Saturday, 5 November 2011

I see my enemy, and he is me.

A little exercise in speech-writing, I can't quite remember whether this was supposed to be a SNPer waxing lyrical in favour of Scotland breaking up the UK and getting closer to the EU, or a Eurosceptic advocating breaking away from the EU while staunchly defending retaining the UK.

It is so hard to keep them straight.

We are a sovereign nation with a long and proud history behind it. We are a people with our own unique culture, society, and language. Alongside this great heritage of the past we can also rightfully take pride in our country's present.

We hold our sovereignty dear, the right to determine our own laws and make our own decisions rather than have them dictated to us by foreign politicians sitting in a distant building who neither understand nor represent our country.

There are some people who will stand up and start scaremongering. They will tell you we are too weak or too small to survive on our own, that our day is done and we must resign ourselves to our lesser status, content ourselves with begging for table scraps. They will try to make you afraid. and they are wrong.

We have the resources, the ability, and the strength of will to stand tall amongst other nations; and not just to stand tall but to stand on our own two feet. We'd be able to tailor our economic policies to suit our individual needs rather than an unwieldy one size fits all strategy. Freeing ourselves from outside restraints will allow us to be more competitive in the global marketplace and more attractive to business. This is not a move that will weaken our country, but build solid foundations for a more prosperous future.

There are some who will say that the large number of people who support this move are doing so out of small-mindedness when in truth it is them, blinded by their smugness who are too small minded to see the opportunities that it will open.

This is not a move based on isolationism, far from it. This will not cut us off but instead give us the freedom to develop stronger and more equal links with the rest of the world. It is based upon the fundamental right of a free people to be governed as they see fit, and leading towards

Saturday, 29 October 2011

DNA and means

Right, back in the saddle as it were. A while ago I tore a tendon and caused a small fracture in one of my fingers playing rugby that has made typing at least awkward if not all that difficult hence the silence.

In terms of party policy I feel there are always two types of policies. There are things we simply believe in, that are part of the party's dna (see how I'm working in the title here) and are advocated for their own sake. For the Lib Dems the easiest example of this would be civil liberties, we believe they are a good thing in of themselves and therefore advocate them.

The second type is an 'objectives' policy, namely policies that we support because we believe they will have good outcomes. This covers a fairly wide variety of policies from the economy to health etc.

Of course it's more complicated than this (it always bloody is) as ways and means intertwine with each other, inform each other, and generally muddy the waters in a very unhelpful way. But it's always there, really why something is being advocated is a greater insight into a political philosophy than what is being advocated.

It's also a shifting point. It is hard to change a value that you (or your party) believe is inherently right. Once it is made into a means to an end then you can adjust it in ways you claim better achieves that end. If you're a leader of a party that has a policy of high tax rates for the sake of greater redistribution of wealth then it's hard to credibly argue that lowering the top tax rate is in line with that. It's just a u-turn.

If you first shift your argument that high tax rates are for the sake of raising high revenue then the headline policy hasn't changed, and the alteration is a detail if not just a change of emphasis. It's hard to raise passion about the change in philosophical reasoning for the same policy that you already had. Emphasise the importance of actual policy, what you actually want to do. The trick's half done in plain sight, but although people notice they don't care.

Then you can make the headline policy shift to a lower top rate tax and your line is clear, you want high tax revenue, your aims haven't changed you've just found a better way of achieving them. Flip the script and play up what you believe in as important, and that should be the trick done.

That underplays the obstacles of course, the faster you have to do it, the more awkward the particular political issue, and most importantly people trying to stop you are the fun obstacles a carefree leader attempting to rewrite his party's principles runs into. The whole point is to attempt to avoid any comparisons between stages 1 and 3. a=b b=c but if a and c are put next to each other then they're going to explode in a messy cloud of u-turn accusations.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


I'm left distinctly underwhelmed by this Vince Cable story frankly. I was all geared up to wade in and it's just such an anti-climax. After all the hype of Cable as a tax dodger, avoider, evader and possibly invisible ninja I read through the sun article and find this (later on of course, the later something is in an article the less attention people pay to it):

"They said an error was discovered by his personal accountants in January while his tax return for the previous financial year was being finalised. The accountants immediately alerted HMRC officials"

Now I'm a long way from being any sort of accountant, let alone an expert on any sort of elusive manoeuvring on the grounds of tax. But I'd have thought that one of the main rules to do it would be to well, not call up Revenue and Customs to tell them you haven't paid enough tax. Seems a bit of a giveaway, maybe it's one of those double-bluff things.

Really the most interesting thing is the Sun's line on it, namely that the knives are out for Vince Cable and I suspect Lib Dems in general. Not a surprise certainly, hostility from the newspapers generally and especially the tabloids is mostly part and parcel of being a Lib Dem, but still a concerning indicator. We're clearly well above the parapet for the rest of this parliament (a good thing) but while the other two usually have at least some of the press fighting their corner (although there doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm in the Red-Ed corner) we may have to face down years of being fired upon from all sides.

The Huhne story seems to be going nowhere very slowly and repetitively, this is likewisea very small spark fanned into an awful lot of smoke, but all mud hurled leaves a little bit on its target and another 3 1/2 years of this could build up enough to make a difference.

Or in short the story doesn't worry me, its delivery does.

Cable fails to pay tax bill

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A very late Saturday quote

I'm a bit behind on this obviously. Saturday was rather interrupted by a rugby game followed by a post-match meet up that was of course very very sober. So sober in fact that it weighed heavily upon my head for most of the next day. So I'm taking today as Saturday.

Where a historian has to rely on one document he is safe, but if there are two to be consulted he was in difficulty, and if three were available his position was hopeless.

A quote I've seen attributed to George Bernard Shaw but (as I mentioned recently) quotes are hard to verify and he's also one of those that tends to have these sort of saying attached to him. I've been unable to track it down definitively in the very small amount of whimsical time I've tried to do so in. But really most quotes are just as valid whether said by a famous wit or mumbled out a nonentities mouth (on a side note, I remember phsyics quote about not being able to distinguish between world class scientists and the ravings of drunks sleeping on park benches that came to mind during the recent faster than light kerfuffle, but unfortunately I couldn't find it again).

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

I really didn’t say everything I said

Bullfighting is now in the process of being banned in Catalonia, people far more knowledgable about Spain than I am claim this is at least partially driven by a desire to differentiate themselves from mainland Spain than anything else. So instead I'm going to fearlessly march in to a small detail that's tangentially related to it all.

Whenever bullfighting (or that old fun internet war about whether motor racing is a sport or not) there's one quote that gets dragged out more than any other.

"There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games" Ernest Hemingway

And the thing is, it's absolute bollocks. As far as we can tell Hemingway never said it. Not only did he not say it, it isn't something he might have said.

A quote from him that has the benefit of being real is that bullfighting "is not a sport but a tragedy" (from Death in the Afternoon). And goes on at length to talk about it as ritual, art, and all kinds of other things but explicitly not a sport.

The title quote is from Yogi Berra who while being very quotable with his yogi-isms, often found all kinds of other quotes being assigned to him. With good lines we seem to want someone famous to have said them and they get attached. Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde are two serial sufferers (or beneficiaries?) from this affliction.

Or as goes around in various forms on facebook every so often.

"The problem with quotes on the internet is you can't trust their accuracy"- Abraham Lincoln.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

What are you paying for?

One of the commonest mistakes made by top level sports teams (especially in the USA where salary caps make such things more damaging) is to pay a player on the basis of what he has done rather than what he will do.

So that a player in the latter part of an excellent career as a top player expects to get an eye-watering contract, but simply viewed forwards smart teams will let them walk since their probable future production doesn't warrant it.

The same should really apply to governments. The point is not who caused the financial crisis, but how to move on from it.

So when complaints are made that the government is still helping "bankers who caused the financial crisis" then they are committing the error of looking backwards rather than forwards.

Of course considerations need to be made about this, if bankers always expect rescuing then it removes a brake on how risky they are prepared to be in their actions. But that's how it should (and I hope is) viewed. In terms of future effects.

Reward and punishment makes for good politics but bad government (and sports teams).

Friday, 23 September 2011

Saturday Quote

"You cannot spend your way out of recession"

James Callaghan at the 1976 Labour conference.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

A blank sheet or a bare canvas

Much is often made of Ed Miliband's alleged (and I use the word because I don't want to get into the area of the truth of the allegation or not) lack of policies, particularly on the economy. The blank sheet of paper that is so often referred to.

This is neither a surprising or bad tactic for him. It's very hard to sustain interest or a narrative over any length of time particularly in opposition because there's little to sustain it. It gets stale very quickly however good it is. It's an obvious point, but you can't spell news without NEW. Anything he launches now will fade and become played out well before the next election, not to mention if the situation changes it won't fit the situation as well and changing it will open him up to charges of flip-flopping.

Secondly he doesn't want to talk about Labour's economic policy because that comes dangerously close to talking about Labour's economic record and he really wants to stay away from that at all costs. When it's the economy he wants to do nothing but attack the Coalition and the current state of affairs, always on the attack. A foggy policy is one that's hard to hit.

He's got the basic theme which is less cuts and more stimulus and needs no more than that, particularly in the modern era of politics (the long decline of long speeches in favour of soundbites has leaned politics towards this notion). Specific policies just give the coalition to hit. There's a quote I've seen attributed to several people is

"The very first law in advertising is to avoid the concrete promise and cultivate the delightfully vague."

and what is politics but advertising. Ed will and should stay away from getting anywhere near specific about what he should do. At least until a general election is in the foreseeable future when he can start putting things together and be seen to be offering an alternative. An alternative that can be painted new as Ed's policy with no questions of altering past policy. If asked he can point to the vague statements and say "I've argued for more stimulus".

If you believe in the honourable contest of ideas, principled arguments, and alternatives being offered then you'll be disgusted at this tactic. If you're interested in politics you'll acknowledge the sense of it (and that Ed is very far from the first to tread this path).

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A rather ruthless tea party

I watched the Tea Party debate the other night, not much changed from last weeks but perhaps notable was this moment.

Moderators always try and bait Ron Paul into these sorts of questions (it gets rather tiresome at times since they're so one-track and unsubtle about it).

In short he's (eventually) asked if society should leave someone with no medical insurance but a serious health issue to die.

He leans towards the personal responsibility but steps back (we'll give him the benefit of the doubt that it's through belief rather than political savvy) from saying let him die by suggesting churches and charities would step in.

It's a position I'm skeptical of but it is at least one with some compassion. Out of the audience you can hear enthusiastic shouts (unrepresentative individuals, can't generalise, etc etc) of "yeah", "yes". I understand the theoretical position, but it is one I find sadly short of compassion. I've never liked ideological purity, I find it leads to worrying places, and there should always be room for compassion.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Received this email today

Dear colleague

This email provides IMPORTANT INFORMATION about events at the Birmingham conference.

Please click on the link below. party flier.pdf

See you in Birmingham !

The Membership Team


I do wish people would send out emails that don't look suspiciously like marketing scams. If I hadn't been able to find references to the email address on google I'd have deleted straight off rather than try the link.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Grocer's daughter

I'm currently ploughing my way through John Campbell's biography of Margaret Thatcher, because it's on my reading list rather than a great personal desire. Nothing against the iron lady but I find biographies generally very tedious, particularly the early lives of them (where often they're not very different from the young lives of many other people who didn't go on to become very important). Plus the writers usually know that this is a dull part and get tempted to start finding clues to later decisions in the smallest details of childhood.

So far what's far more interesting is where it notes how Thatcher herself (and others) have attempted to portray her childhood rather than her lifestory itself. Or in short, the most interesting parts of this biography are the bits that didn't happen.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Ed "Roseberry" Milliband?

Archibald Primrose (almost equally unknown to most people as the 5th Earl of Roseberry) was one of those glossed over Prime Ministers who fill in the gaps, in this case the transition between the end of the Victorian age and into the early 20th century (a time of a fair amount of political upheaval alongside the switch of centuries). Wittier men than me have commented that his greatest achievement in his ~12 months as PM was having his horses win the derby twice. Damned with faint praise indeed.

He had the misfortune of having to follow Gladstone, when the Grand Old Man finished his last term in Number 10, no easy task to begin with. What made his task all the harder was that there was no leadership election to choose him, nor was Gladstone or leading lights of the Liberal party asked for their opinion.

Put simply, the Queen liked him better than the rest of the possible candidates, both personally and for his policies (he was a Liberal Imperialist against social reform and as foreign secretary opposed to Irish Home rule, both backward steps for the Liberal party at a time when Gladstone's returning reign had already held the party's policies to the lines of a previous age, possibly to the party's long term detriment. See the fast move forward in the early 20th Century when these restraints had been removed).

Now obviously this was all within the rules of the time, the Queen could select someone in she felt could command confidence in Parliament and Roseberry could, albeit not for very long and despite the disapproval of his colleagues who nevertheless weren't going to bring down the government over the appointment. Maybe a better man could have made a go of it. But the nature of his appointment always hung over him and was always a stick to beat him with.

Which brings me to Edward Miliband as I'm told we should call him now. Obviously he has far greater legitimacy in that he was in fact elected leader. But the nature of his victory hangs over him, whether from the close nature of it, the union's influence or the creative campaigning envelopes.

It's not something that in itself is a cause of harm to him, certainly not to the public who (and observe the first rule here) mostly don't know about it, or at best it plays in to a wider narrative of him as a Trade Union man. But it is a stick to beat him with for those who want to undermine him, both within and without the Labour party. If he was doing well and in a strong leadership position I don't believe it would be mentioned much, his legitimacy would be proved by his performances. That it hangs over him (of course a purely personal opinion) is in part evidence of his struggles as leader.

It'd be wrong of me not to mention the Nick Clegg comparison, since in that election (and I voted for him in it) there was a fair number of votes disqualified for being late, which might have swung the contest to Chris Huhne. Of course in the event Huhne took the party view and declared Clegg the winner said he had no problems with the result and importantly stayed part of the team and inside the tent. He wasn't hovering around in the background avoiding any flak and acting as a lightning rod for alternative possibilities or hypotheticals (although in fairness David has now tried to defuse some of that).

But in addition to that I'd argue that Clegg's leadership following his election was generally of a high standard, and also well perceived. By his performances he established legitimacy to the point where the election was a non-issue and is now effectively buried beyond mention. Ancient history.

Edward needs to up his game to bury the election, which he will if he's good enough for long enough, and hope to prove himself rather better than Roseberry (in politics if not horseracing).

Monday, 13 June 2011

The importance of context

An awful lot of 'voodoo' polls get thrown around by people seeking to make points. Notably about traits and attributes of the party leaders and what this might be said to mean. It makes for good newspaper copy, but if you want to understand polls then the first thing is that context is crucial.

If for example we'd taken polls of one US congress we might find great significance in low approval ratings and speculate accordingly about re-election prospects, because we have polls of many of them we find that low approval ratings are normal.

The lesson is simple, for any poll it is meaningless without context and a baseline, instead of thinking about high or low think of better or worse than. No matter how good a poll looks, don't put too much faith in it unless you have repeat results to compare with.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The first rule

The first thing you learn (or should learn) in politics is that people don't care. Or if they care they don't pay much attention. If you want a demonstration of that fact you can either wade through the libraries of political science literature examining this phenomenon or spend a day asking random people about politics.

If you are reading this (then thank you firstly) or any other political blog you are far far far more interested in following politics than the average person. But because people who follow politics tend to group together, whether on blogs, journos, party members, the Westminster bubble or whatever we forget this sometimes. To our cost frankly.

Most people never hear about the day to day things we obsess over, drops in a lake, at best people feel slight ripples and it with other similar stories builds up to a slight change, but that is really all. To switch up the metaphors you're trying to understand shifting sand dunes by examining each gust of breeze. On their own they only move a small number of grains of sand. Sometimes you'll get a major story/gale that'll cross over into the wider public consciousness and make a big move, but they're rare.

If you want so see any effect don't score leaders on PMQs, score leaders on the segments of PMQs that get shown on the 10 o'clock news. Or how the other media says that they are doing (often at best tangentially related to how you believe they're performing). Then apply this same methodology to all political stories. If you want to predict how people will act and react in the future to politics, you must first be realistic about what they perceive and what they're reacting to.