Worth Reading 188

Palin’s Late Style: He Knows the Main Thing – An analysis of the latest piece by radical performance poet Sarah Palin.
Horizontal History – An interesting perspective on births, deaths, famous lives and how they overlap.
The audacious rescue plan that might have saved space shuttle Columbia – A mission that would have pushed NASA and the astronauts to the limit might have saved the seven astronauts on Columbia, if the damage to it had been spotted before re-entry.
How Not To Deal With Activists, Courtesy the Britain Stronger in Europe Campaign – Andrew Hickey writes a post I was thinking of, on the continuing problems the Britain Stronger In Europe campaign has with organisation and message.
The conspiracy theorists who have taken over Poland – Interesting look at the mindset and ideology behind the Law and Justice party, which has parallels in many parties in other countries.

Dreams of progressive alliances can’t ignore political baggage

PAFBSince I wrote about the possibility of ‘progressive’ electoral alliances last week, both James King and Andrew Hickey have explained why they think they wouldn’t work, and whoever is behind the Progressive Alliance UK campaign has taken to Facebook to tell us off for being negative.

Just for the record, I don’t think whoever’s behind the Progressive Alliance UK are “a group of party big whigs and donors” and I’m not sure where that impression came from. If anything, my reasoning that the project isn’t going to achieve much is precisely because the people pushing it aren’t at a high level in any of the parties you’d need to bring together to make such an alliance work. The closest we’ve come to any sort of alliance between parties of the centre-left came about because Ashdown and Blair wanted it to happen, often against the wishes of their members, not because they were forced into it.

It’s worth looking back at the circumstances that led to that agreement to see what obstacles are in the way to any formal alliance of parties. For a start, moves toward it began after 13 years of Tory rule (and four election defeats for variosu formations of the centre-left) and were kicked off with Paddy’s speech in Chard. However, John Smith wasn’t keen on any sort of agreement, and nothing really happened until Tony Blair became Labour leader. Any sort of agreement needs the party leaderships on side from the beginning, as they hold the key to getting the infrastructure of the parties on side.

What was also important was that the two leaders were close ideologically and could envisage themselves working together, even without drawing up any public common programme. It wasn’t just a case of them both being anti-Tory but actually having shared ideals and a common vision. This was something important for the electorate too, as it allowed them to switch their vote between the two parties with confidence, as there’d been enough signalling from them that they wanted the same thing.

The problem for any sort of agreement now is that the gap between Lib Dems and Labour is probably bigger than it’s ever been, both in terms of where the party leaderships are located and where the members and activists of the parties see each other. Consider the amount of flak Ashdown (especially) and Blair got from their memberships got for working together, and now imagine the apoplexy the right of the Lib Dems would have at working with ‘Corbynistas’ and the way the more excitable elements of the Labour membership would react to making a deal with ‘Tories in disguise’.

Electoral geography was also an important consideration. In the run up to 1997, most of the seats had either Conservatives and Labour in first and second place, or Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. There were very few seats that were Lib Dem-Labour battles, or where other parties got into those top two. That’s not the case now, and what’s more, there are very few seats where Lib Dems are in the top two at all. An agreement in 1997 made strong strategic sense for both parties as there were very few places they were in direct competition. (They’d also both had much stronger results in the 1992 election than they had in 2015)

The point is that it’s easy to talk about how a ‘Progressive Alliance’ would magically make everything better, but the path from where we are now to actually creating one isn’t clear. Trying to get people to jump straight into a formal electoral alliance is a bit like telling a couple who aren’t speaking to each other after an acrimonious break up that they should get married. It might be true that they’re better together, but that doesn’t mean you can just pretend all their baggage no longer exists.

Worth Reading 185: Atherton in Johannesburg

Get real, tomorrow is not going to happen. By Dan Hodges – “Because this is the Real World. Where Real Things Happen. In barely formulated tabloid-ish sentences that have somehow made their way into a broadsheet where they masquerade as incisive realism. With their no-nonsense tone. And their full-stops.”
The Okinawa missiles of October – Did the US nearly launch nuclear cruise missiles at the Soviet Union and other countries during the Cuban Missile Crisis?
An interactive guide to ambiguous grammar – Make sure you read it right to the end.
After the Paris Attacks: Live News Should Challenge Narratives, Not Desperately Try to Create Them – Too much media coverage is desperate speculation to fill air time, rather than reporting what’s happened.
The Rennard debacle: better to rock the boat than have the tail wag the dog – James Graham saves me from having to write another post on the conclusion of this.

And as a fictional bonus, try Andrew Hickey’s Ten Things You’ll Only Get If You Were A 50s Kid.

Worth Reading 162: A season of baseball

Philip K. Dick was right: we are becoming androids – “The deep problem, for Dick, wasn’t that mechanisms might become more manlike. It’s that men might be reduced to mechanisms.”
Why I Just Cancelled My Direct Debit To The Electoral Reform Society – Andrew Hickey on how their shilling for online voting has lost them his support.
Because good people doing bad things does not happen only in sepia – Crooked Timber’s Maria Farrell on the flaws in Britain’s defence and security policies, highlighted by Philip Hammond’s recent speech.
China’s Tensions With Dalai Lama Spill Into The Afterlife – The Dalai Lama says he may not reincarnate. Showing an unexpected interest in theological matters, the Chinese Government and Communist Party insist he will.
The lost key to the crown jewels – How English cricket was lost to terrestrial television, and then kept away from it, no matter how good for it the return might be.

Worth Reading 146: The end of Carthage

A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA – Be warned, this story does describe some pretty horrible incidents, but it’s worth reading for the exposure of how rape culture is permitted by institutional power.
On Countering The UKIP Cri-De-Colon – “if you’re not prepared to defend what are supposedly your defining principles for fear of losing just one election, you might as well pack up the whole party and leave politics to the bigots.”
“Immigration” is not “immigrant” – Andrew Hickey on why pandering to bigots isn’t even addressing the root cause of their complaints.
The Disappearing Sea – How the Aral Sea dried up, and what it left behind.
They refused to fight – A great piece by Jim Jepps on the experience of conscientious objectors during the First World War.

Worth Reading 122: Let’s build a wall

How did the First World War actually end? – Paul Mason explains some of the causes of history, and how our accounts of the war are often missing out the social and labour movements that were very important in it.
The Fake Sheikh and me: Tulisa talks – I wouldn’t normally link to a showbiz story, even in the Guardian, but the fascinating details in this are the lengths Mazher Mahmood and the Sun were willing to go to for an entirely manufactured story.
“Open Door Policy” – Andrew Hickey on the realities, rather than the tabloid headlines, of living with Britain’s immigration policy.
Work less, live more, do better – Is working too many hours actually meaning we’re doing less? Written from the perspective of working as an academic, but much of the information is relevant to many fields.
Two politics – Chris Dillow on the difference between politics-as-policy and politics-as-celebrity.

Worth Reading 85: Tie your tie

Do Not Hire John Brown Advertising – Andrew Hickey gets plagiarised. Plagiarist turns up in the comments to provide a great example of chutzpah.
It’s Official: Austerity Economics Doesn’t Work – “Having adopted the policies of Keynes in response to a calamitous recession, the United States has grown more than twice as fast during the past three years as Britain, which adopted the economics of Hoover”
We are all Alliance now – Spineless Liberal responds to the threats against Alliance politicians in Northern Ireland.
502: French conservatives temporarily unavailable – Alex Harrowell explains at A Fistful Of Euros how a close leadership election has split the French right.
Why we are calling for an end to the war on drugs – Julian Huppert explains the position of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

And don’t miss this special message from Alan Partridge:

Worth Reading 67: Baseball in Montreal

Take a number – Outside magazine reports on some of the deaths to have occurred amongst people climbing Everest this year. (via)
Policing The Land – in honour of #ldconf – Sarah Brown rewrites The Land to make it fit the brave new world of accreditation and security theatre.
Clegg and coalition six months on – James Graham looks at what’s happened in the Lib Dems six months after he left. Long, but well worth reading.
Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math – A couple of months old, but I’ve only just seen it. Some figures and projections in there that will keep you up at night.
One big rule if you’re writing about politics – Andrew Hickey has a simple rule to work out who’s worth reading and who’s not.

Worth Reading 63: Welcome to Glastonbury

It seems the internet wrote many good things while I was away on holiday:

Dudes, Relax: The Rise Of Women Does Not Mean the Fall of Men – Jezebel’s Lindy West dissects a piece of male whining.
How To Get Doping Out Of Sports – A very frank piece from Jonathan Vaughters, boss of the Garmin cycling team, on his own doping experience and what needs to be done to end it.
Democracy Creates Assholes – Another honest opinion from Jason O’Mahony.
Rape: Or why I am now a feminist – George Potter writes down a lot of the thoughts that were in my head for the last week or so but couldn’t get written down as I was away from a keyboard.
A piece of advice to my fellow men (warning – potentially triggering) – ‘The ONLY way you should ever end a sentence that starts “It’s not rape if…” is with “all parties involved consent.”’