From Saviour to Smug Git: The Decline of Nick Clegg (Part 2)

Tearing himself away from such important duties as helping his boss put up furniture, Supreme Architect of Change Clegg found the time to pop into the Lib Dem conference and catch up with some old friends. “Don’t panic,” he told the assembled throng of confused councillors and muddled members, unsure about their party’s political alignment, “this is the Right, government for Right, now”. [I think I punctuated that correctly…]

So, as the smugliest swanker in Westminster accused the IFS of partisanship after they pointed out evidential flaws in his flagship tax programme AND patronised his gathered Liberal flock following their apparently ignorant rejection of the coalition’s Free Schools idea, you would expect the People’s Deputy PM to carefully avoid making too easy a target of himself. Avid followers of Clegg’s dizzying (in the strictest sense of the word) career, however, will not be disappointed to learn that he didn’t (maybe he should’ve got Dave to do a sanity check when he showed it to him?).

Which is why FactCheck’s Cathy Newman was able to easily parry many of his hardest-hitting claims. I suppose with a wife as lovely and wholesome as the delightful Miriam, it’s no surprise Clegg’s on-the-side relationship with the truth is fleeting – and kinda rapey.

As commenter Cuse says:

Clegg claimed in his speech today:
“We have protected the funding for the NHS, the biggest public service of all.”

Interesting.

Wasn’t it the Lib Dems who had in their manifesto the promise not to ring-fence NHS spending?

So…he has claimed credit for policies that haven’t happened yet (closing Yarl’s Wood); claimed sole responsibility for policies that his Tory Masters also had (pupil premium); and now claimed responsibility for policies that he vigorously campaigned against in the election (ring-fenced NHS spending).

The man’s arrogance is breathtaking.

Unfortunately, Cuse does not seem to understand the nature of this New Politics. He still seems to think there are four lights. He must learn there’s simply no future for the Liberal Democrats if they continue to do what their stupid voters voted for. Making vague promises about improbable changes to Our Country is the new Lib Dem strategy for distinctiveness.

This New Politics is coalescent. It’s a mingling of blue and yellow. It’s a mongrel dog. It’s a red-hot interracial sex scene. The only constant is Nick Clegg’s unshakeable belief in… well, whatever he believes in at the time.

We, the people, can either learn to keep up, ‘get wit’ da nu programme’, or be left behind, wallowing in the politics of the noughties, ignorant of all the brave and brilliant things Clegg has done for us (at great emotional cost to himself, no doubt).

By the time of the next election, I’m sure there’ll be numerous examples of Clegg’s “brilliance” for us to look back on. Ah, here’s one now… Oh, and another. Keep ’em coming, Mr. Clegg!

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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?

What kind of new lifestyle awaits the British public at the end of this Tory/Lib Dem detox?

I was unfortunate enough to read this pile of garbage by Matthew d’Ancona in today’s Evening Standard. It’s an oddly toothless piece considering it covered almost an entire page (that’s valuable advertising space), seemingly designed to push several of the coalition’s favourite narratives. My favourite has to be where d’Ancona casually, slavishly, refers to 10-20% cuts in defence and education as “efficiencies”. And thus develops a fresh piece of unspeak.

Trust me, the vast majority of d’Ancona’s commentary is crap and not worth even a quick scan. However, one remark did get me thinking:

Tell somebody he has to scale back his mortgage, his family’s food bill, his spending on his car, his holiday budget by 10 per cent, and he will wince. Tell him that he has to slash 40 per cent from his monthly spending and he will have to change everything about the way he and his family live.

What d’Ancona’s inadvertently getting at is that, thanks to our government’s excessive cuts, we’re soon to experience a dramatic change in our “national lifestyle”. Sounds quite exciting in a “change we can believe in” kind of way. Who reading this hasn’t pledged to reinvent themselves at some point in their lives?

The scary thing, however, is that nobody seems to have a clue what this new “us” looks like.

To use a personal analogy, so favoured by coalition politicians, if you make big, restrictive changes in your life you usually have some sort of desirable end result in mind. Partly to help encourage you through the difficult times, but also to help you structure and plan what to keep and what to cut.

For example, if you’ve lost your job, you’d do well to cut down on booze, fags, satellite TV and might consider selling the Xbox. On the other hand, you’d be foolish to cut spending on transport, broadband and may even want to invest in some shirts from Peacocks. Similarly, any company wouldn’t dream of “efficiency” savings or, let’s be more accurate here, huge fucking cuts, without some sort of strategy.

This is what bothers me the most about the Tory/Lib Dem hack-frenzy; there’s no clear direction. Like crime scene investigators we’re slowly discovering the victims of the coalition massacre piece by bloody piece, but we don’t really know the killers’ motives.

There’s a vague understanding, evident in the articles of certain columnists, that a crippled public sector is a desirable thing. It’s generally assumed that this is the Tories ideological intention, but this wasn’t communicated to the electorate by David Cameron before the election, this wasn’t what Nick Clegg promised his voters, and this still hasn’t been addressed since the formation of the ConDem alliance. Also, what does a small state actually MEAN!?

Ok, we’re being told that nobody wants to do this and it’s unavoidable. For the sake of argument, let’s say this is true. That still doesn’t make the need for a strategy any less valid. There must still be some sort of end result in mind that’s guiding these cuts. Or is it simply a case of hack away what you can?

I would speculate that the Tories have plans so hideous they intend to keep it silent or risk terrifying the voters. Unfortunately, based on what I’ve seen from the ‘new politics’ so far, I don’t think even they really know what they’re doing.

Liberal sellouts need to STFU – now is not the right time for prison reform

Predictable reactions all round to Ken Clarke’s “surprising” and “radical” declaration that the government should revisit 20 year old Tory thinking and significantly lower the prison population. Right-wingers who bought into Cameron’s ridiculous “broken Britain” narrative can justifiably complain that they didn’t vote Conservative to be softer on crime than Labour. Meanwhile, lefties are practically salivating over the apparently progressive bone thrown by this, thus far, unsurprisingly regressive coalition. Amusingly, Lib Dem supporters are attempting to claim this as a further example of their laughably minimal impact on this unholy union of the damned (and damning). A theory that was expertly and succinctly countered by Sickboy47 in a comment on the Guardian:

Keeping up the trend of predictability, Jack Straw, writing (to his eternal shame) in the Daily Mail, continues Labour’s mission to alienate the progressive types they occasionally claim to represent, by aggressively defending the y-axis shaking increase in prison population under his watch.

It’s all a bit of a mess – and worth pointing out that Ken Clarke has yet to offer any specific policies. The problem is also predictable: a total lack of joined-up thinking.

The problem faced by the hoodie-hugging liberals is the clear evidence that crime has fallen hugely since Labour came to power. Whether massively or minimally responsible for this decrease, it does take the edge off the “prison doesn’t work” argument. Working around this, Sunny Hundal from Liberal Conspiracy writes that “rising prosperity cuts crime, not putting more people in prison”. As rising prosperity is relative, I’d be interested to see a historical comparison between personal wealth and crime to see if there’s real-life evidence to support this theory.

Still, I’m inclined to accept the essence of what Sunny’s saying: less poverty, better opportunities and greater equality keeps our streets safer – albeit with the caveat that while slowly creating this utopian society, putting more criminals into prison also helps.

Which brings me to my point, and the reason why I think the sanctimonious liberal lambs, with their shrill bleating of “evidence-baaaaased policy!”, are misguided, short-sighted and more ideological than analytical.

Thanks in no small part to the Liberal Democrats, we’re soon to be entering an awful and avoidable age of “austerity”, in which the poorest are likely to face the worst of it. Even assuming we avoid a double-dip recession, the rising prosperity Sunny Hundal posits as the cause of falling crime has ended. In fact, things may even get worse. The evidence does not say that fewer people going to prison is a solution in itself. The answer is a lot more complicated, involving education, rehabilitation and support. All of which costs money the coalition are either unable or unwilling to invest. I haven’t heard or read a single sensible debate on prison reform that doesn’t position the progressive argument in these terms. As Conor McGinn from the excellent Left Foot Forward also explains (although not in these terms), it’s pointless to attempt to reform the prison system in a half-arsed way.

Now, I know the buzzword of the year amongst Liberals is the need to “compromise”, which, in the glossary of the New Politics (TM), is defined as sacrificing all your long-cherished principles in exchange for over-exaggerated concessions that, in reality, have been so watered-down they are either ineffectual or achieve the opposite of what was originally envisioned (e.g. raising the income tax threshold and electoral reform). I hope in this case, they see that half-measures could weaken the case for effective prison reform in the future. Sadly, Clegg, friends and followers are so desperate for any perceived victories I fear they’ll be on it like a bunch of pricks on a pin cushion.

Prison reform is much needed, but will be a tough sell to the public. Executed intelligently, reform could transform our society and change the way we view criminality. Executed poorly, it could further entrench the “bang ’em up”, Daily Mail mentality.

5 essential resources for voters who give a shit – General Election 2010

Whether you’re a first-time voter or grizzled veteran of the ballot, political nihilist or unquenchable optimist, you probably couldn’t help but notice that General Election 2010(TM) is something of a big fucking deal. Every party promises exciting change and the polls indicate the results will be so close the next parliament may very well be hanged – sorry, hung.

Speaking to people who are kind enough not to throw stuff at me, there seems to be a niggling sensation (like crabs) that they should vote, but without knowing who for or why.

As I tend to keep rather young, intelligent and creative company, I know they’re interested in and affected by what’s going on but have little patience for remote politicians and journalistic hackery. This list is for them and all the others out there who give a shit about having their say in the future of this country but aren’t sure exactly what to do about it.

1. Finding out the truth behind the headlines

I subscribe to over 100 RSS feeds, follow the top stories and columnists of all the major British broadsheets and regularly watch or listen to the main political programmes on the BBC. From this abnormal perspective, I think I can safely say with a modicum of authority that it is almost impossible for anyone in this country to know what’s actually going on by relying on traditional news sources.

Documented examples of the institutional bullshittery, sensationalism, spin, obfuscation, incompetence and ignorance prevalent in the British press can be found here, here, here and here. As far as I can tell, the best option for the undecided voter looking for objectivity is the BBC website – but only because after you give up trying to find anything of substance you’re just a few clicks away from the latest episode of Doctor Who on iPlayer.

In terms of revealing the unelectable reality behind the claims and counter-claims strewn about by politicians, Channel 4’s FactCheck is possibly the only semi-authoritative route to the truth around.

2. Finding out which party best represents your interests

This is a task made infinitely easier thanks to the Vote for Policies project. Taking personality and image bias out of the equation, the surprisingly slick site presents the policy promises of six parties across nine key issues including crime, health, economy, the environment and immigration. Policies are shown without reference to the party they belong to, which is perhaps the only honest means of discovering who you really support.

3. Finding out which party to actually vote for in your constituency

After you’ve sorted out which party you agree with, it’s time to forget that and work out which party you should actually vote for. Pah, naive n00b, you think they’re the same? Wake up, asshole.

I know, this sounds bullshit, and it is, but the reality of the British electoral system is that tactically voting against the party you don’t want to win could be the only way to make sure your vote gets counted.

For example, in the Surrey South West constituency in 2005, the division of votes was as follows:

con: 51 lib: 39 lab: 8 other: 2

In such a battle, assuming similar voting trends this time around, for a progressive, left-wing lifelong Labour supporter, a vote for the Reds would be wasted. While a vote for the Lib Dems may not be their ideal choice, to not vote this way would only divide the left-wing vote.

The situation’s even worse when you get down to the “other” category. To use a right-wing example, a die-hard Eurosceptic may be more naturally inclined towards UKIP but be forced to vote Tory – the alternative is to see their vote, which our brave boys fought and died for in the Second World War against the bastard krauts, lost within the “other” category. The same obviously applies to the Green party. An honest vote could be a vote discounted from history.

You can find the voting history of your constituency on the BBC website here.

4. Finding out what to do about our stupid electoral system

So, where are we? You’ve found out that the free press routinely lies to you, you’ve excitedly discovered which party you want to vote for and you’ve dejectedly realised this isn’t always the same as the way you probably should vote. You’ll be forgiven for thinking that this democracy thing we practice is a crock of shit.

You’re not alone. The Electoral Reform Society and Vote For A Change are campaigning to make our system fairer. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are both making electoral reform part of their manifestos (though not for the first time) and with public faith in politics currently at an all-time low, this may be the time when enough popular support can introduce a system that makes every vote – for the first time in British history – count.

5. Finally, finding out how to vote

Visit About My Vote to find out how to register (if you haven’t already done so) and engorge yourself with more information about what to do come May 6th.

Happy suffrage.