...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 3830: Either Or-ery


Over the weekend Mr Mark Reckons wrote a piece I'd recommend reading on "Whataboutery", which is the way to play politics dirty so that you can attack someone who's proposing a policy you actually agree with.

This is the FALLACY of the RED HERRING: introducing an irrelevant case into an argument.

I'd like to give you a companion to Mr Mark's piece with one on another FALLACY, the fallacy of the FALSE DICHOTOMY.

Most famously presented by the former-Monkey-in-Chief, President Dubbya, as "you're either with us or against us", we've been seeing a LOT of this at the moment.

The most common occurrence is the "NHS fallacy": any reform is to be opposed with cries that the "only choice" is between the status quo and "privatisation", usually "privatisation by the back door" (to get around the fact that whatever it is clearly ISN'T going to be an actual privatisation). In fact, of course, the Hard Labour government oversaw the genuine privatisation of great swathes of our NHS through their Public Finance Initiative, which saw hospitals bought up by private companies and leased back to the public at often excessive rents (which is one of the things leading to the embuggerance of the NHS in spite of above inflation increases in government spending).

Topical this week, the public sector unions are going to go on strike over pensions because the "only choice" is between their current arrangements and "absolute daylight robbery".

Although SOME people might say that it's the UNIONS' position that is: "your money or your life public services"! I mean, just WHO is holding the "gun" saying "don't make me hurt the children" here?

Actually, the double standards employed by the Unions in this "debate" are outrageous. First, the Unions announce that they are going to go on strike. Then Mr Danny sets out the government's position. Now I call that being open and honest with the public, but the Unions call it "deeply inflammatory". They call it deeply inflammatory AFTER they've already announced that – regardless of the ongoing negotiations – they've decided to call a strike. Check the dates on the last two quotes: "Public sector workers back mass strike": 15th June; Danny Alexander's speech: 17th June. Deeply inflammatory. Right.

And now we have Ms Mary Bousted, leader of the ATL teachers' union, accusing the government of a "doing a Robert Maxwell on our pensions". So that would be saying that the government is illegally taking money OUT of the teacher's pension funds and using it to prop up, what, the rest of government spending?

Well, at the moment there is NOT ENOUGH money in those pension funds to meet the expected needs of the teachers (and other workers) who are paying in. So the government has to top that up from general taxation (that's ON TOP OF the employers contributions that we make).

So that would basically be the EXACT OPPOSITE of "doing a Robert Maxwell". That would be keeping the pension fund afloat at the expense of everyone else.

They tell LIES and they call us NAMES and then they have the CHEEK to try and distract your attention from it by saying that WE'RE traducing THEM!

I'd call Ms Mary a Bousted Flush!

Meanwhile, here is another example, this time from the Labour Conspiracy website:

"Our choice is to treat people with dignity or go back to the 1930s"

Is it actually USEFUL to polarise a very difficult debate about benefits and disability into "basic dignity" versus "1930s work programmes, institutions and eugenics" (and that's really not sufficiently coded to avoid cries of Godwin's Law, now is it)?

Could we not start from a basic recognition that the government isn't TRYING to be evil?

The aim of Mr Drunken-Swerve's reforms is SUPPOSED to be to enable people who want to work to be better off if they go to work, not - as the quote implies - to euthanase the disabled.

For the last thirty years, governments have been hiding unemployment among the genuinely long-term ill. It seems to me that one thing that could actively harm the interests of those who are ill is having to support the long-term unemployed out of the same pot of benefits. So, I have to ask: would a benefit system that undid that be better able to provide basic dignity for those in genuine need?

(You COULD reasonably argue "no"; e.g. you might argue that a sort of quasi-universal provision might be more effective, but you would need to justify that as a position, rather than just start from the assertion "any reform must be bad for the long-term ill".)

And if you are going to undo that hiding of unemployment, how are you to do it?

Again, it seems that either you let anyone claim disability-related benefits and accept that the benefit will be spread so thin that it helps no one, or you accept that at some point there's going to be some kind of medical testing involved.

At which point we're down to a question of degree.

So, the proposed tests sound to be too intrusive and too impersonal. And they sound like they are FRIGHTENING people (which I have to say language of "eugenics" exacerbates, which if you think about it puts you on the same side as the scary people - even though the LabCon author is clearly also one of the ones who are scared). Surely the useful question then is: "how do we conduct any testing that we have to in the most sympathetic and dignified manner?"

Clearly there ARE problems on the Coalition side here, almost certainly stemming from a terror at the department of benefits of seeing a huge spike in unemployment claims. So clearly they want to do the undoing by not jumping people from disability benefits to unemployment benefits, but by jumping them straight from disability to work, and that's just impractical. Equally, this is clearly a terrible time to be doing any forward thinking reform because the overriding need for spending cuts will at best muddle your thinking. Like, WHICH target is your main aim? Making sure that sickness benefits go to the sick? Making sure that work actually rewards the worker? Or cutting the overall benefits bill? (And your opponents are ALWAYS going to come back at you with "it's about the cuts" "it's ideological" (yawn)!)

Wouldn't it be better to think about OUTCOMES rather than INTENTIONS? The road to the toasty place being notoriously paved with the latter (as anyone who experienced the last government can testify), saying that a policy is wrong because it does this, or because it fails to do that is both more PRACTICAL and more HONEST than saying that it is just "evil".

The biggest false dichotomies, of course, are on the ECONOMY. And BOTH SIDES are guilty of using 'em.

"We must do this or the economy will fall over!"/"We must not do this or the economy will never recover!" is the now too-familiar battleline between the Coalition and Opposition, and this obfusticates the fact that the policies of both sides are REALLY VERY SIMILAR.

"It was the fault of the last Labour government"/"it was the fault of the bankers", is another.

OF COURSE it is in the Coalition's political interest to portray the Labour Party as credit-crazed spendthrifts, ruinous wastrels who would have us in penury and our children in hock forever. We, after all, are the ones who have to be in power while the agonisingly painful policies of deficit reduction are enacted.

But equally, the Coalition has to have an answer to Hard Labour's naked political opportunism when they seek to pin every scintilla of economic agony to Master Gideon's incompetence at the reins (a "bad news" policy by the Shadow Pocket Money Thief that leads to some frankly bizarre doublethink: for example, when there is a fall in unemployment, apparently, it's because unemployment is a "lagging indicator" when it goes down but "evidence of why we need a plan B" when it goes up).

(This of course was Mr Balls recent interview with Mr Marrmite, the one where he said that "the trade unions must not walk into the trap of giving George Osborne the confrontation he wants" because he spotted that choosing between supporting strikes or supporting the government was a trap for HIM!)

Any half-way decent economist (I do NOT include Mr Bully Balls in that category) will tell you that the cuts have neither begun to bite nor had nearly enough time to change the direction of the economy. The two main things affecting the economy are that MASSIVE RECESSION that happened in 2008 (in case you somehow missed it) and the fact that the government printed like a GAZILLION POUNDS leading to inflation and devaluation. (Though neither of these things are NECESSARILY as bad as they are painted either – another false dichotomy. E.g. inflation reduces the national debt as a share of GDP – as any property owner who survived the Seventies will tell you, it didn't half make their mortgages a doddle; though, flipside again, long term it started the inexorable house price inflation that leaves us now so overburdened.)

The truth is, the policies of Labour and Conservatories (and Liberal Democrats!) are not that different – in fact, given for example the discovery that Mr Alistair Dalek was secretly planning a VAT rise, you can bet your bottom dollar (which may be the only one you have left by now) that had they been returned to power, Hard Labour would have conducted a swift spending review and said "oops, it's worse than we thought, guys, have you SEEN what's happed in Greece? We have to cut faster and deeper!", and done EXACTLY what the Coalition is doing.

The MYTH of Labour's "pain free" cuts… their airy assertion that they would cut 80% of the deficit that we would but their tactical oppositionalism against every single £ reduction in spending… their repeated false dichotomy of "our way or the evil, ideological inflicting of pain on the poor"… it makes it VERY DIFFICULT to have anything approaching a RATIONAL DEBATE.

"We'd like to cut this."


"Well, maybe if we only cut it by half."


I'm sure it plays well to the Labour Chorus, but it gets the country nowhere.

Regrettably, Mr Millipede's response to talk of a leadership crisis is a power grab for control of Shadow Cabinet appointments showing that Hard Labour are turning more INWARDS than looking outwards. While Mr Bully Balls, apparently, no longer even sees the need to run policies by the Shadow Cabinet before launching them. And sofa government worked so WELL for Lord Blairimort, after all.

In an equation where it is EITHER the Coalition OR the Labour Party, Labour seem intent on making themselves IRRELEVANT.

But even THAT is a false dichotomy. The Coalition of course consists of TWO Parties, and the true clash of ideas is now between Conservatories and LIBERAL DEMOCRATS.

You see, the ULTIMATE "either/or" is the MEEJA's HEADS WE WIN-TAILS YOU LOSE game of EITHER "on message" OR "gaffe". If you're "on message" you're a ROBOT, no to be trusted, only lying when your lips move, enemy of the people. If you" gaffe" it's even worse. Hence all this recent fuss over "U-Turns", as though LISTENING to people, DEBATING policy even, shock, CHANGING YOUR MIND were BAD THINGS for a government in what we still LAUGHINGLY describe as a DEMOCRACY (leading to the UTTERLY INSANE suggestion from a Questionable Time panellist that governments should do what is in their manifesto and only what is in their manifesto and the people should shut up for five years and only judge them at election time). DEBATING policy – in CABINET as well as in PARLIAMENT rather than at intimate tête-a-têtes with Fleet Street Editors – reduces the meeja's POWER to dictate the agenda. That's why, for them, a thinking government is a "weak" government and one that does what it's told (by a Prime Monster who does what she or he is told) is a "strong" one.

Obviously the REAL truth is the reverse, and that is why the Liberal Democrats bring real STRENGTH to this Coalition.

We are used to having Government and Opposition. In the Coalition, the Liberal Democrats are BOTH.

And how LIBERAL is that? Liberalism has NEVER been an EITHER/OR; it's always been BOTH: one and many; individual and community; local and global.

That is how I can write a big old self-important diary about "great big, important-y things" like the ECONOMY and SPACE and STUFF, and Auntie Caron, bless her heart, can read it and bring it right down to the REALLY important and PERSONAL with a post about the need for a real Liberal Voice. And they are BOTH what Liberalism is ABOUT.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 3828: The Deadly Sin of Sloth


We wake at the tellingly-lazy hour of half-past-eleven to hear the Weak (sic) In Westminster debating the House of Lords Club and NEVER have we heard such a smug, selfish, self-interested, inward-looking, ignorant proof that the place needs totally abolishing down to the ground!

Last weekend, we were with our families for Daddies Day, and – as can happen – one of our relatives went off on a bit of a "right-wing rant". "The trouble with this country is lack of leadership!" was the thesis. This, of course, is total HONK; the REAL problem of this country is CONTENTMENT.

The "strong leadership" canard itself implies lack of fault in the PEOPLE. I mean even if we didn't all know that "strong leadership" is a shortcut to poor by which I mean insane policy choices – Iraq, Poll Tax, World War Part II and we're straight into Godwin's Law – the implication is that the fault is in the LEADERS not providing answers rather than the PEOPLE for not getting off their fluffy bottoms to CHANGE things!

And people DON'T want, can't be BOTHERED to want CHANGE.

And I don't even mean Great Britain; I mean England. Because if you look at Scotland, whether you agree with independence or oppose it, there is a real yearning for change and a seizing of their own destiny, while England is content just to sink into our own apathy.

With basically only TWO political arguments – "time for change!" and "don't rock the boat" – you can make a case that the recent LOSS of the AV referendum, and certainly the insultingly low turnout, are a sign that people are complacently content as they are. Enough people are pretty much enough satisfied that things are "okay enough as they are". There is no… OOMPH for getting behind something new.

That same lack of drive may even explain the poor recovery from recession. The case made is "oh, people are just struggling to carry on in the face of austerity". No, people are wrapping the blankets around them and trying to IGNORE it; they're not going out there and starting new enterprises FIGHTING it!

The terrible thought strikes me that the one success of Thatcherism was not its economic insight (which was non-existent) nor its populism (which mostly came about by accident) but that it made SO MANY people MISERABLE that it meant they had to DO something, to FIGHT FOR something. The misery lead to STRUGGLE and the struggle led to on the one fluffy foot an EXPLOSION of creative arts from the oppression and injustice and yet on the other fluffy foot an explosion of entrepreneurialism and invention from the wideboys and chancers who took their opportunity. They may have been "nouvs" and absolutely ghastly, but they created new wealth and dynamism in a way that the settled establishment didn't.

The contented establishment have used the decades since to SMOTHER that. THAT is why Alan Sugar is now a LORD, and comfortably PARASITISING the creative insanity of his "Apprentices".

It is all too telling that the only things that will get our UNIONS out on the streets nowadays are a threat to make their PILLOWS slightly less PLUMPTIOUS!

(At least the students were rioting for the right to DO something!)

And the House of Lords is TOTALLY symbolic of all of that: a warm and cosy retirement palace, you don't even have to turn up, where you can be coddled while you congratulate yourself on your own wisdom.

So we woke up hearing the voices of Mr Fraser Half-Nelson guests Dame Joan Bakewell Tart and Mr Michael "FU" Dobbs telling us how SILLY it was of Captain Clegg to consider replacing the House of Lords with something THAT WORKS.

"There are so many people who want to get in, even though there is no pay."

Oh, well have you considered the possibility of having some sort of DECISION about who gets in and who stays in? If people WANT it so badly then they can stand up and prove they deserve it. Oh no, they don't want to go to the trouble of obtaining a MANDATE. They want it handed to them on a plate. Together with a cat-trim bed-blanket to prove they're part of the CLUB.

Yes, you'll only end up with "elected politicians"… as opposed to the UNELECTED politicians that we've got there now!

What could be WORSE in your governing political class than this exceeding smug self-assurance that they're not "politicians" they're "wise people" just because they don't have to face an electorate?

The House of Lords is ENTIRELY composed of "the ESTABLISHMENT", talking to themselves and most ABOUT themselves. Frankly, the House of COMMONS is ALMOST AS BAD, but at least elections mean there is a REMOTE CHANCE that someone INTERESTING can CRASH THE PARTY.

"You couldn't have people of 20 in the House of Lords…" says Joan Bakewell, JOAN BAKEWELL!, "…or it would turn this place into a bear pit!"

Well of course how shocking, we'd best not threaten to interrupt the gentle snoring of our self-appointed gerontocracy with anything that might approach REPRESENTATION for people less than a quarter of your age. It might disturb the horses.

"There are more important things to deal with."

You know, there really ARE. But Parliament doesn't debate them.

The problems that our Parliament chooses to trouble itself with are TRIVIAL, quite literally they are reduced to arguing over how to manage our pensions. This country that once RULED the WORLD, our greatest aspiration now amounts to RETIREMENT.

THIS is why SLOTH is DEADLY. It is killing us.


This week Daddy Richard read a really DEPRESSING piece of analysis about the Space Race to the Moon. I'm not saying it was WRONG; it's well-argued and well-written (and I recommend the "TARDIS rude-room" blog as a whole!) but it was depressing.

Not depressing because it claims that the Moon landing was basically a WILLY-WAVING exercise by the military-industrial complex as a proxy for fighting a nuclear war. (And let's face it a Saturn V rocket is a pretty IN YOUR FACE statement of "my Freudian rocket is bigger than your Freudian rocket"!).

No, this piece was depressing because of the suggestion that space is OVER. We've done that and we're BORED now. Exploration is for geeks and weirdoes; there are "more important" things to deal with here on Earth.


There are only two possibilities: life exists in great abundance everywhere in the Universe; or life is vanishingly rare and may be unique to this Earth.

To the very best of our knowledge, from all we have leaned so far, there is NO evidence for the former.

That makes the life on Earth the most VITAL and PRECIOUS thing that there is anywhere. And our most pressing duty must be to take life to the stars.

Chinese philosophy tells us there are two competing impulses, two "directions": "inwards" and "outwards". "Outwards" is chaotic, aggressive, creative, exploratory, inventive. "Inwards" is peaceful, calm, settled, content.

The "West", and that basically meant the British Empire and later the Americans, used to be synonymous with "outward" and the "East", namely China, with "inward". And we PITIED China for it: for being so INDOLENT, so fat and lazy and OLD.

And look at us now.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 3819: If Mr Balls Wants a Tax Cut So Bad… Why Doesn't He Propose Cutting LABOUR'S NI Rise?


When Mr Bully Balls, Labour's master of monetary mayhem, performs a complete U-TURN from "spend more!" to "tax less!" the real question is: why don't people just LAUGH?

But, okay, let's look at tax changes this year:

The Conservatories COST you £390(*1) a year by putting up your VAT.

The Liberal Democrats GAVE you up to £200(*2) with a rise in your Income Tax Allowance.


Hard Labour COST you £188(*3) by putting your National Insurance up. Oh yes they did. Mr Alistair Dalek did it a year in advance.

So who's REALLY "putting money back in your pocket"?

Look, just SUPPOSE that we had twelve billion quid to burn, and that completely reversing all the pain of narrowing the deficit we've done so far wouldn't panic the markets, terminate our triple-A credit rating and kick interest rates through the stratosphere…

Would the BEST way, if you want to boost spending by "putting money back in people's pockets", would the BEST way REALLY to be cutting a sales tax that – particularly in a time of high inflation – may or may not be passed on to the customer, rather than, say, a DIRECT tax cut.


The IDEA of a short-term VAT cut to stimulate the economy is supposed to work like this: first, things cost less, so people buy more, which means more production in the economy for the same amount of money going around, which means more jobs and so eventually more money going around; second, and according to the IFS possibly more important, the KNOWLEDGE that prices NEXT YEAR are going to go back up again encourages people to spend money NOW rather than saving it till next year.

The only REAL problem with this theory is… it DIDN'T WORK.

(And even supposing that it HAD worked, then it's not a trick that you can KEEP doing, is it – if you encouraged people to spend more in 2009 because the VAT rate was going back up in 2010… and then encouraged people to spend more in 2010 because the VAT rate was going up AGAIN in 2011 – which it did – then how are they supposed to have any spending LEFT to "bring forward" in 2011 for when the VAT goes back up yet again in 2012?)

But studies showed that when Mr Dalek cut the VAT rate back in 2008 that most people DIDN'T bring their spending forwards.

Add to that the evidence that, after INITIALLY cutting prices, retailers put them back up on the sly and that it actually COSTS businesses a whole lot of money if you make them change all their pricing at the drop of a hat (it may not seem like much but changing all those price tags and reprinting all those price lists and altering all your advertising… it does add up), then you have to ask, HOW is this "stimulus" supposed to stimulate ANYTHING?

…Actually, what I suspect is that Mr Balls announcement is a pretty CYNICAL attempt to provide a STIMULUS for media coverage of the Labour Party.

Hard Labour had had a fairly DODGY week: the "Balls Papers" were pretty much the SMOKING GUN that revealed that Hard Labour KNEW that they were spending too much – but carried on spending anyway; Mr Potato Ed Millipede's leadership was called into question after a year of doing nothing; and Mr DAVID Millipede's "leader's speech" was leaked to the press by persons unknown (aka Mr David Millipede) furthering rumours of a poisonous fraternal rift. Or, since this is the party of Lord Blairimort and Mr Frown, ANOTHER poisonous fraternal rift.

The REAL cause of Hard Labour's apparently-sudden crack-up is the dawning realisation in the media that they are in fact IRRELEVANT. Any SERIOUS debate about policy is between the Conservatories and the Liberal Democrats. Hard Labour have NOTHING to say!

Apparently Mr Potato Ed has been complaining that no one pays attention to his speeches. Well, in if he wants people to LISTEN, he ought to have SOMETHING to SAY.

(Take this DRIVEL about Labour "being seen to be the party of bankers and scroungers"… when he talked about the SQUEEZED MIDDLE who'd have guessed that he meant to blame the recession on the rich AND the poor!)

So Mr Bully Balls, a NINJA of the black arts of spin, was after a quick headline-grabbing stunt to hastily re-establish the cover-up and make it LOOK like they are contributing to the national conversation. When the truth is, for the moment at least, they are full of sound and fury. And signify NOTHING.


*1: according to Mr Potato Ed's claim that average families would be £7.50 a week worse off

*2: a £1000 increase in the personal allowance is worth £200 a year to a taxpayer on the basic 20% rate

*3: based on average earnings of £26,000, a 1% rise in National Insurance costs you £188

NB: NOT comparing like with like – Mr Millipede was taking about HOUSEHOLDS; the other figures are based on INDIVIDUALS. Adjust your thinking accordingly.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Day 3807: DOCTOR WHO: A Good Man Goes to Star Wars


Yay, fifty minutes of quality Doctor Woo, a season finale with historical dressings up and the threat of decapitation (eek!).

Yes, we're VERY happy that they are going to re-animate the missing episodes of "The Reign of Terror".

Meanwhile, in the Reign of Moffat… the Sith monks, with their cowled robes and red laser-swords, have allied themselves to the stormtroopers to prepare their ultimate weapon, but a small band of rebels have landed on the artificial moon that is their secret base… Hang on, isn't that "Star Wars"?

Meanwhile, River Snog finally reveals ("spoilers!") her handle's "water music".


Here's Daddy Richard with a review of "A Good Man Goes to War"…

The thing about "Star Wars" is that it gets to magnificent by by-passing all areas of rational thought. The imagery, the iconography, is so powerful and just so "right", that it makes you feel the story even if it makes no actual sense. The use of archetypes was so good that it made it look like Joseph Campbell was on to something, thus spawning an entire industry of dire attempts to trudge through "the hero's journey". Of course, the truth is the other way around. "The hero's story" is rubbish, but dress it up in a thousand jackboots coming to attention on the Death Star docking bay and it seems like the stuff the universe is made of.

In this sense, "A Good Man Goes to War" is far more like "Star Wars" than the superficial similarities of stormtroopers versus rebels. Though a thousand Clerics coming to attention on the Demon's Run docking bay was rather cool.

Essentially, this is a very simple story. Only two things really happen: the Doctor captures the evil villains' base; the evil villains pull a "fooled you" on him.

The first twenty minutes is a series of sketches to set this up: in fact it is almost Doctor Who written as sketch show. With a huge cast of characters to introduce – and often kill off – it reduced almost all of them to a quick checklist of traits. Or, as the Master might have said: you're ticking all the demographic boxes. Moffat even hangs a lantern on it with: "We're the thin, fat, gay, married, Anglican marines. Why would we need names as well?"

Well why indeed when you can be a Victorian lesbian Silurian, or a lactating Sontaran. Or a brave but on-the-wrong-side colonel or a good-hearted but naïve soldier-girl. Or a great big dominatrix villain lady.

But look, let's be fair, this was miles better in its use of either Silurians or Sontarans than any new series episode has been so far. Of course, Moffat's just taking our expectations of those species and turning it on its head… and then having them act as though he hasn't, the essence of farce, hence most of Strax's lines being really funny. Kudos as well to Neve McIntosh and Dan Starkey for making the most of the characters as written, but my point is that Moffat's writing of these – and all the other – one-shot characters is so good that they feel rounded and three-dee even though we're given almost no time to get to know them. And by introducing "old friends" who we – the audience – have never met before, he does the old Robert Holmes trick of setting this story into a much larger narrative (off).

(And I've got to drop this in somewhere: the Battle of Zaruthstra in 4037… it's close enough to 4000 A.D. that I want to believe that the humans' enemies are the Master Plan-era Daleks.)

As with Lucas' epic, Moffat uses familiar archetypes (or in Doctor Who terms familiar monsters, though the shorthand for character is the same) to give us a quick handle on who these characters are. And being as it's television in the twenty-first century now, he also plays mash-up: so we get the Silurian who is also a Victorian detective. Or the Arthur Daley entrepreneur who's also a computer hacker who's also a blue alien. Or the Sontaran warrior who is also a Rory analogue.

And the "gang of misfits" itself is an archetype (or movie cliché if you prefer) owing to the Magnificent Seven or Kurosawa's Seven Samurai – and of course "Star Wars" owes a bigger debt to Kurosawa for his "Hidden Fortress" than it does to Joseph Campbell.

There was an actual "seven": Rory, the Last Centurion; Madam Vastra, the Silurian Lesbian Victorian; Jenny, her companion; Commander Strax, the Sontaran Nurse; Dorium Maldovar, old fat and blue; and the Doctor. That's six. River Song herself was supposed to be number seven, but she wouldn't come. But Lorna Bucket then takes her place. Oh, and Captain Avery. Bother. And "Danny Boy" and his spitfires… I'll come in again…

The use of visual effects is actually quite sparing – in fact, a lot of the episode appears very economical, particularly for something that does "epic", most of it being filmed in, basically, one big aircraft hanger, and a couple of redressed sets, and the Cybermen still haven't had their promised redesign (Cybus logo removal aside) – but the effects are used in a very George Lucas way: to establish the locations. Think how many scenes in Star Wars open with a sweeping panorama of Tatooine or Bespin or Kamino or Coruscant. Now remember how scenes open in "A Good Man Goes to War". So when you cut to the sets, you're already in that "head space" of Victorian London or Maldavorium or villains' asteroid base.

(The only time they don't do that, is the reveal of the Cyberfleet in the pre-credits mini-adventure. But that's because the Cyberfleet itself – confirming that those were Invasion-style Cyber warships in "The Pandorica Opens" – is the money shot there, cheekily tossed away behind the action.)

All of which is to say that this was a glorious way to spend fifty minutes of telly-watching.

But was there anything beyond the visual and visceral thrills?

Well, unlike "Star Wars", and rather more like "Return of the Jedi" – the brave bit in the middle before we get to the teddy bears – this was interested in questioning whether our hero was actually being heroic.

As has happened before, Doctor Who suffers from "prophecy fatigue". Think "this is the day I died" (she doesn't) or "the most faithful companion will die" (she doesn't). This time we get "the Doctor has never risen higher, and he will fall so much further".

Well, if you take that at the diagetic level… of course the Doctor's risen higher: he's seen off armies before, toppled dictators,conquered planets. Hell, in his seventh incarnation he took down gods; beating up the Clerics is no biggie.

If the galaxy had been at war, if the Church had been at war with everyone, and the Doctor's actions at Demon's Run had ended that… morale shattered by being ordered to run away, defeated by just seven, the Church armies across the galaxy surrender and for the first time in who knows how long there is peace… yes, that would have qualified as "never risen higher".

But just capturing an asteroid. What happened to fighting on the front line at the fall of Arcadia?

However, to go all metatextual for a moment, as a statement about how Doctor Who the television series is doing… this series has never risen higher. Moffat has consolidated Russell's triumph, and Doctor Who now commands a respect within the BBC and a worldwide audience that it really hasn't ever done before.

And here is an episode that has the chutzpah to revel in that and then the courage to pull the rug out and ask: haven't you changed everything about what it means to be "Doctor Who"? When was this series about exploring wonders ever about star wars? River almost puts it in words when she talks about the Doctor first leaving Gallifrey to explore.

His fall: it's been coming for a long, long time.

Moffat's favourite era is the Davison era, as Russell's was Twerpee, and it's easy to see the origin of this in "Resurrection of the Daleks". When Tegan leaves him in the wake of death and destruction, the Doctor, abashed, tells himself: "it seems I must change my ways". But he never does.

So this is where Torchwood should have ended up; this is proving Davros; this is the next step up from the Pandorica Alliance. Now, even the humans fear him. He has stared into the abyss for so long and it has stared right back into him.

I said this Doctor was full of anger. He's been angry before, spontaneous, reactive anger that flares up and burns out. But this is way beyond that, this is beyond fury, this is wrath: the unstoppable, howling gale that makes plans for revenge and carries them through and still is not satisfied but must humiliate the defeated enemy. No longer the oncoming storm, but the winter of time, that withers and lays waste.

That is how far he's fallen.

There were, I think, two serious misjudgements.

The first was to have all the Silurian extras materialise on Demon's Run. Specifically that they were Silurians. They should have been Judoon troopers. The Doctor, with just his magnificent seven samurai, has effectively beaten the Clerics' army already: he's disarmed them, or rather tricked them into disarming themselves; the troops materialising is just to stop them picking up the guns again. I'd have been happier for the Church army to be handed over to the police to deal with.

The second misjudgement was for River herself to tell the Doctor who she was. He should have discovered it from finding Lorna's prayer leaf in the abandoned cot. If she just tells him herself, why not tell him before now? But knowing that he discovers it, and that he discovers it only as a result of these events, events crucial to her own history, that would be reason to keep mum about, er, her mum. I've not a problem with her materialising at the end and acting as Mrs Basil Exposition, but she should have been there to explain to Amy and Rory (and us!) rather than to the Doctor.

So River materialises after the battle and we have an exchange like this:

The Doctor: River Song. I know who you are.

River: Yes you do.

The Doctor: I can fix this.

River: Yes, you can.

The Doctor: yes I can! Amy, everything's going to be all right, I promise; Rory, look after your girls; River… you can explain later!

And he leaves at that point.

Essentially, I cannot see what forces River's hand here, what means that she has to do the reveal at this point. As written, River turns up and explains everything because… it's the mid-season cliff-hanger and Moffat promised us some answers.

Although there's a kind of charm to her turning to the audience and saying "well, sweeties, this is what's really going on…", and Alex Kingston delivers the scene enormously well, it does slightly undermine the drama, and the concept of the Doctor as intelligent investigator of stuff, that she can randomly show up and do that.

Russell regularly used to pull rabbits out of hats and would get called out for it, but this is even more in the tradition of Greek theatre with the resolution and the explanations coming from the dues ex machina.

So let's talk about god for a bit.

This was a hugely anti-religion piece.

Last year, in "The Time of Angels", the Clerics were treated with a modicum of respect, even if they all got killed off. But this year, they're out-and-out bad. It seems hard to imagine that this is the same faction as noble, doomed Bishop Octavian.

(Equally, it's hard to see why he doesn't seem to have heard of these events: you'd have thought that the guy who defeated an entire legion of your army would stick in the mind, even a generation later; surely Octavian would know the legend of "Colonel Run-Away".)

The Headless Monks were the most grotesque things I think I've ever seen in Doctor Who.

The tied-off neck, so reminiscent of the place where Waitrose remove the business end of the Christmas turkey for those of us too squeamish to do the job ourselves, was like an evil second navel where they've been "born again". Sick and revolting. Of course, they're the exact opposite of the current era's Cybermen: the Cybermen are nothing but a brain stuck in a metal suit; the Monks chuck the brain away and keep the rest. The message: true faith means throwing your brain away. Nice.

And the fate of "the fat one" indicated that – again like the Cybermen – they don't ask nicely before doing it to you.

How exactly do the Monks work, anyway? As decapitated bodies, they're just corpses. Obviously this is Moffat era dark fairy tale stuff. But practically, they must have some sort of machinery animating the headless flesh. The obvious finger of suspicion has to point at the "papal mainframe", which suggests that they're just meat-puppets under the control of another mad computer.

Of course, as another metaphor for the fact the Doctor himself has "lost his head", they were gorily literal.

There's also the suggestion that the monks are part of the wider "endless bitter war" against the Doctor: they've been specifically designed to be "Doctor-proof". Should we infer they are an earlier attempt at creating a weapon against him? That would make it appropriate that the continuation of that programme – the creating of Melody Pond – takes place in their home.

Who, though, is conducting this "war"?

Madam Kovarian, the Eye Patch Lady: she's come as Space Commander Travis, but she's playing Servalan. Who is she working for?

The answer we all jump to, obvious by their absence, are the Silence. Obvious because we know that baby Melody is going to end up with them eventually, and because we haven't yet finished joining the dots from "Day of the Moon" to "The Big Bang". Why blow up the TARDIS? Why blow up the Universe!

Frustrating as it might seem, it is extremely clever writing to make an episode that is so simple seem so complicated, and one that seems to answer all the questions leave so much hanging.

By not having the Silence appear in "A Good Man Goes to War", it obscures the larger Silence plot arc, while seeming to completely explain the whole of the River/baby Melody/child in the spacesuit arc. The fact that River's arc is now a subset of the Silence story does not interfere with the sense of completeness to the episode. We are left with a satisfying feeling of "ah, that's how it all works", even if we'd already guessed it, and even though we actually don't know so very much more.

If we know the answers now, why is River in Stormcage? Who is the "good man" she's supposed to have killed?

I still say that it's got to be the Doctor; I feel that the hints pointing to Rory are a red herring.I feel or I hope.

Moffat has developed this slight tick of repeatedly trying to fool us that he means the Doctor when he really means Rory. The trick in "Day of the Moon" where she is waiting to see "your stupid face" and we're fooled into thinking she means the Doctor (mostly by the "fell out of the sky" line, which, since she was childhood friends with Rory, is a bit of a cheat) is repeated here in Amy's extended narration to baby Melody that "he" would be coming to save them (yes, let's just stumble guiltily past the whole "robbing Amy of any agency at all this week", shall we) that – surprise – turns out to mean Rory not the Doctor.

So, although we infer that the title "A Good Man Goes to War" refers to the Doctor, could it be another fool? Rory, after all, does get done up in his Centurion clobber, dressed for war. And the Doctor specifically denies that he's "a good man": Madam Kovarian has no fear of the anger of a good man because they have too many rules; the Doctor says good men don't need rules, but that he himself has many (and so by inference is not good).

But Rory's been killed so many times already that even the series is making it a joke, and we know that the Doctor has a date with destiny and the Impossible Astronaut. It really would turn out to be a disappointment if it wasn't him.

"Prophecy fatigue", my dear, "prophecy fatigue".

Of course we do know that Moffat is making this up as he goes, winging it mostly. "The Pandorica Opens" hinges on River not recognising Rory (and therefore not knowing that he cannot be a Roman Centurion) i.e. not recognising her own dad. But the opening scene here, where she refuses to join the quest for Amy and baby, and the scene in the Silence' tunnels both suggest that she does know exactly who he is (possibly because Moffat told Alex Kingston between seasons.)And both can be reinterpreted in the light of knowing she is talking to her dad.

The revelation of the Doctor's own cot, and proof he was once a baby, has been greeted by many as "proof" that the New Adventures in general, "Lungbarrow" in particular, and most specifically the concept of Time Lords being born from "Looms" rather than biologically are "not canon".

I'm not sure how they reconcile that with the Doctor's rather extreme reaction to the notion of Amy and Rory "doing the deed":

"Ewww, but that's all squishy and human."

So, not the way Time Lords do it?

Well, we do see how a Time Lord baby comes into the world here too (and let's just slope past the whole messianic/created by the midichlorians /Rosemary's Baby cliché too, shall we).

"I didn't want this," says the Doctor. But he did. The one thing he wanted more than life, or time or the universe. The thing he wanted so much that he would have forgiven the Master to get it. He wanted the Time Lords back.

And so the TARDIS made him one.

River's appearance at the end on "A Good Man Goes to War" is to offer the Doctor a chance of redemption.

This is a whole new universe, and the Doctor can be first of the Time Lords.

So, "A Good Man Goes to War" goes some way to redeeming the Moffat era. Both by providing some actual solid answers to resolve some of the hanging plot threads and by having the Grand Moff's Mary Sue, River Song, stand up and, essentially addressing her writer, demand: "look, look at what you have done to the character of the Doctor!"

Stephen Moffat is a genius. That's not to discount the possibility that he's an evil genius, of course.

Next Time…When River Song is supposed to have killed "a good man, a hero to millions", I don't suppose anyone thought that that might have been "from a certain point of view"?

The logical – read boring – assumption is that the Doctor is going to involve himself in Operation Valkyrie somehow, but suppose instead that he's going to – typical Moffat – skip to having rescued child River and is going to give her an object lesson in "you can't rewrite history, not one line. Oops!"

It is the biggest question in Doctor Who, well, biggest philosophical question anyway: if it's okay to defeat the Daleks on Skaro why can't he defeat the Nazis on Earth. Well, why not find out. "Let's Kill Hitler" and see what happens!


Thursday, June 09, 2011

Day 3812: Exam board asks unanswerable question: 'What is the Archbishop of Canterbury for?'


Oh, if there's one thing guaranteed to get me to blow an upper head gasket it's the sound of hot air escaping from the Beardy Weirdy of Canterbury.

This week, apparently, he is guest editor of the New Statesthebleedinobvious Magazine, and has used his bully pulpit to "launch a remarkable attack on the coalition government".

"Remarkable", I'd have thought, that anyone is remotely surprised that this ageing hypocritical hippy is castigating the government while contributing nothing himself. I'm sorry, I mean "calling for the left to come up with ideas" (not at all code for "I've got none myself"!).

Mr Paul, who is often wise, suggests waiting to read the Beardy Weirdy's actual article, but I'm going to take a leap of faith and assume that the passages from his piece FOR the New Statesthebleedinobvious quoted BY the New Statesthebleedinobvious are accurate. Yes, it's a gamble.

"With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted," he writes. "At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context."

Well, if VOTING for things is SO IMPORTANT to him, I'm surprised that I don't remember His Weirdiness leading the charge for reform of the unelected House of Lords, where he occasionally places his bottom on a seat, nor fronting up for the AV referendum demanding more power to the voter.

I don't actually mind an informed criticism of the Government's policies. What I DO mind is this frankly ANTI-DEMOCRATIC rhetoric that asserts that a government's policy can only be "legitimate" if it was (a) in their manifesto and (b) they won a majority.

(a) Most of the Coalition's policies WERE in one or other (or both!) of the two Parties' manifestos.

(b) Between them, the two Coalition Parties received support from nearly 60% of the electorate. To say "no one voted for that" when the previous government of "the left" (as he, weirdly, describes them) had the support of 35%, absolute power on their own, and broke all their promises, is outrageous verging on the BEARING FALSE WITNESS. And – who'd have thought it – never a question of THEIR legitimacy from the Beardy Weirdy.

Oh and for the record, the Conservatories got a HIGHER share of the vote in 2010 than Hard Labour did in 2005. For that matter they actually got more than a million ACTUAL votes more than Hard Labour got in 2005.

It really can only be PREJUDICE against Coalitions to say that this is a government "no one voted for".

That is ACTUALLY saying that "legitimate" government is and can only be domination of the majority by the largest minority.

Presumably 60% is too populist; 35% is half-way there; but his idea of true legitimacy is LITERALLY NO-ONE VOTING FOR YOU AT ALL.

I can't say I'm SURPRISED that that's the opinion of a man whose power comes from his minority religion having enshrined established absolute power, but that doesn't stop me calling him a BLINKERED HYPOCRITE over it.

Given that he IS a member of the legislature, though, with the power to effect laws over the rest of us, it would be nice if he would READ THE CONSTITUTION. It's a quick read, seeing as it's UNWRITTEN.

Janet and John version: we have a REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY. We choose the PEOPLE who will decide the laws, NOT THE LAWS that they will make.

You get to vote for ONE MP. Not the government and certainly not which BILLS they will put to Parliament. On that basis, no one voted for ANY government policy EVER.

So to say "no one voted for these policies" (or even, as commentators often put it, "no one voted for this government") is both BLEEDIN' OBVIOUS and BLINDINGLY STUPID.

Yes, I realise that with the increase of the franchise and the decrease in intelligent meeja coverage, a great many people choose to vote for PARTIES rather than PERSONS. Linked to that, and also through the development of Parliamentary etiquette such as the Salisbury Convention, the specific policy content of MANIFESTOS has gained a greater importance.

But manifestos are not SUPPOSED to be a promise of policies that will be effected; they are supposed to be a guide to the CHARACTER of the person you are voting for, the sort of values that they sign up for.

(Yes, again, I realise that we Liberal Democrats have got ourselves into trouble by making a very specific promise about a very specific policy, i.e. pledging to vote against any increase in university tuition fees. But keeping pledges is about CHARACTER too, and we're going to get punished and carry on getting punished for that failure of character.)

The fundamental point is this: no government has EVER been limited to legislating JUST on the things in its manifesto.

But let's just LOOK at this assertion: "no one voted for these policies". What IS the case is that a large majority of the people who voted last May, DID vote for one or other of the Coalition Parties: 36.1% voted Conservatory and 23.0% voted Liberal Democrat, a total of 59.1%.

Did they vote in COMPLETE IGNORANCE of those Parties' health or education policies?

This is what the CONSERVATORY manifesto last May had to say about NHS reform (on page 46, under "Trust Healthcare Professionals"):

"Doctors and nurses need to be able to usetheir professional judgement about what is right for patients, instead of being forced to follow bureaucratic processes that often put lives at risk. That is why we will scrap the politically-motivated targets that have no clinical justification. We will set NHS providers free to innovate by ensuring that they becomeautonomous Foundation Trusts."

and they add:

"NHS staff will be properly accountable to patients for their performance, removing the need for expensive layers of bureaucracy to oversee the NHS. As a result, we will be able to cut the cost of NHS administration by a third and transfer resources to support doctors and nurses on the front line."

Meanwhile, the LIBERAL DEMOCRAT manifesto says (on page 40, under "protecting our NHS":

"[O]ur first priority is to increase spending in some parts of the NHS by cutting waste in others. We have identified specific savings that can be made in management costs, bureaucracy and quangos, and we will reinvest that money back into the health care you need."

We go on specifically to say we will:

"Cut the size of the Department of Health by half, abolish unnecessary quangos such as Connecting for Health and cut the budgets of therest, scrap Strategic Health Authorities and seek to limit the pay and bonuses of top NHS managers so that none are paid more than the Prime Minister."


"Empower local communities to improve health services through elected Local Health Boards, which will take over the role of Primary Care Trust boards in commissioning care for local people, working in co-operation with local councils."

(my emphasis)

You can see the KERNEL of Mr Andrew Landslide's reforms are RIGHT THERE; you can also see why Liberal Democrats would initially sign up to his scheme that seemed to promise pretty much the same as our plan. The devil, of course, was in the detail and handing power to BUSINESSES rather than PEOPLE has been a STUMBLING BLOCK (to say the least).

But replacing PCTs and SHAs actually WAS in our election manifesto.

If you are "baffled" and "indignant", Mr Archbishop, perhaps it's because you didn't bother to read it?

In reference to Michael Gove's education reforms, the Archbishop writes: "[T]he comprehensive reworking of the Education Act 1944 that is now going forward might well be regarded as a proper matter for open probing in the context of election debates."

So he's blaming the Conservatories for not answering a question that HE COULDN'T BE BOTHERED TO ASK AT THE TIME – even when they answered it anyway! As proof…

The CONSERVATORY General Election manifesto has THIS to say on Education:

"Drawing on the experience of the Swedish school reforms and the charter school movement in the United States, we will breakdown barriers to entry so that any good education provider can set up a new Academy school."


"We want every child to benefit from our reforms. So all existing schools will have the chance to achieve Academy status…"

Well, blow me down! That's Mr Michael Borogove's "Free School Revolution" right there! If only someone had TOLD us this during the General Election so it could have been PROBED in DEBATE. Oh wait, they did!

The FRONT COVER of the Liberal Democrat manifesto promised "A Fair Deal for Every Child". We spell that out: smaller class sizes; a pupil premium for the most disadvantaged; more freedom for schools.

You had the opportunity to raise this IN the General Election, your Beardiness. Your failure, the meeja's failure, the "left's" failure properly to do so does not mean it was sneaked past you in the night.

Is it a problem that the General Election debate got bogged down in the state of the ECONOMY and borderline-racist questions about IMMIGRATION? Possibly, yes. But we don't elect the Secretary of State for Education and the Secretary of State for Health separately from the Chancellor or Prime Monster.

(It might be fun if we did – but I'M a political junkie; you can bet that turnout would be EVEN LOWER than under the current system!)

Fact is, 59.1% of people voted for Parties that SAID they would enact polices SOMETHING LIKE THIS.

What about his specific criticisms?

The Archbishop also questions David Cameron's "big society" agenda, a phrase which he describes as "painfully stale". He writes that the policy is viewed with "widespread suspicion" as an "opportunistic" cover for spending cuts…

Don't you think that you FEED those suspicions by airing them? Wouldn't it have been more STARTLING, and more BRAVE to embrace, even RECLAIM the "Big Society" idea?

Seems to me that "the Big Society" is a rather rubbish PR name for "Love Thy Neighbour". Now, if the Beardy Weirdy of Canterbury thinks that THAT is "painfully stale" then he is SERIOUSLY in the WRONG JOB.

It's so easy to MOCK, but there IS something vaguely WORTHY about Mr Balloon trying to resurrect "One Nation Conservatoryism" in the teeth of the Church of Thatchianity who occupy his rightward benches.

Yes, it's viewed with "widespread suspicion". That's because it is a badly explained catch-all title for a group of policies about restoring the local spirit and sense of possibility and creativity in a country that's become too used to being spoon fed by Hard Labour's Nanny-State apparatus.

I've said before that this was the WRONG TIME to try and bring in a kinder gentler Conservatory philosophy. It was ALWAYS going to get confused with the harshness of the austerity programme. Mr Balloon should have WAITED for the NEXT election, to say: "we have guided you through the dessert of the Labour recession, and now we will show you the path to the sunny uplands."

But I admire the effort to come up with a POSITIVE reason to vote Conservatory, rather than all the horrid, old NEGATIVE ones they usually come out with.

At least the Conservatories are MAKING the EFFORT, rather than just taking the SAD and EASY route of rubbishing an idea 'cos it sounds a bit silly. Talk about taking pot-shots at the easy targets!

And speaking of LAZY THINKING:

In an implicit criticism of the Chancellor, George Osborne, Williams writes:"It isn't enough to respond with what sounds like a mixture of, "This is the last government's legacy," and, "We'd like to do more, but just wait until the economy recovers a bit."

Oh you're RIGHT, your Canterburyship, this economic climate is TERRIBLY inconvenient, isn't it. I tell you what, let's just say we should ignore it. Oh wait. We can't.

If your house burns down – or, if you're the Beardy Weirdy of Canterbury, if your GILDED PALACE burns down – how would you feel if your hippy neighbour came round and complained that dinner isn't ready and that it's not good enough to say that it's a legacy of the house burning down?

Well, in economic terms, the house DID burn down.

There are many and complicated reasons for that and a great many people are to blame: the bankers, yes for their gambling; but also the Labour government not just for not regulating the banks (though they should have) but also for the example they set, borrowing at the height of a boom and spending like a gushing pipe of money; and also a whole load of ordinary folks who ramped up their mortgages to buy holidays and tellies and stuff.

But it doesn't actually matter WHOSE fault it was; we have to DEAL with the fact that THE HOUSE IS BURNT DOWN.

(Of course the Government will keep reminding people that Labour were in charge when the House BURNT DOWN. And it's a bit RICH for Labour to make political hay out of all the PAIN that the cuts ARE causing and then DENY they had anything to do with BURNING THE HOUSE DOWN.)

Where does the money come from, your worship? Divine intervention?

We CANNOT just behave like the last Labour Government as though the money will never run out, because it did. We cannot pretend that the economy is magically all better now, because it's not. The reason for the cuts is because there is no money left.

I'm so sorry that left-wingers are BORED of hearing this, but that doesn't stop it being TRUE: the government is getting SUBSTANTIALLY LESS cash. And will CONTINUE to get SUBSTANTIALLY LESS cash.

The gap between what we spend and what we get in is HUGE.

We are BORROWING a LOT this year to cover that gap. And a LOT next year.And hopefully not so much in the years after that.

The PLAN, if you've been paying ANY ATTENTION AT ALL, is to reduce government spending and therefore government borrowing AS THE ECONOMY RECOVERS. We are NOT slashing spending in the recession; we're not ACTUALLY cutting spending AT ALL, we're just spending not-as-much-more. We are SLOWING DOWN the increases in spending. We are slowing A LITTLE in the first year, and more in the second and then more still.

This is the painful truth: we're a rich country and we can afford almost anything we want, but people don't want to pay the tax to pay for it.

At the height of the longest boom in post-war history (leading to the inevitable deepest crash in post war history, not that Mr Frown would listen when warned) the Labour Government were spending more than they raised in tax and had to borrow to cover the difference.


(And yes, Mr Balloon was BONKERS when (pre-crash) he said he would match it.)

If people won't live with higher levels of tax, by which I mean won't VOTE for higher levels of tax, then the governments that they elect have to live within their means.

Did the Beardy Weirdy say after the 2001 election, or the 2005 election, that "nobody voted for borrowing instead of taxes"? Did he say that those policies weren't debated? They weren't debated because Lord Blairimort refused to hold an election debate AT ALL!

I'm pretty certain that "nobody voted for" a borrowing fuelled boom and binge that ends in a massive bust.

Oh, sorry, it's "not enough" to keep mentioning the legacy of the last government. Translation: "Move along, move along. Nothing to see here. No flaming debris or wreckage of the good ship UK Economy. No evidence of the "government of the left" found at the scene. Move along please; nothing to see."

In the end, that's the bigger debate than just education or just health: will you spend the money or keep the taxes down?

THAT is why "the economy" dominated the debates and nothing was heard of health policies or schools policies.

Hey, here's an idea: let's let the Archpillock put his money where his mouth is. Sell off his state-owned palace, and remove charitable status from the C of E!

Finally, the poor, who apparently are always with us.

He also launches a sustained attack on the government's welfare reforms, complaining of a "quiet resurgence of the seductive language of "deserving" and "undeserving" poor". In comments directed at the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, the Archbishop criticises "the steady pressure" to increase "punitive responses to alleged abuses of the system".

Was he ASLEEP during the whole of New Labour?

It seems to me that His Wierdiness is responding to the increasingly hysterical poison from the right wing meeja – the Daily Heil and the Tell-lies-o-graph seem to run daily stories about this immigrant or that abusing the welfare or human rights laws – and mistaking it for government policy.

Actually, the reason for this "the steady pressure" to increase "punitive responses" is precisely because the right wing are STYMIED in their desire to give the poor a kicking.

Far from "deserving" and "undeserving" poor", it seems very much that Mr Drunken-Swerve's reforms are designed to treat people more EQUALLY, to protect the vulnerable while breaking down the barriers that keep people who want to work in the poverty trap.

I've spoken before about how I quite like the idea of just giving EVERYONE a citizen's income, something between £50 and £100 a week, and no means-tested benefits at all.You'd probably want extra for old-age and incapacity. Everyone gets a bit to get by on and there's no poverty trap.But this breaks down with housing benefit because the disproportionately high cost of housing, especially for larger families, would leave some families unable to afford to live anywhere.

Am I a big fan of the way that disability and sickness benefits are being targeted in particular? I am not!

I hate that the most vulnerable are going to have to prove they are incapacitated. I hate that it seems to be being done on the cheap by some uncaring box-ticking test. I hate the whole Victorian attitude with which the Tories approach the issue.

But that Victorian "work is the cure of all ills" attitude is NOT limited to the Conservatory benches; it was very much the Protestant-Work-Ethic mantra of Mr Frown too, and all that talk of "hardworking families": yes, your eminence, THAT'S code for "deserving" and "undeserving" too.

For years Hard Labour and the Conservatories before them HID the unemployed by moving them onto incapacity benefit. Now, Mr Drunken-Swerve, however cackhandedly, is trying to move the not-actually-incapacitated back to the unemployment or, ideally, EMployment lists.

Personally, I'd be a whole lot more RELAXED about so-called "abuses", but then I'm not a Conservatory!

Conservatories don't believe in giving money to the poor. But SOCIALISM (remember that?) expects people who CAN work TO work, as well: that whole "from each according to his abilities…" part.

It's only LIBERALISM thatsays if you can live without working then it's not a problem for us. Who introduced the first pension so people could "retire" rather than working till they dropped? It was a Liberal. It's only LIBERALISM that lets people make their own choices.

And I bet the Beardy Weirdy of Canterbury doesn't come out and say THAT!