...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, October 08, 2018

Day 6489: DOCTOR WHO: The Woman Who Rose to the Challenge


The name is Bond… Jane Bond!

Don’t knock it. This week Doctor Who went where no man has gone before. And about time. And she did it in “Casino Royale” style with a little more of the WooWho theme added each time she stepped closer to remembering just Who she fully was.

Fearless confrontation with aliens… build a new sonic… heroic action sequence… turn their own weapons against them… never cruel, never cowardly, always there to help… and you’re really going to wear that?

The Doctor’s back baby, she’s back.

And so are we. Here’s Daddy’s new Who review.

“All of this is new to you, and new can be scary.”

The first impression was that this was very new. The cinematography was more sweeping. The pacing was more measured. The focus more on the ensemble cast – like the opening of “Rose" but paced like Broadchurch not a pop video. The music was less frenetic. The colour palette was more naturalistic, at least for the daytime work.

Let’s hope that “naturalistic” means “grim up north and dark” for one episode only, and that alien planets will be different. The posters for this season have been so vibrant and colourful, and Doctor Who should look different to anything else on TV (again!).

There are clearly two ways to handle the transition from Doctor to Doctor: the companions to hold your hand approach as you experience their shock, bewilderment and acceptance with them – “Power of the Daleks”, naturally, but also “Robot” or “Deep Breath”; and the all-change method, where the whole team are new and you experience the Doctor brand new for the first time all over again: “The Eleventh Hour”, “Rose” or “Spearhead from Space” or even arguably “An Unearthly Child”.

But in a lot of ways this was also a step back to something hugely “trad” – not exactly 20th Century Who, but what that might have evolved into along the lines of other British drama.

We’ve had ten seasons of New Who with emphasis on the “New”, both Russell Davies era of fast-cutting, high octane, high contrast based on American series like “Buffy”, and the Steven Moffat’s puzzle-box genre, in darkness and actinic blues. Right now, something old-school is the radical departure.

And I’m reminded of Sir Humphrey’s advice in “Yes, Prime Minister” – if you’re going to do something really radical, Prime Minister, announce it from the most traditional wood-panelled library with leather chair and mahogany desk. Everything you can do to comfort people and tell them it’ll all be fine.

Because holy crap the Doctor is a woman and half the Internet have lost their minds.

“I’m looking for a doctor”

Which of course is absurd, because the Doctor is still the Doctor and Jodie Whittaker is brilliant.

(Mind you, for a series that defines itself by change, we are talking about a fanbase that has difficulty recognising “the Welsh series”, who thought “The Deadly Assassin” was the death of the magic, that colour was maybe a step too far, or that it was all downhill once those two schoolteachers appeared…)

Of course, it’s early days, and we’ve got the excuse of post-regenerative discombobulation to handwave any cuts and trims as writers and actor find the performance. But what we saw on the first night was, let’s quote the trail, glorious.

We acknowledge the gender swap with “Why are you calling me madam?” but it makes no difference to the Doctor taking charge like she owns the place, same as the Doctor has always done.

A defining scene was aboard the train, as Yas tries to assert her authority as a police officer (or cadet PCSO), and the Doctor effortlessly takes charge, not by bullying or physical threat but by posing the pertinent questions and showing she’s the one with the answers.

Jodie’s performance gave me a bit of Tom in, say, the “that nap did me the world of good”, and some lovely squidgy-faced expressions as emotive as Sylv, but most reminded me of Matt, with the physical discoordinations and the eccentric distractedness. And the complete confidence in the dress-sense. Which is also very Colin.

But played, and I think quite rightly, with an absolute confidence in her own authority, not arrogance, but certainty.

And kindness.

The seventh Doctor went to the funeral in “Remembrance of the Daleks” but only the thirteenth would stay.

And thankfully after the “am I a good man” gloom that beset the twelfth Doctor, Jodie felt like a Doctor unburdened. Able to offer a helping hand and stand up for fair play because she’s – literally – got the spoons now to do so.

“There’s echoes of who I was, and a sort of call towards who I am.”

Possibly unsurprising given that this is Chibnall, he’s chosen to sample some of his favourite Who moments, made a montage from some of the series’ quintessential touchstones: the Doctor’s speech about family from “Tomb of the Cybermen”; the forging of the new sonic – from spoons and a bit of alien spacepod – harking back to the third Doctor’s gadget building, if way more epic; the crane reminiscent of Sarah Jane climbing the Thal rocket in “Genesis of the Daleks”, or the Doctor and friends teleporting between adventures as in “The Ark in Space” or again from the end of “Genesis…” with added floating in space effect; the Doctor looking for “a doctor” as Peter Davison was in “Castrovalva”; possibly a nod to David Tennant in “The Christmas Invasion” as the Doctor recovers on the sofa exhaling artron energy; even the first glimpse of the new female companion is in police uniform like Amy (thank god this time she’s not really a stripper!). “Will he ever call me grandad” was a line given to Graham, but was planting a flag for the series’ roots right back to “An Unearthly Child”.
But Chibnall wasn’t afraid to subvert the expectations either: two aliens arrive – one tentacle-y one in armour – the Doctor guesses two alien races at war… immediately I’m thinking Sontarrans vs Rutans… but no, he’s not afraid for the Doctor to guess wrong, and the aliens – on the same side after all – turn out to be the Jem’Hadar… no, sorry the Stenza.

Well, there’s a whole new meaning to “toothy grin”, that Terrance Dicks can’t have thought of. Possibly Chibnall has been studying too many serial killers for writing “Broadchurch” (yes, I know they didn’t actually do serial killer) with their gruesome souvenir-collecting habits.

The tentacle-y thing, meanwhile, was wonderfully Cthuloid. We wondered if it had assembled itself a form from train cabling, incidentally, and might it have build different, more industrial bodies later at the crane site.

And as an aside, I thought it was good that Ryan was able to own his mistake in “granting access” too.

The Woman Who Fell

So, let’s look at the supporting cast, who I thought were great.

Of the non-Time Lord regulars, it’s interesting that Ryan (Tosin Cole) is clearly the audience identification figure, starting from his vlog as we do. That also makes him the voice of the author for part of the story. And it’s his action that incites the incident.

I’m slightly less sold on Bradley Walsh’s Graham yet. He’s no Wilf. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt if only for the gleeful expression as he detonates an explosion in the season’s trailer.

But of the three, I’m favouring Yas as the stand-out, Mandip Gill bringing a bright intelligence and curiosity to the role. Though something that makes Yas a Moffat-style companion (something else other than she’s wearing a police uniform – she’s earned that uniform!): she knew Ryan in childhood and suddenly finds him again because of the weird stuff he shows her and she doesn’t believe!

Not joining us on voyage, Karl Brian Wright, crane operator and “valuable person” was sweet in his own way, and I liked that he said thank you and left (yes, like Derek from “Survival”), though the plot demanded that – like, Alex tells me, the book of “Survival” – the monsters come after him in the end. Nice that the Doctor gave him a ticking off for booting the beaten villain off a crane (though not the full Harriet Jones destroy his life!).

But my favourite was Grace, for all that – curse you the spoilers of pre-publicity – knowing she wasn’t a series regular was as good as hanging a “doomed” sign around her neck. She was funny and brave and curious and had as much character as the other three put together. Basically, she’d have been a great companion in the Evelyn Smythe tradition. Several times, I thought she was about to buy the farm, so making it to the last act was almost an achievement, but then it was “No Graham, let me go sticking the probulator into the electric death-ball up the crane”, and fate was sealed.

Grace’s fall give the episode title poignant double meaning – in retrospect highlighted by Ryan from the beginning telling us that the woman we think this is about isn’t the woman who this is about.

Chibnall here strikes a balance between Russell, having people challenge the Doctor afterwards on consequences, and Moffat saying if you wish hard enough there are no consequences at all, (so if you die you just can’t have been special enough); he’s learnt from writing a long and harrowing detective show (and maybe from reading some PD James) that when people die it has a massive effect on other people, rarely beneficial, sometimes catastrophic, because every person is the centre of their own story with their own web of connections and consequences.

And if Grace is the point of the first episode, is this an author’s nod to the US remake of his Broadchurch called Gracepoint?

Next Time

The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy tells us that the probability of being rescued from the vacuum of space is 2 to the power of 276,709 to 1 against, which as we all know was a telephone number in Islington in the late ’Seventies. So will someone with an Infinite Improbability Drive be along in a half a minute to rescue our heroes?

And looking longer term, are we going for a “quest for the TARDIS” season story-arc (what, the show-runner might have fibbed about all separate stories?!)

And the big question: Will we get a title sequence?

Friday, September 07, 2018

Day 6459: Movement Pie


Once Upon a Time, the people of the United Kingdom of England and Scotland decided that their king had got too uppity and chopped his head off.

And then, being very British about it, decided that what they really wanted was another king again, thank you very much.

And some MPs thought that things should go back to just how they were, with the King having absolute power over everything.

But some other MPs said, isn’t that what caused all the bother in the first place, and maybe unfair power is something we should do something about.

And so, in the end, Liberalism was born.

Mr Dr Vince “the Power” Cable, isn’t king of the Lib Dems. But he might want to be a bit more cautious about sticking his neck out…

Today he is making a few suggestions about how to turn the Party into a Movement. And, like the “Movement Pie” in TV’s “The Preventers” it is… “strangely unappetising”.

Captain Paddy used to have what was called the “Bungee Squad”, so that when he leapt off a cliff with a new notion, they could reel him back in. This press launch of a proposal to bounce the Party into following is more Lemming Squad – take the leap and expect all the rest of us to follow.

What is behind this is Brexit – obviously – and the cowardice of MPs in government and opposition. The Tory Rebels don’t want to split the Tory Party. The Labour moderates don’t want to split the Labour Party. Their tribalism is what is preventing Parliament coming together to stop Brexit. But that is on THEM not on US.

But creating a “safe space” for disenfranchised members of OTHER PARTIES – at the further expense of our own identity – doesn’t do us any good. Or in the long run the country any good. Last time we behaved like the only adults in the room, we agreed to a coalition and were annihilated for our pains. We no longer have the political capital to do that again! And look what has happened without Liberal voices being heard in Parliament?

I WANT more Liberal voices. So I WANT people to be Liberals, to support and join the Liberal Democrats.

But I’m actually pretty AMBIVALENT about a “supporters scheme”.

On the one fluffy foot, the more the merrier. On the other fluffy foot, this is wasting a lot of time and potentially money (especially if the Leader want’s his own Special Conference to make the changes) on PROCESS when we could be spending that time and money on telling people how GREAT Liberalism is. It looks an awful lot like the Politician’s Syllogism (“Yes, Minister”): we must do SOMETHING – THIS is something – we must do THIS!

(And didn’t we say One Member One Vote would get the members more involved? Now that that’s not worked we want to get the not-even-members more involved?)

We’re not in politics just to be a bigger club for people who like being in The Politics Club. Liberals are in politics to do something DIFFERENT, or we’d just have done the easy thing and joined one of the bigger clubs in the first place.

And that’s why this Movement Pie is the wrong way round. It starts from the idea of being welcoming – which is GOOD – but offers nothing different once everybody gets there. Worse it’s more “None of the Above”

For better or worse – usually worse – that’s why the likes of Brexit or Corbyn are brilliant recruiters: because they have something exciting that appeals to converts.

Liberal Democrats need to be bolder in offering something different, something that ENTHUSES people into signing up. Liberal ideas are a beacon that inspire people, and Liberals should always welcome aboard all the new people inspired by Liberalism.

If your only big idea is to say you’ll welcome as many people as you can find but only for more of the same (but not EVIL!), you may well find that not many people will be very interested in tucking into your biggest pie ever…!

Because it’s a Pie with no FILLING.

Oh it may be EYE-CATCHING. So is any SPECTACULAR BELLY-FLOP. But is it the right answer? Is it even answering the right question?

Because the Liberal Democrats have had, let’s be honest, bit of a problem for a bit of a while now: post-joining the Coalition, no one knows what the Party stands for.

To most people The Tories stood for the people with money, Labour stood for the people without and the Lib Dems USED to stand for “the None of the Above” Party. And then we were in government and we weren’t none of the above any more.

To possibly too many of our MPs and members, we were the “Nice Moderate in the Middle Party”, not to profligate not too evil, just right. The kind of people who thought John Major was too exciting a shade of grey. And while, in the current political climate, you can see the attraction of being the “we’re not nutters” Party, it’s also heavily contributing to the belief that we are the “We stand in the middle, we’ll stand with anyone, not for anything” Party.

Saying we will welcome all and sundry, no need to sign up to our values, and we will have any leader you like so long as you like them… if ANYTHING that is MORE OF THE SAME PROBLEM.

And THIS fluffy elephant says FLUFF OFF to that!

I am a LIBERAL and I want to see my Party doing LIBERAL THINGS – taking part in Europe, cleaning up our air, standing up for people who are a bit different, challenging the RIGHT-WING consensus of Labour and Tory Parties that immigrants are bad and big government is good.

Liberalism started off by being about taking power away from central control and giving it away. It started with the biggest centre of power of them all, the divinely appointed King. But it also became about taking away the power of other bullies over people.

We talk about Human Rights, which are to protect you from a bullying government, and about workers rights which are to protect you from a bullying employer, or about protection for minorities which are to protect you from a bullying mob.

Socialists might talk about seizing power from the capitalists; conservatives might talk about protecting the status quo. But they are just arguing about who has the power. Only Liberalism wants to abolish the idea of there being someone in power.

How we give power and freedom to people are big big questions: how do we – for example – free people from poverty? Lloyd George answered that with a People’s Budget and pensions; Beverage answered it with the Welfare State; today maybe a British dividend or universal basic income might be the answer.

But the question is still relevant.

Which means Liberalism is still relevant.

Which means WE need to have an answer to prove that WE are relevant!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Day 6200: The Triumph of the Dark. The Victory of the Light


The shortest day. The blackest night.

The Tories tearing the country apart almost as fast as they tear each other apart. The Labour Opposition slavishly not opposing. The Lib Dems going nowhere.

Winter is here. Even your passport is turning as BLUE as a White Walker.

Seems like things have got pretty DARK recently, doesn’t it?

So, disguising myself as a BB9-E-for-Elephant droid, I got the Daddies to smuggle me into Stockport’s new cinema, The Light – half Hipster Cornflake Bar; half Interior Star Destroyer, but they do a decent hotdog – in (first) order to watch the new STAR WARS movie.



Which was very excellent, but about as CHEERING as Emo Kylo Ren watching a double bill of The Empire Strikes Back and The Empire Strikes Back AGAIN (it’s his favourite).

Non-spoilery review:

It’s a wonderfully faithful examining of the original ideas about “The Force of Relations” that really hasn’t been attempted at all by these movies yet.

At the same time, it completely upends what you thought it meant to be a Star Wars story, by deliberately throwing away the tropes and clichés of Campbell that have been the lynchpin of Lucas from the very beginning in part IV (if you see what I mean).

The first great twist comes in the title crawl, pointing out that actually the First Order WON halfway through The Force Awakens, but you might have missed it what with the second half of Episode VII covering a bigger remake of A New Hope. Again. Then Luke does [THAT THING] with [THAT THING].

Rey finds new ways to be feisty while learning the ways of the Force. Finn makes a new friend and learns to be braver. Captain Poe gets to double-check with BB8 about “naked Finn” before learning lessons in leadership from a lady with purple hair who is PROBABLY AUNTIE JENNIE. And Emo Kylo Ren pouts gloriously as he trembles between the Dark Side and the Light. Then HE does [THAT THING] with the [THAT THING]. Which is awesome.

So, if The Force Awakes was a reverent remake of A New Hope, then The Last Jedi is very much doing the The Empire Strikes Back Thing (yes, down to the “let us do [THAT THING] together as [THAT RELATIONSHIP] and [THAT RELATIONSHIP]”) but by DOING ITS OWN THING.

Also Green Milk.

Also you can still apparently get doughnuts once you’ve become one with the Force, as the appearance and sugar-rush of [THAT PERSON] clearly demonstrate.

On the DOWN side: the giant AT-M6 Walkers are apparently called “Gorilla Walkers” even though they are much BIGGER than the AT-ATs. (Evil metal war elephants are STILL elephants and should still be the BEST!)

Later in the week we saw an article in the Grauniad asserting that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is “as left-wing as Jeremy Corbyn”.

Now it’s EASY enough to think that MAYBE our columnist has been indulging a wee bit much on the EGG NOG at the Graun’s Winterval Cheese and Wine Do.

But perhaps he’s not ENTRIELY without a point as – mild spoilers for the STAR WARS – the BADDIES are the SPACE NAZIS.

But it’s more than just that. And, to get a teeny bit more spoilery, actually there IS a bit of a flavour of the “99%” movement about the film, both in the side-arc where some of our working-class heroes visit the casino-planet of Cantor Bight where the ultra-rich of the galaxy gamble with their ill-gotten gains or watch the races like it’s Space Ascot, and even more so in the way the narrative explicitly rejects the “Chosen One” narratives of the Prequel Trilogy for an egalitarian “The Force is for Everyone” theme.

But is that REALLY “lefty” in the Jez-We-Can Kenobi cult of personality Chosen One sort of way?

A lot of “fans” I understand are a bit Emo Kylo Ren about Luke Skywalker (of all people) saying it’s time for the Jedi to end. (That’s not a spoiler: he says it in the TRAILER. And also, that is the START of his character arc in the film, so I do recommend you go see it to see where that arc is going to take him.)

But, he IS right that that the Jedi Order was WRONG. Not because of the JEDI. Because of the ORDER.

The Jedi had decided that they would do GOOD by RULING THE GALAXY. Which is where Mr Corbyn comes in. And which isn’t that different from what the SITH wanted.

I mean, the REAL lesson of the Prequels – apart from “Don’t Let George Lucas loose with too much money and a CGI paintbox” – is beware of overthrowing your democracy for the nice kindly-seeming man who promises to solve all your problems for you by taking you back to a time that seemed simpler.

Daddy Richard was asked recently: “If you want to be an MP, why don’t you just join the Labour Party?”

To which the FLIPPANT answer is: “Have you SEEN the Labour Party?”

But, more seriously, if you REALLY HAVE SEEN the Labour Party when they get into unchallenged power, like in places like Tower Hamlets, you see how quickly power corrupts them absolutely, but also when you see that candidates like the missing-in-action MP for Sheffield Hallam are not, in fact, unusual, but products of Labour’s SYSTEM of rewarding the people who do not THINK but JUST do what the Party tells them (and behave HOWEVER the heck they want outside those parameters), then you do not want ANYTHING to do with them.

But, most seriously, this comes down to a VERY FUNDAMENTAL difference of philosophy between Socialism and Liberalism.

Socialism believes that they are doing good and will do good to you WHETHER YOU WANT THEM TO OR NOT.

Liberalism, informed by JS Mill and Harriet Taylor on the HARM PRINCIPLE, says that “doing someone good” is NOT good enough reason to override their freedom to choose; only stopping them harming someone else is reason enough to do that.

It is why Labour feel able to promise you everything you want – and rainbows and unicorns – because they will give you what THEY decide is good, regardless of whether you want it. Or even whether it really IS good. (see also, Iraq War.)

And why Liberals have to think VERY HARD before making promises like that, and by and large ASK MORE from people. We TRUST people. So we EXPECT BETTER of them.

Liberals are the real rebels.

Socialism, and the Labour Party, are just another kindly Senator Palpatine, ready to turn into the Evil Emperor, ready to bring peace and justice to the galaxy with Sith lightning and a red lightsabre. (see also, Iraq War.)

It is, as the saying goes, a DARK TIME for the galaxy, when the Conservatories are being absolutely terrible, but the alternative is not much better and not really much alternative. And the Lib Dems still on single-digit polling.

Those polling figures, I am SURE – and I mean this from TALKING to REAL people – are NOT a sign of huge love for EITHER big, establishment Party.

I mean it hardly seems likely that there is a huge wave of Love for Mrs Mayhem in the country. Pity, yes. Love, cough cough, I think not, actually.

And although there ARE a lot of people in love with Mr Jeremy – or at least their IDEA of Mr Jeremy, which is rather not the same thing at all – I think not 40% of the population.

No, those polls to me are more a sign of FEAR.

40% of people are absolutely terrified of getting a Labour government, after what the last one did to the economy; 40% of the people are absolutely horrified at the idea of the Tory government continuing after what they’ve done with austerity.

And FEAR is, as we all know by now, the path to the DARK SIDE.

Hope is thin on the ground. And the Liberal Democrats are the Party of hope. Of Freedom and the Future, which depend on hope.

So why do we do this? Why do we carry on, when it’s at its darkest and it’s so, so hard?

A brief swerve to paraphrase Dr Woo from his (soon to be her) recent adventure down a black hole: “We don’t do this for the rewards. We don’t do this because it’s fun. We do this because it’s right, it’s necessary and above all because it’s kind.”

But to return to the Star Wars movie (and this is in the trailer too):

“We are the spark. That will light the flame. That will return freedom to the galaxy!”

The Dark Side has taken control from the very beginning, from halfway through last time even if you didn’t notice. But they cannot extinguish the last of the Light. And that is why, in the end the Light will win.

May 2018 be with you.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Day 6154: Time to Tear Down This Institution Before It Falls Down


Parliament is crumbling, and that isn’t just a metaphor.

We should all be concerned for the physical safety of the thousands of people who have to work in the enormous Westminster folly, built on a swamp, a firetrap with miles of wiring and gas pipes, which is absolutely falling to bits.

But we should worry much more about the safety of our democracy.

It’s the day after Bonfire Night and too many people are saying Guy Fawkes had the right idea. But it’s not the PEOPLE who want to be EXPLODED, it’s the building that traps them in a democracy time-warp.

Private Eye cover headline says House of Commons to relocate over picture of Soho sex shop
Private Eye, even less subtle about the state of Parliament

The way we run Parliament is as gothic and arcane as the building itself.

Last week saw another attempt to bring the voting age down to 16 defeated by a process called “talking out”. The Deputy Speaker even refused a request to call a vote because the issue was so important but had only had an hour and twenty minutes debate. So important, then, that it will be shoved to the back of the queue and probably never talked about again, at least not for this backbench bill.

This makes Parliament look ridiculous, and impotent, and deliberately opposed to the issues of young people.

And it happens time and time again. This rule makes no sense to the public, and give a ridiculous amount of power to a certain group of Tory backbenchers who, because they have been gifted with safe seats and so do not need to bother going back to their constituencies on Fridays, can spend their time shooting down legislation basically on a whim. This isn’t democracy. It’s as bad and corrupt as the Rotten Boroughs.

Last week the House of Lords, Nick Clegg’s efforts to reform it having been sunk by the unholy alliance of Tory backbenchers and the Labour Party, proposed measures to voluntarily reduce the size of the World’s second-largest unelected chamber. If all Parties agree – and if the Prime Minister agrees to stop stuffing the place with more Tory peers, itself unlikely given that that power of patronage is one of the few levers remaining to her in her weakened condition – then the upper chamber will diminish from over 800 peers to merely around 600 by 2029.

Asked why not just introduce a mandatory retirement age, the response comes no that would be unfair because Labour Lords tend to be so very much older than Liberal Democrats and so would have an unfair outcome. Well okay, what about retiring people on the basis of attendance, or lack thereof? No, that would be unfair also, because it would seem, Liberal Democrats peers have a much better attendance record than other lords and ladies also.

And what if Lord Tarquin decides he doesn’t want to give up the ermine? Well, hope the reformers, we might not come to that.

Theresa May’s Government, hardly the most legitimate having lost her majority and bought a billion-pound lifeline from the DUP, has adopted a policy of ignoring Opposition Day motions, and not even turning up to vote.

Last week we saw the Opposition resorting to the manoeuvre of “An Humble Address to Her Majesty” in order to force the Government to disclose the assessments of the impact of Brexit on 58 sectors of the economy.

How can Parliament do its job without transparency?

But what good holding a government to account if that government just ignores you? And the government gets away with holding Parliament in contempt because the people hold Parliament in contempt.

What do people think when they think of Parliament? They think expenses scandal, they now think harassing younger women, and they think Prime Minister’s Questions.

Week in week out we see the grotesque spectacle that is the bear pit of Prime Minister’s Questions. Never Prime Minister’s Answers, of course. Deflect, obscure, quote irrelevant statistics, pass the buck, blame the opposition. And bonus points for titillating the sketch writers. MPs always assure us that this half hour of jeering and name-calling is not typical of the House. And yet it is the bit of the House’s week that is most seen by the public and the bit that is most attended by MPs.

And the chamber and building itself are physically designed, confrontational, oppositional, and too small to hold all the members, to drive PMQs – or any important debate – to be an angry shouting match.

PMQs is not an aberration. It’s merely the most obvious sign that the Houses of Parliament are toxic to democracy.

In a building that is by equal parts Public School, Gentleman’s (with emphasis on the “man’s”) Club and Retirement Home, where the people in charge of keeping order are called “whips”, merging the brutal with the downright kinky, is it really any surprise that bullying and harassment run rampant?

There is a solution. Just get out. Not for the duration of repair, get out forever. Move Parliament out of Westminster. Out of London.

And move the Treasury, the Cabinet Office, the Home Office and the Office of the Prime Minister with them. Probably the Foreign Office and the spending departments too, but at very least those.

Move them to the “Northern Powerhouse” and maybe they’ll take it seriously.

Make big changes to stop the new Parliament being an Old Boys’ Club.

Now’t wrong with being Old unless it’s ONLY for the Old, so make it better with votes at 16.

Now’t wrong with being Boys unless it’s ONLY for the Boys, so make it better with action on gender equality and harassment so it’s a place where people of all genders want to work.

And now’t wrong with being… actually there’s quite a LOT wrong with it being a Club. A Club is for the special members who know the secret handshakes. Westminster is a Palace for nobs; we need a Parliament for people.

Make every vote count. Elect MPs by a proportional system. Of course it should be PR. And British PR at that – multi-member seats and ranking candidates by preference, giving the power to the people.

Make every lawmaker accountable to the people. Replace the Lords with 200 elected senators. Maybe, if you really really must, with 50 appointed cross-benchers – they could speak but not vote. If clashing mandates really really worry you, adopt the Cap’n Clegg solution of electing senators by thirds for fifteen-year terms.

Make MPs subject to a right of recall. Fire them if they are guilty of crimes. It’s no good saying you cannot fire an MP. Right now, an MP will lose their seat if they go bankrupt. Parliament should have the power to suspend for a week, or a month or fire altogether.

Make every vote of the House matter. The government ignores Opposition motions, the Opposition uses them for stunts. Neither is good for democracy. Change the rules so that all Bills before the House are taken in order and debated until they are voted on. And if there aren’t enough members in the House on Friday, carry the debate over to Monday. Ditch the ritual. The Speaker doesn’t need to wear tights. And if people want to say prayers before legislating, let them go to church or mosque or temple*.

(*other places also available.)

But more than anything make it a modern building with proper sized offices and proper IT and proper air-conditioning and enough loos for everyone.

And don’t forget to make room for an HR department.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Day 6095: British Democracy is a Shambles


People think voting systems and constitutions are “boring”.

But it’s our unfair and antique voting system that has got us where we’ve got.

It goes back a long long loooog way.

Maybe to the 2015 election that took Liberal voices out of our politics.

Or to the Coalition years where Hard Labour and Conservatory combined to scupper reform of voting and Lords.

Or to the Coalition agreement when people lost their faith in the Liberal Democrats.

Or to Lord Blairimort.

Or even to the SDP who tried to break the mould but got broken by the voting system instead.

But we’ve got to start somewhere, so let’s start with that Referendum…

A Shambles, yesterday

[Previously published, yes, I have tried my fluffy foot at an Twitter thread:]

The Prime Monster, Mr Balloon, calls referendum on a whim, putting his personal interests and Tory Party internal differences ahead of the country.

Parliament fails to set proper rules on the assurance that it’s “only advisory”.

Shocking bias from media controlled by half-a-dozen billionaire’s who don’t even live in Britain.

Apart from the nepotist-ocracy of the Grauniad of course (how DID Polly “I have no qualifications apart from my relatives and defender of Tory slime” Toynbee get her job?).

Vote Leave campaign outright lies – and they admit it – and get away with it.

Mr Balloon resigns in a huff. New Prime Monster, Mrs Mayhem, anointed without an election as all other candidates shoot one another (or themselves!) in the back.

Unelected clique of hard-right Brexiteers seize control.

Wafer thin majority for leave is translated into “people voted for…” insert “hardest possible Brexit”, or “stopping immigration” or “an end to rule of law” as appropriate.

Any question raised over Brexit shouted down as “against the will of the people”.

Government tries to snatch control of Article 50 process – has to be told by Supreme Court that Parliament must have a say.

Opposition MPs (no, not including ours) give PM exactly what she wants anyway.

Prime Monster Mayhem repeatedly promises not to call a general election. Calls a general election anyway on a whim.

Opposition MPs (yes, including ours this time) give PM exactly what she wants anyway.

Shocking bias from media controlled by half-a-dozen billionaire’s who don’t even live in Britain.

Apart from the nepotist-ocracy of the Grauniad of course (how DID Owen “former intern for John McDonald and what’s my lifelong opinion this week?” Jones get his job?).

In spite of this, Prime Monster loses election – but carries on squatting in Downing Street.

Apparently intending to lead the Conservatories to their next election defeat too

Government avoids scrutiny by not appointing standing committees.

As most important negotiation in our post-War history begin… Parliament goes on holiday for two months, leaving David Davis with no scrutiny at all.

Shocking bias from media leads to unaccountable misprint of “homophobic misogynist expelled from Tory Party” rendered as “touted as Tory leader”.

Government returns to introduce Bill to repeal European Communities Act 1974. Uses it to make grab for unprecedented unaccountable power.

Parliament’s own constitution committee says of the Withdrawal Bill that it “raises a series of profound, wide-ranging and inter-locking constitutional concerns”.

Worst of all, clause one of the Bill gives power to make “exit day” ““such day as a Minister of the Crown may by regulations appoint.”

Effectively cutting Parliament out of scrutiny if David “Brexit Bulldog” Davies fails and walks away from negotiations.

Or if Liam “disgraced former Defence Secretary” Fox gets bored of waiting for having a real job.

Or if Bojo “Punishment Beatings” Johnson is short of a publicity stunt one afternoon.

Government tries to continue avoiding scrutiny by still not appointing standing committees – has to be told to “stop faffing about” by the Speaker of the House.

Government announces that – by a simple motion – “the government will have a majority on standing committees”.

Open Democracy reports that Tory MPs have diverted tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayer-funded “expenses” to the Hard Brexit “Party-within-a-Party” European Research Group.

People think voting systems and constitutions are “boring”.

Our “boring” systems and constitution allow Tories (and Labour) to get away with stealing your democracy.

Democracy in the UK is a shambles.

Post script:
Shambles: historically – butchery. Same as the French word MASSACRE.

A Massacre, yesterday

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Day 6058: Brexit - Optimism Bias for the Win


As a fluffy elephant, I’ve noticed you monkeys are in the habit of being bang-up sure things are going to turn out well. Even when they’re not.

It’s called OPTIMISM BIAS.

It CAN be useful. Having evolved the ability to imagine the FUTURE, you’d all be plunged into clinical depression without it.

(And I’m not making this up: people with low optimism bias tend to suffer with depression.)

But it also leads to assuming that WARNING SIGNS don’t apply to you:

Government Health Warning – I won’t get cancer.
Speed limits – I’m a safe driver!
Brexit cliff-edge ahead – Project Fear!!!!

So, a year into this Brexit shambles, and with the government making an art form of “masterly inactivity”, leaving things till WAY after the last minute, some Quitlings* are taking “nothing is happening” as a SIGN that really – really! – things are working out OK after all.

(*© @HickeyWriter)

This, as they say, is FINE.

originally from K.C. Green’s Gunshow comic #648

The leading lights (in the moth to flame sense) of the Vote Leave campaign are of necessity becoming adept at PIVOTING their arguments.

“a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way” (farrage) was swiftly transformed into “the will of the people”.

“No one is talking about leaving the Single Market” (hannan) has become “Everyone knew we would leave the Single Market”.

And now “We will be better off” is being rebranded as “We all knew there would be a period of adjustment” with a view to ending up at “Everyone accepted there was a price worth paying” (especially since we expect our kids to be paying it long after we’re gone).

This is particularly evident with this YouGov polling in the Indepretendent

“71 per cent of over-65s would accept a big economic hit – and half are willing for family members to lose their jobs”

That is – notice – RETIRED Quitlings saying they “accept” one of their family who is still working to PAY FOR THEIR BADWORD can lose their job to satisfy their ideological fix.


But in spite of being thrown under the bus by Generation Baby Boom(and Bust)er, we still see responses of DENIAL from people who are just too OPTIMISTIC to see the warning signs.

Millie says: “So far there has not been any damage, quite the opposite.”

Ross adds: “Who says the economy will be ruined?? I'm not seeing a problem.”

It’s the sort of thing that might provoke an EPIC RANT… oh look, here’s Daddy Richard:

No damage? Not noticed anything?

Do you notice your electricity price?

British Gas are putting up prices by 12%. You can link that directly to the fall in the £, because energy is priced in $ so our costs have shot up.

Do you notice your food?

Those “great” trade deals on the table – well, it appears accepting American food hygiene standards means washing chicken in bleach because they don’t have the animal welfare standards that Europe does, and just try to kill all the bugs at the end of the process.

Do you notice your holidays?

People going on holiday seeing four hour delays to enter Europe. That’s just a taster for what happens when we close our borders. That “taking back control” goes both ways.

Do you notice the big picture?

Growth is down to a puny 0.3% - we’ve gone from the strongest economy in Europe to the weakest. So much for Europe “holding Britain back”.

Thousands maybe tens of thousands of jobs going from the city to Paris and Frankfurt. Oh they’re only bankers. But highly paid bankers who contribute a lot in taxes to paying for our services.

The Chancellor has a £25 billion hole in his budget. (says independent IFS report) That’s bigger than £350 million a week… no sign of that for the NHS yet either by the way.

Do you notice the NHS is in crisis?

40,000 shortfall in numbers of nurses because – surprise – the nurses from Europe took those people saying “go home” seriously.

Do you notice that no one knows how to solve the problem of the border with Ireland?

Because it’s impossible. You simply cannot have a hard border with the EU and soft border with the Republic at the same time because the Iris border IS the EU border.

Expecting the Irish to implement expensive and dubious electronic tracking to make it easy for us to leave, or worse telling the Irish that we will put British customs points in their ports (as though there hasn’t been 300+ years of conflict over exactly that sort of behaviour) is not approaching a solution. It’s making things worse.

Speaking as someone who was in Manchester when the Arndale was blown up AND in Canary Wharf the day THAT was blown up, I’d really like us not to mess up the peace process.

Did you notice that our power and influence in the world has evaporated?
We lost that vote because the EU members who we have just rebuffed all abstained.

Did you notice Cornwall got shafted?

Don’t count on those promises that subsidies would be replaced like-for-like. Leave-voting Cornwall was getting £60 million in EU regional development fund money. They asked the government to guarantee it would be replaced. The government just flat refused to say that they’d be making sure regions didn’t lose out when we leave Europe.

George Osbourne was promising money to Cornwall in his last budget saying “when the South West votes blue, their voice is heard”. Maybe not so much these days.

And if they’ll do that to Cornwall…

Did you notice that the government just FORGOT Gibraltar?

And last, do you notice anyone, anyone at all taking charge?

We’ve wasted a year, had a pointless general election that left the country even more confused and divided. And the Prime Minister’s gone on a walking holiday – or taken a hike – while the Cabinet are all fighting each other.

This is a total disaster. An utter dog’s breakfast of a Brexit.

REALLY what is your excuse for not noticing?

The answer to Daddy’s question is these people are EMOTIONALLY invested in their vote.

FACTS that say this was a BAD CHOICE are personally HURTFUL.

Nearly HALF of Leave voters say that DO NOT WANT to pay a price for leaving.

Offer them something for nothing; give them nothing for something

The only way to square that circle is to avoid the evidence altogether.

So they protect themselves from getting hurt by NOT NOTICING.

It’s an EXPLANATION. But not an EXCUSE.

Democracy – REAL Democracy – requires active and, more importantly, INFORMED participation.

But people don't WANT to be informed. As we've seen, people don't LIKE facts when the facts are painful. So they get NEW facts that agree with their decisions. That's why most people are so widlly MISinformed about Europe and the EU.

You would think journalism as a profession would seek to correct this, wouldn't you

That's why the referendum we were given was a SHAM, bodged together as a fix-all for the Conservatory Party by Mr Balloon, and now taken as an excuse to escalate her personal grudge against the European Court of Justice by Mrs Mayhem.

If we are going to fix this – and MY optimism bias says we CAN fix this – we are going to need to turn our arguments around, show people that the BETTER Way is now clearly to make up with Europe, retake our place IN the community with our FRIENDS.

We need to win the OPTIMISM and then we will WIN.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Day 5961: The Tories: Wrong. Unstable. No Leadership.


Theresa Mayhem says that she needs to win a General Election to be a “strong leader”.

Well, if she’s not strong enough to cope with a Parliament that will only back her 522 to 13, then she’s really pretty WEAK indeed.

She wants you to believe that she thinks the polls are wrong and that Hard Labour have a chance of winning. Which is about as credible as a promise written on the side of a bus.

This election ISN’T about picking who’s the Prime Monster. It’s about picking a PARLIAMENT that is able to HOLD HER TO ACCOUNT.

After five years when the Coalition was starting to put Britain back on the right path, when inequality actually fell, and jobs and wages were coming back, we have had a Tory Government that has been all U-Turns, broken promises and backstabbing.

How is THAT “stability”?

And there was a lot of fuss over a poll saying that now people thought that the referendum got the answer wrong by 44% to 42% - missing the BIG picture that the country remains MASSIVELY SPLIT, right down the middle. And that Mrs Mayhem and the extreme Brexiteers are MAKING IT WORSE.

How is THAT “leadership”?

Do you want to give a BLANK CHEQUE to the Tories?

I mean it’s a good job Mrs Mayhem doesn’t have a record of saying one thing and then doing the other.

Except for her U-Turn on not holding a General Election before 2020
Except for her U-Turn on remaining in Europe
Except for her U-Turn on not raising the National Insurance Tax
Except for her U-Turn on raising the National Insurance Tax
Except for the Tory U-Turn on PIP payments for the disabled
Except for the Tory U-Turn on working tax credits
Except now she wants to break the triple lock on pensions

A STRONG leader needs a STRONG Parliament to make sure that the KEEP THEIR STRONG PROMISES.

Mrs Mayhem has caved in, again and again, to the wishes of her Extreme Right-wing backbenches, and to the whims of a handful of billionaire tax-exiles who control – unaccountably – the right-wing newspapers.

And what about that DEAL with the European Union?

How is Mrs Mayhem going to cope when negotiating with the European leaders, who are a bit less likely to roll over than Uncle “strong message here” Jezza and the supine Labour Party?

So far, in fact, it’s Mrs Mayhem who has caved in on every issue she’s tried to force: settling the rights of British Citizens in Europe before trigging article 50 (non); parallel trade negotiations (nein); Gibraltar (viva España). This does not bode well for her “deal making”.

Meanwhile, Bojo “Punishment Beatings” Johnson has been made the Old English labradoodle of President Trump: told to “sit and stay” when he was supposed to be off to Moscow; admitting that it would be “very hard not to join in” if the US wanted to fire off another volley of high-explosives into the Syrian war zone. And for all the hand-holding and the fawning Gove, Britain still got bumped to the back of the queue – sorry “line” – for the Americans to make a trade deal with the EU first.

“Take Back Control” turns out to mean “Do what Donald says (and like it)”.

If Parliament’s “meaningful vote” on the final deal is going to be, well, meaningful, it needs a Parliament that is strong and unafraid to ask questions, to speak up for ALL the different views, Remain and Leave, and the different ideas and then try and bring us back together.

That’s why you need to vote for the LIBERAL DEMOCRATS.

Liberal Democrats believe in a Parliament that represents ALL opinions – even ones we don’t agree with. Liberal Democrats believe in a democracy that means ALL voices can be heard – not silencing people we don’t agree with, not “Crushing” the Opposition. And one that trusts the people, not taking them for granted.

Weak leaders are afraid of questions.
Weak leaders are afraid of TV debates.
Weak leaders are afraid of Parliament.

Don’t give in to weakness. Don’t give Mrs Mayhem a blank cheque. Vote for a Parliament that is STRONG and hold the Tories to account for their promises.