Sunday, April 26, 2015

This Week's Golden Bullshitter Award

Surprising as it may seem, I'm afraid that the Golden Bullshitter award from this week's election campaign must go to Ed Miliband for his speech "The Libya Disaster is Totally David Cameron's Fault and Definitely Not Mine".

The short version of his point is that because the Prime Minister and the leaders of allied nations didn't commit a billion Ponies of Democracy to Tripoli following the fall of Gaddafi's regime, the current catastrophic state of affairs there is largely their fault.

While this contains elements of truth it is, to put it mildly, a politically convenient reading of the situation.  A more accurate one would go like this:

March 2011 - Presented with Colonel Gaddafi's attempts to brutally crush an uprising in eastern Libya,  Parliament takes a major gamble on deposing the Gaddafi regime in the hope that what follows it will be better, for Libyans and for everyone else.  Ed Miliband votes in favour of this gamble and supports it throughout.

From the start, the UK Government is aware that the British public are very wary of attacking the Libyan regime, fearing a repeat of the Iraq War debacle.  For public relations reasons, the operation is thus proclaimed to be all about enforcing a "No-Fly Zone" to "protect civilians". 

Privately however, it's understood that the Libyan campaign will be a straightforward regime change operation, with Nato providing close air support for the Libyan rebels.  Ed knows this full well, and continues to back it.

It's already clear at this point that the Libyan rebels Nato is supporting include a worrying number of crazy Jihadists.  Acknowledging this would be politically inconvenient however, and so Britain ignores it, gambling that after the war ends, any new government will be able to deal effectively with whatever threat these crazy Jihadists may pose.  Ed is fully aware of this, and says nothing about it in the hope that the gamble will pay off.

The war drags on until a sudden regime collapse hands victory to the rebels.  In Sirte, Nato forces are now providing air support for the Libyan rebels as they engage in precisely the kind of artillery bombardment of civilian areas and close-quarters, house-to-house fighting that the operation was theoretically intended to prevent.  Ed has nothing negative to say at this point, either.

Meanwhile, rebel forces have spent months engaged in activities that would certainly be described as "ethnic cleansing", "war crimes" and "persecution of minorities", if they weren't being perpetrated by the people that the UK were supporting.  Not so much as a tut from the Parliamentary Labour Party.

And then the war ends, with the new Libyan government greeting half-hearted offers of "support" with a polite "thanks, but no thanks".  Chaos soon ensues as the UK Government's gamble of a better, non-Jihadist government fails spectularly, with the Jihadists recruiting from former rebel fighters to form the core of the faction now calling itself Islamic State in Libya.

Which brings us bang up to date, with Ed Miliband this week denouncing David Cameron for taking precisely the same gamble on a Jihadi-free democratic Libya that Ed himself did, on the thin pretext that Ed would've mopped up afterwards a little bit more thoroughly.

Frankly, this contention should be greeted with precisely the same level of credulity as previous claims that the Iraq War would've all been fine, if we'd spent a few billion more on it or invaded on a Sunday instead.

Ed and Dave both gambled on Libya and lost.  Whether you thought the initial gamble was a good or bad idea, the only thing left to do now is to accept that the results of that rash bet are now streaming across the Mediterranean on hundreds of rickety boats, and to take responsibility for the consequences of your actions.

What Ed did this week was a bit of calculated political theatre, and he got away with it because everyone who might otherwise criticise him for it would have to admit that they too were nuts-deep in the Libya disaster...  And those people are still far too enamoured of their own nonsense to contemplate anything so damaging as admitting that they might have been wrong.

Still, that doesn't stop Ed's speech being solid gold-plated political bullshit, and so this week's Golden Bullshitter Award goes to him.

Well done, sir! 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Oor Election - Scotland Edition

What's your problem with the SNP? a family member asked this week.  She thought it was odd that I'd be consistently more annoyed by the Nationalists' pronouncements than by those of the other parties, especially since I've been equally scathing about most of the others at one point or another.

I've been giving this some thought, in case some unexamined prejudices are tainting my view of the party that's sweeping all before it in Scotland and now stands on the verge of a crushing, total victory.

(Note - if long, rambling essays filled with unverifiable anecdotes on the general topic of "Why I don't like this thing because blah" don't interest you, then now would be a good time to stop reading). 

Having thought this over, I think I can nail down a few basics:

I admit it - I really am a bit of a dick & I put quite a lot of time & effort into being one

I don't mean this in a jokey, self-deprecating way - I mean that if the opportunity arises for me to annoy people about some current issue or other, there's a good chance that I'll take it.   It just seems to be in my nature.

This means that whenever lots of people start bending my ear in unison about this grand idea or that, I'll most probably disagree, out of sheer contrariness if nothing else.

This isn't so good for my mental health, but it's an advantage whenever much of the populace is bedazzled by some shiny, mental new enterprise - banning things, bombing countries, radically altering the constitution on the promise of infinite ponies for all, or similar...  And the more fervently a wacky idea is pushed, the more arsey I'm likely to be in response.

This tendency towards dickishness about popular phenomena is relevant here because

Hardly anyone is falling over themselves to tell me how fucking awesome e.g. the Tories are

By and large, I can usually get through a day's work or a few drinks at the pub without anyone telling me that they find David Cameron's policies very appealing indeed, and how they can't understand people who don't.

I almost never meet strangers who ask me friendly yet probing questions about my view of Ed Miliband, and it's generally possible to visit e.g. a football chat forum without being bombarded with Ukip banners or people insisting that only unpatriotic arseholes would disagree with Nick Clegg.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said in the face of the very large numbers of born-again SNP types currently cajoling their countrymen throughout the land.  I've seen many party-political campaigns come and go and I can't recall any that resulted in quite so many people parrotting each morning's newspaper headlines back to me, unsolicited.

Nationalists appear to regard this very annoying trend towards legions of people habitually mouthing party-approved slogans as "democratic engagement", an entirely natural and desirable development.

To me, it's every bit as natural and desirable as it would be if people constantly struck up conversations, then suddenly produced trays of apple pies and announced that Mr Kipling makes exceedingly good cakes in earnest tones, because

No matter how realistic robotics are, they're always a wee bit freaky

If lots and lots of people unexpectedly started informing you that Mr Muscle loves the jobs you hate or that Lilt has a totally tropical taste, you'd probably begin to wonder whether you should stop drinking tapwater and sleeping in proximity to creepy alien seed-pods.

It's no less bizarre to witness people who have never shown the slightest interest in, say, nuclear warheads, suddenly launching into blazing tirades about Bairns Not Bombs, or to see people shoehorning the word "Scotland" into sentences where it would never previously have belonged - the people of Scotland, the economy of Scotland, more jobs for Scotland.

And this is especially odd because

It seems to be worryingly difficult for some people to distinguish advertising from reality

The most stark example I've come across recently: on three occasions in the past fortnight, I've tried and failed to convince new SNP fans to admit that Nicola Sturgeon is a politician who makes political promises based upon political polling, to further political aims that may or may not be in tune with the political message that she's signalling.

I don't think that this is a particularly controversial statement, given that the First Minister undeniably is a politician, who demonstrably issues particular messages based upon political calculation...  And I've found it absolutely impossible to elicit anything more than a vague admission that yes, she's a politician, but what about that Jim Murphy, eh?

This kind of thing isn't a problem at all, if we're talking about movie stars or footballers.  I find it a bit weird and alarming in a political movement, because 

I wasn't born yesterday  

I'm in my late thirties and I've seen a few election campaigns play out in a lot of different countries, so I'm aware that there's usually a substantial difference between What politicians say they will do and What politicians actually do.

Further, because I wasn't born yesterday, I'm aware that the SNP has been in business for quite a long time and that its track-record is broadly comparable to those of other political parties - and worse, in some respects. 

So when I now see the party rowing back its pronouncements on Full Fiscal Autonomy like it's just spotted a waterfall up ahead, I'm reminded that until very recently it was enthusiastically in favour of - to pick only a couple of examples - low corporation tax to mimic Ireland's Celtic Tiger economy; leaving NATO and introducing an alternative to the council tax.

All of these policies were once said to be core values upon which the party would not compromise...  And they were all dropped like shitty sticks, at the very second that they began to detract from the party's main goal of Scottish independence.

Because I wasn't born yesterday, I'm aware that the SNP are primarily nationalists.  They'd like to gain Scottish independence with a thumping majority in a referendum, but they'd gladly accept independence with fifty percent of the electorate, plus one vote. 

This means that, when I hear SNP politicians talking about their commitment to, say, equality or education or opportunity, I'm also aware that it's very unlikely that any of these issues would survive a moment's conflict with the party's core aim.

Or, to put it another way: I don't know how the Burberry clothing company would act if it ever won a substantial number of seats at a UK election, but I'm fairly sure that it'd be against foodbanks and unemployment, and in favour of equality and opportunity.

And I'd also hazard a guess that, given any power at all, the Burberry Party's policies would probably focus on people wearing more checked shirts and hats.

This strikes me as fairly obvious stuff, but it clearly isn't to SNP supporters because 

Staggering numbers of people seem to be spectacularly cynical about all politics and politicians, except for their own

In my lifetime, a variety of once-promising political figures and phenomena have come and gone around the globe, each offering a bright new dawn - Reaganomics, New Labour, Boris Yeltsin, to name but a few.  After a while, you start to get a feel for the general trend.

So I can fully understand why much of Scotland is currently up in arms over corruption at Westminster, with its array of co-opted parties and its fixedly deranged view of everything from benefits to immigration.  It's a shite state of affairs, and it has been for decades.

On the other hand, I'm fairly confident that Parliament won't be much improved by sending forty angry nationalist ragers there with a mandate to pick fights over the most politically expedient issues that they can find.

Remember, the Nats want independence, and sooner rather than later.  From their standpoint, a well-functioning Westminster Parliament delivering a popular, fair and mutually-profitable programme for Scotland and the UK, would be about as welcome as compulsory amputations or the Bubonic Plague.

So just as it once struck me as insane to send UKIP hacks to the European Parliament - an institution that they hate and wish to destroy - I'm unconvinced that sending a pack of cranks to Westminster with instructions to be as much of a bunch of dicks about everything as they can, is as good an idea as is being advertised*.

But this doesn't ultimately matter because

There's no telling some motherfuckers different

I know that there's pretty much no point in insisting on any of these ideas with SNP voters, because they just fundamentally don't believe that their politicians, once elected, will act like politicians.  Westminster politics may be an open sewer of filth and depravity but their politicians will be honest and true, unsullied by all the slime.

No doubt you'll find this attitude with other parties too, but it's absolutely dominant up here.  It seems ridiculously fanciful to me, and calls to mind something that a friend once told me, when describing her own social circle.

She said that most women learn early that men are usually compulsive bullshitters.  They learn it well and they remember it constantly, right up until they meet a man that they like.

And boy, do a lot of Scots not love their particular new flame.

*A short addendum here -  I neglected to note that plainly, quite a lot of people explicitly want SNP candidates to spend the next five years trolling hell out of Westminster and really, why shouldn't they want that?  

If people want to send lots of representatives to stand around ostentatiously taking offence at the most slender of excuses, or to make a series of demands that are explicitly designed to be impossible to meet, or to just generally kick up shit about how Parliament is corrupt and horribly biased against Scotland, then it's absolutely their right to do so.  

On the other hand, I notice that this isn't what the party are promising that their candidates will do, even though it's fairly plain that this is exactly what they'll do.