Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Now Newt’s on the ropes

Posted 27 Jan 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

The clip below really couldn’t be much more emphatic; if you watched it, you’ll already know that, finally, Mitt Romney seemed to haul himself out of the doldrums with a commanding performance in the Primary debate last night. Here, swatting Gingrich away, he finally looks back to being a realistic Presidential Candidate. All of a sudden he has hitherto unseen confidence and authority. I think he’ll sweep Florida, now, and if he can retain the energy, sweep the nomination.

For those of us who fear Obama could be beaten at the election, the worry is that the experience of facing the populist agression of Gingrich, and the grassroots’ disdain, has changed Mitt Romney as a politician. If he’d have coasted through this nomination process, he’d be facing up to Obama as the listless, complacent Mitt that started this process in Iowa a couple of months back. But despite the many direct hits he’s taken from Newt through this campaign – all of which he’ll have to take again from Obama later this year – Mitt looks like he might finally have sharpened up and hit his stride. In a sense, he’s been handed a rehearsal for the election proper, and that could help him. Judging by yesterday’s debate, he looks like he might have enough in reserve to win – and to be a significantly improved candidate against Obama.

As always, it’ll be fascinating to watch Newt over the next few days. He looks highly irritated and badly winded in the clip below. Has he got one last burst of energy and can he channel it before Friday?

I doubt it.

Voting day in S. Carolina

Posted 21 Jan 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

It is, really, quite hilarious that Newt is making another comeback in the USA. I’ve long argued that Obama has a very tough ask in the approaching election, and he’s in many ways dependent on little more than the state of the economy. But… the GOP really do seem to be doing all they can to destroy their own chances. And Newt – well, he could never be likeable, but I’m really enjoying watching him go nuclear on Romney. In many ways, he’s like a caricature of the worst, most malign, most vindictive politicians out there. When he will drop out of the race? Never. He’ll keep going ‘til the last, until everyone but him appreciates that every stab at Mitt helps Obama and no-one else. And he’ll keep going, because the hate and the competitiveness and the thrill of it really drives him on. Brilliant stuff; he’d make a wonderful character for a TV show. I don’t think he’ll win, ultimately, but I bet he takes South Carolina tonight, and snaps at Mitt for many a month to come.

My prediction for tonight:

1. Newt Gingrich 35%
2. Mitt Romney 31%
3. Ron Paul 21%
4. Rick Santorum 13%

I’m always wrong with these things, mind.

Food politics

Posted 08 Jan 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

This is a fascinating and troubling insight into the government’s Change 4 Life campaign, which is supposed to promote healthy eating and living.

In reality, the advice offered by their literature is uninspiring at best and borderline unethical on the other. As Matt Fort, on his Fort on Food blog, points out, a thin veil is drawn over the government’s partners, but it doesn’t take long to spot the involvement of Bernard Matthews, Danone, Dole, Mars, McCains, Spar and Tesco. Indeed, the Food 4 Change website links directly to another website called www.mysupermarket.co.uk, which in turn delivers consumers directly to the online stores of Sainsbury’s, Asda, Tesco, Boots, Superdrug, Waitrose, Ocado, Virgin Wines and Majestic. Marvellous. Here’s Matt: 

In other words, the Change 4 Life, both directly and indirectly, serves as a portal to, and therefore as a marketing arm of, major corporations. There is a tacit endorsement of what they sell and how they sell it, thus undermining the principles they’re supposed to be upholding. This seems at best bizarre, at worst cynical and corrupt.

This is not the first Government to have found easy accommodation with the supermarkets. Successive ministers have found it easier and more rewarding to guard the interests of large corporations than those of the electorate. Change 4 Life fits neatly into that pattern.

It would be entirely reasonable, I think, to expect much better from the government on this type of thing.

[edit: I still don't much like look of this campaign; but one of the comments below the line is well worth reading, and it makes a lot of sense. Here it is reproduced:

“Serious Bollocks” reads like many blogs; the author assumes that everyone has the same access to the Internet as them. Quote: “It’s almost impossible to believe that whoever designed and approved this actually lives in the digital age.” What about the 23% of UK households without Internet access who represent a significant proportion of the target demographic of this campaign? The website isn’t important – it’s just there to appease sponsors who pay for the leaflets.

Thanks for that useful comment, internet stranger.]

Huntsman; sane and sensible

Posted 07 Jan 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

I think this fascinating post on a pair of very different politicians, by the excellent Joe Klein, kind of fails to address the fact that Jon Huntsman – who is certainly the best candidate to lead the Republican party – has underperformed pretty drastically in the GOP nomination race. He may well be bright, good and conservative (an extraordinarily rare combination of characteristics) but he’s also often seemed unengaged, aloof, and like he’s campaigning for a different election, at a different time, in a different America. I think he has displayed poor judgement on a few occasions, like a singer who stubbornly refuses to adapt his pitch to the key of the song he’s singing.

Nevertheless, Klein is right to commend Huntsman:

There is no gratuitous sliming of Barack Obama or his fellow Republican candidates. There is no spurious talk of “socialism.” He pays not the slightest heed to the various licks and chops that Rush Limbaugh has made into stations of the cross for Republican candidates […] He is out-of-step with the anger that has overwhelmed his party and puts it at odds with the vast, sensible mainstream of this country.

If America wants a sane and sensible conservative candidate next time round, then I hope Huntsman has sorted out his tone-deafness by then.

Misrepresenting Santorum

Posted 04 Jan 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

The urge to demonise the American Right is almost impossible to resist, no? Poking fun at the Republican presidential candidates basically takes up about 70% of my conversation these days, as this blog attests, but the duty to be accurate mustn’t be ignored. Perhaps surprisingly, the contributors to the Guardian’s comment pages, and a number of reporters on the BBC have done a pretty woeful job of reporting the US election with an objective eye for detail. A good example is the flurry of features in the last couple of days which inaccurately describe Rick Santorum as an ‘evangelical Christian’.

Now, there is a story here, it’s just that they’ve missed it. Santorum is deeply religious, and has run a very right-wing campaign, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that his extreme opinions on contraception, same-sex marriage and abortion have endeared him to the socially conservative voters of Iowa (a hell-forsaken place, seemingly, if these views are rife). But what is interesting is that Santorum is not an evangelical Christian after all, he’s an orthodox Catholic, and in previous years an orthodox Catholic would generally be said to have a greater chance of passing through the eye of a needle than of winning the support of an evangelical constituency.

Now to those of us with no religious instinct, the differences between a hard-right Catholic and an evangelical Christian might not appear too great, but the two movements are quite different, with social justice much more central to the former branch of the faith than the latter. Accordingly, Santorum has, in practice, been much more willing to allow the state to intervene in addressing poverty than, say, a true evangelical like Michelle Bachmann. And although he himself is pretty hardline on topics like global warming (he’s a solid denier) and evolution (he says he believes in it, on a ‘micro level’), his church is far more tolerant of dissent on these topics than the famously fundamentalist evangelical Church.

So why conflate, or confuse, the two religions? It’s tempting to speculate its just bad research, and more tempting too to wonder if it’s a deliberate attempt to ignore the nuance so as to provide a simpler, less complex narrative. Either way, it’s bad journalism.

What would be really interesting is to ask if these evangelical Christians, so united in their disdain for Roman Catholicism in previous elections, why they’ve taken Santorum to their hearts. The answer would probably be complex – pragmatism, social conservatism, disillusionment with the other candidates – but it should be enough to nail the story that evangelical Christians care more for scriptural accuracy than they do for their innate conservatism. Accordingly, one wonders if on on one level or other, the press doesn’t continue to underestimate Santorum; we’re told, wrongly, that his natural constituency is evangelicals, which is why he did well in Iowa -  when in reality it may be somewhat broader.

For the record, I don’t think so. He’ll have a tough job convincing the people of New Hampshire, even the Tea Partiers, that birth control is the number one issue they face. But having said that, an orthodox Catholic with a chequered record of fiscal conservatism would be said to have had a hard job winning over evangelical Christians. But he did it.

If only the media would explain as much.

Poll-driven consultant-guided Mitt

Posted 03 Jan 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

Oh, Newt has let rip… ace. Here he is, asked if Mitt is a liar for claiming no responsibility for the attack-ads.

He’s not telling the American people the truth. It’s just like his pretense that he’s a conservative.

Here’s a Massachusetts moderate who has tax-paid abortions in Romneycare; puts Planned Parenthood in Romneycare; raises hundreds of millions of dollars of taxes on businesses; appoints liberal judges to appease Democrats; and wants the rest of us to believe somehow he’s magically a conservative.

I just think he ought to be honest with the American people and try to win as the real Mitt Romney, not try to invent a poll-driven consultant-guided version that goes around with talking points.

I’ve really got my fingers crossed for a close Mitt/Newt run-in. Can’t see it, but think of the fun…

And Newt is watching it slip away

Posted 03 Jan 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

Meanwhile, turning back to Newt, this paragraph is succinct and revealing. What happened, it asks, to Newt’s surge…

The answer is fairly straightforward. Here’s Rich Lowry.

When Gingrich got his surge, he needed to do three things as a predicate for everything else: avoid grandiosity (e.g., “I’m going to be the nominee,” comparing the Virginia ballot fiasco to Pearl Harbor); don’t seem erratic (e.g., going back and forth on whether your campaign is going to be positive or negative), and don’t get rattled (e.g., letting Romney bait you into hitting him on “bankrupting” companies, becoming obsessed with the ad campaign against you). Obviously, Gingrich is 0-3. It can’t be easy holding up under such a barrage and some of the charges in the ads haven’t been fair, but basically the ads have gotten out the word on Newt. In the Des Moines Register poll, he’s rated “the least consistent” of the candidates, ahead of even Romney.

Gingrich needs a good performance, today, I think. He needs to be placed fourth, above Perry, or see his momentum digging further back into reverse. Both of them, in fact, will be in real trouble if Mitt does anything other than win convincingly. A Paul or Santorum win would be a massive blow; as Ezra Klein explains:

Rather than challenging Romney, Paul and Santorum are preventing a challenge to Romney. There is reason to think that a candidate like Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry could make a strong run at Romney if they caught momentum out of Iowa. But Paul and Santorum are squeezing those candidates out in Iowa, and since Romney is almost certainly going to romp to victory in New Hampshire, it’s much harder to see where a plausible not-Romney can score an upset victory that would actually change the underlying dynamics of the race. The strength that Paul and Santorum are showing in Iowa is, in other words, a boon to Romney’s chances, not a threat to them.

And anything that’s a boon to Romney is, of course, a blow to his rivals (except Santorum, who might just get VP out of this).

(h/t Ian Leslie)

The Santorum Surge

Posted 03 Jan 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

Well, now it’s the other Rick’s turn. Everyone else in the GOP Presidential Nomination field has had a go at derailing the ‘establishment pick’ Mitt Romney – Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich – and all have come up dramatically short, exposed by special interests, gross stupidity or comic un-seriousness. So it’s perhaps natural that Rick Santorum, whose only failings are his dullness and his vile bigotry (depending on your perspective) should emerge in Iowa as the latest hope of the desperate Right. It’s even possible he’ll win in Iowa today, boosted by his hard work in the area and the commitment of the Christian movement in the state. So what will he promise if chosen?

According to Andrew Sullivan, he’ll just go for…

“criminalizing all abortion and nullifying […] civil marriage by constitutional amendment. He’s also for a Judeo-Christian global war against Islam, government-directed industrial policy, and torture. His "notable grasp" of foreign policy is revealed by his unique belief that Iran is seeking national "martyrdom" by engaging in a nuclear war with Israel.”

And he will get the nomination? Well, he might win Iowa, but more broadly – no, of course he won’t. He’s just as risible a figure as Perry or Gingrich, he’s just had the good fortune to have been so preternaturally boring and uninspiring that until this late surge no-one has paid him any attention at all. So if he wins Iowa he’ll simply become the latest victim of attack-ads and ridicule, and slide back down the rankings again.

Fitness for office is not an essential characteristic for someone winning the GOP nomination, and there’s a long way to go yet – but it’s hard to imagine this being more than a high water mark for Santorum.

In case you think I’m being hard on someone who seems at first to be a rather quiet, unassuming fellow, here he is defending anti-sodomy laws:

“If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything… It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution… You say, well, it’s my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that’s antithetical to strong healthy families… In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing.”

Nice guy.

On limited interventions

Posted 09 Dec 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Development, Politics

This article, by Timothy Garton Ash, is a must read for anyone out there who still does occasional battle with conflicting arguments for and against the liberal intervention principle. Like most people on the left, I was an unqualified supporter of an ethical foreign policy, generally supportive of the government’s right to intervene in other nation’s affairs if and when the situation demanded it (cf. Kuwait, Kosovo, Rwanda etc), and then had horrible second thoughts around the time of (or in my case, shortly after) the invasion of Iraq. These days I hum and haw, prevaricating my way around stating a firm case either way, grimly conscious that there’s so much I do not know. I’m no longer so angry about Iraq, at least.

Anyway, Garton Ash is I think my favourite journalist of international affairs, and this piece takes an insightful look at two threads of the argument – that we can either judge liberal interventions by whether or not they achieve a stated and limited objective (for example, averting a massacre), or in the long term, by helping to establishing a free nation. Garton understands that the latter must prey on our minds, but essentially recognises the necessity of the former. He writes:

Liberal, humanitarian interventions must be rare, exceptional responses to extreme, inhumane circumstances, and should be judged above all by their achievement in averting or reversing the disaster.

Click here to read the whole thing.

The promotion & the destruction of the family

Posted 08 Dec 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

Your latest despatches from this awful awful government.

Michael Gove – who has I think disappointed more than any other member of the cabinet (save of course, for his Lib Dem colleagues) – has announced that free schools and academies will be directed to promote marriage and the conventional family unit in their teaching. As the Telegraph puts it,

“The agreement is a distinct change from current guidelines which state that children should learn the nature and importance of marriage and of stable relationships for family life and bringing up children. The reference to “stable relationships”, which alludes to couples living together outside marriage and homosexual partners, has not been included in the model funding agreement documents.”

The documents also take care to inform headteachers that it is their duty to ensure that students are “protected from inappropriate teaching materials”. On the face of it that sounds fine, but I’m deeply suspicious of just what Gove considers inappropriate. I fear I know the answer.

Secondly, I note with alarm that, according to Zoe Williams, there are some deeply troubling things in the government’s proposals in the welfare reform bill for employment support allowance (ESA), which is the social security payment replacing incapacity benefit. According to the proposals, “If, after a year, you’re still unfit for work and your spouse or live-in partner earns £25,000 or more, you will no longer be eligible.”

This is disastarous, mean-spirited and unfair. As Williams points out, it actually provides a rationale for couples in this sad situation to consider splitting up, so gross is the penalty for being in a relationship while disabled. Williams says:

“There’s a bullish senselessness to this that is puzzling to the observer but terribly stressful to those whose benefits are under threat. The charity Rethink told me about one man who has already approached Dignitas; he didn’t want to split from his family and live alone, but felt guilty about the burden he would present if he didn’t.”

Whether we think that the implementation of the ESA would actually result in such a dreadful result or not, it seems simply extraordinary (and yet somehow entirely in keeping with this government’s philosophy), that it should seek to openly attack the mentally, physically or terminally ill and their families.

While promoting families on one hand, they clutch at their throats with another. Truly awful.

~

“Awful, awful government”. In the heady days of PFI and Iraq, I used to use the same phrase, out of sheer frustration, to describe Tony Blair’s Labour administration. Hmm.

Reformation or revolution?

Posted 01 Nov 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

This is great; a bit of Christian socialist subversive tapestry weaving; over at False Economy, Paul Cotterill has written a very exciting technical guide to engaging with the Church and resolving the #occupylsx dispute at St Paul’s Cathedral. I love the detail he’s gone to in figuring this proposal out. Here’s the conclusion:

Finally, the end objective should be kept it sight. This is, in very real terms, to allow the Church of England, with the support of a wide group of people, to fulfill a prophetic mission – the driving of the modern day moneychangers from their temple.

Read the rest here – great fun and, if implausible, intellectually stimulating.

Cain’s not running for President

Posted 01 Nov 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

So just a day after writing here that Herman Cain has usurped Rick Perry as the only realistic challenger to Mitt Romney, the wheels have come spectacularly off Cain’s campaign too. The charges of sexual harrasment will hurt him, although not necessarily fatally.

More interesting is some of the evidence coming out of his campaign which suggests just how paper-thin his candidacy really is. Clearly, he’s had some bad advice about how to face down this scandal, but he wouldn’t be the first senior politician (or would-be politician, in his case) to have misplayed his hand in this context. But the bad advice itself is fascinating because the evidence points to Cain not having really bothered putting together much of a campaign team in the first place.

In fact, as Jason Farago writes in the Guardian,

Herman Cain is not really running for president of the United States. A visit by one news organisation to his supposed Iowa operation found precisely zero employees. He is, rather, on what might be the most high-profile book tour this country has seen (previous titles include Speak as a Leader and They Think You’re Stupid) – at least since Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue. In fact, his campaign has been exposed for buying tens of thousands of books from Cain’s own for-profit company.

If you want to get all Peggy Noonan about it, you could bemoan the decline in American political discourse that the Cain campaign encapsulates, or critique the media frenzy that surrounds a political outsider when sex comes to the fore. And to the hysterical race-baiting of an Ann Coulter, who, right on schedule, invoked the Clarence Thomas line about a “high-tech lynching”, there is surely a demure, pearl-clutching response about how we should all rise above such mudslinging.

But to what purpose? Herman Cain is, in many ways, the candidate we deserve in the United States today: entirely media-oriented, unconcerned with the realities of governance, and largely bankrupt in both ethical and financial terms. He was never supposed to reach the top of the national polls, and yet his outsider charm and numerological approach to tax reform have allowed him to fill the yawning conservative chasm that first Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry were unable to occupy for long. But at least Bachmann and Perry know how to raise money and win elections. Cain is incapable even of that – this thing would have come crashing down one way or another, though not before sucking up weeks of news time.

It’s extraordinary, isn’t it, that the GOP is now so frenzied in its opposition to mainstream politics that a joke candidate could have got this far. Romney must be surveying the battlefield with a huge grin on his face – through a combination of serial incompetence (Perry), underperformance (Bachmann), and unseriousness (Cain) the likelihood is that the Republican Party will elect, largely unopposed, a leader it hates. Bizarre.

Beer, cider and Perry

Posted 31 Oct 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Rick Perry’s Presidential career is over – the unremarkable Herman Cain could be said to have put paid to his chances by winning over the batshit-crazy right of the Republican Party; but in reality it was Perry’s to lose and he’s done exactly that. And done so with consummate ease: from a complete failure to keep his cool to stumbling over answers and proving unable to explain myriad contradictions in his record, he did everything possible to prove his unsuitability for office – short of turning up on the campaign trail drunk out of his mind.

Oh, actually, here is he turning up on the campaign trail drunk out of his mind.

Freebies that hurt

Posted 30 Sep 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Environment, Politics

Good god I hate the Tories, but they’re not daft. Labour’s big policy before their conference was that under them students would pay £6,000 a year, 3k more than their manifesto outlines. The tories’ two announcements have been ‘don’t worry about recycling‘ and ‘drive faster‘. Neither policy will make people’s lives any better, but here’s the key – people believe that they will. These are the kind of pre-conference promises that feel like freebies. Labour’s felt like a cost. That’s why I’m far from confident that Labour will win (outright) the next election. Bah.

On the (ridiculous) policy of more rubbish collections…. Sarah Ditum sums it up well in the Guardian.

Waste is awful. The Tories are so completely anti-waste. David Cameron has personally declared “war on waste”, meaning that it must be at least as bad as terror. From opposition to government, Conservative rhetoric has been marked by an insistence that other people – the Labour government, local authorities – have been leaking taxpayers’ money with jolly profligacy. And there’s a sturdy seam of moralising to all this: when Cameron gave his conference speech on government waste in 2008, he said “Britain needs good, honest housekeeping from the Conservatives”.

The only problem with that analogy is that, when it comes to the domestic level, the Tories are more than keen for everyone to overconsume, overspend and sling the excess in the wheelie bin. As secretary of state for communities and local government, Eric Pickles has been loudly berating councils for wastefulness – and equally noisy when it comes to defending the throwaway habits of individual households.

Last year, he told the Mail: “It’s a basic right for every English man and woman to be able to put the remnants of their chicken tikka masala in their bin without having to wait a fortnight for it to be collected.” He criticised the use of “slop buckets” (or, as normal people might call them, “compost bins”). It earned him so much fin-flapping popular applause at the time that the Tories have returned to the “right to rubbish” theme again this year, ingeniously flourishing a surprise £250m to help fund weekly bin collections in England, just in time to get supporters warmed up for the conference.

Ugh.

Ed’s confidence problem

Posted 24 Sep 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

Quick round up of stuff I’ve been reading; and given that the Labour conference is just around the corner it’s hardly surprising that domestic politics has been high on the reading list. Over on Twitter I mention often that my favourite political journalist is Allegra Stratton; her Guardian articles are presented in the new pages rather than in comment, and as you would expect her writing is grounded in real reporting, usually insights gleaned from attentive sleuthing from political sources. Nevertheless, she never fails to draw together the threads and provide some conclusion, which she does meticulously and with great care. As usual this week’s column was a cracker, segueing from illustrative gossip about coffee wars in the Shadow Cabinet to insights into Ed Miliband’s likely positioning during conference week, to some very clever analyses of his strengths and weaknesses. Excerpt follows: It’s a great read.

Miliband has two endearing character traits that are sadly not serving him in good stead here: he is a very nice man, and he is really quite self-assured. He thinks his nice man-ness exudes, and it does compel those with whom he has personal contact. But since it is not connecting with the broader public, it ends up being an anti-asset – encouraging complacency. Similarly, the deep well of confidence that comes from the tips of his toes desensitises him to those moments when something really should be done.

It’s this latter point that Ian Leslie picks up on in a post over on his Marbury blog. Ian has been consistently skeptical about Ed’s electability, and Stratton’s article gets him thinking.

A deep pool of self-confidence is a great and indispensable asset for successful politicians, and Miliband, whatever his other weaknesses, has one. It’s what enables him, the week after a disastrous PMQs, to get up and appear confident under Tory fire. It’s what makes it possible for him to face the public while hearing, day after day, that they find him ‘weird’. When things are going badly for an opposition leader, as they have for most of this year for Miliband, there can be no more punishing job in politics. You could see the confidence drain out of Neil Kinnock or Iain Duncan-Smith. I haven’t seen that with Miliband and I don’t expect to. He has the blithe self-assurance of an adored younger sibling, endlessly confident of his own place in the world.

He goes on to cast doubt over whether such self-confidence is such a great thing without a counter balancing anxiety about failure. I think he – and Stratton – are onto something. I hope the people around Ed are pressing him and reminding him how important this week is. Anyway, Ian’s post is definitely worth a read.

Like many on the Labour left, I continue to like Ed M and think he is capable of improving. That’s not to say that I don’t wish we had his brother back on the frontline and fighting for Labour principles – utterly disheartened to hear that he won’t be attending the Labour conference. Others continue to deride him as a Blairite, but (a) I don’t think he is, and (b) I thought his appearance on Question Time the other week confirmed his intellectual authority and personal appeal. Meanwhile, this is what Blair’s up to.

Let’s not get started on that.

All the real running, politics wise, is happening in the US, of course. I’m completely engrossed with the GOP race (where I think Romney is building reassuring momentum), so more on that later.

This week’s GOP debate

Posted 10 Sep 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

So, anyone else catch the Republican debate the other day between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry? In reality, of course, it wasn’t that at all – it was a debate between a host of GOP candidates, ranging from the oddly tanned, serene and without-a-prayer John Hunstman (without a prayer because he’s normal), through the likeably batshit Ron Paul (whose problem with the Republican wet-dream of building a fence on the border with Mexico is the notion that it’ll be used to keep Americans out of Mexico) and the deeply unpleasant Michelle Bachmann (who for the purpose of this debate is Sarah Palin). No, this debate was framed (literally by the stage-designers) as a Romney/Perry head to head, which is kind of useful because, sad to say, one of them with probably be president in a year’s time.

Of the two, there’s not much analysis needed. All of us with any interest in the matter should be curling up in bed each night with our hands clasped whispering ‘Romney Romney Romney’. That’s not because he’s a great dude, but because the danger of having Perry as president is all too real. Romney, as usual, was efficient, courteous, demonstrated a good grasp of detail. He might as well have been Al Gore or John Kerry up there. Perry was (as a spectacle) fantastic. He’s untroubled by detail, is even fairly blithe about gaffes (there’s something of the Deep South Boris Johnson about him, although he’s as smooth as peanut butter), and hugely charismatic in a way which might obscure from a lot of folk that unless he’s stopped he’ll have his finger on the fucking button. Every time Romney came out with something, Perry just kind of swatted him away with a bigger, broader generalisation and an old-fashioned grin.

As people keep pointing out, he’s like Bush – but only in the sense that he’s like Bush tried to be. No East Coast Yale graduate, he’s a proper Southern gentleman, complete with gorgeous accent, sparkling eyes, and a truly appalling attitude towards capital punishment. He can’t be blamed directly for the fact that when the hosts mentioned he’d executed 234 more people than any other governer, the sick bastards in the audience whooped and clapped, but he didn’t bat an eyelid. And unlike Bush – who was actually pretty bi-partisan about a lot of things when it came down to it – Perry is a hard-right absolutist. The man in the cowboy hat is not for turning.

Depressing stuff. The chances of someone like Chris Christie entering the race at this stage and shaking things up look pretty slim (incidentally, I’d bet that Palin won’t enter this race and Bachmann has already seen her high-water mark come and go), so we probably are stuck with a Mitt-Rick run off. Romney better get personal, get combative soon, or Perry will win and we’ll spend the latter half of this decade hankering after Dubya.

Left v Right redux

Posted 22 Jul 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Politics, Visuals

I’m a big fan of the Information is Beautiful blog, and increasingly coming round to the value of infographics as a pedagogic or communicative tool. But even by that blog’s high standards, this is terrific – created by its author, David McCandless, in association with London-based designer Stefanie Posavec – it’s a map of left and right in the world of politics, taking into account beliefs, instincts and ideals. One can probably tell it comes from an author of the left, but I’d like to know what right-wing readers think of it – it may not be particularly fair and balanced to me, but it’s a decent effort at itemizing something intrinsically complex and hard to prove. And of course, it’s very nice to look at.

Click to enlarge – or rush out and get a copy of today’s paper to get a nice print out of it.

On hackgate #1

Posted 18 Jul 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Politics

The real question about #hackgate is, I think, just how irresistible the momentum is on this thing. It looks increasingly like it won’t stop until all the dominoes have fallen, and the undeniable fact is that the run ends not with James Murdoch – who, if John Yates resigns today must surely be the next to go – but with David Cameron. It still looks utterly fanciful that this will kill him, but the question is, if it doesn’t, how does this end?

The answer is that it doesn’t – if Cameron isn’t forced to resign this week, then the deep reservations which the public now hold about the company he keeps will continue for years. Blair escaped from the Ecclestone drama, but arguably he never completely recovered his reputation. For Cameron, things are far, far worse. There’s a domino poised just behind him, and he’ll be glancing over his shoulder for the rest of his tenancy at number 10, wondering if it’ll fall.

It doesn’t help him that the two men most likely to profit from his demise – David Davis and Nick Clegg – are, unlike most of the rest of the coalition – squeaky clean on this stuff. If I were David Davis right now, I’d be taking to Lib Dems constantly. He needs to be reassuring them that although he’s a creature of the right, his civil liberties credentials are right up their street. Could he hold a coalition together, if it came to it?

And one more thought – how has George Osborne kept out of this??

A very strange interview

Posted 12 Jun 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Daft, Politics

This is the loveliest thing I’ve come across today. Courtesy of Wowser:

Why not get Wowser to do you a drawing?

Fear of failure

Posted 06 May 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Islam and the Middle East, Politics

One thing that really strikes me about the whole question of whether US forces were right to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan is the thought of how the combatants must have felt. Specifically in relation to fear – not fear in terms of their own lives (although of course, even for highly trained personnel, that must have been huge) but fear of failure. An inability to know what was in the next room, and when the mission was beyond the point of failure. That’s where I half-sympathise with the decision to pull the trigger. Imagine if, having arrested bin Laden, the soldiers had found themselves up against unexpected circumstances which saw him freed. In ten years this was by the far the closest US intelligence had ever got to bin Laden, and this was their chance. To have let that chance go would have been a tragedy. They must have known that, and must have known that more important than their own safety was the fact that Osama bin Laden must not have been allowed the opportunity to escape. Sadly – and while I can’t rejoice at his death – I can understand why dispatching him must have seemed vital in that moment.