Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Fraudulent Lib Dem election literature

There has been a bit of a fuss about a BNP leaflet turning out to be fraudulent in various respects -- hardly, I should have thought, a very surprising state of affairs. See for instance this by Danny Finkelstein.

But how honest is the election literature of the respectable mainstream parties?

Through our door comes a remarkably dishonest leaflet from the Lib Dems. Its entire purpose is to persuade us to vote for their list in the Euro elections, headed by incumbent MEP Sarah Ludford, who, I hasten to add, is a Good Thing.

We will leave aside the fact that the leaflet contains more pictures of Simon Hughes and Vince Cable (both also Good Things, in my book; that's not the point) than of Ms Ludford. They are popular London MPs at Westminster, neither of whom has anything at all to do with the European Parliament. But all the parties do this sort of thing.

What is shocking is that the leaflet urges us to vote tactically for the Lib Dems, though this is a proportional election by party list for the whole of London, in which tactical voting is completely irrelevant.

Thus, the leaflet says "Only the Lib Dems can stop Labour here", and quotes the statistics for the last general election in this constituency, in which the Tories came a poor third. The implication is that a Tory vote is a wasted vote. The message is rubbed in with a picture of Winston Churchill, captioned "The Conservatives haven't won here since before World War II. Every Tory vote helps Labour win".

There is no mention of the fact that this election is for a London-wide list, in which the Westminster constituencies play no part at all. Those of us who happen to be well-informed about these matters know perfectly well that neither a Tory nor a Labour vote would be wasted in this election. But many voters who pay less attention to these things will be confused by this deliberate attempt to mislead. So far from "every Tory vote helping Labour to win", every Tory vote in this particular election will help to elect a Tory MEP for London as a whole (of which, as it happens, there are three in the outgoing parliament to the LibDems' one).

In fact, the only certain wasted votes here will be those for independents that nobody has ever heard of and for tiny no-hope crackpot parties such as the soi-disant "English Democrats" or the SPGB.

I find it particularly disappointing when the Lib Dems turn out, as sadly they often do, to be ruthless and dishonest in their local campaigning. At a stroke they thereby lose any claim to the moral high ground that many of their worthy policy positions at national and international level might otherwise seem to justify.

As it happens, the most recent polls suggest that Lib Dem hopes of gaining a second London seat in Brussels are vulnerable to a possible Tory surge, especially as the total number of London MEPs is being reduced from 9 to 8. No doubt that is the real reason why they are desperate to hoodwink people into not voting Conservative who might otherwise have considered doing so.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Aaargh! God help us all

If the repellent, ego-tripping humbug Esther Rantzen is the answer, remind me what the question was again?

As for the idea of Ann Widdecombe as Speaker - I gather she was one of those who voted to prevent the expenses claims from being published in the first place, and according to The Public Whip she has voted strongly against transparency in Parliament. Surely she must be a complete non-starter.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Alan Johnson, Polly Toynbee and political meltdown

Almost a year ago, I wrote in 14 things Gordon Brown should do now that, if we had to have Gordon Brown in charge, he should at least make Alan Johnson "the main public voice of the government, since he is one of the few present members of the cabinet who seems like a human being and actually answers the questions put to him".

In a response to that post, Neil Harding said: better still, make Alan Johnson PM and be done with it. Neil later enlarged on the point with a post of his own plumping for either Johnson or John Denham, both of whom support proportional representation. At all events, it was certainly hard to see how either of them could do any worse than Brown.

Then last September, in Further thoughts on leadership, I noted that Polly Toynbee had finally admitted that she'd been wrong about Brown; she now realised he was an incompetent fraud (I paraphrase slightly). The question then arose, was it now too late to make a change in the leadership? I wrote: "For what it's worth, I say give it a go, preferably with Alan Johnson".

Nobody paid much attention, and Johnson himself went around saying he didn't want the job, anyway. Since then the whole financial system has suddenly collapsed; and the economy, supposedly Brown's one strong point, has gone down the toilet with astonishing speed.

And in the last couple of weeks, Westminster politics itself has gone into complete and surely unprecedented meltdown, in a tumultuous series of unforeseen events that I think has taken everybody's breath away.

Meanwhile, Polly Toynbee has really been putting the knife into Brown lately. On 11 May she wrote, in Gordon Brown must go – by June 5:

"It's all over for Brown and Labour. The abyss awaits. As long as he remains leader, there is nothing that wretched Labour candidates can plausibly say on the doorstep (....) Labour made the rich richer and poor poorer: growth for the few, not the many. (...) Gordon Brown has been tested and found in want of almost every attribute a leader needs."
She went on, countering the view that the main problem was that Brown was hopeless on the telly: "It wasn't the medium that did for him, but the message. There wasn't one".

This is remarkable language from somebody who spent so long during the previous regime telling us that, if only Blair would go, the situation would be incomparably transformed with Brown at the helm. But there is more. Returning to the fray only four days later, Ms Toynbee wrote in Only Alan Johnson can prevent catastrophe:
"There are few Brownites left, only MPs anxiously calculating if the upheaval of regicide might precipitate a worse disintegration or whether Alan Johnson might save a hundred extra seats and restore Labour's political verve. 'If the execution was swift, they would do much better with Alan Johnson,' says the Ipsos Mori pollster Ben Page."
I and others have often written that there is no point in just changing the Labour leader: there must also be, at the same time, a bonfire of wrong-headed, unpopular, right-wing New Labour policies, and a clear definition of an entirely new political approach based on fairness and commonsense. Here too, Polly Toynbee has come round to my way of thinking:

"It may be too late for mighty swerves in political direction before next year's election, but it's easy to sweep away the self-laid landmines in Labour's path. No ID cards, but free passports for all instead. Devise a better plan for the Post Office – Johnson knows it well – and abandon anything that's more trouble and cost than it's worth. Ed Miliband's good green policy deserves a high profile, only achieved by revisiting Brown's disastrous third runway decision. Postpone Trident and open a public debate on nuclear arms and Britain's future place in the EU and the world. On inequality, set up a social justice commission to map a long-term path to fairer shares in pay, wealth and tax. In 12 years Labour has never debated these fundamentals ...."
Many of us can easily agree with all of that. Labour still isn't going to win, which, as I wrote the other day in Labour is an utterly busted flush, may not be such a bad thing, even from the party's own point of view, since winning the next general election could be a poisoned chalice. But it can still make a real difference if the Tories win by only a smallish majority, rather than win by a landslide. What we are asking Alan Johnson to take on is a thankless but noble task: to lead the party to defeat and into opposition, where it might have some chance, however slim, of rediscovering its purpose and its soul.

Train of the day

A Thalys high-speed train on its way from Paris to Brussels, a trip which now takes only 1 hour 20 minutes. I can remember when this journey took over 3 hours even on the Trans-Europe Express L'Etoile du Nord, which in any case only ran twice a day. Thalys runs half-hourly through much of the day, and has been so successful that Air France has given up bothering to fly between the two cities.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Eurovision: the best man won

As soon as the boyf and I saw Alexander Rybak's picture in the Radio Times we knew we were supporting Norway. Phwoar! (The song is quite good, too.) I never thought he would actually win, least of all by such a landslide.

Of course I am delighted, but it is a little unnerving to have backed the runaway winner. I am much more accustomed to being in a tiny minority on these as on many other issues.

I'm pleased also that the UK did not do all that well. In fact it didn't deserve to do as well as it did, with a very dreary and vapid song by the wholly talent-free "Lord" Andrew Lloyd-Webber -- who, as my friend Jamie reminds me, promised to leave the country if Labour won the 1997 election, so why is he still here?

I thought it was a bit mean of Iain Dale, on Adam Boulton's show this morning, to seem to imply that there was something fishy or fraudulent about the fact that Alexander came originally from Belarus. His parents moved to Norway when he was four, so he has spent 83% of his life in Norway. Aparently that's not good enough for "Tory blogger" (as he is always announced) Dale.

Still, however dull and self-obsessed Dale sometimes seems, he has one good post today, about the ghastliness of the BNP.

As he points out, the BNP is now trying to look "respectable" on TV, all sharp suits and ties, but behind the facade they are still the same nasty, racist, dangerous thugs.

(But he's still wrong about the Norway Eurovision song.)

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Please get out and vote

Neil Harding makes a very pertinent point in For Once, Maybe We Should Listen To Tebbit.

Remarkably, the loathsome Norman Tebbit has said something useful, which is to urge people to go and vote in the (proportional representation) European elections and to point out that they can vote against both Lab and Con without "splitting the vote" as is the risk with any first-past-the-post contest.

Obviously, what Tebbit is really saying to his Europhobic/xenophobic supporters is that they should vote UKIP, though as a Tory peer he can't actually spell that out. From their point of view, UKIP is essentially a ginger group aimed at pushing the Tories even further towards narrow nationalism and leaving the EU. They can all vote UKIP this time round, without endangering the prospect of a Tory government next year, which we are clearly going to get anyway.

But, as Neil Harding notes, the rest of us can draw similar conclusions in other directions - in particular, people can vote Green in this election without "wasting their vote". That is what I plan to do.

Neil also reminds us that not bothering to vote in this election is tantamount to voting for the BNP. So please, everybody, get out and vote for somebody, even if it is UKIP. It is your moral duty!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Sir Clement Freud

I was sorry to read of the death of Sir Clement Freud. I met him a few times in the middle 1970s when he was a Liberal MP and I had the thankless task of trying to co-ordinate political lobbying for homosexual law reform on behalf of CHE.

Behind the dog food adverts and the silly panel games, he was a highly intelligent and serious man. Meeting the rich and famous can be daunting, but he was kindness itself, and seemed a very nice person. He warmly supported our cause, despite being 110% heterosexual himself. He told us that a gay constituent of his had committed suicide and this shocked him into action. He did what he could for us in the House in unpropitious circumstances, and we were grateful for his help.