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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.



May. 1st, 2005 10:07 pm (UTC)
Re: hmmmm
I read it argued recently that Labour's anti-child poverty targets were meaningless because in this country there was no such thing as true child poverty: children had a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, clothes on their backs, a free education. Lacking holidays abroad, satellite TV and posh trainers just made them unfortunate, not deprived.

I've heard this argued too, that what we're calling child poverty is just relative and really not that bad. I can see how the argument gets made - most of my kids have mobile phones, and wear expensive trainers, and smoke, even though none of them have winter coats and every so often kids will miss weeks of school because they split their only pair of trousers or get a hole in their only pair of good shoes and their parents can't afford to replace it (I strongly suspect many of those trainers and phones and fags come to them, directly or indirectly, by dodgy means, however). They don't look starving, although they are - they are absolutely ravenous by the time morning break comes around, because many of them don't get fed at night at home and hardly any of them get breakfast. We have real problems, despite the breakfast club where we feed any child that wants it a healthy breakfast for free, with the kids not being able to focus in the first two lessons of the day because they're so hungry. They do look malnourished, though. They're pale and pasty and the head of P.E. said to me that one reason our sports teams always lose when we compete against other schools is that all our kids are simply two inches shorter than the other lot, thanks to a crappy diet and smoking. We had to give every kid in the school a free uniform when it changed to the academy uniform, because their parents couldn't afford to buy it for most of them.

So yes, they have clothes on their backs, but they're crappy ones that they wear until they fall apart, and they have food in their bellies, but it's shitty food that doesn't nourish them properly, and they have a roof over their heads, but the homes they live in are overcrowded and crappy and have lovely things like infestations of cockroaches. It's pretty insidious, this level of poverty, because it isn't obvious from the outside.

However, I find it hard to argue that the present growing gap between the wealthiest sliver of the population and a burgeoning underclass who have nothing and no hope of getting anything without turning to crime will do anything but add to social instability.

Yes, in a nutshell this is how I feel too. It's heading us down a cultural, social dead end as a country. Poverty of aspirations is another invisible type of poverty, but it's wretched and widespread and is breeding an underclass that generates social problems that affect us all.

Sometimes I think the teachers are left marooned in areas where relative poverty in material and aspirational terms means that they're a mile behind the field even as the race begins.

Um, YES *g*. It's very, very hard to teach children who have simply no concept that there is a better life available to them, and that they can get it via means other than crime. Poverty of aspirations simply deadens children in a schoolroom. Sometimes it's like teaching a class full of zombies for all the energy and engagement in their eyes. They have absolutely no models for education improving lives, and so they're extremely difficult to engage, full stop.
May. 2nd, 2005 09:11 pm (UTC)
Re: hmmmm
So what you're saying is that they (or their parents) have all the necessities provided to them, so with the funds they have, they purchase luxuries. Play luxuries, instead of better clothes or food.

How much of the cycle the kids are in is due to them/their parents essentially not owning anything, but being reliant/dependant on others for everything?

And how much is due to them being placed in council housing with others in the same situation, unable to move to a different/better neighborhood, and surrounded by others who don't value education, conservative financal choices, and the like?

As for the kids coming in ravenous - is this because the food is lousy or because their parents are not feeding them at home? (you said both) Why leave children with parents who won't feed their kids?

Please don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm opposed to charity or helping out those worse off than one's self. I understand wanting to help people, and I think it's necessary for a society. But it's the faceless entitlement that I think is a mistake.

If all you're teaching people is that someone will always be there to bail them out, and that they can survive just fine day to day on the dole, there's not much motivation for them to move off. And is that really a help to people?

Had you seen this article?

- hg
May. 2nd, 2005 09:49 pm (UTC)
Re: hmmmm
So what you're saying is that they (or their parents) have all the necessities provided to them, so with the funds they have, they purchase luxuries. Play luxuries, instead of better clothes or food.

Some of them, yes. Others...well, I can't prove it, but I have very strong suspicions about how some of my students come by their luxury goods. Petty crime is endemic on the estate - it's one of the reasons our school has its own police officer assigned part-time to it. I strongly suspect some of my older students deal drugs. I KNOW some of my younger ones do stuff like steal cigarettes and sell them on to other kids, because they've been caught at it, and I know that the money from that is going on stuff like new mobile phones and new trainers.

I hadn't seen that article. I'm not a big fan of Theodore Dalrymple - he writes for the Daily Telegraph, which is a bastion of right-wing frothers-at-the-mouth, and makes a living out of telling upper middle-class people what they want to hear about the disappearance of the 'deserving poor' (a concept that has hung on over here since Victorian times and still, I think, does a lot of damage to our social fabric).

That's not to say I think he's making it all up. I believe it (apart from the bit about the state paying to entertain people, because I've never heard that buying people new tellies is part of council housing provision, and I do think he's on crack if he thinks the British urban poor aren't still living in overcrowded housing, or working 14 hour labour-intensive days), and I do accept that there's a problem in our culture now where people are obsessed with knowing their 'rights' but have no idea of their responsibilities. I see that in many of the children I teach, never mind in their parents. But I'm not sure that the answer is a Darwinian, 'take away the support and let them sink or swim' approach to the people at the very bottom of the pile (and yes, it may be relative, compared with the scale of poverty in the Third World, but it is a fact that these people ARE at the very bottom of the pile). I especially don't know if you can do that where there are children involved, and I don't think that the answer is to take kids away from parents who aren't doing a good enough job, because then what do you do with all the kids? Put them all in care homes or with foster carers? The offending rates, and the levels of educational under-achievement of looked-after children, are frightening.

As for the kids coming in ravenous - is this because the food is lousy or because their parents are not feeding them at home? (you said both)

With some of them, it's that they don't get fed by their parents. There are varied reasons for that - with some kids it's a case of neglect, with some it's a case of both parents being out at work all hours (contrary to the stereotype of the wasteful, indolent mums and dads on the dole, quite a lot of our parents are actually working two or three jobs just to keep their family fed and clothed, because the only jobs they are qualified to do are so shittily paid) and the kids being latch-key kids who fend for themselves. In other cases, they do get fed at home, but it's that the food they get at home is so shitty - their parents don't know about nutrition, or know how to cook, and so they feed them cheap processed rubbish. I don't have numbers on this, but I have a hell of a lot of anecdotal evidence (I started asking the kids about it more and more after the whole Jamie's School Dinners thing blew up).
May. 2nd, 2005 09:49 pm (UTC)
Re: hmmmm

I do think the blanket perception of 'dole scroungers' is harmful. For starters, you have to distinguish between different reasons for people to be on benefits - what we always called the dole when I was young is now officially called Job Seeker's Allowance, and to get it you have to prove you're actively trying to find paid employment. Someone on JSA may be in a very different situation than, say, someone on long-term incapacity benefits. I also think something that often gets overlooked is that in order to function, a Western society needs people to do the shitty jobs - cleaning toilets, cleaning hotel rooms, working on supermarket checkouts, street-sweeping, etc. But those are the shitty jobs, they're unskilled, and so the pay for them is shitty. This would be why, rather than just lying around on benefits, which is the popular perception, a lot of my kids have parents who work two or three jobs of that kind in order to make ends meet. The bummer is, that doesn't leave them with a whole lot of time to be parents.

I dunno, are we differing on the definition of poverty, on the question of whether or not you can have a roof over your head, running water, electricity, and still be 'poor'? Or are we just differing on what the best solution is?