Sanity Is Relative

 

There’s a claim I’ve heard many times from my American friends. “The UK Conservative Party is more liberal than our Democratic Party. Those guys are sane, sensible conservatives.” And every time I see a claim along these lines, I roll my eyes.

Yesterday, it was announced that Britain’s double-dip recession is intensifying:

The economy shrank by 0.7 per cent between April and June, the Office for National Statistics said. It is now smaller than when the Coalition came to power in 2010.

Since then, the Chancellor has pursued a strict policy of austerity – “Plan A” – in an attempt to bring down the deficit, leading to accusations that he has not done enough to stimulate growth.

Wednesday’s fall was worse than expected and means that Britain is firmly back in recession, with negative growth for the past nine months.

Amid a growing clamour from business groups for radical action, one senior Conservative figure admitted that the economy was likely to be in “intensive care” for another two years.

The Coalition’s  been in power for 2 years, and things are now even worse than they were when they were elected. As a clearly on-the-ball politician points out here, the world’s economy is recovering albeit slowly while austerity-driven Europe is struggling:

“The challenge is particularly great in our neighbourhood…since the financial crash the world economy has grown by 20%. But Europe’s has hardly grown at all.”

…said Prime Minister David Cameron. Cue frustrated headdesking.

The Tories’ solution to economic disaster caused by austerity has been the same as George W Bush’s to Iraq: stay the course, and unsurprisingly had the same results. The Tory party might not obsessively attempt to restrict women’s and gay people’s rights, but their economic policies are as destructive as their counterparts’ would be and threatening to bring about both a lost decade and a lost generation of young people who simply cannot find employment. Supporting gay marriage doesn’t make David Cameron a liberal (as some would hold) – it makes him a typical conservative: supporting one kind of family value, while harming families with his idea of ‘reforms’.

Let’s compare and contrast what our Coalition and US Democrats have done or attempted to do:

UK: Undertaken a policy of austerity which has led to crippling cuts in public spending with only one of the promised effects: it’s causing a lot of pain to British people, but making our economy worse.

US: Passed a stimulus bill which stemmed the economy haemorrhaging  jobs and turned it around to the point where America has now had 27 months of job growth and 11 consecutive quarters of economic growth. US conservatives would like America to follow our plan.

UK: Raised caps on tuition fees to a maximum of £9000, which resulted in virtually every single university choosing the maximum fee, as anyone not a Lib Dem could have predicted. Students now face leaving university burdened with a minimum of £36k debt.

US: Extended low student loan rates to make life easier for college students.

UK: Overhauled the welfare system, with the following impacts: disabled people are worse off, companies get free labour from young people on ‘work experience placements’ (workfare) which still does not help them find work, families lose out on child benefit, household benefits are capped at £26k because everyone’s situation is the same, cuts to housing benefit instead of regulating landlords, and proposing that all young people should be deprived of housing benefit altogether.

US: Reluctantly renewed all the Bush tax cuts so that the unemployed could continue to receive the unemployment benefits held hostage by Republicans. The Obama Administration also offered states waivers from the work requirements in Bill Clinton’s welfare reform.

UK: Passed NHS ‘reforms’ which will create massive amounts of bureaucracy, put patients’ interests lasts, open the door for privatisation of the NHS which will lead to more of this awfulness, and saddle doctors with responsibilities they don’t want at the expense of doing their actual job of treating people.

US: Passed healthcare reform which will expand healthcare coverage to millions and act as a foundation to eventually progress to a single-payer system. In other words, Britain and America are now moving in opposite directions on healthcare.

As for those American liberals who think the Democrats are too awful to vote for this November, I’d like to point our ‘Liberal’ Democrats aided and abetted all of the above horror stories - in some cases after having campaigned for the exact opposite – which are helping keep Britain stuck in the mire along with Europe while the rest of the world pulls itself out. And that your Democrats voted for all the good stuff on that list. You have no idea what betrayal of principle is, so grow up.

So America, you have a choice. You can vote Republican this November and go the same way we in Britain have. Or you can vote to keep climbing out of the well towards the light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Sure How Much More Of A Beating Irony Can Take, Folks

Posted without comment.

The founder of a movement to increase racial diversity within the Republican Party told a crowd of tea party supporters on Sunday that they weren’t racists because “the Democratic Party is the party of the KKK.

Speaking at the first ever South Carolina Tea Party Convention, Raging Elephants leader Apostle Claver explained that Republicans would need to attract black and Latino voters if they intended to win elections in the future.

“Look around,” Claver told the mostly-white crowd. “Y’all hear me? Turn around and take a look. Where’s our black brothers and sisters? Where’s our Hispanic and Latino brothers and sisters? Our Asian brothers and sisters?”

I will however, note that the Onion’s continuing sustainability is the greatest unsung success story of our time.

The Iron Lady

Finally went to see The Iron Lady yesterday. From a movie standpoint, I thought it was excellent; as a biopic, it was good, but distinctly lacking in vital areas.

It’s impossible to comment on this film without addressing the controversy surrounding it – namely, that should it have been made while Margaret Thatcher was still alive, and should it have portrayed her dementia? Having seen it, I must say the treatment of Thatcher’s senility has been tastefully done, and served to humanise her in a way that little else could have done. A woman known as the ‘Iron Lady’ and for being the most divisive political figure in modern British history is not likely to arouse much sympathy, but this film has managed to do just that. As to whether it should have been made while she’s alive…books that examine public figures far more intimately than any movie have been published during their subjects’ lifetimes for decades now, so it’s hard to find a convincing argument why The Iron Lady should not have been made.

Now, to the film itself. I must add another round of plaudits to the universal acclaim given to Meryl Streep for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher. To call this mere impersonation is an insult to an extraordinarily talented actress and what she has achieved here. She doesn’t mimic Thatcher to a high standard, she is Thatcher. It is one of the most multi-dimensional performances I’ve ever seen on screen; as the film revolves around flashbacks, we see the contrast between the frail, lonely, dementia-stricken widow of recent years and the ferociously strong, sharply intelligent politician who blazed a trail to Downing Street for future British women to follow, and both Thatchers are brought vividly to life by Streep. I will confess, some of the scenes between the elderly Maggie and her husband Denis (another wonderful turn by the wonderful Jim Broadbent), who having been dead for several years exists only as a figment of her imagination, brought a tear to my eye. The supporting cast is also strong, if wasted; Richard E Grant as Michael Heseltine is barely more than a cameo.

A lot has been said about The Iron Lady’s refusal to go into detail about Thatcher’s actual policies or offer a critique of the woman and her government either way. While on the whole I think this a wise move, it does tend to make this more of a generic  ‘woman takes on the world’ story than a true biopic. When the film focuses on Thatcher’s growing and virulent unpopularity with the public, we’re shown scenes of protests, strikes and riots being crushed by the police, usually followed by Thatcher making a tough-as-nails, never-back-down speech. The effect of this, whether intentional or not, is to make Thatcher look like an exemplar of reasonableness and tough love; a mother telling the populace to eat their vegetables, if you will, because the policies causing the uprisings are never mentioned. But the structure of the movie itself offers a possible explanation for the apolitical to rose-coloured view of key moments in Maggie’s premiership – what we are seeing is clearly Thatcher’s own memories, triggered by events/ things in the present. It could be that scriptwriter Abi Morgan deliberately invoked the unreliable narrator device here.

On a related note, the Iron Lady’s main weakness is that, unless you are a politico or know a lot about Thatcher herself, certain scenes won’t make sense. As I’ve mentioned above, her policies are unexplained; the words ‘trade unions’ and ‘mines’ each get said about once during the protest montages and that’s it. Another example is the opening scene where an elderly Maggie evades her keepers to purchase a pint of milk at her local shop. It’s clearly a reference to her infamous decision to cut free school milk while Education Secretary, leading to the popular refrain of “Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher”, but how many people outside Britain or only familiar with Prime Minister Thatcher will be aware of the reference? Not many, I’d wager. And there’s the habit the film has of including key political figures without bothering to explain who they are or what position they hold. Thatcher’s Chancellor and the man who would start the avalanche leading to her downfall, Geoffrey Howe, is mentioned by first name only for the entire film and while he’s generally heard to be talking of things concerning money, it’s never explained that he is the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Overall, it’s definitely worth seeing on its merits as a drama. Just don’t go in expecting the definitive life story of a controversial, complex leader.

 

 

 

Quote Of The Day

Chez Pazienza:

The idea that it’s easier for everyone else to get naked so that it isn’t quite so obvious that the empress has no clothes on than it is for her to, you know, get some fucking clothes is the definition of mindless conformity, cult of personality and regression as a group. In this particular case, forcing everyone else to be dumber by revising written history so that Sarah Palin looks smarter — that’s the definition of an Idiocracy.

Anti-Choice Movement Hits A New Creepy Low

For some reason, an anti-abortion Republican in New Jersey thinks that a movie showing pregnant women who intend to have abortions being kidnapped and forced to give birth will somehow convince people as to the righteousness of his cause:

Kenneth Del Vecchio, a Republican candidate for New Jersey state Senate and a producer of conservative-themed films, is premiering a psychological thriller this weekend with a pro-life twist: Three pregnant women, who intend to have abortions, are kidnapped and forced to carry their pregnancies to term.

The movie, called “The Life Zone,” was produced by Del Vecchio’s “Justice For All Productions,” and is premiering Saturday at the Hoboken Film Festival in Teaneck, N.J. A press release describes the festival as “one of the nation’s largest film festivals, which Del Vecchio founded and chairs.”

Here is the trailer for Saw VIII The Life Zone:

 

Maybe I’m missing something here, but portraying your side as Jigsawesque figures doesn’t seem to me to be a great way of promoting the ‘pro life’ movement. If the point was to convince people that ‘pro-lifers’ are actually mentally disturbed, controlling, misogynist freaks, however, they have a winner.

But thanks Kenneth Del Vecchio, for really laying bare the true ugliness of the anti-abortion movement. All life is sacred, except those of pregnant women. Freedom and liberty for all, except for pregnant women.

 

 

 

The Very Serious Andrew Sullivan

Like John Cole, I just can’t quit reading Andrew Sullivan, even though he is completely unreadable  for weeks at a time due to a hideous combination of hysteria and self-indulgent twaddle. And even when he is worth reading, there are snippets in his  posts which cause my head to meet desk with extreme prejudice. Like this conclusion to a post about how Tea Partiers want government hands off their government benefits:

Yes, more taxes for the successful is far more popular than any cuts to actual benefits.

You’re right, Andrew. It’s got nothing to do with the fact that the wealthy are currently paying insanely low rates of tax and should be paying more, this is all about liberals indulging a pathological hatred of anyone they haven’t managed to get the government to enslave in their decadent enclaves on the coasts. Or something.

This is why I have such a problem with conservatives – money rules their world.  As any sensible person who watched the financial crisis unfold will know, equating wealth with success is absolute horse crap, because the people who caused it were wealthy on a scale most ordinary people can’t begin to imagine. This attitude is understandable, if completely self-centred, from the people who would be taxed more, but I have never been able to comprehend why ordinary people who would in fact benefit from the uber-wealthy paying extra object to it on the principle that it is ‘unfair’ or ‘attacking the successful’.  How is it fair that someone who earns a fraction of what a CEO of a corporation earns pays a bigger proportion of their salary in tax?

It should also be noted of course, that it’s very easy for a blogger in the DC media bubble to hold such opinions, seeing as he won’t ever have to struggle to pay the bills on time.

In Which I Tackle Clegg Derangement Syndrome

I’m very much in the minority of liberals in that I believe Nick Clegg is not even guilty of treason, much less deserving of being hung, drawn and quartered (and there are many people on the left who would volunteer for the job of executioner). Here is a chronological explanation of why Clegg has not actively betrayed Lib Dem supporters, but simply muddled along as best he could during the coalition and actually showing responsible leadership in the aftermath of the election in May 2010.

The results of the election meant Clegg had only one choice.  While no party ended up with a clear majority, the message sent was still clear: the British public did not want Labour in power any longer. Therefore, as the leader of the party holding the balance of power, Clegg was honour and duty bound to come to terms with the Tories, the party who received the largest share of seats in the House of Commons. Had he come to terms with Labour, he would have been rightly accused of propping up a moribund government against the clear wishes of the people (as understood under the FPTP system). He did the right thing.

Now, on to the coalition agreement. In their haste to make Clegg a hate figure, many people forget that the entire Lib Dem party voted on whether to approve the terms of the agreement and form a coalition with the Tories. They have been accused of settling for a pathetic number of concessions, but let us not forget that the Lib Dems actually lost seats in the election, and were fortunate to be in the position of having any clout at all. Striking a deal for the non-taxable allowance to be raised to £7500 was pretty good for half a loaf etting the Tories to agree to a referendum for AV was not mere breadcrumbs from their table; it was an impressive concession considering just how deeply opposed the Tories are to PR. As for the tuition fees fiasco – well, in that case Clegg and the Lib Dems’s sin was promising something they knew they could never deliver in making the wholly unrealistic ‘free tuition fees’ pledge part of their manifesto, and later pledging to fight any increases. The criticism they received on this issue was well deserved – if they had to do a U-turn on this, they should have at least demanded £6000 be the absolute cap and not allowed the £9000 loophole, which as anyone could and did predict, became the rule instead of the exception.

Plenty of Lib Dems have made screw ups and done unethical things (Chris Huhne being the latest), yet they have never received the opprobrium Clegg receives. Take David Laws, who, inexplicably, Lib Dem supporters fought a desperate rearguard action for despite the fact he was guilty of outrageous abuse of expenses.  His plea that he was desperate to keep his sexuality a secret was not only a poor excuse for his actions, but I felt it was also insulting to his partner. The whole distasteful affair seemed to me to suggest that Laws put his political career at the expense of his personal relationships, sadly typical behaviour for a politician. And then we have Vince Cable, who might very well have put the kibosh on the awful planned takeover of BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch if he had only kept his mouth shut. Whatever you think of the Telegraph’s sting – and I found it dishonest and a danger to constituents’ relationship with their MPs, and the PCC rapped it over the knuckles - it does not alter the fact that what Cable said was unforgivably stupid, and has now made the BSkyB takeover a near certainty.  So where were the torches and pitchforks? Where were the baying mobs screaming abuse at Cable for letting them down?

Blaming Clegg for the defeat of AV, while easy and no doubt satisfying, as it removes the need for introspection, is wrong.  The real reasons for AV’s defeat are gone over here, by myself and Paperback Rioter. It was hard not to pity the man, as he tried to fight for what he believed in only to be told “Go the fuck away! You’re not wanted here!” by almost the whole of liberaldom. Clegg can’t win – he gets pilloried for allegedly not fighting hard enough for Lib Dem policies by people who fail to grasp the realities and limitations of his position, and he gets pilloried for fighting for the Lib Dem’s Holy Grail – electoral reform.

Prior to the election, a popular Twitter hashtag was #nickcleggsfault. It was created in irony, after the right-wing media led by the Telegraph launched a blatant campaign to smear him when his popularity exploded after the 1st US-style debate. It seems now, that everything still is Nick Clegg’s fault, it’s just the people leading the attack have changed.

Cameron Adviser Sees NHS As Enemy To Be Destroyed

The ‘friendly neighbourhood Tory’ masks always come off in the end. Under that velvet glove of  ‘fairness’ is an iron fist of ideology:

A senior adviser to David Cameron says the NHS could be improved by charging patients and will be transformed into a “state insurance provider, not a state deliverer” of care.

Mark Britnell, who was appointed to a “kitchen cabinet” advising the prime minister on reforming the NHS, told a conference of executives from the private sector that future reforms would show “no mercy” to the NHS and offer a “big opportunity” to the for-profit sector.

Our friends across the pond spent generations desperately trying to move away from the kind of system Britnell wants, and have since taken a big step in the direction of achieving that goal with the passage of the Affordable Care Act last year. One state in America, Vermont, is actually about to introduce single-payer healthcare of the kind we in Britain enjoy, and unfortunately take for granted. The American people didn’t like their for-profit system, where health care was based on ability to be insured and ability to pay. Yet senior Tories would take reverse over 60 years of progress and drag Britain’s healthcare system in the opposite direction to which every other Western country is going.  Britnell suggesting  “no mercy” should be given to the NHS is the conservative id laid bare – anything they don’t like must be utterly destroyed.

Note that Britnell is talking about ‘future reforms‘. This is irrefutable proof that despite Cameron’s insistence that he loves the NHS and his promises to preserve it, these odious ‘reforms’ are intended to be a stepping stone to eventual privatisation of the NHS. And as for said current ‘reforms’, no one in the Government has managed to satisfactorily explain why handing GPs the responsibility of running and allocating funding for health services would improve the current system. Even my own parents, who are dyed-in-the-wool Tories, don’t understand it and think it’s a stupid idea. Doctors are not substitutes for bureaucrats, and I have no doubt that giving them these additional powers would adversely affect the job they were trained and are meant to do – namely treat their patients. Indeed, one of the actual problems the NHS has is an excess of bureaucracy, and this plan would actually exacerbate it by creating a whole new pile of red tape.

As touched on above, the NHS is not perfect. Indeed, the length of waiting times have been and remain a serious problem, many hospitals are not up to the standards of efficiency, care and hygiene that they should be, and health costs are only going to increase with an aging population. So let NHS reforms be targeted at fixing those real, tangible problems, and not at transforming the institution because it doesn’t mesh with conservative ideology. Our system treats healthcare as a right, which is as it should be. Healthcare should be first and foremost universally available and free so that people do not have to bear what would be disastrous financial burdens for something they cannot help – getting sick or being injured.  And naturally, should people desire an alternative, the option should be there – as it is now with private health insurance providers such as BUPA. Because health care is a matter of life and death to people, it should not be turned into a money-making machine;  the idea that companies should be allowed to make money on the backs of the sick and injured is morally repugnant.

I could write an entirely separate blog post on the flaws of privatisation, but suffice to say anyone who has used private services that were once public will tell you it has not improved services, but merely made them more expensive. It has been proven over and over again to be a failed policy, and so it would be the definition of insanity to extend it to our healthcare system. We love our NHS the way it is, and if the Tories succeeded in turning into a soulless machine where human beings come a poor second to the pursuit of profit, they would be doomed to a much longer spell in the wilderness than the one following Tony Blair’s victory in 1997.

This Is What David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ Really Looks Like

A very disturbing article in the Guardian reveals that despite David Cameron’s grandiose and vague talk of a Tory utopia where everyone joins hands and works together for the common good, his actual policies are creating a nasty atmosphere of suspicion and resentment towards Britain’s most vulnerable:

Disabled people have faced greater hostility from the public since the government launched its controversial benefits reforms, according to a survey by a leading charity.

A majority said that they experienced hostility, discrimination and even physical attacks from strangers every week and more than a third claimed the position had worsened over the previous 12 months.

Victims blame ministers for portraying all people with disabilities as scroungers as they seek to cut the number of people on the disability living allowance, the benefit now given to 1.9 million people deemed physically unable to work.

Scoring cheap political points, alas, is not a victimless crime, and as the conservative MO in most countries is to stir up resentment among middle class voters against people on benefits (read: people who are receiving the help they desperately need) to get them to the polls, it’s hard not to think this is exactly what they were hoping for. Now we have people assuming those in wheelchairs are frauds, falsely believing that because disabled people can -shock! – leave their houses, they must be faking it, and are demanding that their fellow citizens show proof they are disabled to them, who have no right to demand any such thing from these unfortunate folk, or are reporting them to the council. This is not the country I want Britain to be.

As someone who was until very recently unemployed, I too feel resentment – towards those who used me as a pinata in order to generate support for their unfair, cruel policies towards those on benefits. While there are people who abuse the system, and people who do regard receiving benefits as a way of living, they are vastly outnumbered by the genuine cases of people needing support from the state while they attempt to find work, or are living with disabilities and so are incapable of working. And I always found it laughable – after seeing firsthand on jobsites that there were at least several dozen applicants for literally every job – that Iain Duncan Smith and company claimed that people on Jobseeker’s Allowance just needed more incentive to find work, as if that would cause jobs to magically spring out of the ground for them. There are simply not enough jobs to go round even in the best of times, but the Tories, most of whom have never had to fight for a job in their lives, still don’t understand that.

Pro-Cuts Rally In Britain Is Fail

One of the many, many benefits of having no Fox News equivalent over here is that the few people actually in favour of  the Government’s cuts can’t spin this to claim Whitehall took on the properties of the Tardis as 10 million people rallied there in favour of cutting spending.