...a blog by Richard Flowers

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Day 5198: Ed-xaggeration – Mr Milipede Should Not Be Allowed to Claim Credit for Stopping Syria

Thursday: Not-debate Night

The election campaign sort of kicked off with an interview-and-question-time session each for the Prime Monster and his opposite Wonk. I fell asleep towards the end of Mr Balloon and woke up a few minutes into Mr Milipede. And it took me a while to realise that they'd changed over!

Which says a lot about the sort of choice facing the voter!

I am, though, nursing a particular annoyance at Mr Milipede once again rewriting history to cast himself as "standing up to Obama, Cameron and Clegg" over military intervention in Syria.

That's simply not what happened.

Generally, Mr Milipede was dreadful in front of the audience, but better in the one-to-one interview with Paxo. Milipede has a number of verbal tics or tells: "and I'll tell you why" or "of course it was hard", which he uses repeatedly and after a while start to make him sound like a robot that doesn't really understand how real people talk. The question the audience really wanted an answer on was: "Why did you knife your brother". His reply was a total non-answer: "I think I am the right man for the job." Why, Ed, why are you the right man for the job? Why are you so right for the job that you stabbed Brother David in the back to get it?

(There is a way to answer to this: David was foreign secretary, deeply complicit in the Blair and Brown governments and too associated with New Labour to allow the clean break with the past that election defeat showed they needed. And – and this is the important bit – if Ed could say that he'd tried to talk David out of standing on these ground, and that David hadn't listened… the needs of the country came first…
But… it means saying that he put "ideology" ahead of "family". And that's deeply antithetical to "small c" conservative voters, or whom his Labour tribe contains a LOT, not to mention massively hypocritical after five years of calling the Coalition "ideologically driven".)

He managed to land a real wallop on Mr Paxman at the end, though, ticking him right off for prejudging the election result. And, since it's about time someone took Paxo down a peg, that no doubt won the Labour leader a few points with some viewers. And, of course, let Mr Milipede off the question of having to say how he would negotiate with the SNP in a hung Parliament.

("How dare you prejudge the electorate!" thus translates as a new variation on the traditional cliché: "we are campaigning for a majority". It's probably the most important question of the election and we get yet another politicians' non-answer.)

For Mr Balloon it was the other way around. As an assured – even arrogant – public speaker he was easily able to handle the audience, especially when the format did not allow the questioner to press him for an answer if he dodged or changed the question (the usual politicians' tricks). But the interview was more difficult for him for exactly the same reasons. Paxo derailed the PM with an opening question about food banks, and Mr Balloon looked very shifty for a minute, not answering. Once he got himself together he gave a better performance.

This happened several times, in fact. His eventual answer on zero hours contracts, for example: "No I couldn't live on one, and that's why the coalition outlawed exclusive zero hours contracts, because they're not meant for people to live on!" was good; but he'd waffled first in order properly to frame his answer and so when he delivered an actual direct response it was lost. Mr Paxman's not interested if they answer; it's showing up politicians by hunting down their evasions that he lives for.

Mind you, we thought that Paxman was a bit harder on Mr Balloon than on Mr Milipede: the questions to the Prime Monster went to substance – numbers on food banks, borrowing, immigration – all areas where there's a substantive answer and Mr Balloon has to hem and haw to explain why it's complicated; the questions to Milipede went to character – the apologies for New Labour, the guff on "the wrong brother", and then the nonsense on "toughness" – all soft serves for answers that are only going to be hand-wringing and the feelz.

The question of "toughness" was particularly egregious, even before we get to the gung-ho "Hell yeah" of Mr Milipede's answer.

Do we really want a leader who is "tough"? Haven't we just had five years of "tough"; isn't it time for a bit of compassion, and listening, and co-operation (especially if there's going to be – as seems very, very likely – another coalition)?

LOOKING "tough" is actually WEAKNESS.

Looking "tough" is what has gotten Labour politicians like Rachel the Reever cravenly following the right-wing agenda of punishing the young and the out of work for being on benefits. Looking "tough" is what has gotten both Labservative Parties boxed into inflexible positions on raising taxes. Looking "tough" has led to everyone ruling out coalitions with everyone else as though this is anything other than a complete derogation of duty. Maggie Thatcher was "tough". And also mad as a box of frogs. "Tough" in other words is the exact opposite of good government and frankly we could do with a good deal LESS of it.

But then there's Milipede's answer: I'm tough enough to stand up to Putin because I was tough enough to stand in a room with Mr Balloon and Cap'n Clegg and say no to Barry O.

That is a… creative recollection of events in 2013.

Milipede has cultivated this popular myth that it was Labour, indeed he personally, who brought a halt to the rush to Western intervention in the Syrian civil war. It stems from a vote in the House of Commons, when – unexpectedly – the government lost a motion that would have prepared the way for British military deployment.

The government proposed a motion, with a caveat that there would have to be another vote before any action was taken (on Cap'n Clegg's insistence, having very strongly made the case for United Nations involvement before any United Kingdom action); Labour proposed a VERY SLIGHTLY different amendment (basically tightening up the conditions before action could be taken, but nothing that wasn't implicit in the government motion).

The Labour amendment got voted down – exactly as the Labour front bench intended so that they could look justified in voting against the government motion. In other words, the usual way that these votes are treated as a "game", a typical example of the debate club way that Miliband "plays" politics: letting him oppose the government on a technicality while still being able to claim that substantively he is tough on murderous gas attacks, tough on the causes of murderous gas attacks (and check with David whether we sold gas weapons to Assad while Labour were in power, Ed). (See also the "we never voted against Lords Reform" blocking of the paving motion that prevented Lords Reform, and more recently the reward for rich bankers "cut" in tuition fees.)

Only they didn't count on a Tory and Lib Dem backbenchers rebelling and the government motion falling too (24 out of 57 Lib Dems not voting for the government).

It was absolutely NOT Labour's intention or policy to block intervention in Syria. It was however the mood of the country, and on the conscience of those Lib Dem and Tory rebels, and to be fair to him it was Mr Balloon who stood up and said that.

So I rather think is STINKS when Miliband goes around claiming credit and saying that he was "tough". He was playing silly political games, and a serendipitous cock-up enabled the doves to beat the hawks.

Here are the government motion and the Labour amendment.

In this diary:

Mr Balloon the Prime Monster is David Cameron, balloon-faced Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Mr Milipede the Wonk is Ed Miliband, creepy-crawly Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.
Mr Paxo (the Ego Booster) is Jeremy Paxman, veteran television interviewer famous for his aggressive interrogation and high opinion of himself.

Also appearing:
Cap'n Clegg is Nick Clegg, the not-appearing in this farce Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Other Party of Government, the Liberal Democrats.
Rachel the Reever is Rachel Reeves, soon to be contender for doomed Milipede's job.


Dan Hodges writes in the Telegraph. Dan is famously no friend of Mr Milipede, which I suspect will undercut the strength of his words here. His account of the history leading up to the Syria vote agrees with my recollection too.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Day 5107: DOCTOR WHO: Wizard vs Aliens vs Santa

Christmas Day flashback:

26th March 2015 makes it ten years to the day since Christopher Eccleston first took Billie Piper by the hand and, with one word– "Run!" –changed television for good. So in celebration of that first episode of the gloriously successful return, here's a look at the most recent…

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on…"

I normally count Christmas Specials as the first episode of the new season, but "Last Christmas", the point where the Doctor and Clara stop lying to each other and run away together, feels properly the conclusion to Season 34 (8).

As a necessary measure of reality, true information does pass between them: the Doctor admits that he did not find Gallifrey; Clara tells the Doctor that Danny is dead. So in a strange way, in spite of it "all being a dream", this is, in a sense "real".

"It was all a dream" or "it was all a story", and that that does not necessarily stop something being "real", are of course defining characteristics of Stephen Moffat's time on Doctor Who.

The eleventh Doctor survives the crack in his first season because Amy remembers his story back into existence; the Silence arc is mostly about things being written in stone because they are history and how to rewrite them; the 2012 stories are set in the shadow of the Doctor erasing his story; Clara the "impossible girl" is the ultimate retcon, reinserting herself into the whole of the Doctor's story; and Peter Capaldi's first year has dwelt extensively on the danger of the story in the form of the lie.

This makes Santa only the most-cuddly of Moffat's self-insertions into his own writing, explicitly telling us that he is a dream; more than that, a dream that is trying to help.

Santa having an existence in the Doctor Who universe (as written by Mr Moffat) has indeed been alluded to before: the eleventh Doctor claimed to know him as Jeff in "A Christmas Carol"; while Rose asks the ninth if he thinks he is Santa in "The Doctor Dances" – "who says I'm not? Red bicycle when you were twelve," he replies, quoting "Miracle on 34th St" though Rose is perplexed enough that he may have genuinely delivered that red bike to her, too.

And the idea that the Doctor might be Santa does not entirely go away here. Since he first appeared to the Doctor alone, at the end of "Dark Water", you can infer that this "story" of Santa is a little corner of the Doctor's psyche that finds strength and resonance in the shared dream with first Clara and then the other victims of the deliciously creepy Dream Crabs, making him something a little bit more than the Dream Lord and a little bit less than the Valeyard – a distillation of all that is Christmas somewhere between the Doctor's twelfth and final incarnation. (sorry!)

This means, of course, that Nick Frost is playing the Doctor here, applying his usual "bumbling Nick Frost" persona with a salting of asperity, giving his Santa a grumpiness and fake bonhomie, to make it a not-quite-but-almost-reflection of Capaldi, which certainly fits the fact that they rub each other up the wrong way (he always does). As always, there's a lot of humour to be found in different aspects of the Doctor trying to score points of each other ("No one likes the tangerines", "bigger on the inside", "No, I do the science bit", "Dreamy-weamy"). Terrifying to think what the elves mean for the Doctor's view of his companions, though.

"…and our little life is rounded with a sleep."

But if Santa is not ever real, then how many of the other people in this story were really there? Do we accept at face value the Doctor's explanation that it was a shared dream? Does that not raise rather more questions – in terms of how the Dream Crabs arrived on Earth; why they picked the small number of people they attacked; why only those people – or are the rest of us supposed to be still trapped (which will make Fiona's Christmas dinner "uncomfortable" to say the least); are there more Dream Crabs (a whole invasion force, as is implied)? Or is it possible that Ashley, Fiona, Shona and Albert, the "Professor" with the suspiciously-familiar face, were all dream-aspects of the Doctor too?

The charismatic competent leader, the science-genius mother-figure, the gobby shop-girl who's smarter than she appears… don't they all sound just a bit like generic companion descriptions? While the nasty "Professor" who is the butt of the Doctor's scorn… would anyone like to hazard that he's not a reverse-Dream Lord, with the Doctor dishing out the self-hating instead of receiving it? Makes for a whole new take on death-of-the-self when he's swallowed by his own image. (And a Troughton interacting with a television screen is itself an in-series flashback to the second Doctor era.)

We see them wake up… but we see Clara wake up, too and that turns out to be a dream…

And what about the Dream Crabs? The fact that they look like Face-huggers doesn't just get a lantern hung upon it, it gets a 1000 Watt spotlight trained on it and gives us the best gag in the show ("No wonder you keep getting invaded!"). So do Face-huggers look like Dream Crabs because Giger was once a victim too, or do Dream Crabs look like Face-huggers because the Doctor (in his real reality) has seen "Alien" and is still pissed about it?

It's not completely impossible that all of this takes place in the TARDIS, inside the Doctor's head, in the minutes (seconds?) after the end of "Dark Water": everything from the moment Santa first appears, Dream Crabs included, being a Doctor-generated dream. He did open up the telepathic circuits again earlier in that story so that Clara could lead them to wherever, if anywhere, Danny was. And he did smash up the console (again) just before the end. There's no knowing what sort of state the old girl was in, and could easily have been cross-wiring the Doctor and Clara's brains (especially if his subconscious is trying to tell him that he cannot leave things that way).

And so what about Clara herself? Of all of them, she seems the most likely candidate to be in the Doctor's dreams – just as Danny Pink is (in a beautiful sequence) in hers. Well, we will have to come to the conclusion that aside from the Doctor she, and perhaps only she, is real. But it's a definite Descartes's second axiom moment ("cogito ergo sum" proves that "I" exist, but other people are real… because God's not a bastard.)

There is some rather clever direction going on, changing the lighting and tone to suit the different "depths" of the dream. Clara and Danny's dream Christmas is full of warmth and soft focus, and a lot of blurring of time – not just the jump-cuts allowing the intruding Doctor's thoughts to place chalkboards in her dream home, but the entire day vanishes in seconds. In short the artificiality is heavily emphasized so you cannot help but arrive at the Blackadder conclusion: "Baldrick? Who gave you permission to turn into an Alsatian?" (Oh, all right: "Oh god, it's a dream, isn't it? It's a bloody dream!")

But notice too, the way that all the scenes at the North Pole are filmed to be reminiscent of the movies – well "Aliens", specifically, from the creepy laboratories to Santa's "war movie" entrance to the bucket-loads of X-Files blue lighting – setting them apart from the more conventionally "TV" looking scenes on Clara's roof at the start (and for that matter inside her house at the end).

"If we shadows have offended; Think but this, and all is mended…"

Here, the clue of the tangerine on the windowsill, the last image of the episode, might suggest that it's all been a comforting dream in the mind of the dying Doctor, with the happy outcome that he gets a second chance with his friend.

So if you're one of those people who've lost the taste for the series – and it happens – then this is one of those rare moments when Doctor Who occasionally provides "jumping off points" (the opposite of "jumping on points" such as "An Unearthly Child", "Spearhead from Space" or – since we're celebrating it – "Rose"), places where the story can be said to have "ended". Places like: the conclusion of "The War Games", for example (and any stories you might imagine being made after that are in fact an illusion woven by the Time Lord guardians of their prison planet Shada where the Doctor is imprisoned); or "The Well-Mannered War" (Gareth Roberts' slightly-spiteful novel set at the end of Season 17, which ends with the Doctor and Romana leaving reality altogether before the John Nathan-Turner era can begin); or the end of "Survival", which sees the Doctor and Ace depart with work to do (with no messy modern-era New Who getting in the way).

This is one real flaw with the Moffat approach to storytelling: when story is treated as as important, as "real" as "reality", then it's never entirely clear where the dream or the story ends and the "real" events begin. If you're the sort of person for whom that matters, if you want your stories to be reportage (if of a fictional world), then this is going to become grating, an abdication by the writer to tell you what "really" happened.

But in our really real "real world", of course, the series hasn't been cancelled, indeed new production is already under way. So we know that the Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman will be returning to our screens in the Autumn (probably) for more episodes. So the meta-reality is telling us that in the story-reality, these events must properly finish as they appear to, with the Doctor and Clara escaping to adventures new.

That's sort of grating too – Moffat cannot, ultimately, pull off the (to pick a movie entirely at random) "Inception" trick of leaving you with an ambiguous ending, for the simple reason that he is making serial television. He might be able to keep us puzzling until September, but eventually the top has to topple over.

(Can't resist popping this in here: people say that the spinning top in "Inception" doesn't prove anything because it was never Leo DiCaprio's totem, it was his wife's. It doesn't matter whose totem it was; if the darn thing won't fall over, it definitely proves you're still in someone's dream!)

An interesting – at least to me – fact of semantics: adding an assertion of truth to a statement does not change that statement.

What I mean is:

"This is a dream"
"It is true that this is a dream."
"It is true that it is true that this is a dream."

All mean the same thing.

Moffat's hanging a lantern on the fictionality of his storytelling does much the same thing (or rather doesn't do). By repeatedly telling us that this is a story (within a story within a story) is he really adding anything (beyond circumlocution)?

"And this weak and idle theme; No more yielding but a dream."

But as a celebration of the telling of stories, and that stories – like Santa – can be "true" even when they are fiction, "Last Christmas" is a great success, unusually heart-warming for a Christmas horror story, and a much-needed antidote to the "year of lies", finally resolving Clara and the Doctor's position with some truth between them.

It is difficult to believe that Jenna Coleman ever thought of leaving because of working with Peter Capaldi, such is the quality of their chemistry here as always. She picks him up on his faults; he challenges her to better herself. (Shame Clara still thinks punching him is an acceptable chastisement, though.)

Coleman is touching throughout, emphasising the smug and controlling Clara when in the Danny dream, fading to self-effacingly good in the "old" make-up. (Many people thought the reverse of the Christmas cracker touching; I thought it slightly undermined the better moment with the eleventh Doctor – for me it was all about the companion doing something for the Doctor.) Again there is good direction for the "Doctor's eye view" where he genuinely still sees her the same, unchanged by the years (or perhaps just insufficiently changed by a human lifespan compared to his millenniums).

The guest cast are all outstanding too. Even the reindeer. It's always good to see a Troughton back on the show. Dan Starkey makes a great elf, and Nathan McMullan makes a hot one. And especial kudos to Faye Marsay as the loveable Shona. If she does turn out to be real after all, I'm with the many who would see her as a potential companion.

Even aside from the clever visuals, which I've already admired, the pacing of the story is very well handled – possibly the sleigh ride goes on a little bit too long – as usual, showing that Moffat can fill up the longer form story better than when keeping to forty-five minutes. There's a profusion of set pieces – the crashed sleigh on Clara's roof; all the pastiche Face-hugger attacks; Santa's rescue, a literal army of toy soldiers; the dream-within-a-dream of Danny; and so on, through to the old-Clara fake-out – and they all come off. I'm reminded of, say, "The Runaway Bride" or "Voyage of the Damned" where the one big set piece (the TARDIS/taxi chase or the trying to cross the abyss) seemed to draw life away from the rest of the story. Nothing like that here, with the dreams-within-dreams shtick actually helping the structure to build with each level of "but ah ha!". The jokes arise naturally from the script, and they are good, clever jokes too, whether pointed or even poignant. They even manage to get away with the car lock bleep gag that defeated David Tennant in "The End of Time". Maybe it's a shame – or maybe it's a relief – that Moffat couldn't quite bring himself to go the full meta and include "Blink" on Shona's DVD marathon list.

More challenging than the usual Christmas fare, even by Doctor Who's standards. And all the better for it.

And, at least for the few brief moments as they run to the TARDIS, the Doctor and Clara can actually be happy. A dream come true.

Next Time…
A very familiar Witch. Possibly the fastest ever bounce back from absolutely, categorically, unequivocally dead. SPOILER! "Did you Missy me?" I imagine that trying harder than ever to be the Doctor makes Clara "The Magician's Apprentice".

(Or will she be "The Witch's Familiar"?!)

But first… if you're really, really lucky, I'll go back and fill in the gaps with reviews of "The Caretaker", "Kill the Moon", "Mummy on the Orient Express", "Flatline" and the rest, but starting with "The Crimson Horror"!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Day 5190: A Budget of Signposts and Pitfalls

Wednesday Budget Day Election Day Minus Forty-Nine:

So, for the last time in the first fixed term Parliament, Master Gideon did a thing.

Liberal Democrat policies once more featured strongly (and anonymously) in the form of future rises in the personal allowance towards the minimum wage and a promise of an end in sight of austerity.

But most of what he did was mess things about. A little. He cut some taxes a little; cut some spending a little less; made the tax system a little more generous to favoured industries/more complicated with more loopholes. And made several bad jokes. Mostly about the unfortunate Mr Milipede's kitchen arrangements.

When he wasn't cracking our sides with his rib-ticklers, he gave us not so much substance as a full meal, more a sort of taster's trolley to whet our appetites for the shape of Parliamentary things to come.

Most of the actual tax arrangements are, of course, post-dated, setting the sort of traps for a future Labour Chancer– in the decreasingly likely event of there being such a person – just as Mr Allstar Darling did for him, with the "for one month only" 50% tax rate (which did indeed successfully blow up in Gideon's face). The promise of a little less squeezing of the pips on higher rate taxpayers (in the assumption that the Venn diagram of higher rate taxpayers and Tory voters is quite a large overlap) gives a sweetie to his base today that might reward a second time if incoming Hard Labour have to reverse it to make ends meet after the election and post Financial Review. Likewise, the £1000 tax free interest is a giveaway to the "haves" that makes the tax system yet more needlessly complicated (with interest rates at ½% you can "have" up to two-hundred grand in the bank before paying any tax on the interest). And aside from the Chancer's personal delight in being able to string two catchphrases together do we really need yet more money injected into the housing bubble? I'm just surprised he didn't rename the newly in-out-shake-it-all-about ISA his "long term economic savings plan"!

Meanwhile he sketched out a – suspiciously "Coalition flavoured" – direction of travel, adopting that Liberal Democrat pledge to bring an end to austerity and offer a promise of better days to come. His compromise of beginning to increase spending on public services "after four more years" falling mid-way between the Lib Dem position of "after three more years" and the Tory one of "after hell freezes over". Cutting the lifetime allowance for payments into a pension was also a Libby Demmy way of raising a few more tax dollars from the richer end of the spectrum.

This is, as we know, typical Tory strategy: use the Lib Dems as a sort of THINK TANK from Planet Nice to generate socially acceptable policy and use this to detox the brand (while pretending to smile and nod along to the wingnuts, and occasionally unleash a "Go Home Van" to keep them drooling happily).

Just because he's EXACTLY as scary-right-wing as his Romulan haircut suggests, don't ever think Gideon isn't PRACTICAL.

(And, in many ways, another Coalition is actually the best way for GIDEON to keep his own job: if they lose, he'll have to come third to Boris and Theresa in the ensuing leadership bloodbath; if they win on their own, then he might have to think up some policies of his own without Danny to hold his crayons for him!)

And look at how he did bang on about how the Coalition had brought economic success.

Obviously that's a GREAT advert for letting the Tories RUIN it by running the country off the rails on their own!

Being in Coalition has given him GREAT COVER for making it all up as he went along (or in fact letting Nick and Vince and Danny make most of it up for him, and then copying their homework). For all that Gideon the Chancer is a man who's made much political capital out of sticking to "Plan A", it should be apparent that we are by now on something like the "F Plan" (the diet nobody sticks to) or the "G-Plan" (given his wooden delivery). Whatever, he's in danger of running out of letters!

"Plan A" only lasted about a year. That was the "stick to Alistair Darling's disastrous plan to cut all capital spending" Plan. Fortunately the widely underrated Mr Danny managed to persuade Gideon to go on an Obama-esque Keynesian spending spree. That would have been Plan B. Plan C was the disaster of the OMNISHAMBLES budget, quickly walked back to Plan D. The REAL disaster being that budget had contained some attempts to simplify some of the tax system, and there's no way Gideon was going to try THAT again! And even last year we were still on Austerity Eternal of Plan E, but it appears that that didn't test well with the voters.

The only thing "Long Term" about the Conservatories "Long Term Economic Plan" is how long they've been ramming the stupid message down our throats!

Not that Hard Labour have much to crow about.

(It won't stop them. That Mr Allstar Darling was on the radio last weekend crowing about his own last budget – because, as he himself admitted, nobody else would – and saying that the Coalition's plan has arrived us exactly where he predicted the economy would be… slightly overlooking the fact that this must mean his own plan would have missed the target by miles and landed us in much worse straits! And also rather undermining Hard Labour’s case that they’d have done anything at all DIFFERENT!)

But in the absence of having bothered to pay any attention to what Gideon was saying, Mr Milipede delivered the speech he'd memorised anyway. I KNOW it's the hardest job in politics, replying to the budget with no notes or notice, but do you think he could at least TRY to remain on topic?

And if "long term economic plan" is becoming the most BORING big fib in British politics, then surely there's some sort of mutant hybrid of Godwin's Law being spawned on the other side: "the longer a debate goes on the closer to 100% gets the probability of Mr Milipede claiming it will lead to the privatisation/dismantling (the meaning of these terms being indistinguishable to his audience) of the NHS".

So today Mr Milipede invented the Tories "secret plan to fight inflation"…

No, sorry, that's "secret plan to wreck the NHS"; it's just he's so clearly and painfully obviously been watching too many episodes of his "West Wing" box set. It's all that free time he has not doing any work on actual policies.

But PLAGIARISM, Ed? Again?

I mean, bless him, he's only got one trump card, but he does keep playing it… in fact, it looks like he's only got one card AT ALL, at least only one that doesn't say "the same as the Tories but, er, nice" (see also what Rachel the Reever wants to do with welfare and Tristram the, er, Hunt wants to do with Education.) But it's clear that his schoolboy debate club tactics are no good when the country is calling for a STRATEGY.

The worst part of his day was probably the moment where you can see the dawning realisation creep into his sad eyes that the Conservatories are going to win, to beat him, beat him probably quite a lot. It was probably the time when he laughed at the second or third second kitchen joke.

Even until recently I had expected Labour to improve, and the Tories at best to hold their ground in numbers of seats. How could the Conservatories do anything OTHER than go backwards after the PAIN and the AUSTERITY and the BEDROOM TAX? But today, Miliband looked like a loser. No, worse, he looked like HE believed he was a loser, and that sort of thing is INFECTIOUS.

And Gideon looked like HE thought he was a WINNER.

Because Master Gideon's real talent is luck. The sort of luck that lets him get away with it.

Because this recovery isn't really a result of ANY plan – long term or otherwise – by this Government. It's mainly driven by the Saudis response to American fracking, pumping oil like it's going out of fashion (because it is!) driving down energy prices.

What the Coalition has actually done is a series of smart economic tacks across the wind, sheltering most people from the worst of the storm of the recession, while the rest of Europe has been battered by the ongoing Euro crisis, and while the rise of China and India drove a huge spike in energy prices and food prices, all of which delayed any chance of real recovery. We’ve been keeping more people in work – at the price of depressing earnings; keeping down homes repossessed; shifting the burden of taxation a few notches up the income scale. When the Lib Dems were stronger, we also kept benefits rising with inflation.

That doesn't mean that the austerity was WRONG or didn't work. If nothing else, thanks to the Coalition Britain was at least in a position where we COULD take advantage when the wind changed in our favour.

But what we've also done, again largely Lib Dem policies, is laid the groundwork for FUTURE economic strength: the pupil premium, and add to that free school meals, already giving kids a better education; the apprenticeships scheme, not just getting young people into jobs, delivering two million more quality training places, but kicking off a total reappraisal of the worth of vocational verses academic further education; even the hated tuition fees cum sort of graduate tax has delivered more young people from less well-off backgrounds into higher education.

You can, as Cap'n Clegg is fond of saying, still do a lot of GOOD with a bit of goodwill and three-quarters of a trillion pounds!

All of which means THIS is where the fight gets DESPERATE.

Liberal Democrats, we might have thought that we could go quietly into Opposition, sit the next Parliament out, lick our wounds – which will be many – and rebuild our tattered reputation under the cosy leadership of Saint Tim, while enjoying the no-doubt-hilarious spectacle of a minority Labour administration giving new definition to being propped up with a (lack of) confidence and supply (of demands) from the SNP.


The Tories are already planning how to wreck democracy: that infamous "black and white ball" they held, that wasn't to raise funds for the General Election. They've already GOT the funds to fight the General Election. THAT was to raise funds for the SECOND General Election.

Remember, our slogan is "Stronger Economy; Fairer Society; Opportunity for All".

It's NOT because we'd deliver a fairer society than the Tories and a stronger economy than Labour. (Though we would. But that's OBVIOUS.)

It's because we'd deliver a FAIRER society than LABOUR and a STRONGER economy than THE TORIES!

Labour: the Party of I.D.iot cards, 90 day detention, dog whistles on immigration, cutting benefits for young people, introducing ATOS, introduction Work Capability Assessments, introducing tuition fees (yes, that burns), cash for peerages, cash for Bernie Eccleston, Iraq… no WAY are Labour the Party of "fairer society".

But equally, the Tories: the Party of throwing our relationship with our single biggest trading partner into doubt, the Party of toying with GBrexit, the Party of slashing immigration and all the benefits that come with it, the Party of slashing benefits(!), the Party of tax cuts for Dead Millionaires (promised again, this week), the Party of blowing dirty great wads on Trident… no WAY are the Tories the Party of "stronger economy".

People, if you DON'T want the LUNATICS to take over the asylum, if you don't want the drawbridge pulled up and the curtain run down on five centuries of Britain being the greatest trading nation on Earth, we CANNOT let the Tories win! Labour are about to surrender. It's up to the Liberal Democrats.

No pressure, then.

In this post:

Master Gideon = Gideon known as George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Mr Allstar Darling = Alistair Darling, his Labour predecessor
Rachel the Reever = Rachel Reeves, Labour Shadow Welfare Minister
Tristram the Hunt = Tristram Hunt, Labour Shadow Education Minister
Mr Milipede, reverting to Mr Miliband = Ed Miliband, probably-doomed leader of the Labour Party
Cap'n Clegg = Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Mr Danny = Danny Alexander, Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary (i.e. second in charge) at the Treasury
Mr Vince = Dr Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and widely respected as Lib Dem economic spokesperson and stand-in leader