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1) I actually cooked tonight: seared tuna steak, organic couscous with pesto, baby green cabbage and some kind of outrageously expensive Spanish red peppers that taste heavenly. I feel so accomplished, given that toast is usually as far as my culinary adventures extend.

2) I have just taken my first swig of over-the-counter, laden-with-codeiney-goodness cough syrup and I plan to be cheerfully bombed on it all weekend. I won't be able to drive but I won't be coughing either. Huzzah! I plan to listen to the footie on Radio 5, call people up to wig them out with my lovely Harvey Fierstein voice and watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition while playing the "Oh!My!Gosh!" drinking game. And read a lot.

3) I flipped past American Idol while I was eating dinner. America, as arrogant, arse-chinned and truly dreadful as Constantine was when he tried to pull a Chad Kroeger, I can't believe you preferred to boot him out rather than the smug, wall-eyed, god-bothering serial killer-in-waiting that is Scott Thingywotsit. If he's genuinely humble then I'm a teapot called Eric.

4) Some time ago leadensky said I was getting the impression that all the polls were running a 15 to 20 point difference, favor Labor (or whatever Blair's party is) and that nobody was taking odds for the Tories, much less anyone one else. Is there some reason to expect a Spain-style upset?

There's not much reason to expect a Spain-style upset because the parties are not *that* close in the polls that something like the Madrid bombing and the subsequent festival of lying, panicking and misdirection engaged in by the Aznar government could tip the vote the other way.

As in Spain, the involvement in Iraq is, barring something dreadful happening next week, an issue which impacts in different ways across the electorate. I don't know whether this has been reported at all in the media outside Britain, but the secret advice on the legality of the war which was given by the attorney general has been slowly leaked over the course of the election campaign. It proves that contrary to what Blair advised parliament, the case for war was not cut and dried and it is likely that Britain engaged in a war which was illegal according to international law. This actually matters in Britain, which is a signatory to a number of treaties on the subject and, in general, has historically been a proponent of creating a useful framework of international law.

For most people it's way down the priority list compared to say, issues of healthcare, education, taxation and immigration (the main areas of argument this election)

But for others, hardcore Labourites, Iraq was one break of faith too far from Blair, who is a centre-right social democrat when most of his party span the spectrum from social democrat to socialist. They despised him for other reasons of policy but the Iraq war is what convinced them that the compromise under which leftwingers united behind and supported someone from the right of their party because he was electable was not worth it. (Labour was out of power for 18 years before Blair, and it was scarred by the experience) Iraq was the issue that broke that particular devil's covenant for them.

However, the main opposition party, the Conservatives (AKA, the Tories), also supported the war in Iraq, so there's no leverage for them in that issue. It is led by Michael Howard, a former home secretary of frighteningly rightwing, illiberal views, who is now trying to come across as Mr Everyman. Michael Howard is the lawyer son of immigrants from Romania who fled the Nazis, and in that respect, a huge success story. However, he has chosen to run on a very tricksy platform in which the issue of stopping immigration is heavily foregrounded in a way which plays to the basest, most racist impulses of the electorate. Most hardcore Labour voters would rather drown themselves in a bowl of lentil stew than vote for him.

The voting situation is further complicated by a third main party, the Liberal Democrats. They were a midpoint between the Conservatives and Labour but now stand slightly to the left and side of Labour, supporting higher taxes to be ploughed into education and healthcare and an ethical foreign policy which would have permitted, say, the intervention in Bosnia but not the intervention in Iraq.

There are also a number of smaller parties, mostly operating on single issue tickets, the most odious of which are
(1) Veritas, a party which exists only for a permatanned former talk show host to parade his anti-Muslim and anti-European integration views;

(2) UKIP, The UK independence party, which is anti-European integration and would pull Britain out of its European alliances in favour of transatlanticism. This party took a huge bite out of the rightwing vote in the previous election but is now in disarray because Europe is no longer a live issue (this is because the French referendum on the EU constitution on May 29 appears likely to reject its adoption, and oh my god will that put the cat among the pigeons);

(3) The British National Party. Like Aryan Nation, only a wee bit brighter and in suits. They target poor wards and constituencies with large minority ethnic populations and target the white working class vote by playing on their fears. Words cannot express how much I despise these people. Unfortunately, they will probably make gains this election.

The UK has a majoritarian system of government that works like this: the country is divided into constituencies, some 646-odd of them, each of which returns an MP -- the person who has the most votes even if they've won by only 33 votes (which is the smallest majority in the country at present). The party with the most MPs at the end of Thursday night forms the government and the leader of that party is prime minister. Winner takes all, everyone else has to sit down and shut up.

The third party means that tactical voting assumes a large importance in the UK whereas it does not in the US, which also has a majoritarian system of government and bicameral legislature but elects them much more directly.

Labour won by a landslide in 1997, when the electorate administered an unheard of spanking to the loathed Tories. This was accomplished by tactical voting: hardcore Labour voters switching allegiance to the Liberal Democrats in seats which Labour could not possibly win and Liberal Democrats voting for Labour where their candidate could not possibly win.

In 2001, UKIP split the Tory vote and delivered a 167 seat majority to Blair, which allowed him to push through as much legislation as he liked without having to negotiate a huge amount of opposition, except on issues like Iraq and university fees.

The real battlegrounds are probably fewer than 200 constituencies where the vote is close. These marginals are where the parties pour most of their money and where tactical voting makes the contest the most volatile.

It would take a huge swing for the Conservatives to retake the seats they lost in 1997 and that requires a huge swing away from Labour. While Blair's numbers show that he is both distrusted and disliked, they also say that the country thinks he is doing a reasonably good job as PM. The Conservatives cannot win this election, barring a miracle or a terrorist disaster, because Labour has (though it pains me to admit it) been a fairly good government in many areas. And the electorate is content and apathetic.

Yet the Conservative vote is very strong this year, with up to 80% of those who identify as Tories likely to vote while only 64% of those who identify as Labour voters are likely to actually turn out on Thursday.

Therefore the twin-pronged Conservative strategy is this: (1) you depress the Labour turnout by admitting that the election looks lost. This means that weak Labour supporters won't bother voting because they don't think the Conservatives could possibly win.

(2) You tell the furious Labour voters who hate Blair to send a message by voting *against* Labour as a vote against Blair, weakening his position in the party and possibly forcing him to stand down at some point in the next term.

This has the side effect of encouraging slackness of allegiance and discouraging anti-Tory tactical voting. In a tight race, the Green party supporter, for example, might vote for Labour as the least-worst option, but when he/she believes Labour are sure to win, that person will vote with their conscience and go Green. In 2001 this slackness of allegiance hurt the Conservatives -- their voters were sure they would not win and so voted for UKIP to express their anger at the European policy of the main parties.

This differential turnout is hard to calculate in polling data and means that while the official lead for Labour in most polls is 5-8 points, when you count only the responses of those who are certain to vote, it drops to around 2 points, a very manageable swing.

And this is why electoral volatility should have made this an exciting election. Somehow, though, it hasn't been. I'm hoping for a lot of surprise victories for the Liberal Democrats and a much-reduced majority for the Labour party. It's not healthy for one party to have a majority in parliament of more than 100. It encourages dictatorial government.

My tribal loyalty is to Labour but not so much that I won't vote for someone else (who is not a bloody Tory)

Questions? Comments? Yawns?


matociquala may be interested in this article from today's Grauniad about 'Ryanair-style'-publishing in which the author receives no advance and bears all costs of professional editing. Looks like there's a division between those hoping it gets more people published and a large number who are appalled at authors getting an ever-smaller sliver of the pie.



Apr. 30th, 2005 05:30 pm (UTC)
And is that $100K (sorry, no pound signs on my computer - Ugly American Syndrome) for a person or for a family? A police detective and his school teacher wife in New York can pull in $140-$160K. I don't think they see themselves in the same tax class as movie stars, real estate moguls and software magnates.

Income tax is based on individual salaries now, though there are various complicated rules related to tax credits for married couples and families with children. However, the top rate remains 40% whether you're a school department head or a software magnate.

I believe people should pay their fair share - don't get me wrong. I just think you'd wind up with a lot more tax exiles and the best and brightest moving to more tax friendly countries if the government gets half.

I believe this happened a lot in the 1970s. The people who were really high earners back then were paying about 70% of their income in various direct taxes and many did indeed go abroad or go to live in places like the Isle of Man or Jersey which were tax havens.

Mrs Thatcher ended that -- probably rightly -- and tried to end progressive taxation. Thankfully she failed in that last aim.

Wow. I think this is a disincentive. Why work hard, why try to succeed, why stay in England if the government is going to take a shade less than half your money?

I think that this probably hits at the difference between the US and Britain (and western Europe to a certain extent) Of every 10 hours I work, I work four for the government just based on income tax, and then there's my National Insurance contribution, not to mention 17.5% VAT on various random things, then there's the council tax, which is the local taxation and about £60 a month and pays for the fire service, local authority etc.

There's also the £12 a month I pay for the TV licence (a public broadcast tax paid by everyone with a TV), which has to be anathema to you *g*

Our basic level of services we demand from our government is higher than in the US, where the more individualistic culture has dictated that you sort out matters such as healthcare for yourself via insurance.

We are used to free healthcare, free education and a certain basic standard below which people do not fall because there's a social safety net there. If that acts as a disincentive among the very poor or the very rich, then that's just the price you pay for it.

I'm not sure that US voters would agree to that because your culture seems to me very much that you stand up on your own two feet and work for everything you have. In the main, this works.

But I think the European standpoint is this: what happens to those who are too old or too ill or too frail or don't have the family/community to support them? What do they do? In the US, according to leadensky, (and I hope I am not characterising her position wrongly), they are caught by non-governmental organisations such as soup kitchens, charities and the very limited welfare net.

The European culture is that this is insufficient and that the poor should be caught by a more extensive welfare net, which is government-administrated so that it can be comprehensive and integrated. If the price of that is that is some administrative inefficiency and that a few workshy bastards live off benefits the whole of their lives, that's the price we pay.

I like the European system of benefits/welfare better, personally, probably because I'm used to the idea of my taxes paying for benefits for other people. I'm okay with it. I'd be okay with paying more, even, though I would bitch like mad. I like a system where if you imagine the worst possible set of circumstances -- a lost job, chronic illness, no family or friends -- you could still have a house, heating, free medical care and money for food without having to beg to charities.

But it's a fact that I would be way better off under the American system.
Apr. 30th, 2005 06:47 pm (UTC)
In the US, according to leadensky, (and I hope I am not characterising her position wrongly), they are caught by non-governmental organisations such as soup kitchens, charities and the very limited welfare net.

You're not far off.

Compared to people having free health care and free housing (we do have free education for everyone) -

Wait, let me back up. We do have free health care for people at/near the poverty line. Depending on the local government, everyone can get healthcare (not hospital, but clinic care) at the local health department for a very reduced rate. (Again, you get what you pay for.)

We also have "public housing" which is also locally controlled and (thank god for small favors) the administrators are begining to realize that they are setting up a horrible situation by having whole entire developments with subsidy housing, and are now going to renting apartments in ones and threes from locations all across town, so that the childern are atleast exposed to families who have jobs. This provides a motivation for people to get back on their feet and means they don't have to move away when they do.

Landlords like the definite paycheck, but aren't happy about the clients, because (according to the landlord where I used to live) for every one person or family who was down on their luck and trying to work their way out, you had two or three who were going to set up drug operations or start taking stolen goods (LIKE MY BICYLCE!) and "even the good ones, they trash the apartment."

I think that's renters all over, though.

So I think the big difference is how low people have to go before the net catches them. We tolerate a wide range of living standards, in part because people do - every one has different things they would rather spend money on - cars, education, stereos, etc. And we expect people to pull their own weight, and for familes to help each other out.

We also give a *lot* to charity, especially locally. There are huge programs to pay for major medical care for childern who are impoverished, etc. The thing I've seen is that a lot of people want the "charity" stigma taken away - they want to be entitled to these gifts that others are giving them, and not feel beholden because they had to ask for a handout. While I on the other hand have a hard time getting past the damnit, I worked to get this money, I don't HAVE to give it to you, and I resent like hell the implication that I do.

A national system would also have troubles because of the huge variety in cost of living from place to place. For the rent on the average two-bedroom apartment here, in my not-very-large-college-town, I could rent a house, make a car payment, and buy groceries back in my folk's home town.

If the price of that is that is some administrative inefficiency and that a few workshy bastards live off benefits the whole of their lives, that's the price we pay.

I guess the biggest differences in the two systems are cultural, and in perception of what's the worse harm - the reduction in standard of living for everyone, by way of the heavy tax burden, the effects that has on the economy and the growth of new, life-improving tech, vs the very poor living situation for some people. And how many "some" is, and just what you define as "very poor". (Council housing doesn't, to me, sound "very poor", but I get the impression Cazl would not agree.)

Having traveled outside the USA, and seen places where "living good" meant having a concrete floor, vs a dirt one, I'm...rather hard to shock with stories of how badly people have it, living in the USA or West Europe.

Anyway. What I meant is that no, that was pretty much how I would put it, and thank you all for giving me ya'll's perspectives.

- hg

May. 1st, 2005 10:17 pm (UTC)
(Council housing doesn't, to me, sound "very poor", but I get the impression Cazl would not agree.)

You are correct *g*. The standard of council housing does vary around the country, and even around cities, but I would define the conditions a lot of my kids tell me they live in as squalid. They're very matter of fact about it, which is heartbreaking when they're telling you about the mould all over the walls in their house, or the infestation of cockroaches, or how many other people they share a house with (one of my very troubled kids, who is cared for by her sister since dad in in jail and mum abuses her kids, until recently shared a flat meant for two people with her sister, sister's boyfriend, brother and baby niece). The overcrowding, and the poor quality of the housing stock, generates other knock-on effects such as educational underachievement (it's hard to do your homework when you literally have no quiet space in the house to sit down and do it and be able to rest your books on a table or desk), abuse and ill health. I don't think any kid in a highly developed nation should have to live in those conditions.

May. 2nd, 2005 05:32 pm (UTC)
Having traveled outside the USA, and seen places where "living good" meant having a concrete floor, vs a dirt one, I'm...rather hard to shock with stories of how badly people have it, living in the USA or West Europe.

So, you want poor people in the USA to be on par with the poorest of the poor in the Third World, then?

I'm sure we'd immediately manage it without social services.
May. 2nd, 2005 08:07 pm (UTC)
I'm sure we won't manage it.

Where do you get this lousy attitude that the goverment has to provide everything else it all falls apart?

There are tons of differences between here and there, too many to list, but starting with education, attitudes towards education, comminication infrastructure, and simple things like more than enough food so that there's money left over for books and games and social interaction and investments.

And where did you get the "you want poor people in the US to be the same as the third world?"

No, I want us in the USA and West Europe to admit that we're kinda short on poor people, and if we're really looking at aleviating misery, we might start with those folks who don't have either a concrete floor or enough food to eat, much less a functional education system. Instead of making it sound like the house I grew up in was an example of utter misery.

(Roaches? Check. Over crowded house? Check. Family that worked more than 40 hours a week? Check. Mold on the walls? Check.)

- hossgal
May. 1st, 2005 02:16 am (UTC)
There's also the £12 a month I pay for the TV licence (a public broadcast tax paid by everyone with a TV), which has to be anathema to you *g*

When my brother-in-law (who is from Ireland) started explaining this, I was shocked. Paying for cable is one thing - you get different channels, some movies without commercials, dirty words - but to pay for simple news. Outrageous. I remember hearing there was a push to end this around the time the BBC was having their WMD troubles. I'm guessing it failed.

I do see the cultural difference with the social safety net. A lot of places here take pride in the services they provide. Churches that feed and house the homeless, I work with a group that helps repair poor public schools with extras that the city won't pay for (repairing playgrounds, painting murals in the schools) - private organizations doing good work that in Europe is done by the government. Obviously, that all costs money. 49%, though, just blew me away.

But it's a fact that I would be way better off under the American system.

Come by, I'd bet you'd learn to love us.

Take Care