...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Day 3769: If You Strike This Referendum Down, We Will Become More Powerful than You Can Possibly Imagine!


Look, I see people in South Africa queuing round the block for their right to vote; I see people in Afghanistan risking Taliban bombs for their chance to have their say; I see people in the Arab Spring facing down murderous dictators because they want democracy, and in this country we get our FIRST CHANCE EVER to decide on our own system of elections and I AM DEEPLY SHAMED that NO ONE SEEMS TO CARE.


This is your chance to GET A GRIP on the people who DECIDE on schools and taxes and wars and everything!

I'm told, oh if it was a vote on whether taxes will go up or down, or on whether schools will get funding or not, THEN people would turn out.

Well that IS what this referendum is about.

This is the BASICS, people; this is the FUNDAMENTALS of YOUR democracy.

If you WANT politicians to LISTEN to you, about schools or taxes or wars, then you've got to fluffing well MAKE THEM LISTEN TO YOU.

This referendum hasn't been won or lost yet. In fact it's still virtually NECK and BRASS NECK, pretty much in spite of, I'm sorry to say it, a total shambles of a campaign from #Yes2AV.

(Which pretty much proves how STRONG the desire for REAL CHANGE really is!)

And it does sometimes seem that some of the best minds in liberal campaigning have come together to produce the sort of winning campaign that usually comes THIRD in elections. So I suppose coming SECOND in the referendum will be a WIN for them!

First Past the Post is a system where NO ONE REACHES THE POST… and yet you let the #No2AV campaign seize the racing metaphors! Honestly, it's like you're not even TRYING!

In contrast, #No2AV have kept their message SIMPLE, DIRECT and EVIL – all the things that usually WIN, especially when backed by HUGE wodges of cash from UNDISCLOSED donors. c/o Bank of Belize. Possibly.

#Yes2AV have spent entirely too much time responding to #No2AV's lies and misinformation (giving the lies a second round of free publicity) with too much detail (no one listened to the answers).

Simple example: if #No2AV say: "AV will cost you quarter of a billion pounds" then you DO NOT reply with a line by line rebuttal and complaints about their adding up

You just say: "FPTP DID cost you half a billion pounds in expenses scandal; that's why we need a change."

Let the #No2AV campaign be the ones spluttering about factchecks and waving their calculators around.

And to Mr Huhney-Monster and Mr Hugs PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don't bang on about taking legal action. It makes it sounds like you've already lost and are throwing toys out of the pram.

Yes, the MEEJA coverage of the debate has been SHOCKINGLY PATHETIC. Debate? What debate? It's only ever been about the personality spats.

No one has bothered to impartially explain the ISSUES. Auntie Beeb, I am looking at YOU!

And then there's the META-NEWS, the reporting that no one is interested in the issues, meaning no one in the NEWS is interested in the issues.

Plumptiously well-off columnists opining that at their fat-cat Islington suppers everyone is SO BORED, SWEETIE, with the whole business, as though this is the CLEVER and WITTY informed opinion rather a bunch of LAZY old FARTS gobbling up the rich puddings that are their rewards for supporting the STATUS QUO.

Well news for you, meeja people. The job of a JOURNALIST is to MAKE people CARE about the news. So, frankly, you're all just telling us you are FLUFFING AWFUL AT YOUR JOBS.

But print is dead, isn't it, and thank goodness for the wibbly wobbly web because a FUNCTIONING MEDIA is ESSENTIAL to a FUNCTIONING DEMOCRACY, and if we relied on our print journalists we'd be right up the Galactic Empire without a Jedi paddle!

Let's be clear about this, the pressure to reform our BROKEN and UNFAIR electoral machinery is NOT going to go away; it's only going to get stronger and more urgent. People didn't march on the coalition negotiations last May urging them to keep the status quo.

There WILL BE another Hung Parliament, probably at the next General Election, if not then the one after that. And – whether we get AV or not – it will be IMPOSSIBLE to offer anything OTHER than PR as a Coalition deal, because there won't be anything else TO offer.

Captain Clegg's Constitutional Reform agenda WON'T STOP just because the referendum is over. More devolution, reform of the House of Lords Club, reform of the Monarchy, more local government…

And when the NEXT Coalition Agreement comes up, we WILL HAVE PR for the House of Lords, we WILL HAVE PR in Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland.

He never called AV a "miserable compromise", that was just the deal that Mr Frown put on the table when desperately clinging to power by his bitten fingernails, but he's always admitted that as an improvement on First Pass the Port this is only a small first step.

This referendum is WIN-WIN for reform:

If #Yes2AV wins, we get rid of the WORST possible voting system.

But if #No2AV wins, we get rid of NEARLY the worst possible voting system.

And when the NEXT Coalition Agreement comes up, any suggestion of a "miserable compromise" over AV will be trumped because IT WILL HAVE BEEN DECIDED. The only thing on the table will be a PROPER PROPORTIONAL SYSTEM.

Now go out and be positive for CHANGE!

And May the Fifth be with you!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day 3765: DOCTOR WHO: The Impossible Astronaut


The Doctor, like Marley, was dead to begin with. Or didn't we do "A Christmas Carol" last time?

So let's talk about death in Doctor Who.

Death has been devalued in this series since 2005. Russell declared that the series was "steeped in death" but no one important ever actually dies. Or if they do, they're back again! Even the "death analogue" of "trapped in a parallel world" ends up being optional. There is just too much "in science fiction, no one is gone forever".

Well they should be. It matters that you do not lie to your audience, especially this audience of this show and especially about this.

To be fair, Russell started it. Rose didn't die. Donna didn't die. Rose's dad did die… but then there was Parallel-Pete, so he kind of didn't any more.The Master did die, but he got over it. The Daleks died again and again and again; it barely slowed them down. The Time Lords, they're all dead. Oh, wait, no they're not. But forgive that one, because it says that coming back from the dead has consequences; and because they're the only ones thrust properly back into the grave. Or at least the Time War. And they are never ever coming back from that. Because the Master will never… Oh pish.

But Moffat, whose "everybody lives" was supposed to be "just this once", has carried it further than it can sustain. He killed Rory and killed Amy and destroyed the entire universe… and it didn't matter. They all came back. He wiped out the Doctor… but he came back…

(sidebar: I thought of an alternative explanation for "that thing that happens so "The Big Bang" has a happy ending" – Amy's memories don't "rewrite" the Doctor back into existence; instead they give the TARDIS something to lock onto so that he can guide her back from wherever "outside time and space" the crack led to. So he didn't actually "die". Well, it might work… Mind you "he crossed his timeline and the Universe blew up" really does not describe the events of "The Big Bang"; in fact, almost the exact reverse is true – the Universe blew up so he started crossing his timeline to get out of it. Universal calamity as a result of, ahem, crossing the timestreams would have been much, much more satisfying than the TARDIS's mere existence being a threat to all creation.)

But that wolf has been cried too often, and no one, no one believes that the Doctor is really, really dead. Or "going to be dead". There will be a get-out clause, a temporal glitch, a back-up plan. Pray to anything you believe in that it's not David Tennant from a parallel universe falling out of a parallel TARDIS.

(Yes, the opening cop-out of "Journey's End": "I'm regenerating… but I think I won't actually" remains the nadir of "death doesn't count" in modern Doctor Who.)

Given the teaser "one of them will die" it was obviously going to be the Doctor who bought it. Not least because that's the teaser on the back of Lawrence Miles' impossible pre-Millennial two-part novel "Interference". The one where – SPOILERS – the Doctor dies.

Once, it would have been absolute genius to start the series there, with the impossible horror of the lead being dead. But not now. Not this time. Now we simply don't believe you.

Matt Smith is not the last Doctor, nor is Moffat going to end the series, or hand the TARDIS on to some other "Doctor". He'll write something "incredibly clever" that will leave you going, "hmm, but I'd rather have had a proper resolution".

This week has seen the lovely, lovely LisSladen pass away, and it was handled with extraordinary sensitivity and care by the BBC, particularly CBBC, who have clearly thought carefully about the need to handle this sensitive subject in a way that treats kids with honesty and compassion. Death is forever. There is no coming back, no cheating, no time being rewritten.

The series on BBC1 has a lot of catching up to do.

I suppose the problem with "The Impossible Astronaut" is that it's not a proper story at all: it contains no answers. Even part one of an ordinary Who story will have some explanation of what the frak is happening. Here, it's all a series of escalating questions.

We have no idea what is going on. The Doctor has no idea what is going on; by the end, he hasn't even met the aliens – and we don't know that they are the baddies. Evil, yes – they blew up Joy for no reason – but that doesn't make them responsible for what if anything is happening; they might for example just be investigating, just like the Doctor. Obviously, they aren't. But at no point does "The Impossible Astronaut" tell us that. For that matter we don't even know that anything is happening, apart from a spaceman and some odd phone calls from a little girl. And only the cliffhanger tells us how these are connected.

Perhaps all this mystery is a good thing; apparently it precipitated an hour of discussion with my nephew and niece and their mum and dad; though my niece – who is newly nine – found it a bit difficult to follow. And – unlike some reviews – I'm not saying that it didn't flow: each sequence followed logically from the last; each question raised a clue that led to the next question. It just didn't answer any of the questions along the way.

Envelopes lead us to America, to the picnic, the killing and funeral. Canton Everett Delaware III and the (older) Doctor's cryptic/haha "Space 1969" remark lead us to Washington. Nixon's White House Tape of the little girl's call leads to a very clever deduction from the Doctor of where to go next ("spaceman" plus three founding fathers leading to a very specific street corner in Florida, which is really smart). But after forty-five minutes of television: we don't know what the plot is.

I have no idea what you would make of it if it were your first episode of Doctor Who, as it makes not a single concession to exposition. Who is the Doctor? Who is River Snog? Why is it significant that she might be packing? (Yes, yes we know that she's in an inescapable prison, but if it was your first time, would you?) Who for that matter are this domestic couple Amy and Rory?

There is a distinct sense of having missed a bit. When did Amy and Rory settle down to this domestic life? At the end of last year, they quit Ledworth for "everywhere" and they've been on extended honeymoon since then. Yet now they seem to be part-time time travellers, expecting the Doctor to pop back from time to time, ready to be whisked off again but also getting on with their lives. (Yes, there is some irony that this happens in the week when I said that Sarah Jane was unique in continuing her travels while still having a life outside the TARDIS.)

What was the purpose behind the "waving to them from history" opening? (Incidentally, that was the worst sticking the Doctor into a Laurel and Hardy film ever seen; having him join the dance: subtle and funny; having him rush to the front of the screen and wave? Like that wouldn't end up on the cutting room floor! And again, we did that last time. Plus, you need better photoshop if you want your film grain to match the original.)

Of course, there's a hint of the "Neil Gaiman" here, with the idea that the Doctor ought to have left them behind now that they are settled and "making babies" but– like Gaiman's Sandman – he is still meddling in their lives because that baby will be significant in his own future.

Which leads us to the most obvious question, to which almost everyone has the same answer: is the child in the spacesuit Amy's daughter or River Snog or in fact both at the same time. "Are you my mummy?" she might ask. Ahem. We know River has killed someone and we're almost certain that it's the Doctor – anything less will just be a letdown after all the hints – and that she's been in prison for a long time. What if she's been in Stormcage a really long time, almost all her life?

(Although, given Moffat's habit of making things more complicated for himself just for a laugh, I suppose it will turn out to be Rory in the spacesuit that kills the Doctor and getting to deliver the "this is where it gets complicated" cliché.)

Of course the resolution to many of these problems is not to think of this as a Doctor Who story, or even part one of a two-part Doctor Who story, but as part one of a seven-part television drama. Drama serials, from "Edge of Darkness" to "State of Play", even to Moffat's own "Jekyll", often do begin with episodes that are nothing but questions, designed to hook you in to the world (often, world of conspiracy) that they are drawing. To say "but Doctor Who doesn't work that way" is to put limits on the way that supposedly the most versatile show on television does work, and it's to Moffat's credit that this year he's willing to push at the boundaries of what is and isn't the way the series works.

Moffat has certainly upped his game when it comes to writing for his characters. All four of his leads are given new depth and shading and more interesting things to do. Even Rory. Arthur Darvill carries a lot of the episode's more understated comedy moments as Rory's not-actually-going-to-take-it-in-silence long-suffering continues. "Husband" and "Why is it always my turn" and "actually, I do mind!" all spring to mind. And then there are moments of genuine pain under the usual grumbles, as when he tells River she doesn't need to tell him what effect the Doctor falling out of the sky can have on a girl.

That same scene adds some needed pathos to River too, as we start to see her relationship with the Doctor from her point of view as well. It's almost that the fun of this relationship for the Doctor is the very thing that is most painful to her – where he sees a game of knowing and not knowing, she sees him going away. And yet River, it seems, becomes a better character as she knows less and the Doctor more. Her piloting the TARDIS better than he does works as a joke here, and doesn't come across as smug. And of course he then reveals that he knows and more than that expects her to be better at it and doing the things he needs her to do. I hate to talk about "on screen chemistry", because it's such an overrated cliché, but you can see that both the Doctor and River (or Matt and Alex) enjoy the flirtation between them, they enjoy trying to frustrate each other, and they enjoy being cleverer than each other. It's lovely the way River tells Amy to look after the Doctor and he responds by telling Rory to go and look after River.

Chronologically speaking, this has to be placed after "The Pandorica Opens" for River as well as for the Doctor and his companions, because River recognises Rory, which she didn't in "The Pandorica Opens". In fact, it's a plot point of "The Pandorica Opens" that River does not realise that this Roman centurion is identical to Amy's boyfriend. So, despite what River says about every time they meet "her" Doctor being further away, this is proof that they can meet in order too, that their timelines zigzag rather than one being exactly backwards to the other.

And River's reaction to the death of the Doctor is… interesting. I feel that her immediately shooting at the retreating spaceman until she's out of bullets is entirely instinctive, the vengeance of the River who faced down a Dalek, made it beg, and killed it anyway. But when the bullets have no effect, she says to herself "of course not". If that is her inside the spacesuit, then "of course not" because she couldn't have shot her own younger self, that would be a Grandfather Paradox. Of course, River doesn't know the order of the Doctor's faces, but it's also been implied that she's seen more than ten and eleven, so she doesn't realise that this can't be "the end". It is harder to judge whether she's expecting this outcome: again, if it's her inside the suit, then certainly a confused child trapped in a spacesuit might remember the incident in a way that her older self does not recognise the setting when they arrive for their picnic, but seeing a spacesuited figure ought to trigger something of a memory surely.

Ever since "The Eleventh Hour", Matt Smith has been revealing to us the layers of his Doctor's character: the madman with a box persona that he wears as a cloak while underneath there is a colder, cleverer, calculating character, and an angrier, spikier character too. He conceals from Amy the real reason he's taking her with him; he lashes out at everyone human in "The Beast Below". Here we have two perfect moments in the TARDIS that capture both surface and depth: the petulant child moment of "I'm being clever and there's no one to notice" and then the collapse into the chair and telling them all not to play games with him. That's the dark, hard, brilliant Doctor right there; like the seventh Doctor, a manipulator who will not be manipulated. Plus you've got love that he's either late for a biplane lesson or knitting.

He is playing two Doctors here, as well. The Doctor at 909 and the Doctor at 1103 (oh for a moment we thought he was going to have got over his mid-lives crisis about his age, and how many times have I said he needs to announce he's into four figures?) The older Doctor is, if anything, even more the seventh Doctor. Only letting it slip with that "the human race: I never thought I'd be done saving you" moment which is the first intimation of coming mortality.

"My life in your hands", though, really? He isn't stupid; River gave him enough clues, and the fact that none of them will tell him who recruited them has to be another one – he could work out that he's dangerously close to finding out his own future.

Meanwhile, to me Amy seemed more kind. Her concern for ill-fated Joy was genuine and selfless. It's really too early to say, what with this being only one episode so far ("A Christmas Carol" hardly counts, though there were hints of a softer Amy there too, thinking back), but I wonder if she isn't being written as a, I hesitate to say "better person", but a less defensive, less damaged one because in "The Big Bang" the Doctor fixed the thing that he broke and gave her back her childhood.

(This will probably last until the first writer-who-isn't-Moffat gets a go and writes her as the character they remember from last year. Can I hear you say "New Adventures Angst" at all?)

And she is as appalled as the Doctor that she has shot at a child. She grabs the gun and fires at the spacesuited figure before she has time to realise that the visor has been raised, before she has time to see. And she was primed to do this; primed by River. Twice, in fact: the first time, by River shooting at the spaceman herself, while Amy is collapsed with grief; the second time when River suggests dealing with the spaceman now to stop him killing the Doctor in the future. Which she then says would be bad. It's all playing on Amy's "time can be rewritten" fixation

It was interesting that he also wrote Nixon entirely sympathetically, while not playing down that history (and the Doctor) regards him as another baddie. Stuart Milligan (yes, Jonathan Creek's old boss, Adam Klaus) while recognisable under the latex put in a believable, understated Nixon, playing an actor's part: doing him as a real person rather than an impression or a caricature. (Let's just say not doing a "Churchill".) The prosthesis was fairly ridiculous, I'm afraid, barely even a cartoon Nixon: "it's Saruman as President," said Alex "no, just some other magician," I replied. Sorry.

Mark Sheppard was terrific as Fox Mulder, er, I'm sorry, Canton 3… no, look, sorry, but they even "borrowed" Mulder's opening scene from the first X-Files movie for him; it's not that subtle. Nevertheless, he was worth the money: great at keeping control in the Oval Office scene, putting down the President's FBI security and getting the Doctor his five minutes; nicely boggled by the TARDIS interior, and then phlegmatic with his "like your wheels"; and with an as-yet-unrevealed backstory (more questions) that may be to do with marriage or authority issues giving him something troubling to keep him from being too two-dimensional.

And we loved that his dad, Morgan Sheppard, played the older Canton – not least because, as Alex put it, it's the Soul Hunter come for the Doctor's funeral.

The space-time ship from the Lodger showing up again was cool. Again, no explanations at all. Not even "this might be someone's attempt at a space-time ship", which would have helped. (Seriously, it's the "The Phantom Menace" problem all over again: the exposition is in a different movie!) Alex and I were both expecting River to say that the tunnels extended under the surface of the Universe not merely the Earth – as though the aliens' ship (assuming it is their ship; again, no actual clue if that is so) has scratched itself under the skin of reality, like it travels by "crack".

In fact, the idea of a network of tunnels, a "labyrinth" if you will, underscoring the Spiral Politic is a direct lift from (guess who) Lawrence Miles' "The Book of the War". Mind you, so is a now-you-see-them-now-you-don't "enemy" who edit themselves out of your memory.

(That is not to excuse Lawrence's response to Moffat, in particular that photoshopped RadioTimes cover. Quite apart from being highly insulting to the two actors, it's wildly insulting to Moffat himself, who so clearly does not consider women as inflatable sex toys as even the most cursory glance at the number of strong women he has written and cast, from Julia Sawalha in "Press Gang" onwards, would show.)

So we come to the "Scariest Monsters Evah" (copyright all newspapers). Oh look, America is secretly run by the Grey Aliens who are also the Men in Black (and they don't even need flashy-things to make you forget them!). Alex, who was even less impressed than I was, found this schtick dull when The X-Files was fresh; and The X-Files itself was always more interesting when suggesting that the greys were faked to cover up a more grisly (and terrestrial) conspiracy with a faked alien one. And anyway, didn't Phil Ford do Men In Black more amusingly in "The Sarah Jane Adventures"?

It was a nice mask (and the long fingered hands were nice too) and they are certainly threatening and creepy, but there had better be more to them than The Gentlemen from Buffy gifted with the Weeping Angels USP. And in fairness there probably is: Moffat himself has implied it goes much deeper. At the very least, though, I will expect a reason why this new ultimate foe (capable of blowing up the TARDIS, allegedly) has only just appeared (and to be fair again, "they're something that's come about because of the Time War and/or the Time Lords being gone" would be acceptable).

So what to make of it all?

In plot and visuals it is incredibly dense: clearly one for the video age – or rather the iPlayer age – to be watched again and again, and for the HD age to see all the packed-in detail. Visually, it is utterly striking, literally getting darker over the course of the episode as the story takes us to darker and darker places: opening with a Technicolor Monument Valley in Utah; fading to sunset at the Doctor's Viking funeral, fading to dark blue of the Oval office at night; fading ultimately to the greys of the Silent tunnels and their black timeship. It is bolder than any season opener since "Rose". It uses all the Moffat tropes again – a spooky child's voice; something in the corner of your eye; timey-bloody-wimey – uses them to the point of cliché, to the point where it risks being accused of recycling. It teeters on that edge and it might, might fall over. It gambles everything on being intriguing rather than baffling. And it probably succeeds.

Ultimately, it remains what it is: a mystery. How successful it is we won't know until we have the answers.

Next Time: The answers. Or some of them anyway, starting with how do you fight an enemy you don't even remember? How do you escape from the perfect prison (without looking up the answers in Interference: Book Two)? And what really happened to Apollo Eleven on the "Day of the Moon".


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 3761: A Tear, Sarah Jane?


Ms Elisabeth Sladen, better known as Dr Woo's best friend Sarah Jane Smith, was one of the most ALIVE people we've ever known, a living testament to her most famous character's credo that you don't have to be a Time Lord up in Space to have ADVENTURES; that they can happen right here on Earth, if you just live your life looking for them.

In the way she remained open to wonder and new things, Sarah Jane never grew up. She certainly never grew OLD.

So how can she have died? I can only echo Tom Baker: impossible, impossible.

My heart goes out to Mr Dr Tom. Already this year he's lost his long-time drinking buddy, Mr "the Brigadier" Nick Courtney, and now Best Friend Sarah as well. And apparently, Big Finish were hoping to arrange for Tom and Lis to record more adventures together.

And then there are the wonderful cast of "The Sarah Jane Adventures", possibly the truest reincarnation of the Classic Doctor Who in its twenty-five-minutes-with-cliffhangers, we've-got-no-money-but-we're-going-to-do-it-anyway format and stories that were arguably more successful than the flashier Saturday series – certainly, the SJAs made better use of the Slitheen and the Sontarans and recurring nemesis The Trickster (aka The Black Guardian lite) was a darn sight better baddie than any villain they've come up with on Doctor Who since 2005. I can't explain better than Auntie Jennie why this series was so GOOD for young people. Mr Daniel Anthony, Ms Anjii Mohindra and Mr Tommy Knight, not to forget Mr Alexander Armstrong (as Mr Smith) and Mr John Leeson (as K-9), must be devastated.

Six episodes of a fifth season have already been filmed: the opening four and, perhaps more importantly, closing two.

This clearly presents two alternatives: a truncated fifth season of just the existing episodes, perhaps with a framing device of Clyde, Rani and Luke remembering Sarah through the stories; or, recording two new stories without Sarah, possibly persuading the incomparable Katy Manning to return once more as Jo Jo Jones or maybe even – subject to developments in his own series – the Doctor, Matt Smith.

Famous Dr Woo writer, Mr Jon Blum has suggested an "Ashes to Ashes" like continuation, with the younger cast of "The Sarah Jane Adventures" (plus alien computer and/or robot dog) continuing to save the world from Sarah's attic in Ealing.

I find myself in two minds.

On the one fluffy foot, it would be LOVELY to see the series regulars continue and to meet up with other former companions… and thanks to the in-series continuity established at the end of "Death of the Doctor", we know – and our heroes know – that there ARE other former companions out there… you could have one story with Martha Jones and UNIT, then another mad jape with Jo; I'd personally love to see them meet up with Dorothy McShane and her "A Charitable Earth" organisation, and they could even have a faabulous swinging adventure with Polly Wright…

But on the OTHER fluffy foot, there is a REASON why it was Sarah Jane, of ALL Dr Woo's companions, who was the one who came back.

Coming after the HUGELY popular pairing of Katy and Jon Twerpee's third Doctor, Lis had such a hard act to follow. But her smart, sassy, no-nonsense tomboy instantly won over the audience (as well as her leading man). Written as Mr Terrance Dicks' idea of a feminist character, famously given the line "there's nothing 'only' about being a girl", fortunately Lis was smart enough to never ever play her that way, and as such was a much MORE feminist character than any number of "right on" lines might have been. Instead Lis made Sarah Jane a rounded, totally capable character, more often genuinely amused at the ridiculous scrapes she got herself into than unable to cope. Sure, she screamed from time to time. But then she got on with unmasking the villain or defeating the monster.

Almost uniquely for a "Doctor Who girl", Sarah Jane had a life and a career that went on outside of the time she would spend with Dr Woo. For example, we are just watching Mr Dr Jon's swansong "Planet of the Spiders" (freshly minted on DVD), and the first episode sees Sarah's investigation of Mike Yates's lamasery completely independent of the Doctor's ESP experiments; only the conclusion (where the Metebilis crystal in the Doctor's lab and the chanting in the cellar combine to summon the first Spider) bring them together. Throughout her time with the Doctor, Sarah has a life IN the TARDIS, but also a life OUTSIDE of it, doing proper journalism, and – aside from the Brigadier himself – I can't think of another companion who DOES that.

She stuck with Dr Woo for three Earth years, Mr Dr Jon's last and Mr Dr Tom's first two, plus a couple more stories – famously taking in her stride: "mummies, robots, lots of robots, antimatter monsters, Daleks, real living dinosaurs and THE LOCH NESS MONSTER". After her they really COULDN'T follow that, so they did "The Deadly Assassin" with no assistant at all, and after that the Doctor didn't have another friend from contemporary Earth for another five years. THAT'S the sort of impact she had.

And of all Dr Woo's travelling chums, Sarah Jane is the one who just gets left. Sarah's was the story that BEGGED for a "what happened next?" At the end of what with hindsight we laughingly call her last story, "The Hand of Fear", the Doctor just kicks her out of the TARDIS and leaves. It's BRILLIANT, because it DOESN'T finish the story. At any moment, you think, he can just pop back and carry on.

Almost all the other "companions" leave because they've found their way home, or they've found their proper place in the universe, or (occasionally somewhat improbably) they've found that ol' Earth thing called lurve (or very, very occasionally because they've found that smashing into prehistoric Earth with a freighter-load of Cybermen tends to reduce your career options). All of those stories have reached their natural conclusion; with the exception of Adric they've had their happy ending and although we know life DOES go on, anything more can only detract from that. (See how "Death of the Doctor" practically rams home the message that, aside from never seeing her Doctor again, Jo Jo DID have a happy life ever after – none of this "divorce" nonsense that mid-nineties fanfic writers kept tossing in!)

But more than all of that, the thing that distinguished Sarah Jane was her ability to match the Doctor. (Helped not a little by Mr Dr Tom's habit of sharing some of his technobabble with her – note the scenes in, say, "Pyramids of Mars" where he has the Doc basically prompt Sarah into explaining the plot back to him. "Tribiophysics" indeed!) Where other time travellers would be content to ask "what is it Doctor", scream and fall over, Sarah Jane would TAKE CHARGE.

Everyone else loved being WITH the Doctor; Sarah Jane loved the Doctor enough to BE the Doctor.

And THAT'S why Sarah was the one who came back, not just once ("K-9 and Company: Least Said Soonest Mended") but again ("The Five Doctors") and again ("School Reunion") and again ("Invasion of the Bane" et al.)

Everyone who watches Doctor Who wants to BE the Doctor. Sarah Jane Smith did that, lived the life that we all would live if we just could: she WAS the Doctor, as close as an ordinary, wonderful human bean can be.

And that was down to the love and integrity with which Lis Sladen portrayed her.

Lis, you were one of "the Children of Time". And now we are so very, very sad.

While there's life there's…

Friday, April 15, 2011

Day 3757: Doctor Who: What's Wrong With Kinda?


"Kinda" is an acknowledged classic of Doctor Who, a story from Mr Dr Peter's first year, when everything was NEW and EXPERIMENTAL (or "wildly inconsistent" if you prefer).

Notoriously, it was voted worst in Doctor Who Magazine's annual poll, but was rehabilitated by a reappraisal from Mr Paul Cornell: yes, he's the chap who wrote "Human Nature" so clearly he knows STUFF.

There are several really awesome performances and some really astounding (and in a GOOD way) visuals.

So why do I still end up thinking it's a wee bit rubbish?

And no, it's NOT the big pink mind-snake!

Thing is, there're at least FIVE kinds of "Kinda".

There's the "Kinda" that Kate Bush (Christopher Bailey) wrote as a Buddhist allegory; there's the "Kinda" that Peter Grimwade's Syndrome directed, full of Christian Eden imagery and Top-of-the-Pops visuals; there's the "Kinda" that Eric "von" Saward wanted, guns, guns and, well, guns; there's the "Kinda" that Mr John Nathan-Turner had in mind, something with Richard Todd and Mary Morris and Nerys Hughes in it. Probably in a jungle.

There's the INEFFABLE one in fans' minds… or the terrible one in fans' memories…

And then there's the one we actually GOT!

For starters, the "Kinda" that reached the screen is really TWO stories: there's "what's going on in the dome (Mr Hindle's gone potty)"; and there's "what's going on in the forest (a Hindu demon has escaped from Tegan's dreams and is going to destroy the Kinda's Buddhist paradise. Probably)".

These two stories only intersect each other tangentially and the final episode is reduced almost to the Doctor running backwards and forwards between the two plots trying to DO something only to see them both resolve pretty much all by themselves.

It doesn't ENTIRELY help that there are certain bits of one plot that LOOK like they are in the other. The Kinda Wise-Woman Panna (Ms Mary Morris – awesome performance #1) and her Box of Jhana very much LOOK like they are part of the Kinda plotline but are ACTUALLY part of the "dome" plot.

The colonists in the dome have been pushed to a state of hysteria by the disappearance of three of their team.

The disappearances have also led to the colonists sealing themselves off in the dome – heightening the paranoia – and taking two of the local Kinda tribe as "hostages". All according to the manual, which inexperienced, out-of-his-depth security officer Hindle (Mr Simon Rouse – awesome performance #2) is following to the letter.

The expedition leader, Sanders (Mr Richard Todd – awesome performance #3), is taking his frustrations out on Hindle and the combination of these stresses has pushed an already weak man to the edge.

Hindle then makes telepathic contact with the Kinda "hostages" and it pushes him right over. (You can see this happen; all that guff later about mirrors and capturing souls is his patronising colonialist rationalisation).

And this is all Panna's fault.

She OUGHT to be a figure of wisdom, but actually it's her bloody-minded insistence on giving the "Kinda healing device" to the colonists – even though she KNOWS that it'll drive any man who opens it mad!– that causes the disappearances and sets the whole inevitable cycle going.

And then she does it AGAIN to Sanders, and it really doesn't help matters any.

Ultimately the situation is resolved because Todd (Nerys Hughes – also pretty good) tricks Hindle into opening the Box of Jhana and because he's already nuts it turns him sane.

The Mara has NOTHING to do with this plot!

Notice especially that no one tries using the box of Janna to cure Aris of the Mara!

Meanwhile, in a very much other part of the forest…

Dr Woo arrives with three chums: Nyssa, Tegan and boy-brainiac Adric (Mr Matthew Waterhouse – awesome performance #4… no, just kidding).

Tegan falls asleep under the Kinda tribe's magic wind-chimes and through her dreams an evil spirit called the Mara takes possession of her. Through Tegan, it is able to take over of one of the Kinda, Aris; and, because it is able to speak through Aris and because there is a Kinda prophecy that they must obey a man who can speak, through Aris it takes control the rest of the tribe, threatening them with destruction through the reintroduction of "progress".

This is very much the WEAKER story of the pair. (Pear? No, it's apples… hang on, we'll come back to that!)

It is quite DIFFICULT to CARE about the fate of the Kinda.

We're repeatedly TOLD that they are far more sophisticated than they appear. Which isn't hard as they appear to have stepped out of a Timotei commercial – and that's what the WRITER has to say! The so-called clues to this include the necklaces that they wear, which are said to resemble the DNA double-helix but actually don't, the glass glockenspiel at the place of dreaming and ultimately the "sophisticated healing device" that is the Box of Jhana.

But the Kinda themselves never DO anything to justify this claim. The telepathy does not help. The Mara (as Tegan) is all too right when it declares "telepathy is such a BORING way to communicate".

I UNDERSTAND – because the script keeps TELLING me – that they are supposed to "do nothing" because they are kind of beyond all that, but to paraphrase "Warriors' Gate", it needs to be the RIGHT KIND of "nothing".

These guys, hanging out with blissed out expressions and carrying their fruit platters, could just as easily be a tribe of primitives living in the ruins of a far more ancient and sophisticated society, a thought that is reinforced by the way they try to recreate the Colonists' high-tech "total survival suit" (or TSS – the galaxy's clunkiest spacesuit) using just leaves and branches: mimicking rather than understanding.

What it NEEDS is for one of the Kinda to disable the REAL TSS, maybe casually flipping open a panel and changing a circuit or maybe just by touching it, to indicate that the technology – ALL technology – is BENEATH them.

Instead, this is almost PATRONISING to the "charming native folks".

The script invests much more character into the colonists in the dome, and as a result we CARE about what happens to them. Even Hindle. In contrast, the Kinda are a bland bunch in whom we are never invested. At best they are an over-stylised collection of archetypes; at worst, a bunch of ciphers.

And if we don't care about them, we don't care about this part of the story. And remember, this is supposed to be the IMPORTANT part of the story, the bit with the dirty great SYMBOLISM in it.

At the end of part three Panna shows Todd and Dr Woo a VISION, so heavily STEEPED in SYMBOLS, not to mention so heavily treated with visual effects, that it might as well have "THIS IS A VISION" appear as a caption card. It's undeniably POWERFUL, but that power depends really on what happens to the Kinda tribe MATTERING to us.

And what is it with that prophecy anyway? It appears to do nothing but HARM, since the Kinda end up following Aris into larks and scrapes because of it. By falling for it, the tribe demonstrates blind faith rather than spiritual enlightenment. And if they are supposed to be so sophisticated how come they haven't made their prophecy a bit more specific?

Why DON'T the menfolk have voice? It's cultural rather than biological (Aris, at least, clearly HAS vocal chords for the Mara to use). I know that I shouldn't be bringing my own cultural baggage to the anthropological table, but "it just is" isn't a completely satisfactory answer at the end of a story that RELIES on a man suddenly having a voice.

And for that matter, why are only WOMEN allowed to be WISE? Panna repeatedly calling the Doctor an idiot is, yes, a running joke. But it's also prejudiced and rude and once again WRONG!

Female wisdom (Panna) and compassion (Karuna) are shown to be no match for the Mara.

At one point, Karuna's knowledge even appears to go backwards: SHE'S the one who tells Dr Woo that the way for the Mara to enter the waking world is by the dreaming of an unshared mind. But then she appears shocked to learn that Tegan might have been sleeping near the chimes, asserting "but it is forbidden!" like she doesn't know that the CONSEQUENCES of doing "the forbidden" are already upon them.

And, incidentally, if it is forbidden for an unshared mind to dream, why do the Kinda tribesfolk just blithely decorate Tegan's slumbering form with flowers. Rather than, say, waking her up before something terrible can happen. Or at least going to Panna to tell.

Panna, though, as we've seen, gets everything WRONG and Karuna falls under the Mara's sway. (Perhaps it's trying to say that only when you COMBINE wisdom with compassion do you succeed, but it don't come across that way.)

In a story that OUGHT to be big on female EMPOWERMENT – what with the women Kinda being the wise ones who get "voice" – it actually undermines this by having them fall victim to such an overwhelmingly MALE power. It's a BIG PINK SNAKE for goodness sake; I mean what WERE they thinking?

The shame of it is that Mara itself is TERRIFYINGLY AWESOME.

Played like a lizard by Mr Jeff Stewart (awesome performance #5) in the already-incredibly-creepy nearly-black-and-white world inside Tegan's head. The bleached-out film and the red dye on the teeth make him – it? – look like something DEAD, a corpse that the Mara has just slung on like an ill-fitting suit. Dukkha-Mara toys with Tegan as he toys with our expectations of the "rules" in this "dreamworld", casually tossing them aside to twist the knife, somehow both revelling in this and remaining dead-eyed and unaffected by it at the same time: an emotionless savagery.

And when it takes possession of Tegan (Ms Janet Fielding – awesome performance #6, and possibly winner of the Most Awesome, You Ownz Da Deva Loka award) if anything it gets even BETTER.

It's not an ORIGINAL observation that there's a big slice of SEXUAL AWAKENING in the Mara-possessed Tegan. (What's that you say? A big pink snake and apples in the paradise garden leading to knowledge of good and evil? Could there be a SUBTEXT going on here?).

The unfettering of her sexual identity (while "under the influence") also mirrors the hints that Tegan is repressing something rather UNPLEASANT: in this story, a childhood memory of ice cream and she "didn't like the taste"; in "Snakedance" she talks about her garden "where people always come back"; and there's further insight into her state of mind in "Enlightenment". When we first meet her she's living with her (maiden?) Aunt Vanessa and given the propensity for Dr Woo's companions to be orphaned, can we guess that an early bereavement is the answer to what's her childhood trauma? Or is there something WORSE going on?

The Mara doesn't just exaggerate Tegan's unspoken DESIRES; it might actually USE her fears to torment her with her "own" behaviour.

But then the idea of a (sexually) LIBERATED woman as POWERFUL or even FRIGHTENING is VERY Nineteen Eighties! It's hardly a coincidence that the then Prime Monster was depicted as the woman out of SPECIES (see especially the Comic Strip's "Ken" – and that really DOES have a song by Kate Bush in it!).

It's a shame that Tegan-Mara gets so little of the screen time (and then SHAMEFULLY she's not even IN episode three!) and has to wait until the sequel to really let rip!

In some ways you could say that the PROBLEM with "Kinda" IS "Snakedance".

In "Snakedance", the Mara is a world-conquering all-consuming snake god. We know that in the deep past it overthrew the Manussan Empire and ruled its own Sumaran Empire for half a MILLENNIUM. In the "present", we see that it has formed a plan to take advantage of the Manussans' ceremony in the cave and quickly takes control of the people it needs to effect its resurrection: first the showman, then Lon (directly), then Ambril. With the Great Mind's Eye and all the people at the ceremony it can recreate itself and take over the world. That Mara is both ambitious and effective and, looking like it could succeed, credible.

Contrast that with the Mara's aims and ambitions in "Kinda". If it WANTS to conquer worlds… wouldn't it be better off possessing one of the COLONISTS, rather than a barely-dressed hippy? If its aim is no more than to cause misery for the Kinda, then it would STILL be better off possessing one of the colonists – imagine it taking over Sanders and instigating a full military assault on the jungle. Or even Todd and turning her scientific detachment into cold clinical killing.

When incarnated as Dukkha inside Tegan's head, the Mara's malevolence is sophisticated and philosophical. When it takes possession of Aris, its evil amounts to… being mean to the tribe's jester. And playing dress-up with twigs.

Just what the HELL does the Mara think it's DOING?

In story terms – and frankly according to the PHILOSOPHY here – the threat of the Mara OUGHT to be the MAIN threat, appalling and apocalyptic as Panna's episode-ending vision implies; the threat from Hindle should be PETTY in comparison.

But from the way it's shown on screen, it's the other way around.

The biggest threat to the Kinda is that they and their forest will be incinerated by the insane Hindle. Compared to that, the Mara is, what, getting them to perform some kind of cargo-cult approximation of an attack on the dome at the end of which they all run away.

That thing with the giant pink snake may be jaw-dropping (for one reason or another)… it's certainly "the memorable bit"… but rescuing Aris from the mind-snake is, in STORY terms, treated as just an adjunct after the main drama is over.

And that's just wrong.

In a lot of ways, what the story needs is TIME.

Everything seems to happen in a big rush. It almost FEELS like it all plays out in real time, or at most takes place over the course of one afternoon. The Doctor actually tells Tegan she's been asleep for two days, at one point, but there's no sense of that much time passing: it never seems to get dark, and there hardly seem to be enough events to take up the stated time.

(You CAN just about make it add up, if you assume Sanders goes out in the TSS on day one and Hindle locks up Dr Woo and Dr Todd overnight – which certainly ISN'T the implication of, for example, Todd's "shouldn't we try to escape?" line – and then episodes two and three take all day with the prophecy vision taking all the second night so that they wake Tegan up on their third day on Deva Loka in episode four. But it's a stretch and there's not a sense of morning and afternoon passing.)

But that isn't my point.

When the Doctor arrives it's ALREADY the beginning of the crisis: people have disappeared, the hostages have been taken, Hindle is ready to go fruit-loop etc. And the Mara hasn't even been released yet!

This is fundamentally the wrong order: the release of the Mara NEEDS to come before events start to spiral out of control – the POINT of the Kinda is that they have "stepped off the wheel of time" so events shouldn't BE occurring, let alone spiralling out of control, until the Mara turns up to restart the wheel.

The story OUGHT to work like this:
  1. Tegan falls asleep under the chimes and falls under the power of the Mara, releasing it;
  2. the Mara possesses Aris and the Kinda begin to change, perhaps starting to use or develop their technology;
  3. reacting to this change, Panna suspects the colonists and uses the box of Jhana to try and bring things back into balance;
  4. far from healing things, this makes things worse as one by one the colonists exposed to the box go crazy and/or native and disappear;
  5. Hindle, possibly already sensitive to the Kinda telepathy, becomes paranoid and instigates the security protocols, and he and Sanders kidnap two of the tribe;
  6. the Kinda become hostile, possibly beginning to turn their technology to weapons…
In THIS context, the two different stories become INTERCONNECTED because the Mara is the root cause, driving them both.It means that Panna's prophetic vision of an apocalypse seems like a credible extrapolation rather than an hysterical over-reaction. And it means that stopping Hindle isn't enough, because the Mara will carry on turning the wheel unless it can be stopped, confronted, rejected.

But maybe that's just me, wanting the PARABLE to make SENSE as a piece of action sci-fi rather than just a statement of state of mind.Maybe the problem is that I was just TOO YOUNG to see "Kinda" the first time and that sense of "WTF" has stuck. Daddy Richard thinks he has the same problem (ooh look: the fourth wall!). But then I was even younger when I saw the allegedly-even-more-baffling "Warriors' Gate" and I've never had a problem with that!

In the end, it's possible that "Kinda"'s great success is that it is SO baffling that people just keep coming back to it for more. Even if it's like that scene in "Star Trek" where Guinan serves Data a drink so he can experience it emotionally: "that is REVOLTING! Give me another!" Its contradictions give it DEPTH; the lack of a single unifying vision for the story makes it MULTI-FACETED (Noo, crystals is the OTHER one!); and its very inconsistencies make it interesting.

In other words, what is WRONG with "Kinda" may be exactly what it does RIGHT.


"Kinda" is available on DVD along with "Snakedance" in the BBC boxset "Mara Tales".

Daddy Alex previews the set (and the rest of the year's releases) here; and also talks more stuff about "Kinda" here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 3754: We Salute the Conquerors of Space


Peoples of Russialand and all across planet Earth celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the first ever space trip by one of you monkey people, when Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was strapped into a tin ball, plonked on top of an enormous firework and blasted into orbit.

In Moscow, capital of Russialand, this amazing achievement is rightly celebrated by this statue in tribute.

To Infinity?

It is called the "Monument to the Conquerors of Space". Which clearly puts the DALEKS in their place!

But wait, Daddy says we are receiving an incoming communication about this… run VT!

(ashamed now!)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 3748: Worse Off Wednesday?

Wednesday (surprisingly enough)

The new Tax Year has begun (eleven days after the quarter day, thank you the Gregorian Compact and the Eleven Day Empire) and no sooner has everyone's personal tax allowance gone UP than Portugal – our OLDEST ALLY; who we SHOULD bail out – kindly provides us with another example of WHY we are going to spend the rest of the year doing all of these spending cuts.

It's pretty cut and dried, isn't it? If your austerity package FAILS to convince, the market LOOSES CONFIDENCE in your economy and your interest rates go THROUGH THE ROOF.

That's the way Master Gideon sees it too – but don't worry, that doesn't make it wrong. Mr Bully Balls says the opposite, so we know THAT'S wrong.

In fact, Mr Balls says that Great Britain's situation is completely different. And of course, he is RIGHT. Portugal owes about a hundred and ninety billion pounds. Great Britain owes the BEST PART OF A TRILLION!

Labour claim that it is the austerity programmes that are causing the debt crisis. WRONG! That is COMPLETELY BACKWARDS. Portugal didn't get its credit rating downgraded because it was doing TOO MUCH austerity – they were downgraded because they were NOT DOING ENOUGH!

Labour like to say that we are in a BETTER position than other Western Governments. WRONG! Thanks to the last couple of years of unfettered borrowing, our debt is fast approaching 80% of GDP, the average among the G7 countries, but with Britain having the LARGEST deficit in the G20 (never mind the G7) then we are ACCELERATING PAST the average and, unless we do something, will soon be topping the table of dishonour.

Hard Labour's position, reiterated by Ms Caroline "Heart of" Flint on Questionable Time, remains one of: "Lalalalala can't hear you!"

Funnily enough, those FRIGHTFULLY UNCONVINCING "Liberals" at the Labour Conspiracy website have published a VIDEO from the Labour Party's backers in the UNIONS saying very much the same thing.

So, how much of a CLUE do the Unions have about the causes of the deficit?

Spot the Difference?

A clue: "spending" and "tax" are labelled the WRONG WAY AROUND!

(Unless they really MEAN that spending collapsed in the recession and the government's coffers are overflowing with soar-away tax revenues???)

But even if you CORRECT the labelling so that the RED line is SPENDING, it's STILL wrong when the voiceover claims that the fall in tax revenue caused the deficit. WRONG! There was a deficit from 2002 onwards – look! Look! The red "labelled tax but should be spending" line is ABOVE the blue "labelled spending but should be tax" line; the collapse in tax revenue just made it much, much worse.

They blur the line between "debt" and "deficit" to claim that we don't have a debt crisis; and then they appeal to the historical fallacy:

Debt Mountain?

Actually, there's a basic statistical trick going on here anyway, which is that by shading the AREA under the graph (and filling it with all those repetitions of the word "debt") it gives the impression that the AREA under the graph represents debt, when it doesn't: it's the HEIGHT of the graph, that is important.

Oh, and that graph appears to show the 2010 debt level at just out of the lower shaded area or only slightly over 50% when it should be half way between the two shaded areas since in 2010 the National Debt was 76.1% of GDP.

This creates an OPTICAL ILLUSION.

How much larger does that debt LOOK? Because actually, the National Debt at the end of the most destructive war IN HISTORY was THREE maybe THREE-AND-A-HALF times larger.

But seriously, their case is that it's FINE to have the WORST debt in fifty years because in the aftermath of World War Part One and World War Part Two we had truly stratospheric debts? Debts that literally cost us an Empire? Debts that led to PEACE-TIME RATIONING? Never mind founding the NHS, we were reliant on American CHARITY to SURVIVE after World War Two.

This is what I mean by the historical fallacy: "it used to be worse so this is fine". Ask yourself: if you'd not worry about Swine Flu just because we used to have BUBONIC PLAGUE?

The next TRICK to make our debt look SMALL and HARMLESS is to compare it with other countries in the world

Where in the World?

(Remember, Mr Bully Balls says you can't compare the British Economy with Portugal or Greece… oh, wait… there's Greece…)

Firstly, they're again slightly undercalling the level of debt, let's generously say they are somewhat OUT OF DATE to say Great Britain's dept is 60% of GDP – Google suggests we went through 60% of GDP in mid 2009 and by the end of the year we were near to 70%.

And by the end of LAST year (2010), I repeat myself, the National Debt was 76.1% of GDP.

Debt of 68% of GDP last year, debt of 76% of GDP this year AND ADDING to the debt with a DEFICIT of 10% of GDP a year would mean debt of 86% of GDP next year and debt of 96% of GDP the year after… unless we cut the DEFICIT.

Let me put that another way: in three years we JUMP PAST GREECE on that league table; in FIVE we overtake ITALY… unless we cut the DEFICIT.

(And no, Japan's example does NOT count – 90% of Japan's debts are to its own national savings bank; 40% of the UK's debts are to foreign investors. Work out the difference.)

Is this a PRUDENT economic policy? Is this a sound basis for investment in the British growth and British jobs that we DO need to pull us into recovery?

Finally, they say that the solution to all this, their "alternative" is GROWTH. Just that "growth". NO word on how the growth is going to happen. The government just keeps on borrowing and spending and by magic, growth happens and makes all the debty badness go away.

Of COURSE we want growth, but it just doesn't work like that. If it did, why did we even have a recession at all?

Perhaps the Unions are so used to "loaning" money to Hard Labour and never getting it back that they think that the rest of the World will do that too. WRONG! Wake up call for the Dinosaurs Unleashed! Eventually, people STOP lending you money. Then you need to go begging.

Which brings me back to Portugal.

Helping to bail out our European partner is the RIGHT THING to DO. "We're all in this together" means EVERYONE, not just we lucky beggars this side of the white cliffs of Dover.

But if that doesn't convince you, there's always the selfish approach: it is in our interest to offer help when we can, because we do not know when we will need it ourselves. We have had to go to the IMF before (thanks to Labour). If Mr Bully Balls is RIGHT about what the Coalition are doing to the economy (he's NOT) then he should be expecting that we will have to go there again. That would be AWKWARD for a man who's been saying we shouldn't help out our friends.

But more importantly, we NEED the Eurozone to stabilize. Most of our TRADE is with Europe – if they go into a permanent tailspin what is THAT going to do for GROWTH in Great Britain? Come on, Mr Bully Balls, if it's ALL ABOUT the GROWTH STRATEGY when where's your joined up thinking? Or is this the so-called "Blue Labour strategy" of "flag and family" (code: appeal to British Nasty Party)?

Look, I'll say this again too: long term, everyone KNOWS that the health of the British economy depends on GROWTH. Hard Labour keep banging on about Growth like they think we don't KNOW that, but OBVIOUSLY the Coalition understand that. What we DON'T understand is how borrowing yet more money to pour down the endless drain of management consultants and public sector quangocrats even REMOTELY helps achieve that!

A real strategy for growth means freeing up people to spend. That is why a VAT hike was entirely WRONG; but it's also why the tax cut for basic rate taxpayers is exactly right, putting money back in people's pockets.

A real strategy for growth means freeing up people to invest. Not Hard Labour's so-called government "investment" in buying jobs. That's REAL people making REAL investments that create and grow businesses and create and grow more real jobs. That's why cutting corporation tax and red tape is RIGHT. We DO need to raise some tax to reduce the deficit, but the right place to tax is UNPRODUCTIVE WEALTH and HARMFUL POLLUTION, rather than INCOME. (Maybe we can twist Gideon's arm a bit more on that Mansion Tax…)

This is going to be hard. There's no two ways about that, and Hard Labour making promises that it doesn't have to hurt is just LIES. I'm sorry, but it's LIES. And the Unions' "no cuts economy" is a FANTASY.

Controlling public spending down will make the economy stronger and more sustainable in the long run. Labour call that "ideological"; I say ACTUALLY that's reversing YEARS of LABOUR'S ideological INCREASES in state spending and power and control.

And we CAN get through this.

Are we worse off for Wednesday? I don't think so.

Short term: higher rate taxpayers will pay more; people on benefits will get less. (So that's BOTH my daddies covered!) But basic rate taxpayers will be a little better off. And we don't begrudge them that. And if it means an economy built on better foundations than ever more Labour borrowing, if it means the British economy HAS a future, then we are better off indeed.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Day 3743: More GOR'BLIMEY than GOEBBELS: But Baroness Warsi is still wrong on AV


There's been un peut d'un spat between Mr Huhney-Monster and Baroness Insider Warsi over her scaremongering that AV will aid the British Nasty Party.

As you might EXPECT, Baroness Warsi has it all BACKWARDS. Let me explain.

Let's take a COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS example of share of the vote: e.g. the latest YouGov Poll:

Sickly Green 2% Scots/Plaid 4% Hard Labour 42% Liberal Democrat 10% Conservatory 35% UKPNuts 5% British Nasty Party 2%

Suppose you're a Conservatory: whose second preferences will you go after? The 7% of UKIP/BNP voters to your right? Or the 51% of voters to your Left?

That's not JUST the Liberal Democrats. Should the Union's dictate an even-more loony left manifesto, then the more Blairite backers of Mr Potato Ed's Party MIGHT be persuaded to give their number one to Mr Balloon to support that neo-liberal market they've so enjoyed, so long as you're not posing as the new Oswald Mosley.

On the other fluffy foot, if you DO start trying to appeal to the far right, you are going to ALIENATE far more voters than you stand to win – you will be fluffing off the very fluffy woolly liberal centrists whose votes you will NEED to cross the winning line. Not to mention the more CENTRIST of your own voters.

Conservatories who adopt a hard right agenda MIGHT convince some of those Cameroon Coalitionists to switch first preferences to the Liberal Democrats to keep the centre-right economically sound but socially just government that they like.

Or suppose you're from Hard Labour: you might THINK you're sitting pretty on 42% under First Pass the Port, but Liberal and Conservative votes combined CAN BEAT YOU. So do you appeal to your deep left core? Or do you reach out to the centre ground?

It might give you a warm fluffy feeling to, for example, address several hundred thousand marchers and liken yourself to Nelson Mandela, but that's NOT going to reach out to "White Van Man" or "Worcester Woman" who can't stand Mr Bob Crow turning off the tube at the drop of a hat and are quite frankly fed up with paying for Mr Mark Serwatka's gold plated salary and diamond encrusted pension.

(I'm really sorry to all the overworked and underpaid public servants out there, but the simple fact is we cannot afford to have twice as many people on the government's payroll as there are working in manufacturing to PAY the government's payroll.)

And frankly, governments can afford to IGNORE mass protests like that one precisely because they don't need to reach out to people. Lord Blairimort could ignore literally MILLIONS more marchers because he could get a working majority on 35% of the vote.

It ought to be a NO BRAINER: AV will encourage politicians towards the CENTRE and encourage them to listen to and engage with as many people as possible because they need to have 50% of the votes if they are going to WIN.

First Pass the Port, in contrast, actively encourages you to the extremes because you can consolidate a winning bloc that DOESN'T appeal to 50% of votes but is just LARGER than anyone else's.

If you don't believe me, just look at what happened in the politics of Northern Ireland after the Good Friday Agreement. As soon as artificial restrictions on Parties were removed, the moderate/centrist Parties collapsed and voters polarised to the more extreme Republican/Nationalist positions. Why? Because First Pass the Port REWARDS divide and conquer and PENALISES conciliation.

(As I've said before, "First Past the Post" more ACCURATELY describes AV – you only get a winner once someone gets to the 50% winning line and you stop counting when the first person to get there gets there. That is, the winner is the first person to get past the winning post. As it were. You'd be better off calling the current system something like "who gets nearest to the post" or to be completely accurate "who furthest from the starting line when the counting stops".)

The ONLY way for the BNP to win a seat under AV is if they can appeal to 50% of the electorate there. And if they can do that, they'd win under First Pass the Port ANYWAY.

There's a kind of secondary non-argument about results being decided on the preferences of extremists, or even extremists get a "second vote" when other people only get one.

Well in the first place, they ARE still Human Beans, all men created EQUAL, all girls together and all that, and they get to have their say the same as the rest of us. You can't deny people their democratic rights. You can't turn them into second class citizens just because of the colour of their… ROSETTES (after all, that's quite close to our PRINCIPAL complaint AGAINST the British Nasties!).

But let me just slap that "second vote" idiocy down.

If you're going to say THEY get a "second vote" then EVERYONE gets a "second" vote.

You voted first preference for the Conservatories? That vote was counted in the first round and in that round the British Nasties came LAST and were eliminated. Then you get your SECOND vote for the Conservatories again counted in the second round and any BNP voters who put a second preference gets their second vote, just the same as yours.

I say "any" because people pushed to vote for the British Nasty Party are probably least likely to express a second preference. Imagine your BNP voter thinking: "Well, I've voted for the racists, but I'll choose a multicultural party for my second preference." It doesn't make any sense does it?

Sure, the BNP have a few so-called strongholds, but almost everywhere else they get a derisory handful of votes. If those votes are the ones that tip a winning candidate over the 50% threshold, then that candidate was SO CLOSE to 50% already that they were pretty much bound to win anyway!

Look, I fully understand that Mr Huhney-Monster probably got a bit cross with the ZOMBIE ARGUMENTS that Baroness Warsi was using (you know Zombie arguments: you knock them down but they just keep on moving). But I'd rather he hadn't used the "G" word. Not only does it bring Godwin's Law into play, but it's the kind of hysterical language that, well, Ms Warsi was using. And she started it, isn't any excuse.

Besides, I do think we should try ever so hard NOT to use "hate" language against people we disagree with. We Liberal Democrats have been on the receiving end of QUITE A LOT of that sort of thing recently and it's not nice. So let's not dish it out either.

Finally, remember, REGARDLESS of the voting system we are moving into an era of multi-Party politics where the Red-Blue duopoly has been worn away by many more choices (UKPNuts and Sickly Greens as well as Liberal Democrats).

This means coalitions are MORE LIKELY (with or without AV). In which case, GOOD GOVERNMENT will NEED Parties that can work together – and because AV encourages the Parties to have manifestos that reach out for broad-based support that becomes easier.

After the last General Election, Hard Labour barely even TRIED to form a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats. First Pass the Port had convinced them that BUGGINS TURN meant the Conservatories would have a go this time, and that they would bounce back next.

We have an electoral system that makes politicians think first: "what is good for my Party"; AV would mean that they have to think about MORE than just their sectional vested interests, they would have to think "what is good for the majority".

Vote AV for the good of the country and leave the extremists OUT!


No2AV also seem to be using "None of the Parties want AV" as a reason to vote No; I'm surprised Yes2AV aren't using this as one of the strongest arguments for a "Yes":

"If NONE of the Political Parties want AV it MUST be doing SOMETHING right! Take our politics back from the politicians: vote Yes2AV!"