’em up, kick’em out, and Surrey house prices and Victoria sponge competitions will surely follow.

It’s faintly unnerving, how certain they are about this sort of thing on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. You know how nutters think with total seriousness that, say, traffic lights are causing rain to fall and Theresa May is controlling them through the television set? (They’re quite wrong about this, of course; it’s Jacqui Smith). To witness Tory policy-making in action is often like watching a whole bunch of them wearing suits and talking to journalists. One of them would just be a lone nutter, but collectively their skewed world-view has a spurious mass-certitude about it. They really don’t see why the whole world can’t be just like Notting Hill.

* In the sense that it tries to go in two directions as if they were one direction, rather than in the sense that it has two heads, is covered in fur and goes around braying a lot…

** Though not so serious that I won’t throw custard pies at you and go “ner-ner-ner, you’ve gone all YELLOW!”

It seems that the Tories have been sitting on this one until election morning, and little damn wonder. Boris Johnson has changed his mind, and announced that if he wins in London tomorrow, he is going to keep his seat as MP for Henley for up to a year. A cunning stunt, indeed.

This settles it. He definitely thinks he has been running for the position of Lord Mayor (the one wot wears all the chains and that palava and goes to big dinners) all along.

Leaving aside how monstrously unfair this is on everyone who voted for him on the way to work this morning before the story was allowed to break (Well, fancy that! Jolly lucky timing, eh?), this has the makings of an extremely disturbing situation for London.

We all knew that Boris was never really going to run London all by his little self. My main fear attaching to him throughout this campaign has not been that’s he’s a racist (I doubt he really is) or that he’s not liberal (I think he probably is) but that he wasn’t actually going to be the Mayor. The “Mayor of London”, should he win, was going to be the label for a collective of faceless advisers who might very well be the kind of barking paternalistic illiberal Tories I cross the road to avoid. There was always the risk, and Simon Heffer picked up on it again in his anti-Boris blast yesterday, that voting Boris didn’t actually mean you’d get Boris.

And this seems to, well, unashamedly confirm it. No sane person can want to run London and be a home counties MP at the same time. It’s ludicrous. It’s a fairly outrageous thing to ask of Londoners and an absolutely atrocious thing to ask of the people of Henley. So which of us is going to draw the short straw and get fake cardboard cut-out Boris?

And what on earth prompted the Tories to make this terrible, craven, cheating decision anyway? If Nick Clegg had pulled a weaselly trick like this they’d have been in full cry. Let’s suppose (oh do go on!) that they’re not all cackling vessels of ultimate evil for a moment – what can their motivation possibly be? What in the name of arse is going on at Shouty Plonker HQ?

Well, the only thought I have is that they’re worried about losing the Henley by-election. But they can’t be! It’s the Tory heartland of Tory heartlands. Is Dave so concerned about compromising his somewhat static 40% poll share that he’d compromise the future of London and Henley instead to avoid it? I thought the Tories were meant to be romping away from the Lib Dems in the south (that’s what I keep reading in the newspapers anyway)?

Whatever the cause, those faceless silhouettes of the big man on the Back Boris campaign literature suddenly look extremely sinister. [FX: Thunder rumbles ominously in the distance...No really, it just did!] Who did we really back? Who exactly is going to be running London after tomorrow?

We have been busy in the People’s Republic with internal affairs of state. Unfinished articles, undelivered leaflets and distinctly under-exercised flab litter the land. Some people even expect us to do some work! So we were working up a nice head of steam to finally blast away at the disgraceful 10p tax band business, now crowned with its final turd in the shape of the Prime Minister going on Channel 4 news last night to tell us everything’s all right AGAIN.

But there have been one too many bloody silly stories lately for me not to saddle up and hunt cretins through the marshes with a great big stick, I’m afraid. First, Piers Moron and his all-singing, all-dancing inane questions almost made me weep with total unconcern, and I was only prompted to care about the whole thing when it became clear that the underwear of a number of newspaper columnists and, hem hem, Tory commentators would be permanently soiled as a result of the incident. And now this student-in-joining-university-political-society-and-forgetting-twenty-years-later-shock-meltdown. For god’s sake. Even the commenters on Conservative Home are questioning whether this merits discussion.

Leave aside for a moment the fact that everyone who has ever been to Oxford or Cambridge immediately pointed out that most politicised students joined several societies, for the social contacts and the chance to hear the speakers. Leave aside also the fact that by no means a majority of the members of any affiliated association were also members of the party in question. Leave aside the fact that Clegg’s name appears on the list only for his First Year and that he would therefore have most probably joined at Freshers’ Fair, a whirligig of fierce competition for the innocent souls of the newly matriculated that leaves even the most single-minded signed up to things like the CU Underwater Frisbee Society, the CU Amoral Sciences Club, the Franco-British Student Alliance (who are they fighting? The Central European Society, perhaps), the CU Guild of Change Ringers, the CU Lindy Hoppers and, if you’re really unlucky, the CU Netball Team (geddit? Think about the merchandise…)

Further, leave aside the fact that it has taken Greg Hands his entire career since leaving the rather small college he and Clegg attended at the same time to notice that Clegg is, what do you know, something rather big in the Liberal Democrat party, and offer his revelation to an astonished world. Leave aside even the fact that plenty of alumni have also pointed out that the officers of these societies are none too bothered about having people’s actual permission before signing them up, and that the sheet of paper in question was marked with various runes by Hands at a time when he was trying to get elected as an officer and was therefore drumming up all the support he could – by fair means or foul, if my memory of these people serves.

No, leave aside all that. Instead, consider Andrew Sparrow‘s hair. No, don’t, that would be mean and personal (and yet it is so strangely fascinating…) Andrew Sparrow is plainly of the opinion that joining the CU Conservative Association is, in fact, exactly the same as joining the Conservative Party. No, really, he is! That’s what his headline says. If he sets the standards for journalistic enquiry in this matter, who is to say what actual question Nick Clegg’s office was asked which prompted his unequivocal denial?

If it was, “Were you a member of CUCA as a student?” then Nick may well have genuinely forgotten, but it was still a bit daft to be that definite.

If it was, “Were you a member of the Conservative Party as a student?” then, well, the answer would appear to be unequivocally 100% absolutely not.

Dirty trick or sloppy journalism? You decide. I’m off to put a few cretins’ heads on spikes.

I don’t normally pay any attention to polls* but it’s awfully tempting to begin this post with “On a day when a Populus poll shows the Tories to have lost three points to the Lib Dems over Christmas…” so I will.

On a day when a Populus poll shows the Tories to have lost three points to the Lib Dems over Christmas, it comes as no surprise to hear once again the whining sound of David Cameron’s fingernails as he desperately scrabbles to cling on to the pitilessly vertical deck of the HMS Frothing Tory:

Benefit claimants will lose a month’s worth of state handouts for the first job they turn down, three months’ of payments for the second “reasonable offer” and a third employment refusal will be punished with a bar on unemployment benefits for up to three years.

Needless to say, “reasonable offer” is not defined. Now, this is a deeply undeserved digression but I do wonder sometimes whether politicians of every stripe might do well to be bolder about this sort of thing. It’s so easy to slag off the Tories for this little gem it actually bores me to petulant tears.

If Cameron had said, oh, say, “Now, don’t quote me on this, because we haven’t done our research, but I’m defining reasonable here as being a job that pays at least 80% of the average salary level in the area and which complies with all relevant regulations as regards paid holiday, sick leave, breaks and so forth and has a formal contract of employment providing protection for the employee whether temporary or permanent. Go on, bite me.” and then we could at least have engaged. Said things like, you’re totally missing the point about what makes a decent living-wage job, you stupid plummy thumb-man. Or, oh right, so you’d condemn people to a miserable, unsuitable position just to get them off your stats with no thought for their long-term welfare or, by extension, that of the economy, would you?

Stuff like that. Of course, had he said any such thing, he would have been quoted, and soundly pilloried for any departure from it following said further research (assuming, which I charitably will, that there are at least three people in the Conservative party who do Reading and Writing).


Cameron: increasingly resembles a thumb

We’re oddly adolescent as a political society, aren’t we. We can’t cope with the idea that our authority figures might change their minds. “But you said!” we yelp in furious injury, and flounce out slamming the door. So they tiptoe round us. And one literally has no choice but to fall back on to background knowledge to work out what they might mean, an information strategy which somehow never seems to serve the Tories particularly well. Poor blossoms.

* No, the lady doth not protest too much, I really don’t pay much attention to them – unlike those of you who bluster furiously along similar lines and then furtively minimise seventeen Excel windows whenever anyone comes into the room. You dirty dogs.

I learn from my epolitix bulletin that:

Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps, industry expert Owen Inskip and TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp launch a Conservative Party review of home-buying. The aim is to investigate whether there is “a better, faster and less stressful way to buy and sell homes in England and Wales”.

Kirsty has been for several years one of my minor-league heroines. She sends out all manner of comforting role-model type messages – it’s okay to be bleatingly posh and have a strange sense of humour, and sometimes eat too many pies, and be really good at your job, and still wear great shoes. She wore great shoes even when picking her way down muddy farm tracks in Wales.

I don’t really know why I am surprised – that’s practically an identikit Tory girl I’ve just described. For all her quirks, it’s part of Kirsty’s calling to be unforgivingly upper-mainstream in her economic outlook. When you’re surrounded by the affluent minority, of course they look normal. The only first time buyers she ever meets have their deposit provided and a quarter of their mortgage guaranteed by mummy and daddy.

No, maybe she is not much of a loss to my liberal heart. I will sometimes develop these trashy tastes, in spite of my best efforts. Like my Nigella phase – what was I thinking? Let this be a lesson to me; I need to attach my affections to a new property programme guru, someone more eco-friendly, conceptual, aesthetic, less of a generalist, more of a specialist, someone more inclined to wear black and like European cinema…

We need to get Kevin McCloud onto a working group right away.


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