Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Living through ConDemNation (cont.)

Last week I was chatting to an old friend, one of the most brilliant men I know – a Communist in his youth, undoubtedly a man of the Left thereafter – and he couldn’t have been more pleased about the ConDemNation, essentially on the grounds of Ken Clarke letting out the prisoners, fixed-term parliaments, having a capable Old Etonian in Number 10, and (my friend fondly imagines) the prospect of Tony Blair in the Hague for having ordered David Kelly’s death. ‘All my friends voted Lib Dem’, he told me. ‘Don’t tell me you voted Labour…!?’
John Rentoul would think my friend a certain psychological type (‘Blair-Hater’), though there are issues on which the two of them would agree: ‘Labour’, my friend scoffed very accurately, ‘spend their last months writing cheques they knew would bounce’ – and so, goes the argument, Labour must be mindful of how they criticise those doing the harrowing now.
Still, Labour’s task is easier when George Osborne reneges on the pledge to preserve capital spending. The spiffy Michael Gove didn’t look too 'progressive' the other day, halting all those school builds and riposting to Labour, ‘What would you cut?’ Labour’s current mouthpieces famously don’t always have a ready answer, but I think they can be trusted for a sensible view on rotting Nissen huts that continue to serve as schoolhouses. (I’m more and more bewildered too as to why the NHS was ring-fenced. I don’t know 'what I would cut', was I President of Freedonia, but presumably a lot of it would be done line by line, and I’m pretty sure I'd know how to start there with the NHS.)
Labour have it easier still when the slavering Tory blogger Guido Fawkes freely derides Danny Alexander as 'Beaker' while cheering on 'Beaker''s doltish but concerted axe-wielding. Thus your actual ideological Tory: let’s cut now, hard as humanly possible, it’ll hurt all the right sorts and come 2015 we’ll have the world turned rightside up and a ‘proper’ tax-cutting Budget.
To this tumescence are the Lib Dems the soapy handmaidens. Veteran Commons sketch writer Simon Hoggart had some good sport with Clegg the other day, saying that he ‘often has the air of a schoolboy who has spent too long in his bedroom, working out plans for an imaginary country that exists only in his head.... an ideal state in which justice, fairness and sheer practicality fight each other for position.’
I think Hoggart astutely skewers a certain sort of Lib Dem sanctimony, but misses the actual nastiness of Clegg, so evident in his snide grin – not the debating society nerd, rather the seemingly dull but straight-arrow chap who secretly fancied being the Bully of Upper Sixth. For the moment I can’t think of a more risible, self-impressed figure in high-level British politics within my lifetime than Nick Clegg – and yes, I’m including John Prescott in that. It’s just the appalling inverse ratio of votes to status that goes on offending.
During Clegg’s brief and imaginary ‘popularity’ prior to polling day, Christopher Hitchens (for whom Clegg once interned at The Nation, and who seemed to find him likeable) observed that ‘British society is actually a three-party system stitched and corseted into a two-party duopoly.’ I think, though, that the coalition exposed that notion as folly. Steve Richards argued today that ‘[a]s some of Cameron's allies recognised long ago, there was no gap between them and Clegg on the central issue of the economy, public spending and the role of the state. On the other side of Clegg's party are those who are closer to being social democrats…’ But the lesson is: it’s a duopoly really, all that matters is to which wing the Lib Dems peel off on the big issues once they have to; and once Clegg had compared the unions to non-dom Tory potentates like Lord Ashcroft then we knew for sure what way he peeled.
Many a pundit has thrown back at Clegg his pre-power conviction that the AV voting system would be ‘miserable little compromise.’ In response Clegg usually offers a lecture on the duties of power and leadership, which often involve miserable little compromises (Nick in his own person happening to be one such...) But I’m interested to be having a vote on electoral reform next May, though I’ve never been a fan of the notion, and I’ll wait to see how the arguments by those wiser than me stack up.
The hopeless Mary Riddell wrote lately that for Labour ‘[to] vote No would be a move against progress and a sign that Labour is a disunited, foot-dragging party, committed to the broken, first past the post system for tactical reasons.’ Oh, the dishonour! Tactical reasons! Simon Jenkins, whom I generally like not one bit, calls it right when he says AV is no sort of ‘progress’, merely a redistribution of a man’s honest vote, ‘away from liking towards ‘not disliking’’. Jenkins continues:
‘Clegg is for AV because it helps his party, and Cameron and Labour will fight it at a referendum because it does not help them. The electorate is bored by the topic. Clegg is almost certain to lose, which will enrage his party and leave him with a bloodied nose and the coalition weakened.’
Good show. I can’t say I don’t like the sound of those tactics, or that imagined outcome. Presumably Mary Riddell thinks Labour need some more of that thrusting New Politics dynamism we’ve all heard so much of, until we vomited. Well, Mary, a week is plenty long in politics, and the time remaining before Labour elects a new leader still stretches in the distance, but the next election is still aeons away, during which time you and the rest of us should try to keep thinking. For now, Labour should attack the coalition partners whenever they see fit. Let’s see where we’ve got to in a few years.
And finally, what news of my man David Miliband? It’s rumoured the Unite union are working out who to back (which ‘Stop David’ candidate) expressly in order to frustrate the hopes of the ‘Blairite’ candidate. Elsewhere DM put his name to a fairly blah column about Englishness in the New Statesman and gave a not-bad Telegraph interview (to Mary Riddell…) wherein he properly regretted the Iraq war’s ‘toll in British and Iraqi life’, properly abhorred the prospect of the coalition’s ‘constitutional gerrymandering’ and reasonably marked his priorities as education, crime and anti-social behaviour. In short, it's like Blair were in the room, a little humbled by recent history, nonetheless feeling its hand on his shoulder...

"This is where I'm from and Newcastle are the only team for me."

These, the words of Andy Carroll, as reported last weekend, Andy seemingly having decided to resist the mighty lure of Stoke City, and whatever Stoke has to offer by way of nightlife. Well said, Andy lad - now don't ever make us doubt you... And if you could see your way to a towering header for the winner at Old Trafford on Monday August 16 then I'd carry you into the Blu Bambu on my own bliddy shoulders...