Saturday, October 09, 2004

Immigration Quotas

This is a key issue for the Tories - not that they are pandering to the right-wingers in any way, oh no. Introducing a formal quota makes immigration a political football forever and I think it is too important to be treated that way.

They plan an annual quota of 20,000 refugees for the UK. How is that supposed to work? So, when you are in fear of torture or a threat to your life from a repressive regime and you spend three weeks locked in a container on the deck of a cargo ship, you turn up at Southampton in December and the government will turn round and send you back, because you are the 20,001 person that year to claim asylum.

The Ugly Face of Animal Rights

This is simply despicable. The desecration of the grave has been linked to a very nasty campaign by animal rights terrorists against the owners of a local farm used to breed guinea pigs for research purposes.

I don't have a problem with any legitimate form of protest and action within normal political parameters. We can argue about the rights and wrongs of medical experimentation on animals or issues like hunting - that's how the political system in this country works.

But when it comes to digging up the corpse of an 82 year old woman related to the family who own the farm, I can't think of words to describe the inhumanity of it. I'm glad to see that other protestors have distanced themselves from this obscenity and hope that they can help the police identify the criminals who carried out the action.

It has exposed another nasty streak of pro-animal terrorism, though. This farm has been the focus of campaigning for a while - the local newsagent was threatened with arson if he continued to deliver papers to the farm. Both the local pubs now refuse to serve the family after similar threats - one of the landlords stood firm against this, but was removed by the brewery. He now can't get a job elsewhere because of the continued threats to burn any pub where he works. Drivers delivering fuel oil to the farm have been followed to their homes and have had leaflets distributed locally identifying them as paedophiles. (Source: BBC Radio WM, 9/10/4).

This is terrorism. How long before these 'protestors' take their campaign to the next level and start killing people?

Friday, October 08, 2004

President Schwarzenegger?

The Guardian profiles Arnie - sometime bodybuilder, actor and now Californian governor. There's a career path already trodden by others - Jesse Ventura was a governor after a career in wrestling and Ronald Reagan made it all the way to the top job. It is clear that Arnie has similar ambitions, but his birth gets in the way.

Unfortunately, the US Constitution (Article 2, section i) requires that the President be a natural-born American and Arnie is Austrian by birth, although he became a naturalised American in 1983. It may be that most elected jobs in the US are open to all Americans, naturalised and born, so to keep the Presidency solely for 'real' Americans is a little anomalous.

Changing the Constitution isn't an easy task, though. The prime method is by passing a two-thirds majority in each house and then must be approved by three-quarters of the states. This can be quick - amendment guaranteeing the vote to everyone over 18 cleared the hurdles and was ratified in 100 days - so it can be done. However, the process is not meant to be easy and more than 100 amendments are proposed in each session of Congress. 27 have been passed in more than 200 years and ten of those form the Bill of Rights, passed only 2 years after the Constitution was written.

In fact, the amendment that Arnie seeks has already been placed before Congress - and will be again, no doubt. Getting it past Congress and three quarters of the states may prove more difficult, especially as the Democrats would know that it was only being passed to allow Arnie a tilt at the main job.

Race for the future

Do the Democrats really want to win this time round? Think about it. Iraq is a mess and seems likely to get worse and involve more military commitment than is currently deployed, the economy isn't in a good state and the federal budget is screwed. To fix these will take some tough, probably unpopular, decisions for the next President.

If Kerry gets the job, the Republicans will slam him in 2008 and he runs the risk of being a one-term President. On the other hand, if Bush gets stuck with it and makes a predictable hash of the job, the head of steam thus built up would see the election of virtually any candidate the Democrats can come up with plus a solid chance of re-election in 2012 (stand up Hillary).

Furthermore, the growing anger would give the Democrats a chance to recapture one or both of the Congressional chambers, thus gifting the 2008 winner a friendly Congress - while poor old Kerry will still be stuck with a neo-conservative Republican congress opposing him at every turn.

The real problem with this scenario is that it leaves Cheney/Bush at the controls for another four years - without the carrot of re-election to distract them from eroding the constitution, destroying the environment and destabilising regimes across the planet.

What is certain is that the US has never been so politically divided - I don't think that it was even this difficult in the late 60s/early 70s with Vietnam and Nixon.

Blue Wedge

Following hard on the heels of Nicholas Soames love of Dido and Liam Fox's admiration of Scissor Sisters, another bunch of slebs have come out about their love of the Tory Party. For years, the Tories have been able to call upon stars of the quality of Phil Collins (who lives in Switzerland, if memory serves), Rick Wakeman, Floella Benjamin (yesterday's children will remember her from BBC kid's programming in the 70s and Tim Rice. Hardly a stellar line-up, but they now have a ringing endorsement from the junior gods of pop-rock, Busted.

In an interview with Tatler (well known for pop and politics), Charlie 'Eyebrows' said "I don't really like politics but I've always grown up with their views - the Tories' way of doing things. I just prefer their way of doing things." He isn't the only one. Joining in the pop gibbon's support was Matty Jay "Yeah, actually, you know what, I am not going to be ripped off any more. From the financial position I am in now, I am a fucking Tory boy too." I'm glad to see a self-confessed LibDem voter supporting a real party, but I'm not sure that this is the image that the Tories want to project (even if it is accurate)

I should point out that Charlie is a former public schoolboy and is now extremely rich, so I guess that his support for the Tories is pretty much a given. Michael Howard jumped to celebrate this vote of confidence "I didn't know them but I am becoming more familiar with them. But I am very pleased they are supporting us." Well, somebody has to.

Excuse me, I now have to go and attack my daughter's albums with a hammer.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Visions of Tory Britain

Well, not quite.

With a general election probably less than ten months away, you'd expect the Tories to be using this week to roll out some policies - make the most of the media focus on Bournemouth.

So, what does Ollie Letwin hit us with? Does he promise tax cuts?

No. He promises that they will "set Britain on the path to a lower tax economy."

Excited yet? There's more.

"On the first day of the next Conservative Government I will freeze civil service recruitment. In the first week of that government I will lift the controls, those wretched best value performance assessment regimes, off local government"

Now, I may be wrong in this, but I don't believe that removing the Comprehensive Performance Assessment structure is a hot topic in the pubs up and down the country. I don't even believe that the CPA is that hot a topic to anyone but the most geeky of the policy wonks. Nevertheless, this is the exciting future that the Tories can offer us.

Now, I hold no brief for the Tory party and I don't want to intrude on private grief, but are these people so far out of touch that they can't understand their problems? Where's the excitement?Where's the vision? Until they can offer that, a manifesto based on reforming the local government performance measurement structure is set to be the shortest suicide note in history.

Despite changing their leader (again), their poll performance is dropping - down to 28% in the latest polls and a mere 3% ahead of the LibDems. Labour is clearly ahead on 35%. When IDS was ousted, the Tories were on 30-33%.

All the rhetoric in the Tory party seems directed at the membership, shoring up old emnities and prejudices. Let's face it, a front bench occupied by Nicholas Soames, John Redwood, Ollie Letwin and Michael Howard is not showing the new face of the Tory Party. Unless and until they can cut free of the 1980s and the 1990s, the party will continue in freefall.

Kilroy won't need to bury the Tory party, they'll do it all by themselves.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Right Wing Lite

Kilroy has finally come off the fence and stated that he wants to run the UKIP. The usually toothless Frost has managed to get him to admit that he wants the job - as if we hadn't noticed. I know that people are supposed to move to the right as they get older (although I am probably doing the reverse), but it is a massive U-turn for a former Labour MP to decide he wants to head up a party which seems to be composed of right-wing nuts and lobbyists for small/medium size businesses.

On their website, there's a piece from the Telegraph attacking European plans to scrap slogans like "A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play." Apart from the fact that Mars dropped this slogan of their own accord a few years back, the actual slant of the proposed legislation is to ensure that claims on food packaging are justified. This seems fair to me - if a product is described in general terms as 'low fat', I think that we should be able to rely on it to be low in fat.

The UKIP worries me. For all their anti-European cant, there seems to be an old-fashioned rejection of progress behind many of their views. Take education: "A further concern is politically slanted teaching, especially in History, English and 'Personal and Social Education'. A major cause of this problem is dogma-driven teacher training that also promotes flawed 'child-centred' and 'progressive' teaching methods." Now, I'm married to a teacher and I'm the son of a teacher, I've been through the state education system up to postgraduate level and I'm now a school governor and I have never experienced this politically slanted teaching. This reminds me of the noises from some of the right-wingers of the 1980s and it seems to me that the UKIP are a vehicle for deeply-ingrained conservatives who believe that Britain was better in the 1950s when everyone knew their place. It goes without saying that the UKIP believe that their place is running the country.

Also, they often point out that their party represents Britons of all ethnic groupings - funny how all their MEPs and GLA members are white and male, isn't it? Indeed, there are only two women listed on their site - one member of the UKIP NEC and the Party Chairman (sic). Mind you, given the public views of Godfrey Bloom MEP, this is hardly a surprise. Their demands for 'Freedom from Overcrowding' and 'Freedom from Political Correctness' hint at a deeper, more unpleasant side to their place as the polite face of the extreme right. This is backed up by the number of key UKIP members who have close links to right-wing parties like the BNP and 'New Britain' - even leaving aside Kilroy, who was removed from his TV show over a racist article published in the Daily Express in his name. Richard Corbett MEP provides a detailed break-down here.

To round off, good to see that there's a blog out there keeping an eye on this new addition to our political system. UKIP Watch reports a tactless, if not downright offensive, comment by Mike Nattrass MEP at a conference in Cardiff: "In the same way as Chechnya is forced to be a part of Russia, we are forced to be a part of Europe. I hope we won't have to fight our way like them but I suspect we will have to fight our way out." As this came a short time after the carnage in Beslan, other politicians might have thought this too sensitive a subject, but not our fearless UKIP MEPs.

I'd laugh, but politics is supposed to be a serious business - it affects your lives for good or ill. The UKIP are a nasty force to be reckoned with.

UPDATED! Seems I may have spoken too soon - the UKIP have a secret weapon to win over the doubting voters. No less a political force than Rustie Lee has declared her intention to fight the Wyre Forest seat at the next general election.