Friday, April 27, 2007

Strange things you hear on the doorstep...

I've been canvassing recently and people are invariably utterly civilised. Even those who will never vote Conservative treat you to a friendly "you're wasting your time mate". It really does give me hope that the ASBO culture can be beaten.

You get some strange responses though. One told me that he'd vote Conservative if I could promise that the councillors would end all the violence in the world and poverty in Africa. I answered that this was probably beyond the authority of a district councillor.

The strangest, which I've heard repeatedly, is the charge "we only see you once a year for the elections" or some variety of that. What do people expect? Do they want their councillor cold calling them in case they are having problems?

If they had tried to get in touch with their councillor and had been given the cold shoulder it would be understandable. If a council had ignored serious problems they had it would be fair enough. However, "we only see you Conservatories [sic] at election time" is just bizarre. One of those statements that people seem to have internalised as sensible when it is actually pretty crazy.

I Know Who I Am!

Pathfinder is a dismally bad film. This review contains spoilers but there isn't much to spoil.

Don't go and see it thinking the reviewers might just be a little pretentious and unwilling to enjoy an unashamedly fun film. Don't think, as I did, "surely a film with Vikings in it has to rock". It is truly bad. I am sufficiently open-minded to idiotic fun that I enjoyed Doom but found this an absolute chore.

It continues the Last of the Mohicans tradition of having the Native Americans win but only with the aid of a converted white guy. It is as if these films are trying to send the message "we don't think our culture is superior, but our bloodline clearly is". Rather politically incorrect which makes you wonder how Last of the Mohicans has become such an icon. I guess people missed the subtlety.

In the film Tomb Raider 2 Lara meets up with an African tribe who are going to help her. At that point I actually turned to the friend I was watching it with and said "we'll need a black guy to sacrifice in case anything goes wrong". Three seconds later they were all shot. Some films just seem to feel the need to address different races and cultures without the slightest idea of how to fit them into the story. It tends to end in hilariously unintentional breaches of political correctness. In this film it was a Native American army that managed to charge into a set of spikes their white guy (the hero) had set for the Vikings. Useless hippies.

The action is a bit lame preferring tepid setpieces to genuine trials of strength, cunning or valor. A particularly awful segment is the 'shield body-boarding' episode. What is strange is that the hero doesn't actually do anything but just sits there and gets lucky in not being planted into trees like the Vikings.

However, this film does have one redeeming quality. Its most absurd moment. The hero defeats the Viking chief by shouting "I Know Who I Am!" in Norse so loudly that he causes an avalanche which sweeps the poor Viking to his doom. Myself and a friend had driven to a cinema in another town to see this film and the entire ride back was spent shouting "I Know Who I Am!" at each other, the carpark and random strangers. Good times.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sometimes it isn't easy being green...

More and more councils are having waste collection take place every other week. The Conservatives I am campaigning for are likely to introduce fortnightly collection. The change is a response to a major increase, by the government, in landfill charges. Councils can either take drastic action to increase recycling or face heavy new charges and be forced to cut other services or increase taxes.

Fortnightly collection is not popular, it comes up on the doorstep and people really resent it enough to change their vote. There is a great variety of reasons why people are already throwing out enough to fill their bins each week; keeping chickens was an example I heard today. For many cutting that amount down through recycling isn't as easy as the measure requires it to be, as those designing the policy assumed it to be. That such a basic service as waste disposal cannot be delivered by a council strikes people as incompetent.

This unpopular measure is forced by the Labour government's changes to the landfill tax. It is implemented by councils running fortnightly collection. The Conservatives have lots of incumbent councillors who are being blamed for a Labour government measure. Getting the message across that this isn't the Conservatives councillors' fault is an uncertain process. I'm not sure if this was a conscious choice when formulating the policy but putting the measure in place this way, forcing councils to do the dirty work, is quite an effective means for Labour to make Conservatives pay the electoral price for this unpopular measure. Crafty.

The Conservatives aren't exactly blameless though. The best response to this measure would have been that increasing the amount of waste we recycle might be a good thing but it is hardly the most pressing priority. The increased landfill charges should have been opposed as an overly drastic measure people needed time to adjust to by changing their consumption habits and that might, otherwise, increase fly-tipping and create serious problems for those who can't easily recycle more. However, when you're trying to set yourself up as the new Green messiah you can't really oppose any measure which sounds as green and ambitious as a big increase in landfill charges designed to force councils to work harder at encouraging recycling.

There are plenty of benefits in terms of the 'dog whistle' effect and preventing Green Party protest votes but there are political costs to playing the environmentalist. In these council elections we might start to see these political costs to environmental sanctimony.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Victorians

This video, via Gracchi, provides a wonderful view of the remarkable achievements of the late-nineteenth, early twentieth century. Seeing it reminded me of the film The Prestige which also deals with the Late-Victorian age. Both capture, in their own ways, the immense technological and social changes going on at the time. The Prestige provides a fictional depiction of the magical quality of the technologies of the time, particularly electrical engineering. The video above captures the extent that technologies and organisations built then have defined the modern experience.

I get the feeling that we underestimate the pre-war era. Perhaps I'm extrapolating too much from my own experience. When I first read George Dangerfield's The Strange Death of Liberal England I remember being struck by how little I knew of the society, economy and politics of Britain and the World before the First World War. During my economic history education the qualities of this era between the pioneering Industrial Revolution and the dramatic catastrophes of the Twentieth Century constantly stood out. For example, this was an era in which Britain invested more money abroad than any society before or since. We may be 'globalising' now but trade was freer before the First World War although many countries did have tariffs to generate income. Am I the only one who sees this era as a blindspot?

I can see two reasons this might be the case. First, the drama of the First World War obscures less dramatic goings on pre-war. The years prior to the war are thought of as its precursors rather than a period of history in themselves. Equally, the pre-war years are seen as a continuation of the novelty of the Industrial Revolution that largely took place earlier in the nineteenth century. Second, I wonder whether we assume that the relatively straight-laced morality of the Victorians, the high watermark of social taboo, must have made them less creative. It evidently did not.

The Green Peril

Are the UKIP on the march? Not really. 1% of the electorate (even that number may have been rounded up) and some absolutely tiny numbers in recent electoral tests suggests the party has had its moment. The party may experience a revival with the next set of European elections. However, it clearly has utterly failed so far to convince the electorate it is anything but a single-issue, fringe party.

Now, that a party only appeals to 1% of the electorate doesn't mean that it is electorally unimportant. If those votes are in the right places they could cost a mainstream party seats.

I've been doing some activist work for the Conservatives in the run up to the May 3rd elections in the heart of right-wing Middle England. If the UKIP were to succeed I would expect it to start here. While the blogosphere assumes that the greatest threat to the Conservatives is the UKIP everyone I speak to seems far more worried by the Greens of all people. The UKIP generally has no organisation and its support has been drifting in the last few years. The BNP's presence is in rough areas where the Tories have little to lose. The Greens are increasingly active and are far more likely to pick up a protest vote.

You can see this difference in the breakdown of the Communicate poll on ConservativeHome yesterday. Leaving aside the Celtic nationalist parties the largest 'Others' are the UKIP on 1%, the BNP on 2% and the Greens on 3%. Of course, all of these parties pale in comparison with even the Lib Dems on 22% who are still the recipient of most protest votes. If Cameron worries about voters who dislike Labour drifting to other parties this suggests he should continue his efforts to woo the rather confused right-wing Lib Dems, strengthen his environmentalism and then promise hard action on immigration. Attempting to appease the UKIP follows a weak fourth.

None of this has any bearing, of course, on the question of whether taking a tougher line on Europe is the right thing to do. I don't think more misjudged environmentalism would be a good idea despite the fact that it might gain us important votes from Lib Dems and Greens. However, it does mean that those who couch their case for a tougher Conservative line on Europe in terms of electoral pragmatism are rather misguided.

"It's Your Time You're Wasting" by Frank Chalk

It's Your Time You're Wasting isn't as entertaining as PC David Copperfield's Wasting Police Time. There are some very, very funny moments but there is a cynicism borne of the fact that Chalk, unlike Copperfield, leaves his profession at the end. While you will enjoy reading this book if you just want to read an amusing account of public sector bumbling read Copperfield's.

Equally, it doesn't have the profundity of Dalrymple's Our Culture, What's Left of It. I am unaware of any that can match that the depth of that book's account of the cultural problem facing modern Britain. This is no condemnation of Chalk's work but advice for those seeking a 'primer' in modern social conservatism. This isn't the place to look. Chalk's book functions, like Copperfield's, as further, first-hand primary evidence of the problems Dalrymple discusses.

This book is important because education is, and should be, so central to any policy programme which seriously wishes to combat a host of social problems. "Education, education, education" may have come to nothing but Blair said it for a reason. It highlights the problems with modern education. Many of these stem from an unwillingness to properly sanction troublemakers. Other problems emerge from the ability of troubled students to stop the progress of students who behave. The most touching parts of this book are when Chalk discusses bright and pleasant students from poor homes being entirely let down by the system.

If you can cope with the understandable cynicism this book is well worth reading.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Mike Denham compares Tesco to the NHS

This is brilliant. It frustrates me when people target Tesco for their anti-capitalist fervour. Supermarkets are held responsible for social trends they are the symptom of. The fall in the numbers of families including a non-working partner who has the time to visit a half-dozen shops is what kills small shops not some misbehaviour by Tesco. While there aren't a lot of different supermarket chains they appear to be competing fiercely.

Mike Denham makes very sensible points about the efficiency of private enterprise like Tesco. He compares this to the NHS. He refrains from arguing that NHS inefficiencies are caused by particular policy mistakes. Instead he identifies the fundamental problems with public services being provided by a centralised state accountable to politicians rather than consumers.

18 Doughty Street need to get better at enabling embedding. Then bloggers can more effectively spread their citizens journalist clips about.

On 18 Doughty Street...

Last Friday I took part in Vox Politix. It is now archived here. I think I did alright. Evidently, I could have used some more sleep and exercise but never mind. Some interesting points in there if I say so myself.

Monday, April 23, 2007

UK Government to Issue Islamic Bond

Ed Balls announced today that "the Treasury and Debt Management Office would look into the cost and benefits of the government issuing Islamic financial products in the sterling market, and publish the results of the study by the end of the year."

The new Islamic bond pays on the establishment of Britain as an Islamic Republic. When asked about a likely date a Treasury official answered "some time next century". This makes it a long-term investment expected to appeal to investors interested in other long-term and risky debt such as pre-revolution Cuban bonds.

It is thought the bond could also be attractive to firms likely to suffer in the event of Britain's becoming a part of the Dar al-Islam. Allied Pork Products, Diageo and Richard Desmond have all expressed an interest in using the new product to hedge against the business risk posed by the implementation of Sharia Law.

Happy St. George's Day

Also, I think Andrew Rosindell's call to make St. George's Day a bank holiday, replacing May Day, is a fine idea. Might piss off the Socialists as an added bonus.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Miliband Heuristic

Miliband has announced he won't be running for the leadership of the Labour party.

Look at the prospects for Miliband if Labour loses the next election. He'll be the clear favourite and still reasonably young and untainted. He may have thought he could improve Labour's prospects but that the next Labour leader was sure to fail. Better to lead a recovering new Labour Party than be the bookend of the Blair government.

By contrast, if Labour wins they'll limp on for a parliament under Brown. After that, they could lose heavily and a Conservative government could last more than one parliament. Even if Labour keep on winning that just means more years serving under Brown. However it plays out Miliband would have to wait at least eight years for his chance at the leadership, probably longer. By then he would no longer be the fresh candidate. He might also have become more closely connected to an unpopular government or suffer some other calamity.

It could be Miliband's nerve failed him, it could be he really thinks Brown is a better candidate than himself for the Labour leadership. I suspect he thinks Labour are going to lose.