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Sunday, May 28th, 2017 07:36 am
2: a song you like with a number in the title

Ten Duel Commandments from Hamilton by Lin Manuel Miranda.

So, really early in this meme run, we get a song from Hamilton. It was always going to show up at some point - it's not much over a year since multiple friends with very different musical tastes raved to me about the musical, and I do in general like musicals anyway.

Ten Duel Commandments is one of the rare songs from Hamilton that can stand on its own outside the wider context of the musical. It's a beautifully-crafted exploration of the culture of duelling in late eighteenth century America, and weaves the disclosure of several crucial pieces of information through a counting motif warp that mirrors the classic pace count for a duel. And while it does stand on its own outside the bigger narrative, in the context of the musical both the song and the counting motif return multiple times at critical moments.

The song, particularly the title, consciously references Ten Crack Commandments by The Notorious B.I.G. - Lin Manuel Miranda says: 'So, I came up with the idea of doing Ten Dual Commandments because Ten Crack Commandments is a how-to guide for illegal activity in the 90s. And this is a how-to guide for illegal activities in the 1790s.'

If you haven't seen it, this Ham4Ham performance of the song outside the Theatre with stage manager Jason Bassett calling the shots is worth a look, because it's just delightful.
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Saturday, May 27th, 2017 08:43 am
Meme grabbed from [personal profile] sfred and [personal profile] ghoti

Meme list )

1: A song you like with a colour in the title:

This one took me a while to think of. I toyed with saying 'anything off Chris T-T's 9 Green Songs album', but none of the songs on the album have a colour in the title themselves, so this was clearly cheating.

In the end, I went for Fade to Grey, by Visage. Yes, grey's a colour.

This is just distilled essence of early Eighties, right down to the lyrics being jointly in English and French because why wouldn't you do that. I'm a lot more familiar with the song than with the video, which is a shame because I've just watched it now and the video turns out to be a thing of beauty by Godley & Cream right at the start of their video directing career.

As with any chart song pre-1983, I missed this completely at the time, but when I first heard it in the late eighties, it settled into my brain like dew from a morning mist, and has never really left.
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Tuesday, April 18th, 2017 04:55 pm
Hello, fellow Dreamwidthers!

This ... is a bit unexpected. When I first joined Dreamwidth, I decided that mirroring my LJ was a bit pointless, as I had a huge number of followers in common, and mirrored LJs seemed to suffer a bit from splitting comment threads across the platforms. Instead, I decided to Dreamwidth it as a slightly different, longer-form blogging platform, for a mixture of political posts and reviews. And I kept that up for a while, although it rather petered out a few years ago when I got a job with a longer commute and found I had less time for that. As a result, I had no interest in making filtered posts, my Dreamwidth was completely public, and I wasn't assiduous in giving access to everyone I knew on Dreamwidth because there were no filtered posts to give access to.

Meanwhile, my LJ kept going in the usual way for a few years, until there were too few other active LJ-ers on my friends list to make it feel worthwhile. Most of my LJ posts in the past few years have been about planned walks, and have had very few replies. I've still read my friends list and interacted on LJ, but my LJ itself was effectively inactive.

So, like many people. I've looked at the new LJ Ts and Cs and thought 'no way'. I'm leaving LJ; I may log in and delete my journal or I may just leave it, at which point it will probably be deleted anyway in due course. I've signed the Ts and Cs in order to be able to back journals up, but have done so on the basis that they're legally unenforceable, and ethically they only cover new entries that I'm not going to make.

The LJ exodus, though, has made Dreamwidth a lot more active in a pleasing and exciting way. It feels to me as though there's a very real chance that enough of my friends are now in one place that this will be sustainable as a medium for conversation in a way that LJ still was around ten years ago. With that in mind, I'm expanding how I use this account; I may still do longer political posts and reviews that are fully public, but I'll also do both public and filtered posts of a more personal nature, that are likely to be more of the nature of pub conversations with friends.

As such, I'm going to do a lot more active curation of my reading and access circles, and possibly set up a few filters. This is not how I've been using Dreamwidth so far, so please bear with me while I sort it out.

My LJ is now archived at [personal profile] djm4_lj. I decided to set up a new account for this, because of the separation between my LJ and Dreamwidth accounts that's always existed. This account is purely an archive; I'm not expecting to make posts on it or even log in to it except to adjust filters to add Dreamwidth people. This account, the one from which I'm posting, is the only account that you need in your circles.

I've also migrated the [community profile] bifest community account, for which I'm an admin on both LJ and Dreamwidth. It's not especially active, but I thought I might as well copy it over, and who knows? It might gain some traffic in Dreamwidth now that more people are active here.

So, hello everyone! Isn't it nice to be part of a busy and vibrant conversation again?
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Sunday, April 2nd, 2017 12:04 pm
I've decided to add occasional recipes as I cook them here. They're not really recommendations so much as records to myself of what I did, so that I can adapt and improve in future. One result of this is that I will occasionally be overly specific in terms of ingredients and kitchen equipment used; if you are attempting to follow them, there's no need to be so precise.

Quorn meatball and pepper stew with paprika )
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Sunday, January 1st, 2017 05:47 pm
[personal profile] sfred and I just kicked off 2017 by going to see Lazarus at the King's Cross Theatre, the 'David Bowie Musical, inspired by the novel The Man Who Fell To Earth, by Walter Tevis'.

It's a very singular piece of theatre. It has a Brechtian sense of alienation, and I found it hard to engage with. Bowie has done Brecht before - Baal, directed by Alan Clarke and an equally singular piece of 1980s TV - so it's unclear whether this alienation effect is deliberate or, as it could be, the result of someone unfamiliar with how to make theatre work seamlesly. The result is, deliberately or otherwise, disjointed, and means that while individual songs like Life on Mars and Valentine's Day carry an emotional punch, they're not anchored to any deeper emotional content in the rest of the play. I was affected by them, but I'd have expected to be in tears, and I wasn't. That said, that may have been what the director was going for - I've felt the same about some very good theatre elsewhere, and this wasn't in any way bad. I'd just quite like to have been able to compare it with an alternative production that took a more coherent approach, and seen which I preferred.

The look of the musical, with a lot of the acting done against or on a giant video screen in the centre of the mostly bare stage, was very reminiscent of early 80s pop videos, which is perhaps unsurprising. I could imagine them all being shot by David Mallet, as many of Bowie's from the period were. In fact, the whole thing as a sequence of pop videos also had something of the feel of Absolute Beginners the Julian-Temple-directed partial Bowie vehicle that helped to sink Goldcrest Films in the mid 1980s. Like in that film, a lot of the individual set pieces in Lazarus are powerful and impressive in their own right, but aren't really anchored in the rest of the narrative (IMO, Ray Davies's Quiet Life is a perfect example of this). If, in 50 years' time, what remains of Lazarus is a few online clips of some of the songs, it will seem as though the whole piece must have been amazing, where here and now it seems just the sum of its parts.

Bowie's songs are, of course, great, but the dialogue is unmemorable and creaky in places, and contributed to the slight feel of this being someone's A-Level Theatre Studies project. I realise that I'm sounding as though I didn't like it, but I did. If I'd missed it, and someone had later told me about it, warts and all, I'd still be kicking myself that I hadn't seen it. I've seen very little else like it, and I didn't feel restless in my seat once. Lazarus is an experience that I'm very glad I had, and will remember for a long time to come. I just can't escape the feeling that, good though it was, it could have been awesome.
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Friday, March 9th, 2012 08:27 am
I'm not going to have time to to do much posting during the Lib Dem Party's Spring Conference this weekend in Gateshead, for which many of you will probably breathe a huge sigh of relief. If I weren't busy enough, I'm now potentially going to have to do some reading up on both the Communications Capability Directorate and the Welfare Reform Bill (yes, I've downloaded the Spartacus Report), because I may have to talk intelligently on both of them later this weekend. Eep.

So, any posting is going to have a strict half-hour curfew. Apologies in advance for any terseness and lack of polish as a result (I'm not sure what my usual excuse is, though).

Anyway, later today, Nick Clegg and Tim Farron are going to urge Liberal Democrats to stop apologising and start celebrating. Nick will (I gather) say:

"And now it is time to move on. To stop justifying being in Government and start advertising being in Government. To stop lamenting what might have been and start celebrating what is. To stop defending our decisions and start shouting our achievements from the rooftops."

And Tim's going to point out:

"We got three quarters of our manifesto into Government policy, so I hereby allow you to stop saying sorry for the quarter we didn't get. And if people wanted that missing quarter, well they should have flipping voted for us shouldn’t they?"

I presume that Tim, like me, was brought up on Grange Hill. He's used the word 'flipping' for as long as I've known him - over twenty years - and it's futile to try to get him to stop now.

Both of those have some good points. It frustrates me when people talk as though Lib Dems have achieved nothing in Government, because from our point of view we have achieved a lot; much of it in areas we really care about. Mark Pack has a handy infographics showing Lib Dem achievements in Government here. The graphics may look a little twee - although I personally like them - but the bigger point is that these are things that most Lib Dems really care about.

This often comes as a surprise to people who aren't Lib Dems and who haven't followed the party closely. They (and many of them are my friends and generally clueful politically, so this is less critical than it sounds) tended to assume that with the AV Referendum lost, that was it for the Lib Dems. But that's not the case; you'll notice that the AV Referendum and Electoral Reform isn't even on Mark's list, even though just delivering the referendum was itself a major achievement, even though we lost it (badly). But electoral reform isn't the be-all and end-all of the Lib Dems, and in many other policy areas we've punched well above our weight. In a Government that's over 80% Conservative, the Lib Dems have delivered (and continue to deliver) a far more Liberal programme than could have been expected.

For that, they deserve unqualified credit, and I don't always give it to them.

Where I part company with Tim and Nick is in the idea that we should stop apologising or defending our decisions. Later on, Nick's speech continues:

"So: no more looking back. You can't drive if you’re only looking in the rear-view mirror ... So let's tear off that rear view mirror and look straight ahead. Let's get on with the job that we all came into politics to do. Making this a more liberal nation."

I'm not sure I want to get in a car driven by Nick Clegg. Sure, you can't drive if you're only looking in the rear view mirror, but the thing's there for a reason. It's not: "Cross fingers, signal, manoeuvre." Tearing the mirror off because you don't like the view in it won't stop you getting run over by a lorry, or knocking a motorcyclist into the road. There's a phrase for people who drive with the attitude Nick Clegg is expressing here, and that phrase is 'hit and run driver'. I'm not well disposed to them; one of them broke my arm three years ago as I was cycling home from work. That driver ignored his rear view mirror and focussed on doing whatever job he had ahead of him, too. I was off work for two months, and my hand has never fully recovered.

In our rear view mirror are, among others, the bodies of disabled people left reeling from the impact of the Welfare Reform Act. I don't want to forget them, and leave them lying in the road. I don't think that's a free or fair thing to do; it's not Liberal, it's not British, and it's not acceptable. We need (among the many other things we do) to look back, stop the car, and go back and help those people. Otherwise, we're not responsible drivers, however many other people we deliver to where they want to go.
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Thursday, September 15th, 2011 11:32 am
Taking a voluntary break from LJ/DJ/DW for a while. This is not a result of any one event directly, but is an acknowledgement that I currently simply don't have time/spoons/bandwidth to engage on-line in a consistently constructive or intelligent manner.

I'm randomising my password, so I won't even be able to log-in to reply to comments. Please don't expect me to.
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Thursday, April 28th, 2011 07:26 am
Next week, I get to vote in a UK referendum for the first time ever; hardly surprising, as there's only been one before in 1975, and I'm not that old. I'll be voting in favour of AV [1]; I don't like it much, but I like it more than I like our current FPTP [2], and I do like being able to express small, nuanced preferences. Incidentally, in another first for me I'm getting to cast two votes, because I have a proxy vote for [personal profile] sashajwolf, who will be on a pilgrimage to Spain on polling day.
Cut for length )
Anyway: TL:DR - I'm firmly voting 'yes' on the 5th, but there are better voting systems I'd prefer to have been voting for. And I've pimped it before, but the AV guide on Britain Votes is an excellent guide to AV and the issues around it.

[1] Alternative Vote - also known as 'Instant Runoff Voting' or 'Single Transferable Vote in single member constituencies'.

[2] First Past The Post - which is AV where nobody gets to express a second preference. No, that's not how it's usually described, but it's true. ;-)

[3] These claims are discussed in this PDF from the Political Studies Association, among other places.
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Thursday, January 13th, 2011 07:56 pm
When I was a young Liberal, my friends and I regularly used to do sketches at post-election parties to entertain the troops. Most of these are (mercifully) lost to history, but for some reason I can remember all the lyrics that I wrote to this parody in around 1984. It is sung to the tune of First and Second Law by Flanders and Swann, and is very much of its time, with references to the 'Alliance' and the perceived threat of nuclear war. It came at the end of a longer sketch set in a Conservative committee room for an actual by-election that had made the news at the time where a Conservative loss had resulted in some spectacular and amusing mud-slinging between the agent, his staff, and the candidate.

I don't claim that there's any great craft in the writing, and one or two of the lines test the scansion a little, but it amused [personal profile] sashajwolf when I recited it spontaneously in Liverpool, and I thought it might amuse some of you.
The First and Second Laws of Voting Dynamics )
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Thursday, November 25th, 2010 07:37 pm
Sometimes, messages from Lib Dem HQ have a timing that's ... unfortunate. For example, yesterday, I received an e-mail from Sarah Teather entitled 'Delivering a fair start for every child' at around the same time that I was reading tweets from Laurie Penny about the fair start the Met were giving to children in Whitehall.

Today, I received an e-mail imploring me to come and help in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election:

Dear David,

This Christmas, you can give Parliament a new Liberal Democrat MP.

Well, that does sound rather shiny, certainly, and I'm sure Parliament would appreciate a gift from Santa of this form. The MP in question would be Elwyn Watkins. During the election, Elwyn Watkins was reported (on and in the Saddleworth News) as saying that he'd be prepared to 'rip up' both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention (for clarity, that's the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, not any other Geneva Convention you might have heard of).

To quote from the first article:

Mr Woolas has dealt with these problems in government since October 2008 as immigration minister. He replied that, in his experience, the Human Rights Act was the biggest obstacle to removing failed asylum seekers.

"The biggest problem I have day in and day out is the representation from those who claim civil liberties on behalf of such people," he explained.

Mr Watkins replied: "So we need to change it." When asked by Mr Woolas whether he wanted to change the European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention, he added: "Sure, I'd rip it up."

Ripping up the either of those conventions is not exactly Lib Dem policy so, in fairness to Elwyn Watkins, I did e-mail him to see whether he could clarify this. Hot on the heels of the e-mail asking me to help in Oldham East and Saddleworth came Elwyn Watkins's reply, which I quote below in full:

Dear David
Thank you for getting in touch with me to ask my views on human rights issues.

As a Liberal Democrat, I am committed to fairness and justice at home and around the world. I find the last Labour Government’s record on these issues nothing less than shameful.

It was a disgrace that Labour knowingly allowed people to be handed over for torture. I don’t condone murder or torture, and never will. I was appalled that former Immigration Minister Phil Woolas allowed the detention of children, and am delighted that the Lib Dems in government are taking steps to end it.

On the specific issue you raised, it is right in my view that, in general, immigrants who abuse the system or commit serious crimes in this country can be deported, as the law currently allows.

Clearly there are other considerations in the case of people who have been granted asylum because it is likely their lives would be seriously endangered if they return to their home country.

Nonetheless, the position of the minority who abuse asylum is a genuine concern for local people, many of whom have raised it repeatedly with politicians of all parties.

It is not good enough to sweep these concerns under the carpet as Labour have done for 13 years. To not discuss these issues openly when they are of genuine concern to many local people allows extremist parties to get a foot in the door, and that’s something none of us want.

I welcome the coalition government’s commitment to a Commission to investigate a British Bill of Rights, with the express intention of clarifying how our commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and other international agreements best operate within British law and to ‘promote a better understanding of the scope of these obligations and liberties’.

This is a complex issue and I will fight for the right of everyone to have their views heard as well as, as a Liberal Democrat, for the rights of those individuals who are forced to flee their countries under threat of persecution.

For all of us Liberal Democrats, it is important to make sure that the kind of divisive election campaign run by Phil Woolas’ Labour Party in May is never repeated. For the Immigration Minister to knowingly stir up racial tensions, with a strategy his team described as a way to “get the white folk angry”, in a desperate attempt to hold his seat is a damning indictment. Only a Lib Dem win in Oldham East and Saddleworth will send that message.

I very much look forward to seeing you on the campaign trail over the next few weeks.

With best wishes

Elwyn Watkins

I'm ... not sure that's a retraction. Parts of it could be read to be incompatible with what he's claimed to have said at hustings, but threatening to tear up the European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention concerning refugees is such a big deal that I want a more definite explanation of his views.

So if, based on that, you think Elwyn Watkins would be a good Christmas present for Parliament, Elwyn Watkins of Oldham East and Saddleworth would very much like to hear from you.
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Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 06:53 pm
I'm getting increasingly frustrated with Nick Clegg's statements on tuition fees (and that starts from a fairly high level of frustration with him for singling them out as one of our long-term policies that might have to go in 2009).

Look, the point is not that the Lib Dem manifesto said that we'd phase tuition fees out. Everyone understands that we didn't win the election, so aren't in a position to implement everything in the manifesto. What we compromise about - and whether we compromise at all or just stay out of government - is up for debate, of course, but it's not a betrayal of principles to fail to implement a manifesto commitment if you lose an election.

No, the point is this pledge that Nick Clegg and all other Lib Dem MPs signed back in February. This is what it says:

"I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative."

Here's the problem: nothing in that pledge becomes impossible just because we lost the election. Nick's still an MP, he still gets a vote, and that vote can still be against an increase in tuition fees.

Yes, I understand that Nick Clegg now doesn't want to. I get that he now thinks that the Browne Report offers a progressive fairness premium or something - I'm sorry, I'm losing track of the jargon these days. I also understand that under the terms of the coalition agreement, MPs agreed to abstain at worst on tuition fee rises (that was noted at the time as being a hostage to fortune, but with everything that was going on then, I can genuinely forgive that slip up). But Nick Clegg's not even going to abstain, apparently; he's going to vote in favour.

A pledge, though, is a pledge. It's a serious commitment that should not be lightly broken, and people will be quite reasonably angry with you when you do. Menzies Campbell understands this. Vince Cable appears not to. It might be seen to be OK to break a pledge if unforeseeable circumstances made keeping the pledge impossible, but it's not OK to break it because it's now politically inconvenient.

And it's really not OK to act as though the pledge were a manifesto commitment that the Lib Dems could only stick to if we won a majority government. It was a pledge to vote against a policy, not a pledge to ensure the policy didn't get passed. Nick, Vince and the rest can still vote against the policy and, IMO, should. Alternatively, they can 'fess up to voluntarily going back on the pledge, and plead changed circumstances; it'll still make people angry, but it's better than falsely claiming that being in a coalition now makes the pledge impossible to keep.

And all MPs should probably be a lot more careful about making pledges that they don't really mean. They might get called on them one day.
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Sunday, October 31st, 2010 07:18 am
As I reported on Twitter yesterday, Stephen Fry - broadcaster, writer, polymath and Great British Institution - has patiently explained to all us straight men that our unfortunate situation is due to the fact that women don't like sex as much as men.

Edit: According to Stephen 'So some fucking paper misquotes a humorous interview I gave, which itself misquoted me and now I'm the Antichrist. I give up.'. Hmmm. end of edit

Edit 2: video of him saying much the same. So, possibly not all that misquoted, eh? end of edit 2

What's his evidence for this? Some groundbreaking psychology paper? A longitudinal study of sexual mores in a variety of cultures, attempting to control for social pressures and the problems of truly assessing private behaviour? No. According to Stephen Fry: "If women liked sex as much as men, there would be straight cruising areas in the way there are gay cruising areas. Women would go and hang around in churchyards thinking: 'God, I've got to get my fucking rocks off', or they'd go to Hampstead Heath and meet strangers to shag behind a bush. It doesn't happen. Why? Because the only women you can have sex with like that wish to be paid for it ... Of course, a lot of women will deny this and say, 'Oh no, but I love sex, I love it!' But do they go around having it the way that gay men do?"

I could probably write about what's wrong with this for hours - but I have to be at Heathrow Airport for 9:45 and don't really have time. I'll leave it to my friends who have sex with men to let me know whether willingness to go cruising in Hampstead Heath is a fair assessment of men's sexuality. I have a hunch that it's not, but I don't have a lot of experience in the area. However, using that as evidence that women don't like sex is highly suspect.

It would be like me saying: 'If same-sex couples liked physical affection as much as opposite-sex couples, then you'd see them being physically affectionate in public. Same-sex couples would hold hands in the street, cuddle on buses and drunkenly snog on trains home from nightclubs as much as opposite-sex couples do.' I hope everyone reading this will recognise that as a fallacious argument, but in case you don't, one big reason that rarely happens outside a few, well-known safe spaces, is that for a same-sex couple to show physical affection in public is to risk abuse, ridicule and violence. Yes, even today, and even if it were completely safe today, it would take a generation for the fear to go away.

Similarly, a woman who openly admits to liking sex is leaving herself open to being called a slut, being disrespected, and being raped. This study, in 2005 (and I know there have been others, but this makes the point) found that '...26 per cent of adults believed that a women was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing. Some 22 per cent held the same view if a woman had had many sexual partners.' Although the question was not asked, I suspect that figure would be even higher for 'a woman who was known to go out onto Hampstead Heath for indiscriminate sex'.

It's slightly off the point, but I'd also like to state that I have a number of women friends who don't have sex with me, and I don't feel that my life is impoverished by that. Anyone who has someone like Clare or Natalya as a friend and who thinks 'I'm so annoyed that I don't get to have sex with them' rather than 'I'm so lucky that this awesome person is in my life' doesn't deserve that sort of luck.

Stephen Fry took over Douglas Adams's role in the second series of Last Chance To See. It was mostly a great series, but there were times when the comparison was revealing. With Douglas, the more strange he found a culture or behaviour (human or animal), the more he tried to understand it, and the more familiar it was, the more he picked at it suspiciously. With Stephen, he was very much the Englishman abroad, missing his home comforts and gently mocking the odd habits of Johnny Foreigner. There was nothing in Stephen's version that came close to Douglas's elegant exploration of how it might feel to be a rhinoceros, getting the bulk of one's sensory information from smell rather than sight.

I think this is another manifestation of this same problem. Women do not behave like Stephen Frys, and Stephen is quicker to mock and criticise the difference than he is to understand it.
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Thursday, October 21st, 2010 03:08 am
There's a scene in Babylon Five, in which Vir Cotto finds himself unexpectedly in a lift with G'Kar. Vir Cotto's people, the Centauri, have just launched a devastating attack on G'Kar's people, the Narn, bombing the Narn homeworld from orbit with asteroids in contravention of pretty much every rule of engagement in the B5 universe and killing millions. Vir, who is profoudly unhappy with the actions of his people, attempts to apologise. G'Kar gives a graphic demonstration of why an apology is, at that point, futile.

It's here, if you want to watch it (warning, contains blood, and is probably triggering for self-harm):

As a Lib Dem, trying to write about the spending review and it's effect upon the most vulnerable and least wealthy members of our society, I find myself reminded strongly of Vir. I want to apologise for what I think's going to happen, and for the fact that people who are already struggling to cope are going to need to struggle that bit more, and - unless a miracle happens - some of them are going to be unable to cope. Many of these people are my friends. Some live on the same street as me. (It shouldn't matter if they weren't, of course, but I do suspect that none of them live on the same street as George Osborne, nor Nick Clegg.)

I want to apologise but, really, what use is an apology in this situation? I'll make one anyway, mind you; I'm sorry about what my party (in coalition, yes, but still my party) is doing to welfare. I'm especially sorry as the manifesto contained a far more enlightened attitude both to supporting people who could be helped to find work and to continuing to support those who couldn't. I don't need the apology to be accepted, and I'm aware it may not be, but I'm sorry, and I'll continue to argue both within the party and outside it for the importance of having a strong welfare state. And I'll continue to question my support for the party as a whole.

Because, I'm proud of the welfare state. I'm not, I hasten to add, proud of the fact that we need it, but given that we do need it, I'm proud that it's there. I'm also aware that, as a rule, it sucks to be on welfare. I'm not speaking from direct experience here - although I was claiming JSA for the past six months, I was doing it in the context of a family who could support me anyway, so I don't for a moment think I have a significant personal insight into it - but everything I read from those who are in that situation leads me to think this.

I possibly know the wrong people, but by and large, the people I know who are in receipt of some welfare payments are among the hardest working people I know. Circumstances, one way and another, have put them in a position where they need some help from the state to get by, but they are not lazy, and they are not work-shy, and they have not chosen 'living off the state' as a 'lifestyle'. I don't want that help to be removed; it's one of the last things (yes, even after the sainted BBC) that we should be cutting. Times are going to be tough ahead, and there are going to be more people who need state support to get by, and I don't think there's any excuse for reducing that support at a time when it's going to be most needed.

In fact, I think it's wrongheaded to look at welfare as 'something we can take money from to balance the budget', which from recent speeches seems to be how both Nick Clegg and George Osborne are looking at it. The welfare budget is there to help the vulnerable. Sure, if there are suddenly fewer vulnerable people, or they each need less support, the welfare budget will go down. But to aim to cut the budget without either of those things being true, as we are doing, is to say to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society 'sorry, but we can't give you as much support as we used to, whether or not you need it'. I simply don't think the country's finances are that dire.

(I realise that I'm treating a complex set of issues as somewhat monolithic here, but I feel I've got the overall picture right. I also realise that this may all look different in the morning, but the spending review, and my Vir-like reaction to it, was keeping me awake, and so I thought I may as well write about it.)
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Tuesday, September 21st, 2010 07:48 am
I missed what was apparently the highlight of Conference yesterday. Not Nick Clegg's speech (which was IMO good, if perhaps understandably serious and businesslike), but Ben Summerskill of Stonewall's assertion, at the DELGA fringe meeting, that marriage equality for same- and different-sex marriages would cost £5 billion to implement, and therefore we shouldn't do it. (I wasn't at the fringe, so this isn't an eye-witness report, but apart from the Pink News article I had a long chat with a friend who had come directly from the fringe and told me exactly the same thing.)

His reasons - that heterosexual couples might take up civil partnerships for increased pension payments and that same-sex platonic friends might get marries for tax breaks - are worthy of The Daily Mail. But let's just for a moment assume, for the sake of argument, that he's right. Let's assume that giving marriages and civil partnerships equal footing would cost £5 billion. Suddenly civil partnerships and marriages don't sound so equal any more, do they?

Edit: it strikes me that, as his examples involved different-sex couples supposedly gaining extra benefits under civil partnerships, he might have been trying to make a point to privileged people about how discrimination looks. If so, I think he was making it badly and, actually, I don't really believe he was being that subtle.

Edit 2: it occurs to me that the figure I heard last night was £5 million - I don't think it makes a difference to my basic point, but it's possible that Pink News's report has the wrong figure (but equally likely that the figure I heard last night was wrong).

Out of interest, the text of DELGA's motion (which both [personal profile] sashajwolf and I will be supporting today) is under the cut:

Read more... )
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Sunday, September 19th, 2010 07:23 pm
There was a consultative session this morning about 'Strategy' based on this document (clear print or plain text). Essentially, it was a discussion of how the party should proceed now that it's part of a coalition government; particularly how it should continue to make distinct policy, and how that policy should be presented. I managed to miss most of it, although I'm hoping to be able to iPlayer it at some point, because based on accounts from it, and from Ros Scott's summation which I did catch, it sounds very interesting. One point that did come up was that it would be great if we stopped seeing Liberal Democrats in the coalition defending policies the obviously disagreed with.

This point was put to Nick Clegg in the afternoon Q and A session, and he quite reasonably asked us to picture the scene at a press conference where he stood up and said 'here's a new policy, which I'm not particularly happy about'. He has a point. For the sake of good government, there comes a point when everyone needs to at least try to make the policies work, whether you agree with them or not (or break up the government, but I'll assume we're not at that point now). That goes double for economic policy, where part of the point is to convince the international financial community that we know what we're doing. Much as he might like to, I don't expect Danny Alexander to stand up and say: 'Vince and I think this policy's going to push us back in recession, but George Osborne assures us he thinks it'll work *snigger*', and I think it would be even worse for the economy if he did.

All this will come back to haunt us at the 2015 election, though. It's not just that at that point, both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives are going to claim credit for everything that went right, and blame the others for everything that didn't, but our 2015 election manifesto is likely to contain a lot of policies that work against much of what we did as part of the coalition. I see that as an inevitable part of governing as a coalition, but I'm not sure the bulk of the electorate will; there's already a perception of the Lib Dems as people who will flip-flop on policy at the drop of a hat, and I don't see that having gone away by 2015. Not that I think we can do anything about it - it's just another in a long list of 'sucks to be us' things about how things worked out after the last election.
djm4: (Default)
Sunday, September 19th, 2010 01:30 pm
A few days ago, Nick Clegg wrote an article for The Times (reproduced for free on his site here), in which he talked about the need for reform of the welfare system. In The Times, this attracted the headline "Poor must accept cuts in benefit, says Clegg", which itself attracted much understandable criticism.

Except, as you can see by reading the article, he didn't say that.

Except, as far as I can tell, he all-but did.

At least, he didn't give any other mechanism by which what he said made sense. The article says (a) that the welfare budget is too big and must be cut and (b) that we need to give people incentives to move off long-term benefit dependency. At first sight, those two objectives seem to line up, but at second sight there's something a little odd going on; if it were that easy to do get people off benefits, Labour would have done it. Nick Clegg himself acknowledges that this was a long-term objective of Labour's, and attacking supposed benefit scroungers was very much a feature of the last government. As Nick Clegg points out, this failed to achieve savings in the welfare budget.

So how is the coalition going to do it? I'm not denying that they might have a plan, but Nick's article is completely free of one. The vague rhetorical stuff at the end, about putting power in the hands of the welfare recipients and reshaping the State are all well and good, but contain no proposals that will clearly save money. Possibly it's just assumed they will. Call me a cynic, but if Labour's rhetoric didn't do it, I'm not at all convinced that ours will, either. Initiatives to get people back into work usually cost money. For that matter, greater scrutiny of benefit claimants to try to weed out those who are claiming falsely costs money. It's the flip-side of all that 'red tape' we're supposed to be saving money by eliminating; cut the red tape, and you'll catch fewer benefit cheats.

(Incidentally, I'm not at all convinced that there's much money to be saved by going after benefit cheats, or those who have supposedly opted for a 'lifestyle on benefits'. I take on trust that such people exist, because people tell me they know some, but I don't think there are that many of them. I don't think that vein can be mined for £4 billion, as George Osborne claims he can do, or more than a tiny fraction of that amount. What's more, I suspect that if you try to do it, the people you will actually hit are those who are bad at gaming the system, or who have trouble filling in forms - in other words, some of the most vulnerable even of those on welfare. But because of all this talk of the £4 billion coming from benefit cheats, the public at large will assume that anyone who gets their benefit cut must have somehow deserved it, and will think the cuts are fair.)

I don't see a cut in the number of people who need welfare happening, somehow. And if you cut the welfare budget without cutting the number of people on welfare, then you are, indeed, going to cut benefits to the poor.

I've just heard a speech by Danny Alexander in which he made much the same points as Nick Clegg but, again, without the linking jigsaw piece of how you get people off benefit while cutting the welfare budget. This is worrying. One game to play at Conference is to see which phrases and themes are repeated by all the on-message MPs, because those are the ones that the leadership wants conference to absorb, accept and repeat. This - 'we will cut the welfare bill and we will incentivise people to get back to work' is clearly one of them, which makes it worrying that, as stated, it has no mechanism to make it happen other than making the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society poorer and more vulnerable.

Danny Alexander also talked about going after taxpayers; both by closing loopholes that people currently exploit legally, and by going after tax evaders. This is welcome news, and appears to have been agreed with George Osborne. My worry, though, is that it will be hard to do; with taxpayers, the government is usually trying to claw back money from someone who already has it. With people on benefits, the government is trying to not pay someone who doesn't yet have the money. The latter is easier to do; what's more, if you do it unfairly, the taxpayer is in a much better position to mount a legal challenge than the person on benefits.

A repeated refrain in Danny Alexander's speech was that we were doing things 'not because they were easy, but because they were right'. My worry is that we (as Liberals in the coalition government) will cut benefits from the most vulnerable not because it is right, but because it is easy. I hope I'm wrong.
djm4: (Default)
Sunday, September 19th, 2010 08:12 am praising Nick Clegg's speech last night, I should point out that jokes about Eric Pickles being the only Cabinet Minister you can see from space are:

a) unpleasantly sizeist.
b) technologically illiterate. Google Earth easily has the resolution to spot someone Clegg's size.
djm4: (Default)
Sunday, September 19th, 2010 12:40 am
(Fair warning; these aren't going to be in-depth. I write relatively slowly for a blogger, and I'm likely to only get an hour here and there to do them.)
Read more... )
djm4: (Default)
Thursday, June 24th, 2010 11:23 am
Most of what I could write here has already been written, so in lieu of financial analysis of the budget I offer you Millennium Dome, Elephant's take on it, and Mark Thompson covers most of the points I wanted to make about whether or not this is a 'betrayal' of Liberal Democrat principles.

This budget was always going to be a problem for Liberal Democrat supporters. People expect the Conservatives to tax the poor and let the rich off, so a budget that largely does the reverse comes as a pleasant surprise, and Lib-Dem-minded people like them for it. Conversely, the Liberal Democrats have always argued that early spending cuts and VAT rises are bad ideas, so when we end up supporting both of those things, it risks making us look hypocritical, indecisive and a bit weak. To people who broadly supported us during the election and liked what we were saying, this budget has had the effect of making us look as thought we've moved away from our position, while the Conservatives have moved towards it. And so they like us a bit less, and the Conservatives a bit more. In the short-term-memory arena of UK politics, that can be fatal. (I'm not saying that it's completely unreasonable; I think the effect is exaggerated, but if you voted for party X because of a particular policy, and then party X gets into government and doesn't implement that policy, you might well re-think your support for that party, depending on the reasons, and on whether there are other parties around that promise the same thing.)

However, that's an inevitable quality of coalition politics. It's not a surprise; I voted for the coalition expecting and accepting it. For the coalition to work, there are going to have to be occasions where Liberal Democrat MPs are going to have to vote for policies they'd vote against if they were solely in charge and, indeed, occasions where Conservative MPs are going to have to vote for policies that they'd vote against if they were solely in charge. With only a fifth of the MPs of the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats are probably going to have to do it more often than the Conservatives, and probably more often than we'd like.

That doesn't mean that the Liberal Democrats will have to vote for everything they don't like. Coalition isn't about agreeing on everything, it's about finding a programme that you can both support enough of to make it worthwhile, and which doesn't contain any red-line policies that you can't support. The programme may contain policies that the Liberal Democrats (or Conservatives) pledge to repeal or reverse at the earliest opportunity; it shouldn't contain any that either party is so unhappy with that it won't live with the policies for the next five years. (As a rule of thumb.)

It also doesn't mean I have to be happy when I get an e-mail from Nick Clegg in support of the budget that's weakly-worded, self-congratulatory, and strangely silent on the issue of welfare cuts or the VAT rise. I expect better. I realise that a letter to the membership is effectively public but ... well, we're not stupid. The Lib Dem membership can spot issues that are simply being avoided a mile off, and I think we deserve more respect than that.

There are things in that budget that come close to a red line issue for me; many of the benefit proposals will, inevitably, hit some of the most vulnerable members of our society who are exactly the people that the government should be protecting, and that's simply not something I want us to be doing at all. In a 'three strikes and you're out' view of my support for the coalition, this counts as ... well, less than a whole strike, but more than half of one. I'll be watching very closely to see what happens next. Ultimately, though, like Millennium Dome, I will support the budget with extreme reluctance, and an acknowledgement that my support for it carries responsibility for the damage it does.

Trailers for Channel Four's alternative election night coverage included, at one point, David Mitchell asserting that while most election coverage expressed the results in a series of meaningless statistics, on Channel 4 they were going to express them in terms of the number of people that would be likely to die as a result. As a result of this budget, people are likely to die. The combination of the benefit cuts (especially to housing benefit), the extra test for DLA and the VAT rise will cause a lot of vulnerable people to be financially worse off; if none of those die as a consequence, it will be a minor miracle. The only reason I can support the budget at all is the belief that more vulnerable people would die as a result of a Conservative-only budget, or from the instability that having no viable government at all would bring. That's not a comfortable conclusion; apart from anything else, it may be incorrect.

In conference motion terms, than, what I feel amounts to this:

Conference recognises that the emergency budget of 22 June was a compromise. Conference applauds the Liberal Democrat parliamentary team for implementing many Liberal Democrat policies in the budget, while also regretting that more measures did not make it, and that some that did were implemented less fully than Liberal Democrat policy would have wanted.

Conference deplores the many measures in the budget that go against Liberal Democrat policy. Conference accepts that the presence of those policies in a compromise budget did not cause the parliamentary team to reject the budget as a whole, and Liberal Democrat MPs who voted for the budget should rightly attract no censure for voting for those measures as part of the overall package.

Nonetheless, conference re-affirms its support for Liberal Democrat policy, and urges the Federal Policy Committee to include in any policy statements it makes a commitment to repeal those parts of the budget that go against Liberal Democrat policy.

Furthermore, as a more general point, conference recognises that as part of the coalition, the parliamentary party may be called upon to support measures that go against Liberal Democrat policy. Conference expects the parliamentary party to argue strongly for Liberal Democrat policy, and would not wish the parliamentary party to feel free to ignore all policy, but accepts that not all battles will be won, and that many compromises will be made. It does not believe this view is inconsistent with arguing strongly for all Liberal Democrat policy as a party, and urges all Liberal Democrats to do just that.

I'd vote for that.