Monday, 24 September 2012

It's Not Just Lefties Who Hate Downton

Since Downton Abbey is once again polluting our screens I feel compelled to write of it again, especially as the newspapers are full of it and seem not to have noticed that it is just a soap opera with posh frocks and a bigger budget. The acting is just as bad and the writing worthy of the recently disinterred Dallas.

I cannot better my previous post on this embarrassing, execrable bilge, so I shall content myself with merely pointing out that the BBC's just finished masterpiece Parade's End, set in the same era but better in every respect, not least its assumption of intelligence and education on the part of the audience, ought to be the show that is garlanded and feted around the world.

The Daily Mail's Quentin Letts opined yesterday that lefties hate Downton. I have no idea if this is true. But I am not lefty and I loathe it too. It is cheap, lowbrow tripe dressed up as classy drama. There has been some excellent new drama across the BBC and ITV. I give honourable mention to The Last Weekend, Good Cop, The Accused, Mrs Biggs and the superb Parade's End. British television is often called the best in the world and at times this seems justified. Downton Abbey, whatever your political persuasion, does not enhance our reputation.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Nick Says Sorry But So Should Everyone Else

So, Nick is sorry. Does that make you feel better? Or do you suspect that this is the act of a desperate politician, nearly two years after the act for which he is apologising, making a tactical retreat because he got caught out?

Lib Dems always like to paint themselves as different from the other parties. And to an extent this was true. But it was mostly true because they didn't stand a cat in hell's chance of actually getting elected and so could say what they wanted. They did so egregiously and with their usual nauseating sanctimony on the issue of tuition fees suspecting as usual that they stood no chance of being in a position to do anything about it. Then the electoral dice fell in their direction and principle went out of the window along with their promises.

The fact is that the country has fallen out of love with the Lib Dems because they have been shown to be as bad as the other parties to which they claim to be an alternative. In government they have been forced to accept the harsh realities and yet are shamelessly claiming to be different even now, to be holding back those nasty Europe hating Tories. The promise over tuition fees is really a sideshow. Let's not forget that this is the party that once told us that they favoured a referendum on Europe. Now they are mysteriously against the idea for fear of what the electorate might say. The other parties are the same of course. It's just that we are used to them breaking their promises.

And it is this wider malaise afflicting all of our politicians, a malaise that is damaging democracy that ought to concern us. These PR obsessed, career politicians  are doing us a disservice not just with their broken promises but their serial dishonesty about what is and is not possible. On all kinds of issues like education, environment, immigration, Europe, the NHS, welfare and benefits, Afghanistan and the budget deficit we are being told lies that are of comfort only to those who are in power or aspiring to be there.

The result is a kind of impasse, a see no evil, hear no evil approach to the big questions meaning that no progress can be made and that, in the worst of cases, our servicemen and women are actually dying for want of some leadership and honesty.

Let's take these one at a time.

On education, the government, thanks to the ever more impressive Michael Gove, is at last challenging the nonsense of ever improving grades and a one size fits all approach which damages students right across the ability scale. The evidence clearly shows that exams have been dumbed down and that schools play the system to improve their performance in league tables. Yet still there is resistance to change.

As today's news about the Lib Dem's people premium shows, money is not the solution to our education problems. Labour poured money into education to no effect. An extra 600 quid makes no difference, even if schools can be trusted to spend it properly. The problem is one of culture and the bone headed teaching establishment who call themselves progressive whilst sticking dogmatically to practices that have demonstrably failed.

Elitism, they tell us, even after our sensational Olympic summer, is a bad thing. Grammar schools are a bad thing. Yet in the next breath they complain when private schools and a handful of state schools with an old fashioned ethos mop up all the best university places. Ignore the evidence and stick to dogma. And sod the children condemned to failure and underachievement. To hell with all of that wasted talent. This is a consensus across the political parties that ought to shame them.

What about the environment? From wind farms to idiotic policies to cut carbon emissions, bump fuel prices up even further and thus condemn millions to fuel poverty, politicians of all parties refuse to acknowledge their own culpability. They just look to the PR advantages.

Immigration? We lost control of our borders and even now allow unelected judges to invent new legal concepts to allow illegal immigrants, even those convicted of crimes, to stay based on supposed human rights. The so called progressive parties foisted this on us without ever raising it in an election and the supine Tories are only now addressing the problem but without reining in the judges or being sufficiently tough. London is now hosting thousands of East European homeless people who, if they have worked for a week or two, become entitled to housing or at the very least inundate our homeless help services. We are seen as a soft touch and yet no politician addresses the situation, changes the rules and tells people they must earn their rights for fear of being called racist by the Guardian.

Europe? Ah Europe. A byzantine, multi layered, Kafkaesque nightmare; the sort of institution that could only be created by and run largely for the benefit of career politicians; the sort of people who think they know what's best for us all and refuse to brook any opposition or dissent. The Lib Dems are famous Euro enthusiasts and indeed regard sceptics as at best weird and at worst deluded racists, although they tend not to talk about this where it suits them electorally, such as in their heartlands in the south west.

But the other parties are nearly as bad. Labour changes according to what the prevailing mood is and the Tories are terrified of going out on a limb. David Cameron appears not to have noticed or at least to have ignored the fact that the last time he was ahead in the polls coincided with his short lived defiance of his fellow EU leaders. Nick Clegg is a discredited and weak leader heading toward electoral disaster and yet he and his party still dictate our policy on Europe against the wishes of the majority party in the Coalition and the majority of British people denied any say on the matter via a referendum.

The NHS is failing. Nobody will say so because this is a kind of crime. Yet like so much that the state does, the NHS sucks up cash and it never stems the demands for more. When it was set up it was meant to improve our health and make access fairer. It has certainly done the latter and achieved the former so that our hospitals are full of people living longer than ever but who have no quality of life. Yet perish the thought that we should allow anyone to be put out of their misery and allowed to die with dignity.

But it is the targets and resultant bureaucracy that are the real story of the NHS. Anyone will tell you that in an emergency it is marvellous. You couldn't ask for better care. The reason? Because the staff are given an imperative and they forget about the forms and the rules and just treat the patient. Once you cease to be an emergency or even in need of urgent but non emergency care is when it all breaks down. And this is not the fault of the staff, although some doctors can be unspeakably arrogant and disdainful of the individual, it is the fault of an overbearing system that gives people free care, is used and abused by the public because it is free and is beset by vested interests and intransigence.

On welfare and benefits most people can see that the system has had the perverse effect of taking a vast section of the populace, usually those most egregiously failed by our education system, and allowing, indeed encouraging them, to be feckless spongers who refuse to work. Our modern non judgemental world colludes in this and is ruthlessly exploited by a street wise but otherwise ill educated underclass who almost always have the latest mobile phone and probably see them as a human right. What was supposed to be a safety net has become a way of life. Indeed we even have the farce of the universal benefit, dispensed to all so that those who rely on them don't feel different to the rest of us.

On Afghanistan what are we thinking? What are our forces and billions achieving when we know full well that, the moment we leave, that benighted country will rapidly sink to its former desperate state? Some take bets on how long President Karzai will survive after the last western troops leave, although others shrug that he will richly deserve his fate. If he manages to get out he will probably head here and claim asylum. This political consensus across the parties is perhaps the most scandalous of all.

And finally there is the budget deficit and our ever growing debt. Here, though you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise, there is a kind of consensus too. For all the tough talk coming from the government, they are actually increasing spending overall and we are still borrowing over £100 billion a year. The cuts, for all of the talk, have been limited and selective. Certain areas have been protected for political reasons and cash is being shovelled into the usual areas. Mostly the deficit is being dealt with by increased taxes, thus further squeezing an already moribund economy.

Labour typically try to have it both ways on this. They complain about the cuts whilst accepting the need for them. They refuse to say what they would cut but claim that all would be improved if only we taxed the rich a bit more. The Lib Dems, reverting to type, are playing this game too.

This November, George Osborne, our useless Chancellor, will probably admit that his targets are going to be missed and we will probably end up being downgraded by the credit rating agencies. Labour will pretend that everything would have been different if they had cut things differently and not yet, oh and taxed bankers. We must always tax bankers. And the Lib Dems will wish they were still in opposition.

All of these problems are the consequence of our political parties telling people what they think they want to hear rather than the harsh truths.

David Cameron should grant the Lib Dems their wish of opposition or the Tories should dump him and find someone who will. They should then slash spending, pull out of Afghanistan immediately, slash or abolish our pointless foreign aid budget, tell the EU we want a new relationship or we will pull out, give Michael Gove free rein to reform our education, recognise reality and bring back selection, tell the country we need to work harder and longer, stop paying ourselves too much and stop paying people to sit around doing nothing because we can't afford it any longer.

But none of this will happen because of the political pygmies we are saddled with. Will it take a crisis for a real leader to emerge? Or are such brave figures people we can now only read about in the history books?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Good Cop?

Am I the only one to have noticed the similarity between the plot of the BBC's excellent drama Good Cop and the horrendous events in Manchester yesterday which led to the deaths of two police officers? Coincidence? Maybe. But you have to wonder.


The BBC rightly, in the wake of the events in Manchester, postponed the final episode of this superb drama. It will now be shown on Saturday 13th October as there is no football on the BBC this weekend because of the international break.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A Very British Summer

How appropriate that, on the last day of a magnificent, wonderful and exhilarating sporting summer, Andy Murray should have finally won for Britain a grand slam tennis trophy. Yes I know he thinks of himself as a Scot and, like so many of his countrymen, can be chippy about we English (although not when we are cheering him on Centre Court) but this has been a summer when such considerations have been set aside. It has been good or even great to be British. We have felt good about ourselves.

At that parade through London yesterday, and over the previous six weeks, we came together as a nation in a way few dared to hope. Yes, before it all began there was much sniping and complaining (although the weather didn't help) but I think this was just a very British kind of patriotism. We wanted to succeed, we were willing ourselves and our athletes, not to mention transport and infrastructure workers to succeed. But at the same time we feared what might happen. It was as though we were managing our own expectations.

But in the end we surprised ourselves by being competent, efficient and even cheerful and friendly. In London. As Boris, who is looking more and more like the man who should be prime minister said yesterday in a brilliant and funny performance that will have had David Cameron and even Labour watching fearfully, it got us all talking to each other, celebrating together and even doing so on the Tube.

This is the value of sport. It brings people together in a way that just doesn't happen in our atomised modern world anymore. The irony is that our own pessimism before is also something that brings us together.  It's a peculiarity of our character; our famous sense of humour is reassuringly self deprecating. We refuse to take ourselves too seriously as those opening and closing ceremonies so amply demonstrated. So, unlike the overblown and rather vulgar Beijing Olympics, these were an understated Games, a friendly games with a sense of humour. They were about the sport and the participants, whether those competing, those helping to run them or those cheering them on. The British love of the underdog was there for all to see but we were also able to cheer on our own and celebrate or commiserate with them with tears of joy or disappointment. It was all rather beautiful. You might even call them that famously abused PC word: inclusive.

And what is the legacy? Well we have new permanent additions to the ever changing London landscape. We have lots of happy memories and proper sporting heroes rather than pampered and preening footballers. But we also have the knowledge of what we can do and that we can take on the world and be the best. Rio 2016 has a tough act to follow, much tougher than London after Beijing which we effortlessly bettered by being imaginative, friendly, enthusiastic and best of all free to criticise and complain. That is the advantage of freedom. It keeps people on their toes. Perhaps that is the greatest legacy of all - proof positive that democracies can compete with totalitarian regimes and beat them just by being ourselves and being true to ourselves.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Coalition Politics

Perhaps the one good thing that could result from this hopeless, hapless, clueless coalition is that it may put us off them forever. Happily we have now put to rest for a generation the age old self serving demand of Lib Dems for electoral reform with their heavy defeat in last year's referendum. The best we can hope for now as the government stuggles on is that the British people see its serial failings and decide never again.

Take the issue of London's airports and Heathrow in particular. Justine Greening was and is absolutely right about the third runway. It would solve nothing because Heathrow remains in the wrong place and this runway would at best be a stopgap solution creating misery for millions. But this government is incapable of a decision and so it pushes it off into the long grass. It's a classic political get out of jail solution. The last government deployed it frequently. At least this one has the excuse of the presence of wishy washy Lib Dems.

This is a decision - conveniently delayed until after the next election - which is a transparent decision to be indecisive. They will probably even try to get away with not having a policy on the issue in the manifesto too since that caused all of the present problems.

Is it the price of democracy? Well to an extent. But in this country we are now governed by a political class that is incapable of grasping the nettle and is fearful and suspicious of conviction politics. The result is dither and delay and politicians incapable of making decisions.

But this is modern politics. It is all PR (Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary ought to be a bad joke) and no governing. Truly Cameron is the heir to Blair and that is no compliment. Blair after all was the PM who had vast majorities but achieved so little except a smoking ban, political correctness and a popular spending binge we couldn't afford. Now we are all paying the price. Indeed we are paying a double whammy because we have the debt he left us and the political imitators that are his one true legacy meaning fudge and delay and a studious refusal to do anything unpopular. They're not even good at the PR. What was the point of talking up cuts and austerity but then not actually cutting?

The solution to our airport problems is clearly a new airport where there aren't houses - Boris island. The solution to our economic woes is some honesty. We need cuts in both spending and taxes to make us competitive again because we have been living beyond our means, paying ourselves too much and believing that ever rising government spending is not only viable and desirable but is a kind a panacea which will magically create growth and prosperity.

Sadly it may take a seventies type decline before a politician emerges to tell us these obvious truths. We may even need another disastrous Labour government. It almost makes you wish the Lib Dems had joined Gordon Brown. We might now be close to salvation.