Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Broadsheet: A coalition is right for the next general election

Labour needs to go. The Conservative Party is the natural party of government. However a Conservative-LibDem coalition is the best outcome for the next election.

It is clear we are reaching the end of the Labour Party's time in office. Its failures have included: the mishandling of bank regulation; costly, unnecessary wars; an over-complicated tax regime; wasteful spending on public services; and rules on MP's expenses that have brought Parliament into disrepute.

The rank-and-file of the Conservative Party knows what needs to be done: the reintroduction of calm, sensible administration rather than frantic law-making, overweening bureaucracy and throwing other people's money at problems.

Yet David Cameron seems to be continuing the spinning and posturing of the Blair years. He delights in wrong-footing Gordon Brown, but does not seem to be able to lead. One of Cameron's closest advisors, his PR chief, left the News of the World after some very sleazy practices. Cameron's prospective Chancellor is a gaffe-prone lightweight. Cameron's highly-paid policy guru obsesses about "style" and "the brand" rather than actual policy. This spin works wonders: Cameron somehow came out well from the MP's expenses scandal, despite the unacceptable expense claims of his most senior parliamentary advisor and Cameron's own questionable expense claims.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Liberal Democrats offer an attractive alternative to Labour. They have been proposing for some time the measures that are now accepted as necessary to clean up British politics. None of their MP's have been "flipping" state-funded second home mortgages. They have, in Vince Cable, the most widely respected candidate for Chancellor. They are instinctively opposed to ill-thought-out foreign escapades and big government. They are also the party most likely to be able to get Europe doing something useful for a change: saving the country from the damaging effects of climate change by obtaining global agreements on carbon emissions.

Of course the Liberal Democrats won't win the General Election. But that doesn't matter: a Conservative-LibDem coalition would combine the strengths of the conservative majority file with the sensible liberal approach that the country needs right now, while mitigating the worst excesses of Cameron's spin machine.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What you don't want to hear

Conservative leader David Cameron has said the "scale of the economic mess" he would inherit if he became prime minister was "incredibly daunting". Mr Cameron told the BBC he was "looking the British people in the eye" and saying public spending had to be cut. (BBC News)
Photo of David Cameron by net_efekt
A common criticism of politicians is that they simply tell voters what they want to hear. To some extent this is a reasonable thing for politicians to be doing: they need voters to find their statements agreeable. And to some extent it is reasonable to criticise them for this: voters need politicians who articulate sound policies rather than populist policies.

But politicians have learned that if they are all being tarred with the accusation that they just say what voters want to hear, a way of standing out and appearing competent is to be up-front about unpleasant realities.

Tony Blair and New Labour did this with their so-called "hard choices". John Major did this with his "If it isn’t hurting, it isn’t working".

Yet recent polling suggests that the people don't know whether they want higher taxes, cuts in spending or no change. There is no best sound-bite at the moment.

But this might change. As the views of economists, pundits and politicians begin to converge on higher taxes and cuts in spending, the war of words will be about who can sound the sternest about what needs to be done and how Labour is best-placed to do it because they've got the experience, how the Conservatives are best-placed to do it because Labour got us into this mess, and how the LibDems are best-placed to do it because fresh thinking is needed.

And so we come full circle: politicians will once again be telling us what we want to hear, but this time it will be about "austerity is necessary" rather than "stability is enough".

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

And so Battlestar Galactica is over

And so Battlestar Galactica is over.

I'm left feeling meditative. About the events of the last few episodes. About how all the details of the plot hang together. About the characters, their bittersweet lives and awakenings. And most of all about the many desperate journeys: the mythic flight from Kobol to Caprica, Earth and the other colonies; the doomed story of the Pegasus; the tragic peace-keeping mission of Earth's Final Five; the fraught escape of the ramshackle fleet from the 12 colonies to Kobol, to New Caprica, to Earth, and to New Earth; the inexorable journey of Cylons from mechanoid to Centurion to god-fearing sentient; and the long journey of “humans” from Hera to us.

A most unusual sci-fi experience. Not the huge emphasis on technology, strange new worlds, aliens and space battles that one normally expects. These elements are there, for sure, just enough to pique curiosity, but not enough to detract from the subtle meditations on themes such as identity, mortality, politics, religion and destiny. It is a truly amazing achievement to have succeeded in incorporating these themes in an entertaining, action-packed TV show for a mainstream audience.

It's entirely possible that some subtleties are entirely in the mind of the viewer rather than in the intentions of the creators of BSG. But that's irrelevant. BSG was made in such a way that it renders such meditations quite normal.

I'm left with many questions. And that's also as it should be. Perhaps some will be answered by my thinking harder, or by internet forums. Perhaps others might be answered by any new series, although there is a sense of completeness to BSG that leaves me wanting to avoid more complications. But the show's aesthetic fits with there being mysteries that might never be resolved.

And these questions keep me there, in that universe, where Adama holds it all together seemingly by sheer will-power; where both Cavil and Starbuck battle inner demons to self-destruction; where Baltar cannot help himself; where machines console themselves by projecting imaginative realms; where virtual beings tweak history; and where everyone is on a journey they don't understand.