Friday, 24 July 2015

We'll Keep the White Flag Flying Here

Is there any situation imaginable that wouldn’t be made worse by the sudden appearance of Tony Blair?  “A war crimes tribunal in the Hague?”  Nice try, caller, but I did say “imaginable”.  And, sadly, “public reading of the blistering conclusions of the Chilcot report” seems destined to fail on similar grounds.

Personally, if I were leaping from the upper storey of a burning building and had to choose whether to land in a blanket held by Tony and his cronies or in a tankful of piranha, I’d opt for the Fishfood Belly-Flop every time.  But, with support mushrooming for Jeremy Corbyn’s wacky Communist pipe-dream that the economy should be run fairly, these are desperate days for Labour’s “Let’s Elect an Unprincipled Automaton” wing.  So suddenly, with timing as subtle as a sackful of rivets, there was Tony on our TV screens, all teeth, smarm and shamelessness, his tan reinforced by years of basking in the toasty warmth of Satan’s farts, burbling on at £200 a second about how easy it is to succeed in politics if you don’t give a rat’s ass about collateral damage.

“If your heart’s with Corbyn, get a heart transplant,” quipped Tony, confident that no one would be daft enough to ask him to be a donor.  But, in truth, the heart had already been ripped out of any party members who’d naively thought politics was about helping people rather than tactical pissing about, as they watched 184 of their MPs abstain on the Tories’ Welfare Bill and then pour scorn and bile on the 48 colleagues who actually bothered to do their job.

Of course, in the spirit-sapping world of Labour linguistics, nothing’s ever that straightforward. “We voted against the Bill, that’s clear!” pontificated Ian Murray to the BBC Scotland audience, without challenge from his thumb-sucking interviewer.  What he really meant was that they’d voted for their own lily-livered amendment that said, “Wow, George, we think your Welfare Bill is totes economic wizardry, but we’re a bit worried about plunging children into poverty, since we’d prefer them to be dipped in it smoothly, kind of like a cheese fondue.”  When it came to the vote their supporters actually cared about, they simply shoved their hands in their pockets and mumbled, “Whatever.”

For Ian, it was a signature piece of clever-dick politics, no doubt earning a high-five from incompetent career-destroying spin guru John McTernan.  These days, with the endorphin rush of truth surging round the Internet, it’s impossible to cloak Labour’s disintegration entirely.  But, for doe-eyed branch office wannabes Kez ’n’ Ken, any tattered Wet Wipe shoring up the party’s credibility in Scotland is welcome.  After all, who wants their pretendy wee leadership contest ending up as a 0-0 draw and having to be settled on penalties?

Acting leader Harriet Harman, who should simply have “DISAPPOINTMENT” tattooed on her forehead and be done with it, was more upfront about the party’s objectives.  The lesson of the election, she insisted, was that there were a lot of Tory voters out there, so that was clearly the market to target. To hell with the 9,347,304 people who’d voted Labour (an 8.6% increase over 2010, even after being marmalised in Scotland).  From now on, the way forward was to pander relentlessly to the Tories!

Now, capitulation is an interesting political strategy, and I suppose it gives your policy wonks a break from straining their pointy heads about social justice. However, I’m not sure it’s as effective in practice as it sounds over Chardonnay and canapés at a Notting Hill soirée.  A fat lot of good it did Ed Balls when he let it slip before the election that he didn’t have a Scooby what he’d do differently from Osborne.  And, if voters can’t escape having their lives made miserable, wouldn’t they prefer to be shafted by experts rather than by some shambolic tribute act?

“We need strong leadership,” opined Andy Burnham, the morning after going through such contortions over the Welfare Bill that he’d ended up with one foot jammed firmly in his mouth and the other back-heeling him in the arse.  It seems that Andy has a massive problem with vacillation, although he's not fully aware of it because he thinks it’s a jag you have before going on holiday.  As for gravitas, he thinks that’s a salmon delicacy from Scandinavia.

“It’s a complete mess,” acknowledged Yvette Cooper, searching her hard drive for her “concerned face” app while sticking resolutely to her game plan (it is just a game plan, isn’t it?) of saying nothing whatsoever about what she’d do to fix it.  Yvette’s long been recognised as the most accomplished politician in her household, but with the children growing up fast and Tiddles the cat showing signs of promise, who knows how long that’ll last?

“People don’t trust us with their money and they don’t trust us on welfare,” observed Liz Kendall, although one suspects her answer to the problem is for people to have less of both. Once a “pointless answer” on a TV quiz show, Liz is now fulfilling the same role in the leadership election.  Unless, of course, Labour members have a burning desire to be yanked catastrophically off course by Priti Patel’s more right-wing twin.

As party stalwarts’ eyes drift glumly from Monday night’s reputational wreckage to the three “mainstream” candidates aiming to preside over the party's 2020 gubbing, it’s easy to understand why they might fancy giving Jeremy Corbyn a shot.  He clearly has a soul rather than a motherboard, he energises people rather than making them want to beat their heads in with a spanner, he embodies lasting values rather than fly-by-night focus group fads, and if Keir Hardie walked into the room he could look him in the eye without his soul shrivelling up like a bin bag in a furnace.

There may also be some, if they haven’t already turned their shredded party membership cards into cat litter, who hope that at age 66, with his career mostly behind him and nothing to lose, Corbyn will have a crack at challenging Labour’s lumpen acceptance of austerity.  That would make for an interesting tussle.  I’m no economist, though in a fading light I could just about pass for Paul Krugman, but a dogma that constantly shovels cash at the wealthy while squeezing the poorest and destroying public services does look suspiciously like a heist to me.

But that very hope points to the reason Corbyn will never be allowed to lead:  he’ll bugger up too many vested interests.  Project Fear’s familiar drone is already audible in the background: he’ll be a disaster, no-one will work with him, if you elect him we’ll organise a preposterous coup and dump him in a skip, the Queen won’t have him in the Privy Council, ooh he’s got a beard and probably sandals, we’ll be forced into farm collectives and gulags, Labour will be out of power until the Klingons invade from Kepler 452b, we’ll all de-evolve into cavemen or (worse) nationalists…

Aye, right.

I don’t know what sort of leader Corbyn would make.  We’ve never seen him in any front-bench post, so he might be a brilliant innovator, or he might be fifty shades of rubbish.  But, boy, has it been fun watching the multi-coloured Tory establishment bricking it this week, and anticipating the mayhem to come. For that, Jeremy, however your campaign pans out, much thanks.

And remember, if it goes completely pear-shaped for you and those of like mind, Nicola and Team 56 will always be up for a Progressive Alliance… 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Team 56's Baptism of Fire

The Palace of Westminster is crumbling, in an image that lazy-arse writers have voted their all-time favourite download from  BBC News observes that the building’s “full of dangerous relics that need to be removed”, no surprise to anyone who’s ever listened to Baron Foulkes of Cumnock, and certain quadrangles are off-limits in case members are knocked skelly by plummeting gargoyles, though in David Mundell’s case it might prove to be performance-enhancing.

There’s no respite indoors, where working conditions resemble a Health and Safety film directed by Quentin Tarantino.  Any paint that isn’t peeling is probably held in place by asbestos, and hopping aboard one of the death-trap lifts isn’t recommended unless you have in your possession a good book, a giant tin-opener or the skills of Harry Houdini.  

In 2012 Labour MP Ben Bradshaw had to complain to the authorities about urine pouring through the ceiling into his office, in the only known example of the trickle-down effect actually working. And in the hopelessly tangled spaghetti-world of the catacombs, no-one can be quite sure which wires are safe to touch and which will make you smokin’-hot favourite in a Lisa Simpson lookalike contest.

Even though Guy Fawkes long ago entered the worm-feeding business, there’s still a hit-squad of slavering pyromaniacs a mere phone call away in Lewes, so there’s an easy solution to this.  And it would be worth it just to see the look on preposterous arch-fogey Jacob Rees-Mogg’s face.

But such a radical step is anathema to most of our parliamentarians, particularly if they hold shares in cowboy builders specialising in restoring fairy palaces at vast expense. So, instead, we’re in for a refurbishment on traditional British lines:  insanely over-priced, teeth-grindingly protracted, immune to challenge and lavishly funded by the taxpayer as benefits claimants huddle in cardboard boxes.  Oh, and one important characteristic you might term the “HS2 Factor”:  of absolutely zero discernible value to Scotland.

This is the cartoon cavalcade to which Scottish voters sent “Team 56” back in May, and we should scarcely be surprised that since those halcyon days of chip butties, selfies and Ruritanian claptrap the going’s got considerably more difficult for them.  They soon got the hang of reacting to events like livestock rather than human beings, despite lacking the authenticity instilled by centuries of inbreeding in the Tory shires.  However, they’ve occasionally struggled with the art of “bobbing” to catch the Speaker’s eye, possibly because (1) they’re a bit far away and dead unlucky, (2) the wee nyaff’s operating an English-slots-for-English-bobs policy, or (3) you simply can’t develop proper haemorrhoids until you’ve sat on the Commons benches for six months.

We’ve had some cracking maiden speeches, a sequence of words I never thought I’d type, gathering a YouTube following that must make contemptible barfbags such as Alistair Carmichael puce with envy. Hey, Al, maybe we’ll enjoy a maiden speech by the new MP for Orkney and Shetland soon, whaddya reckon?

On the debit side, the SNP contingent has had to endure several Tory stink bombs, such as Anna Soubry popping up at Scottish Questions as operator of the Mundell glove-puppet. Now, I know better than to venture an opinion on whether Anna is a woman, but she’s indisputably one of the most irritating people on the planet: snarky, arrogant, pompous and an inveterate whipper-out of the victim card if anyone dares to respond.  I’d challenge the Dalai Lama himself to spend more than ten minutes in her company without slamming her head into the nearest gong.

Dammit, I can’t pussy-foot around any more!  As everyone in the galaxy knows, the issue dominating the political agenda, and fully occupying Team 56’s waking hours in the last two months, has been the Scotland Bill.  Dear God, only the absinthe drinkers amongst us thought Full Fiscal Autonomy was immediately achievable, and after this year’s Higher Maths exam we’re used to being stymied by large numbers, but this was carnage on an unforeseen scale.  The braying hordes were determined to let nothing through, not even the weeniest, most innocuous amendment. 

Could Police Scotland be excused VAT, like every other polis force on these islands?  NO, came the booming riposte; get in your place, peasants, here’s a bowl of Coco Pops and two swishes of the riding crop.  Could the Scots Parliament be acknowledged as, ooh I don’t know… (consults first five words of the Vow)… permanent?  NO, suck it up, colonials, get too uppity and you’ll wake up to find Holyrood encased in a giant bin bag. Could we make Scottish MPs into second-class citizens?  Yes yes yes, that’s not even up for debate, let’s just insert “North British people are stupid and they smell” into Standing Orders and get on with shafting the poor.

I know it’s the Westminster convention that turning up to participate in debates is somehow weird and pathetic, and that “proper” MPs should be hanging around street corners, pimping themselves for £5,000 a day consultancy work.  But how soul-destroying it must have been for the SNP 56 to fight their corner day after day, watching tumbleweed trundle lazily across the Tory and Labour benches, only for their opponents to materialise at the last moment to vote everything down, like yobboes barging in after a night on the razz and stubbing out their fags on the carpet.

And I sincerely hope that Ian “Red White and Blue Full Body Tattoo” Murray, the Shadow One-Man-Band, does a better job of fighting austerity (or, if anyone bar Jeremy Corbyn takes over at Head Office, “promoting austerity-lite”) than he did of respecting Scottish aspirations.  Honestly, if you asked that guy about making the Forth Bridge a World Heritage Site, he’d hum and haw about pooling and sharing tourism and how we should appoint a Commission to decide whether a bus shelter in Sunderland wasn’t a fairer choice.

Anyway, the upshot is that we’re in the process of being “granted” taxation powers that are as worthwhile as asking Andy Murray to play at Wimbledon using a frying pan and gardening gloves, and even that’s before the House of Lords gets started on its own sneering slash-fest.  What a flamin’ stitch-up.

This annoying state of affairs has prompted some meaty reactions, especially in the parallel universe of Twitter.  There’s been more than a smidgin of impatience with the SNP, as if they’re somehow to be blamed for 56 being a smaller number than 594.  Should they be more assertive?  Well, we have an obligation to be stern critics, and I’m sure constructive suggestions would be welcome (tee hee), but, without wishing to take on the mantle of Mr Wishy-Washy, I think it’s too early to start agitating for that.

Team 56 is only two months into a five-year project. They were on a hiding to nothing on the constitution, and for some of them the first two months have been an almost vertical learning curve, but their ranks include some smart cookies and we should keep faith.  They’re bound to figure strongly in the titanic anti-austerity struggle to come, and may even make progress if Labour somehow breaks out of its habit of being the dark forces’ bendy toy.  Or if things start to look up for Greece, which at the time of writing seems a far more likely prospect.  

Indyref 2?  Lots of folk are clearly gasping for it, and the current blitzkrieg of triumphalism could be interpreted as the Tories attempting to trigger it.  It’s nailed on to appear in the SNP’s 2016 Holyrood manifesto in some form, but if I were in their shoes I wouldn’t go further than saying “we reserve the right to call this at our discretion”.  It would be underpants-on-head lunacy to frame it as a firm commitment until the polls start moving significantly and consistently towards Yes.  I’ll probably take only two or three more facesmackin’-youthcrushin’-poorpastin’-devastatin’ Budgets like this week’s for that to happen, but patience is required…

In the meantime, you and I need to prepare and plan.  Next time the indyref balloon goes up, on currency, on the EU, on pensions, on every hysterical piece of scaremongering that fouled things up last time, we need a well-researched, unambiguous position and a ruthless determination to deliver it loud and clear to every nervous, curtain-twitching voter.

That’s our job, and, however dearly we may love ’em, it’s much too important to be left to the SNP.