Monday, 30 May 2011

James Delingpole - where to begin...

Recently on Radio 4's Today programme, Owen Jones, author of the soon to be published "Chavs", and James Delingpole, a columnist for the Telegraph, had a debate about some comments made by Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey and, quite appropriately, a newly-made peer of the realm.

Lord Fellowes believes that "'poshism' is the last acceptable form of discrimination" in modern society, an unsurprising comment given that he himself is a lifelong Tory and is, in his own words, "fat, bald, posh and male".  

However, what I would like to cover in this post is an article subsequently written by Delingpole on the matter, which I find to be both offensive and ignorant. 

Firstly he says, 
"Jones threw in his tuppeny happeny’s worth about the continued dominance of the “Ruling Classes” and about how many MPs had been to public school and Oxbridge and so on, as if somehow this were a major national scandal which needed to be addressed."
I'm afraid that this is a national scandal, Mr Delingpole, it doesn't just appear to be one. According to the Sunday Times, "18 of the 23 full-time cabinet members have seven-figure fortunes, collectively worth about £50m." What is more, the Mirror reports that 16 cabinet ministers went to private school, three of whom are old Etonians (David Cameron, Oliver Letwin and Sir George Young).  This, probably, does not anger James Delingpole. But it angers me, and it should anger anyone who believes in equality. The upper echelons of government are currently overwhelmingly populated by eye-bogglingly rich individuals whose parents paid for their exclusive and top-rate education, thus giving them opportunities most people could only dream of. It is an outrage that these millionaires, who cannot even begin to understand the lives of working people, are now spearheading a programme of austerity cuts to public services. In doing so, they will perpetuate a culture of privilege.

He goes on,
"I wonder how parliament would look if Jones got his way. It would be imbued with a lot more earthy, horny-handed, echt, coal-ingrained, sweat-smelling, demotic, multi-ethnic, gender-balanced authenticity". 
Oh heavens! God forbid we should have any working-class people in government! Or women! Or people who aren't white! Oh they smell, don't they? And can they even read? This appears to be Mr Delingpole's offensive train of thought. I can't speak for Owen, but if I were to get my way, we'd have a properly representative parliament, where the needs and wishes of the people are actually put forward and addressed. Or is this just far too liberal for Mr Delingpole? I suspect he much prefers a parliament of starched collars.

Moving on ,
"The problem with government these days is not that it’s full of rich toffs but that it’s full of career politicos who instinctively want to extend the power of the state and have no understanding of what it is like to be an ordinary taxpayer who just wants to be left alone."
The present government do not want to extend the power of the state, I'm afraid that's a fundamental misunderstanding. The cabinet is cutting the public sector with a blind, ideological savagery, all under the guise of  "giving power to the people". And yes, Mr Delingpole, they have no understanding of ordinary life, I agree. But they do know what it's like to be a "taxpayer who just wants to be left alone". The Tory party is the political manifestation of that group of greedy business owners who do not want state interference as it gets in the way of astronomical profit. Nor do these people want to be taxed, as it's their money and everyone else can go screw themselves. Also, Delingpole does seem to shoot himself in the foot rather by using the word "toffs" without inverted commas. I thought that term was horribly offensive, no?

And sadly he hasn't finished yet,
"Humphrys asked me for evidence that toffs face discrimination, and I suppose the best evidence there is is David Cameron. Here is a man who benefited from the best possible education in the world – Eton and Oxford – and who instead of feeling proud of the fact has been compelled by our prevailing social mores to behave as if it’s a toxic liability."
Being so stupendously privately educated is a "liability" for a man who is trying to detoxify the Conservative brand and stop it being viewed as the nasty party of hereditary privilege. David Cameron should not be proud of the fact that his parents bought his education, nor should anyone for that matter. The majority of the British public find the idea of  success based solely on the accident of birth to be abhorrent; it is in direct contradiction with ideas of meritocracy and fairness. When Cameron first decided not to attend the Royal Wedding in coat and tails (though he did wear them in the end), it was not because posh people are routinely discriminated against and beaten up on the streets (as happens to racial minorities, women and many more). It was because we live in a society where people do not like aristocrats who live better lives than them simply because they happened to be born into a rich family; it was because people do not like those who feel they are entitled to rule. And David Cameron wants to be liked, it's in his political instincts.

But wait, there's more,
"He [Cameron] daren’t reduce the 50p tax rate (though it makes economic sense) lest he be seen to be favouring his rich friends in the City; he daren’t create more free schools by allowing entrepreneurs to run them for profit for fear that this might come across as elitist; he daren’t address the issue of Europe because this is just the sort of thing blimpish, blue-blooded, Tory reactionaries do in the shires, and we can’t have that now, can we?"
No, he daren't do any of these things, Mr Delingpole. Because reducing the 50p tax rate does not make economic sense and it would be advantageous for the City fat cats; free schools are elitist as they turn schools into business and make education a privilege rather than a right and he won't address Europe because, as @scurvekano recently said, "If the government listened to the Tory back-benchers, we'd still be burning witches and fighting for the throne of France." Contrary to some people, I do not believe this to be an inherently Conservative (capital "c") country, because the public majority know the above things and are opposed to them. I think Cameron knows this too, and he has enough political nouse to realise that if he really wants to satisfy his Tory instincts, he's going to have to do so discreetly (see: big society).

And finally, 
"And, of course, the main reason we’ve got the wretched Coalition in the first place is because Cameron was scared of advancing proper Tory principles, lest he be mistaken for the kind of terrible, evil person who went to a school where they dress you in a smart uniform and teach you all sorts of poncy stuff like Latin and Greek and you come away with ghastly behavioural tics like good manners and a strong desire to succeed."
The main reason we have this coalition is because no party won an overall majority as no party was strong or convincing enough.  Cameron is scared of advancing full-bodied Tory policies as the memory of Thatcher is still very much alive in the minds of the people. And you know, James, I love Latin and I love Greek. I don't think they're "poncy", I think they're invaluable. But I go to a state school. However, I'm lucky enough to be able to learn these languages because my Classics teacher refuses to teach in private schools (the usual homes of these disciplines) as he is morally and politically against them. I think everyone should be allowed to learn Latin and Greek, not just those who can afford it.

And, Mr Delingpole, your last sentence is perhaps the most revealing. You believe that those poor people who can't afford public school are obviously beastly creatures who like nothing more than to laze about all their teenage lives and then sponge off the state. I have news for you, Mr Delingpole, but just because you have parents who can't afford private education, it doesn't mean you're an inferior human being.

And to conclude, a bit of advice. James Delingpole, I strongly suggest you stop writing this putrid bile in the Telegraph. Why not find somebody brave enough to give you a hug? You never know, a bit of human contact might just warm up that cold, shrivelled heart of yours.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Today, I'm ashamed of my country

It's been a horrid few days. The Conservatives have barely been touched in the local elections and now a catastrophic defeat for the Yes to AV campaign is pretty certain. Yes, Labour has gained many councils, which is obviously something to celebrate. But these have been taken off Liberal Democrats, and though I'm no fan of them, it is the Tories from whom we should really be taking councillors.

We had a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the way we vote, to reform the old and unfit system and usher in a new, fairer politics. England, stubborn old England, has overwhelmingly snubbed that opportunity. Why? Well, the Guardian's Tom Clark has compiled an excellent list of 10 reasons why the AV referendum was lost, which pretty much sums it up.  

AV isn't the best system, but it was, or could have been, the start of something wonderful. Had the country voted yes to AV, we would have taken our first small step on the path towards more extensive electoral and parliamentary reform. As it is, Blue England, who is scared of anything new or different, who cowers in the face of change and progress, has said quite categorically that it's happy with living in a country with a fundamentally unfair and broken voting system. We can now kiss goodbye to any electoral change for a long time. PR? Forget it. We must fight for it and for fairer, more pluralistic politics, but the chance of victory is small. 

So, this is England and this is the English people. In his Guardian piece today, John Harris suggests that this week's results have "punctured the 'progressive majority' myth". I fear he may be right. Perhaps we are a small "c" conservative country. After all, the Tories have come through these local elections unscathed and the public have blocked any chance of electoral reform. How depressing. 

What will be the results of this week's events? It's anybody's guess. Local Lib Dems, now totally disconnected from the Westminster body, must be feeling more and more angry with the Conservatives and their own party leader. They've propped up David Cameron, allowing him to pursue a right-wing agenda and drag their party's name through the mud in the process. The relationship is dangerously parasitic; the Lib Dems are seemingly getting nothing good in return for entering into the coalition. Council losses, AV failure. What's in it for them? All this spells revolt, but whether or not they actually will do is another matter. If a General Election is called, they face annihilation. But should they get out quick before they truly descend into the depths of political history? I wonder. As for Clegg, I doubt he'll resign, even though he has become a universal figure of hate and a total liability. 

And Labour? They've taken a lot of councils from the Lib Dems, but it's the Tory swing they should really be after. I don't think they're ready for a General Election (should one be called), especially based on their performance in the local elections. I'm waiting for the day when they come into their own. It hasn't happened yet, but I'm hopeful. Labour must establish itself as the progressive alternative, it must come up with real policies rather than just opportunistically criticising the coalition's every move. These results can only spur on the party and mobilise its activists. As is true for the whole left-wing of British politics. If I was head of, say, the TUC at the moment, I'd be planning another rally in London. We cannot stand by and allow a repeat of Thatcherism to drag this country back to the 80s. 

So that's that. No AV. We were so close, and now we're further away than ever. Today, I lost my faith in politics and the English people. It'll come back, I'm sure; I still have an insatiable enthusiasm for change and reform. But for now, I'm saddened and profoundly disappointed. I still dream of PR, of a fully-elected second chamber, of pluralistic, co-operative politics, of a left-wing government leading this country towards true Northern European progressiveness and of a better society. It is, indeed, a dream. And one can't help but feel that today's events have made it even less likely to come true.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

You're still no to AV? You have got to be kidding...

Yes, dear reader, I have already published my obligatory blog post on electoral reform and whether or not I believe England should adopt the Alternative Vote. And yes, I have made it quite clear that I am very much for AV. And yet, I find myself here once again, writing another piece on exactly the same topic, even though my views on the matter haven't changed one bit.

Why? Because it is plainly evident that some people just aren't getting the message, and, with just two days to go, I am through with politeness. 

People have often said this is a boring issue that does not rouse much passionate debate. Forget that sentiment. In the last week, I've become more and more angry about AV as I've listened to people from the No camp on the radio and television, watched a few No broadcasts and even read some of their literature. I've often found myself incensed to the point of screaming by the sheer bollocks sprouting from the likes of Tom Harris MP, Blunkett, David Cameron et al.

I shan't reel of the list of plausible and convincing reasons why we should adopt AV; I and many, many others have already done that. However, if you are still voting No to AV simply to piss off Nick Clegg and spite the Lib Dems, you are either severely stupid or incredibly petty, or perhaps both. 

If you are a progressive and No to AV, can't you see that voting yes would end Tory hegemony? In the last century, the Conservatives dominated parliament, allowing the likes of Thatcher to do her worst, even though the majority of the electorate voted against them. FPTP favours the right - whose vote, unlike that of the left, is not disseminated amongst various groups, but instead focused on one, namely the Tories, thus allowing them to win majorities through the back door. The Alternative Vote would mean this consistently left-of-centre country would actually have left-of-centre governments. It would mean people's voices are heard, people's votes valued. 

If you are a fellow Labour member who's voting No simply because Labour is capable of winning majorities under FPTP, grow up and stop being so bloody tribal. Believe it or not, the Lib Dems and the Greens are not the spawn of the devil and it really wouldn't be such a terrible thing if we learned to work with them for a common cause - a progressive, fairer and more environmentally sustainable society. The left is traditionally a fractious and bickering lot, and this needs to stop or at least decrease in intensity if we want to fight the Tories. Of course, parties are separate in their own right and are bound to disagree, but we are all untied by shared fundamental values. 

Now for the even stupider argument of voting No to AV simply because it isn't full PR. I guarantee you, if the No to AV camp triumphs on Thursday, you can wave goodbye to any sort of electoral reform for a long time. AV is a crucial first step on the path to more wide-ranging change. A yes vote would usher in a new politics in this country, and would also begin the process of reform we so desperately need. 

Those saying AV would lead to instability and coalition governments, think again. In Australia, under AV, there have been only two coalition governments. In England, under FPTP, there have been five. Personally, I don't see a problem with coalitions - they are a way in which different parties can work together, offering a government that represents the majority of the population.  I also believe representation and proportion are far more important than clear cut majorities. But heigh-ho, some people are scared of co-operative politics, that's their problem. As for instability, AV is a small change; it isn't going to result in anarchy and political disorder. And after all, they operate under PR in Germany, a system that consistently creates coalitions, and they have been one of the most politically and economically secure countries for years. 

So, the referendum on Thursday is really asking quite a simple question: do you believe in progressive, fairer, more accountable politics that would end Tory rule and actually engage people in politics? Or do you like things the way they are, with a severely outdated, unrepresentative system? If you have an iota of sense, your answer to the former will be yes, and to the latter will be no. And guess what, you can say all that much more easily by simply putting an X in the box marked "Yes" on your voting sheet on Thursday. 

And if, after this post and all the multitudinous pieces out there far better than mine, you are a left-leaning progressive who is still voting no to AV, the only option left for you is professional help.