July 07, 2006

7/7: Freedom Boils While the Bell Tolls

Today is the anniversary of the London bombings, the 7/7 bombs that killed 56, including four scumbags who detonated their backpacks aboard three tube trains and a bus.

At the time I, along with the rest of the world, was impressed by the British reaction. "What a stiff upper lip these Brits have," we all exclaimed, resorting to the comfort of a cliché. It felt refreshing to me, having experienced the endless handwringing over 9/11, to find that by early afternoon already Radio 4 had returned to normal programming.

For me, the lasting vision of the day occurred while I was stuck in traffic on the M25, trying to reach my husband who'd been stranded in Surrey. I looked up to see a flock of sheep scurrying over an overpass, followed by a dog and his shepherd. Everyone was leaving London, even the sheep.

But the stiff upper lip soon started trembling. Oh, the queen and most of her subjects still went on as if "the incident" was just that—a minor blot on an otherwise annus not-so-horribilis. But the government, taking a lesson from its allies across the pond, decided to seize the opportunity. Those pesky civil liberties they'd never really liked anyway were ripe for the plucking, and pluck they did. It helped their case when, weeks later, copycat would-be bombers tried to re-enact 7/7. The next day trigger happy police shot and killed an innocent man.

There have since been countless memorials for the victims, but no official inquiry. Numerous raids have been conducted, sometimes on innocent people, on the flimsiest of evidence. Free speech has been strictly curtailed: Don't try protesting within sight of Parliament Building; you'll be arrested. Have a mind to read the names of war dead at the Cenotaph? Forget it. Likewise, heckling at party conferences, especially by seditious octogenarians, might be a violation of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act.

They'll even arrest you for walking in the wrong place: walking on a bike path with a view of the harbor may be an act of terrorism, in Blair's Brave Quivering New World.

Somewhere, in a very large pot, a frog is boiling away, observed by a ubiquitous camera. Unlike the sheep, who had the sense to flee London when the city was under attack, the frog hasn't yet figured out its days are numbered (with "9/11" and "7/7" being the current favorites).

Today there will be a moment of silence for the victims of 7/7, whose deaths have been used to justify the death of freedom. Wreaths will be laid, prayers will be said, and warnings will of course be issued.

Just don't ask for whom the bell tolls.

June 12, 2006

A Dialogue About Socialized Medicine

Sometime before the next election we need to get rid of the "socialized medicine" bogeyman. Kevin Drum addresses the question and provides a good answer:

In any case, the basic answer to "Is national healthcare socialist?" should always be no, not yes. We are not in favor of command economies, ownership of the means of production, or state control of doctors, and that's what most people think of when you say "socialist."

But of course no one ever asks the thoughtful question Kevin posed, "Is national healthcare socialist?" It might be more helpful to practice the more likely dialogue you'll have with, say, your brother-in-law at your Fourth of July cookout:

I'm don't want any of that "socialized medicine" they've got over in Europe!

Answer: I don't care what you call it—socialized medicine, universal healthcare, single-payer, etc., what it means is that everyone gets treated for what ails them. Period. Every other industrialized nation has it, and in not a single one do the citizens want to get rid of it.

But what about the problems? I hear there are long waiting lists in Britain.

Answer: For some elective procedures, yes. And there are scary stories about bad service from the NHS. But no one, no one, would rather scrap it than improve it. And in most other countries in Europe and elsewhere, there are no waiting lists and everyone is treated promptly. But they spend more than Britain is willing to.

Well, there you go! It costs too much, and would raise our taxes.

Answer: You are already paying for someone else's health care, with your taxes, with your consumer dollars, and with your exorbitant medical bills. In fact, health care in the U.S. costs much more per person than in any other country (while at the same time covering fewer people) precisely because we don't have "socialized medicine."

I won't be able to choose my doctor.

Answer: Millions of Americans now don't exactly choose their doctor. And no one is talking about limiting doctor choice any more than it is already. No two systems of "socialized medicine" are alike, and our system would be uniquely American. We'd be able to choose our provider, and not wait an inordinate amount of time for an appointment.

But poor people have medical care now. They just go to the emergency room!

Answer: When someone goes to the emergency room for flu symptoms, it's like firing up a 747 to take a trip across town.* Thousands of dollars of resources come to bear, resources that are necessary if you have a knife sticking out of your heart. For the flu, or any other non-emergency ailment, you need to go to a family doctor, and the uninsured do not have access to general practitioners who will keep their flu symptoms from becoming pneumonia at much less expense.

I'm still not going to vote for anyone who's in favor of "socialized medicine".

Answer: What about "socialized pensions"? We call it Social Security, but it works very well, as does "socialized medicine for retirees", which we call Medicare. All these government programs cover everyone, work well, have low overhead costs, and are by no means the hallmark of a socialized country. National healthcare would work the same way.

But we don't owe everyone health care when they get sick!
Why is it accepted that we "owe" children an education, but not health care? Either we're a civilized society that takes care of its citizens' basic needs or we're not. And employers—even big ones like GM—are getting tired of shouldering the administrative costs and responsibility of insuring Americans when other countries do that, at much lower costs, for them.

Okay, maybe we do need "socialized medicine" or whatever you call it. But it's a slippery slope, and next thing you know you're going to make me eat those tofu hotdogs!

They're actually quite good, and will keep your cholesterol levels down, but you're free to eat what you want. And to vote for who you want. Just don't lose your job, and then have a heart attack, because then you might go bankrupt trying to pay your medical bills. And Congress just made it harder to file for bankruptcy when your exorbitant medical bills have made it necessary to pick and choose which bills you will pay.

When's the next election? And where do I buy those tofu dogs anyway?

The next election is November 7. And you can get them at just about any supermarket now. 

*(Analogy courtesy of Dr. Miles Nelson, former candidate for U.S. Congress and ER physician.)

April 29, 2006

If Your Politicians are Corrupt, You May Be on the Wrong Side of the Atlantic

Yesterday I listened with little sympathy to a British friend complain about her government. There's plenty of fodder for complaints, especially this week, when the home secretary Charles Clark has lost hundreds of foreign prisoners, the health secretary was booed and heckled during a speech at a nurses' college, and the deputy prime minister John Prescott announced he'd had an affair. The Conservatives aren't any better, she moaned, since David Cameron's a wimp who'll never get elected (I disagree) and she'd never vote Lib Dem (I would).

Finally I'd had enough when she declared she'd move to the U.S., things were so bad here. Take my spot, I offered, since I'm moving to Switzerland. Or anywhere, since I can't imagine a more politically screwed up place than the United States. Our VP has shot a man, been booed, and runs the government with the help of a few shadowy figures. Meanwhile our congressmen are participating in a prostitution ring, our judges spout obscenities, and our president (I use that term loosely) openly breaks the law.

But the real difference is the fact that all this is greeted mainly by yawns. The citizens don't much care, as long as their gas prices don't go up, and the punditry finds ways to excuse every fumble and foible of the administration as if it were another episode of Desperate Housewives. Sons and daughters are coming home in body bags, yet Tom Cruise's baby gets more coverage on CNN. Katrina evacuees are still without homes, yet the biggest grievance the right-wing press can conjure is the thought of the Star Spangled Banner being sung in Spanish.

The cocksure Bush administration even dares to put the fox right in the henhouse, knowing Tony Snow of Fox News is hardly the predator BBC's John Humphrys is.

But I'm hardly ready to let Labour off the hook, just because they don't win the King John Award for Worst. Administration. Ever. No, they deserve a special ring in Hell, if for nothing more than spending £7,000 on Cherie Blair's haircuts. Local elections are coming up, and my prediction is Labour will learn the booing wasn't just a bunch of disgruntled nurse trainees.

The U.S. electorate will get its own chance to throw some of the bums out in November, but I don't see that happening, unless celebrities everywhere suddenly become sterile.

March 26, 2006

Giving Blair, Bush and Cheney What For

Many Americans think Tony Blair is a kinder, gentler, less corrupt George Bush. Over here on this side of the pond we know better.

Lately the news over here is all about loans made to the Labour party, by people naturally hoping to be paid back in either a nice government contract, or permission to build their Tesco store in my little village, or perhaps, if the government is all out of more lucrative perks, a peerage.

There was relief in sight, as Tony Blair had announced months ago that he would not serve out his third term, and would resign (leaving the reins with Gordon Brown, presumably) before the next election sometime in the hazy future.

Now he says he regrets saying that.

What are we to do? Bloggerheads has an answer, and it ain't pretty:

This shit must end

All of these matters and more need to be addressed. Without fear. I say we that we should let the record show that Britain stood up for what's right and gave Blair what for.

Yes, we may end up with an interim, crippled or Tory government as a result, but - at this stage - that's better than what we have and more than we deserve.

One last time, folks.... over the top we go. And this time let's finish the job.

Attention all troops

This is a formal call for an ammunition check. What have we got that we haven't used? What have we got that can be used again? Count it, check it, and get ready to use it. Blair must fall.

I'd like to amend his words only slightly, and insert "Bush and Cheney" in amongst the list of those we give what for.

Because whatever Blair has done, Bush and Cheney have done better. But they all three must go. Russ Feingold gets this. He's loaded his ammo and is taking the first shots.

The question that must be asked now, rather than when the history books are written, is, when our country needed protecting, where were the rest of the Democrats in Congress? 

March 13, 2006

Consider Your Position

Sir Ian Blair, the chief of the Metropolitan Police, has been caught taping his conversations with the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, without his knowledge. He is being told he should "consider his position."

In other news, George Bush, who secretly wiretapped thousands of American citizens without their knowledge, is being told to "consider his position" by Senator Russ Feingold, who is introducing a motion in Congress to censure him.

March 03, 2006

Friday Sheep Blogging: Political Animal Version


Tony Blair's sheep hurry off to Ladbrokes to put their money on his departure.

These days the New Labour Party is in trouble. When they win a byelection, it's termed "shocking".  With a leader who's over the hill, politically, the backbenchers keep threatening to revolt, over the education bill, the terror bill, the latest Cabinet scandal—they need a stern border collie to keep them in line.

The other pastures are looking greener these days.

The Tories have a young, attractive leader who talks about poverty in a way only an Etonian can: "I'm not actually poor, but I did tour Africa in my gap year." David Cameron, who seems to have forgotten what the Tories stand for, wants to eliminate the last vestiges of royal power, even though he's a fifth cousin a few times removed from Her Majesty. The herd wonders if he's been munching on the wrong kind of grass.

And now the Liberal Democrats have a new leader too, having kicked poor Charles Kennedy out on his drunken bum. They've tried a new tactic. Instead of electing a youngster who changes nappies and advocates for strict environmental policies while Bono whispers from his iPod, they've gone with wisdom and a knighthood: 64-year old former Olympian Sir Menzies Campbell. (That's pronounced "Meng-ies", or Ming for short.) This old Scot has been around the hillock a time or two; he knows the Lib Dem party line and sticks to it: environment and poverty. "Greener pastures for all, I say!" The herd agrees.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair's sheep are sheep no longer; the backbenchers frolic at Ladbrokes, placing bets on how long he sticks around before handing over the shepherd's hook to Gordon Brown.

I caught these sheep at Chequers running away, whether toward greener pastures or from the dogs is anyone's guess.

January 26, 2006

Short Note on UK Politics

I will be happy when I live in a world where a politician can casually mention he's gay without it becoming the headline for the day.

The other headline today is George Galloway's dismissal from Big Brother. The TV show, not the consortium. Apparently his cat imitation didn't go over so well.

I will be happy when I live in a world where a politician can casually dance in a red leotard without it becoming the headline for the day.

January 19, 2006

Leak Soup

(If you've Googled your way in here looking for "leak soup", you've misspelled "leek" and should go here for a real recipe.)

I've wondered before about the high volume of leaks coming out of the British government, particularly the Foreign Office, and now there's word of another one:

The document shows that the government has been aware of secret interrogation centres, despite ministers' denials. It admits that the government has no idea whether individuals seized by British troops in Iraq or Afghanistan have been sent to the secret centres.

In addition, the documents indicate that the U.K. is a-okay with the U.S. doing its dirty work, since the threshold for defining torture is lower here than in the U.S.:

The document says that in the most common use of the term - namely, involving real risk of torture - rendition could never be legal. It also says that the US emphasised torture but not "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment", which binds Britain under the European convention on human rights. British courts have adopted a lower threshold of what constitutes torture than the US has.

It appears the Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs will pursue the matter in Parliament. Meanwhile, we have the British blogosphere:

Curious Hamster and Ringverse and Bloggerheads with a nice round-up of commentary. Finally, Craig Murray, who knows a thing or two about leaking, has made this the Leak of the Week. (Last week's Leak was a Swiss leak, which indicates all of Europe is aleak over this rendition issue. Wonder why that could be?)

January 10, 2006

A Good Start

Impeach Blair, says Sir Michael Rose, former commander of the UN protection force in Bosnia:

Most importantly a clear justification for the war in Iraq was never sufficiently made by Tony Blair - for the intelligence he presented was always embarrassingly patchy and inconsistent.

Sir Michael has concerns about how intelligence was evaluated:

No intelligence can ever be taken at face value. Indeed it is negligent so to do.

Will Parliament vote to impeach? Not bloody likely. Not unless we have mobs in Parliament Square every day, calling for Blair's figurative head. But now it's a crime to protest anywhere near Westminster (unless your name is Brian Haw and you've been at it for years).

And this in a country that once lopped off their king's head for disregarding the will of the people.

December 30, 2005

The War on Despotism Begins at Home

If, as the administration would have had us believe, we are fighting an international war on despotism ("He gassed his own people!") then we really ought to be invading countries like Uzbekistan.

The following memos were published by Craig Murray, former U.K. ambassador to Uzbekistan, after he disagreed with British policy on supporting the U.S. policy toward Uzbekistan:

...The Economist also spoke of "the growing despotism of Mr Karimov" and judged that "the past year has seen a further deterioration of an already grim human rights record". I agree.

Between 7,000 and 10,000 political and religious prisoners are currently detained, many after trials before kangaroo courts with no representation. Terrible torture is commonplace: the EU is currently considering a demarche over the terrible case of two Muslims tortured to death in jail apparently with boiling water. Two leading dissidents, Elena Urlaeva and Larissa Vdovna, were two weeks ago committed to a lunatic asylum, where they are being drugged, for demonstrating on human rights. Opposition political parties remain banned. There is no doubt that September 11 gave the pretext to crack down still harder on dissent under the guise of counter-terrorism.

Instead, we're their greatest ally:

Last year the US gave half a billion dollars in aid to Uzbekistan, about a quarter of it military aid. Bush and Powell repeatedly hail Karimov as a friend and ally. Yet this regime has at least seven thousand prisoners of conscience; it is a one party state without freedom of speech, without freedom of media, without freedom of movement, without freedom of assembly, without freedom of religion. It practices, systematically, the most hideous tortures on thousands. Most of the population live in conditions precisely analogous with medieval serfdom.

The result:

He [the dictator Karimov]– and they [the U.S.] – are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West?

For more context, read Phil E's post at The Sharpener. 

Other British bloggers are all over the story, here, here, and here. American bloggers are reporting this as well. The mainstream media, however, is once again lagging behind.

November 09, 2005

What Blair's Loss Means

Not even Gordon Brown could save the terror bill. Blair lost his first vote since coming to power in '97. Michael Howard called on him to resign. (He's not, more's the pity.) And most importantly, if I'm arrested while walking on a bike path, or taking photos from a train, (both of which crimes I've committed) I won't have to spend 90 days in jail.


Gordon Brown, Letting Me Down

There's an anti-terrorism bill that's been knocking around Parliament for weeks now, with the main bone of contention being an increase in the number of days a suspected terrorist can be held without charge, from the current 14 days to 90 days. Compromisers want to settle for 28 days, but Labour is holding out for the full 90 days. (Remind me again how quickly police learned the identity of the 7/7 bombers and exposed their cell? Less than 14 days, if I remember right.)

For a while, it looked like the government would be defeated, as backbenchers bailed on them.

But today I've just heard Chancellor Gordon Brown is cutting short a short visit to Israel to come back and twist Labour arms. Seems he arrived at 3 a.m. for a two day visit, and upon receiving a call, elected to turn right around, dumping on the Israelis.

Now, regular readers know I've something of a crush for Gordon Brown, but that's all over. I can't be hearting a man who, when the going gets tough, frowns on our civil liberties.

November 07, 2005

Does Savile Row Sew Sackcloth These Days?

Tony Blair's trouser trouble has been going on for some time, according to today's revelations by former ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer. (Diligent readers will remember I've pointed out more than once Blair's penchant for scorched slacks.)

In an extract from his book DC Confidential in today's Guardian, Meyer tells of a visit to Camp David:

Blair put on a pair of ball-crushingly tight dark-blue corduroys. I was later told that his wardrobe for the weekend had been the result of intensive debate within No 10.

... By contrast, Blair looked uncomfortable, his efforts to appear similarly insouciant undermined by the inability to get his hands fully into pockets that appeared glued to the groin.

Ouch! (One can almost forgive the man for lying; the flaming pants that ensued may have been the only way to remove those corduroys.)

Later, during a visit to the presidential ranch in Crawford, Blair once again suffered from sartorial distress:

On that occasion, the dress code was once again "smart casual". As we were called to dinner I saw Tony and Cherie talking to each other in consternation. "I am the only one wearing jeans. I have to change," I heard him say. He raced back to the guesthouse. The president, at another table, rose to his feet to give a toast of welcome to the prime minister and his wife. To my horror I saw that Blair had not returned from changing his trousers. As her husband began to speak, Laura Bush whispered to me: "Where's the prime minister?"

"Bushie," Laura called out, "you'll have to sit down. The ambassador says that the prime minister has gone to adjust his dress."

I suspect the "adjusting his dress" excuse became commonplace, as the frequency of lies increased, and the subsequent flames spreading from his pants region wreaked havoc on his wardrobe. (Savile Row tailors have reportedly been experimenting with fire retardant cloth in their efforts to suitably clothe the  prime minister.)

In light of the damning revelations Meyer discloses, perhaps Tony should consider sackcloth and ashes.

UPDATE: In another extract, Meyer hints at the source of the initial fire:

"But the high moral ground, and the pure white flame of unconditional support to an ally in service of an idea, have their disadvantages." [emphasis mine]

October 18, 2005

Don't Ask For Whom the Bell Tolls, the Answer May Be your Civil Liberties

You say you hear the sound of the bell tolling? It's the Labour government, losing its marbles. Maybe it's due to the lame duck status of Tony Blair, who's decided he'll let terrorism define his legacy (or else the terrorists will win), or maybe it's the fact the British, like the sheep they raise, are generally a docile bunch and don't complain over much when their civil liberties are trod upon.

A tale of two attacks: After 9/11, George Bush turned the nation's anger outward, lashing out at one Middle Eastern country after another, often without regard for their actual involvement in the attack. He squandered the goodwill many of the world felt for the US, but the American people loved it.

But Tony Blair, after his own 7/7, turned that anger against his own people, creating what is increasingly looking like a police state, especially if you're a dark skinned Muslim. Or even if you're not.

Police enforcement of the anti-terror laws has created some unintended consequences, including the shooting of the innocent Jean Charles de Menezes as he ran to catch a train. Others are just nutty, and the government's proposals to deal with terrorism seem more designed to combat civil liberties than terror.

Since 7/7:

A 34-year-old woman arrested for walking to work on a bike path, instead of cycling, in an area secretly designated  a "designated area" and held under the "anti-terrorism act."
An 82-year-old man (and a younger man who jumped in to assist him) tossed out of the Labour conference for heckling Jack Straw.
A French journalist held for hours after wearing a bulky jacket and neglecting to make eye contact.
My own experience on the DLR, where a tourist was surrounded by police officers after taking videos.
The government's proposal to increase the length of time a suspected terrorist can be held without charges, from 14 days to three months.
The establishment of a  "no protest" zone which includes a vast swath around Westminster.

(And these are just the incidents I remember; no doubt there are more.)

Why should we worry? The terrorists are out to get us; what's the loss of a few civil liberties? We're all willing to pay a price, aren't we, for security?

Unfortunately, draconian laws don't make us safer: When a young man is arrested for "walking while Muslim" and sent to jail for three months without charges being filed, and his family is visited by Muslim extremists trying to convince them the real enemy is the British government, and his little brother listens to their arguments, and he joins a terrorist cell to "get even"...then we're not safer.

When police are allowed to arrest anyone, anytime, and conveniently mark it up to the anti-terrorism laws, we're all in danger, even if we didn't do the heckling or walk down a path intended for bicyclists.

Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, said John Donne, who tried to warn us no man is an island. When the police state arrests your neighbor, it's not a far walk to your house.

October 17, 2005

Take Your Bike to Work...Or Face Inquisition

I wish I could say I was making this up, but sadly, no.

Recently a woman in Scotland was arrested and questioned (in-terror-gated?) for four hours under the anti-terrorism laws. Her "crime?" Walking, instead of cycling, on a bike path that overlooked a harbor. She was told she'd be arrested again were she to be caught taking the shortcut to work.

Here's the story:

The next thing I knew, the harbour master had driven up behind me with a megaphone, saying, "You're trespassing, please turn back". It was totally ridiculous. I started laughing and kept on walking. Cyclists going past were also laughing.

But then two police cars roared up beside me and cut me off, like a scene from Starsky and Hutch, and officers told me I was being arrested under the Terrorism Act. The harbour master was waffling on and (saying that), because of September 11, I would be arrested and charged.

Ms Cameron, who said that at one stage one of the officers asked her to stop laughing, described the incident as "like a scene from the movie Erin Brockovich, with all the dock workers cheering me and telling me to give them hell". She said: "I was told that the cycle path was for cyclists only, as if walkers and not cyclists were the only ones likely to plant bombs. There are no signs anywhere saying there are to be no pedestrians. (via Curious Hamster)

She's just lucky she wasn't tortured.

Today the house of Lords is deciding whether to allow evidence obtained by torture. Is there really a question here? Not only is this the next step to allowing torture itself, but evidence obtained by torture is hardly reliable. As we've learned, many of the captured "prisoners" in Guantanamo and elsewhere are no more terrorists than I am, yet will confess to a variety of crimes under even the mildest of torture. I'd talk too, if you made me listen to some song like "Closing Time" for hours on end. I'd identify every single one of my accomplices with hardly any urging at all, unfortunately my accomplices are no more guilty of plotting terror than my dog.

Although I do know some dangerous types...people who foment dissent by occasionally walking on cycle paths.

October 06, 2005

Open: Tory Leader Position, Must Be White Male Named David

The Tories have just wrapped up their conference, and in order to score a conference trifecta, I must blog about it too. I confess to paying scant attention, even though this conference was actually the most exciting of the three.

The Tories are facing the prospect of choosing a new leader, for which the main requirement seems to be being named "David" or even the doubly davidicious "David Davis". From what I can tell, the process is nothing like the American primaries, whereby lots of mud is thrown about, serving to disenchant the vast percentage of the populace, who then stay home on election day, allowing the party faithful to elect a candidate, who will in all probability be defeated in November. (Master of the run-on sentence, I am.)

Come to think of it, it's not all that different. After a handful of candidates declare they are running for leader, the MPs vote for their favorites, narrowing the field to the top two, and then the party members*  vote for one of these. (Before you express shock at the lack of democracy involved, remember they've come a long way from the days when the main requirements for leading the country were, one, who was your daddy, and two, how big an army do you have.)

My imaginary vote goes to David Cameron, who I heard mention how the Tories should pay more attention to Darfur. Bravo, that. Of course, I would never use my imaginary vote to vote Tory; I'm more of a Lib Dem girl, but it's nice to see the Tories recognize that all the cool kids these days are socially liberal.

The final decision will be made in December. After participating in a grueling American primary season, I can see some value to such a short and sweet campaign. Maybe the Brits could teach us something about this voting business after all.

May the best David win.

*(aka party faithful; hardly anyone is a member of a party, as it would make one look a little too earnest wouldn't it?)

September 29, 2005

"Bollocks to Blair"

There. I've gone and done it. Shouted at the top of my keyboard, so to speak. I expect the police at the door any moment, with a warrant to shut down my TypePad account.

Horse and Hound (yes, that one) has the background.  Seems a woman was arrested for wearing just such a slogan on a t-shirt. And you've no doubt heard about the 82-year-old man who was tossed out of Labour's conference yesterday for heckling Jack Straw, then refused readmittance under the prevention of terrorism act. (Today everyone from Tony Blair on down are tripping over themselves to say sorry.) Phil E. has more here.

Then we have the story about the man arrested for suspicious behaviour on the tube. Playing with a phone, wearing the requisite "bulky jacket", avoiding eye contact—why, what was he thinking?

Probably something similar to what I was thinking a couple of weeks ago.

It all sounds like a bad joke, but I wish I were making it up. Civil liberties are disappearing faster than you can say "I'm innocent" around here.

In other news, at least 60 were killed in Iraq today. Bollocks to Blair.

September 27, 2005

Never a Frown, With Gordon Brown

Labour is having their conference this week, and it's turning out to be a yawner. Literally, I mean: The Metro had a front page photo yesterday of John Prescott, Tony Blair, Tessa Jowell, and Gordon Brown. Three of them were nodding off, with Tessa Jowell even leaning onto Tony's shoulder. But ever vigilant Tony was wide awake, with good reason. Professional Blair-watchers claim there's increasing pressure for him to resign or at least announce a timetable for withdrawal. (His own, I mean, thus making room for the expected ascendancy of Gordon Brown to the throne leadership position.)

Labour hasn't asked my opinion (though I've given it, more than once), probably because I can't vote here, but I think Tony should immediately hand over the keys to Gordon. Mainly, I just want to see more of Gordon on TV, since I have a fondness for tousle-haired intellectual types. It's superficial of me, though he does seem a capable chap.

Even when he's off leash, Tony and his dysfunctional morality don't exactly inspire confidence. Giscard d'Estaing has even come back from the dead to complain about his lack of accomplishments during his six-month tenure as EU president.

I still have visions of Tony, pants alight, hurtling around Europe, trying to convince his pals Jacques and Gerhard that his new chum George really is meant to be taken seriously. "Come now, fellows, the cowboy hat is just a prop, and his swagger isn't nearly as pronounced in real life." And the chili at the ranch didn't give him diarrhea, either: those are actually smoke stains on his pants.

(I've changed my mind; no early withdrawal. Who will we kick around when Tony's gone?)

I think it's nice, though, that Gordon Brown has his own song, a catchy little tune by the Stranglers. The lyrics go something like this:

Gordon Brown, texture like sun
Lays me down with my mind she runs
Throughout the night
No need to fight
Never a frown with Gordon Brown
Every time just like the last
On her ship tied to the mast
To distant lands
Takes both my hands
Never a frown with Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown, finer temptress
Through the ages she's heading west
From far away
Stays for a day
Never a frown with Gordon Brown

Never a, never a, never a frown
With Gordon, with Gordon Brown

Hopefully someone somewhere will do a more substantive wrap up of the Labour conference. I was wrong, incidentally, about the lack of blog coverage of the Lib Dems' conference. One blogger has put forth a pretty good account of what went on in Blackpool. Contrary to press reports, it wasn't all gloom and doom.

I like the glitz and glamor version of conference reporting myself, so if anyone has news of what Cherie's wearing (as long as it's not one of those nasty barristers' wigs) I'd appreciate a heads up. Singed pants, I hear, are out this year.

September 22, 2005

A Kennedy Speaks

Slipping on my anorak and checking the train schedule...the Lib Dem party conference may be ignored by the blogosphere, but I appreciate speeches by honest politicians. Not to mention humor:

The Prime Minister was delighted he had a hand in bringing the Olympics to London.
It’s said on hearing the news he punched the air.
He’s getting more like John Prescott everyday.
But at least he’s not yet claimed credit for the Ashes.

Partisan swipes aside, Charles Kennedy says what a lot of us wish the Democrats would say. (And without his fellow Scot George Galloway's baggage.) I don't think he'd mind if anyone stole his lines (Joe Biden, are you listening?) so here are a few of my favorites:

On terrorism and the absurd anti-freedom laws proposed by the government:

"The terrorist seeks to smash the most fundamental liberty of all – the right to lead our everyday lives on the basic assumption of safety.
There can be no compromise with such a mentality."

"There can be no consensus on detaining people for three months without charge. That’s a prison sentence by any other name."

"There is always a temptation for governments.
See a problem and announce a quick fix. 
Labour’s gut reaction is to chase a headline."

On the Iraq War, i.e. "so-called war on terror":

"Along with President Bush, Tony Blair’s so-called ‘war on terror’ has been so badly implemented that it has actually boosted the terror threat not diminished it.

"[The country] cannot move on, when the Prime Minister remains in denial.
It can’t move on when people are dying every day.
And it cannot move on when our British troops are still there in the firing line.
It is absurd for this Government to pretend that what has happened in Iraq has no impact beyond its borders.
The reality is that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake.
And given all the warnings that I - and this party - made at the time - the failure to plan properly for the aftermath is unforgivable.
The invasion of Iraq has created a volatile, fragmented country now facing the threat of civil war.
The terrorists have been given a new lease of life.
Thousands have been killed in Iraq since the elections there.
The UN mandate is running out.
So hard choices must now be made.
Parliament must play a central part in those choices.
The Government must confront the fact that the presence of British and American forces in Iraq is a part of the problem."

"His blind support for George Bush is continuing to cost lives –
Iraqi citizens and coalition soldiers."

Multiculturalism has become a loaded word here, in one of the most multicultural societies in the world:

"Profound questions are being raised over race and faith as well; concerns which go to the heart of our multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-cultural society.
Concerns which cannot adequately be addressed if politicians merely fall back on simplistic responses to complex questions, or speak in emotive or pejorative terms about what it should mean to be British today."

The trick for the Lib Dems is to combat the idea that there is a political spectrum, ranging from left to right with associated ideologies. This is a distortion of reality (see George Lakoff's Moral Politics for more) that the Lib Dems need to unmold, and Kennedy attempts, repeating "Not left - not right - but liberal" more than once. (Channeling Barack Obama?) For those still confused, he undeniably rejected the "C" word:

"But you know what I reject most of all is the idea of British politics being a desultory contest between two essentially conservative parties.
One calls itself Conservative.
The other conducts itself as conservative."

On what makes him ill:

"I’m sick and tired of hearing Tony Blair make excuse after excuse for George Bush."

Let George Galloway take his sideshow on the road; I'm buttoning my anorak and cheering on another Kennedy.

September 21, 2005

What if the Party Threw a Party and No Bloggers Came?

The Liberal Democrats are having a conference in Blackpool, an event that, were it the US and it involved Democrats or Republicans, would be all over the blogosphere.

Yet I haven't read a single post by a British poli-blogger concerning it. It's as if the Democrats got together to decide policy and Kos didn't even bother to growl "fuck 'em", or Atrios just posted another open thread. Same thing with the Tories' search for a party leader—you'd think they were choosing their campaign colors instead of their standard bearer, for all the attention NoseMonkey and Chicken Yoghurt (both attentive and articulate poli-blogviators, to coin a word) pay to it.

Is there some kind of disconnect between political activists—and that's what poli-bloggers are, even if they never change out of their pajamas—and the actual political process? When it comes to issues—ID cards, Iraq, terrorism—the British poli-bloggers fill more than their share of bandwidth. But when a major political party—the only party that espouses many of the issues poli-bloggers care about—debates whether or not to chose a new leader, it's met with a giant cyber-yawn. 

Why is that? Granted, I'm a little clueless on parliamentary politics—maybe it really is boring. Maybe party conferences really are for anoraks and trainspotters. (But don't pajamas=the new anorak?) Not to mention, I've only had one ear to the ground—the other is listening to eruptions on the other side of the Atlantic—so if I've missed an enlightening discussion, I'd love to be pointed in the right direction.

It seems to be only the British political process that causes keyboards to freeze. When it comes to American or German politics, or EU voting, bloggers here are all over both the process and the issues. I daresay more words have been posted about Germany's Merkel and her struggle to form a government than the Tories struggle to elect a leader.

The rest of the media—radio, television, newspaper—has been full of interesting interviews and dissections of both the Tories' election of a leader (the equivalent of our presidential primaries) and the Lib Dem conference. But the silence in the Brit-blogosphere is deafening.

I suspect it has something to do with the fact politics here is not so personal as in the U.S., thus stripping the process of its entertainment value. (And bloggers, despite their avowals to the contrary, seek to entertain.) Personality plays less a role than policy, which is as it should be.

Or maybe without the sharp partisanship that divides the United Red/Blue States of Republicans/Democrats, there's just nothing much to say.

Oh well. I intend to watch Charles Kennedy's speech tomorrow. If only to see what color tie he wears.

September 01, 2005

Dear Tony Blair: Help!

Dear Rt. Honorable Tony Blair,

I know I've been critical of your government in the past (I prefer to think of it as constructive advice) but now I'm writing to ask for your help.

As you know, we had a wee incident of our own in my home state of Louisiana recently. Hurricane Katrina has swept through and left things a bit untidy. (British understatement: I'm starting to get the hang of it!) New Orleans is under water, looters run wild in the street, and Mississippi—well, let's just say the best thing that happened to Mississippi is that the offshore casinos are now on-shore. (Trashed, but no worries; there's still online betting.)

Your friend George has finally left his vay-cay to see if he might be of some help, which you and I both know means tits all. Over the years, he's gutted FEMA like a trout and rerouted money meant for flood control to that muck-up you all have going over in Iraq. Ditto with the National Guard troops who'd normally help out in a situation like this. He even managed to strike a discordant note when he played guitar whilst New Orleans flooded.

In short, there are no adults left in Washington who were not appointed by the Bush administration as a favour for their political contributions. Car dealers are not very good at managing disasters, it turns out.

Please, you gotta help us out. I'll even forget all about that revolution thing-—what were they thinking, anyway? Taxation without representation, blah blah...did the revolutionaries know we'd use our democratic powers to elect an idiot one day? Most likely not; I think that invalidates the Declaration, don't you?

If you could just send in some British troops, maybe some hospital matrons, (that cute Gordon Brown would be nice, if he's available) we'd be ever so grateful. Bob Geldof would also be of some use. While the US is not exactly a third world country, the state of Louisiana pretty much is. A little geo-cultural lesson: A few rich white people and a whole lot of poor black people live there. It's sort of like South Africa, actually, and although the water fountains are no longer segregated, they unfortunately no longer work either.

So, if you could help out, we'd sure appreciate it. I imagine we could even rename the state in your honor: Blairana, or something to that effect. Sound good? (King Louis never did much for us anyway.)

A word of warning though. Since guns are readily available in Red States such as Louisiana and Mississippi, please warn your troops they may be facing unfriendly fire. Residents are armed and dangerous, sort of like in Fallujah. But I hear your troops are spot on when it comes to dealing with civil unrest.

The sooner the better, by the way. Things are deteriorating fast, from untidy to bloody effin' hell. You can use my frequent flyer miles if you'd like to fly over yourself and see how Louisiana really got the piss taken out of her.

As always, cheers to Cherie and the lads.


KathyF, former subject to Her Majesty the Queen (well, third generation removed)

PS I know you're thinking, I told him so! re: global warming, etc. etc., but could you try not to be petty about this? We need your help, not your gloating. (Yes, I'm one to talk.)

PPS I know, you're also thinking, "Oh dear, Americans will have to pay higher petrol prices--ha ha HA HA HA! Hey, Cherie! Get a load of this! Those tossers across the ocean think paying a couple quid for petrol is a crisis! What whingers!" Or something like that. You're absolutely right. Feel better? Now, could you PLEASE SEND HELP?

PPPS We did save your butts in World War II, remember. What would Churchill do?

August 04, 2005

Up is Down, and Right is Left...

...But where oh where is the exit?

The other day I heard someone say this on the radio:

"I have to say, I find the suicide bombing totally explicable in terms of the level of anger which many members of the Muslim community seem to have about a large number of things. ...I'm sure that something like the Iraq war contributes to it, because after all the Iraq war is about the intervention of Western countries in a state that is seen as being essentially Muslim."

Turned out it was my MP, Dominic Grieve. My Conservative MP.

What's the world coming to when Conservatives are willing to admit the Iraq war contributes to terrorism, while the Labour Party is still defending their war?

And then we have Mr. Galloway, who many in the anti-war left want to admire for the tongue thrashing he gave Senator Stormin' Norm Coleman, reverting to barking mad mode:

Link: BBC NEWS | Politics | Galloway praises Iraq 'martyrs'.

In one speech, the MP said: "These poor Iraqis - ragged people, with their sandals, with their Kalashnikovs, with the lightest and most basic of weapons - are writing the names of their cities and towns in the stars, with 145 military operations every day, which has made the country ungovernable. We don't know who they are, we don't know their names, we never saw their faces, they don't put up photographs of their martyrs, we don't know the names of their leaders."

I'm beginning to see why Labour wouldn't let him stay at their party. Has he not noticed his Iraqi "martyrs" are killing Iraqis?

I also hear George Bush is refusing to speak of leaving Iraq, while the Pentagon is planning for an exit, despite the lack of a trained Iraqi force to replace American troops.

Thank God there're still some adults left in Washington.

Six months ago, even those of us most opposed to the war were agonizingly cautious over the need to bring the troops home versus the need for some semblance of security in war-torn Iraq. Now we're pretty much all agreed: the American presence is part of the problem, not the solution.

And with 21 Americans killed in the last few days, does even the most strident war supporter still think our sacrifice has been worth it? (If so, can we have a recruiter call them? There're a few openings in the Marines right now...)

I'm tempted to say I see a light at the end of the tunnel, but it may just be one of Galloway's stars.

June 30, 2005

Some Things Are Worth the Sacrifice

British Prime Minister Tony Blair insists that British troops "will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed and not a day longer."

"Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it and it is vital to the security of our country," he said.

In related news, Downing Street has announced Tony Blair's oldest son, Euan, will be joining the cause:

Euan Blair, the prime minister's eldest son, is to work in Washington DC as an intern for Republican politicians. The 21-year-old will spend three months working for the Committee on Rules in the House of Representatives - the lower chamber of the US Congress.

Has anyone asked former Independent candidate Reg Keys for his thoughts?

June 17, 2005

Dear Tony: Your Cabinet is Leaking

Dear Rt. Honorable Tony Blair,

Hi again. Last time I wrote, you were looking frazzled, trousers in tatters, the campaign wearing you down. I guess you didn't need my advice, though I must point out I was right: no one woke up with Michael Howard except his wife, despite the defection of some of "your" voters.

Since you've extended your lease on No. 10 Downing, I thought I might alert you to a problem you haven't seemed to notice: your Cabinet is leaking. There's a "drip drip" sound coming from somewhere in the basement, which pretty soon will turn into a giant sucking sound when all your credibility (what's left of it, I mean) drains right through those ancient pipes.

Now, British plumbing certainly has its detractors, mainly me, but I don't think this can be blamed on sixteenth century technology. No, something more sinister is afoot. (Ohh, I've always wanted to write that!)

Since I know you're focusing these days on the G8 and EU and your cross-channel tiff with Jacques, here's a recap of what's been happening:

A few weeks ago, someone leaked a document that's come to be known as the "Downing Street Memo" to the London Times. It didn't seem to hurt you in the election, save for a few seats in the wild wild West (you know it as Wales), but over in America the thing's taken on a life of its own. There's even talk of—get this—impeachment! Yes, it's become the metaphorical Blue Dress of your friend George's metaphorical screwing of the entire world.

And then more documents plopped into the press: Raw Story has the uncooked (un-"fixed" in Downing Street vernacular) story, the documents in full. Go read them, refresh your memory.

Meanwhile, I'm dying to know who did this. Since you don't seem too curious, I'll speculate for you. After all, I saw All The President's Men. I know how Deep Throat operates.

I know some are saying it's Christopher Meyer, the former ambassador to the U.S., but he's writing his own book—and you never give away the plot, as J.K. Rowling can tell you.

Let's dig deeper.

Remember Katherine Gun, the GCHQ employee who exposed the fact the U.S. was spying on its allies at the U.N.? Frankly, I thought wiretapping went out of vogue with Nixonian diplomacy, but the Bush team must've found some old equipment in the basement. It caused you some embarrassment, and your government finally let her off, despite some pretty serious charges, since it looked like other documents might come out if you didn't back off. She got fired, though, so she can't be leaking again.

Then there was David Kelly, whose suicide prompted an investigation that, again, threatened to expose your thinking before the war. He can't be the leaker, either, as he's no longer talking, so let's keep looking, shall we?

Clare Short. The name brings back painful memories, doesn't it? A former friend and cabinet member, now an outspoken critic of the war, and your actions leading up to it. Could be, but she resigned, and probably had to turn over her secret decoder ring and all associated documents.

Speaking of spies, remember, Deep Throat was clever, a master of deception...have you checked the car parks around Whitehall? Oh wait, there aren't any. You'll have to look for someone who disagrees with your Iraq policy...oh wait, there are lots of those. Any more resignations, by the way? I've been looking for a job in government. I can't keep my mouth shut, either, so I should fit in just fine.

And I've been wanting to meet Gordon Brown...speaking of, has anyone seen him near a copier lately? I'm just sayin'...he wouldn't have far to move if you were, say, called to the International Criminal Court to answer for the Iraq War crimes you seemed so worried about in the leaked documents. I know you guys mended your tiff, but Scots can hold grudges a long time, I'm told.

But as long as I'm speculating here...I noticed you looked a little miffed with your friend George the other day, when he wouldn't pony up on the Africa thing. You're afraid he's going to spoil that G8 party you've been planning for years. What better way to bring him to heel than to tell the world what really happened in those months before war? You've won your last election, despite smoking trousers, (but you probably didn't inhale either) so what have you got to lose? (There's a nice car park in Slough, if you're looking to throw them off the scent.)

Poodles do occasionally bite their owners, don't they? (And everyone agrees you've been provoked.) Go ahead. You know you want to.

As always, give Cherie and little Leo my best. (Good thing you're married to a human rights lawyer. She may have some pull with the judge during your war crimes trial.)


June 06, 2005

A Mini in Every Garage!

Tony Blair is back at work, unfortunately. His government have announced they want to institute a pay-as-you-go scheme to relieve congestion on Britain's roads.

Link: BBC NEWS 'Pay-as-you-go' road charge plan.

Drivers could pay up to £1.34 a mile in "pay-as-you go" road charges under new government plans. The transport secretary said the charges, aimed at cutting congestion, would replace road tax and petrol duty.

I'm all for cutting congestion. My plan would involve alphabetical driving. If your name begins with a "K" and ends with a "Y" you are allowed to drive any time. (Unless your name also has one syllable or contains an "L" so just forget it, Kay and Kelly.) Otherwise, you may only drive between the hours of 1 and 4 a.m.

But this pay-as-you-go scheme (invented by someone whose name probably rhymes with "Bony Clair") stinks. SUV drivers would pay the same as Mini Cooper drivers, who take up about as much space on the road as the centre line and use much less petrol. Since 7.2 Mini Coopers will fit inside a Landrover, perhaps there's a way to cheat the system right there. Slide your Cooper into your neighbor's Range Rover and split the fee.

Seriously, what are they thinking? I won't even comment on the civil liberties aspect: to assess fees they'll have to install a Black Box inside your vehicle to track where you go. Or maybe they'll just include tracking devices on those national ID cards they proposed last month.

No, it's the environment, stupid.

Right now petrol costs around 90 pence a litre. Multiply by roughly four to get the cost in gallons per pound. (Or if you like maths, then use 3.785.) Then double that (or check today's exchange rate) and you've got nearly $8 a gallon. For most people, this is incentive to take public transport, which isn't cheap either. (I pay around £11 ($20) for a round trip ticket to London; an all-day all-zone tube ticket costs £6. A single bus ticket is £1.20.)

The roads they plan to charge the most for are heavy use motorways, the M25 London Orbital and the M6 up north. This will send drivers to the smaller A and B roads, which are less safe than the M roads. Lower income workers who must commute by motorway will pay as much as wealthy vacationers.

There are lots of variables being discussed—rush hour will cost more than mid-day, for instance—but the key problem is still the disincentive to drive a less-gas guzzling vehicle. I realize the problem they wish to address is congestion, and the environment is merely a side issue (cough cough), but the two must be addressed hand in hand.

Better, more reliable public transport that's affordable will help. Congestion charges on top of fuel duties won't get my knickers in a wad, but replacing fuel and road taxes with pay-per-use road fees is no way to keep Mother Nature happy. The ozone doesn't really care how congested the road is from which the greenhouse gases come.

There are also high tech ways to reduce congestion. Better queuing systems, some of which have yet to be invented, would help. (There's nothing like being stuck in a traffic jam to get the brain cells thinking of new ways to control traffic, even ways that don't involve loaded weaponry.) (On the other hand, sometimes too much thinking is a bad thing: see Bendy bus.) Something as simple as more park-and-ride facilities would help. Public transport is awkward to use if there is no parking near the stations.

Why not institute a length charge for cars? (Personally, I'm in favor of government subsidies for those cute little Mini Coopers. If everyone drove a Mini instead of a normal sized car, there'd be twice as much space on the roadways, and twice as much parking.)

Another worrying factor: the motivation for all this seems to be a desire to avoid becoming like California. I'm not sure they haven't missed the bus on this. If the M25 on a bank holiday Friday isn't worse than anything LA has to offer, call me gobsmacked.

The answer, of course, is to eliminate bank holidays.

At least for those whose names begin with "T" and end with "Y" and have "ON" in the middle.

May 30, 2005

"Non," Say the French; "Merci," say the Capitalist Pigs

Monsieur Oui lost the election in France yesterday. Liberals in France didn't think the constitution went far enough to protect workers' rights, so they all voted "non" which makes conservatives here very happy. They think the constitution went too far, and now it's doubtful they'll have to bother proving their case to the British public.

This reminds me of the American liberals who voted against Mr. Kerry (and Mr. Gore before him) because he wasn't liberal enough. What they got instead was their worst nightmare, a conservative who refuses to compromise.

I'm not always in favor of compromise, but when you're trying to herd 25 nations into one EU corral, sometimes you have to bargain. A unified Europe is a good thing, even the French agreed, but in their search for Perfection, they lost Good.

From the How Petty Can You Get? files (aka Kevin Drum's comment section): The constitution mentions a maximum number of work hours per week, but does not specify how many. How bourgeois! Damn it to hell!

Conservative euroskeptics here say "merci" and pass the capitalism, please.

Note: France did not, despite Kevin Drum's concerns, vote non because they wanted a "breather" after "a decade of nonstop expansion and consolidation."  What a ding dong.

Maybe he should move to France.

May 28, 2005

Oui ou Non?

I doubt the question of whether France will say Oui or Non to the EU constitution is discussed at even the wonkiest dinner parties in the U.S., but here in Britain it's the top question on everyone's mind. (At least since the Liverpudlians settled that other dispute on the football field in Turkey the other day.)

After all, Donald Rumsfeld thinks Old Europe has less impact on the emerging geo-political landscape than an escargot, and most Americans think of Europe as little more than a source for weird foreign films and those quaint British comedies.

I'll admit, the question of the EU's ratification hardly gets my Inner Wonk past first gear, but on the other hand, it is an election. Elections for me are like Westerns: there's always a good guy to root for, a showdown at dusk between Good and Evil.

Is the EU constitution the good guy, about to get stomped by the forces of Evil collectively voting "Non?" Hardly, but I'd still like to see the thing ratified, if for no other reason than a stronger Europe means more weight on this side of the trans-Atlantic scale, a balance to America and its current strategy of total world domination.

My limited knowledge of the EU and its proposed constitution comes from The Guardian and Nosemonkey, who's compiled a handy link dump. As he points out, the constitution is hardly earthshaking in its impact: it's mainly a reframing of previous treaties, a more formal structure for what already exists.

So why are the French likely to vote Non? According to The Guardian, the French think it's too Anglo Saxon, while the British think it's too French. In other words, the social justice traditions of France vs. the free trade longings of Britain. How a document can be all things to all people, or no things to neither side, is puzzling, and frankly beyond the scope of this blog (whose title is a rhetorical question, not an intention to expound further.)

So should Americans be paying attention, and if so, which side should my friends on the left root for tomorrow? Oui, Americans should put down their spatulas and tune in to BBC this weekend, but those on the left will find themselves a mite conflicted. In France, it's both the left and the right who oppose the constitution. Hold That Thought explains why the left may be wrong on this, and he convinced me, until I read this by Dead Men Left.

See what I mean? This is one of those issues that both sides pick apart and condemn, sort of like the filibuster compromise. To Americans, it will be seen as simply an up or down vote on Europe, but there's plenty of nuance CNN won't report. I'll dodge the nuance, and simply agree with The Guardian's Timothy Garten Ash:

Link: Votez oui, malgré tout.

In truth, the best is the enemy of the good. This treaty is far from being the best, but it's as good as we'll get. If we lose it, the rest of the world, from Beijing to Washington, will think we are clowns.

Exactly. My nuance-free opinion: a Non vote will be seen in Washington as a sign the EU is faltering, Old Europe gasping its last breath, giving the Empire little resistance as it trods toward Armageddon. So at the risk of encouraging bourgeois capitalism, I'm rooting for the guy named Oui tomorrow.

May 17, 2005

Best of the BBC

Via Guido Fawkes, here's a recap of the British election video highlights. The Reg Keys speech is must-see, as he concedes the election to Tony Blair while Blair and Cherie swallow guiltily in the background. (Reg Keys ran against Blair for his MP seat in Sedgefield, after his son was killed in Iraq.)

Go watch, and imagine this happening in the U.S....

May 06, 2005

"If This War Was Justified..."

Link: Reg Keys for Sedgefield: UK Election 2005: Reg Keys for Sedgefield Campaign.

If this war was justified then I would not be here today. If the war had been just I would have been grieving and not campaigning. If weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, then I would not have come to Sedgefield, to the Prime Minister's stronghold, to challenge him on its legality.

I don't pretend to be a politician, and it has not been easy for me, but it has been a very rewarding campaign, and I think it is remarkable that an amateur like me has come from a standing start in one of the most traditional and safe Labour seats of all to achieve a share of the vote which is not so far short of that of an established political party.

(From Reg Key's concession speech. He won 10.3 pecent of the vote in Sedgefield, Tony Blair's home district.)

Reg, you won a lot more than 4200 votes.

May 05, 2005

Get Pissed, Then Vote Your Conscience


People vote in pubs here, which explains everything. This polling station on Charing Cross Road had no long lines of people, so I guess the turnout was low. But polls stay open until 10:00 p.m.

This just in: Exit polls say Labour may have lost nearly 100 seats, giving them a mere 66 seat majority. Keep in mind that's an exit poll; actual mileage may vary.

For more updates, here's a list of the Brit bloggers liveblogging the elections tonight:

The CY Election Liveblog Guide
Bloggers following the Election Live
  • Chicken Yoghurt
  • Europhobia
  • Nick Barlow
  • Doctor Vee
  • Ryan Morrison
  • Curious Hamster
  • Small Town Scribble
  • Phil @ Cabalamat
  • Gordon Brown
  • The UK Today
  • Backword Dave
  • Dear Kitty
  • davblog
  • qwghlm.co.uk
  • If You've a Blacklist
  • Masochist's Dictionary
  • Red Pepper

  • Militant Moderates
  • The Skakagrall
  • May 03, 2005

    Some More Election Maths

    Nosemonkey pointed me toward this post at Diderot's Lounge which explains why Labour is virtually guaranteed to win the election on Thursday. But this didn't stop Tony Blair from using the scare tactics I described below. The only question is how many seats they will lose, and will they be lost to the LibDems or the Conservatives. My money's on the LibDems.

    If you're feeling lucky, go place a bet on the winner. You can bet on how many female MPs, how many seats Labour will win by, how many seats Plaid Cymru will win...go on, but play responsibly.

    Dear Right Honorable Tony Blair,

    Dear Tony (if I may be so familiar, if not, tough),

    I've seen you on the news lately looking a little frazzled. Not only are your trousers still smoke-stained, but the Botox seems to have congealed and your tan has turned to pallor. Worse, your voice sounds a little reedy, which I suspect might be due to what you people call "whinging" but is more properly known as "whining."

    Since I once did this sort of thing in America, I thought I might offer you some bits of advice, here on my blog. Which if you're reading, indicates just how worried you must be. (Because, as you see, the name of my blog is "What Do I Know?" and that's not meant to be cute. I'm in a state of bafflement when it comes to your country, but since other American bloggers are too busy gearing up for nuclear war, I'll go ahead then.)

    Yesterday you told Labour supporters if ten percent of them didn't vote for you, the Tories would win. "Vote for Charles Kennedy," you say, "wake up with Michael Howard."

    If I may use a phrase your people taught me, BOLLOCKS. First of all, THOSE ARE NOT YOUR VOTES! Do NOT threaten, intimidate, and otherwise extort voters who may or may not support you and your party. It's offensive.

    Got that? Let me reiterate: You must earn the votes of your people. This involves doing good things, like improving schools (future voters, remember!), helping out when people are sick, (a cake would be nice, clean hospitals work too), keeping yobs under control (but don't get carried away—yobs vote, sometimes with eggs, admittedly). There's more, but from my perspective, things seem generally in good shape here. (You might want to do something about the poor service, and those speeders in my neighborhood, but other than that, color me impressed.)

    The other part of this is not doing bad things. There the problem lies. (Yes, I said "lies." Meant it, too.) Supporting George Bush when he said he was going to kick Iraqi ass no matter what was a bad idea. Really bad. Even I knew there was no evidence Saddam had a) weapons of mass destruction or b) terrorists on his payroll. I forget just what reasons c-z were, but they don't wash either, and with 100,000 Iraqis dead, the fact they were formerly living in a dictatorship doesn't seem like it was a compelling reason for war.

    The thing to do when you've screwed up royally, as we say (and this was before we knew the Windsors!), is to admit you've stepped in it, whilst trying to appear duly chastised. (My dog does this very well. Tuck your tail between your legs and hide under the nearest large piece of furniture.)

    Come clean. You really wanted to be part of the In crowd, didn't you, those neocons across the pond who've dominated their playground, which also happens to be our world, by pissing in every corner of it. Problem is, your people don't like the bullies—think of them as yobs, if it helps. Yes, Tony, you've thrown your lot in with world-class yobs. I recommend you cut the ties immediately. (And anything you could do to improve the exchange rate would help tremendously.)

    I know it hurts, when the widow of the British soldier who was killed yesterday blames you for his death (right here at the end of the campaign too!). My advice: Feel her pain. (Your buddy Bill Clinton could give you some tips on how to go about this.)

    Let's see...what else? Those poor sods at Rover who've lost their jobs. Some sympathetic murmuring would go over really well there, and be totally believable too. Maybe Gordon could work on finding them new jobs, if he's not too busy scoring with voters—I hear Tesco's hiring.

    Some campaign strategy: With two days left, there's not much you can do to reverse course. (Incidentally, whose idea was "Forward, Not Back?" As a campaign slogan, it sucks. If you're teaching your kid to drive, however, the phrase has some value.) You're right to focus on Charles Kennedy as your biggest threat; poor Michael Howard is more interested in calculating his pension these days than in redecorating Number 10. (Even as I write, John Humphrys is tearing a strip off him on Radio 4. Why aren't you on there, by the way?)

    Conventional wisdom in America says go negative. Find some Swift Boat veterans and sic 'em on the the impertinent Scot. (Although "Fulbright Scholars for Truth" just doesn't have the same ring to it.) Call them "soft on drugs and crime." Ahh, I see you have.

    But that sort of thing might backfire here, where voters have a built in rubbish detector, probably due to the popularity of composting, as well as the quaint lack of Insinkerators. (While I'm thinking about it, if reelected, could you get round to doing something about British plumbing?)

    So go on, don't be shy. Remind voters of your accomplishments. Or of Gordon Brown's accomplishments. Good job mending that little tiff, by the way. I know it's just for show, but it helps to have him next to you, grinning like the charmer I'm sure he is. (I have a wee crush on him, but don't tell, okay?)

    A small, but significant improvement: Get rid of the awful pink background. It doesn't make you look ruddy, it makes you look sick, and strongly suggests Pepto Bismol. (My daughter made some lovely backdrops for Howard Dean, and could probably throw something together. Ring me up; I'll give you her number.)

    Now, to sum up, stop telling people to vote for you <voice of doom> "or else" </voice of doom>. It's not true, anyway, as several British bloggers have pointed out, even before the BBC got round to doing the maths.

    I'll be out of pocket the next couple of weeks, so if you need any more advice, I suggest you go to one of the bloggers on my blogroll. Nick Barlow will know what you can get away with, and you might seek out NoseMonkey and Chicken Yoghurt. (I know, the names tend to put one off, but they're good blokes.) And also my countryman Kos is there. So far he seems more worried by the prices of stuff (welcome to my world, Kos!) and the music you play at your rallies, but he's generally spot on when it comes to politics. (He'll even let you guest blog, if you can figure out the diary stuff.)

    Good luck with the rest of the campaign. Tell Cherie to hang in there, she may get to move to Bayswater sooner rather than later! (I know a great shop for curtains, btw.)


    PS Get new campaign music. How about James' "Laid," since you are sort of like a disease without any cure?

    May 02, 2005

    Lies, Damn Lies, and Management-Speak

    If I were a politician being interviewed by Today's John Humphrys, it wouldn't be fire in my pants I'd be worried about. Possessed by sheer terror at the thought of the Attack Dog of Morning Radio having a go at me, I'd probably come armed with Depends and a dictionary in case I needed to parse some language I'd carelessly uttered in the past.

    An auto-ejection device would be nice too, just in case John got his chops sunk in my past mendacity: "Whoops, look at the time! Did I mention that podiatrist's appointment? Gotta run!"

    Yes, my voice would shake, just like LibDem leader Charles Kennedy's this morning when John Humphrys gave him a 20 minute thrill-ride interview on Today. I thought John went easy on him, despite a minor tiff over the meaning of "rubbish." It's impossible not to like the ginger-haired Scotsman. He's still got the glow of new fatherhood about him, or maybe it's the glow of a politician who's actually gaining more support than losing it, an anomaly in this election.

    The other two parties have all the traction of a oilslick. Their poll numbers go down, or at best stagnate, an inevitable result of the familiarity (and in some cases, revulsion) the public has with their policies and their leaders.

    It's just not cool to admit you like the Conservatives. Due to their anti-immigration focus, the word "Tory" has become code for "racist," and since most Brits can trace their ancestry back to an invader of one sort or another, those who come in peace—"asylum seekers"—can't be seen as the kind of threat as, say, the Danes with their advanced Viking weapons of mass destruction. Or William of Normandy with his French-speaking pillaging nobles. Or Americans with their silly demands for good service.

    New Labour, despite bringing economic prosperity to the country, has its detractors as well. Tony Blair, while he gained friends in the U.S. (on both sides) for being personable, seemingly reasonable, and somewhat Clintonian, has failed to maintain good relations with those voters in his own back yard (called a garden here, a euphemism familiar to Labour supporters for whom "spreading democracy" equals "armed invasion complete with cluster bombs"). Lying about the war did not go over well. His wife is not popular either, ever since the glow of new motherhood wore off. (A warning note to Sarah Kennedy here: don't get too posh once little Donald's out of nappies.)

    Tony Blair has no plans as of yet to appear on Today with John Humphrys. Too bad. I'd love to hear him squirm through that inquisition. (I'd replace him in my mind with George Bush, a fantasy I continue to have.) Maybe it's because he read this Guardian piece today, in which Humphrys describes the lying habits of politicians:

    •"There are those who lie quite happily, to the extent that they don't recognise the difference between lies and the truth. Or don't care. Or both."

    •"There are those who don't like lying but recognise the need for it occasionally and you can tell when they're doing it and when they're uncomfortable. That accounts for the tension in interviews that sometimes puzzles listeners. After you've been doing this job for a while, you know they're doing it, but you can't accuse them outright of lying."

    •"Then there are those who don't lie. They're the ones that never get on.   Your Dennis Skinners make themselves unpopular with everyone and so don't get on and that's the way it is in the real world."

    •"Equally you get those who take naturally to management-speak and instinctively use words like resources when they mean money and actually enjoy it. Jack Straw, for instance, seems to delight in telling you how many United Nations resolutions he can remember in a given time."

    Yes, I'd avoid John Humphrys like I'd avoid the Asian flu if I were Tony Blair.

    May 01, 2005

    Do Not Grasp at Straws When Your Pants are on Fire

    TONY BLAIR does not just grasp at straws. He claws at them with passion, kisses them all over and cries their beauty to the world. Yesterday the Attorney-General was such a straw and by close of play was looking the worse for wear. If he had wanted to share any caveats about the Iraq war with the British people, Mr Blair was able to imply, he was free to do so. He attended Cabinet. He sits in Parliament. He said the war was fine.

    I'm envious of Times reporter Simon Jenkins, for having written that. I'm going to add him to my list of people who should blog.

    Yesterday the radio was alive with the sounds of parsing. How many ways can you call Tony Blair a liar without using the word "liar?" My favorite was the conclusion that he "suffers a veracity shortfall."

    Is the news that the Brits have concluded the war was "probably illegal" interrupting live coverage of nothing special in the U.S.? Are any administration officials booking Thomas Mesereau for their defense? Is CNN assigning reporters to cover the trial at the Hague?

    Of course not. The United Congregations of America (and their wholly-owned subsidiary New Labour) is Supreme Ruler of the World Galaxy and any hitchhikers can just watch while they smite international law and kill hundreds of thousands of innocents consolidate power.

    (Overheard: "Let's colonize Mars, now that we've made the world safe for 'democracy!'" "But what about the Democrats in Congress?" "Nuke 'em.")

    Here's more Simon Jenkins:

    Yesterday the torpid 2005 election campaign had an adrenalin rush. Democracy grabbed power by the throat, shook it hard and demanded explanation. The errors in the invasion of Iraq may be history, but mendacity is not mitigated by time. It craves atonement.

    Beware, you international scofflaws. One of these days Democracy's coming for your ass, with fangs bared and a mighty thirst for truth.

    Meanwhile, you might want to put out that raging fire in your pants. The smoke is starting to cloud your judgment.

    April 28, 2005

    Tony Blair: Where Am I? And Why are my Pants on Fire?

    Tony Blair must have said, "If I lied then may God strike me with lightning" because yesterday his plane was struck by lightning.

    Today the twitter is all about did Tony lie, and if so, is it appropriate to call him a liar?

    Interestingly, a poll says that among those that support Labour, one fifth believe he lied. (Forty-four percent overall believe he lied.) This is not surprising, as those of us in the United States, where it's easy enough to document George Bush's lies, watched as he skated to victory in November. And to show I'm not biased, Bill Clinton lied too, about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, yet it hardly damaged his ratings. Granted, lying about what should be a private matter when you're asked in front of a TV camera is hardly inexcusable. And lying under oath to Republican scum is likewise excusable, in my opinion. (Did I say I wasn't biased? I lied.)

    Conclusion: Calling someone a "liar" is not the smackdown some old fashioned reporters believe. Which means there's hardly any incentive anymore to stick to the truth.

    Other than a hot seat. And those lightning strikes.

    April 26, 2005

    Wake Up! We're Having an Election!

    More on the British election, for members of the class who haven't fallen asleep:

    Chicken Yoghurt has more on the emergence of Iraq as an issue. He also has an excerpt from the Radio 4 interview I mentioned yesterday, as well as a link to the interview (scroll down to 8:10). Go listen, and tell me you too don't have fantasies of John Humphrys and George Bush, one on one, live....

    Another good source of Brit election blog is Election Blog Roundup. Go here to see which candidate is getting the smirk wiped off his face today.

    Nosemonkey summarizes the "If you're against the war you're pro-Saddam" argument crap. This is crying out to be said, and I'm glad Nosemonkey has said it.

    The news here is that there's no news. The election is boring, say the pundits. Granted, it's not as fascinating (and repugnant) as Swift Boat Veterans for "Truth" but it has its rousing moments: Long-time Labour MP Brian Sedgemore has defected to the LibDems. He's urging voters to "give Mr. Blair a bloody nose."

    He should join Reg Keys, campaigning against Tony Blair in Sedgefield, who deserves his own swift boat, if not a constituency.

    The Guardian thinks blogs are "pencil sucking" left-wing and—gasp—"male." Maybe Mark Lawson should talk to Kevin Drum.

    If you're not into text, try this, from Kontraband, which isn't as good as "This Land is Your Land" from JibJab, but Woody Guthrie didn't write songs about the old country for use as parody.

    Meanwhile, I'll be here today, mingling with actual British subjects. If they're not careful, I'll blog about them tomorrow, or else I'll just suck some more pencils.

    April 25, 2005

    See the Elephant. See the Elephant Ruin the Election for Tony Blair.

    Well, finally. The war in Iraq has become an issue. I reported earlier than no one, not the candidates, the press, nor the average bloke on the street, was talking about the two-tonne elephant in the room: the Iraq war.

    But things seem to have taken a turn this weekend. After taking criticism for not speaking up about the war, LibDem leader Charles Kennedy gave a press conference this morning, joined by potential cabinet ministers Menzies Campbell and Baroness Shirley Williams. The focus was entirely on the war. (He's explained their deliberate "damned if you do" strategy was to initially focus on the economy, taxes, pensions, and other pocketbook issues, to avoid being labeled a one-issue party.) In his statement, he questioned whether or not Tony Blair can be trusted, implying the future could hold similar situations (Iran) where a Prime Minister will be forced to choose between George Bush's scheme for world domination and the British people's natural reluctance to build another empire. (Okay, that's not exactly what he said; he was much more circumspect than my fingers are when I type.)

    The press was vigorous in picking apart his statement, quizzing him on his allegations that America is determined to go to war with Iran and may bring Britain along, and his statements that Saddam's regime had been near the brink of collapse. (The press being composed of mostly white men, I noticed.) They were also inordinately consumed with the question of why didn't he call Tony Blair a liar, as Michael Howard did, and did he want to see him in the docks.

    The most persistent question was "Isn't the world better off with Saddam gone?" (A question which ignores the fact the war was sold on the basis of WMDs and also implies the ends justify the means.) Baroness Williams got the last word, however, pointing out this argument would compel us to go to war on multiple fronts were the mission to rid the world of all despicable dictators.

    Despite the pettiness of some of the questions, I had to applaud the persistence of the press, quite the opposite of the cowed bunch in the White House press gaggle. (And yes, I mixed some additional minor metaphors in here; today's metaphor, however, is still "elephants.")

    As BBC analysts agreed later, the best thing Charles Kennedy can do is continue to link Tony Blair to George Bush. The British people hate the idea of their leader being led by the rogue cowboy currently occupying the White House.

    But this was merely an opening salvo in the shock and awe "Remember the War!" campaign. After the news conference, Radio Four aired a live interview with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. To say interviewer John Humphrys was grilling him would be calling a spade a spoon—Jack Straw was sizzled, poked, and picked apart until nothing but a few feathers remained. I almost—almost—felt sorry for him. But then I remembered his performance at the UN prior to the war, and my heart fluttered with glee at the notion of him sweating upon Mr. Humphrys' spit. (My latest fantasy involves George Bush being dogged by John Humphrys.)

    The questions, which emerged over the weekend, were over the advice given by the attorney general prior to the Iraq invasion. Reports published in The Daily Mail indicate there were six points on which the legality of the war could be challenged. Tony Blair, however, has said the advice was "unequivocal" yet refuses to release the 13-page report. (Who, I wonder, leaked the details to the Daily Mail?) Every time Jack Straw dodged the question, John Humphrys insisted upon having an answer.

    Amazing. I can't help but remember in America it's whores like "Jeff Gannon" who get to ask the questions. Professional journalists who ask both (or all three) sides tough questions aren't allowed anywhere near the White House press room, and the American people have no clue the purpose of journalism is to discover the truth, not complicity hide it.

    But let's come back to that rant another day.

    Now Labour have just had their press conference, in front of their signature pink background. Tony Blair was clearly a man on the ropes. Draw a line under it, he whined, poodle-like, and Gordon Brown dutifully crowed about the economy, trotting out those sums he's so good at. Shorter Gordon Brown: "It's the economy, you daft buggers, and I know more maths than Michael Howard." (And I have more metaphors than a barnyard.)

    Will it matter to the voters? Will they suddenly become impassioned by anti-war fervor and vote for a regime change, despite a generally booming economy? Not likely. Polls still report a small fraction claim the war is a leading issue. But as several pundits have opined, the issue is subsumed by the larger issue of trust.

    So yes, the elephant has finally been spotted, unfortunately, elephants aren't very alarming creatures.

    Except when they're ridden by George Bush and called "the Republican party." And that's one elephant that won't hunt.

    April 23, 2005

    Globalization: Allowing You to Embrace Tony Blair from Across the Atlantic

    Labour's hapless leader has picked up another endorsement, this time from NY Times' Tom Friedman, a man fond of globalization, Cinnabon, product placement, and now, Tony Blair.

    Link: Op-Ed Columnist: Sizzle, Yes, but Beef, Too.

    New York Times columnists are not allowed to endorse U.S. presidential candidates. Only the editorial page does that. But in checking the columnist rule book, I couldn't find any ban on endorsing a candidate for prime minister of Britain. So I'm officially rooting for Tony Blair.

    I've never met Mr. Blair. But reading the British press, it strikes me that he's not much loved by Fleet Street. He's not much loved by the left wing of his own Labor Party either, and he certainly doesn't have any supporters on the Conservative benches. Yet he seems to be heading for re-election to a third term on May 5.

    Aside from the fact you should never go about endorsing a candidate when you can't even spell the name of their party, Tom Friedman makes the mistake of assuming Labour might win because of Tony Blair, rather than in spite of. As I observed earlier, Tony is loathed here, sort of the way Tom Friedman is loathed by the left in America. When someone who ought to know better consistently doesn't, and then uses a hard-earned bully pulpit to press their ill-conceived notions of globalization and non-existent WMDs upon an unsuspecting public, the reaction is similar to Matt Taibbi's in the NY Press:

    This would be a small thing were it not for the overall pattern. Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It's not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It's that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it's absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius. The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that's guaranteed, every single time. He never misses.

    The fact is, Labour will win, (despite the fact the LibDems will surely gain votes this time round) but it has more to do with the hope among their voters that Gordon Brown will take over in the not too distant future. So maybe Mr. Friedman is cozying up to the wrong British politician.

    Worst of all, he'd like American Democrats to emulate Tony Blair, perhaps find a clone to run in 2008, mainly because he thinks Tony Blair shares his cockeyed views on globalization and wars of naked aggression. In his strong, muscular bear hug of an endorsement, he opines:

    In sum, Tony Blair has redefined British liberalism. He has made liberalism about embracing, managing and cushioning globalization, about embracing and expanding freedom - through muscular diplomacy where possible and force where necessary - and about embracing fiscal discipline.

    Tom, you really should put the thesaurus down and get out more. (British Airways wouldn't mind some product placement.) It's precisely because of his support for such things the British people have stopped "embracing" Tony Blair. They've been cuckolded by the bride they twice married, but that pre-nup gave them a vast majority in Parliament. Plus Michael Howard is scary and Charles Kennedy just can't embrace momentum.

    And before you give any more advice to Democrats, search your newspaper's archives: we had a president who embraced globalization and fiscal discipline. He was impeached. We had a candidate who cozied up to the same principles, and an election was stolen from him. Do you actually think any Democratic policy will make up for the fact we face candidates who lie, cheat and steal in order to be elected and then claim they're the persecuted victims of filibustering Democrats?

    Maybe if people like Tom Friedman used their bully pulpit to point out such conceits occasionally, instead of embracing British politicians they've never met, Democratic principles—which are as right and true as any Tony Blair ever spouted—might actually be embraced.

    Be the change you want to see, Tom. 

    April 19, 2005

    "It's Time to Bring Accountability Back into British Politics"

    Shortly after I posted my British politics update last night, I read about this man, Reg Keys, who is running against Tony Blair in his own district (as an Independent candidate). Who is Reg Keys, and does he have a chance of taking down a sitting Prime Minister?

    Link: Reg Keys for Sedgefield Campaign.

    "The last time I saw my son, Tom, was at a railway station when he marched off down the platform with his head held high, proud to do his duty for his country.

    "He believed what he was told. But the Prime Minister misled the country, and Tom and eighty four other soldiers who had their oath of allegiance betrayed came home in coffins - having died for a lie.

    "Its time to bring accountability back into British politics.

    Reg Keys lost his son in Iraq. Now he's running against the man who sent him there. He's got no political experience, but his campaign is starting to look like it's got legs.

    One Labour executive from the district, Derek Cattell, has resigned in protest and supports Reg Keys. Another candidate for the seat, David Shayler, has stopped his campaign and thrown his support to Reg Keys. Brian Eno, formerly of Roxy Music and U2 guru, is also a supporter. (Oddly enough, Labour has been using the U2 song "A Beautiful Day" at their rallies.) If I had any idea where Sedgefield was, I'd go there and help this guy out myself.

    Interestingly, if Sedgefield votes Tony out, Gordon Brown will be the new Labour leader. Most voters would prefer that, so in a weird way, they'd be doing Labour a favor.

    Can he actually win? I don't know, but I'll be watching this closely. And so, I hope, will Tony Blair.


    April 18, 2005

    Finally, a Serious Discussion of British Election Issues

    Nothing would make me happier than to see Tony Blair lose the election over Britain's involvement in the war, but unfortunately that's not going to happen. Oh, he might lose the election, in a when-pigs-fly-(like on an airplane) sense, but it won't be because he supported George Bush in his war on Iraq.

    The war is simply not an issue here, at least not one that's being talked about in any substantial way (other than by The Guardian newspaper, which is mostly read by Oxford students and Liberal Dems). Neither Labour nor the Conservatives mention it, nor does the average bloke on the street go on about it when interviewed. Television news is all about Rover, immigration, MRSA, and other domestic issues. Charles Kennedy, who is against the war, mentioned his position as a reminder that he's a man whose judgment is sound. In a recent poll only 3% ranked the war as the most important issue, which sparked some discussion over whether or not that was an accurate reflection, but not about the issue of the war itself.

    In America, Tony Blair, despite his insistence on going along with George Bush's war, is regarded as intelligent, well-spoken, thoughtful, sincere, all the things we find missing in our own leader. Here, he is loathed. A large segment of the population simply can't stand him. I found that difficult to fathom at first. I remember hearing dual descriptions of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, in which one was described as well read, a deep thinking intellectual—a perfect description of Tony Blair, I assumed, while the other was called shallow, a performer, a smiling face who says what people want to hear. I wondered what kind of Barbie doll this Gordon guy was.

    Of course, I had it wrong. It's Gordon who's the policy wonk, the well-read intellectual who's good at sums. Blair is regarded as two-faced, a man who can't be trusted, not just over the war, but because he went back on his promise to Gordon to let the other man assume the leadership of the party, and thus the mantle of Prime Minister after his own two terms.

    Recent polls have Labour pulling ahead, after some harrowing neck and neck polling results earlier. They may have peaked too early, as part of their strategy rests on people being so scared of a Tory win they'll hold their nose and vote Labour. As in any close election, it's GOTV—Get Out the Vote—that will determine the winner. That's a lot easier to do if people think the election's close. (Parliamentary seats are much smaller than congressional districts, and a few hundred votes are sometimes all that separates the two leading contenders.)

    But there are, of course, more than two parties. An excellent analysis of the impact of voting LibDem in a multi-party election can be found by Nick Barlow at What You Can Get Away With. With 659 seats in Parliament, and Labour currently enjoying a whopping majority of 408 seats (over 160 Conservative seats and 54 LibDem), it's virtually impossible for any other party to outright win. (Here's a handy election calculator in case you're not good with sums.) (On the other hand, if you're really into graphs and such, Phil Hunt offers another explanation of why a LibDem vote isn't wasted.)

    Though the LibDems are generally to the left of Labour, it's not true that they're pulling votes only from pissed off Labour voters. They seem to be an equally attractive option for disgruntled Conservative voters, and are making headway in several marginal Tory districts. In fact, in Michael Howard's own district, Folkestone, a LibDem was his next closest challenger in 2001. (I know what you're thinking—I asked a knowledgeable friend if it was possible for Tony Blair to actually lose his own seat, and she said yes, theoretically, but party leaders are assigned to safe seats—there's no residency rule here.)

    None of that convinces Guardian writer Polly Toynbee, who is offering free nose pegs to encourage people to vote Labour, in case the Tories squeak in whilst voters beat Blair about the buttocks. Maybe it's American of me, but when she calls the Conservative campaign "low, racist, insinuating, and populist" I can't help but scoff. I know low, racist, insinuating and populist campaigns, and Mr. Howard, you're no George Bush. Conservative election-meister Lynton Crosby is no Karl Rove, either, with a brace of Swift Boat vets hanging from his belt, and Michael Howard on his worst immigrant-bashing days can't outsmirk the Chimp in Chief.

    But British voters seem alarmed by the prospect of a return to Thatcherite conservatism, nevertheless, and this might give Labour the edge. "Vote for Tony, and get Gordon later" seems to work well for them too.

    And Iraq? The most we can hope for is a draw down there, which isn't such a good thing, frankly. The British troops have an excellent reputation when it comes to policing rough areas, a deft and delicate hand (Northern Ireland was a long time ago), which is what the situation calls for at present. The world needs more British troops, not less. (Another thing that took me aback when I first moved here: someone saying on BBC that the British troops were the best in the world. Patriotic bragging, I thought, but he was right. They really are a first class military, despite the fact they don't consume a defense budget larger than the next 20 nations combined.)

    My prediction? (Keeping in mind I'm notoriously bad at these things, and have the bar tab to prove it.) Low turnout will lead to some election upsets. Tony Blair wakes up to a moving van outside No. 10, with Charles and Sarah's furniture inside, and baby Donald looking to usurp Leo's nursery. Tony trades in his House of Commons membership for a seat in the Lords, where he finds himself the only Lord with all original teeth. Conservatives wonder if it's not time to hang it up and join their soulmates New Labour in opposition, while George Bush convinces his new poodle Vicente Fox to send Mexican troops to replace British soldiers.

    And pigs cash in their frequent flyer miles.

    Major Labour Endorsements: Noel Gallagher, and Some Guy In Massachusetts

    Noel Gallagher of Oasis gives us one good reason to vote Labour, explaining:

    "Another reason to vote Labour is if you f**king don't and the Conservatives get in Phil Collins is threatening to come back and live here. And let's face, it none of us want that."

    With a look back in anger, he added, "Please don't put your life in the hands/Of a rock and roll band/Who'll throw it all away."

    Meanwhile, some guy in Massachusetts has a website where you can send Tony Blair a thank you note: (I am not making this up!) ( Okay, I made up some of it.)

    Whereas, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, has vigorously supported the United States in the disarmament of Iraq; cause the Mideast really rocks now that we've got all those oil wells nukes!

    Whereas, the United Kingdom is a strong and loyal ally to the United States; anyways, ever since we kicked your ass in two wars!

    Whereas, Prime Minister Tony Blair has committed substantial military forces of the United Kingdom to the current action in Iraq; unlike the French who can't be bothered unless it involves kicking your ass;

    The American people extend their heartfelt thanks to Prime Minister Tony Blair for his courage and leadership; cause otherwise it'd make our president look like a warmonger!

    And extend their deep appreciation to the United Kingdom and the men and women of its armed forces. But you can forget about Kyoto, suckers!

    Poor Tony. Can't get no respect, except from ill-informed Americans and ill-regarded band members.

    April 17, 2005

    Elections Can Be Fun!

    Toryscum1800x600_2The fun-loving Brits seem to be enjoying their elections much more than us dour Americans. This is the way elections ought to be, in my opinion, but of course when one candidate is backed by fundamentalists who are readying for Rapture it's hard to poke fun. (Okay, it's easy, for some, anyway.)

    Best quotes so far: (from the BBC Election Monitor):
    "Perhaps we should outlaw smirking in public places?" and "The BBC had a clip of John Prescott saying that yes, he's met a lot of Labour supporters, but he'd met a lot of real people too..."

    Now that you're warmed up, try this from The Outrage Family. They'll make you happy, too.

    For Trainspotting fans, go here, and see Tony realize he's been some kind of fool. (Courtesy of eieio.co.uk, who also have a lovely photo of Tony celebrating his ballet victory.)

    More Conservative graffiti, from the fine folks at www.toryscum.com.

    My favourite candidate is Mark Reynolds, a parliamentary candidate in St. Albans. His campaign diary lists daily statistics, such as:

    Doors Knocked on: 110
    People spoken to:  53
    Aging spaniels made fuss of: 1

    And a final quote, from Austin Mitchell's weblog:

    Jack Straw is so worried by the threat to his seat in Blackburn that he's giving every appearance of going barmy.

    There'll be more as I find 'em. Many of these are stolen from my friend Guido, whose wife was next door to Charles Kennedy's wife Sarah during her recent maternity ward stay. And let's not forget toryscum.com, who keep reminding us why we don't want the Tories to win.

    Pretend With Me!

    I'm pretending I can vote in the upcoming election, and here's who I should vote for:

    Who Should You Vote For?

    Who should I vote for?

    Your expected outcome:

    Liberal Democrat

    Your actual outcome:

    Labour -23    
    Conservative -32    
         Liberal Democrat 42
    UK Independence Party -12    
         Green 23

    You should vote: Liberal Democrat

    The LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in favour of public services: they would make long-term residential care for the elderly free across the UK, and scrap university tuition fees. They are in favour of a ban on smoking in public places, but would relax laws on cannabis. They propose to change vehicle taxation to be based on usage rather than ownership.

    Take the test at Who Should You Vote For

    April 13, 2005

    Are You Drinking What We're Drinking?

    There've been some new developments in the Parliamentary races this week. LibDem leader Charles Kennedy has become a daddy, no word yet if he's a Strong Father archetype (a la George Lakoff), or a Nurturant Parent. Nevertheless, Anita Miles of The Times scolds him in today's paper, or maybe it's baby Donald she's scolding, for deciding to be born on the most-important Manifesto Manifestation Day. She thinks Daddy should have told his wife and newborn to bugger off while he did more important stuff, like launch the LibDem manifesto, which absolutely no one will read anyway. (Just a suggestion, but maybe that manifesto could include some sort of surcharge on whinging, along the lines of anti-social behaviour orders.)

    As I've been traveling the hills and dales of merry old England, I'm seeing signs of a quickening campaign. Conservative posters and signs outnumber Labour about nine to one. They seem to be urging you to put "matron" in charge, though "matronly" isn't how I'd describe Michael Howard. They're also coming down hard on immigration, which seems awfully un-American of them. I mean, this country was founded on the hard work and perseverance of foreigners, like that chap William of Normandy...so maybe they can get some mileage by campaigning against asylum seekers, but that doesn't make it right. Does it?

    Labour, meanwhile, is campaigning to help "hard working families, just like you." Fine. But I'm actually sort of a slacker. A pajama blogger, they call my particular breed of slacker. (Others are known as "journalists." See also "whore.")  And what about the idle rich? The toffs with more time on their hands now that foxhunting's been outlawed? The posh gits who clog up the aisles at Waitrose during the day when honest blokes are out earning a living? The parties don't seem to be openly courting the slacker vote, which is a shame, because there's a lot of votes in them there Rolls. Seems right shabby of New Labour, after creating so many New Millionaires, to just abandon them.

    But of course it's all a moot point for me; I can't vote, at least not at the ballot box. I can, however, lift a pint in support of my favourite candidate:

    Now that's an election reform that makes sense!

    April 11, 2005

    British Elections: The Issues

    I'm finally getting a handle on the issues in the British Parliamentary races. On the Beeb the other day, I heard Michael Howard promise to crack down on yobs. I still haven't figured out what a yob is, but it has something to do with people who toss eggs and perform other unsociable acts, which earns them an ASBO—Anti-Social Behavior Order. Politicians are keen on stopping yobs, since other types of crime haven't really caught on here.

    Then I got a flyer from my local Conservative council candidate. He's addressing the vitally important issue of flytipping. Again, I don't have a proper handle on what flytipping is, but it has something to do with rubbish, since the dustmen are the ones to call if you see flytipping going on.

    I've got my eyes peeled, for yobs and flytippers.