The Anti-Clegg Machine

Many politicians suffer a fall from grace. Tony Blair provides us with the most spectacular example, going from saviour in 1997 to reviled ‘war criminal’ just a decade later. Taking Downing Street he shook the hands of adoring crowds; now he needs ridiculous levels of security to keep those same crowds at bay. Gordon Brown suffered a similar fate. Taking office he was seen as a breath of fresh air, a remedy to New Labour’s spin; but after chickening out of calling an election, his fate was sealed. It seems laughable now, but back then he would have won a comfortable victory, securing a Labour government that would still be in place today, had it not been for a suddenly popular proposition for a tax-cut announced during the Conservative Party conference. Reeling from the sudden good press the Torys got, he bottled the one election he could have won.

This natural progression seems the same for most politicians. Even joke Prime Minister John Major was immensely popular when he took over from Margaret Thatcher. But no politician has gone from darling to demon in such a quick dive as Nick Clegg.

In many ways it’s to be expected; any politician taking part in a government dealing with such a huge budget deficit is bound to become unpopular, The doctor who severs the gangrene leg is necessary, but you won’t be inviting him round for breakfast (although you should). But why has it happened to acutely for Nick Clegg and not for David Cameron? The answers can be traced back to the last General Election.

Liberal Democrats have never had many allies in the media. As the campaigns kicked off, they were widely ignored and ridiculed. Polls suggested they were going to suffer a squeeze as supporters flocked to both the Labour Party and the Conservatives to tactically vote depending upon which side they feared the most.

And then the televised debates happened. Suddenly the public got political debate without looking through the prism of partisan media. The debate wasn’t filtered through the mind of a Times reporter, but direct from politician to viewer. This had a startling effect upon the polls. Suddenly the Lib Dems were in the game.

Following the first televised debate, the print media went into hysteria, suddenly realising that their influence was becoming undermined. Whereas before they knew they could print, “vote conservative” on election day and get the result they wanted, suddenly the public were thinking for themselves. A deluge of ridiculous anti-Clegg smears graced the front pages of the right-wing press in response. He had stolen their thunder and they would never forgive him.

When the results came in, Labour found it had pulled off an incredible victory: they had secured just few enough seats that they couldn’t form a coalition to stay in government. It was Christmas for the Labour party, they could now sit out the cuts in the safe knowledge that both their opposition parties would get the blame.

After taking over as leader of the party, Ed Miliband had two choices of how to deal with Liberal Democrats in government. He could either focus his attacks on the Tories to appear friendly to Lib Dems, smoothing the way for a Labour-Liberal coalition in the future, or he could target the Liberal Democrats in an attempt to destroy them as a party, giving those of the centre-left nowhere to go but back to Labour. In a move of pure Machiavellian cynicism he opted for the second.

And so the Labour attacks on the Liberal Democrats began, the flagship attack being the wilful ignorance of how coalitions work, painting compromises as ‘broken promises’. It didn’t seem to phase the Labour party that they had broken countless promises with a huge majority and nothing to stand in their way; the approach still became party policy.

While Labour began their offensive, Liberal Democrats were being targeted by the right wing press as a negative influence upon the coalition, and by the left wing press as traitors and oath breakers. But it wasn’t until the tuition fees debate that Nick Clegg’s role as scapegoat became properly defined.

Nick Clegg Shame On You by Chris Beckett

Nick Clegg Shame On You by Chris Beckett

Two figures are most responsible for putting the knife into Clegg’s back. The first was Ed Miliband, keen to keep up the pressure, he painted the education bill as being ‘unfair’ despite it being more progressive than Labour’s policy. The second was Aaron Porter, then leader of the NUS and member of the Labour party. He wanted a graduate tax, so all graduates would pay an extra income tax once they started earning, instead the government introduced a fixed amount fee that would only be paid once they started earning. The two policies were pretty much the same.

But this was Aaron Porter’s time to shine and secure himself a place of honour in his Labour party. He whipped the NUS up into a frenzy, denouncing the astonishingly similar policy with hypocrisy that would make his Labour peers proud. The result was a student population convinced their future was being robbed, and who was to blame? Funnily enough it was the same man the Labour party had decided to target: Nick Clegg.

Just as before the election, the Liberal Democrats had no group in the media to argue their corner, and no televised debates to get their message directly across. Support for them crumbled and all the while the smears from both the right and the left increased.

And then along came the AV referendum which stepped up the anti-Clegg propaganda to incredible new levels. Joining in with the Labour smear campaign, the conservatives used Clegg as their poster-boy, accusing him of breaking promises despite the fact he was compromising to keep the government (they were a part of!) running.

Throughout the AV campaign, Ed Miliband has been playing his cards with the cunning of a true opportunist. He knows the best result for him would be a ‘no’ vote to disillusion the liberal left. Already today he is blaming Nick Clegg pre-emptively for a defeat, painting himself a the pro-reform candidate that the liberals should be standing behind. But all this is simply posturing. If he really wanted to win the referendum, he would have put a stop to the scaremongering and fictitious attacks launched by his own party on behalf of the ‘no’ campaign. Instead he allowed it to continue whilst making a half-hearted attempt to secure a ‘yes’ vote, just so he could say he did.

So how does the future look for Nick Clegg? Not good. Both the left and the right want to break up the coalition so they can have an immediate election and feast upon the remains of a slain Liberal Democrat party. This will galvanise them to keep up the pressure on the one man holding it all together.

There are reasonable attacks that can be made against the man: he’s dull, not a particularly inspiring speaker and lacks passion; but he certainly isn’t a liar, cheat or a monster. The saddest aspect of this horrendous bout of hatred is not the life of an earnest man being ruined, but that we the public could be so easily manipulated by such an obviously political attempt at character assassination. It had all the sophistication of a playground bully, and we are still falling for it.

The Rise Of The Stupid

It is a well known stereotype that the older a person gets, the more cynical they become. After being fooled, let down and deceived so many times (even though in the minority of encounters) they can’t help but view the world through tinted glasses. Is it possible the same can be said for a democracy? Does a state ruled by the people for the people naturally slide into crippling cynicism?

The general election of 1997 was perhaps the last hurrah of British politics. We’d been let down too many times and, perhaps naively, threw our hopes behind the Labour party. By 2010 that dream had been repeatedly thrashed and, like a triple-divorcee contemplating a possible date, the electorate were left doubting if they could ever again believe the words of a politician.

The split in the public was reflected in the election result – a hung parliament. No specific party was given the endorsement needed to form a government, though by the size of the Conservative result it was clear the public wanted them to play a role in whatever coalition was formed. After a few days of political negotiation the inevitable happened: a coalition between the conservatives and the liberal democrats.

And then, just a few months later, it began: the rise of the stupid.

As if on auto-pilot every announcement is now greeted with cynical fantasy – selling forests to local organisations? It must be so they can be chopped down! Devolving power in the NHS? It must be to privatise healthcare! (rather amusing that one, consider for a moment the huge row the Americans just had over the hint at state interference creeping into their private healthcare system) Changing the way universities are funded? It must be to stop poor kids getting an education!

And now – reform of our political system. The most important piece of legislation this country has seen in a generation is being shouted down by cynical fantasy arguments that shouldn’t exist in a democracy, yet thrives in ours.

The No to AV campaign shouldn’t be allowed to get away with claiming that switching to AV would cost £250 million, given that this is a complete fantasy. Neither should they be able to infer that if AV fails, this money (that doesn’t exist) would go towards flack-jackets for soldiers or cardiac equipment for sick babies. In a healthy democracy the public would laugh at such ridiculous scaremongering tactics, yet in ours the argument grows traction. The public, so cynical in their approach, are willing to grasp any negative claim as gospel, believing that anything from the political sphere is to be opposed.

The rot is deep within our culture and has been spreading for sometime, but is now reaching epic proportions. Logic no longer counts in British politics. It seems to have been replaced with a strange national masochism masquerading as scepticism. Democracy by sophism is rising and there’s little that can be done to stop it.

Take, for instance, a publication found on openDemocracy titled “Fight Back”. A collective work praising the rise of demonstrations against the coalitions broken pledges and cuts to public services. It is a belief, held by this group and others, that through modern means of communication the public can strike back against a morally corrupt government. But it is sophism. Whilst on the one side damning the coalition parties for breaking pledges in the name of comprise they praise their own organisation for putting aside ideological differences in favour of finding common ground. As one author writes: “it would be a great shame now to descend into ideological fetishism”. In other words, “we need to get rid of these cowardly compromisers and replace them with people like us who are willing to put aside our beliefs for the common good”. The startling hypocrisy should be obvious, but it seems the more these groups grow, so does the self-congratulation and intellectual mutual masturbation, putting aside the glaring contradictions inherent in their words.

This mentality could be clearly seen in the furore over the forest sell off plans, a harmless attempt to devolve power and improve the quality of our forests that was demonised until the image held in the public’s eye was completely different from reality.

Yet the beast that is awoken cannot be easily lulled back to sleep. The NUS shamelessly whipped its membership into a frenzy over the raising of tuition fees, and yet now, after the protests are over and the resentment remains, it is they who have to reap what they sowed. It’s been reported that the NUS sent letters out to their membership admitting that they greatly exaggerated the impact of the government’s proposals and pleaded with students to work with universities. Having manipulated the masses, they are now paying the price. What’s done cannot be undone.

A movement is on the way. A great rise of the stupid. They compare their efforts with those of the Egyptians, an insulting comparison that could only be made by a people that do not know what tyranny really is. It’s a movement similar to the tea-party in the states, but from the other end of the political spectrum. And like the tea-party, they aren’t interested in logic. Just outrage.

London Looks Pretty Daft From Over Here!

It’s the day after and some Lib Dems are still standing. It seems someone was on hand with a knife to cut the nooses and drag each and every one of them into parliament to make them actually vote. The vote passed, but only just. Around half of the liberals rebelled, voting against, with a handful abstaining. It is sad that they felt they had to oppose it, given that it is generally agreed by any independent body that studies the figures that this is a much more progressive bill than the current state of affairs, but then those protesting outside weren’t interested in such frivolous things as ‘facts’.

I was watching from Prague as the vote came in, rather thankful to have found BBC World on my hotel TV set. The BBC were flicking between the inside of the commons, packed to the gills, and parliament square, even more crammed. In the segment I saw they were interviewing a student who was claiming that it was the police who’d been provoking the confrontations. Fair enough, I can understand that. But then they went to a gentleman beside him, an English Teacher, who said that this bill ‘brought in by millionaires’ was damning his students to pay 30 quid a week, a sum poor families couldn’t afford.

This statement alone shows the amount is disinformation floating around the minds of the protesters. No-one is going to be made to pay up-front. They will pay back their fees when they begin earning over 21k – when they can afford it. The concept of making higher earners pay more is a LEFT policy, not a RIGHT one. A lot of students who fail to get high earning jobs will never be made pay back the full cost of their loans. Why? Because if you can’t afford to, you won’t be made to.

But such logic was beyond the British public gathered in London yesterday. There were calls to “bring down the neo-liberal state”, though what they wanted to replace it with I can’t imagine. Labour? A bunch who brought in detention without charge and invaded Iraq? Yes, I guess they were much nicer, let’s usher them in!

What was most tragic was the sense of doom in the crowd. You would think the legislation being passed was to end education entirely, rather than ask students to contribute once they begin earning. “They have voted away our futures,” one said whilst being interviewed by the BBC. What utter nonsense. Perhaps they’ve voted away a trip to the pub, or a takeout tikka-masala, or whatever 7 pounds a week would have bought you. That’s not your future.

It sounds like I’m anti-protest, but I’m not. I’ve been on quite a few protests in my time, it’s just they were over strong moral issues like war, nuclear armourment, or infringement of civil liberties. This is an issue over how to finance a service through difficult times. Something to debate about, sure. Something to write to your MP about, definitely. Something to get into a scrap with the police over? Er.. not really. It’s embarrassing how selfish our students have behaved. Utterly, utterly embarrassing.

Oh, and any who claim to be anarchists who attended the protest: anarchism is about freedom from the state, ie. Universities being free to charge for their services, and civilians being free from taxation to pay for services they don’t support (in an anarcho-commune universities would be funded through charitable donations). Clearly these numbskulls think anarchism is about kicking in a window. Idiots.

How Many Students Does It Take To Screw A Party?

How easy is it to trick a student? From looking at the escalating (I refuse to use the term snowballing) protests, I would say ‘very’. The Right always lives up to its reputation of being made up of arseholes and right now the Left is truly showing itself to be as thick as two short planks.

Next Thursday the Lib Dems are going to line up and collectively hang themselves, just before the vote on raising tuition fees. Perhaps then, with fifty or so yellow corpses dangling from London Bridge, people will finally say, “gosh, they really didn’t want this did they?”

For those Lib Dems who don’t obey the party whip and do themselves in, they will be forced to choose between fucking the country, or fucking themselves. Ouch. Tough.

Because, despite the many moral and philosophical reasons why education should be completely free, this current proposal is about all we can do for the time being. We’ve got no cash, so sorry students, you’ll have to pay the state back once you get a fancy job with your degree.

But that’s not what the student protesters think. They have fallen for Labour’s line like a twelve year old girl being offered cigarettes by her seedy English teacher. Labour are claiming that the cuts to public finance are the part of some ‘whim’ on depart of the government. “We wouldn’t be making these cuts”, they bellow, sounding like a scumbag father, kicked out of his family home for spending all the family allowance at the bookies, then telling his children that if he was in charge instead of their mother, he’d buy them that Xbox she claims they can’t afford.

“These are ideological cuts” they cry, but this statement is meaningless. Any debate on what should be spent by the state is ideological. It’s ideological to make those spending commitments in the first place, and then just as ideological to cut them. The motivation might be based upon facts, but the act is always ideological. Claiming this is in some way new or bad is quite frankly moronic.

There’s a lot of chatter about students becoming radicalised into the socially active students of the 60’s. Sadly this couldn’t be further from the truth. There doesn’t seem to be any urge to right the wrongs of the world, just a dissatisfaction at getting a bill at the end of their course.

Students are so gullible they believe that bad headlines and angry comments at Question Time means they are making progress for their cause. What they don’t seem to realise is that Britain is obsessed with bad headlines and angry comments. We thrive on it. We don’t really care about the cause, we just want to moan. In a couple of weeks we will have moved on to the next issue to rant about and student fees will be forgotten. It’s our way.

But the Lib Dems, swinging from their ropes, won’t have forgotten. They’ll remember quite clearly never to try to help students again.

RIOT!

Riot! Smash! Destroy! No Compromise! Down With The Rotters!

Yes, the streets of London have become a battlefield. We’re talking full on destruction, the end of times, Revelations, and all that. OK, perhaps not. Perhaps it was just a small bunch of tits who got carried away, but there is a larger bunch of tits who can’t be dismissed: the NUS.

First of all, I’m not wholly against violent protest. I think there is a place for it, though that place is rare and only in cases of extreme immorality on behalf of the state. After protesting the Iraq War time and time again, perhaps a little violence might have tipped the scales in our favour? After all, the government sure showed us that no amount of peaceful protest was going to change their minds. Not one bit, m’laddio. But even in that case, with all the ethical urgency and life or death outcomes available, violent protest would probably have proven counter productive, turning opinion against us, rather than against Blair and The Sun.

How tragic then, that instead of getting violent over bombing innocents, our students chose to get ‘so passionate that they couldn’t control themselves’ over having to pay a bit more in fees for their education. Now, forgive me for siding with a Conservative administration, but doesn’t that strike you as a tad selfish? It doesn’t come across as a principled stand, but more as an attempt to be a bit richer in the future. It’s not even as if they have to pay the fees up front, they pay them back once they are earning above 21k. If your degree proves worthless when it comes to getting a job, then – hurrah! – the state isn’t going to come knocking.

Now, I’m saying this with full sympathy for their cause. I believe that education should be free, but I also am a pragmatist who understands that things provided by the state need to be paid for, and there currently is no money. It’s a huge shame, but students need to foot-the-bill. It’s better that than, say, shutting down the NHS, or ending primary school education and leaving it up to parents.

So should students feel pissed off? Certainly. Should they be getting violent? Certainly not. It makes them look like toddlers throwing a strop.

But I began the article pointing the finger of judgement at the NUS, rather than the violent few. What are they doing wrong?

It seems the NUS, furious at the rise in tuition fees, have decided to punish the Lib Dems for abandoning their pledge to oppose tuition fees. They have threatened a decapitation strategy of every Liberal MP who votes for the bill. With such harsh opposition, MP’s such as Nick Clegg, might lose their seats come the next election.

Surely, I hear you say, that is the correct thing for a pressure group to do? The Lib Dems did, after all, break their promise and need to be held to account. Shouldn’t the NUS flex their muscles?

No, and here is the reason why. If the NUS punish the Lib Dems harshly, it could cripple our democracy.

The British public no longer want to vote for just two parties. The choice between Labour and Conservative is one that is no longer palatable in the modern era. Some will want to vote Liberal, some Green, some UKIP, SNP, etc. This shift is only going to continue, eating away at the old system where one party would control parliament over the other.

In this multi-party future, the only way of getting a government that can pass legislation is for coalitions to be formed (something very common in Europe). It could be Liberal-Conservative, Labour-Green, Conservative-UKIP, anything, as long as it controls a majority in the house of commons. These coalitions will need to negotiate a platform for governance, somewhere between the two parties ideologies, depending upon how many seats that party has. For instance, imagine a coalition is formed between the Green party and UKIP. In this imagined outcome the Green party has 320 seats and UKIP has 50. Obviously the Greens have the greatest sway in this case, and their policies would be close to the Green Manifesto with some anti-Europe concessions. If the seats were reversed it would be a mostly Euro-Sceptic government, with a few policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In elections, all parties would still campaign of what they would do if they got a majority by themselves, but if they formed a coalition, then obviously what they do would be somewhere between them and their new partner, depending upon how many chips the electorate dealt each of them.

So why are the NUS threatening our democracy? If they punish the Lib Dems for compromising, then it will scare political parties out of either promising anything vaguely ideological that couldn’t be negotiated in a coalition, or they will cease forming coalitions at all. In either eventuality groups such as the NUS can kiss their goals goodbye as British politics is either brought into a fearful state of stalemate, or turned into an awful homogeneous gloop, with no politician willing to propose something difficult to deliver.

What should the NUS be doing instead? They should be out campaigning for the Lib Dems, trying to give them a majority next time, instead of forcing them to compromise with the Tories. Sadly it looks like they want to destroy the one real political ally they have.

Stupid bloody students.