26 Sep 2007

The Conservatives

Here are the things the Conservative Party needs to do if it really wants to get back into power:
  1. Be less like Tony Blair and his style of politics as possible. That is mainly what has worked so well initially for Gordon Brown. Accept that a lot of people got really fed up by Blair and a touchy feely immitation, however well-intentioned, just wont be popular. Serious conviction and substance will be.
  2. Meaningfully connect with ordinary people, that is people beyond London's well-off metropolitan elites, people in the North of England and the Midlands who once voted for them but now perceive them as being out of touch and without concern for their everyday basic aspirations and concerns
  3. Differentiate themselves from Labour with strong clarity an a simple message. Call it clear blue water or whatver you like, but strongly emphasise the real differences. If voters have a choice between two parties with very similar manifestoes, they are likely to stick with the one they know, rather than an untested imitation.

  4. Attack Gordon Brown more and expose him for all the things he's done that he doesnt want to talk about or be questioned on. Like his backing for the Iraq war; like his sneeky tax rises in his budgets; like his refusal to hold a referendum on the EU treaty even though there was a promise to do so; etc. Ignore what he says and judge him by what he has actually done. Demolish the received and misguided wisdom that he represents regime change and hammer home the message that he is nothing more than continuation of the same old failing regime.

  5. Constantly remind people how long the same government has been in power - sometimes they forget or overlook it - and how little it has achieved. Remind people of John Prescott, Peter Mandelson, Tessa Jowell etc. and the shameless hypocrisy and dishonesty at the heart of the governments.

  6. Talk about the environment and global poverty, but don't lecture about them in a way that might come across as patronising to many voters on lower incomes. And don't over-prioritise them at the expense of issues which are much more fundamentally integral to most voter's everyday concerns - like rising crime, failing schools, an overly bureaucratic health service, stolen pensions, a shambolic transport system and the consequences of uncontrolled mass immigration.

  7. Scotland. The unfairness of so many Scottish MPs (Gordon Brown included) being able to vote on laws which affect people in England but do not affect the people in Scotland who elect them. Scottish people can make laws for Scottish people so what is wrong with English laws for English people? The system is fundamentally unfair and every English MP should not be afraid to very vocally and repeatedly say so.

  8. Get stuck into the Lib Dems and expose them for what they really are - a party that likes to be all things to all people whose only serious objective is to reach a power sharing agreement with a Labour government short of an overall majority. Gordon Brown and Menzies Campbell are pretending not to be friends, but they will be coalition partners.

  9. Taxation. Even if future tax and spending commitments cannot be nailed down on detail, don't be afraid to very clearly be in favour of the principle of lower taxation and explain clearly why - because people will get to keep more of their own money. Taxing, spending and failing is not good enough.

  10. Question the tired old dogmatic mantras about high government spending on all sorts of things. Just because billions of voters' money has been spent (or 'invested' as the government misleadingly terms it) doesnt mean all of it automatically goes to exclusively to good causes. Plenty of money gets wasted or mis-spent. Just because you spend more money on anything does not automatically make it better. Value for money and efficiency should be the priorities

  11. Re-engage the hundreds of thousands of apathetic voters (many over 65) completely turned off by a political elite that has all started to sound the same. Grasp a distinct message and repeat it often with conviction to be taken seriously.

  12. Make a priority of re-establishing trust in politics and don't be shy in reminding people why it collapsed so spectacularly. This means all politicians being unafraid to give straight answers to straight questions and making themselves properly accountable for the decisions they make.
  13. Get the media on side and seek to set the agenda and dominate headlines as much as possible, whatver it takes, morning, noon and night. Voters need to hear a clear, distinct message as often as possible from high profile politicians speaking with conviction. Labour spin and headline chasing gimmicks must be aggressively combatted and exposed wherever possible.
  14. Boris Johnson. Don't be afraid to use him. He reaches people that no other politicians can. Why do you think Labour is so aggressive in attacking him? It is because they genuinely fear him as a formidable opponent to be taken seriously.

Burma

And so the world wakes up to Burma, for a week or so at least. Last week it was Zimbabwe. This week it is Burma.
When you see pictures of brave protestors defying armed soldiers and tanks, it is extremely stirring. In a small way I can relate to that because I was on the streets of Budapest last year when popular mass demonstrations turned to rioting with battalions of armed, faceless police unashamedly meting out punishment to anyone in their way. It is deeply unpleasant to have tear gas penetrating your eyes and throat.
If only we could bottle that spirit and determination that these proud people have and instill even just a little of it into the backbones of our own leaders so they can follow through their well-meaning and opportunist (why did anyone not utter a word before?) words with actions. Like making it very clear to the Communist waxworks in China that sustaining a nasty military regime is unacceptable. The only thing China is interested in is the maintenaince of stability.
Then there's the French, as ever with ulterior motives and contradictory interests. The giant French energy firm Total has major interests in Burma and has effectively been helping to sustain the military regime to tune of millions of dollars. So the next time you hear the French government lecture anybody about human rights bear that in mind - money used to repress the Burmese people has come indirectly from the pockets of French citizens.
Whatever you think of George Bush (and its probably quite strong either way) he was spot on with his philosophy for freedom and democracy. Every single person alive on earth should have the right to live freely under a government elected fairly by the people of their own country. Finding the means to implement such a noble sentiment - by forced impostion or organic growth - is of course the magic question. Because there are so many countries with nasty regimes who are quietly content to treat their people disgracefully. Many of them happen to be our allies. Many others barely merit news coverage. For example, how often do you hear about the human rights abuses in Egypt or Saudi Arabia?
What can we expect from the UN on Burma and Zimbabwe? Virtually nothing, of course. They might utter a few mild and meaningless words, or even issue a declaration. Maybe they'll send an envoy for a nice cup of tea with the generals. Maybe they'll agree to have some more meetings about meetings. And isnt it odd how all those who can get so angry about an 'illegal and illegitimate' war have been noticeably less vocal about nasty regimes like Burma and Zimbabwe for whom the words 'illegal and illegitimate' could not be more painfully accurate?

Ayatollah Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown has become our Supreme Leader, the strong, wise, serious, great and strong (did I say 'strong' enough times?) Ayatollah who decrees how we must lead our lives, whom we must faithfully look up to and obey. Dissent will not be tolerated.
As with Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran before overthrowing the encumbent he bided his time in exile waiting for his moment to seize power from a lavish and extravagant preceding regime where the previous occupants (Shah Tony and Madame Cherie) unashamedly tried to plunder the country for all it was worth and enrich themselves before going into pampered exile.

Just like Ayatollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Gordon has taken his hostages - all those in awe of how wonderful he is - and stresses his own religious piety and commands slavish obedience from a pliant, subservient media as he centralises the lives of his subjects. Ayatollah Gordon is unashamedly patriotic at every turn, always keen for the masses to be reminded how 'British' he really is Whatever you do don't call him 'Scottish' - that would see a fatwa imposed on you by Ed Balls.

How long before every building in the land must display a stiff, framed pose of Ayatollah Gordon (fully suited of course), so we can all exclaim the utopian wonderfulness his latest pledges, promises and decrees? How long before prayers on our knees are necessary every morning for us to proclaim how grateful we truly are for his never ending interference in every aspect of our lives?

24 Sep 2007

Zimbabwe 2

Is the world finally waking up to the sickening calamity of Zimbabwe? Perhaps, but don't hold your breath. Strong words and fine intentions are laudable, worthy and sound good. How about actions though? They are a little tougher.
I always find it peculiar that all those hunderds of thosuands who were so vociferous in (rightly) denouncing the 'illegal' (an oft used term for it) invasion of Iraq seem so mute on the misery in Zimbabwe, almost as if its not really worth taking to the streets for, as if there's no real moral equivalence.
Every time the ruinous and murderous consequences of Mugabe's destruction of his own country is brought to our attention we tut-tut in low tones and mutter that 'something must be done. But what and how?
Well, for a start how about Gordon Brown et al putting some meaningful pressure on Mbeki in South Africa instead of meekly appeasing his continual and tacit endorsement of everything Mugabe does? Why not put pressure on China as well to unequivocally stop sustaining his nasty regime through business and arms deals?
How about the UN standing up and, at the very least issuing some strongly worded collective condemnation? Don't bet on it though. Its funny isnt it, all those who want us to live in this utopian, idealist paradise where everything can be solved by the UN are slow to shine light on its pathetic shortcomings on a significant issue like Zimbabwe.
How about the US - so keen on foreign invasions and interventions, when it suits them of course - standing up to be at the very least a bit more vocal?
How about the European Union - so introverted and largely obsessed by its own workings - taking a clear, collective lead in refusing to do any business whatsoever with Mugabe or any of those who have aggrandised themselves on his coat-tails. Again dont bet on it.
How about other African leaders doing the same and refusing to have dealing with Mugabe? Again, don't put your money on it.
And how about a sober recognition of what is actually happening inside Zimbabwe? The fact that one man things its ok to starve his people (yes, starve) to keep himself in power. Morally, how is any of what he is doing much worse than the likes of Pol Pot, Stalin etc.?
I can tell you now, hard as it is to believe, that the situation can get a lot worse to the point where Zimbabwe plummets to the basement depths of some of Africa's most war-ravaged, crippled, lawless states. That will happen and the really sad thing is that those with the power to prevent this seem content to sit on their hands and look the other way. That is to their eternal shame and we should not forget that. Doing what is expedient is nowhere near the same as doing what is right.

23 Sep 2007

War on Terror

Its not an expression you often hear these days is it? There's a good reason for that. The War on Terror is not something that can ever be definitively won. Who exactly is at war? And who exactly are 'we' (?) fighting this 'war' against? How can victory be measured or defined? It cannot really. can it?
What can be measured is how we change the way we live. The freedoms we relinquish, our liberties, the ways of life that are made more demanding in the name of the 'war on terror'. Things like extra long queues at airports, entire city centres closed down for hours at a time whenever a funny shaped bag is left lying around. They inform us that the alert levels have been raised they tell people to be 'vigilant' (what exactly does that mean?!). Our authorities don't want to take any chances now. They have seen the consequences of 9/11 and, although no one will publicly admit it, they are covering their backs in case something really bad does happen so they don't get sued. Everything has to be carried out in the name of 'sec-ur-ity'.
By the way do you remember the 'Dead or Alive!' ultimatum George Bush handed out to Osama Bin Laden? Well, where is he now? Why is still making videos? Is that 'mission accomplished'?
Defeating terrorists cannot be achieved through aircraft bombing and indiscriminate shooting. Quite the opposite. It relies on clever, reliable, up-to-date intelligence and understanding.
But most of all, it relies on something very simple - us, continuing to get on with our lives in the same way we always have done, not allowing our way to be dictated to by a few murderous nutters. Our countries and histories are much bigger than that so why do we give them the satisfaction of changing the way we live? I say dont give any terrorists the satisfaction or mass hysteria publicity by building them up into a level of exaggerated threat beyond what they are really capable of. Just deal with them as cold-blooded mass-murderers, plain and simple.

2 Sep 2007

Rugby

Maybe, like me, you're a big rugby fan. Maybe you've always though rugby was a bit of a strange game...lots of complex rules and all those large grown men pushing their bodies together with lots of aggression and shouting.
Rugby has shaped my own life in so many ways so I have an incredible amount of affection for what it can do. Many of the best days (and worst days) of my life have been rugby related, both playing and watching.
In essence, rugby is the ultimate team game. In few, if any other sports, are you so dependent on those that are on your side. Any rugby team is only as good as its weakest link - the team spirit can engender immense camaradie which extends far beyond the pitch and off it afterwards. There is a special purity to it.
I have played many sports and tried my hand at several endurance activities. Few of them come close to the sensation of exhaustion with two minutes to go at the end of a tough rugby game. And few of them engender the satisfaction of achieving a tough, narrow win alongside those who have put their bodies on the line to achieve it.
Rugby shapes character because you cannot hide away from confrontations. If someone runs straight at you, you have to tackle them - the fear of scorn from your team-mates if you don't helps. Of course it hurts - I once had my head sliced open with a boot and had to have 12 stitches down the middle of - but you pick yourself up and prepare to do the same again, a good lesson for life really.
Sure, rugby has an unfortunate (and mostly dated) reputation for grown men trying to fight each other. But the best aspect of rugby is that the players have total respect for the referee. They don't swear at him or unleash angry shouts in his face when they disagree with a decision. They just accept his authority and carry on with the game.
Few sensations are more exhilerating than scoring a try in rugby. Few moments give you greater pleasure than when you are sitting around the changing room after a victory, possibly enjoying the refreshment of a cold beer, and you can see your mates have been through what you have been through. Perhaps the worst sensation is being a substitute or being injured - you're intimately close to everything going on but not really a proper part of it all. Watching can be tremedous fun, especially for big games, but it is never the same as playing.

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse, Pete Doherty, Lindsay Lohan...they're all the same really aren't they after a while. The same stories. We entertain ourselves on how low they can sink, another puncture in the inflated bubble of glamourous, but cheap, celebrity. Build 'em up, knock 'em down, and so on it goes until a new 'star' arrives.
My problem is not with these overblown and over-hyped semi-talented celebrities. If they want to allow their lives to spiral away into drug-fuelled destruction, thats very much up to them and there's very little anyone else can actually do about it. If they want to squander their wealth and fame in such a narrow, self-centred manner, thats fine. We should just leave them to get on with it.
Although maybe once in a while they'd like to be reminded of the millions of poor children and young people in lesser developed parts of the planet who would give anything to have one hundreth of what they probably squander in drugs in one night to feed their families for a week or to give themselves a proper education. Or the thousands of disabled people in this country for whom every hour of the day is a battle just to accomplish basic things. There are many more, much worse off people (through no fault of their own whatsever) who we never hear about and who are far more deserving of public sympathy and empathy. Everyone should slap themselves around the face with a true sense of perspective.
My problem is with those in the media who deliberately chose to exploit their predicaments for their own selfish ends because it feeds the hunger for cheap, un-newsworthy journalism. How many of the journalists who are so quick to moralise are complete hypocites, I wonder.
My problem is also with the moral devoid vultures around these people who supply them with their drugs - surely in such high profile cases, the police must have a good idea who is at the source, but then intelligent, pro-active policing is another story - and profit from them.
Its the same with anyone who is happy and conscious free to use hard drugs. Of course they are illegal, but that should not really be the main point. The main point is that using hard drugs has some very nasty consequences - not for the users, thats up to them - but for the lives of those caught up in the revolting worlds of the smuggling and dealing, the children in poor faraway countries who are exploited, the women who are raped and used as drug mules, the innocent victims who get shot dead on our streets in turf wars between gangs. Maybe the next time anyone thinks taking hard drugs is glamorous or trendy, they should stop to think about where they have come from and the blood shed along the way.
So a message to the tabloids should be - leave this people alone and let them fall back into obscurity. If you want to expose and shame the people around them exploiting them, thats fine. But then again, who is it that buys all those tabloids and lick their lips each time a new piece of celebrity gossip emerges on their front pages. It is us, the public, of course isnt it?

Wake up to Gordon Brown!

I sometimes wonder how so many journalists and people can have such short memories. Gordon Brown gets crowned as this wonderfully new modernising prime minister, when in actual fact he's nothing of the sort. He is the same old Gordon Brown, who was masterful at hiding away when the flak was flying. Lets looks at his track record properly.
Gordon Brown has played the dominant role in the Brown-Blair government of the last 10 years in terms of domestic policy. We have plenty of things not to thank him for...

  • The Iraq war - he voted for it, remember, fully supported it, was just as responsible as anyone else for sending our troops there and keeping them there. And in spite of some clever spin, he shows no real sign of changing policy. He's actively in favour of sending our soldiers to war, but has tried to do so on the cheap without equipping them properly. Its exactly the same with Afghanistan. Either you are in and you do the job properly or you are out.
  • Its the end of Spin, or so he would like you to believe. What nonsense. That is actually a form of clever spin itself. Remember, Gordon Brown is a man for whom you must always keep a keen eye on the detail, the small print. If he announces something, like his 'tax-cutting' budget, the chances are that it will actually be something very different a few days later. Don't judge him by what he says, more by what he actually does.
  • Schools - billions of extra pounds poured in and, behind the misleading guise of ever predictable rising exam results, still more and more young people can't read, write or add up properly
  • Hospitals - again, billions of your tax money thrown at the NHS, not much of it making any difference, most of it just disappearing into the black holes of armies of managers and target monitoring. Since when did having more people to fill out forms and monitor and evaluate targets save people's lives or stop them being sick?
  • Crime - another sorry mess. Gordon Brown refused to release the money to build more prisons, which he knew would be required thanks to all the extra 'tough' legislation his government implemented. Why are the police so hamstrung by having to meet targets and do paperwork which keeps them off the streets where they can do more protect the public and prevent crimes? Fundamentally, because of Gordon Brown's top down obsession with centralised control and micro-management.
  • Next time you're stuck in a motorway traffic jam or frustrated by your train being late again, did you ever stop to wonder why? I always think of John Prescott and his 10 year transport plan at such moments. But then I think of the mess of the London Underground, which was fundamentally caused by Brown's unnecessary meddling and Soviet style interference.
  • Britishness. Something Gordon Brown likes to bang on about a lot. In fact, he probably wishes he could now become an Englishman because he hates to be tagged as being Scottish. How is it fair that Gordon Brown can implement laws which will effect schools, hospitals and much more in England, but won't effect any of those living in his own Scottish constituency? His Scottish contituency, where they make their own laws (free university tuition fees, free care for the elderly etc), which are all paid for by English money.
  • Europe - at the last general election the Labour party got elected on a promise to hold a referendum on the new EU Constitution. What happens? We have the new EU Constitution but Gordon Brown is too scared to have a vote on it, which his party promised in 2005. All the other leaders in Europe happily admit that we do have a new EU Constitution, so why can't a election promise be kept?
  • Gordon Brown has become leader of our country without facing a single competitive election. Where exactly does his mandate to govern and represent the British people come from? Tony Blair promised to serve a full five year term and thats what people elected Labour on the basis of in 2005.

    If Gordon Brown wants to be a proper representative prime minister with a fair mandate to govern the country, why doesn't he ask the people first if they actually want him. He won't of course, because he is a fundamentally risk-averse and cautious politician, but it would be refreshing if more people asked him about this more often and more persistently.

Every pledge, promise or vow Gordon Brown utters, he does so for a reason - his own preservation of power. The clarity can usually be found in the small print buried at the bottom or the bad news sneaked out at an opportune time. Don't be taken in by his promises - judge him by what he has actually done rather than what he says.

1 Sep 2007

Multi-culturalism

Multi-culturalism must surely have been one of the most damaging dogmas to have been inflicted on us by the established political class this century. It was totally misguided, naive and patronising for those blessed with power to have invested so much capital in such a damaging concept.
If you went to live in another country, you'd probably expect to learn that country's language and adopt some of its customs and values, wouldn't you? Not in England, where you're encouraged to remain segregated, where you don't need to learn the language that everyone else speaks, where you can burn the flag and jump up and down proclaiming death as a good thing for that country's citizens...the country which you've chosen to accept the hospitality of, but you want to see destroyed. And you know you can get away with it because those imbued with power will just smile you in a kind, forgiving manner and expain away your death chanting as 'a matter of cultural difference which we should all try harder to understand'. Don't worry, the police won't arrest you (unless you've caused a minor traffic violation that is) and even if they do, they won't know who you are, especially if you've just been released from one of the prisons that the government was meant to get around to building.
Hopefully multi-culturalism will soon be defunct and superceded by integration. Because it is integration into an existing community which truly makes life better for everyone. And it leaves those who want to preach hate exactly where they should be (on both sides) - on the margins, rather than hiding from within the mainstream of an unintegrated community.

Immigration

Why are we so afraid about discussing immigration properly, openly and sensibly? Why is it wrong to question (belatedly anyway) whether it is a good thing for our country to have opened up its doors to hundreds of thousands of people and discuss the consequences of that? Why is is 'racist' to not be in favour of mass immigration? Maybe it is because those who casually toss out the slur of racism do not actually want to debate or scrutinise the real issues and consequences of an open door immigration policy and the inevitable strain on resources brought about. That means more people to be looke after by hospitals, more children to be squeezed into alraedy overcrowded schools, more crimes to be dealt with by the police, more cars on the road, greater pressures on already finite supplies of housing etc.
Without doubt, the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats (same thing really!), don't want to have a debate about because the vast majority of these new arrivals are of course going to vote for them arent they?
Some things are facts: We are a small island with an increasingly overcrowded polulation concentrated in very heavily populated areas. Our transport infrastructure is lousy at best and strains under the impact of the numbers of people using it now. The same applies to the health service and education - there's only so many that schools and hospitals can deal with effectively, otherwise the quality of service begins to suffer - you might say it already has.
Has anyone stopped to ask the question, why do so many people from overseas want to come to our island, especially when there are many other countries to chose from? Its because we are all such wonderful, civilised and tolerant people of course, the politicians spout. Well no it isnt actually. It is mostly because our country has been a ridiculously soft touch and doesn't know who is coming or going. Everyone knows this, its no great mystery.
Australia, a far far bigger island, also in need of more people, has a managed policy of controlled immigration. They know who comes in and out, so why has it been so difficult for us to do the same? Call me a cynic, but do you not think it might have something to do with the fact that Labour is counting on all the new arrivals to boost their vote?

Europe

Most of the other countries in the EU are perfectly content to openly admit that it is a political project, a way of centralising power and decision making. For decades a powerful elite has repeatedly concentrated more and more power in their own hands, remaining untroubled by any sort of democratic defecit.
I am totally in favour of Britain being very in Europe, but the emphasis should be strongly on economic issues before the political ones. Because is the establishment of a genuine single trading market, where all goods and services can be bought and sold freely across all countries that will make peoples' lives better, which is fundamentally what politics at any level should always be about. So it doenst seem a very clever or efficient idea to spend half of the EU budget on farmers who only employ less than five per cent of Europe's workers. Can you imagine the outcry if the British government did the same thing with its spending?
Why does the European parliament have to meet, at vast expense, in Strasbourg and Luxembourg? To keep the French happy of course. Because it is the French, much more than other other nation, who pull the levers in power in Europe.

Diana

How many people are now quietly wearied by the endless speculation (much of it pointless and very un-newsworthy) about Princess Diana. Am I the only one who thinks Mohammed Al Fayed has been bribing Richard Desmond to keep alive his very personal and zealous crusade to challenge anything and anyone who accepts her death was purely accidental? The amount of news coverage she receives has been far, far out of of proportion to its actual importance. Are there not much more relevant issues and news stories for journalists and readers to be concerned with?
Looking back with hindsight as a new era of 24 hour rolling news unleashed itself on us, the deification of Diana's celebrity and the obsession by every aspect of her life from what she looked like to who she spent time with set a troubling precedent. Newspapers love to build newcomers up before they find something salacious to knock them down with.
Obsessing over un-newsworthy trivia about the lifestyles of celebrities has come to feed our hungry lust for gossip. We talk about people in magazines and newsapers as if we know them, when we barely know them at all. Of course, we know plenty about them, but then that is not quite the same thing, is it? And much of the media obsession with celebrity has its roots in the way Diana was treated. Do we get the media we deserve? Quite possibly yes.
If you were one of those people who saw Diana as a saint, prepare to be offended.
Supposedly, she modernised the monarchy and dragged it in to the new century. But have the core values of a our royals really shifted? Not that much really. The queen still embodies some of the true values that have made our country so special - namely stoicism, dignity and respect for others, which the majority of the population silently agrees with.
So Diana was the perfect emblem for Blair's Britain - shiny and pretty on the outside, always with an eye on manipulating a pose for a camera or fixing a headline, but deeply shallow and lacking substance underneath. This is not to say that Diana wasn't a very caring person and a wonderful mother. She was. But then so have been lots of other women that we never get to hear about. Mother Theresa died in the same week as Diana, but we hear nothing about her.
Sure Diana did many wonderful things and affected the lives of many in a very positive way. But lets have some proper and thoughtful perspective to her lasting impact.
There are too many people in this ocuntry who are incapable of thinking critically for themselves. The obsession with celebrity is a form of stimuli by proxy for them, really no better than out rubber necking at the misfortunes of others.