...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, December 24, 2010

Day 3645: DOCTOR WHO: The Christmas Invasion

Christmas Steve*:

Well jingle my bells if BBC1 isn't going to run its first series of Doctor Who repeats since (Daddy Alex tells me) 1993, showing Christmas Specials all next week, starting with, er, "The Runaway Bride"…

Never mind, let's dial our anticipation for tomorrow's "Christmas Carol" Special up to eleven by getting Daddy Richard to look back on that OTHER Dr Woo story with "Christmas" in the title… "Christmas on a Rational Planet" by Lawrence Miles…

What? It's not?

Look: it's got bone masks, voodoo curses, and Time Lord continuity… are you SURE this one isn't by Mr Larry?

"I wish today could be like every other day…" warble the words of Murray Gold's elegiac "Song for Ten" over the closing montage of the Doctor's first Christmas with Rose and her family "…because today has been the best day." And this, succinctly, is the tragedy of the Tenth Doctor. Because his first day is is best day.

I'm not saying that this is his best story, nor even David Tennant's finest hour. There will be plenty of triumphs yet to come, "Gridlock", "Human Nature", "Blink", "Midnight", many others. But from the Doctor's point of view, this is as good as it gets: he saves the world with a swordfight and wins the girl. With hindsight, everything from now on is looking back to this: the cloying relationship with Rose in his first year is clearly trying desperately to cling on to it; and obviously everything after "Doomsday" is yearning to return to that moment that has slipped through his fingers. No wonder he goes bonkers in the end. "I can do anything!" he boasts as the Time Lord triumphant; but the only thing he wants to do is the one thing that he can't. And inevitably he ends up where he started, returning to Earth at Christmas, and at the end, returning to Rose at Christmas. "I don't want to go." Doctor, you never did.

Mind you, it is a ruddy good episode.

For starters, Tennant nails the Doctor straight out of the traps, completely redefining what it is to be the Time Lord.

We've had Doctors before who use bluff and bluster to cover up their actions, but never one that uses such a blizzard of words. And where Troughton uses bluster to cover up a vast intellect, and Colin Baker uses bluster to cover up his Doctor's bleeding heart, Tennant creates a Doctor who is covering up his… disappointment at the universe, and a white-cold burning fury.

The ninth Doctor was a damaged man, for whom wonder was the only solace in a universe tainted by guilt and loss, who in the end found redemption through Rose, in love and self-sacrifice. He was the most powerful person in the universe, but his power was constrained by his fear of himself. The tenth Doctor has no such restraints and anoints himself judge, jury and executioner for all creation. "No second chances." He's that sort of a guy.

True, he's barely in it for forty minutes, doing little more than suffer nobly and exhale meaningfully (with CGI fairy dust added later), though in the two moments when he is up and at 'em – the pre-title sequence with its remarkable TARDIS crash, and the confrontation with the sinister Santas after the killer Christmas tree which still never fails to delight me – in both cases we see him already putting together the two sides to his Doctor: the gabbling, so full of ideas the words tumble over one another so they can barely get out of his mouth Doctor and the silent, wrathful demigod.

But from the moment that the TARDIS translation starts to work again, and we have a moment to work it out just ahead of Rose and then Harriet and the others, and the music builds and the camera zooms in through the gathered cast to the opening TARDIS doors and Tennant stands there and tips us a cheeky, insouciant, "Did you miss me?", he absolutely has us.

It's funny and wise and dynamic and completely televisual. Unlike Eccleston, he's totally unselfconscious about the jokes, and if he's slightly overdoing the boggler-boggler look-at-me thing – as he will later really overdo the boggler-boggler look-at-me thing; yes, "The Satan Pit", I'm looking at you – you can also say that he's doing it deliberately because the Doctor is trying to keep the Sycorax attention on him and off balance.

And he looks so young. We've gotten used to the way that Tennant has aged with this series, but here he looks so fresh and unlined, without the weight of seriousness that his years as the Doctor add to him.

It's not just Tennant who looks young. The entire production feels new and fresh and original, looking like it did before it became bloated and flabby in trying to do an event just like this one again and again, but bigger and louder and brasher each time.

Here there is something pure and true about the story of Earth's "first" encounter with an alien invasion (particularly when the government's level of preparation for such an event turns out to be shockingly neither pure nor true: it's a fully armed and operational Battle… er …Earth).

It's not something you can do again, and they shouldn't have tried. Before the Sycorax it doesn't stretch our disbelief, that the human race doesn't believe in aliens yet. But after this it starts to get silly.

There are so many little moments that it gets just right: the scaffolding around the top of the repaired Big Ben (all right, Westminster Clock Tower). The hilarious Christmas tree-shaped hole in the wall of Jacqui's flat. The fact that Jackie is actually spot on when the first thing she offers the regenerating Doctor is a nice cup of tea.

As in "Aliens of London", Russell uses newsreaders and reportage to add to the "realism", cogent of how a 24-hour news world would react to an event of global significance. And for the first time we get those shots of "all around the world", a bit cheesy, perhaps, using world landmarks like this, but it sells the story to us. Of course, that's also one of the reasons why subsequently all the "retractions" are so unbelievable.

Here and there, there are the odd silly mistake. All those people stood up on London's roofs and not a one topples off when the Sycorax ship arrives with a blast wave sufficient to shatter the Gherkin. The Sycorax appear to have designed their spaceship for the convenience of the Doctor's battle, with easy access to the exterior and a very handy button for dropping treacherous defeated warleaders over the side. We can maybe be generous and say that business with the "still within the first fifteen hours of my regeneration cycle" means it's less than fifteen hours since he finished regenerating (thanks to the tea) than since he started.

In many ways it's a story in two clear parts: the "Christmassy" part, with the Santas and the Tree, and the Sycorax who, in spite of their red robes, are not very Christmassy at all. The Doctor almost says as much with his "something is coming". Future episodes will see this sort of thing become the most ludicrously portentous prophecies, but this time it's very nearly and very clearly an "end of part one" trailer. The Santas don't add anything to the main plot, and literally disappear from the story halfway through. We don't get a resolution to them; in fact, it's not even clear that they're robots until next Christmas. But without the robot Santas there would be very little Christmas about this invasion at all.

And then we get the Sycorax. They do look really good, not just the bone masks and the reveal that underneath they are even more hideous (not merely a reference to Larry's Faction Paradox, but also a nod to that earlier Doctor Who panto, "The Horns of Nimon", where the bull-headed Nimon were allegedly supposed to be revealed as masks over something even worse), but also the choreography of them, from their "Bohemian Rhapsody"-inspired message to Earth to their council chamber. And there are enough of them that they look like a crowd even in the scenes where they are digitally multiplying them.

Up against them: Earth's finest. The entrance of UNIT, how many fanboys punched the air at that? And the reveal of their base in the Tower of London is a triumph, no matter that the "secret base in major London landmark" will become such a cliché of the show that even the Doctor starts to comment on it.

But in "The Christmas Invasion" it seems right, it seems blindingly obvious that of course the defence of Earth would be mounted from the centre of England's power for centuries.

And at the centre of England's power, Penelope Wilton is magnificent as Harriet Jones, Prime Minister. The "yes, we know who you are," joke is pitched perfectly for her: it isn't overplayed, it doesn't outstay it's welcome, and it's actually complimentary, saying how much she has achieved even as it reminds us, and her, of her former status as non-entity in "Aliens of London".

The script goes out of its way to show that she is kind and wise. She makes tea for Mr Llewellyn when no one else remembers; she is appreciative of Alex her "right hand man"; she says to the President what we all wish someone had said to the President.

And then she murders the retreating Sycorax.

Oh, how I remember the arguments on the online forums about that. Was she right, was she wrong; back and forward.

The case for Harriet Jones is that the Sycorax attacked us, they had demonstrated their hostile intent, and their leader had sworn peace on his people's life and then betrayed that oath and tried to stab the Doctor in the back. They could not be trusted. And worse, the Doctor had just made it quite clear to her that the universe was full of such dangerous and hostile enemies.

Destroying the Sycorax was justified punishment of an aggressor; it was pre-emptive defence against a hostile and treacherous enemy; and it was a statement and warning that Earth is not to be taken lightly.

I don't agree. None of that justifies shooting them in the back as they were trying to run away.

Harriet was wrong. It was human. It was so understandable. But it was wrong.

And it was the Doctor's fault. He frightened her. He didn't bother to take care of her. He was too caught up in his happy family reunion with Rose to notice that Harriet needed a Doctor too. It must take enormous strength of character not to take revenge, to do the right thing, to forgive – in case we forget that that is the meaning of the Christmas story. Harriet needed support, not a lecture.

His bringing down of her government is petty, too. It doesn't put anything right. And who gave him the right to unseat her? Why is his justice any less arbitrary than hers? Okay, at least she can walk away from it, but…

There is justice in punishing Harriet for killing the Sycorax, but the Doctor isn't acting from justice, he's acting from anger. He has every right to be angry about the ship, but he gets more angry when she throws his own failings in his face: he was the one who said Earth had to get used to alien attention, he was the one who failed to save the Major and Mr Llewellyn. Neither of them will back down. This is how arguments between people who should care for each other spiral out of control.

"I should have stopped you!"

"What does that make you? Another alien threat?"

He is an alien; he is threatening her. Of course her own threat is implicit – she has just shot down a spaceship the size of an asteriod.

But his threats (to bring down her government) get worse (whereas she only tells him to "stop it!" leaving her own threat only implied). It prefigures Queen Victoria's reaction in "Tooth and Claw" and the coming of "Torchwood" (evil mark one version).

It's a really bold Christmas Special that challenges us with such complicated questions. Because the Doctor is acting on the side of "good", but does he have any right to do so? From a certain point of view, he is a big alien bully intervening arbitrarily.

And also, isn't he just ripping up the Web of Time? Which, from a Time Lord's perspective, ought to be even worse. What happened to Harriet Jones, three times elected Prime Minister? Some might say that that timeline only existed because of his actions in "Aliens of London" anyway (and hence the Eccleston incarnation only "remembering" who she is once he's changed time to put her in that position) but that still shouldn't give him the right to mess with time at a whim. Indeed, arguably the gap that he makes in history here creates the opportunity that the Master later seizes. Still, start as you mean to go on, eh Doctor.

As a sign of the power of the Time Lord, those six words are outstanding. She does look tired. And she surely didn't help herself by appealing for "a doctor" on live TV during the crisis. (Lovely aside about the Royals on the roof, though.) But they're also a first sign of how dangerous he is, how far he will go if no one is there to stop him, how far eventually he does go. Themes that will be developed in "The Runaway Bride" (and revisited in "Turn Left") and ultimately in "The Waters of Mars" and, of course, "The End of Time".

It is a brilliant moment. Without it, this is a happy jolly tale of bad magicians and a good wizard who defeats them (honestly, they accuse him of witchcraft after the whole "blood control" curse thing!), with a group hug and a jolly Christmas dinner after. With it, there is real bite to the drama, and real cost to the events here.

"This isn't snow; it's ash." The very nastiness of the black humour is what stops "The Christmas Invasion" from being like anything else on at Christmas. It turns the festive treats into killers and murder victims and shows us the flaws in our heroes even as they seem to save the day. And it does it without us ever feeling that this is not heroic.

A little slice of genius. A Christmas Cracker.

And with that, a very Merry Christmas to all of you at home.

*I am indebted to Lady GoreGore for this festive reminder that it is Adam and Christmas Steve not Adam and Christmas Eve with my gay daddies!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 3643: Some GOOD News For Mr Dr Vince


We all know that Mr Dr Vince "the power" Cable (currently slightly shorted) is a fan of the humble BEE.

In fact, Mr Dr Vince is a BIT like a Honey Bee himself, isn't he: a big golden thing that bumbles around making nice things and pollinating British industry. Not to mention the special dance. And, like the honey bee, plagued by irritating mites that are spitting poison.

Yes, it's the Tell-lies-o-graph continuing its vendetta against the Liberal Democrats with SHOCK REVELATIONS that Mr Vince is AGAINST A MASSIVE VESTED INTEREST and that other Lib Dems OPPOSE SCRAPPING BENEFITS.

Tomorrow, presumably, they lead on the news that Captain Clegg met Mr the Pope earlier this year and believes him to be a Catholic!

(And as for what Mr Paul Burblings could tell you about what he knows about BEARS and WOODS, well, let's just hope the Sunday edition is sufficiently… absorbent!)

Auntie Caron has more on how Mr Dr Vince behaves like a GENTLEMAN and the Tell-lies-o-graph is doing real DAMAGE to politics; while Auntie Jennie has a more PITHY response to the British meeja's recent choices for setting the agenda.

But what I GENUINELY do not understand is why we are supposed to be in ANY WAY "embarrassed" about this.

If ANYONE should be "embarrassed" it should be the Tell-lies-o-graph for getting CAUGHT out in a COVER UP, when their coverage suspiciously failed to mention the whole "going to war" against the Tell-lies-o-graph's commercial rival Mr Roger Stavro Moredick.

And if anyone ELSE should be "embarrassed" it's Hard Labour for leaping to the defence of a foreign plutocrat who already has way too much power (and pays far too little tax) in this country. I mean, nice to see that Hard Labour as still on the side of the ordinary billionaire in the street, isn't it.

Look, can someone explain to me how Liberal Democrat ministers discussing their honestly held opinions is "indiscrete" when Mr Dale Winton gabbing on the The Today Programme about the texts he's received from Tory's whinging that "it's not fair" are NOT indiscrete?

Isn't it COMPLETELY BACKWARDS that it's fine to tittle-tattle to a notorious GOSSIP behind people's backs, but actually come out and SAY what you believe, oh, the horses are frightened now!

And to those Conservatories who are spitting and hissing that a Conservatory minister would have been fired for such "indiscretions": HELLO! Have you already forgotten the DEFENCE SECRETARY, "fantastic" Dr Fox, blatantly leaking and briefing against his own government during the highly sensitive defence review? Special treatment for Liberal Democrats my BIG FLUFFY BEHIND; where's the public dressing down for Foxy, then?

It just seems very odd to me that we elect ministers to make DECISIONS on our behalf on the basis of their OPINIONS being ones we generally agree with, and then quite bizarrely expect them to exercise NEUTRALITY when it comes to MAKING those decisions.

Do you ask the waiter to recommend what's GOOD and then complain when she picks something from her own restaurant's MENU? Do you think she should be making a NEUTRAL decision and considering the benefits of the takeaway next door of the Pizza Tonight down the street, even though you've made some sort of choice to come and sit down in HER restaurant?

Yes, yes, I get it that where you want a decision made in a "quasi-judicial" way, you don't want the judge to start the case by saying: "good lord, this one's OBVIOUSLY a wrong 'um; I shall be directing the jury to find him GUILTY and am looking forward to extracting a sentence of the MAXIMUM VENGEANCE allowed by the penal code."

But Ministers are THERE to make POLICY; if you want someone to take impartial quasi-judicial decisions… get a JUDGE!

Okay, for those who insist on "playing" politics like a Game of Monopoly where all the squares are "Westminster", then the Liberal Democrats are "damaged" by this; Mr Dr Vince has set back his ability to do good things because his remarks are a little too VAIN for his own good.

But each of these "leaks" shows a Liberal Democrat considering the interests of the country: is it in the countries interest to reduce participation in the media? How will people cope with the housing benefit cut? Is the change to child benefit fair and considered? Was the tuition fees debacle a train wreck?

I can TOTALLY agree with the decision made by each and every Liberal Democrat quoted.

The decisions and compromises that our ministers have had to make have been painful and far from perfect, but they CAN say with confidence that they were made for the BEST POSSIBLE REASONS, and with the interest of the Country put first.

So this is the message to the wingnuts on the right of the Conservatory Party and the Colonel Blitherington Bufftons of the Tell-lies-o-graph: you are NOT going to get a Right Wing government if you bring down the Coalition. Look at the opinion polls you morons: if there's an election, Hard Labour will WIN. And the economic recovery is TOO FRAGILE to allow that to happen.

I can hardly believe I am saying this but: Conservatories, STOP PUTTING YOUR OWN PETTY INTERESTS AHEAD OF THOSE OF YOUR COUNTRY!

And the GOOD NEWS for Mr Dr Vince is that scientists think that they have discovered a CURE for his beloved Honey Bees.

Let us hope that we can find a CURE to clean some of the POISON out of our POLITICS too.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Day 3640: The Two TRONies


For my latest impenetrable disguise, I have slipped into a LYCRA BODY-STOCKING with matching NEON ACCOUTREMENTS – hmm, surprisingly comfortable, actually – in order to download myself into the local cinema's Internet-based ticket-booking system and obtain a seat for the movie TRON: LEGACY.

The ORIGINAL Tron movie is almost certainly the MOST Nineteen-Eighties movie ever made. Seriously, it is! Essentially, or at least superficially, it's about a young man in a MULLET engineering a corporate takeover. It's got lasers and computers and wacky electronica; what could be MORE eighties than that?

Except, of course, it's really all about GOD.

We were able to watch BOTH "Tron" movies over the weekend. We were able to do this because we bought the DVD of "Tron" back when it came out for the Twentieth Anniversary of the movie in 2002 and before Disney went MAD and DELETED all remaining copies so that no one can buy the old one and compare it to the new one. Like wot we're about to do.

The usual total disclaimer of responsibility for spoilers for either movie applies, but I WILL keep spoilers for the NEW one to the separate review below.


Tron depicts two worlds: the "real" world of Human Beans – it even throws up the cheesy caption "meanwhile, in the real world" – which looks very like a cheap TV movie of the week inhabited by people with bad and, frankly, really BIG hair; and a second world "inside" the computers where people-shaped "programs" dressed in florescent baby-grows/over-optimistic fetishwear are oppressed by the local fascist regime, headed up by villainous muscle SARK working for the Big Brother/Emperor/Devil figure of the Master Control Program (or MCP).

There's this whole "The Wizard of Oz" thing going on so that the program-people in the computer world are doppelgangers of the people in TV movie world who programmed them – who are called "users" (with all the hilarious cannabis-based overtones you can imagine).

So, Mr Jeff Bridges is BOTH the mulletted programmer, arcade-gamer and hacker Kevin Flynn AND the intruder program CLU whom he sends into the company mainframe to obtain the proof that their valuable copyrights ought to belong to him in the first place; Mr "President" Bruce Boxleitner is both the "square" Alan Bradley, the last "honest" guy still working for the megacorp, AND the heroic titular security programme TRON tasked with policing the MCP (much to the former chess computer's annoyance); Ms Cindy Morgan is both the bimbo scientist Lora who's positioned her own desk right in front of the gigawatt laser disintegrator AND smart cookie lady-program YORI who seems to be a system control program (or possibly a solar-sailor pilot); and the transcendentally awesome Mr David Warner is nasty-suited corporate sneak-thief and senior exec Ed Dillinger AND Darth Vader… er I mean red-meanie SARK. Oh and he's also the voice of Evil Genius, er, I mean the Master Control Program. Look, he's a REASONABLE MAN…

Anyway the PLOT – as opposed to the STORY, important difference – sees Mr Kevin's intruder program CLU get caught and killed, sorry "de-rezzed" by SARK while trying to get into the company's core memory. This prompts the MCP to have his human patsy, Dillinger, order a security lockdown. This, in turn, cuts off Mr Alan's access to his new TRON program and forces Mr Alan together with the rebellious Mr Kevin. With Ms Lora's help they break in so that Mr Kevin can use her computer in the laser lab to break open the system and let Mr Alan communicate with TRON.

So far so SIMPLE!

Except… remember what I said about where Ms Lora had stupidly put her desk?

So twenty minutes in, the Master Control Program gets to use its experimental teleporter to send Mr Kevin over the rainbow or, if you don't mind me suddenly shifting metaphors, down the rabbit hole into computerland.

It's a more appropriate metaphor because there are plenty more ways that computer world resembles Wonderland than Oz, from the weird physics to the mysterious pool of liquid (probably not tears, but certainly worth a "drink me") to a guardian caterpillar.

And of course "down the rabbit hole" links us to that other movie about reality and computer simulation, because "Tron" is, obviously, "The Matrix" seen from the other point of view: the hyper-real, sci-fi world in "Tron" is the SIMULATION inside the computer inside the "real" world; "The Matrix" reverses this by having our "real" world be the simulation inside the sci-fi world of spaceships and robots. In both cases, though, a person from the more-real world aware that they are in the simulation-world gains SUPER POWERS.

Once despatched into computerland, Mr Flynn finds himself one of a band of prisoners. At this point SARK arrives. I say arrives: he is travelling in a gigantic flying battleship called his command carrier; it's one hell of an entrance. The command carrier itself is a stunningly iconic piece of design, hanging in the computerland sky in what Mr Dougie Adams would describe as exactly the way that bricks don't. Watching again, Daddy Richard recognised that this carrier is an enduring image that has stayed with him from childhood, particularly the physics-defying way that it glides over the landscape.

Mind you, you don't need a degree in RADICAL FEMINISM to spot this enormous flying Freudian symbol as a huge archetype of the patriarchal authority going on around here.

Anyway, SARK gives the prisoners a lecture – deliciously undercut by Mr Warner's almost bored, perfunctory, done-it-so-many-times-before delivery – that sets out the movie's metaphysical stall: belief in the "users" is a decadent superstition. Persist in it and we'll send you off to be killed in the CGI Gladiatorial Games. Do I NEED to say Christians versus Cat-monsters?

Of course, it's awfully easy to see SARK and his crew as a bunch of Godless Commies™, not least because they all glow RED where the goodies glow BLUE (except where they're the other way around because the makers changed their minds halfway through – check out the goodies' Light Cycles and some of the baddie tank commanders!).

And this is reinforced by the image of the MCP as Big Brother, planning on instigating a takeover by stealth; we've already heard him discussing his plans to hack into the Pentagon, in a scene which also implies that he's in charge of the Kremlin (and when we see him at the climax he IS one great big face, too!)

Remember, the "goodie" programs have "faith" in their "users" (they have to have "faith" because they cannot "hear" the voice of their "users" since the MCP has cut off all communications to the "real world" except for his own line to Dillinger); but WE know that this "faith" in the users is COMPLETELY CORRECT. But keep thinking about it because it's more complicated than it seems: for starters, as a metaphor for GOD, it's a cheerfully PANTHEISTIC model, isn't it.

Anyway, SARK dismisses the prisoners and sends Mr Flynn off for a bout of death-by-Frisbee against Mr Boxleitner's future Babylon 5 co-star Mr Peter Jurasik unless you meant it.

As an aside, Mr Jurassic plays his character in a very interesting way, slightly pathetic and slightly nasty. Not merely willing to kill to save his own life, he's actively keen to take advantage of Flynn's naivety and ignorance as to the fatal consequences of losing. It's an interesting study in how oppression makes the oppressed turn on each other, even though it means actually serving the agenda of their oppressors. (And it's a lot more subtle than the big gay double-cross in "Tron: Legacy"… **cough cough spoilers** but more of that later).

Mr Flynn DOESN'T kill Mr Peter; he refuses. But nasty SARK deletes Mr Peter's platform anyway, with the obvious nasty-plunge-into-oblivion consequences.

After this, Mr Flynn and his cell-mate, a program called RAM, get transferred to a new game: the famous LIGHT CYCLES. There they meet up with TRON at last. The light-cycle game is famously stunning – at least from the computerland perspective; up in the "real" world, it appears to be just a "worm" game with only the cycle's "lightwall" trails visible. So you build your own maze and when one of the baddies somehow smashes a "hole" in the "wall" of the game, Flynn and TRON and RAM are able to escape into the computer network.

SARK sends his forces in pursuit: rolling tank programs and the iconic flying alien/spaceship thingies called Recognisers (looking suspiciously like a less anthropomorphic EVIL-ROBOT Maximilian from Disney's previous sci-fi epic "The Black Hole", a poster for which can be spotted in "Tron: Legacy"). Earlier, in the "real world" sequence, we saw Mr Flynn playing (and winning at) the original "Space Paranoids" game which was nicked from him by Mr Dillinger and is the basis of the company's fortunes. We see that both tanks and Recognisers come from this game.

Our heroes get separated and RAM gets de-rezzed. While TRON makes his way to a communication tower, Mr Flynn discovers that, as one of the fabled "users", he has SPECIAL POWERS: he is able to reassemble a smashed Recogniser, basically by using the FORCE.

One thing that is rather terrific is the way that, as it pulls itself together, we see that the Recogniser is made up of discrete geometric shapes that just hang together unconnected. Later on, Mr Flynn's BAD DRIVING results in a crash which sees the Recognisers disassembled block by block in a similar manner.

Speaking of the FORCE, by the way, I was reading some of Mr Lawrence Miles the other day and it set me thinking about how Mr George Lucas really, really, fundamentally misunderstood his own mythology. The Force, as it was SUPPOSED to work in Star Wars, was a power that derived from the CONNECTIONS between people. Strength in the Force should therefore NOT be some innate, INNER quality – that, if anything, should be the power of the SITH – but the Jedi strength ought to be determined by their connectedness to others. Master Anakin's powerful connection to just a FEW (or ONE) people – his MUM and then his GIRLFRIEND – ought to make him WEAK in Jedi powers; conversely the selfless Princess Leia, working tirelessly for others throughout the galaxy ought to be staggeringly powerful. The exchange between Master Luke and the Emperor in "Return of the Jedi": "Your overconfidence is your weakness"/"Your faith in your friends is yours" ought to be THE central argument between Jedi and Sith, not just a bit of tacked on bitching.

Anyway, Mr Flynn escapes from the crashed Recogniser and is able to hide himself among SARK's guards – he discovers that he is able to change colour from blue to red by touching one of the red guards, and later changes back when he touches TRON, though nothing seems to be made of this point. Though if the colour of your neon's DOES indicate something about the status of your SOUL – as the blue for goodies, red for baddies divide implies – then at the very least it ought to be a BIT significant that Mr Flynn appears to have the ability to be EITHER.

This – possibly – becomes even more significant in the sequel, see below.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. TRON has met up with YORI and the two of them have managed to get into the last free IO (Input Output) Tower. The guardian there is DUMONT – who is also the avatar of Walter (Mr Barnard Hughes who made a habit of playing crumbly old men from "Mr Merlin" to grandpa in "The Lost Boys" during the Eighties) who long ago founded the company in his garage but who nowadays is treated as an indulged older uncle, playing with his laser project while Dillinger takes the company to greater things.

For all that Daddy Alex thinks he looks like the Caterpillar from Alice – and he DOES – it's also clear that DUMONT is an OLD TESTAMENT PROPHET: in the olden days, programs came to his temple, er tower to pray to, er, communicate with the users. But in these godless times no one comes here any more, and he's sour about it (like most of the prophets, who never came down from the top floor to say 'you've all done very well'). TRON and YORI promise him a revival of that old-time religion in return for him letting them use the tower. And then SARK demonstrates what a real BADDIE he is by violating the SANCTUARY of the IO Tower with, er, another huge Freudian symbol.

DUMONT gets dragged off but TRON and YORI escape on the – extremely beautiful – solar-sailor, travelling along a communication beam from the games back to the central computer. This is where they meet up with Mr Flynn again, as he is among the group of guards who jump aboard to try and stop the escape, only to be tossed overboard by TRON.

Pursued along the beam by Recognisers, Mr Flynn is able to use the FORCE again to shift them onto a different track, thus proving to them that he is one of the "users".

This is in some ways the most CRUCIAL moment in the movie, as TRON and YORI are, from their point of view rather unexpectedly, presented with proof of the existence of GOD. And it turns out that god is more of a SCREW-UP than THEY are! It's telling that TRON, the perfect little religious warrior, immediately believes that Flynn must have a grand Master Plan, because after all he IS a user. But Flynn confesses that he's just muddling through (at which point Tron is so shocked that he blasphemously CORRECTS him that that is only how it is for us on the Grid).

It has to be said, this is at least moderately PROFOUND.

However, there's no time for an EXISTENTIAL CRISIS, because SARK's command carrier is stalking them though the digital canyons, sneaking up on them, moving rather like the tiptoeing BLUE MEANIES from "The Yellow Submarine" (not the ONLY way in which these movies resemble each other, either).

The command carrier smashes the solar-sailor and SARK captures Mr Flynn and YORI while TRON is left clinging to the outside. SARK himself is taking prisoners to the MCP and leaves Flynn and YORI on the carrier as he debarks, casually ordering the whole thing to de-rez with them still aboard – which Daddy Richard says he's always thought was a tremendously powerful gesture. Imagine if Darth Vader had just as casually waved a hand and had his Star Destroyer disassemble; it shows a casual self-confidence that has no NEED of whale-sized Freudian symbolism. Plus "I'll destroy my entire carrier just to kill you".

SARK carries his prisoners, including DUMONT, to the MCP's plateau where they will essentially be fed to the master computer – it's going to absorb their functions, taking on their abilities and growing further in power. TRON makes it to the plateau too, having snuck aboard SARK's shuttle, until the Emperor, er, the MCP feels his presence and sics SARK on him. TRON beats SARK and tries to deactivate the MCP, but finds the Master Computer too well protected by a spinning shield.

However, everyone has forgotten about Mr Flynn. Using the FORCE, er, his power as a user, Flynn is able to hold enough of the command carrier together to fly over the MCP and fling himself into its core. The MCP is distracted and TRON is able to send the shutdown code, freeing the Grid at last. And as a consequence, Mr Flynn is lasered back into the real world along with the evidence he needs to live happily ever after (subject to sequels).

So, taken SUPERFICIALLY, "Tron" is a pretty ordinary action quest movie, distinguished by unprecedented computer generated visual effects that meant it stuck in the mind far longer than similar post Star Wars screen-fodder.

And yet it's actually rather DEEPER than that: scratch beneath the surface and it's a story about the power of FAITH and the reality of GOD. And, and this is the radical bit, that god's an IDIOT who's making it up as he goes along.

There's a blatant clue (yes, a reference to Red Dwarf's virtual reality episode "Back to Reality") to look deeper in the significant double meanings of NAMES. TRON itself, for example, is, apparently, genuine programming language for a security program, meaning "TRace ON"; YORI is a Japanese name meaning "reliable" (which might be a bit patronising for the only girl character, but might be a reference to Japanese domination of consumer electronics and their reputation for reliability); DUMONT is a common French name, but MIGHT be a reference to the long-since-defunct DuMont Television Network (well, he DOES control a Broadcast Tower)

Turning to the sequel movie: QUORRA used to be the name for the lower reaches of the Niger River, before it was realised they were the SAME river (so that's something that turns out to be a part of something bigger), though MAY be a reference to a DIAMOND company; particularly taken in connection with the OTHER lady character's name being GEM. And RINZLER sounds so like RIZLER and we're back to overtones of "wacky-backy" and "users" again, but unfortunately and somewhat prosaically is actually named after the author of the Making of Star Wars because that book happened to be on the producer's desk at the time. Oh well.

What is almost extraordinary is that with hindsight, you can see "Tron" as a metaphor for the whole personal computing revolution, where the power was shifted suddenly and irrevocably from big corporate mainframes like the MCP to the open-access, free-for-all carnival of a grid or "net" of users that is the Internet.

And in many ways, in spite of – or perhaps as a very function of – its immense Eighties-ness, "Tron" is a terrifically OPTIMISTIC movie. It finishes with the selfish cheat getting his comeuppance and the company in the hands of the young hippy. Freedom has won, and we are all going to share in the bright new future of opportunity. All the previous "real world" scenes were filmed in darkness, but now the long night is over and the last scene sees them all in glorious sunlight.

Of course, things in the REAL "real world" didn't ENTIRELY deliver on that promise.


At least in part, "Tron: Legacy" seeks to address the fact that the 'Eighties never lived up to the optimism that the first film promised, to apologise for that. It's a film that is about broken promises rather a lot.

Daddy Richard went into the cinema with the BIGGEST worry that "Tron: Legacy" was going to be yet another American film about Daddies and Sons. As sooooo many of them are. And you can't blame him, with the whole set up being about Mr Jeff Bridges as now OLD Mr Flynn and Mr Garrett Hedlund as his son Sam. So it was a GREAT RELIEF to find that it wasn't like that at all, and instead was a TRUE sequel and BUILT on the original. Yes, it's all about god AGAIN.

Or, if you like: "Tron" is "Where God Went Wrong"; "Tron: Legacy" is "Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes".

The failure of the promise of the Eighties is addressed directly straight away by the simplest method of having successful hero Mr Flynn DISAPPEAR. I mean WE can all guess that he's taken another zapping from the laser into computerland, but the initial focus is on the way this tears apart his company and his family, leaving his young son, seven-year-old Sam, betrayed and broken.

Twenty years later…

His Dad's company is being run by the evil execs again; Mr Alan is STILL the last honest guy in the megacorp; and now Ed Dillinger JUNIOR is in charge of program development. And Sam is hacking the new software launch, jumping off the roof and getting booked for speeding on his Dad's motorbike.


Mr Alan shares a MYSTERIOUS pager message he has received, purportedly from Mr Kevin, and this draws Sam to his Dad's old arcade where, behind the Tron machine – obviously – he finds a secret office with a computer and a laser.

Uh oh…

Yes, before you can say, "don't call up the last command file!" Mr Sam has zapped himself over the rainbow in his father's footsteps.

And that's where we go into Technicolor… or rather being nowadays, we go into 3-D. Or more precisely lots of slices of 2-D in exciting layers.

Look, let's be honest, the 3-D AIN'T ALL THAT. Actually, it worked best for the "Pirates of the Caribbean 4" trailer, which is to say in lots of long, sweeping panoramas with lots of nicely composed layers sweeping past slowly and majestically so you can take it all in. Also, pretty good for things suddenly thrusting out of the screen at you, like a big SWORD (same trailer) or a splash of water (the ONLY good thing from the – shudders – CGI Yogi Bear). High speed action sequences, though, really don't seem to cut it. I suspect your brain is just too busy trying to figure out what's occurring to bother resolving the 3-D optical illusion. Which is fine because personally I think it’s a silly, pointless gimmick that adds very little, pardon my pun, DEPTH to the story telling.

Daddy Alex, on the other fluffy foot, who hasn't seen a new-generation 3-D movie before, agrees that it didn't look brilliant, but enjoyed it for its personal sense of 'See "Tron" at the cinema and you see something you've never seen before, again,' and for its carefully designed idea that, after "The Wizard of Oz", the new TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT makes the 'other world' look both MORE and LESS real at the same time. But, he adds, this ARTIFICIAL process may be less successful in depicting worlds that are, well, NOT artificial.

And someone needs to point out that such a very DARK palette for your movie is a serious handicap when the audience are going to be stuck in POLARISING SUNGLASSES.

Daddy Alex wasn't keen on the sunglasses either, as they're a real pain to wear over ACTUAL glasses, too, as the two pairs literally rub up against each other the wrong way.

Almost all the reviews of "Tron: Legacy" that we've seen say basically the same thing: the effects are spectacular and the story is a bit meh. This is, of course, COMPLETELY the wrong way around.

A lot of the effects ARE glorious, from the shiny black-glass effect of the Recogniser to the ghostly washes of the Light Cycles's lightwalls, not to mention the spectacular way the cycles assemble themselves, to the butterfly wings of the perverted solar-sailor to the sinister black shark of the Rectifier (a new command carrier for a new villain).

But the thing is, nowadays ANYONE can have a shiny black glass aircraft or super hi-tech motorbike. Computer imaging is so ubiquitous that Tron's unique selling point visuals are gone. As Lawrence Miles would say: have you SEEN advertising? It's very beautifully crafted architecture, which helps, but it's not GROUNDBREAKING in the way the original was, and in many ways still is.

One of the GLORIES of the original "Tron", as detailed above, was the way that computerland had its own PHYSICS. The Light Cycles, in particular, could do the impossible: they could make perfectly right-angled turns. And that's impossible, gloriously impossible. Even taking into account that it's the way that computer games have developed, the truth is that when the Light Cycles in the new movie behave in a physics-normal way it brings them down to Earth. Instead of being something REAL behaving in a magical way to simulate a computer game, we have a computer simulation of a computer game trying to be more and more like the real world. It makes them… mundane.

(There IS a SMALL amount of physics-bending in the early disc fight, but frankly it's nothing compared to the zero-gravity corridor fight in "Inception".)

In "Tron", when programs "die" their de-resolution is into a blaze of light, as though the electrical energy that was maintaining their representation in the computer has been released. In "Tron: Legacy", when programs de-rez they shatter like glass. Which looks beautiful but rather misses the POINT.

And on a small point, the – MASSIVE Star Wars reference – dogfight between Light Jets at the end turns on the fighters climbing high into the air and stalling… WHAT air? This is a computer simulation: there isn't any NEED for real air or there ought to be air all the way up! Daddy Alex thinks that this might be a JOKE about the fight in IRON MAN which ALSO hinges on Jeff Bridges stalling at altitude.

So the EFFECTS are pretty well done but – shrug – so what?

The STORY, on the other fluffy foot, is possibly the most BREATHTAKINGLY AUDACIOUS for a Hollywood motion picture it is possible to imagine.

No, really.

Initially continuing along his father's path from the first movie, Mr Sam gets sent to the games and has a go at disc fighting until champion gladiator RINZLER recognises him as a user – and it IS significant that RINZLER knows a user when he nearly kills one. Sam gets taken to see someone he initially thinks is his long lost father, but of course it's REALLY the program CLU gone rogue. CLU puts Sam back in the arena for a Light Cycle fight – so far so didn't we do this last time – until SAM is rescued by a (yay!) JAMES BOND-ish buggy that can travel off the Grid, leaving CLU and the other Light Cycles behind.

There's a BIT of a tease that the buggy-driver might be TRON, but it turns out to be a girl-program called QUORRA and she takes Sam to the REAL Kevin Flynn.

But time is a bit Narnia-like in computerland (and if you prefer your Christian metaphysics in more dilute form, then you CAN always check out "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" before it sinks without trace at the box-office) so a lot longer has passed for Daddy than son and he is now OLD. And a bit ZEN.

In fact, this aged Mr Jeff Bridges is WAY COOL. If you thought he was using the FORCE in the first movie, that is NOTHING compared to the JEDI MASTER he plays here.

In so many ways, from the many, many little visual references – lovely moment where Sam holds the Light Cycle stick like it's a Light Sabre; and there's RINZLER'S double disc Darth Maul moment (and there's RINZLER'S NAME for goodness sake) – through to the underlying use of MYTHOLOGY, this is the Star Wars movie we never quite got from Mr Lucas.

True, it doesn't have the BREADTH either in terms of galactic scope and ever-changing landscapes, nor in terms of wide cast of characters nor the DEPTH in terms of backstory and character arcs, but the HEART of it, the heart of is gets Star Wars absolutes so right in a way that hollow prequel movies and unsatisfying Ewok climaxes somehow missed. It's an Irvin Kershner thing, probably.

And I have to admit, Mr Bridges is really rather GOOD at this. In "Tron" he was clearly having a freewheeling charismatic laugh, fun to be with but also somehow flimsy. But now he knows how to seize the camera and dominate it as solid as a statue. He's clearly got the MOJO and he knows when to put it on and when to turn it off, giving his elder Flynn a flair and charisma when he's sure he's taking the right path but also a tremulous uncertainty when he's balanced between two opposite exigencies: the needs of the Grid and the needs of his son. As the Jedi Master we never had, he can BE that philosopher, warrior and old-time fire-and-brimstone prophet. And yet he can also tip the odd genre-aware wink to the audience, as in my favourite line:

"You're really messing with my Zen thing, dude."

Jedi Master Flynn explains that CLU believes that if he can get to the "portal" and upload himself via the laser then he can enter the "real" world. The key to this is Mr Flynn's own identity disc (presumably because in technobabble terms it contains all the information needed for the laser to de-teleport a Flynn-shaped person, though this is rather glossed over – but who cares, it's a magic key to the door to another world). Flynn won't let CLU get out, so he refuses to return to the Grid to even try and reach the portal.

Sam, however, has no such Zen wisdom and reckons he can get to the portal and then just delete CLU from the system from the outside. Quorra is convinced by his passion and suggests that he ask a long-lost ally program called Zuse for help, and sends him to Zuse's gatekeeper Castor played by the ever malleable Mr Michael Sheen in a white Marty Hopkirk suit and matching fright wig.

"Why is Tony Blair playing David Bowie?" asked Daddy Alex. "Because he can?" suggested Daddy Richard.

Anyway, stop me from spoiling it if you haven't worked out where THIS obvious plot development is going, but the GREAT BIG EVIL GAYER and GREAT BIG EVIL BRIT turns out to have betrayed our boy Sam to the villain.

"Ooh, Tony Blair turned out to be in bed with the religious fascist with the invasion plan… who'd have thought?" said Daddy Alex.

Remember what we were saying about NAMES? Well, CASTOR was of course one of the Gemini twins (along with Pollox; make your own jokes) which I suppose is a bit more subtle than JANUS but still points to DUALISM and DUPLICITY.

ZUSE however is the most interesting: almost certainly a PUN, being a homonym for Zeus, it is also a reference to Konrad Zuse the German computer scientist who developed the first commercial computer, the Z4, in 1942 (though IBM don't like to talk about that). Oh, and his 1967 book "Calculating Space" suggested that the universe itself is a simulation running on a "grid" of computers. Which means he invented "Tron".

Still, at least Mr Sheen is having an absolutely SCREAMINGLY amusing time as totally camp-as-tits traitor, even if both text and sub-text and make-over at this point are all even more back to the 'Seventies than the rest of the film is back to the 'Eighties.

Looks like CURTAINS for Mr Sam, until the JEDI MASTER enters, white dude robes swapped for black billowy cloak with glowing neon accessories, slowing down time through the general power of AWESOME. This isn't a camera effect; Jeff Bridges can actually do this. Oh and Quorra drops in through the roof and kicks a little butt too, adding more "The Matrix" to the "Star Wars" cantina scene. Of course, since it IS the cantina scene, someone gets an arm chopped off. Unfortunately it's Quorra getting her arm de-rezzed. Careless there.

Returning to the echoes of the first movie, our heroes escape aboard a solar-sailor, now being used to pull freight trains. That's a metaphor right there: butterflies being used as carthorses; it tells you all about how this regime THINKS.

Mr Flynn uses the time to fix Quorra (slightly underpaying the miraculous healing of a lost arm, I feel) and explains a bit more of the plot. It turns out that she is the last of a whole new species of program: a group of self-aware programs that appeared on the grid out of nowhere, with no need to be programmed by a creating user. This is the miracle that changed Flynn's mind about creating his own perfect system, awoke him to the truth that evolved systems are better, but in turn led to CLU's rebellion and indeed genocide of the others like Quorra.

Meanwhile the train unexpectedly arrives at a station.

It turns out that the freight trains have been doing a big Auschwitz metaphor, carrying thousands of programs to be repurposed as CLU's personal Massive Fascist Army™ ready to carry out a mass restaging of Queen's "Radio Gaga" video… no? …oh, all right, staging to invade "real" world via the portal.

Before they can act, CLU's hitman RINZLER, who has been tracking them, strikes. And Flynn recognises his attack: RINZLER is TRON, the first victim of CLU's reprogramming programme.

It's a shame that they could only afford to digitally de-age ONE star from the first movie, as a reveal of a snarling Bruce Boxleitner under RINZLER's dark helmet was surely called for and deserved. Maybe that famous million-watt grin would have been too hard on the CGI processors.

Later, in fighting Sam, RINZLER comes to remember his true identity, and ends up turning on his false master, CLU. We last see him falling Jason Bourne-like into the Sea of Simulation as his neons turn from red back to blue and TRON is redeemed. And the lights are ON when we last see him. He's not de-rezzing. Jason Bourne-like, as I said.

Of course, at this point I return to the significance of the colour change that I remarked upon in "Tron": is the ABILITY to change the colour of your neons, blatantly to change sides from baddies to goodies, or vice-versa, indicative of FREE WILL, i.e. the ability to make MORAL CHOICE. This WOULD appear to be the thing that sets Mr Flynn apart from the programs in "Tron" and possibly the ISO programs from the created ones in "Tron: Legacy". Is what we are seeing at the end, that TRON achieves free will and so breaks CLU's mental conditioning?

But I'm ahead of myself again. CLU's throne ship arrives and, using Flynn's identity disc, rezzes-up a new command carrier around the station and the massed army. It's a quite nice reversal of the scene in "Tron", where SARK's command carrier is de-rezzed at the end.

Reflections and reversals like this are well used throughout the movie to make points both gross and subtle.

When CLU addresses his brainwashed battalions in a Nuremburg-style rally – the Communist overtones of "Tron" reflected as Fascist colouring in "Tron: Legacy" – he promises that they will make our world into a perfect system, telling them that their destiny is "out there". Earlier, at the start of the movie when the story of Flynn's disappearance was being done in TV news montage style, we saw him addressing a rally of his own, and asserting that "our destiny is IN there".

This conflict of INWARDS and OUTWARDS is itself very ZEN. Inwards is ascetic, self-abnegating, preserving, defensive, knowing your place, accepting, unquestioning… Outwards is ecstatic, self-aggrandising, aggressive, exploratory, inventive… Too much or not enough of either is DESTRUCTIVE. The young Flynn was too inward and lost everything; CLU is too outward, and threatens everything. This is the Zen lesson that the older Flynn has learned: the need for BALANCE.

So this is the story that we piece together from what Mr Flynn eventually tells us.

In the aftermath of the first movie, Flynn senior returned over and over to the computer world to try and rebuild the Grid. TRON helped him, as his guardian, and he created a new version of his CLU program, created in his own image (another beautifully realised effect with an imperfect mirror – that would be a clue about CLU), and told him to build a perfect system.

Let me spell it out: Flynn the Elder is THE CREATOR. CLU is his greatest creation, his chief ANGEL. And the angel discovers that god is flawed, fallible. So the angel overthrows god. CLU is Lucifer. "Clucifer" both Daddy Alex and Daddy Richard said at the same time.

This is the central mytharc of Christianity with one MASSIVE heretical twist: IT'S ALL GOD'S FAULT.

The Grid is a near-perfect (nothing's COMPLETELY perfect) disaster and CLU is a GRADE ONE FASCIST because the creator fluffed up in the beginning. The sin of PRIDE was not Lucifer's but GOD'S, in thinking he could create a perfect system, for his arrogance in thinking perfection could BE created. Lucifer's rebellion comes because he was made FLAWED and he just can't understand why god would change his mind. And god is too casual and too arrogant to explain it to him.

In this scheme, Mr Flynn's son Sam is NOT there as Mr Jesus; he doesn't save the world, he just leaves. If ANYONE is Mr Jesus, it's Mr Kevin again, with his white robes, wild beard and bare feet, living out in the WILDERNESS. He came down to the Grid from above – all the imagery is of DESCENDING to the Grid – from their idea of heaven (ironically to HIS idea of heaven). In the beginning was his Word. Or at least, his Numbers. He is very much the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in the Machine all in one.

So Sam is not the SON of GOD; he's the INHERITOR, he is mankind. To CLU, to Lucifer, Sam is an insult, a rebuke, a flawed thing and how can the creator possibly think that this "son", this mankind is BETTER than his perfect angel? How bloody DARE he.

And yet, CLU has no power to create on his own. Like Tolkien's Morgoth, he can only twist the existing programs, repurposed them into his army of, well let's call them orcs.

Sam has made his own life, something CLU can never do. And the real "miracles" are the self-aware programs arising without intervention from Flynn; life created with NO creator.

In a Jungian sense, CLU is Mr Flynn's SHADOW, and see also the Ursula Le Guin "Wizard of Earthsea" stories, where the wizard Sparrowhawk empowers his own shadow creature and only by accepting it can in the end undo his sin of pride.

So in the final moments Flynn reabsorbs CLU into himself and, in a very Manichean way, god and the devil cancel each other out and both cease to be, leaving a Grid without creator or adversary, free at last.

And Sam saves the world… to a portable drive. Before showing Quorra another uncreated miracle: her first sunrise.

This was a GREAT movie. It's a long way from perfect, but it's brave and clever and thoughtful and deep. And a worthy legacy for "Tron".

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 3637: Before we have Plan B, Shouldn't we see if Plan A works? Plus… a Christmas Panto!


Master Gideon has suffered a series of disappointing economic statistics this week, just in time to spoil Christmas: inflation has increased from 3.2% to 3.3%; unemployment has increased by 35,000 to a rate of 7.9%; and November's High Street sales are up by just 0.3% on last year.

On top of this, it's been leaked that the Cabinet Secretary, Mr Gust O'Doomladen, has asked the Treasury to prepare contingency plans in case of further recession.

This has led to many calls for the Coalition to U-Turn and return to the Hard Labour model of, er, what was that again?

Look, I'm sure we EXPLAINED that thing were likely to get WORSE before they get BETTER…

Ironically, some of the self-same people who were saying that the BETTER-THAN-EXPECTED performance of the economy in the second and third quarters this year was REALLY the legacy of Hard Labour Chancer, Mr Alistair Dalek, are NOW saying that this is all the fault of incoming Minister for Living off the Trust Fund, Master Gideon.

The truth is rather more COMPLICATED.

Economies never turn around in MONTHS. It normally takes YEARS unless there is a Greece or Ireland style catastrophe in which case it takes DAYS, but it's never MONTHS!

The strong Coalition agreement and Master Gideon's emergency budget STABILISED the British economy and hopefully stopped it taking a dive off a cliff.

The Conservatories key demand in the Coalition agreement was to start the cuts THIS year, not leave them until next year. And cutting six billion pounds in spending SOUNDS like a lot of money, but in the context of a hundred and fifty billion pound overspend, or a total spend of over seven hundred billion it's chicken feed.

(Not that you can't feed a lot of chickens with six billion quid, and that a lot of chickens go hungry without it, but…)

So what the Coalition have done this year is less about actual change and more about setting a direction of travel and convincing the markets that we mean it by setting off with CONFIDENT stride along the route.

(And of course, CONFIDENCE depends on you APPEARING CONFIDENT, which is WHY Master Gideon and Mr Dr Vince and Mr Danny will go on SAYING that they have CONFIDENCE in the Coalition PLAN. It's NOT because they're being BLOODY MINDED but because they're NOT being BLOODY STUPID!)

So, anyway, it's NOT UNFAIR for Mr Dalek to get some of the CREDIT for those good months in summer. But it's ALSO his fault that things are going flakey NOW.

The drivers for INFLATION are the higher cost of food and clothes (and also furniture), which all depend quite a lot on IMPORTS. Droughts and floods and assorted climate change chaos has taken its toll of world crops, REDUCING SUPPLIES somewhat, and INCREASED DEMAND in China and also in India and Brazil and other rising economies has also pressed up prices. But we have ALSO been systematically DEVALUING our CURRENCY, undermining it with low interest rates and a quantum of easing (printing money).

I'm fairly sure we did warn you that stimulating the economy with imaginary money leads to inflation.

(And while I'm mentioning inflation, there was a VERY misleading statement on the news from a person from the IFS saying how the extra money going into education wasn't an above inflation increase now: strongly implying that LESS money was going in, rather than inflation having overtaken the increase we DID put in!

And then this morning we get SCARE stories saying "electricity bills could rise by £500 a year". Yes, over the next 20 years, it is claimed, an average bill of £1,157 could rise by over £500 because of the Coalition's green energy measures. Hang on… If inflation is 2% then, over 20 years, £1,157 rises to £1,686, that's a rise of…er… over £500. So the shock news is: government green energy plans mean bills could be exactly what they were going to be anyway!

What's tomorrow's headline? "Study shows that in ten years, people will be an average of ten years older! Calls to stop this Coalition policy of ALLOWING TIME TO PASS!!!"

But that's as may be…)

The rise in unemployment is almost entirely due to PUBLIC SECTOR jobs going, and not being replaced by PRIVATE SECTOR ones. I'm sure that the fact that unemployment has actually FALLEN in Scotland and Wales (with their more interventionist governments) compared to substantial rises in the English Midlands will be taken as a sign that the Coalition is wrong, but the fact that it has fallen in ultra-free-market LONDON as well would seem to belie that. It's unlikely that Bojo the Clown could be painted as a socialist.

There are a couple of significant points to think about though. First, and most important, these are actually HARD LABOUR'S CUTS.

In spite of the COINCIDENCE (or WAS it a coincidence?) in the timing of these announcements with the introduction of the Localism Bill and the admittedly tough settlements for local government, those are the amounts that they'll have for NEXT YEAR'S budget; the cuts this year are all coming out of Mr Dalek's last budgets.

(Or do you genuinely believe that local government is SO EFFICIENT that it can work out all the job cuts in two days flat?)

And second, the Coalition have actually acted to try and PRESERVE jobs by FREEZING PAY and RECRUITMENT in order that as widely as possible the contraction is by so-called NATURAL WASTAGE i.e. people leaving their jobs that would have left them anyway.

We had a DEEP and HARD recession and this year we started to bounce back. But, as they say in the City, even a DEAD CAT MONSTER will bounce if it hits the ground hard enough. After thirteen years of Hard Labour – and weighed down by all their DEBT – we may not be strong enough to achieve lift off on our own.

Rising inflation and rising unemployment are signs of this UNDERLYING WEAKNESS of the economy, not of ANYTHING that the Coalition has done.

That is not saying the Coalition are getting everything right. But neither does it mean we are getting anything wrong. It is simply TOO SOON to say.

In the LONG TERM there are HUGE problems with the Great British economy, which, it being Christmas, I shall explain through the medium of PANTOMIME…
Once upon a time, PRINCESS ROSE RED went into the ENCHANTED FOREST and came across the SEVEN DWARFS.

In those days, all seven of the little men would go down their mine and work work work the whole day through, digging up precious jewels. It was hard work, with constant danger of comic pratfalls and singing animals but it paid well and they were earning good money.

Princess Rose thought that she could help them out.

So she took two of the dwarfs out of the mine and gave them jobs in the "public sector" as Health and Safety Inspectors.

[Please, no "Elf and Safety" jokes, thank you.]

In order to pay their wages, Princess Rose raised a TAX on the other dwarfs. Now there were fewer miners mining so the mine was making less money. But there were the SAME number of dwarfs to pay. "Hmm, said one of the miners, "with all this extra tax to pay, I seem to be work work working harder than ever and getting less money for me! I had better put up my prices to protect my standard of living."

(And "quite right too," agreed Princess Rose.)

This caused RAMPANT INFLATION and made the mine less competitive. Unfortunately, some Chinese dwarfs came along and undercut the market, so the mine had had to close.

This made the dwarfs very UNHAPPY.

But Princess Rose told them that it was all the fault of the WICKED QUEEN because SHE was in charge now, and anyway Rose had had a NEW idea to help them out again.

Several of the dwarfs had been able to retrain and find work in the IT industry doing web design work. This earned them good money again.

But to help the others, Princess Rose employed ANOTHER two of the dwarfs as Health and Safety Inspector Inspectors, to make sure that the first two dwarfs were meeting their inspection targets.

[No, I said NO "Elf and Safety" jokes, thank you.]

Now there were only THREE dwarfs doing wealth-creating work, and their taxes were not enough to pay for the FOUR dwarfs in the "public sector". But that was okay, said Princess Rose, because she could borrow the difference from those nice Chinese dwarfs (who had LOTS of money to spare, now, thanks to their successful mine, er…)

And while we're at it, why don't you all go and borrow money from the nice EVIL VIZIER so that you can buy homes that you cannot afford. For the three little pigs had built three little houses, one out of straw and one out of sticks and one out of good red brick, but the EVIL VIZIER said that he could use his magic to make all the risks go away and everyone could be rich and there was no danger of the big bad wolf huffing and puffing and blowing and causing a global economic collapse.

"But won't we have to repay all this money one day?" asked Vincey, the most impertinent of the dwarfs.

"Oh no, we can go on borrowing money forever!" said Princess Rose. "For the Evil Vizier assures me he can create GOLD out of THIN AIR, and besides I have abolished boom and bust."

Unfortunately, this turned out to be a FAIRY STORY.

The Evil Vizier was ACTUALLY the EMPEROR WITH NO CLOTHES ON and the SUB-PRIME houses made of straw and of sticks were ACTUALLY worth bugger all when the big bad wolf came huffing and puffing.

In order to stop all of everyone's money from disappearing like a genii, Princess Rose had to borrow a whole lot MORE from the Chinese dwarfs in order to buy out the Evil Vizier, and she asked the Fairy Godmother to turn a Quantative Pumpkin into some extra money to tide things over (subject to it turning back again at midnight).

Everything would come right, she promised, if we could just keep on borrowing…

"Yes, Rose Red," said the Fairy Godmother, "you SHALL go to the Ed Balls."

[You may groan.]

And the dwarfs said: "we think we'd like the Wicked Queen back, please."

And the Wicked Queen said: "Mirror mirror on the wall, isn't THIS the FAIREST scheme of all!"

But Rose Red said "ooh, it wasn't MY fault, it was all the fault of the Evil Vizier and nothing to do with me, and ooh the Wicked Queen doesn't REALLY want to pay off the debts that we ran up with the Evil Vizier but REALLY just wants to cut the "public sector" as an attack on the poorest and weakest dwarfs, and ooh hasn't that Nick Whittington betrayed all the munchkins by breaking his pledge to the Lollipop Guild…"

[this metaphor's wearing a bit thin now, isn't it]

Look, the moral of the story is you need enough wealth creation in your system to cover what the Princess is spending if you're going to create the GROWTH that will take you to the GOOSE that LAYS the GOLDEN EGGS. You can't just count on the MAGIC BEANS to grow you a BEANSTALK, especially if you don't seem to know how many beans makes five!

To cut a long story short, it turns out that Rose Red was actually Rose BROWN…

And the Chinese dwarfs all lived happily ever after.

So, the Coalition's "Plan A" is to REBALANCE the economy, REDUCING the amount that the GOVERNMENT controls (i.e. spends) and ENCOURAGING PRIVATE sector growth through the New Green Deal and that same Green Energy Plan that the papers were scaremongering about (because cutting the amount we have to spend on importing energy is effectively wealth-creating – in a double-negative "cutting loss of created wealth" sort of way).

Failing that, we can always SELL DRUGS!

If Plan A WORKS then in a few YEARS' (not months') time, we can make a PROFIT re-privatising the banks that we bought AND give the economy a BOOST at the same time and see if we can't get it to TAKE OFF!

And if it DOESN'T work, THEN it will be time for Plan B. And Plan B is probably a General Election.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 3633: THIS is why we are in the Coalition, part 2 – A Better Start


Anyone who ever talks to Captain Clegg will tell you this about him: he is PASSIONATE about tackling the root causes of the big freeze in social mobility. You cannot get him to shut up about the subject. And, for him, this means getting in at the earliest possible moment to give the bright-but-poor as much opportunity as the comfortably-off.

So the Government is pleased to announce the Liberal Democrat's PUPIL PREMIUM will start this year at an ADDITIONAL £430 per pupil for every family earning less than £16,000.

To put that in context, that's about an extra 7% on top of the money per pupil that the government gives already.

Remember, that money per pupil is NOT being cut. It is being kept the same. Yes, you might say that there is INFLATION to consider: this money won't go as far next year when things cost more, so that's what we call a "real terms cut". (Where "real terms" means not actually a "real" cut ; it just feels like one.) But remember too that that will be largely offset by freezing public sector pay (including teachers), because salaries, obviously, form the largest part of what the education spending is spent on.

So it's not exactly TRUE to claim that the pupil premium "robs Peter to pay Paul". It would be more accurate to say that Paul gets an increase but Peter doesn't.

And ANYWAY, is it necessarily BAD to rob Peter to pay Paul when Peter is (by the very definition of the pupil premium) BETTER OFF than Paul to begin with. Is that not what we have a PROGRESSIVE tax and benefits system FOR? If anything, this EXAGGERATES the ENHANCEMENT for the least well off.

Look, I'm not, on the whole, in favour of the "levelling down" approach to social inequality favoured by the "just tax the rich more" brigade, but in this instance is it not the case that we are asking those with broader shoulders to bear the greater share of the cuts while those in most need are given a leg up to help them reach the same opportunities?

A secondary criticism of the pupil premium seems to come from the IFS report saying that "gains from this policy will only be modest". As a criticism, this appears to focus rather too much on the word "modest" and not enough on the word "gains". If someone were proposing a scheme that offered BETTER gains (IM-modest gains?) then it would be valid as a critique, but it seems that here we have a choice between the pupil premium that DOES offer a gain and doing nothing which DOESN'T.

If the hypothetical better scheme existed, you can bet that Captain Clegg would be advocating THAT. But it doesn't which is why he is proposing THIS. Without getting all ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT on you, a scheme that has the flaw of NOT EXISTING cannot be as good as one that does!

This last week we've been accused of cutting opportunities for working class and less-well-off people by increasing the cost of going to university.

I don't actually agree with that.

University funding is being PROTECTED in the fairest way we could devise even though the economic crisis means that the taxpayer will be paying one third LESS.

You probably keep hearing the opposition claim that we are CUTTING university money by 80%, while the Government says that the ratio of funding will ONLY be changing from 60% paid by the taxpayer and 40% paid by the students to the other way around. I thought about this and realised that it IS possible for both of these statements to be TRUE: if you have £1000 of funding, at the moment £600 comes from taxation; but not all of that is spent on TEACHING, rather a lot will be spent on RESEARCH. It's just a guess, but say £350 goes on research and £250 on teaching. But the Government has agreed to PROTECT the research funding. So under the NEW arrangement, the taxpayer ponies up 40% or £400, but the University STILL spends £350 on research, meaning that the money spent on teaching goes down from £250 to just £50, which IS an 80% cut. So the opposition claim can be both TRUE and MISLEADING at the same time, because they are only talking about one SLICE of the money. (To be fair: calling it a switch from 60:40 to 40:60 is spinning a 33% cut too!)

(NB: this is just an EXAMPLE to show how the figures COULD work. Variations are possible depending on the real mix of research and teaching spending, and there could be other costs, maybe admin or maintenance and so on, to consider also, but the solution must be something like this to account for the figures used by both sides.)

And you might have noticed that the opposition have already ROWED BACK from saying that the MONEY COST of the Coalition tuition fees policy will dissuade less-well-off people from going to university (probably because their own graduate tax proposals are so similar in effect), and they've fallen back to saying that the PERCEPTION of the huge debt will have a chilling effect. (And I'm not saying that they might not have a point there, although one of the things that is DOING the chilling is the opposition and the NUS banging on about how DAUNTING the debt will be!).

But clearly this Pupil Premium is a big step forward to proving that we DO want to increase opportunity for all.

And it's another LIBERAL DEMOCRAT policy DELIVERED.

Day 3632: THIS is why we are in the Coalition, part 1 – Saving the World


After the disappointment of the Copenhagen Summit last year, when even President Barry O and Prime Monster Mr Frown could not wrangle a deal from the World Leaders… against pretty much ALL expectations that ANY progress could be made this year… the Climate Change Summit in Cancun has achieved a (moderate) success!

And Liberal Democrat Climate Change Secretary Mr Chris Huhney-Monster was right at the heart of the process.

Mr Huhney-Monster was proved RIGHT in his decision that it was more important to STAY and try and agree a deal than to come home to vote on Tuition Fees, in spite of Hard Labour's decision to deny him a pair for the evening of the vote. That he ending up with a pair ANYWAY was only down to another LIBERAL DEMOCRAT, and no thanks to Labour playing what can only be described as student politics.

Cancun has seen us contribute to REAL PROGRESS on IMPORTANT ISSUES for developed AND developing countries:

We've established a HUNDRED BILLION DOLLAR Green Climate Fund to help developing countries go low carbon and adapt to climate impacts. PLUS we've set up the mechanisms to help developing countries access low carbon technology, and adapt to climate change

We've agreed a deal on chopping down TREES, to slow, halt and reverse destruction of forests and to agree the rules for delivering it and for monitoring progress.

We've agreed a system for MEASURING, REPORTING and VERIFICATION – if that sounds dull just think how actually it's so important that we know how countries are living up to their promises to take action on emissions.

And ,perhaps most important, we've agreed the OBJECTIVE: to stop emissions from increasing and to limit global temperature rises to an overall target of 2 degrees.

On top of all that, Mr Huhney-Monster was personally responsible for negotiating an agreed way to continue the Kyoto Protocols for controlling CO2 emissions (give or take a couple of FUDGES to keep Russia and Japan on side).

This isn't a world-saving deal YET, but it shows the way and it shows that people can work together and WILL work together.

This last week has been dominated by arguments about how to pay for our kids' FUTURES, but with THIS DEAL we've taken BIG STRIDES towards ensuring that they have a future AT ALL.

And it's another LIBERAL DEMOCRAT policy DELIVERED.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Day 3631: Did Yooooooo Betray Meeeeeee?


To Paraphrase an old joke…

He delivers a Green Investment Bank, New Green Deal and cancels the third runway at Heathrow but is he known as Clegg the Green?

He delivers two-and-a-half BILLION quid for deprived school children but is he known as Clegg the Educator?

He delivers a tax cut to every basic rate taxpayer in the country but is he known as Clegg the Generous?

He delivers the AV referendum, an elected House of Lords and a fixed term Parliament but is he known as Clegg the Reformer?

But he screws-up over ONE pledge to the NUS…

The deed is done.

Have a HEART people.

We all LOVED him during the election, and thought he was totally magnificent. So what if it turns out that he CAN walk on water but he gets his SOCKS WET in doing so.

No, I realise it's more SERIOUS than that. For some people, this will be a burnt bridge too far – and a metaphor too mixed – and they won't be able to support Nick any more. And that's sad.

Remember, Nick has still delivered MORE from a Liberal manifesto than ANYONE since Mr Lloyd George, and he's not split the party nearly so badly as the boy David did! Er.

Look, in spite of the meeja's ALL-TOO GLEEFUL expectations of a three-way – or even FOUR-way – split, in the end the Liberal Democrat votes divided almost exactly into ministers who voted to keep their pledge to the Conservatories and backbenchers who voted to keep their pledge to the students.

And now we see why that UNPRINCIPLED OPPORTUNIST Mr Potato Ed put his own brand of student politics above the urgency of the Climate Change summit AND broke a long-standing tradition of which his own Party had taken advantage, when he refused to "pair" any ministers: he wanted to POSE and PREEN that every single Hard Labour MP voted against the rise. How sad that his response to the GROWN UP politics of the Coalition is to become more tribalist and isolationist.

It is typified by the accusation of "BETRAYAL", the worst sin – at least according to Mr Dante – the one that gets you sent to the NINTH and very DEEPEST circle of HELL.

Are we supposed to believe that Captain Clegg is, like LUCIFER, some fallen angel flung splat into uttermost perdition?

It's this constant refrain of "betrayal" that hurts the most. It doesn't hut US – our fluffy skins are thicker than that; I'm not made of ELEPHANT HIDE for nothing! No, it hurts the discussion, it hurts POLITICS. It reduces intelligent debate to the level of the PLAYGROUND: his fault, her fault, his fault, her fault!

And it ignores the fact that HALF of our MPs actually DIDN'T break the pledge; ignores that the rest of the Party has repeatedly restated our support for the policy; and just ignores, for that matter, that when we couldn't deliver on the pledge we KEPT ON FIGHTING for the best possible deal for students in the face of Conservatories who would not let us raise the extra cash to pay and a Labour Party that would rather play SILLY BUGGERS than engage constructively either in Coalition negotiations where they demanded an increase to SEVEN thousand, not SIX, or since when they've suddenly invented graduate tax proposals that would be LESS PROGRESSIVE than the deal WE negotiated.

It's not like the NUS are even keeping their OWN pledge, since their policy is just a RE-BRAND of student loans as a capped graduate tax. And yesterday's Tell-lies-o-graph revealed that, when pushed to the wall, odious little self-serving Labour-crats like Mr Aaron Porter would rather CUT GRANTS TO THE POOREST than have rich little princelings made to contribute more.

But never mind ANY of that!

You want to know who betrayed you? It was all those STUDENTS who said they'd vote Lib Dem and then didn't bother to turn out. If they could have been BOTHERED to "protest" for five minutes at a ballot box then we could have had a dozen more MPs and had the LEVERAGE to block the fees rise.

And it's worth reflecting that students ARE a PRIVILEGED class. For all that they shout the loudest. In all the hullabaloo the voices that AREN'T being heard are the more-than-fifty-percent of people who DON'T get to go to university.

I believe in abolishing tuition fees because I believe in greater OPPORTUNITIES for EVERYONE. And if there's one thing that I've realised in the debate over student fees it's that we haven't thought nearly enough about how to bring the same sort of LIFE-CHANGING opportunity to people OTHER than our most academically gifted. What has happened to our polytechnics? To apprenticeships? To the third of people LEFT BEHIND by Labour?

So we need to start thinking again about post 16/18 education and training and investment in our young people's future. And that is where we should start.

The deed is done. Let's move on. Together.

Captain Clegg asked his fellow MPs to walk through fire with him. So here is a CHEERY video to remind him how THAT works out…

Run VT!


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Day 3629: Now Labour's Opportunism Threatens Climate Change Talks


Once upon a time, back when HE was Climate Change Secretary, Labour Leader Mr Potato Ed said it would be "profoundly irresponsible" to use one "mistake" as an excuse not to act.

Well, today we learn that he won't let THAT get in the way of EMBARRASSING the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Potato Ed is REFUSING to allow the Liberal Democrat Environment Secretary, Mr Chris Huhney-Monster, a "pair" for the Tuition Fees vote tomorrow. So Mr Huhney-Monster has a choice: come home from the VITAL Climate Change Summit in Cancun OR miss the vote and risk letting the Government LOSE!

This is a MASSIVE breach of protocol by Hard Labour and a really dirty trick by Mr Potato Ed.

"Pairing" is a LONG-STANDING arrangement between Government and Opposition Parties for two MPs, whose votes would otherwise cancel each other out, both to be absent. This allows Government ministers to get on with important business on behalf of the country and in return lets a Labour MP, er, get a night off*.

It's done by a formal agreement between the Whips Offices (which is just one of the reasons you can't "pair" with a rebel on your own side – never mind that if they're wound up enough TO rebel, they're hardly likely to agree to taking a stand by not being there!)

It's been used for TIGHT votes before to allow Hard Labour ministers attend important events such as – not un-coincidentally – the 2004 Higher Education Act (which you MAY recall was a bit of a tight pinch itself with seventy-one Labour rebels opposing, er, the Hard Labour Government manifesto-pledge tripling of tuition fees).

So, with the extra concessions we've won, how close IS the Tuition Fees vote?

Liberal Democrats plus Conservatories make three hundred and fifty-two of the six hundred and fifty MPs in the House of Commons. BUT the five Sinn Fein members do not take their seats, and Mr Speaker Cashcow and his three deputies do not vote either. And Hard Labour have, er, misplaced a seat because Mr Phil Woolas is a CONVICTED LIAR. So at full strength, the Liberal Democrat/Conservatory Coalition has an effective majority of EIGHTY-FOUR.

That means it needs forty-two rebels to bring the Government majority down to nothing.

There are eighteen Liberal Democrat Ministers, and Captain Clegg has announced that they will all vote FOR the Tuition Fees policy. (Or all bar one, if Mr Huhney-Monster can't make it!)

So even if ALL thirty-nine other Liberal Democrats rebel (and they aren't going to - scores on the doors from Mr Paul) PLUS the one or two Conservatory rebels vote against, that's only forty-ONE. And the Government gets a majority of TWO.

And Hard Labour themselves are ALL OVER THE PLACE on the issue of funding for higher education, with only today their Shadow Chancer being arm-twisted into performing a tarmac-melting hand-brake turn on the graduate tax, a policy that will – of course – just put the SAME burden of paying for their education on future graduates, which is why it's been referred to as "infinite tuition fees". So they will ONLY be opposing this rise in order to try and score a mythical point over the Government.

Climate Change is MORE important that Tuition Fees; even the CONSERVATORIES think so, even if Mr Potato Ed clearly doesn't. We can demonstrate we've NOT lost all our principles AND show contempt for Hard Labour's opportunism AND just squeak through!

So personally, I say Mr Huhney-Monster should skip the vote and DAMN THEIR EYES!**

*Yes, unfair. Once in a while even Mr Potato Ed must get an evening engagement too.

**Mr Blackadder says this, so it MUST by okay!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Day 3627: There SHOULD be a three way split on Tuition Fees… and lots of other issues!


There was a lady on the BBC news last night saying that there might be "embarrassment" if the Liberal Democrats voted in different ways on Tuition Fees.


Are YOU embarrassed, Lady from the BBC? Because I'm not.

There are several very complicated and difficult-to-resolve issues in collision here and the Liberal Democrats are obviously and very publically trying to think them through and take opinion onboard. And, unsurprisingly when you ask a bunch of people ELECTED to be independent thinkers, some come to different conclusions.

This is called DEMOCRACY.

But the Lady from the BBC calls it "embarrassment".

I will tell you what is EMBARRASSING. A meeja who are either so ILL-INFORMED (and too LAZY to put themselves right) or so MENDACIOUS (not mentioning any names but she's a senior columnist for the Grauniad who now literally cannot write a column without actively distorting what Captain Clegg really says) that they think "MPs think long and hard about how to vote" is a gaffe rather than a FLUFFING JOB DESCRIPTION.

It seems to me that the MORE complicated and controversial an issue is – I won't say "more important"; in a week when North Korea is bombing South Korea and Iran has a fully functioning nuclear program, get a sense of perspective! – the HARDER the issue, the more political parties are expected to have INSTANT policy and UNANIMOUS agreement.

I mean never mind that Hard Labour don't actually HAVE a policy on this; that the Hard Labour leader, Mr Potato Ed, thinks that we should have a graduate tax and the Hard Labour Shadow Chancer, Mr Johnson and Johnson, thinks anyone who supports a graduate tax is a moron. Like THAT's not embarrassing AT ALL.

Here are just a few of the issues:

We made a promise to vote against any rise in tuition fees.

But we also got a better deal for students by being in the coalition than anyone else was offering.

From a purely pragmatic point of view, the pledge gave us LEVERAGE. The ability to say "this is going to be very painful for us" might not have been enough to get the increase in fees cancelled, but it certainly enabled us to demand a hugely BETTER deal for students than any that was on the table from Conservatories, Labour OR the NUS.

So do we break the pledge or say "get stuffed" to the better deal that we negotiated?

What would be the cost to students of any ALTERNATIVE that might have to be come up with if we DID keep the pledge and vote against?

We COULD vote with Hard Labour on this one – opportunistically, Mr Potato Ed will vote against the Browne report that his own former government commissioned because beating the Coalition is more important to him than having an actual policy – and together we could outvote the Conservatories and stop the rise.

But Master Gideon ISN'T going to find any OTHER money for Higher Education so wouldn't we see MASSIVE cuts in university funding, probably closing a number of departments and cancelling the courses of thousands of students. And what could we do about it? Nothing. Because we'd have surrendered our ability to negotiate on the issue.

So was it better to BREAK the pledge and get a better deal for students or KEEP the pledge and guarantee a worse deal?

And there's a BIGGER PICTURE: what are the consequences for the Coalition if we break the Coalition Agreement on this?

Do we get more good, more Liberal Democrat policies implemented by staying IN the Coalition in spite of this than we could possibly do outside of it? Does that outweigh ENOUGH the COST of breaking the pledge? Or is that just the ENDS justifying the MEANS?

These are DIFFICULT decisions to make and I expect our MPs to MAKE difficult decisions, and I expect them NOT TO ALL MAKE THE SAME DECISIONS.

Contrary to popular opinion – and meeja expectations – they are NOT a row of CABBAGES.

I think we were QUITE RIGHT to make the pledge to oppose any raise in Tuition Fees.

Was it naïve and possibly stupid and certainly bad POLITICS and will we pay a price for breaking the pledge? Yes to all of those things.

But it was also principled and noble and a little bit wonderfully mad and it was the RIGHT THING TO DO.

So I support President Tim Farronheit and former leaders Sir Mr the Merciless and CK1 when they say that they will keep their pledge and vote against any rise in tuition fees.

But I ALSO support Captain Clegg and Mr Dr Vince when they say that they will vote FOR the Coalition policy because they believe that it is the best possible deal they could have got.

And I EVEN support Mr Hugs if he wants to abstain because that is what we agreed in the Coalition Agreement.

I see the contradiction in that. But "Party Unity" is a RUBBISH reason for overriding disagreements when you should argue them out make your case and in the end see how many people you have convinced by taking a vote. That's democracy for you.

And it's NOT an embarrassment.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Day 3622 (again): On World AIDS Day… Some People SHOULD be Ashamed


December 1st is World AIDS Day.

Across the world, people with HIV continue to face not just the prospect of a horrible disease, but also genuine prejudice, that can cost them their jobs, their homes, even their lives.

And yet today, the former Beardy Weirdy of Canterbury has decided that he's going to IGNORE that and bang on about HIS so called "right" to EXTRA SPECIAL treatment being under attack.

These SPECIAL "rights" include the "right" to hate gay daddies, the "right" to ignore employment law and the "right" to a free seat in the House of Lords Club (where he very nearly never bothers to show up).

He has set up a special website to tell the stories of some of the people who have SUFFERED for their Christian faith. (Please note: like they say in the movies, no people suffered actual SUFFERING in the course of these stories.)

I should like to direct you to Mr Unity at the Ministry of Truth who can explain better than me why none of these people deserve anything but your choice of pity or contempt.

This morning the The Today Programme programme chose to interview one of these people, a Mr Gary McFarlane, a man who was sacked from his job when he refused to treat gay daddies with equal respect because it "conflicted with his religious principles". This decision was judged correct by the employment tribunal and by the court of appeal.

Would the Today Programme have interviewed a man who was sacked for erecting a huge burning cross on Mr McFarlane's front drive and claimed it was because HE was just expressing his "religious principles"? I rather think not.

Mr McFarlane's problem is not that he is BAD because he is a Christian; no, he is obviously bad because he is a BAD CHRISTIAN.

You are probably familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. It is a PARABLE told by Mr Jesus, and in the story a Jewish gentleman is mugged. Several other Jewish gentlepersons go past and, shockingly, ignore the crime! And then along came a Samaritan gentleman and he looked after the injured man. Hooray, a happy ending. What you ALSO ought to know, though, is that the Jewish people and the Samaritan people did not get on. They had, what you might call, "religious differences". So you see the POINT of the story is that the Samaritan was GOOD not just because he HELPED a Jewish person, but because he OVERCAME PREJUDICE in order to do so.

I think you can see where I am going here.

Is it wrong of Christian people to say that they are not ashamed? No, not really.

I have no problem with the Beardy Weirdy wanting to wear a dress to work. Why shouldn't he, if he wants to.

The Liberal Democrats are VERY TOLERANT of WEIRD SEXUAL PRACTICES, even including CELIBACY. What you do or don't do in the privacy of your own home/dungeon/secluded part of the common is nobody's business but your own.

And if all two billion Christians worldwide are doomed to be fed to the RAVENOUS BUGBLATTER BEAST of TRAAL for their failure to appease the GREAT GREEN ARKLESEIZURE, then honestly that is a matter for their consciences and not mine. It's not like we can't all make up our own minds to believe our own made-up stuff. Just ask the FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER.

But today is a day for thinking about OTHER people who are worse off than you by LOTS, so it is TACTLESS and SELFISH and STUPID to try and stomp all over World AIDS Day.

And as Daddy said to Mr Paul earlier, it's not like you haven't GOT a Day in December for advertising your Christian beliefs, is it?

Best wishes for World AIDS Day!