What You Can Get Away With » Tories

I’ve decided that from now on any policy I expose on this blog or elsewhere will have to have to have gone through a ‘people test’ first. This will determine what their effects will be on people, so we can be sure these policies won’t cause any harm to people. I’m not going to make any specific definition of who these people my test will apply to are, but rest assured that I am committed to supporting people despite not coming up with this gimmick vitally important test until now.

Yes, I’ve got the idea from David Cameron’s ‘family test’ that he’s promising to subject all new policy to, without actually specifying what definition of ‘family’ he’s using. I suspect he’s not applying Conrad Russell’s subjective definition – ‘those groups are families that believe that they are’ – but I also doubt he’d have the courage to stand up and say who he does and doesn’t include in his ‘family test’. It thus becomes more meaningless political twaddle, as he might as well be proposing a ‘people test’, given that he won’t (publicly, at least) exclude anyone from his definition of ‘family’. He’s blowing the dog whistle again, hoping people won’t notice that he wants some people to think he’s happy to screw over certain parts of the population if they don’t fit his definition of ‘family’.

The question is will anyone – a journalist today, an MP at PMQs when Parliament comes back from recess – be willing to put him on the spot and ask Cameron what he defines a family as, and who is not included in his ‘family test’?

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When David Cameron says


Do you think he remembers this?

But then, Boris doing something nasty, crude and thuggish, then trying to get out of it by doing the ‘lawks a mercy, silly Boris, ho ho!’ act is a perfect summation of his career.

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YouGov have done a survey asking people their opinions about Doctor Who and what characteristics they want to see in the next Doctor. As politics and Doctor Who are two of this blog’s continuing obsessions, I couldn’t resist writing about it – and this post becomes even more ‘my entire blogging history in one post’ if I tell you I’m doing it while I wait for the highlights of the Criterium du Dauphine cycling to come on TV.

(Insert your standard disclaimer here about polling not necessarily being accurate, margins of error, just a bit of fun etc)

It’s perhaps not surprising that Lib Dem voters are more likely to be Who fans than supporters of other parties (see Alex Wilcock’s ‘How Doctor Who Made Me A Liberal‘ or my take on it here) but it’s nice to see it statistically confirmed – 41% of Lib Dem supporters are interested in the series, compared to 34% of Labour, 29% of Tories and just 26% of UKIP supporters.

I’m actually surprised to see David Tennant topping the ‘favourite Doctor’ part of the survey by quite a convincing margin – 43% to Tom Baker’s 16% and Matt Smith’s 14%. He won a similar DWM poll while he was the Doctor, but he’s now three years out of the role, which does indicate that he may well have replaced Tom Baker as the public’s image of the Doctor. (He is one of my favourites, but if I’d have been polled, I’d have doubled Patrick Troughton’s support amongst Lib Dems.) However, fun confirmation of stereotypes comes with Jon Pertwee getting his highest ratings from UKIP and Tory voters, but absolutely no support from Lib Dems. It’s possibly because he’s the most ‘establishment’ of all the Doctors – no other Doctor spent so much time hanging around the military – though one could also argue that the Pertwee era was full of images of a proudly independent Britain with its own space programme and big energy projects. As soon as he went, Tom Baker’s first story saw international sovereignty being pooled to protect nuclear codes in ‘Robot’ and the English countryside, if it was real at all, was depicted as being full of androids.

There’s also interest in the questions about what characteristics the new Doctor should have. Even without the breakdown by party, I’m surprised to see that the population of Britain are relatively open to the idea of a different Doctor. The only characteristics that get bare majority support are British (54%) and male (52%) – and male only gets about 40% support from Labour and Lib Dem voters. That gives me hope that when – and I believe it is a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’, even if it’s not this time – we get a female Doctor, the general populace will be much more inclined to accept it and see how it goes than certain Who fans believe they will be.

Other figures almost look as though they were created by the stereotype-o-matic such as 50% of UKIP voters thinking it’s important the Doctor is white, compared to 5% of Lib Dems, though I’m confused by a couple of spikes (which might just be statistical noise because of small sample size) – Tories are more likely to want the Doctor to be attractive, while Labour voters are more likely to want the actor to already be a household name.

My general position is that I want the next Doctor to be played by someone interesting – I’ve not been the biggest fan of the last three years of the series, but I think Matt Smith’s done a good job with some weak material and has been very good when he gets a good script – and most of the actors who I’ve thought could be interesting Doctors have been different from the norm. (That said, I do edge towards the ‘I’d like a woman Doctor, but not one written by Steven Moffat‘ position) If it was up to me, I’d be trying to persuade one of Adrian Lester, Maxine Peake, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Naomie Harris or Ben Whishaw to take the role – but it’s not up to me, so I just get to wait, watch and see what comes next. Hopefully, I’ll still be around for the 100th anniversary, when all this speculation will seem as quaint and irrelevant as ‘can you really get another completely different actor to play the Doctor?’ was in 1966.

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There surely must come a point when everyone realises that Eric Pickles is a master satirist. He’s pulled off the routine for far longer than anyone else might have managed – Morris, Baron-Cohen, even Sellers, they could keep up a character for ages, but none ever managed anything close to the length that the ‘Pickles’ hoax has run for.

As we all know, one of his most popular routines of the last couple of years has been localism, where he delivers a speech out of two sides of his mouth at once. On one side, he talks about the joys of local decision making, how planning should be about neighbourhoods and not central targets and how central government should leave local government alone, while on the other side he’s imposing decisions on local government, bringing in planning rules that weaken local power and telling councils exactly how they should spend their budgets. The sheer joy of the comedy comes in him saying these things at the same time while apparently being unaware that he’s contradicting himself.

He’s updated the routine today, with this fantastic claim that councils who’ve played by the rules he set down are ‘dodging democracy’. When told that if they raised council tax by 2% or more they’d have to have a referendum – which Pickles would order but they’d have to pay for – councils who’ve needed to raise council tax levels have chosen to do so by just under 2%. That’s their local decision made by local councillors, and so the champion of localism has had to wade in and tell them that they’re wrong.

According to Pickles, council tax – for which all councils must send a detailed bill, including details of where it goes and how it’s spent, then collect separately – is a ‘stealth tax’ and that councils, elected by the people, just like the Parliament that Pickles sits in, have to ‘win over the public’ before raising any taxes. Councils should ‘stop treating residents with contempt’, because that’s clearly the role of Pickles and the DCLG, not councils.

You have to laugh, because otherwise you have to believe he actually means what he says, and that would be far too ridiculous.

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Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and his comments on Essex County Council’s Tories are worth noting:

Tory-controlled Essex County Council decided this week not to sue their disgraced former leader Lord Hanningfield for the £287,000 of ratepayers’ money he spent flying around the world with cronies and dining in style. This is a rash move.
In four and a half months, the council is up for re-election. I am appalled that Essex Tories have such a cavalier view of financial accountability. Anyone who votes to put them back into office next May is mad.

(Emphasis added)

I also believe that Labour voted with the Tories at last week’s Essex County Council meeting to block the Liberal Democrat motion on this.

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Via Gareth Epps, and also reported here, it looks like there’s even more evidence building up to show how George Osborne’s ‘shares for rights’ (or employee ownership, to give the official name) is going to cause a lot more problems than it solves. (Indeed, I’m not sure that it’s solving any actual problems)

I’ve concentrated before on the issues this could have for people at the lower end of the pay scale – those likely to be forced to give up employment protection in exchange for a bunch of shares that could well turn out to be worthless when they’re dismissed. The reports today look at the higher end of the scale, where the up to £50,000 in shares that people can take in exchange for their rights could well be a very useful way for them to dodge Capital Gains Tax. This could cost up to £1bn in lost tax revenue, with the report pointing out that this would become part of regular ‘tax planning’ for accountants. Is this the real reason for pushing this in the face of so much opposition? Finding a new tax dodge for the rich?

As Gareth says:

This presents Liberal Democrats, who have been queuing up to rubbish Osborne’s plans too, with a dilemma. Should they hasten the demise of this unloved piece of legislation? Or should they indulge in a spectator sport, as the Beecroft-lite plan is attacked from every angle until even Osborne himself admits it makes no sense?

In the longer game of Coalition engagement and disengagement, there is actually much to be said for the latter approach. The Bill of which shares for rights is part has a long way to go through Parliament, and while it would be sensible for Liberal Democrats to formally signal the party’s view of it, there is potentially more to be gained for leaving this dogma-driven plan hanging out to dry.

That seems like a good idea, but the problem is that this also has the BIS Department’s fingerprints all over it – maybe even more so than the Treasury – and both Vince Cable and Jo Swinson have given support for it. Any attacks on it are going to be targeted at Liberal Democrat ministers as much as they are at George Osborne, and we’ll be just as associated with it. Letting it carry on through Parliament could give it an irresistible momentum to pass – especially if it’s tied in with other proposals – and we should be working to kill it off as quickly as possible.

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It’s amazing how far you can go with funny hair and the ability to say ‘cripes!’ isn’t it? For a start, you can get straight past the Telegraph sub-editors and fact-checkers and bring out this little nugget of non-information:

a new building like the Shard needs four times as much juice as the entire town of Colchester

Yes, that’s right. According to the Mayor of London, who’d you expect to know even a vague something about these things, the Shard – a building that will hold around 8,000 residents and workers when it’s full – needs four times as much power to run as Colchester – a town of 100,000+ inhabitants that includes one of the Army’s largest garrisons. Bur according to Boris, the Shard needs 4 times that much power, which means that every person who uses it would be using 50 times as much power as their equivalent here in Colchester.

Somehow, unless the Shard was the winner of the little-publicised ‘build the least energy-efficient building in the history of humanity’ contest, this doesn’t seem very likely. Let’s see what Renzo Piano, the building’s architect, has to say about how much power it will use:

“It’s a very old dream of mine, this idea of making a building like a little town,” Piano says. “So when people say, oh but it’s going to use up so much energy, it’s not true. An actual town of 8,000 people [the Shard's projected number of occupants] would use up five times as much energy. This is why the Shard is the shape it is. The higher up you go, so the functions change, and you need less floor space, until you get to the very top, and there I just wanted the building to kind of mingle in the air. It’s important that it breathes up there – that it breathes in the clouds.”

So, Boris is not just wrong, he’s wrong by a factor of 250. Rather than use fifty times the power of the average Colcestrian, a person in the Shard will be using about one-fifth.

Now, this might seem just like Boris getting his hyperbole wrong again and I shouldn’t worry about it because he’s got funny hair, but this non-factoid is in the first paragraph of his Telegraph piece for a reason. Because of the huge demand for power he says there’ll be from buildings like the Shard, we have to abandon all our scruples and join the fracking dash for gas. There’s no time to worry about the potential impacts of extracting shale gas – or even whether it’s techologically or economically viable – we have to be rushing to feed the beast of reckless consumption, even if it doesn’t actually exist.

In his rush to grab evidence to try and bolster a weak argument, Boris has failed to notice that the Shard actually punctures it. Renzo Piano has designed a building that anticipates energy shortages by using less power, rather than cracking up the juice on everything and hoping that the payment cheque will clear before the building’s inundated by rising sea levels. Surely the Mayor of London should be trumpeting how forward-looking his city is to create such an efficient building, rather than making up figures to argue for pumping even more CO2 into the atmosphere?

(Original links from Zelo Street, who also point out the flaws in the arguments Boris makes for shale gas and fracking)

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Back in September, I explained my reasons for wanting to see an end to the coalition, and nothing I’ve seen politically in the last three months has caused me to change my mind on that issue.

One of the reasons I gave for wanting to see it end was that “the coalition’s no longer about trying to come up with a joint policy programme, but about horse-trading and threats”. I think this trend is perfectly exemplified in this story, where the Tories in government were supposedly negotiating with Liberal Democrats while also raising funds from donors to stop it from happening.

While this is just one incident, it’s a symptom of how this coalition is failing. For a coalition to work, there has to be mutual trust between the parties involved. No matter how closely the parties want to show they are in public, there will always be disagreements in private that have to be resolved in some way. However, you can’t expect disputes to be resolved if one party is not coming to the table in good faith and pretending to negotiate over something they’ve got no intention of conceding on and, indeed, are actively working against.

However, as I also wrote about in September, this is a trap the Liberal Democrats fall into when we commit to the ‘we have to show that coalition works‘ line. If one party is resolutely wedded to not leaving the negotiating table in any circumstances, then it encourages the other to not play fair – there’s no need for them to build a relationship of trust with their partner, as breaking that trust doesn’t lead to any penalties.

As I’ve argued before, there’s plenty of evidence from across the UK and across the world to show that coalitions can work, so to claim that we have to stick in government regardless to prove they can isn’t strong leadership, it’s reflective of an unwillingness to make a wider argument. (Yet again, it’s the crippling belief that only what happens in Westminster is important in British politics) A single-party government can fail (see 1992-97 for an example), but that doesn’t mean that all single-party administrations are doomed to failure. In the same vein, the argument can be made that coalitions can work, but that the bad faith of the Tories has made this one unworkable. Just as one couple getting divorced doesn’t mean all marriages are doomed to fail, one coalition ending because one party to it is wedded to an unsuccessful economic dogma does not mean that all coalitions will end the same way.

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Various people were buzzing this morning thanks to this story in the Telegraph where UKIP treasurer Stuart Wheeler talks about people he’s had lunch with recently. With this, and the bizarre ‘Sarah Teather’s about to join Labour’ rumour that went round last week, it seems we’re in a new silly season, probably caused when everyone got confused by an MP going on a televised holiday to Australia in November.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, MPs crossing the floor is something that’s happened very rarely in modern times. (See here for a list) They also tend to happen as surprises, because negotiations about defection take place in secret, not with the full blast of publicity. I don’t doubt that Stuart Wheeler has had lunch with Tory MPs, and he might even have floated the idea of them joining UKIP at those lunches, but equally those MPs might well have thought that they were doing their bit for the Conservative Party and trying to lure him back. If UKIP had one Tory MP close to defecting to them, let alone eight, they’d be keeping very quiet about it until it was a done deal. Making noise about it seems to be more about attempting to drum up some interest and make Tory backbenchers restless, rather than a signal of imminent defections.

Indeed, one might want to ask what a Tory MP would get out of switching? The prize the Tory anti-Europeans appear to be seeking at the moment is an electoral pact with UKIP, and if that deal seems possible – and Nigel Farage appears to be indicating that if the Tories defenestrate David Cameron, he might be open to it – why would you defect to a party that’s going to step aside to give a free run to the one you’ve just left? (Though there’s an interesting question about how much impact a pact like that would have – see Anthony Wells’ latest piece for more on that) Defections tend to take place between competing parties, not ones that are seeking to come to an accommodation.

From UKIP’s perspective, there’s also what you could call the Kilroy factor to be aware of too. They got lots of headlines from Robert Kilroy-Silk joining the party in 2004, but the subsequent turmoil caused by his belief that he was the biggest fish in a very small pond damaged the party. UKIP may want MPs, but do they want ones who’ll get lots more publicity than the rest of the party and try to mould the party around them?

I wouldn’t be that surprised to see a Tory MP switch to UKIP at some point in this Parliament, but like many defections, it’ll likely be someone disaffected (and possibly deselected), rather than some mass ideological walkout. They’ll continue to woo Tory MPs, but any actual defection will likely come after a period of silence, not a PR blitz.

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Two interesting stories from recent weeks that show what a couple of Secretaries of State think of it:

From last month, Michael Gove wants more powers to change how schools are run, to stop people having their say over what happens to their local school.

And today, Eric Pickles has started threatening councils that don’t do what he tells them with cuts to their funding. It’s about waste collections this time, but who knows what hoops he might make councils jump through for funding in the future?

As someone once said, while talking about something other than localism: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

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