Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Phil Woolas... oh, yeah, of course!

Phil Woolas, the disgraced Labour MP whose election was overturned by the electoral commission because he claimed his opponent sympathised with terrorists, rang bells. In my mind - in the darker part of my mind where the less important but nevertheless marked names go - he rang bells. And then I happened upon where from - he was the MP who Joanna Lumley embarrassed.

About a year ago, Lumley doorstepped the MP over government plans to deport Gurkas - she wanted them granted full citizenship and for them to be entitled to a state pension. She caught him on some stairs at the BBC and extracted promises from him that the Gurkas would be treated with the respect due soldiers who had fought for this country.

Woolas was the guy who, faced with the glare of the lights and the glittering Joanna Lumley in full Boudicia mode, gave promises he had no right to give, who tried to weasel out of the situation - he was the guy with the deer in the headlamps bewildered smile and the creepy little voice.

He will not be missed.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Go, Go UK Politics

The voiding of the election of Labour MP Phil Woolas because he lied about his opponent during the spring election is the best political story I've heard. It is a story that gives me faith that the UK political system has both integrity and the ability to correct error.

The former National Union of Students president Woolas must have picked up this particular tactic from American politics: he accused his opponent of sympathising with terrorists. I have been shocked by the American influence on our political language in recent times, and it's great to see we have a system that just won't stand for it. Say something so despicable in America and it doesn't matter - you win the election so you win - in the UK we like to have a modicum of decorum.

His election has been thrown out and the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency will decide again on their representative in parliament.

Friday, 12 November 2010

50, 000 March on London

There are those who wonder why people of my generation are disillusioned with politics. I would remind them they ignored us when we protested the Iraq war, they blamed us for breaking Britain, saddled us with mind-boggling debt, then they said "There's no jobs for you" quickly adding "now get off benefits, you're a sponge". In April and May, Nick Clegg wooed us with talk of principled stands against cuts and investment in the future of Britain, only to submit sickeningly to an Etonian slug and his party of cannibalistic lizards in the aftermath of an election everybody lost.

I'd say we have good reason to be angry. The minor skirmish during the student fee protest, where a few anarchists smashed up Tory headquarters, could be seen as the first shots of frustration from an entire generation who have basically been sold a pup. In media everywhere it has been reported that way and I understand why.

After all, who doesn't want it to be the start of a cultural reawakening? At last! A reaction to corporatism and to corruption; to the everyday lies of dough-eyed administrators who preside over the neutering of ambition, whose lives consist of ticking boxes and drawing a wage; at last a generation awakens from the stupor brought on by poisoned platitudes and seizes the reins of power from the blind, stupid, complacent failures who run things.

It'd be great, wouldn't it?

However, I can't think of a single time in history when a population with full bellies, warm beds, free expression and secure borders has ever felt the need to forcibly remove its government (I await to be corrected). Things would need to get far worse for disenchantment to spill over into disgruntlement, and from there to outright anger. Beyond that, revolution is still a dozen and more flights of steps away.

So, what was the smashing of windows and throwing of fire extinguisher (note: singular) about? Well, I don't mean to belittle genuine anger, but it wasn't about anything. After all, the main focus of the march was to remind the Lib Dems that they promised not to raise tuition fees - it is the Lib Dems who are betraying the marchers, not the Tories. The Tory party are carrying out what we knew they would do; people voted for them knowing this to be a policy of theirs - they are duty bound to carry out their pledges. The Lib Dems are the focus of the legitimate anger at these measures - yet Tory HQ got trashed.

Why? Because the starry-eyed Lenins who broke the windows with scarves wrapped round their faces are the same who marched against the Iraq war, who protested Bush's visit and the G-20, who show up every May 1st in London to taunt police and disrupt the bus routes. They are the same guys who still hate Conservatives because of Thatcher - the rest of the crowd, who stood by in sympathetic surprise when the starry-eyed Lenins kicked at the glass and burned David Cameron in effigy, were genuinely there to register their anger at a policy.

The starry-eyed Lenin's were there because they are professional protesters who love a big crowd to legitimise their antics and distribute Socialist Worker. They attacked the Tories, not for the cause but because they are starry-eyed Lenins, and so they hate the Tories. No self-respecting student or lecturer would think of smashing windows and occupying the lobby of Tory HQ: it isn't effective, it doesn't help them win sympathy with the electorate and it makes them look like a childish mob of sponges.

I'm afraid that the column inches proclaiming the beginning of a generational shift are premature at best. However, I think they are right that there is more to come, as there will be more marches, many thousands of genuinely upset citizens will come to London for their disparate causes, bringing their placards and their righteous indignation, but the one's tearing up Starbucks and hammering RBS will be the same every time.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The Privileged and the Primeval

Part of the austerity measures put in place by the coalition is a substantial cut of the education budget. Higher education will feel the brunt of that cut, with much of it's funding vanishing, with the hope being that the universities and colleges step in and become self-sufficient bodies.

So student fees are set to rise to pay for it. Subsidies are evaporating - our government is investing as little as it can get away with in the further education of our 18 year old's, the post-graduate education of our graduates and research performed by our turbo-brained workaholic geeks.

Won't somebody please think of the geeks?

When I went to university I could barely afford my place, in fact I only paid it off two years after graduating. It goes without saying that I still owe £(undisclosed) in student loans - but they don't matter. Those fees I struggled so hard to pay off, working throughout my degree as an event supervisor, failing to keep up with the payments and getting away with some luck in the final year (my LEA paid up after refusing to for two years - I never queried it, thinking it must be a clerical error and just not wanting to upset the apple cart) (don't tell them) were substantial.

One time I felt like I was getting on top of them: I remember strolling into the finance department after two years of avoiding the place like the plague and paying off one and a half grand having worked 14 hour days, every day of the winter break. I was so pumped. I wanted to go in with one of those oversized cheques. It was great.

I worked evenings and weekends and tried to get my college work done, including some reading for my dissertation. It was pretty tough. And, in the end, I failed to pay for it all - my sister had to help me out with the last £500. It was just a little too much. Well, those fees are set to triple.


That would raise it to £9,000 a year in fees. There's no way an honest man can pay that amount of money and do a course and pay rent. You'd have to be earning at least £15,000 a year - after tax - so that's about an £18,000 salary - and live like a church mouse. It's just not possible for a student to do - you'd have to have a full-time job, thus you would not be able to make it to lectures.

So the result would be that universities would once again be exclusively populated by the well-off and the mollycoddled, with the occasional, intensely driven, insomniac workaholic bucking the trend.

Tomorrow I'm going to discuss the student fee protester's anger. Today I wanted to lay out their argument: tripling student fees will decimate the education of a generation. Working your way through college will not be possible any more. Good, honest students will disappear, to be replaced by the privileged and the complacent.

Let's face it: there's nothing a mob hates more than well-healed young people getting something denied to the poor. It resonates on a primeval level that Emilia, Bertie and the Stillingfleet-Billingshurst twins don't get that £9,000 is a lot of money to commoners. That particular frequency of resonance has a way of smashing windows.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Difference Between Communism and Socialism

Apocalyptic arsefaced simpleton Glenn Beck, along with most of America, thinks that Communism and Socialism are the same thing. They are not. It's like saying cream and cheese are the same thing. Or that cream cheese is in anyway a good substitute for both. You would need to be a sick son of a bitch to put a slice of ripe stilton on a chocolate gateau, or double cream in a bun with some jalapenos and salad. In fact, a good home pregnancy test is to read these words and see if you get hungry.

The main, easily quotable, difference between communism and socialism is this: communism necessarily would do away with capitalism; socialism would not. The reason for this is communists distribute wealth according to the needs of people, while socialists distribute wealth according to merit.

So, let's say you are a hard worker in a communist society: no matter how hard you work, how much you produce, you will receive only what you need, while the guy next to you with five babies will receive all he needs regardless of how much sweat he puts into his shifts. So he gets more because he needs more.

However, in a socialist society, if you work your butt off you would receive more the harder you worked. There would be a social safety net for the lazy, randy boy next to you with five babies, but he wouldn't get much for himself if he didn't put in a shift.

Capitalism, whilst not being a perfect fit for socialism, is a decent way of regulating the distribution of wealth as, in theory, it is a meritocracy - you merit more, you get more.

The other thing is power: communism always seems to lead to a few people with all the power, while socialism should really lead to a more even distribution of wealth. That's how Wales and Scotland got their parliaments: the New Labour socialists wanted to decentralise power from Westminster.

And that's how irritating smug gits like Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond have ended up with their little fiefdoms; because a bunch of clueless, vaporous, PR driven socialists were let loose in the halls of power while they still remembered what their ideals looked like. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown gave us Alex Salmond, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an unimaginable budget deficit and they still want us to remember them fondly.

Why haven't they been dragged naked through the streets by an angry mob? I really don't know.

But they were socialists. Not communists. If they were communists, we wouldn't have had elections, money would have been scrapped in favour of some sort of state run token system, the reins of production would have been seized; in short, things might have turned out somewhat better.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Scary stuff

I spent a not inconsiderable amount of time today trying to find out about the coalition government's actual policy initiatives. I found a lot of nothing - like the manifesto, containing the aims of the agreement, but less in the way of substantial, actual, definite stuff that's going to happen.

There is a difference, after all, between what I aim to accomplish and the way I imagine that it will come about. 99% of people want a world at peace, but we don't have one because the ideas of how to promote peace have gone disastrously wrong over and over again. So when a government say they want a free and fair society it means nothing - we all want a free and fair society - what are they going to do about it? What thing, involving the real world, is going to happen to make a free and fair society?

In fact, what I could find of the government's agenda can be summed up in one word: scary. It's scary. We should be scared. I'm actually quite terrified. Shaking, you know?

All governmental departments will undergo a scaling back of, on average, a quarter (excluding health and international aid). That means funding to local authorities is being slashed by 25%, regulatory bodies are being trimmed by 25%, education cut by a whole quarter, etc. This is all for deficit reduction - i.e. the £170 billion we spent last year that we didn't have - we're going to try to pay that off.

Look at your body. Then try to work out which quarter you could do without. If you're saying "it all looks pretty essential to me" congratulations - you don't have my belly. But no-one is pretending there's much fat on the government (well, I say no-one; the coalition are) - Labour, last year, cut £44 billion out of their budget. There ain't much left to be cut that isn't going to really hurt.

But; there is a massive deficit. I'm not saying the coalition are wrong to do this, I'm just scared. Scared like a weak little child. Scared like an X-Factor contestant being beaten over the head with a lead copy of Electric Ladyland.

Then there's the rise, starting January, of VAT from 17.5% to 20%. VAT is the government's share of certain transactions - so there's VAT on air travel and on car maintenance - anything useful, but not absolutely essential. Explaining VAT looks really very dull and torturous. Fact is, a raise affects everybody because, while there is no VAT on milk, there is VAT on things that get you milk, like the petrol in the lorry that takes it to the factory to get bottled, the industrial quantities of plastic, cow psychotherapy, farmer husbandry, etc. (sorry, I'm losing the will to live - I don't want to discuss VAT, nobody does, but it's going to kill us, so I have to say something about it).

That's right, so everything is going to get more expensive because, even those things that don't have VAT on them will be affected. Add to that a two year's pay freeze in the public sector (nurses, doctors, dentists, binmen, teachers, etc.) and that adds up to more expensive stuff being sold to people with the same amount of money. That means people will be able to afford less stuff.

Speaking as a guy who is so poor that yesterday I took a shard of scrap metal from the surf at the beach, carried it a mile to the scrap merchants, got the £1.05 it was worth and then used that money to live for the next two days: stuff getting more expensive is bad.

So, that's as far as I want to go with assessing the coalition's tenure in government so far tonight. It's terribly depressing: you think it's pretty austere times now, just you wait until this time next year.

I don't want to be the harbinger of doom, but the fact that people will have less money and will therefore spend less, leads to less things being bought, MEANING less business, meaning less businesses, meaning less jobs.

Meaning less meaningless jobs.


I am usually fairly neutral about Glaswegian footballing matters, but a report that Celtic fans are planning to protest the wearing of poppies because they haven't got THE FUCKING MEMO that Northern Ireland now has a power sharing agreement and the IRA have disbanded and the troubles are over, really burns my sensitive glands.

I do not support wars of any description, but the guys who died in WW1 and WW2 and who were sent over to Afghanistan and Iraq didn't make the policy decisions - they went over there and did their fucking job on the basis that they were protecting us. These Celtic cunts chose not to protest the government's decisions - they weren't in the marches to stop the goddamn Iraq war happening - but now they're getting loud because sectarian tensions are fading and they want to ratchet up the anger again by attacking dead soldiers.

Not the policy makers - the dead soldiers.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Coalition Rambling

The government of the UK is something of an oddball: on the right, you have the Conservatives ("The Nasty Party") who want you to work 40 hours a day for six pence and like it; who view the general populace with barely-concealed disgust; who would prefer it if we just had a monarchy and forgo all this nauseating democracy in favour of pomp, circumstance and slavery. And you have the Liberal Democrats ("The Gutless Party") who like to form circles and hold hands (that's what I got out of their manifesto).

The thing is that the Lib Dems have long been seen as a left-wing, unambiguously progressive (if totally hopeless) outfit, while the Tories are quite the opposite. Yet there they are governing the country together.

It's hard not to detest the Tories because David Cameron, whilst I don't think he's a bad man at heart, is plainly clueless, as is his pack of Etonian buddies. These people think that "roughing it" is some sort of rugby slang for involuntary buggery (guffaw) and that rent is something that you have a man to collect for you.

My theory as to how the liberals and the conservatives have found common ground is a simple one: they are the same people. Liberal Democrat MP's have never had to worry about actually having power; the party is a vehicle, not for a serious political career, but for the vacuous dreams of charismatic nobodies. Their backgrounds are Eton, Winchester and Oxbridge, their lineage is traceable to 18th Century European monarchs; they are born conservatives without a backbone, the Cinderella bitches from the same den as the Tory wolves.

And now they all run the country together. I've been in the bunker for the last few months, but tomorrow I will break the emergency glass and take a comprehensive, systematic look at how they're getting on; whisky in one hand, profanisaurus in the other...

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Keith Olbermann

Keith Olbermann, the liberal commentator, has been suspended indefinitely by NBC for making donations to the Democratic party. He didn't use his broadcast to solicit donations, didn't hand out numbers they should call to elect democrats. He, as a private citizen, made some perfectly legal donations to his chosen political party.

Over on Fox news, they have solicited donations, they have given out numbers, but they don't even pretend to be a straight news channel, so no-one bats an eyelid. What they would say on this subject, if they had a modicum of consistency, would be that Olbermann should not have been suspended. He was exercising his rights as a private citizen, but his employer has a policy against that - the policy is wrong, though it is one that tries to ensure the political neutrality of their newscasters (a rather quaint concept in today's America).

Fox won't defend him at all because they are not only a political organisation, but one with no principals to speak of. They won't decry NBC impinging on Olbermann's first amendment rights, as they did with Juan William's firing from APR.