Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Sunday Papers (a primer on recent UK politics)

Ah. Sunday morning... wake late with a yawn. Quietly - so as not to disturb her - get dressed and dash out to the High Street. Buy two coffees, a selection of pastries and three of the chunkier Sunday papers. Hurry home (almost, though not quite, get scalded by hot coffee), deposit coffees, pastries and papers next to the bed. Undress. Climb back into bed. Wake her up with very cold feet. An hour or so later, reheat coffee in microwave, roll a Sunday morning joint and get pastry crumbs and colour supplements all over the sheets.

OK, so maybe you don't do caffeine, or p'raps you don't dig weed, or maybe your special person is a 'him' not a 'her'... but supplementary details aside, there can be few among us who do not crave at least that much normalcy in their lives. Whatever it is we spend our weeks doing; one thing unites all members of modern society... and that's our universal vision of the ideal Sunday morning.

Now I'm aware of course that such a bold and definite assertion is the sort of thing that attracts naysayers. Some smartarse will insist upon posting a comment about how it isn't the "universal vision of the ideal Sunday morning", 'cos their ideal Sunday morning involves scuba-diving down Everest on a surfboard. Or something. But you're fooling nobody mate, and every other reader of this blog is looking upon you with scorn and derision. Even if they say otherwise.

And rightly so too.

Anyway, this explains why I tend to be grumpy on Sunday afternoons. I've not had that kind of Sunday morning for way too long. Sunday offers little promise for we single folks and is a day best spent wrapped in a duvet thinking dark thoughts about happy couples and fretting about the direction our life is going in. Which means that even when I can be arsed to drag myself out of bed before noon on a Sunday, the closest I'm likely to get to 'The Sunday Papers' is to fire up a couple of news websites whilst deleting porn spam.

It's just not the same.

Though it is still possible to work up a good bout of righteous indignation at the news whether delivered by hardcopy or on screen. Mind you, the first thing I encountered when browsing The Guardian (as ya do), was the following headline... "Testicle torn off by ex lover". What maniac reads that story? Seriously, who could possibly be clicking that link? I spent 5 minutes wincing just from reading the fricking headline. Who in their right mind needs to know the details!?


And then something caught my eye. Oh happy day. It's so rare for there to be good news in the news. But there it was in black and white... the glorious continuing collapse of the Tory party. I do, of course, understand the dangers of a parliamentary system which fails to provide an effective oppostion to the ruling party. But even so. It's just impossible not to laugh.

If I'd known; while Michael Howard was pushing through his right-wing agenda as Margaret Thatcher's Home Secretary; that one day he would be leading a comedy version of that same party into a singularly disastrous third successive electoral defeat... well, it wouldn't have made the right-wing agenda any more palatable, but it would have made grinning and bearing it a little easier.

Of course what makes the whole tory-farce-thing merely a grimly amusing media spectacle, rather than the cause to celebrate that it should be; is the bitter irony that the left-wing party who kicked ten shades of shit out of the tories have continued most of that right-wing agenda uninterrupted.

For those unfamiliar with UK politics, the past 25 years went something like this...

The tories/Conservatives spent a decade and a half (under Thatcher and her minions) turning a traditionally socialist-leaning nation with an incredible welfare system in need of a major overhaul into a corporate capitalist enclave with a crappy welfare system in need of a miracle. They effectively removed the power of labour unions and sold off almost all nationally owned industries and services to private investors.

During this period the Labour Party was reinventing itself almost unnoticed. This party, historically an offshoot of the Trades Union movement was - obviously - the traditional party of "the working class". It was a resolutely and unashamedly socialist party. But someone, somewhere within the party made the politically astute realisation that enough people had - by now - bought into the capitalist myth to make a socialist party unelectable for the near future.

But if Labour could be something other than a socialist party...? Well, it'd be easy to capitalise on public disenchantment with the tories. They'd totally lost the plot by this point. Having spent so long in power they took it for granted and appeared to completely forget why they'd been elected. A whole bunch of them were implicated in corruption charges, ultimately some ended up in jail.

So forces within Labour started to shift policy towards the right. This culminated in Blair's NuLabor. A young, revitalised political party calling itself "Centre Left". It had celebrity endorsements and it promised Change. And Other Good Stuff Like That. It was a landslide waiting to happen. And it happened in 1997.

Then, the theory goes, Labour sheds it's NuLabor disguise. Ha Ha! We're Socialists after all. And we're going to tax everyone who voted for us, and use it to buy crack for inner city single mothers! The unions start to flex their muscles again and the nuclear subs are dry-docked. Meanwhile the tories have a period of rebirth, and so the pendulum continues to swing back and forth.

Except the theory turned out to be wrong. The pendulum didn't swing back. NuLabor wasn't a mask. It was the real deal. Even within the socialist party, socialists had become a minority. A sometimes vocal one; but a minority nonetheless. NuLabor really was a business-friendly, private-capital-friendly Centre Left Party.

And then something amazing happened. The political strategists of NuLabor saw a unique opportunity. The tories were in just as much disarray as Old Labour had been in the 80's. Now, one way to exploit the lack of effective opposition is to ram through as many of your extreme policies as possible. It's what's always done. Certainly it's what the tories did.

Think on this: if Labour had announced the re-nationalisation of the rail, energy and communications infrastructure in late 1997 they could have achieved it. They had the mandate. They might well have fucked it up, but they could have achieved it. Instead they continued the project of privatisation, and got still more distant from the unions and still closer to the bosses.

Because the other way to exploit a lack of opposition is to consolidate the centre ground. Adopt all of the popular policies of the opposition while they do the whole post-disaster, pre-rebirth squabbling thing. Then when they finally sort themselves out, they don't have an alternative vision to offer people. The centre has been lost. This makes the party less attractive to both moderates, and those on the extreme fringes, who only tend to remain in a nominally Centre party so long as it offers them a real chance at power.

And there are two ways for an opposition party to handle this situation. The first would have been to appoint Michael Portillo - young, talented, good-looking (for a politician), very charismatic, charming, and possibly gay - as party leader. Then fight tooth-and-nail for the centre ground. This battle will always be won by a dynamic opposition, rather than the incumbent party within a couple of electoral cycles. The electorate gets tired of the same faces, and the uncontrollability of world events plus human fallibility means that even the most well-meaning government will end up doing something to get them chucked out of office.

But the tories didn't go for option 1.

Nope. They went for the other one. They decided instead to consolidate their hold on the right wing. They appointed a series of less and less likeable leaders to connect with disenchanted party members. Specifically those members thinking about switching to fringe parties and lunatic cults. And it's got to the point where it's almost as if they're doing it deliberately! Few people would have believed that there existed three men on this island with less charisma than John Major. But there were. And the tories found them, and have appointed all three as leader since 1997.

The party has turned shooting themselves in the foot into an artform. Eventually ending up with Michael Howard... one of Thatcher's main minions! When people are fed up with the current leadership they want a change. They are not dumb enough to decide to change back to the last lot they desperately wanted a change from. Though clearly the Conservative Party thinks they are.

All the while a third party, nominally "liberal", has been chipping away at the support of both main parties. They are essentially a business-as-usual alternative so haven't been able to make much progress.

I'm thinking of starting my own political party.

So yeah. That's the situation with UK politics. NuLabor will get re-elected in a few months time despite being wildly unpopular, simply because you have to be insane to think that Michael Howard would be a step forward. More NuLabor isn't a step forward either. And everyone knows that too. But they don't like having the piss taken out of them, and that's what the tories are doing with Howard. By stubbornly refusing to change, they have ignored the message they were sent in 1997, and in doing so have commit suicide. Tragic.

But it's so very very funny as well. Arrogant fuckers.

The rest of the news was uniformly depressing. You don't want to hear about it.


Blogger L said...

I now feel very educated regarding U.K. politics. However, I still feel that American politics are FAR more stupid and insane.

25/1/05 03:53  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing about the Tories, the riots were always much better. People went down with a fight in those days. Now it's just several million standing in the fucking rain trying to stop a candle from spluttering out.

Anyway, Howard's played the race card now, and if the guy delivering the policy reminds you of an arrogant headmaster you might have blinded with a pair of scissors in a fifth form moment well this can have advantages when most of the electorate are people who don't like the way foreign people wipe their arses and so they will overcome their natural prejudice and unresolved childhood "issues" with authority and say Go Howard Go kick them wogs back where they came from and let me put up my wallpaper in peace without having to worry about being woken up by the call to prayer at the local mosque at dawn every fucking day.

That's the way it goes isn't it?

Who fucking cares? Switch off your radio/TV/web news sites and stick your fingers in your ears and tear that polling card up the minute it lands on your mat.


25/1/05 06:51  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

To be honest L, I agree with your conclusion that US politics are more stupid and insane than the UK. It's all to do (I believe) with power. Something deeply unpleasant happens to almost every human being who encounters power. A few appear immune to the effects (Gandhi for example... and my dad), but they're rare indeed.

With the United States being the global superpower it is and casting such a long shadow as it does, the power of the US political administration dwarfs that of everywhere else (though I have a suspicion that'll change soon).

There's so much more power at stake over there and so much more money involved; so politics in America is that much crazier as a result.

26/1/05 04:57  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...


I'm planning a post on the subject of 'disengagement'... and why I don't believe our times allow for it. But it could be a while gestating.

26/1/05 05:00  
Blogger Ryan said...

Or - "All the while a third party, nominally "liberal", has been chipping away at the support of both main parties. The electoral system has screwed them over for decades, so they haven't been able to make much progress. But in the aftermath of the war on terror, the Labour party moved away from liberalism almost as dramatically as they moved away from socialism, to the extent that cabinet ministers spend their time trying to figure out new ways of detaining people without trial. The "liberal" party also opposed the disasterous war in Iraq, and insightfully charecterized the Labour party as peddling "the politics of fear".

They still won't win of course, but, well, they are making progress to the extent that labelling them a business-as-usual alternative seems harsh. Business as usual but without oil wars (or at least our participation in them) and the suspension of the basic tenets of British law is a good start.

There should be an extra closing quote mark somewhere in this comment, but I can't work out where. Maybe here."?

26/1/05 18:40  

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