Twenty years ago today (been going in and out of style)

Looking out of the window at a rather grey and cool day, I remember that the weather on May 1st 1997 was nicer than it was today. There’s every possibility that’s just the memory cheating on me, but I don’t recall it as being one of those election days where we spent it huddled in the committee room waiting for a break in the clouds, or where your hands started getting numb from cold after too much final hours door-knocking as the sun went down.

I was in Colchester, of course, having come here to work at the University the year before and only discovering after my arrival that it was a Liberal Democrat target seat – indeed, the Liberal Democrat target seat in the East of England. One thing that’s hard to get over today in a time of easily spread information – how many sites can give you a list of every party’s targets from the possible to the ridiculous in just a few seconds? – is just how little anyone knew about what was going on in the rest of the country. There was the just the little bubble of what was going on in your constituency, and I was just a foot soldier then, doing deliveries and the occasional evening of canvassing when I had the chance. From that little bit of voter contact, things felt good to me but it was the first General Election campaign I’d been involved in so I had nothing to judge it against. For all I knew, we could be ten thousand votes ahead or ten thousand votes behind.

I was up early on the morning of the election, delivering a bunch of bright yellow Good Morning leaflets along Mile End Road before the polling stations opened at 7am. That’s a good piece of exercise to get you going in the morning as the road goes up a hill and a lot of the houses are set back from the road putting them further up the hill, meaning I was going up and down a lot of stairs to get those deliveries done. That’s something that hasn’t changed much in the last twenty years – there’ll be people out doing the same this coming Thursday for the local elections, just as they will on June 8th for the general election. The rest of the day, though, was in something’s the changed completely in the last twenty years.

1997 was right on the cusp of technology changing elections. We were wowed by talk of how all Labour candidates had pagers to keep them in constant touch with party HQ (there was a probably apocryphal story about a Labour MP refusing to take part in a sponsored swim because he’d have to be separated from his pager for the duration). Desktop publishing meant leaflets were being designed and printed in-house and canvass cards were printed grids from EARS, into which all canvass data was entered. There weren’t enough resources or knowledge around, however, to enable all of the constituency’s polling day to be run by computer, so most of the constituency was still doing it the old-fashioned way. Every polling district had its own committee room, and in each of those rooms was a big table with a bunch of Shuttleworth lists stuck to it.

Shuttleworths are named for the printing company who used to produce them for the Liberal Party. (In the Labour Party, they’re known as Reading lists, because it was Reading Labour Party who popularised the use of them) They were several sheets of carbon paper in different colours (always the same order, though someone else will have to tell you what that was) onto which you’d print details of all the people you expected to vote for you, usually with one sheet per road. When telling sheets arrived from the polling station, the person in charge of the committee room would go through the numbers on the sheet, check them against the numbers on the Shuttleworths and cross through anyone who had already voted. Because they were all on carbon paper, a line drawn through on the top would cross them off all the sheets below. Then, when it was time for someone to go out and deliver to or knock up people who hadn’t voted yet, they would take the topmost sheet from each Shuttleworth and have an up-to-date list of who needed to be got out to vote, while the committee room still had list with people who had already voted crossed off. The different colours and the visibility of the lines crossing out voters enabled you to see quickly which areas were most in need of attention during the day, with the aim being that the only sheets remaining on the table at the end of the day would be the ones where all the targeted voters had been crossed off. There was an elegance and ritual to it all that had built up over the years to make it a very efficient system given the constraints of the time, but it’s not hard to see why this would be its last hurrah.

The day passed by through door knocking while carrying around sheets of carbon paper and then it was time for the count. On the surface that looked just like it does today: Charter Hall with two big squares of tables (one for North Essex, one for Colchester), lots of people wearing rosettes wandering around outside the squares while inside them a small army of council staff were verifying, sorting and counting ballot papers. The key difference was in the amount of information from outside that was getting in there. In counts now, there are TVs in the hall and almost everyone’s got a smartphone where every bit of election news is at their fingertips. Then, there were just a handful of phones and information came via a whispered telegraph as people who’d been out to their cars told of what they’d heard on the radio. ‘Landslide’ and ‘400 seats’ started circling the room, followed by names of Cabinet members reported to be in trouble, even an obviously crazy rumour that Michael Portillo might be in danger of losing his seat.

And amidst all that, the Colchester count was turning out to be agonisingly close. Every new set of votes to be verified or counted brought a rush of people to the relevant tables to watch and count, the information being totted up on calculators to try and calculate what was going on. As the night drew on, there were more names of fallen ministers, more talk of seats that had fallen to the Liberal Democrats – we might win over 30 seats, someone even said 40 was possible! – and more obviously ridiculous mentions of Portillo. Meanwhile, it became clear that Colchester was looking too close to call. There were three big stacks of bundled votes in the centre of the tables, the ones for Russell (Liberal Democrat) and Shakespeare (Conservative) were almost identical in size, both just a little bit bigger than the pile for Green (Labour). It was past 3am now, and ‘recount’ was being muttered in resigned tones as people eyed the last dozen or so bundles of counted but unchecked votes that would perhaps break the deadlock. They were brought over to the counters, triggering another rush of people to watch, looking to see how they all were split.

And all of the bundles were Bob Russell ones. Suddenly what had looked close was now a clear victory by over a thousand votes, no recount required. All that work had paid off, and we finally had a golden oasis in the East of England, one Liberal Democrat victory amidst the red and blue that made up the rest of the region.

After that, there was a private party in the Britannia pub – now a Gurkha restaurant, while the campaign’s HQ on North Hill is a Thai – where I saw a TV for the first time that night and saw that all the talk was true. There was a Labour landslide, Blair was heading for number 10 and a dejected looking Michael Portillo was there in Conservative HQ while John Major conceded defeat. A world where Bob Russell was going to be an MP and Michael Portillo wasn’t felt very different from the one I’d known for the past two decades.

I finally got home sometime after 6am, more than twenty-four hours after I’d got up the day before, but still not tired. There were results still coming in, Labour’s number still ticking up over 400, as the Liberal Democrat one went over 40 and the Tories stuttered and slumped well below 200. It was another sunny day, ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ was on a constant loop and Tony and Cherie were off to the Palace. It was finally time to catch up on sleep, and when I did, I didn’t dream of a future like this.

It looks like you’re starting a new centre party. Would you like some help with that?

There used to be a distinct summer ‘silly season’ in British politics. Unfortunately, global warming and the catastrophic meltdown of most rational sense about politics in this country means we’re now living in a permanent silly season where ideas that would normally be laughed off are now taken utterly seriously. So, we have this:

Blair has publicly stressed that the institute will not become a new centrist political party. But in private, close allies admit that the idea of a new party emerging around the time of the next British general election is being seriously considered.

With Theresa May’s Conservative Party resolute in its hard Brexit stance, Labour under Jeremy Corbyn declining to offer resistance to the triggering of Article 50 to take Britain out of the EU, and the Lib Dems a minuscule parliamentary force with just nine MPs, the question of whether a new party is needed to oppose Brexit has become a favorite topic in Westminster.

While the Lib Dems publicly eschew such talk, Farron was contacted last summer by a close ally of former Tory Chancellor George Osborne, who suggested the creation of a centrist party called “The Democrats,” the New Statesman reported. Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem former deputy prime minister, met with Blair in November, ahead of the creation of his new institute in March.

Like so many ideas associated with Blair, this one too has its roots abroad, this time in the remarkable and rapid ascent of Emmanuel Macron to frontrunner in the French Presidential election. In the past year, he’s jumped from the Socialist Party, set up his own movement (En Marche! – or, as Google Translate likes to call it, Walk!) and become very appealing to a population that’s become very tired of the old parties of left and right. (By the way, if he gets into power and disappoints his supporters with his education funding policies, I’ve already copyrighted ‘Nick Cloeuf’)

Of course, if Macron wasn’t there to be held up as the shining example, then the mantle of Great Centrist Role Model would have remained with Canada’s Justin Trudeau who took the Canadian Liberals from third place into majority government in 2015. Like Macron, Trudeau was an outsider if you squint hard enough – the son of a former Prime Minister, he’d eschewed a political career until a few years ago – but unlike him, had the advantage of becoming leader of a party that, while it was at a low ebb, had provided more Canadian Prime Ministers and governments than any other.

Somehow, these two pieces of electoral fortune outside of the UK have translated into a belief that what the British people are crying out for is a new centre party led by Tony Blair and George Osborne. Like a rushed undergrad essay, it’s making a big leap to some rather bold and unsupported conclusions, but it is based on some solid ground.

Voter left-right self positioning, 2015 BES
First, there’s the fact that the voters of Britain do tend to describe themselves as being generally quite centrist. The graph to the right here (from the 2015 British Election Study) shows how voters position themselves on a scale from 0 (left) to 10 (right), showing a marked peak in the centre and fewer and fewer voters the further you get from it. Second, there’s evidence to show that in Britain when the two main parties move away from the ideological centre, there’s an increase in support for the centre (see Nagel and Wlezien, 2010).

Obviously, people talking about setting up new centre parties is of great personal and academic interest to me, but the actual prospect of Blair, Osborne et al doing it doesn’t fill me with any great hopes for its success (even if they’re eminence grises, kept well away from the public spotlight). It feels to me as though they (and others) have spotted that there’s a gap in the electoral market and decided that it’s necessary to fill it without asking why no one’s come along to fill it already.

The first problem is that the term ‘centre party’ covers a wide range of different parties and proponents of one don’t seem to have any clue about which of them their party would be. We can probably assume it won’t be one of the old Scandinavian Centre parties which tied old agrarian parties in which the urban bourgeoisie, but are they looking at following the model of the Christian Democrat parties that sought to occupy the centre between extremes of right and left, or the various post-dictatorship Democratic Centre parties (like the one David Sanders advocated last year) that sought to rebuild the democratic foundations of a country, or are they looking towards the model of catch-all liberal parties that try to combine both right- and left-liberalism in the same party? They’re all commonly referred to as centre parties, but they have a very different approach to politics and come from different political circumstances. It’s all well and good talking about the need for a centre party, but what is that party actually going to stand for?

Second, there’s the problem that just saying ‘we’re going to create a new political party’ is just a tiny part of the process. One can set up a nice shiny office somewhere in London, pay someone to design you a nice logo, but political parties need people to function, especially in Britain. Not only do you need to recruit a membership, you need to find an activist base within that membership who’ll go and do all the donkey work of populating the institutions that make up a political party. The key driver of the RoadTrip 2015 campaign that’s got the Tories under such heavy investigation at the moment was the problem of getting actual feet on the ground to do campaigning in key constituencies. It’s all well and good having lots of people to make interesting graphs in your HQ, but who’s going to be calling members and supporters in Easthampton West to find out who’ll agree to do polling station telling on election day? The idea that a party might somehow ’emerge’ shortly before the next election ignores everything that’s involved with creating an actually functioning political party.

Third, there’s what you might call the SDP problem (and I deserve some sort of congratulations for going a thousand words into this without mentioning them): the British electoral system makes it ridiculously hard for a new party to break through into Parliament. There’s a catch-22 problem for all new parties: you’re going to need well over 20%, possibly 30% of the national vote share to make a significant breakthrough into Parliament, but unless you’ve made that breakthrough into Parliament, people aren’t going to think you’re credible enough to be worth voting for to get you that share of the vote that gives you a breakthrough. Otherwise you’ll be following the example of the Alliance in the 80s (and UKIP in 2015) in doing moderately well in a lot of seats, but winning next to none of them. As I’ve said before, being an equidistant centre party is good for winning votes and terrible at winning seats.

That’s three questions anyone wanting to set up a new centre party has to answer, just as a preliminary: What does your proposed party stand for? How are you going to build an actual party, not just an HQ? How are you going to win Parliamentary seats and not just accumulate wasted votes?

Once they’ve got the answers to those, then we can move on to the more important ones, like how are they going to actually work in the current British party system. But we’ll save the advanced questions until we’ve got answers to the basic ones.

Tories show why skipping democratic reform was New Labour’s big mistake

Today’s Observer has articles from Peter Hyman and Andrew Rawnsley that possess an interesting joint theme, even if one of them is unaware of it. Hyman’s critique of Corbyn’s Labour through defence of New Labour and Rawnsley’s warning about the Tory attempts to stictch up democracy help to expose where New Labour went wrong. By failing to reform the way our democracry works, New Labour missed the opportunity to lock in a permanent change to the system, leaving all its work open to removal by a Tory government.

Much of Hyman’s article is a long list of New Labour policy achievements under Tony Blair and an admonishment of the party for failing to continue that process. However, what he failed to acknowledge was these were all policy changes, and that New Labour did very little to change the way in which the political system works. New Labour came into office with a great zeal for reform, and those first two years in office did deliver some lasting changes: the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, the Freedom of Information Act, removal of hereditary peers from the Lords, and the Human Rights Act amongst them. However, after that initial flurry, the drive for change came to a rapid halt. The Jenkins Commission on the electoral system reported and went nowhere, further Lords reform was allowed to fester in Parliament, local government reform stalled after mayors and cabinets were introduced, and regional devolution was being backed away from even before the North East referendum happened.

The problem was that the two landslide victories of 1997 and 2001 had convinced Blair and the heart of New Labour that there was no need for any widespread reform of Britain’s democratic system because it worked well enough to give them two convincing majorities. An anti-Tory majority in the country, willing to vote tactically between the Lib Dems and Labour to keep the Tories out, proved to some minds that our electoral system could be made to work. Failing to account for a time when Tory fortunes would rise and Labour’s fall, Blair brushed aside any idea that there should be more checks on the power of his Government, failing to take the long view and understand that there’d come a time when the Tories would come back to power.

This is where Rawnsley’s article is important as it explains how the Tories are doing what New Labour failed to do and using their current time in power to fix the system in their favour and ensure they keep everyone else out of power for as long as possible. They’re removing checks to executive power in the House of Lords, introducing boundary reviews that will drastically reduce the number of potential Labour seats, bringing in trade union reforms that will drastically cut Labour’s funding (on top of Osborne’s cuts to Short Money), and gradually squeezing the accountability from local government and making it dance to the Treasury’s tune. It’s a comprehensive effort to tilt the electoral playing field in their favour, while proposed reforms to the Human Rights Act and Freedom of Information Act will drastically shift power away from the individual and towards the already powerful.

Prioritising short-term policy victories over kong-term systemic reform wasn’t unique to New Labour, as it’s the same problem Nick Clegg had in the coalition, trumpeting tax credits and the Pupil Premium as major achievements while failing to deliver any deeper change to the democratic system. In both instances, it’s a case of a badly missed opportunity to deliver a fundamental change, and the Tories are now showing that while the centre and the left might miss those opportunities when they come up, they don’t.

What Labour needs now is a Smith, not a Blair

johnsmithWith many parties in flux right now, it’s a prime time for everyone to offer them advice, especially those outside the party with little to now knowledge of it, yet are absolutely sure they know what the party ought to be doing next. So, Labour people should feel free to completely ignore this on the grounds that I likely don’t know what I’m talking about.

The Labour Party leadership election appears to be taking place under a giant Tony Blair-shaped shadow, with much of the debate seeming to float around which of the candidates is the most Blairite, post-Blairite, worthy of the mantle of Blair etc That’s entirely natural, as Blair remains the only Labour leader to have won an election in the past forty years, but I think it misses a crucial part of the rise of Tony Blair.

The narrative of how Blair ‘made Labour electable again’ often ignores that Blair was not the leader the party turned to after its defeat in 1992. It was John Smith who the party turned to, and he was elected almost by acclaim, defeating Brian Gould by 91% to 9%. It was during Smith’s time as Shadow Chancellor that Labour had started to regain ground on the Tories on economic competence, and when he became leader he chose Gordon Brown to carry on that work as his Shadow Chancellor. Because of that work, when the Tory Government saw a complete collapse of its reputation for economic competence on Black Wednesday in 1992, Labour took a lead in the opinion polls under Smith that that they wouldn’t lose for the rest of the Parliament.

846_bigIt was Smith’s death in 1994 that gave Blair the chance to stand for the party leadership – likely several years before he ever expected it – and go on to become Prime Minister, but the important fact here is that Blair inherited a Labour Party that was already well ahead in the polls and widely expected to form the next Government even if the next election was still as much as three years away. To imagine that it was merely the election of Blair that somehow made Labour electable again is to ignore everything that was done before both by Smith (and Neil Kinnock before him) to put the party into a place where it could be seen as a credible choice again.

Regardless of the qualities of the candidates for the leadership this time, just imagining that electing one of them can magically replicate the Blair effect is to ignore the situation Blair inherited when he became leader. What Labour need is a new John Smith to steady the ship and do the work that needs to be done to reorganise the party’s strategy and policy before handing it over to whoever might be the ‘new Blair’ (or the first Jarvis/Creasy/Kendall/Cooper etc). I would suggest that what Labour need to do with this leadership election is consciously decide that now is not the time to decide who’s going to lead them into the 2020 election but instead a choose someone who’ll lead the party until 2018 or 2019, and do the work to rebuild the party that’s needed while encouraging the potential next leaders to develop their skills and public profiles, but not while being the sole focus of media attention as party leader.

As we’ve seen with Ed Miliband, five years is a long time to be Leader of the Opposition, and plenty of time for the media to slowly roast you while you have very little opportunity to actually do anything. Rather than putting someone else through that pressure again, wouldn’t Labour be better off asking someone like Harriet Harman or Alan Johnson to take on the job as an explicitly interim leader? That way, they can conduct the serious process of rebuilding the party ready to hand it on to their 2020 candidate, instead of thinking that five years of the sort of media pressure that’s made Chuka Umunna quit the contest after a week would be a good thing for any new leader.

Worth Reading 168: Perfection multiplied

Tony Blair is right on Europe – Jonathan Calder makes some wise points on how a referendum on Europe would be a disaster for this country.
Try, try again – Why forcing tests on children and telling them they’re failures repeatedly, isn’t good for them.
Mediocre Failures – Another take on why expecting some children to be branded as failures is a terrible idea.
Is the future of America a crummy service job stamping on a human face, forever? – When Presidential candidates from both sides seem to think nobody is complete without a job, is there another way?
‘Distraction is a kind of obesity of the mind’ – Interesting Guardian interview with writer Matthew Crawford about how quiet space has become another commodity available only to the wealthy.

2015 General Election Day 9: One Nation Labour, One Nation Danger

People who were born after this poster was used are eligible to vote in this election
People who were born after this poster was used are eligible to vote in this election
When Margaret Thatcher went back on to the campaign trail in 2001, they managed to link it to The Mummy Returns, which was in cinemas at the time. Unfortunately for Tony Blair – but fortunately for us – no one’s yet come out with a series of Daddy movies, and none of the movies currently in cinemas really work for him. I very much doubt he’d want to be linked with a film called Insurgent, for a start.

His intervention may be something that affects the campaign, but I’m starting to get the feeling that we’re in a campaign where most people would like something to happen that would excite people. It’s all feeling a bit like 2001, where despite all the bluster from all sides (‘thirty days to save the pound!’), very little changed at the end of it. It’s the sort of campaign that feels of vital importance to everyone inside it, but it’s not reaching anyone outside. Then again, maybe someone’s taken one of my earlier Twitter ideas to heart and hacked the computers of the various polling companies to show no real change in the results when in reality they’re churning up and down. I think you could call it a psychological experiment to see what happens to academics and pundits over an extended period with no real change in their data. (The first symptom appears to be starting #constituencysongs on Twitter)

Of course, a lot of the campaign time at the moment is going to be taken up with people getting nomination papers filled in and returned. This can take up a lot of candidate and campaigner time, especially if there’s a council election going on and you’re having to chase round to get papers filled in, find out where your candidates have taken them off to , or just try and decipher the names they’ve got and work out if they’re on the electoral roll. Those are all things I’ve done in the past in an attempt to make sure everything’s done in time for the deadline. (And if you’re suddenly possessed by the desire to stand, you have until 10am 4pm (apologies for the earlier error) on Thursday to get a nomination form filled in and returned)

David Cameron visited the Game of Thrones set today, and claimed he’s a big fan, but I can’t see what attraction there’d be for him in a series about a bunch of feuding aristocrats whose feuds lead to terrible times for the (barely noticed) ordinary people. After all, a Lannistory always gets someone else to pay his debts.

I’ve noticed something about the Tories’ ‘coalition of chaos’ leaflet (which is going out a lot earlier in the campaign than the ‘Danger! Hung Parliament!’ ones did last time). Obviously, there’s the fact they use Salmond instead of Sturgeon to represent the SNP, which both dates it and reveals their sexism, but they also stick Farage alongside Miliband, Clegg and Salmond on the ‘chaos’ side. The problem with that is that all those parties have ruled out the possibility of a coalition with UKIP, while the one leader who hasn’t is David Cameron…

No odd candidates to feature today, but when the nomination lists come out, I’m sure we’ll find some good examples. However, the contest for ‘silliest line written in an ostensible serious article’ has a frontrunner who may not be caught for the rest of the campaign: “Ed Miliband, surely as left-wing a leader as you’ll find outside Central America”. That comes from this article, which seems to stem from a bizarre idea of right-wing commentators that it’s surprising that contemporary Scots don’t share the same beliefs as the 18th century Scottish intellectual elite. Maybe they’ll suddenly swing to that belief in the campaign, but articles saying they’ve all gone mad are unlikely to be a catalyst for that happening.

Just a month to go until election day. We can survive this if we support each other, I’m sure of it…

Worth Reading 164: No Scrabble bonus

Who wants to be a millionaire? Peter Oborne on Tony Blair – “Something has gone wrong with our national life and the sad story of Tony Blair helps to illustrate the scale of the problem.”
Controlling the past – The British and Greek economies were not in the same position in 2010, and the lack of challenge to this claim has let George Osborne get away with far too much, according to Simon Wren-Lewis.
Labour’s new identity policy – Alan Finlayson for Renewal on the lack of any real theory behind the bluster of Labour policy proposals.
Ours to Master – Automation is both an instrument of employer control and a necessary precondition for a post-scarcity (and possibly post-work) society.
Ramshackle coalition of interests: Black Country edition – Alex Harrowell does some digging around the Afzal Amin affair and discovers some very interesting connections behind the scenes.

Eulogising Blair’s legacy ignores that he wasn’t as popular as you think

The disciples of Tony Blair exist in a strange situation, uncommon to previous followers of former British Prime Ministers. Unlike his predecessors, Blair left office while he was still relatively young and has hovered around the edges of British politics, with his followers still clearly hoping for his glorious return. For all the fervent belief of the Thatcherites, they never seriously expected her to make a comeback, but Blair’s still younger than several 20th century Prime Ministers were when they began the job. One can envisage him and the remaining true Blairite believers awaiting that time when a nation turns its eyes back to him and begs him to return at our hour of need.

Part of this process is the occasional hagiography of the Blair era from political commentators you’d expect to know better. Andrew Rawnsley’s today’s example, yet somehow managing to omit the word ‘moral’ before ‘vacuum’ in a description of Blair’s legacy to British politics. However, it’s the usual contention that Blair had a unique ability to get people’s support that no one currently has, and was thus solely responsible for Labour’s post-97 successes.

846_bigThere’s a myth put about by the Blairites that without him, Labour would never have won the 1997 election. While he may have had some influence on the size of the majority they won, to claim Labour couldn’t have won without him is, to use the technical term, utter bollocks. Claims like this forget just how toxic the Tories had become before Blair became leader and the general sense of national mourning that followed the death of John Smith. The Private Eye cover here is just an example of that – a sense that the country had lost the inevitable next Prime Minister. The job of any Labour leader post-92 was to hold their nerve, avoid any big errors and walk into Downing Street at the end of the process. Those that claim Blair delivered this victory need to explain how any other potential Labour leader wouldn’t have managed it, rather than pointing to his good fortune at being in the right place at the right time to benefit from it.

In a historical context, his victories weren’t as impressive as the encomiums like to portray them as either. It’s always worth remembering that the largest number of votes received by a party in a UK general election was by John Major’s Conservatives in 1992 and that Blair’s landslides were symptoms of a flawed electoral system that couldn’t cope with multi-party politics rather than any ringing endorsement of him. (For example, Labour received fewer votes in 2001 than they did in 1992) His supposedly great triumphs were the result of Labour being able to take best advantage of having a plurality of an electorate whose old allegiances were breaking down, not the ringing endorsement of the masses some would have you believe.

At his peak, Blair and New Labour were more popular than any leaders and parties are now, but that’s not exactly a difficult achievement. The trend in British general elections since the 70s has been a slow decline in the vote going to the big two parties, masked by an electoral system that protects them. Tony Blair’s just another point of data on that long downhill trend, where Labour’s decline was hidden by the absolute collapse of the Conservatives. To act as those resurrecting him would bring those times back is to ignore longer-term trends in favour of some Great Man theory of history, ignoring the luck of good timing and claiming it was skill instead.

Worth Reading 18: Now legal in the United States

And today, we’re 80% Egyptian-related:

WorldNetDaily: The Rise of the Muslim Anti-Christ Explains Egypt Unrest – No, I’m not linking to WorldNutDaily, just to Richard Bartholomew’s analysis of another one of their bizarre conspiracy theories
Arseholes, considered as a strategic resource – Daniel Davies on how dictatorships keep themselves in power.
Why Egypt 2011 is not Iran 1979 – a very good explanation of all the differences by Juan Cole
da brother’s gonna work it out – The Yorkshire Ranter on Tony Blair’s support for Hosni Mubarak
A True Story of Daily Mail Lies – And finally, something that’s not about Egypt, but is the sad truth about how some of our media operate (via)