Friday, September 18, 2009


Big Government Vs Big Unions… Fiiiight!

A small part of my brain still thinks ‘back to school’ in September, and it’s not the only reminder of my childhood* around: this week seems stuck in the 1970s, though sadly the unconvincing stop-motion dinosaurs aren’t in Doug McClure movies but ‘live’ from the TUC Conference. Thrillingly, the big unions are threatening to savage a dying Labour Government this Winter. Because that always worked out so well for them. And if seeing Peter (hiss) Mandelson exchange blows with Brendan (yawn) Barber isn’t enough to excite you, there’s the threat of postal strikes and Harriet Harman’s career-best daft, petty foot-shooting…

Clash of the Turgid

You never quite know with the TUC Conference whether to glower that the Labour Party in effect gets two weeks of conference publicity while the rest of us are lucky to get one, or grin that it’s more like fly on the wall footage of a family row. This week’s given Lord Mandelson and Gordon Brown an enormous amount of free pluggage, but the family row’s been even more bitter than usual.

Everybody knows that Labour’s principal, increasingly shrill and desperate message has for years been ‘We’re shit, and we know we are, but, oooooh! The Tories! Scary!’ but it’s rarely been so blatant. After so long claiming that the Tories were evil for considering “cuts,” Labour this week were forced to admit that they would also have to make “cuts.” Except that, look, the Tories are evil! Oddly enough, this hasn’t been a wild success.

So while Gordon Brown’s been pretending that he’s been promising cuts all along to weary jeers around the country, it’s been left to Peter Mandelson to make a coherent argument. It’s coming up to a year since he was brought back into the Labour Government, and I still have the same equivocal feeling I did then: he’s one of their most effective ministers, but as a party politician, he’s pure poison. His much-quoted line this week was that they were going to be “Wise but not big spenders” – an approach cribbed from years of unreported Lib Dem soundbites on taxation, and simply not believable after a dozen years in power doing exactly the reverse. I could say, ‘It is big, but it’s not clever’, or ‘not little enough, and too late’, but it’s simpler just to point out that no-one believes him, and that they don’t have the time left to start now.

Compared to TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber’s Powellite rhetoric of “riots on the streets” if there are any public sector job cuts, however, Peter Mandelson seems positively plausible. It can’t just have been me who woke up to news of their competing speeches earlier in the week and imagined them animated by Ray Harryhausen: Lord Mandelson’s Labour Government a huge, coiling, venomous snake, darting and biting; Mr Barber’s TUC a vast, heavy, lumbering dinosaur, powerful but uncoordinated, hampered by only having several very tiny brains each wanting to move its limbs in different directions.

Voters hadn’t been treated to such a grisly display since those of us in London witnessed prehistoric relics Bob Crow and Arthur Scargill duking it out for rival far left fantasists on our ballot papers in June, their giant rubber bodies flickering in the cameras. Now, if you could explicitly vote against someone, surely Mr ‘I’d like to sit in my mansion and ruin your travel’ Crow would have topped the poll – and surely the only people voting for that self-indulgent old self-destructor Mr Scargill were extreme Thatcherites wishing the man who single-handedly destroyed the union movement was a power in the land again, rather than just The Man That Time Forgot.

My favourite bellowing union demand of the week, however, was blundering triceratops the GMB. They shouted to the Labour Government that there are ten thousand jobs in Barrow-in-Furness dependent on Trident, so that has to stay. Ten thousand? Goodness. If that’s the prime consideration, even senior bankers must be envious – these are some of the most expensive jobs in Britain. How about dropping Trident, and giving each of the workers there a million quid? It’d still save ninety billion.

Good News – No Post Strike!

At least, if you’re as fed up as I am with things being lost in the post even more than usual right now, and with random local strikes every few days (where’s my new Doctor Who Magazine, then? Eh? Eh?), there was a breath of relief this week.

You may have read that
“Ballot papers proposing a national strike at the Royal Mail over pay and job cuts are being sent out to members of the main postal union.”
“Sent out”? By post? Phew! Well, no chance of a national strike before Christmas, then.

Did Harriet Think Spitting Image Was A Documentary?

Thanks to Sara Bedford for highlighting a truly hilarious story. Gordon Brown’s Very Important Deputy (for Paperclips and Pissing People Off) Harriet Harman has spent years arguing for absolute, inflexible, dogmatic discrimination in favour of women, because neither any other social divisions nor political views matter. Earlier this Summer, Ms Harman provoked rows by stating that Labour should always have one woman and one man as Leader and Deputy Leader – even if, say, women got 80% of the vote in each contest and one was forced to stand down in favour of an unpopular misogynist as a result. Uncharitable people suggested she was rather hoping that when Mr Brown goes, entirely of his own free will and certainly not in any sort of putsch, as long as it’s within the fortnight, she would stand for Leader rather than Deputy and hope that no women stood for the latter position, thereby electing her on almost as democratic a technicality as Mr Brown’s coronation.

However, it appears that Ms Harman’s much-repeated argument that gender is all and political choice doesn’t matter is, er, self-serving hypocritical guff that she doesn’t actually mean a word of. Who knew? This week her “Equality Office” produced “Women in Power: Milestones,” listing the twenty-eight most significant events of the last century for female politicians.

Which mentioned all sorts of Labour hacks, but refused to name Margaret Thatcher. Oops.

Once again, people will struggle to be charitable to Ms Harman. Perhaps she used to watch a lot of Spitting Image, and on seeing Mrs Thatcher portrayed as a man, she was just dim enough to think everything on television was true…

Vince Tackles the Fiscal Crisis

If you’re tired of all the silliness and crashing dinosaurs, why not try a serious politician?

You won’t have seen much about it on the news, but Lib Dem Treasury Spokesperson Vince Cable this week launched Tackling the Fiscal Crisis: A Recovery Plan for the UK, which rather than just using rhetoric of undefined ‘good cuts’ versus undefined ‘bad cuts’ actually took voters seriously, and set out nine specific areas to start on saving (including a public sector pay freeze and pay cuts for top civil servants, tightening salaries to protect jobs). Now that even the Labour Government’s admitted they can’t afford the bills any more, isn’t it time the other political parties told us all what their actual proposals are rather than just calling each other names?

*I realise I may not entirely be flattering myself in bringing up my childhood at the same time as Jurassic metaphors.

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