May 26, 2014

Is the bell tolling for the Liberal Democrats?

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:36

With the EU election results in, the “I told you so” and “Here’s what it really means” brigades are out in force, letting us know what the voters are really saying with their ballots. For example, Here’s Graeme Archer measuring up the Lib-Dems for an early grave:

Since “Europe” (elections about, scandals involving etc) this year is bound up temporally, and hence a little psychologically, with “Eurovision”, which is about as camp an entity as is possible to conceive; since we’re going to talk about the Liberal Democrats’ existential crisis, let’s set the mood music accordingly. Close your eyes and think of Shirley Bassey. Or better still click here and sing along, especially if your name is Nick Clegg, leader of a party which really does have nothing.

I’m not here to gloat, seriously. Anyone who stands for election is worth celebrating, because you don’t fight for something unless you’re prepared to lose. But, OK, I’m a tribal Tory too, so here’s a couple of things that amused me last night. The sight of arch-federalist Lib Dem Edward McMillan Scott, newly defeated, telling the BBC that he’d be back in some other new role, demonstrating perfectly the anti-democratic “hanger-onnery” that infuriates Eurosceptics about the institution (Matthew Woods, an old Hackney Tory mate, coined “hanger-onnery”, and it’s perfect). The other laugh is that the Lib Dem wipeout was secured in part by the wretched Proportional Representation system, whose algorithmic horrors they’re so keen to foist onto every other election. Be careful what you wish for, Fair Voters!

Seriously, though, this is the existential crisis which the Lib Dem construct has spent this parliament pretending it could avoid. Changing the leader won’t help. […]

Now repeat the exercise from the perspective of a “Lib Dem”, which, after last night, isn’t so much a thought experiment as a glance at the newspapers. Remove every elected Lib Dem from the map: what are their voters left with?

Nothing. Utterly nothing. There is a historical tradition of political liberalism in Britain, but as any fule kno, most of it was absorbed by the Conservative Party at key points in the last century. None of that tradition lives on in the “Lib Dem” construct.

What of its emotional disposition, the mirror to my gloomy Toryism? Well: to judge from their record in power, the “Lib Dem” instinct is for greater state intervention, to alleviate the plight of the less well off. So: nothing you can’t get from Labour, then.

“We want to reduce tax [by increasing thresholds]!” Nick Clegg would say, as evidence of the intellectual strand his party represents. Um, so do the vast majority of Conservatives. Again, no need for a “Lib Dem” representative to secure that outcome.

My point is that those Lib Dems who prioritise liberalism — whether about reducing tax, or fighting ID cards and so on — must know in their hearts that they should vote Conservative. Those who prioritise social democracy, similarly, must know that they should vote Labour.

August 29, 2013

British parliament defeats government motion on Syria

Filed under: Britain, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 16:42

Twitter just lit up with the news that Prime Minister David Cameron’s motion to allow military action against Syria has been soundly defeated in parliament. The reported voting line was 272 in favour and 285 against. This was not a confidence motion — the government will not be forced to resign over this vote, but it’s a strong slap in the face to Clegg and Cameron.

February 8, 2013

Telegraph runs “Shock, horror!” story about UK government’s wine budget

Filed under: Britain, Government, Media, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:12

I’m a minarchist: I’m in favour of much smaller, less intrusive government. Even saying that, I can’t find it in my heart to get upset about this “shocking” revelation:

Ministers fail to balance books at £3million wine cellar
Ministers and guests have got through 5,000 bottles of alcohol worth more than £55,000 in the last year, report into the Government’s wine cellar has revealed.

[. . .]

The latest annual report into the Government’s wine cellar has revealed that ministers, officials and their guests got through nearly 5,000 bottles of alcohol worth more than £55,000 in the last year.

In total, the cellar holds 38,000 bottles costing £857,000 when bought, but are now valued on the open market at £2,953,000.

Some of the taxpayer-funded bottles are sold in shops for more than £1,000 each.

Guests at Government events drank 23 bottles of the 1982 Chateau Margaux Bordeaux, which sells for up to £1,100 a bottle.

Five thousand bottles? That’s all? David Cameron’s cabinet consists of 22 senior ministers. I assume there are junior ministers or parliamentary assistants for most of those ministers, so let’s call it 50 men and women who are entertaining on government business and would be drawing from the official wine cellar. Even if each of them only entertains one other person at each event, that’s roughly two bottles of wine per minister per week.

The Queen drinks more than that by herself!

And the eye-popping number of £857,000? That works out to less than £23 per bottle. And we’re told that some of the bottles could sell on the open market for £1,100 a bottle. But based on the figures, there can’t be very many of those ultra-expensive bottles, can there?

I fail to see a scandal here…

September 24, 2012

Warren Ellis: the fun in politics is gone, gone, gone

Filed under: Britain, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:29

In his weekly column at Vice, Warren Ellis finds it in his flinty heart to mourn the passing of fun in politics:

There has long been a notion abroad that positions of authority should be given to the best-qualified people who don’t want them, as the job of “ruler”, like “censor”, does not necessarily attract the best kind of human being. That would, of course, kill the inherent black comedy in politics-watching. The creatures who fight and kick and bite for the right to fuck with our lives tend to be grotesques, and serve as warnings. Warnings we never heed, of course, because we end up voting something in from that shallow pool of eels every time.

But, every now and then, there comes a period where that pool gets drained, and we find ourselves dealing with the dregs.

I actually find myself weirdly nostalgic for the authentic monsters of politics. Even the sly, hollow hustling of Tony Blair would be preferable to the callow bafflement of Nick Clegg, the unnaturally shiny forehead and beta-male posturing of David Cameron, and the… well, whatever Ed Miliband is. There’s Vince Cable, whom lots of people seem to like the idea of, but his presence, unfortunately, is that of Gravedigger #2 in one of the less successful Hammer Horror films.

Over the water, Mitt Romney doesn’t even have the facility to be slippery. He just staggers down the corridor of ideology like a cheap drunk, bumping into the walls. And President Obama isn’t even a tragic hero in the mode of Jimmy Carter, who struggled mightily (with himself, as much as anything else) and fell before the eerie charm of Ronald Reagan. I can admire the man’s intellect and general beliefs (or “values”, which is the season’s buzzword) while recognising that his main mode of operation is as a chilly functionary unwilling to take the big fights all the way.

August 24, 2012

It’s an odd sort of “austerity” that increases government spending

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:27

Everyone knows that Britain’s current economic woes are because of the government’s harsh austerity measures, right?

The argument over ‘the cuts’ has now become wholly detached from reality. Listen to any BBC debate and you’ll find the debate presented along these lines: ‘The Coalition, aiming to eliminate the deficit by 2015, has cut spending; this has had the effect of reassuring the markets and preventing a Greek-style meltdown but, on the other hand, it has impeded growth, and so reduced the tax-take, which has meant that the deficit now won’t be abolished until at least 2017. Some people believe that we need to focus on growth, not austerity. They are calling for Plan B’.

Every assumption contained in that summary is false. Net government expenditure is higher now than it was three years ago. Such deficit reduction as there has been has come largely through tax rises rather than spending cuts. The reason that government borrowing costs are low is not because of the imagined austerity programme, but because the Bank of England has magicked up nearly £400 billion through quantitative easing, given it to banks and told them to buy government debt with it. Growth and austerity are not antonyms: it was debt-fuelled growth caused the disaster in the first place. As for Plan B, no one has yet tried Plan A: spending less.

May 11, 2011

Brendan O’Neill: “The moralising Lib-Cons are New Labour in disguise”

Filed under: Britain, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:38

Brendan O’Neill pronounces his verdict on the first year of the British coalition government:

For all the claims that the Lib-Cons are Thatcher in disguise, with the wicked Bullingdon-braised David Cameron only pretending to be touchy-feely and a friend of Nick, in fact the most striking thing about this government one year in is how similar it has been to its ugly predecessor New Labour. The moralisation of everyday life, including people’s parenting styles and their drinking and smoking habits? Check. A promise to create a new kind of society (Dave calls it the Big Society; Blair called it the Stakeholders’ Society) while actually increasing the role of the state in economic, political and personal affairs? Check. Blather about environmentalism and nervousness about pursuing nuclear power? Check. The bombing of a foreign country in the name of all that is morally pure and right? Check. The New-Labour-Lib-Con eras have shown that Britain is no longer fought over by clashingly opposing parties but rather is dominated by a samey, conformist and vision-lite political class: samey both in terms of its members’ social origins and their political obsessions.

February 15, 2011

QotD: Don’t trust your government

Filed under: Britain, Government, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:09

Last week’s civil liberties bill was hardly perfect but it’s still a step in the right direction. And, frankly, it’s bonny and startling in equal measure to have a Deputy Prime Minister who says things like this:

“I need to say this — you shouldn’t trust any government, actually including this one. You should not trust government — full stop. The natural inclination of government is to hoard power and information; to accrue power to itself in the name of the public good.”

I’m quite happy to oblige Mr Clegg. I don’t trust this government either. I think it’s intentions are often fine but I doubt whether it has the courage of those convictions. Government necessitates trimming and compromising but the troubling ease with which this crew can be blown off course does not bode well for stormier times ahead. It needs to make a proper — muscular, you might say — defence of its liberalism. Thus far it has been too wimpy by far and, for that matter, too content to try and blame everything on its predecessor. That dog won’t hunt anymore.

Cameron, Clegg, Clarke, Grieve, Gove, Alexander, IDS and so on are, on the whole, decent men with decent ideas. Their government still has a surprising amount of potential and the ability to do some good. But that doesn’t mean they can be trusted.

Alex Massie, “Nick Clegg is Right. Again.”, The Spectator, 2011-02-14

May 12, 2010

Welcome to the new British PM: “Dick Clameron”

Filed under: Britain, Government, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:19

The Register‘s guide to the new British government:

The people have spoken — and party leaders Nick Clegg and David Cameron, henceforth to be known as Dick Clameron, have filled in the details.

A document released this afternoon reveals what Lib Dems and Tories have been talking about for the last four days, and what our new coalition overlords have in store for us over the next four years.

As with every political stitch-up, it’s going to be a Curate’s Egg, but there are some positive things being promised:

On civil liberties, there is much to please (most) Reg readers, including

A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill

* The scrapping of the ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database
* Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission
* The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act
* Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database
* A review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech
* Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation
* Further regulation of CCTV
* An end to storing internet and email records without good reason
* A mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences

As with any coalition, there’s no guarantee that any of their announced plans will be carried through, but this list of improvements would be a very good thing.

The full text of the agreement between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats is at The Times. On reading through the document I’m actually rather pleasantly surprised: more of the sensible policies from each party appears to have slipped into the mix and rather fewer of the authoritarian (Tory) or redistributionist (Lib-Dem) ideas. Yes, it’s only a temporary agreement, but it’s better than I expected.

April 22, 2010

British Lib Dem leader on Britain’s “war guilt”

Filed under: Britain, History, Politics, WW2 — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:20

The leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats may have a lot of apologizing to do after an article he wrote as a member of the European parliament came to light:

A rattled Nick Clegg today sought to defend himself over his claim that the British people have a ‘more insidious cross to bear’ than Germany over World War II.

The Lib Dem leader attempted to laugh off criticism of his astonishing attack on our national pride — in which he said we suffered ‘delusions of grandeur’ and a ‘misplaced sense of superiority’ over having defeated the horrors of Nazism.

Campaigning ahead of tonight’s crucial second live TV showdown with party leaders, Mr Clegg said: ‘I must be the only politician who has gone from being Churchill to being a Nazi in under a week.’

Then again, despite the apparent anti-British taint, it might gain him votes in some crucial swing ridings where anti-British feelings are treasured and welcomed.

Update: Sorry about the original headline . . . must have started a cut-and-paste and then forgotten to fix it. Fixed now.

April 13, 2010

It’s not quite “None of the above”, but it’s close

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:26

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) says Sod the lot:

The UK Independence party said “sod the lot” today as it launched its manifesto, telling voters it was time to ditch the three main parties in favour of an alternative proposing no cuts at all.

The party’s new poster features the faces of Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg alongside the slogan “sod the lot”.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch, Ukip’s leader, said it was time for a new politics and argued that leaving the EU would save up to £120bn a year — with no jobs or trade lost from Britain.

Pearson also revealed that his party would put up billboards urging voters to back Labour and Conservative candidates who were “committed” Eurosceptics as part of its strategy to mobilise support for a referendum on Britain’s role in Europe.

The choice on offer to British voters is Gordon Brown, Gordon Brown Lite, and Gordon Brown Extra Lite: that is, there’s very little to choose amongst ’em except for party colours.

Come the next election, it’d be tempting to steal the notion and put Harper, Ignatieff, and Layton on the poster . . . but we don’t have a viable Canadian Independence Party at the moment.

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