Does Britain bust a left or hang a right? (British Social Attitudes Survey Part II)

I think we can safely assume the majority of Brits don’t define themselves in crude political terms. So, let’s look at some of the detail of the British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS) to understand how closely the sympathies of Britons align with the aims of the coalition and the right-wing press.

Inequality and Fair Pay

A majority believe the gap between those with high incomes and low incomes is too large, that this contributes to social problems and that it is the responsibility of the government to reduce income inequality.

The government are not ignorant of this, having commissioned Will Hutton to produce a report looking at fair pay. However, the report’s remit was restricted to the public sector with the brief to investigate a pay ratio of 20 to 1 – according to the BSAS, people think the ratio should be 6 to 1.

You have to question whether the government’s aim with this report is really about fair pay. Both the Tories and the right-wing media appear more concerned about government spending and mythical “public sector fat cats” than income inequality across the whole of society. The right-wing media, in particular, are strongly against government involvement in reducing income inequality across the private sector.

This puts the British public further to the left than the Tories and completely at odds with the right-wing media.

Just over half of people believe the government should provide a decent standard of living for the unemployed, but only 27% believe more should be spent on welfare benefits for the poor.

The 27% figure is the statistic most favoured by the right-wing press. And it is significant, especially considering support for higher welfare spending has decreased from 58% in 1991. However, considering this survey comes off the back of a Labour government which has increased welfare over the previous decade, the massive drop doesn’t necessarily reflect a desire to greatly reduce benefits.

This finding is therefore inconclusive. Other findings of the survey show that people aren’t unsympathetic to the poor and, in fact, favour distinctly un-Thatcherite policies: 62% want better education or training opportunities to enable people to get better jobs, 54% want the minimum wage increased, and 40% want higher income taxes to be increased.

Investment in public services

Secondary schools have been seen to improve in every way under Labour and there is widespread support for an increasing emphasis on non-academic areas including practical and life skills.

While Tory (and Lib Dem) rhetoric before the election uncontroversially focused on limiting top-down interference over schools, the policies of Michael Gove since then seem at odds to what the public clearly perceive as a successful decade for education under Labour.

In particular, Gove’s peculiar fixation on ‘traditional’ lessons (including Classical Greek, Biblical Hebrew and Latin) is not shared by the people, 72% of whom believe the teaching of life skills is more important than academic subjects.

While happy to trumpet the parts of the survey that support with its own agenda, the Daily Mail sneers at the ‘alarming complacency’ suggested by the nearly three-quarters of people who think our schools teach basic schools well.

Regardless, it’s not obvious how Gove’s plans will improve schools in the way people want. His anachronistic baccalaureate idea and intent to abolish coursework conflicts with the view, agreed with by six in ten people, that “schools focus too much on tests and exams and not enough on learning for its own sake”.

Satisfaction with the NHS is at its highest level ever, reflecting that people recognise and value the improvements made by Labour, particularly the successful introduction of maximum waiting times targets.

I never understood the right-wing war against NHS targets, especially considering (if my memory serves me correctly) they were introduced as a result of right-wing media pressure.

When Labour entered office in 1997, satisfaction with the NHS was at the lowest level (34%) since the survey began. In 2009, satisfaction reached the highest level since the survey began (64%). Even among Conservative supporters, satisfaction with the NHS is at its height.

Against this backdrop, you really have to wonder why the Tories are embarking on a highly controversial and extremely risky reorganisation of the NHS. Many would suggest the motivation is ideological. If this is the case, Tory ideology (and that of its right-wing supporters) is clearly not shared by the British public.

So what?

This is just a scraping of findings from the report’s executive summaries available online. Still, I think it’s pretty damn supportive of New Labour’s record and suggests the Tories should be careful.

The unexpected ambition of their education and health reforms are controversial at the moment. Considering they are completely out of line with what the public actually wants, when they are introduced the shit, as they say, could well and truly hit the fan.

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What can we learn from the failure of the student protests?

Although I suspect I may be preaching to the damned here, if (and that’s a big IF) Labour’s opposition isn’t purely political and the student protesters aren’t simply aiming to rage against the machine, there’s a lot that we could learn what NOT to do by looking at the campaign to fight the coalition’s rise in tuition fees – if you can call it a campaign.

What went wrong?

1. Lack of a clear objective: there was no clear argument being made by protesters and those who supported them. I heard people saying the demonstrations were against high increases in tuition fees, any increase in tuition fees, the existence of tuition fees, the scrapping of EMA, the extreme cuts to university funding, any cuts on principle, the pace and/or extent of the coalition’s cuts, the haste with which the vote went into the commons, and the broken promises of the Liberal Democrats. With such fragmentation of purpose it’s difficult to achieve anything.

2. No real alternative was pitched against the coalition’s plans. Subsequently, the Tories have emerged from this ordeal virtually unscathed. Without the challenge of a fairer, more agreeable alternative, no real pressure was put on the government.

3. No command structure: nobody took responsibility for organising the opposition to the fees increase. This resulted in mixed messages and chaos in the streets. To their credit, the NUS seems to be attempting to tie everything together, but their efforts are clearly not enough. Maybe mass demonstrations would have been better concentrated in key constituencies to sway floating Liberals and, indeed, Conservatives? Maybe the Tories would have been more reluctant to drive this forward if, instead of students, their traditional middle-class supporters were the ones doing the complaining (as we saw during the child benefit fiasco)? The point is the passion of those involved could’ve and should’ve been used more strategically.

4. The campaign was misdirected. I never felt the protesters really hit the government where it hurts. For starters, the attempt to gain the sympathies of the police against a common enemy was destroyed when people started throwing rocks at them. Hopes of attracting wider public support was damaged when people started defacing national monuments. In terms of trying to halt the cuts, George Osborne may still prove to be a weak link in terms of embarrassing the coalition, but he’s clearly intransigent with regards his economic plan (at least overtly). There was no way he would back down. Similarly, Nick Clegg and his fellow Liberal ministers were determined not to retreat on this (although the effectiveness of getting Clegg ‘on side’ by burning an effigy of him has to be questioned). Arguably, given the right leverage, Tory backbenchers are the weakest link of the coalition. Regardless, no attempts were made to go for the jugular. Time, effort and blood was wasted.

What would I have done differently?

Firstly, my chosen objective would have been the lowest-hanging fruit: the hasty nature of taking this vote to parliament before Christmas. Labour would’ve needed to take the lead and request the vote to be held off for a few months. This request could’ve been made to appeal to all parties: it would have given Labour more time to develop a saleable alternative, it would have given the Tories more time to convince the voters their policy is the fairest one, and it would have given the Liberals a stay of execution. A reprieve would also have given protest groups greater opportunity to rally wider public support around their cause.

If students, politicians and media were united behind the same purpose, it would have seemed extremely unreasonable for the government to refuse. If they did, Labour could have justifiably blamed the riots on the government’s arrogance. Still, Labour could have argued a Nay vote would not have reflected a total rejection of the coalition’s proposal; merely a desire for a longer period of public discussion and the chance to consider other options.

This would’ve given loyal Liberals cover to vote against and found sympathy amongst Tory backbenchers (remember, the Tories also had an anti-tuition fees stance until relatively recently).

Whether the vote is postponed or not, Labour and those opposing the coalition cuts are seen to have achieved a small victory. The image is one of a hasty, reckless government ignorant of the social turmoil their policies are causing, against a considerate and cautious union of politicians and public, aiming to reach a consensus.

Of course, the onus is then on Labour to work with student organisations to develop a viable, preferred alternative and sell it to the public. If they can’t… well, that would be pretty damn embarrassing and I guess they’d have no choice but to stop their whining and support the coalition’s plans.

So that’s what I reckon, but I may be speaking shit. I would love to hear what you think could’ve been done differently.

Student riots: so, what’s next?

In what is becoming a depressing trend, the left’s position on the student riots is another example of polemical cul-de-sac. Their approach so far has had limited (if any) positive impact; yet their rhetoric promotes further chaos without constructive solutions.

Already the media is asking whether water-cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas should be used to control future protests. The less extreme alternative I’ve heard involves the police monitoring social media accounts and arresting potential troublemakers at the first sign of trouble. Based on the discussions I’ve seen on Twitter, blogs and the news, both these options would be seen as an act of provocation by protesters.

Revelers

But what else can the police do? If the propaganda of some on the left is to be believed, the violence is an understandable reaction to the coalition’s “cultural vandalism”. The suggestion is that it is not only unsurprising, but inevitable. It may surprise these commentators to learn that such language would not invite a softer approach from the police.

If we ignore the fatalists and instead listen to those we might call the determinists, the student violence is a direct consequence of the actions of the police. This line of argument goes: you buggers started it; if you stop bashing us with bats, we’ll stop tearing up central London. Determinists know the police are the problem. The negative energy generated by all those badges and batons drive good middle-class girls and boys crazy.

You only have to remember the storming of Millbank Tower to spot the flaw in that line of thinking.

With neither side backing down, we’ll either end up with the kind of authoritarian police state radical lefties have wet dreams about, or a continuation of the misdirected aggression that will eat away at public support until talk of loony lefties and militant socialists destroy all the credibility built up by the progressive movement over the past decade.

But there could be a middle ground. Protest leaders should work with the police to confirm a mutually acceptable route and accept responsibility to ensure that route is followed. Any groups who break away from this route are NOT protesters, and can assumed to be in “breach the peace”. If they refuse to rejoin the protest proper, they should be immediately arrested. Sounds harsh (and mighty simplistic), but if this can be done quickly and efficiently there is no need for violence to overshadow the cause of the genuine protesters.

There are a few glaring problems with this.

DayX3_Nicholas_Adams (22 of 120)

The first being: lefty-liberals won’t like the idea. Mass arrests. Officially-sanctioned protest routes. I may as well suggest they glue identification cards to their foreheads. Many will prefer rioting. They seem to agree with Donald Rumsfeld who once said (much to left-wing derision, I might add), “Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.”

The second problem is that I get the feeling the police were actually attempting a more liberal approach to this already. From what I understand, the theory behind kettling is that it contains a potentially unruly crowd without the bad press of arresting a whole lot of innocent people. At the moment, the police study CCTV footage after the event to identify criminals. I assume they do this to avoid inciting more trouble by dragging teenagers into police vans in front of their mates. If the less heavy-handed version of my compromise plan already enrages the left, a concerted effort to ‘beat’ the police’s change of tactics will be a certainty.

DayX3_Nicholas_Adams (77 of 120)

The third problem arises if the vast majority of protesters, even those who flee down side streets to escape the agreed route, are genuinely peaceful. I, for one, don’t buy the idea that these protests were infiltrated by a small group of thugs (European-anarchists have been blamed, but the worst example was on Newsnight. They blamed the violence on “London gangs” and attempted to back up this claim using a shot of a few black kids wandering through the crowd). The unapologetic language of virtually every student group and left-wing organisation, twitterer or blogger I’ve seen tells me that even if it was all the fault of a few bad apples in the pot, there’s no real desire to have them removed. However, if it really is a minority who are the problem and the majority would gladly see them identified and detained, the ‘middle ground’ approach is too broad a brush and innocent people will likely be wrongly arrested.

The fourth and final problem is that, so far, I’ve seen no evidence the organisers of the protests are willing to accept any responsibility for the chaos. They all fall into either the fatalist or the determinist camp and talk about the protests as if people randomly turn up and do whatever they want. In other words, it’s not really their problem and they don’t care. This is a failure on two levels.

  • One: as Malcolm Gladwell explained in his controversial article about social activism, movements succeed by utilising rigid, almost military-like command structures. If there is no central force organising the protest they’re not only inviting anarchy onto the streets, but the movement as a whole is also likely to fail.
  • Two: this makes it far more difficult to achieve a middle ground between police and protesters. Without a clear idea of who’s organising the campaign, the police can not properly plan for it and will therefore have to resort to less sophisticated, more reactionary measures to cope. Without control over the situation and a working relationship with the police, protest leaders can’t protect those who want nothing more than a peaceful demonstration, which could result in more people being hurt (by both club-happy rozzers and brick-hurling agitators).

And so we’re stuck in a game of chicken between the protesters and the police. One in which neither seem keen to back down in. You could argue the police literally can’t back down. They’ve tried hands-off and it was a disaster. At best they could move sideways and try to refine the current techniques, without resorting to more exotic tactics. I hope (but don’t really expect) they can find a way to quickly spot and remove the ringleaders, without stirring up more animosity in the process. I believe the left has far greater leeway to tone down their inflammatory language and help isolate the firebrands. But to many that would be seen as surrendering to the coalition and Police State UK.

DayX3_Nicholas_Adams (56 of 120)

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact there’s tens of millions more people in the UK watching these protests on their TV screens than there are taking part in person, or in their own particular echo chamber on the infoweb. There’s millions of royalists appalled at the attack on the Prince’s car. There’s millions of nationalists disgusted by the desecration of our national heritage. There’s millions of bemused, ordinary people who aren’t too fond of the cops in a vague British fashion, but also reckon (in a level-headed, detached, not unsympathetic kind of way) that if you rush head-first into a line of riot police carrying clubs, you’re probably going to get smacked. There’s also millions of people whose families have never gone to university, never expect to go to university and are wondering why they should pay for a bunch of feral, narcissistic idiots to get a better career and earn more money than they could ever dream of.

The real battle isn’t between protesters and police. It’s not you versus them. It’s winning the hearts and minds of voters and politicians. Explain to me how the behaviour we’ve seen over the past month has helped achieve that.

Photo credits: honeylotus, guerillaphotography

Middle-class whining falls on deaf ears as police ignore ill-defined non-crimes

Worrying times for fans of social behaviour as headlines erupt with the news that police are failing to crack down on so-called anti-social behaviour. According to Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Denis O’Connor, while a massive 45% (3.5m) of police calls relate to anti-social behaviour, the cops are not taking it seriously and don’t consider them real crimes.

For the politicians on all sides of the political divide, this is good news. The Tories immediately respond by claiming this as another legacy of Labour’s failure (with, no doubt, a quick jab at the welfare state), while Labour use this to strike again at the coalition’s cuts. I’m sure the Lib Dems are screaming something about “police state”, but who really cares, eh?

But what does this actually mean? And what can be done about it?

I have some sympathy with the police here; it’s no surprise they don’t consider ASB to be real crimes. By definition they are not real crimes. If they were, the press would be talking about 45% of police calls regarding crime being ignored. Which would be serious. But they’re not.

If ASB is not a crime, what is it? Helpfully, the BBC have a list of the top 10 anti-social behaviour offences, based on a survey by Ipsos Mori.

Turns out that the top two anti-social offences basically consist of young people drinking and hanging out (would it be more pro-social if they locked themselves in their bedrooms and read a book?). Another three could fairly be summed up as ‘neighbours having fun’, ‘neighbours making noise’, and, simply, ‘neighbours’.

It seems the biggest problem with anti-social behaviour is people being social.

Of course, intimidation, abuse and violence should be dealt with seriously – though I’m sure they’re actual crimes and there are actual laws covering them. From the start, the non-concept of anti-social behaviour was doomed to devolve into the kind of hazy anecdotal bullshittery much-beloved of the Daily Mail.

So, what to do? Nothing. The government won’t put up the funds to flood the streets with coppers. And besides, extra bobbies would surely be as impotent as anyone when confronted with a group of youths ‘hanging out’ in public places shamelessly not committing any crimes.

Regardless, I’m excited to see how the coalition responds to this. Given all their attacks on New Labour’s civil liberties record (which was synonymous with their wasted attempts to curtail anti-social behaviour), will they echo the mistakes of the past or make entirely new ones?

From saviour to smug git: the decline of Nick Clegg (part 1)

There’s a saying: “love is blind, marriage is an eye-opener”. While I’m sure ‘love’ isn’t the right word to describe the public’s sentiment towards Messrs Cameron and Clegg pre-election (although Cleggmania certainly came close – remember that!?), comparing the coalition with a marriage has been adopted ad nauseum by the media, so I think the adage is perfectly pertinent.

As with any new squeeze, there was much that at first seemed attractive about the “New Politics”. And, again as usual, the affair quickly lost its sparkle after the shotgun wedding and short-lived honeymoon. What I find most interesting though are the particular quirks, at first coming across as so “cute” and “unique”, which very quickly turn from being the focus of our affection, to the very cause of our irritation. I’m thinking of such once-adorable peculiarities as Michael Gove, ministerial independence, “the end of spin”, the Lib Dems (in general), straight talking, political parties working together in coalition, and Nick Clegg’s personality.

Each of these deserve an explanation as to why I think they belong in this list – with the obvious exception of Michael Gove. The one that is particularly topical this week, however, is Nick Clegg’s personality. Specifically, his dismissive manner when dealing with questions. This was illustrated recently by his reaction to a question from a voter:

Voter: “How long is this marriage going to last? Only you know. But what I would like to ask is, is this marriage going to end amicably, or is it going to be like Cheryl Cole, you will be screaming that ‘I’ve been betrayed, betrayed, betrayed’.”

Clegg: “Much as your

was elegant and humorous, please do not just glibly pick up whatever a headline says…”

Yes. This was a barbed question, but does encapsulate a serious concern felt by, I’m sure, many Lib Dem supporters.

Before the election, Clegg’s contemptuous way of dealing with questions he didn’t really want to answer had a certain charm. I remember the scornful disregard he had towards Adam Boulton’s shameful heckling during the second leaders debate. At the time, this worked for him. He wasn’t going to play the media’s silly game. Oh no. This was a dude who was totally anti-establishment. Rage against the machine, man.

Of course, the Mighty Clegg now IS the establishment, so when asked a question he really needs to give a straight fucking answer and stop being so arrogant. This isn’t like during the days of the “Old Politics”, when nobody really gave a shit about what he had to say, just so long as it was vaguely radical and idealistic. He’s now propping up a government making dodgy decisions for contested reasons and yet he remains stubbornly reluctant to account for his actions. A good example is his rationale for making a U-turn on economic policy. His explanation for which, it transpires, seems to have been an outright lie. Furthermore, he later claimed to have changed his mind before the election – without bothering to tell the people who voted for him.

Clegg quipped in response to media coverage during the election campaign that he went from being Churchill to a Nazi in less than a week. Without apparently changing at all in the past 100 days, he’s also gone from being cheeky rogue to, let’s be blunt, smug twat.

This may all be just me. Although, with a OnePoll survey of 3,000 Newsnight viewers revealing that Nick Clegg is the politician they most want to see face the interrogatory wrath of The Paxman, it could be that many other people have noticed this. And they all want to see that smug smile wiped off his face.

The guy who is currently running the country has the support of only 12% of the population (and other such stories)

Apparently, the honeymoon is over. But at least we’ve all been fucked. Last week, the Daily Mail unleashed a report based on a Harris Interactive Poll that contained some genuinely interesting findings. In true Daily Mail fashion, their summary is a lesson in spin:

The Coalition Government’ s honeymoon with the British public is all but over… the survey finds that some of the shine has come off the Coalition, with 57 per cent of people describing its performance as ‘disappointing’.

But the Harris Interactive poll also identifies strong support for Mr Cameron personally, along with backing for the Coalition’s programme of cuts.

I suppose that’s true (and are we supposed to be capitalising coalition?). But while 57% described the coalition as ‘disappointing’, 52% described it as ‘effective’. “Strong support” for David Cameron turns out to be that 26% of those polled thought he was performing better than expected – only 4% more than the 22% who said worse than expected. What the Daily Mail reporter Jason Groves interpreted as backing for the Con/Lib’s cuts was presumably based on the 56% who said yes, deep cuts are essential to tackle the deficit. What this analysis doesn’t seem to take into account, however, are the 41% who disagreed with the coalition’s programme of cutting quickly, compared to 37% who agreed, and the 38% who believe the coalition has the wrong balance between cuts and taxes, compared to 32% who think they have the right balance. (It could be more accurately said, in this case, that the country was divided on the issue, but with slightly more people seeming to favour Labour’s system of cuts).

But I suppose that’s what makes this such an interesting poll: the questions are vague enough so that any interpretation is valid. With this in mind, I’ve made a few observations of my own…

Why aren’t the Lib Dems doing their own bit of soul-searching?

According to the Mail, 28% of those polled said they would vote Labour at the next election. This is down slightly from 29% at the election. This election loss has triggered an immense period of reassessment and analysis from those in the Labour party, with many members calling for a rethink of just about everything that made the party electable since 1997 and, unsurprisingly, a major lurch to the left. This followed a crushing 5% loss in share of the vote compared to 2005.

Meanwhile, after the most high profile Lib Dem campaign ever, in which Nick Clegg was widely hailed as the winner of the televised debates and both the Independent and the Guardian came out in support of the party, their vote share increased from 22% in 2005 to… 23% in 2010. (I’ve rounded these results up to the nearest whole number; for the record the actual increase was 0.9% – for those who prefer mathematical symbols, that’s <1%). Of course, votes didn't matter to the High Prophet of Politics 2.0 after he'd secured entrenchment in Cameron's government.

But with the Lib Dem vote having now collapsed to just 12%, I find it strange that Clegg's party appear completely unresponsive to these damning figures. Of course, they are technically in government, so I don't expect them to embark on the sort of excruciating process of introspection currently boring anyone following the Labour leadership contest, but Clegg's arrogance seems inversely proportional to his support. If an election was called tomorrow, the man who is supposedly running this country in his boss' absence might only expect 12% of the popular vote.

For The Party of Perpetual Opposition, a stubborn, high-minded adherence to so-called principles, at the expense of the will of the people, may have held a certain noble/underdog charm. In just over 100 days of government, however, we've seen how easily such self-righteousness has been channeled – at the glaring expense of the righteousness. If the Lib Dems ever want to be anything more than a prop for whichever of the two main parties are found the least unpopular at the time, maybe they should start the difficult job of figuring out how a clique of disaffected idealists can build support in advance of the next election.

In 100 days, super-slick “Call me Dave” transforms into Calamity Cameron… and yet is considered to have performed “better than expected”. WTF?

Cameron’s litany of gaffes has been well-reported. And with one of the more prominent examples elevating the non-existant role of the U.S. as Britain stood alone against the Nazi war machine, it can hardly be said that this wouldn’t have touched a nerve. Despite this, Cameron has the exaltation of being the only minister in the Mail’s poll to exceed public expectations – in that 26% of people said he’d performed ‘better’ and 22% said ‘worse’ than expected. Crucially, 42% said he’s performed “as expected”, with no indication of whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Regardless, as the other ministers (Cable, Clegg and Osborne) were deemed to disappoint, Cameron must be doing something right. If it’s not pissing on our country’s “finest hour” or pissing off the Iranians and Pakistanis, then what is it?

Cameron’s greatest skill has been distancing himself from almost every decision and action being made by his government. Instead, he’s touring the country, visiting the downtrodden and answering questions ‘from the hip’. He’s flitting around the world, hitting it off with The Hope Incarnate and leading a vast entourage of seemingly important businessmen, doing seemingly important things. He’s encouraging tourism, not in the despairingly modern New Labour sense, but in a proper English sense using words like heritage, in a way that will, presumably, attract the ‘right’ kind of tourists. Cameron’s been reassuringly traditional and superficially ineffectual: a perfectly non-threatening example of aristocratic folly.

I wonder if, as a schoolboy at Eton, he was perceived as ‘keen’. He certainly fits the type. And you can’t dislike the ‘keen’ kids. Though they may not be as bright or as imaginative as the others in his class, you’ll always give them an A for effort. Osborne can’t pull this off. He comes across as the spiteful little tosspot cheering on the bullies in the hope that they’ll leave him alone for another hour. Clegg is the egotistic overachiever, and Cable the sanctimonious nerd. The problem with the ‘keen’ kids, though, is that they too can be right little bastards. Only worse, because they seem so utterly harmless (after all, they want to do right, they really do). Behind this facade lies… well, that’s the point, who knows? 100 days as Prime Minister and Cameron is still playing the act of facile do-gooder, saying whatever he must to get people to like him. That may mean slagging off Israel in Turkey, Pakistan in India, or… uh, Britain in the US. As an example of his super-teflon mutant powers, which of this government’s cuts can you really pin onto him?

He doesn’t want these cuts. No, no, no. To cut hard and cut now is a difficult decision, made unavoidable due to Labour’s legacy. These next four years are going to be painful and he wishes there was another option. But there isn’t.

When asked in one of his PM Direct town hall meetings if these “painful” cuts will be reversed in better times, he stressed that these are “once and for all” measures. As Hélène Mulholland reported in The Guardian’s live politics blog: “He is not for turning things back once the country’s finances have improved.”

Something doesn’t add up here. But, I have to admit, he has performed better than I expected.

“We want the troops home as soon as practically possible!” Define as soon as practically possible…

The final question that caught my eye in the poll asked, “when should British troops pull out of Afghanistan”. A whopping 66% replied, “as soon as practically possible”. The Mail chose to present this piece of information with the headline, “Voters Want Troops Home”. Which is understandable really. I’m sure the Independent would have opted for a far more decisive angle, probably along lines I’m already overly familiar with due to excessive exposure to left wing bloggers: the war can not be won, we’re making things worse, the Taliban weren’t so bad, we just don’t understand their culture, women like to have their noses cut off… stuff like that.

The beauty of such a vague question means I too can choose to read it in a way that suits my world view…

Only 14% of voters want our troops out of Afghanistan within 5 years. Two-thirds say they believe we should wait until practicalities allow us to withdraw – presumably, this means waiting until the country is stable, secure and the people finally have some hope that, after decades of being fucked over and forsaken by foreign powers looking after their own interests, they can enjoy some of the comforts taken for granted by these invaders. Even if this takes a generation.

Whose analysis are you going to trust, dear readers? The Mail’s or mine?

“Ban cheap booze! Those filthy commoners are too rowdy to drink!” Says former Bullingdon Club member

David Cameron today claimed sympathies towards a ban on cheap alcohol. While this may be yet another gaffe, kneejerk statement and/or personal opinion that in no way reflects the views of the Government (this seems to happen a lot in this era of new politics), the sentiment at least proves Cameron’s true blue Tory credentials:

1) The rationale is based on spurious claims.

2) It follows a typically Daily Mail-esque agenda.

and 3) It’s tailored to punish the poor. Because, in Cameron’s mind and in the minds of most Conservatives, it’s only the poor who can not be trusted with their booze. Oh, and it’s only the poor who deserve to be punished for anything. Ever.

As speed cameras are being shut down across the country for being one of the few methods of law enforcement which do not discriminate, Cameron’s being careful to select the only restriction on the sale of alcohol which sidesteps any potential impact on the better off. A less discriminatory form of regulation would’ve been to increase VAT on all alcoholic drinks, or enforce an increase in cost dependent on the concentration. Yes, this would still sting the poor disproportionately more, but at least it sends a message to everyone who drinks in excess (and anyone who’s been to a piss up with posh people know that getting truly tanked isn’t just the reserve of the great unwashed).

As it stands, this idea is almost perfectly tuned to only affect the very poorest. Is it even pretending to do anything else? Has Cameron finally dropped that pretence? You only have to read the comments on ConservativeHome to see how the majority of Tories have accepted this in the self-righteous, detached, supercilious way in which it was intended.

(By the way, I highly recommend you follow the link to the Wikipedia article on the Bullingdon Club, of which Cameron was a former member. Maybe the binge-drinking lads and laddettes aren’t be the ones we should be worried about?)

Nick Clegg’s Letter to Justin Sane (from a kinder, gentler liberal conservative)

Nick Clegg - ArchMage of Political Reform and Scourge of Inequality
Me? Gay!? Have you seen my wife's yams!? Ohhhh yeah...

Dear Punk Rock star,

I’m just kidding, but if I can claim to have any influence over this government I may as well call you that. I like your attitude. I like your songs. I’ve been a really big fan since I can’t remember when. Well, since last week. But if you look at my speeches over the previous years, you’ll see that I never explicitly said I wasn’t a fan.

See, there are some times when I feel really alone, cause I don’t really have any friends in my party and I don’t fit in at work. David Davis called me part of a “Brokeback Coalition” in front of the Financial Times, so now the Labour Party puts me down by saying I’m gay. But I don’t care because I have nothing against homosexuals and David Davis is an arsehole!

I think the personal opinions I express are important (though NOT representative of the views of the government – Dave). Thanks a lot. Keep fighting – but not too much or we’ll have to get the police to move you along.

Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister and Saviour of Our Civil Liberties)

The Tories twisted view of crime (or the only thing worth fearing is fear itself – and Tory policy)

So, yet another set of crime statistics are released showing crime has fallen since Labour came to power in 1997. Not just a little, but by a whopping 43%. And what has been the public reaction to this piece of reassuring news?

Let’s take a look at a fairly representative comment on the Daily Mail:

Of course, the statistics are wrong! After all, didn’t David Cameron stand up during Prime Minister’s Questions the other day and say with a straight face that violent crime had “nearly doubled” under Labour?

Is it possible that David Cameron, the Tories and the majority of Daily Mail readers are all deluded idiots, clinging on to a world view that is scarily out of touch with reality? Yes.

The fact is the British Crime Survey (BCS) does not base its results on police records. Its researchers speak directly to the public and so it covers both reported and unreported crime. The claim then that this decrease is only due to people “not bothering” to report crimes is absolutely absurd.

Furthermore, the statistics quoted by David Cameron are the police-recorded crime figures. These do indeed show an increase in certain crimes under Labour, but are considered a far less reliable measurement because methods in how police record crime vary over time. They’re also affected by factors such as government initiatives that lead to a higher number of people reporting crimes they otherwise wouldn’t have. That’s right. Despite the wailing of the Daily Mail masses, public experience of crime has dramatically fallen while reported crime has gone up. The exact opposite of what they believe to be true!

But back to Cameron, who really should know better. He’s deliberately cherry-picking a different set of measurements to pander to people’s fears and try to create the illusion of a crimewave – the “broken Britain” of his dreams.

Such casual cynicism is bad enough, but there is a distinctly sinister side to this story that goes beyond just another case of bullshitting politicians speaking bullshit.

According to the BCS, the only category that has shown an increase has been sexual offences. This particular offence is based on reported crime figures from the police and has seen a 6% rise compared to last year. This includes a 15% rise in rapes against women.

So, while the Tories aim to cut police numbers and roll back crime prevention measures, such as CCTV and speed cameras, the most significant piece of crime legislation suggested so far has been to grant anonymity to men accused of rape! Even Tory MPs (the female ones, at least) object to this on the grounds that it sends a negative message about women who accuse men of rape, and campaigning groups claim that such a move would deter victims of sexual abuse from identifying their attackers.

Why have the Tories chosen rape to introduce laws that will protect the accused? Let’s check in on another fairly representative comment from the Daily Mail:

We can mock the Daily Mail for its shoddy journalism and laugh at its readers for their ignorance, but when the government appears to echo such sick sentiments and actually believe it as well, you start to realise that the “nasty party” is even worse than you ever imagined…