Today, I’m starting with an appeal. Many of you who read this blog are Lib Dems, and so I’m hoping that some of you are part of, or know someone who’s involved in, the party’s social media campaign team because I’d like to get a message to them. To the person or people who were responsible for this, I’d like to say stop. Please, in the name of all that’s good and holy, stop. It’s not cool, it’s not clever and most importantly of all, it’s just not funny.

Talking of things that aren’t cool, clever or funny, what’s Michael Gove been up to today? If your answer to that was anything other than ‘turning up to Labour’s manifesto launch accompanied by a bunch of Tory activists in Nicola Sturgeon masks‘ then you’re wrong, but you deserve some points for imagining that a senior member of the Conservative Party would be doing something more constructive with his time. (Whatever it was you were imagining, it would surely be a better use of his time)

Let’s leave hardworking Michael Gove behind and instead turn our attention to the work of looking at Labour’s manifesto for working people. Sorry, it’s hard working to get rid of the working habit of putting the word work into as many working parts of your sentence as possible after the work of reading it. Now, there are many things within this manifesto, not least the crimes against grammar and comprehension one comes to expect from British politics, and there’ll be plenty of pieces elsewhere going through it in microscopic detail. Instead, I’m going to subject this (and the other) manifestos to what I shall call the Lightfoot Test, in tribute to the late Chris Lightfoot’s method of deciding how to vote:

Manifestos are long and policies are complicated. However, in this case it turns out that an even easier approach works: read each manifesto until you encounter something really offensive or stupid, then stop and reject that party. If you ever reach the end of a manifesto, then you should consider voting for that party. (In the unlikely event that you reach the end of more than one manifesto without gagging, then I’d suggest that your moral compass is out of order and you need to fix it.)

In this case, Labour get a Lightfoot Test score of 2, because it was on page 2 of the PDF version that I found a really stupid idea. As Page 1 was the front page, this really is impressive.

No, it wasn’t the Budget Responsibility Lock, which is mainly just silly and bad economics pandering to the media narrative about the deficit, but one of the policies linked to it:

We will legislate to require all major parties to have their manifesto commitments independently audited by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Now, I understand that Labour are smarting over the Chancellor banning the OBR from auditing their manifesto to prove how signed up to the ‘fiscal responsibility’ consensus they are, but this seems a dramatic overreaction to that. Rather than just allowing other parties to make use of the OBR, this will be the Government requiring the Opposition to put their plans through a scrutiny process they control. (The OBR is technically independent, but it’s run by people appointed by the Chancellor) The potential for a Government to abuse that process is huge, and what would be the sanction for parties that choose not to meet this requirement? Would their candidates have to have ‘not approved by OBR’ on the ballot paper?

The whole thing feels very like post-democracy in action, ensuring that parties are locked into a ruling consensus and made to alter their plans to fit the priorities and decisions of the bureaucracy. The idea that an arm of the Government would be required to pre-approve manifestos from those seeking to replace that Government is the sort of thing we’d heavily denounce if it was happening in other countries, and should Labour end up in power I hope this becomes a policy quietly dropped during coalition negotiations.

Quick question: after Tories, Labour, Lib Dems, UKIP and Greens, which group is standing the most candidates? That would be the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) who have 132 candidates (according to Your Next MP) across the country. TUSC emerged from the ‘No2EU’ list Bob Crow and the RMT put together for the 2009 European elections and consider themselves the left-wing alternative to Labour. They are a coalition, not a party, expecting candidates to adhere only to their core policies, but free to run on their own priorities after that. It involves many of the usual suspects of the hard left including the Socialist Party (the one that used to be Militant, not the older SPGB) and everyone’s least-favourite cause-hijackers, the Socialist Workers Party. 132 candidates means £66,000 in deposits being paid to Returning Officers across the country, and I’d expect at least £60,000 of that to be doing its bit to relieve austerity by remaining in local council coffers after the election. The odd TUSC candidate may get success at a local level, but their Parliamentary breakthrough is probably about as far away as their dreams of uniting the Left.

Finally, something interesting but rather distasteful found through Election Leaflets: an anonymous ‘Silent Majority’ leaflet attacking ‘the LibLabCon’ that looks like it’s being delivered in Thanet South. It’s published by something called ‘The Political Reform Society’ which is based in a Northampton PO Box and while it’s not promoting any particular party or individual, the intent of it seems quite clear.

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Worth Reading 101: Linkage for beginners

Why Ukip, the Tea Party and Beppe Grillo pose a threat to the mainstream – Anthony Painter looks at the challenge populist movements make to the concepts of liberal democracy. The fuller Policy Network publication of his views is here.
When did you get hooked? – John Lanchester reviews A Song Of Ice And Fire and Game Of Thrones for the London Review of Books.
Jimmy Page, Aleister Crowley and the curse of Eddie and the Hot Rods – A forgotten moment from musical and magickal history.
The ‘Busy’ Trap – Are we too busy keeping ourselves busy to actually do anything useful?
WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Melanie Philips stole my Muslim transsexual baby, forcing me to eat my cat, which gave me cancer – Alex Andreou in the New Statesman asks just what we gain from our ‘raucous’ press.

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Review: A Dance With Dragons by George RR Martin

I dropped out of the ‘reviewing every book I read habit’ while attempting it last year, and I’m not planning to pick it up. However, I do like writing the occasional book review, and as part of the concerted effort to blog here more often, expect to see the occasional one dotted in amongst the political rants.

A Dance With Dragons is obviously the fifth book in the series, so if you haven’t read the others yet, be warned that there will be spoilers. If you’re watching Game Of Thrones on TV, then this really will spoil you for stuff that’s coming up in the next season. So if you don’t want to know any more, look away now…

Read the rest of this entry

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The politics of Westeros: Some notes

(An attempt at satire. Contains spoilers for the first couple of novels in A Song Of Ice And Fire and the Game of Thrones TV series until the middle of series two)

The politics of Westeros are currently dominated by the actions of the great noble Houses. On the surface, these Houses seem to have existed in their current form for hundreds of years, but closer examination reveals that they have all moved great distances from the lands they originally occupied, even if they have renamed places within their new lands with old names to present some form of continuity with the past. All of course covet the mythical ‘centre ground’, though none know exactly where it lies.

Currently dominant, though not in absolute power, are House Lannistory, renowned for the folk saying ‘a Lannistory always gets someone else to pay his debts’. Led by Lord Camwin, they currently hold power thanks to their alliance with House Libertheon, though some are dissatisfied by the compromises this has entailed. Camwin is obsessed with his legacy and with berating subordinates for not following his orders. He has sent the impish Lord Borion to rule King’s Landing in his stead, but now wonders if that is a good idea, as Borion appears to be building his own power base there. Lord Camwin has tried to replace the House sigil with a tree, but many think it should remain a roaring (and very British) lion.

House Libertheon, known for it’s sigil of a black animal on a yellow background, can point back centuries to when its ancestors were kings, though they tend to mumble a lot when asked about what happened in between. They share power with House Lannistory, though some question whether young King Nicholas has any Libertheon blood in him, or if he is actually a complete Lannistory. House loyalists have rallied around Lord Visionis with his claim to represent pure Libertheonism and the Orange Heart of the Lord of Liberal Reform. Others look to the younger Lord Socially, and his belief that the House should work closer with House Toiler.

House Toiler are well known by their red rose sigil, and were the dominant power of the land before their overthrow by the Lannistories. They are known for their occasionally progressive attitudes towards minority groups, but also for their ability to get involved in many different wars in support of their allies. Internal Toiler politics are complex, with brother often turning upon brother – currently, one of the Maceband brothers leads the House – while other lords jockey for position.

Elsewhere, the North is ruled by House Scot, whose King Alex (his sigil a salmon on a D-shaped shield) has declared its independence, but he knows he must come south to win many battles before that is recognised. In the West, the Greylloys sometimes proclaim the independence of the Iron Islands, though some feel they should merely accept a better position in service to the rest of Westeros. The Iron Islands are known as a very wet place, whose inhabitants follow the Soaked God and proclaim that ‘what is dead may never Dai’.

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