Prime Minister meets with controversial hate preacher

Prime Minister meets with controversial hate preacher

I’m not a Sun reader. You’re not shocked to discover that if you’ve ever had any dealings with me before, of course. Usually, I’m happy to let it carry on doing whatever it wants to do and let us coexist in our separate spheres, but sometimes it crosses a line. This time, though, it’s published something that even by its normal standards is absolutely horrific:

Katie Hopkins’ job is, like so many tabloid columnists, to be offensive and get people’s backs up so she and the paper can feed off their indignation. This, though, isn’t just the usual outrage-for-clicks that characterises a Sun column, this is pure hate speech: ‘spreading like norovirus’, ‘plague of feral humans’, ‘cockroaches’. It’s calling for the death of people she regards as somehow less than human, and then revelling in the prospect of death and suffering.

What’s important here, though, is that the reason we’re seeing these words isn’t just because of Hopkins. She’s been commissioned and paid for them by the Sun. At least one editor would have looked over that column and approved it for publishing, a sub would have checked it over, designers would have put that page together and printers would have produced the final version. This isn’t some random troll shouting on the internet, desperate for attention, this is the considered and published view of one of Britain’s best-selling newspapers.

In a couple of weeks time that same newspaper – and some of the same people who worked on the Hopkins column will be involved – will tell its readers how to vote in the election, and given what they’ve published recently about Ed Miliband, we can expect they’ll advise a vote for David Cameron and the Conservatives.

Norovirus. Feral. Cockroaches. A paper that used those words to describe human beings and wish for their death will endorse the Conservative Party, and the leader of the Conservative Party – the Prime Minister of this country – will welcome that endorsement. If David Cameron – if anyone in the Tory Party – had a shred of decency or dignity, he’d reject that endorsement and refuse to accept it. Do you think he will?

When The Sun makes its endorsement, other journalists – those who work for outlets that don’t brand other humans as norovirus, feral or cockroaches – should ask David Cameron if he’s happy to accept that. And not just him – there are hundreds of Tory candidates all over the country, standing for Parliament and in the local elections, who’ll benefit from that endorsement. They’ll happily accept the backing of a newspaper that regards some people as less than human and deserving to die, expecting that no one will challenge them on it. So let’s make sure they’re asked about it and let us know what their position is on being backed by a paper that’s fuelled by such hate.

(And if you want to do something constructive, go sign Save The Children’s Restart The Rescue petition)

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We’re almost halfway through the campaign – there’s no official midway day, with the same number of days gone as to come, but today we’re in the 19th day of it with 20 more to come, and tomorrow it’ll be the 20th day with nineteen more to come. If you’re still up at midnight tonight, that’ll be the moment we finally go over the top of the campaigning hill and start heading towards the bottom.

We’re also approaching the point when votes will start to be cast. From what I can tell, nowhere seems to have sent their postal votes out yet, which isn’t too suprising as they could only start printing them last week, but they should be heading out soon with people voting early next week, just around the same time as the deadline for registering to vote. Apparently, that’s also when the SNP will be launching their manifesto, and if this trend for late release of manifestos continues into the next election, someone will end up doing it on polling day. Indeed, if I was running the Monster Raving Loonies, I’d have a big event to announce we’d be launching it the day after polling day, to ensure that we only put policies in there that had proven popular at the ballot box.

After all the excitement of last night, I haven’t been paying too much attention to the campaign as I’ve been doing Masters dissertation reading of much of Peter Mair‘s work. Mair, who sadly died in 2011, was a political scientist who was very interested in the comparative study of party systems in Europe, and it would have been fascinating to know what he would have made of this election, as it looks like it’ll be a very interesting example of party system change. If you can get hold of a copy of The Oxford Handbook of British Politics, his essay on the British party system is very good and On Parties, Party Systems and Democracy is a good collection of some of his work.

But I think today is a bit of a cagey day for everyone, as we’re yet again waiting to see if the debate has shifted the polls at all, or if the story of this election will continue to be fluctuations within the margin of error. We likely won’t see the full picture of any debate effect until Monday, but this weekend’s polls could decide the tone of the coverage for the rest of the campaign. Then again, it’s the weekend after a debate when Miliband and Sturgeon did well, so it could just as easily be dominated by whatever nonsense scandals the tabloids decide to fill their front pages with.

While we wait to find out what we think, let’s take a look at another of the parties contesting this election that you might not have heard much about. Next on the list, standing 32 candidates in total, is the new Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol party. It’s an interesting campaign because it seems to be reversing the general trend for single issue campaigners, which is to build up to running in the General Election and then disappear from view after. From their website, they appear to be using the election as a launchpad for a wider campaign, and they certainly seem to have the funding for it, with their main backer being Paul Birch, who was one of the founders of Bebo. They’re standing four candidates in Northern Ireland, which is enough to get them a party election broadcast there, and also an interview with Slugger O’Toole.

I suspect the end result of this election for them will be 32 lost deposits, but it will be interesting to see where their campaign goes from here. There’s strong evidence internationally that decriminalization and/or legalization of cannabis is a better policy than the current criminalization, but the question is how that debate can jump into the mainstream here, as it has in other countries.

labourbadgerMy favourite discovery on Election Leaflets today is this one, but sadly it doesn’t mean that Labour are standing an actual badger as a candidate anywhere, just that David Drew really wants to protect them. Now, if one of the other candidates in Stroud could put out a leaflet with a baboon on it, we might be able to put Popbitch’s question to an electoral test…

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Two and a half weeks in, three weeks to go and it feels to me that we might have had the first big moment of the election tonight. There’d been a lot of pre-event discounting of tonight’s debate: Farage was guaranteed to win as the only right-wing voice, everyone would gang up on Miliband, Cameron would look good for staying out of the fray and much more. Instead, it felt like everyone had made a similar calculation: why go for Miliband when he’s there and can fight back when you could take as many free hits at David Cameron as you wanted?

Sure, Miliband had a few clashes with the others but note how many of those were based on ‘if you were Prime Minister’-style questions and except for the clash at the end with Nicola Sturgeon, how he responded pretty well to them all. He got to stand there, look calm, collected, human and Prime Ministerial while David Cameron sat at home, probably gritting his teeth more and more as the night went on. The polling bears it out too – Miliband seems not only to have ‘won’ the debate, but amongst people who watched the debate appears to have edged ahead of Cameron on the preferred Prime Minister question.

The Tory strategy, which seems to have imagined that Ed Miliband would do what he hasn’t done for the past four or more years and fall apart under pressure, is looking worse and worse every day. I mean, Ed Miliband might suddenly collapse into a gibbering wreck in an interview tomorrow, but it’s seeming increasingly unlikely, and probably less likely than the rage that seems to seethe under David Cameron whenever anyone criticises him finally bursting to the surface.

Of course, we now need to see what gets picked up and played on more over the next few days. So far, there seems to be a rather muted response to Miliband’s request to Cameron for a head-to-head debate, but Labour could keep the pressure up on that, as they likely know there’s no way it could actually happen, even if Cameron were to say yes. There’s also the question of how Farage blowing up and insulting the audience is going to be taken up, because it was a moment where he looked like he’d finally realised that he wasn’t speaking for the majority and instead looked like the pub bore challenging someone to a fight. Still, we now know what two hundred people simultaneously having a sharp intake of breath sounds like.

I’ll probably look back on this in three weeks time and wonder ‘what was I thinking?’ but things seem to have become interesting at last. That probably means we’ll see everything derailed by ridiculous tabloid claims over the weekend, but for now things might just have taken flight.

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Oh look, it’s another National Union of Students general election campaign. As someone who was involved in, then worked in student politics and student unions for most of the 90s, it’s somewhat of a surprise that NUS are carrying on with this, given the lack of success they had in the past. Of course, most of them wouldn’t have been born when NUS tried the ‘Target 70′ campaign in the 1992 election, highlighting the constituencies where the student vote could swing the result. It was a great campaign, if you forget the fact that election occurred when students were on vacation, and the backlash from the re-elected Tory government almost destroyed student unions as a whole. There have been others since, but its worth pointing out that spending a lot of time getting politicians to make pledges and not much on making sure students actually voted in 2010 helped create the situation we had today.

My favourite memory of the odd way in which NUS campaigns comes from 1999. The first Scottish Parliament elections had just occurred, and Labour and the Liberal Democrats were in coalition talks to form an administration. The Lib Dems had gone into that election promising to get rid of tuition fees in Scotland, while Labour were perfectly happened to keep them, because their government had just introduced them across the UK. NUS naturally sprang into action and asked student unions across the country to write, fax or email Jim Wallace (then leader of the Scottish Lib Dems) to tell him to ‘hold firm’. The whole campaign made almost no mention of the party he was negotiating with, and definitely didn’t ask anyone to contact them and ask them to give way. That would have involved NUS telling people the Labour Party might be in the wrong on something, and that would be unthinkable.

However, it is important to point out here NUS isn’t a union the way most people (including some in the media who should know better) understand it. Individual students aren’t members of NUS – instead, its membership is the various student unions at FE and HE institutions across the country. The individual unions (and guilds and associations and committees and JCRs and whatever else) all exist independently of NUS and aren’t local branches of it. NUS is basically a membership organisation allowing its individual members to benefit from the economies of scale can bring. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but it used to be that you could only be part of NUS Services Ltd (NUSSL) – the body that negotiated cheap beer deals for student bars, amongst other things – if you were a member of NUS. The same goes for welfare, legal, training, research etc services provided by NUS – by pooling together to provide specialist areas of support, NUS means individual unions can do a much better job at representing and helping their members (who are individual students).

However, access to all of that also involves being part of the political and campaigning part of NUS (and to be fair, there are several areas where NUS single issue campaigning and lobbying has worked) which is one of the oddest political arenas I’ve ever encountered. I know there have been some changes to the way NUS works, but the principal decision-making body is still NUS Conference, at which each individual union is elected by a number of delegates chosen at election by its members. The one thing Labour Students has always been good at as an organisation is getting its members elected as NUS conference delegates (even if in many cases people don’t realise they’re voting for a Labour Students candidate). When Conference comes around, Labour Students usually have a big enough bloc of delegates to pretty much ensure that whoever they want gets elected to the various important positions (though they normally let a couple of ‘independents’ get elected to some of the posts, just to make it look balanced) which means that NUS campaigns do their very best to not make Labour look bad, in return for which the senior members of Labour Students often get nice political careers afterwards.

That’s why the NUS leadership spent most of the 90s trying to push the organisation’s policy away from supporting free education, why Labour are never criticised for introducing and raising fees and why we were all being exhorted to contact Jim Wallace rather than Donald Dewar in 1999. But what it also means is that you shouldn’t tar all student organisations with the same brush. The NUS might be happy to do Labour’s dirty work for it, but that doesn’t apply to individual unions at institutions. They’re normally just doing the best they can for their members and are part of NUS because the benefits outweigh the costs, not because they’re trying to get themselves parachuted into a safe seat in a few years time.

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We’re two and a half weeks into the Campaign That Never Ends and we’ve finally got the manifestos from the five main parties all published. As I’ve said before, given that the election date was known a long time ago, there’s no real reason why they couldn’t have been released before now, but I’m not a well-paid political consultant who’ll have explained to the party leaderships exactly why it was a good idea to wait this long before releasing their plans for the next five years to the public.

The combined manifestos come to nearly 500 pages in total but the biggest of them by far is the Liberal Democrat one. While the others are all somewhere around 80 pages in different font sizes and designs, this drops in at a quite massive 158 pages, and it’s not using a large font size to achieve that feat. Unfortunately, while it has got lots of good ideas in there, it only gets a Lightfoot Test score of 1 from me, because the policies on the cover annoy me. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of extra spending on schools and mental health, as well as the idea of paying less tax – after all, who doesn’t like a government that promises to spend more and tax less? – but when those are coupled with balancing the budget, you’re straying towards the La La Land section of Flip Chart Rick‘s Venn diagram of public spending. Saying ‘cut less than the Conservatives’ shouldn’t be a boast, it’s the minimum commitment for a party that doesn’t want to dismember the state, and these front cover priorities would see other areas cut well beyond the bone to deliver them.

Despite the size, I find myself in the same camp as David Boyle and Ian Dunt in finding it a disappointment. It’s a manifesto of centrist managerialism rather than a liberalism with vision and purpose. The sheer number of policies is impressive – it feels like someone’s trawled through every policy Conference has ever passed – but there’s no vision to link them all together. As David says:

It is a document written to be used in coalition negotiations, and as such it works very well. But it is so hard-headed a document that people may not feel like spending too long in the company of the party which drafted it, for fear that they will start spouting statistics at them.

One wouldn’t want to spend much time in the company of today’s other manifesto, mainly because you’d get very weary of every conversation being steered towards the European Union, regardless of where it started. Yes, it’s the UKIP manifesto, and you’ll not be surprised to find it too scores 1 on the Lightfoot Test, regardless of where you choose to define it as starting to talk about policy. Every page of it is littered with something either stupid or offensive – Paul Nuttall’s photoshopped library on page 28 is a particular favourite in the silly stakes – but I think the most interesting part of UKIP will be watching their reaction after the election. A large number of supporters will be spinning conspiracy theories about how the election was fixed to keep them from winning, while the party’s various factions will finally have the space to coalesce and turn on each other. It’s particularly interesting to note that neither Douglas Carswell nor Mark Reckless were at the manifesto launch today.

Still, there are elements in the manifesto for political theorists to get excited about. The slogan ‘Believe in Britain’ prompts discussion of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and asks if the country goes away if we stop believing it. Meanwhile, their proposed question for a Brexit referendum – Do you wish Britain to be a free, independent, sovereign democracy? – could spawn thousands and thousands of words attempting to define the concepts of freedom, independence, sovereignty and democracy in Britain, the world and the 21st century.

Today’s amusing candidate found on Election Leaflets is South Dorset’s Andy Kirkwood, standing for the Movement for Active Democracy. He’s keen to overthrow the modern system of corporate feudalism, and the large number of pyramid images on his leaflet suggests he’s an Illuminati conspiracy theorist. Or maybe he’s actually an Illuminati agent using his slightly odd leaflet with it’s not-quite Comic Sans typeface to discredit those standing against Illuminati control of the world.

As ever, I’ve had a good idea far too late, but maybe for 2020 (or a second election this year) we can form a Discordian Party who won’t actually stand candidates, but merely declare themselves to be MPs in the style of Emperor Norton. ‘We’ve Already Voted For You’ might make a decent slogan, or distributing leaflets with just the word ‘fnord‘ on them and nothing else.

This time tomorrow General Election Leadershout 2 will be coming to an end, and I might have found an answer to the most pressing question: we all know why Cameron’s avoided it, but what does Clegg gain from not being there?

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london2brightonOld friends and long-term readers of this blog will remember that I spent the summer of 2006 walking from John O’Groats to Land’s End to raise money of brain tumour research. This was in memory of my brother Simon, who died from a brain tumour in 2005.

Now that walking bug has caught on with some other members of my family who are taking on a different walking challenge. Although I walked over a thousand miles in total, the most I did in a day was about 30 miles and that was partly thanks to me not realising quite how far I was going that day.

At the end of May, my brother Andrew, my sister-in-law Julie and my niece Lucie will be walking 62 miles (100km) in a day as they take on the London to Brighton Challenge. It’s a massive distance to walk, and one that I’m not sure I could do in a day even if I got back in training.

Like me, they’re doing it to raise money for brain tumour research and so they’re looking for sponsors. If you’ve got a spare few quid and you’d like to support them, then please pop along to their JustGiving pages – Lucie’s is here, Andrew’s here and Julie’s here – and make a donation. Every bit helps, and I’ll give an update on their progress – and hopefully, their successful completion of the walk – when the time comes.

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Another day, another Tory policy announced and ends up spinning off the rails before lunchtime. I’d seen mention of extending Right To Buy to housing associations last night, just after we were getting over the momentary excitement at the thought of Hampstead and Kilburn’s election being delayed then finding out it wasn’t, but even then it seemed like a silly idea. True to form, like just about everything they’ve tried for the last week, it turned out to be full of flaws, but it’s yet to reach the terrible interview stage. Sajid Javid got to be floored by Jo Coburn as their NHS funding pledge unravelled, so who will be asking ‘and how can you force charities to sell assets at below market value?’ and who will be floundering as they attempt to respond?

Two manifestos were out today – the Greens had their launch at 10am, followed by David Cameron releasing the Tory one at 11am. Both of them revealed problems with the Lightfoot Test I introduced yesterday – based on an idea of the late Chris Lightfoot, it’s the page on which I first encounter something offensive or stupid – in that while Labour went straight for policy on the very first page, they fill several pages with pictures and contents pages, thus managing to artificially enlarge their number. So I’m now modifying the scoring system to not include any intentionally policy-free pages to prevent this inflation affecting any comparison of scores. (Labour’s score still remains 1 under this new system)

The Green manifesto is the most information-packed of all the manifestos I’ve seen so far, and there are a lot of policy pledges in there as well as a lot of scene-setting text and background information. The design suffers from putting seemingly random words in italic text throughout which gives the impression of someone emphasising the wrong words throughout. However, it’s a good attempt at using their increased prominence to push the full range of Green policy, and not compromise on it to get to the big time. However, it only gets a Lightfoot Test score of 9 (page 15 of 84 in the full version) as that’s the page they mention banning all genetically modified food, which is rather silly in my view, and also ignores that we’ve been genetically modifying our food (both flora and fauna) since the dawn of humanity, it’s just that in the past few decades we’ve been able to do it with more accuracy.

Still, there are some good bits in there – I’m always going to applaud a party who’ll put Land Value Tax and Basic Income into their manifesto, and the sections on equalities and digital & information rights are very good – and it’s not a manifesto of despair or Gradgrindian bleakness, which makes it all the more annoying when you run into some of the more stereotypical examples of Green thinking.

For a party content to let their inner idiot run freely through the manifesto, however, you need to turn to the Conservatives. You’re probably not going to be surprised that they get a Lightfoot Test score of 1 to match Labour’s. Yes, on the first summary page of policies (page 4 of 83, just before the full page picture of David Cameron’s face to test your strength of will before reading) – which begins with the creepy statement that ‘we have a plan for every stage of your life’ – they feature the Right To Buy for housing associations. But fans of bad ideas will have a field day with this manifesto, as it’s absolutely littered with them.

In short, I’d sum this manifesto up as being both good and Conservative, but the parts that are good are not Conservative, and the parts that are Conservative are not good. There’s plenty of crowing over things that were achieved in Government, but almost all the good ones are Liberal Democrat policies and/or pushed through by Liberal Democrat ministers. Indeed, putting raising tax allowances as one of their lead policies, when David Cameron dismissed it as unaffordable in 2010 is perhaps the defining example of Tory chutzpah.

Moving away from parties with hundreds of candidates, after yesterday’s look at TUSC we head back to Your Next MP’s list of parties fielding candidates and find that next in the list are the SNP, then Plaid Cymru but I think they’re well enough known to not need me writing about them. Instead, we’ll move onto the next in the list – the English Democrats. Unfortunately, the English Democrats still have the odious Steven Uncles standing as one of their candidates. Uncles, for those of you who don’t know, threatened to sue Chris Lightfoot after he said the English Democrats “appear to be some sort of quasi-fascist mob” in the post where he first used the Lightfoot Test, then withdrew the threat after discovering political parties can’t sue for libel. All pretty silly, but then after Chris’s death, Steven Uncles made some pretty horrific comments about him, and for such time as the English Democrats remain associated with a nasty character like him, that’s all the attention they’re going to get from me.

To finish on a lighter note, I have to thank Richard in the comments on an earlier post for drawing my attention to another bit of candidate nominative determinism. The Green Party candidate in Forest of Dean is James Greenwood, combining party and constituency in a single surname. Now, if we can find a few more of those, I might be able to persuade someone to fund a study of whether nominatively determined candidates are more or less successful than others.

And that’s just about it for today except to note that some councils have started sending out postal votes today, so the first votes in the election could well be cast tomorrow. But if you still haven’t registered to vote, you can do it up until Monday by clicking here.

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