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I suspect I need to unsub from a list or two. When you have almost 200 messages in your inbox and the only one you can be arsed to look at is Popbitch, then it's time to wave bye.

Popbitch, as ever, offers a wealth of appalling in one handy email. Where else could you learn of David Hasselhoff's drinking habits (legendary) or that Netflix has experienced a 1,100% increase in demand for the films of Ronald Reagan since his death?

I think film is possibly the best way to experience Ronald Reagan, as I was very unfond of his policies as a politician.

But I will not dissect the reign of Mr Reagan at length, as I would be immensely surprised if anyone gave a flying toss what I think -- I can barely outwake the torpor myself.

The one thing that the centre-left fails to understand is that for many Americans and specifically the Republicans, Reagan was a brilliant president.

He was charming, folksy, led by conviction yet was perfectly happy to let his rather grubbier and more ideologically hardline backroom staff actually govern. He was the frontman.

He gave huge tax breaks to the well-off while cutting programmes for the poorest sections of society, and managed to so alter the political discourse of the country that he took tax-and-spend off the agenda.

He talked a great game of fiscal responsibility while ramping up the deficit to such an extent that it hamstrung the presidents who followed him, who were unable to work any monetary room to manoeuvre (most specifically Clinton.)

He shifted the goalposts entirely and proved that if you are a man who can project a patina of charm and understand your heartland, you can get away with *anything* abroad providing you can, in the words of an army friend of mine, "get in, get out, no fucking about".

Does this remind you of anyone in particular?

One thing about the funeral though: I was amazed by how much I still loathe Margaret Thatcher, to the point where the very sight of her makes me want to snarl. For long periods of time, it lies buried in my heart, along with the memory of pedal pushers, Rubik's cubes and the early singles of Depeche Mode, then *vwoom* there she is and it's like I'm 15 years old and wishing someone would push her under a bus again. It's a visceral reaction.

We went to the polls in Britain yesterday for the local council elections. Because of the boundary changes, the European super-election (which goes on until Sunday across the 26 member states of the EU) and the London mayoral elections, it was more important than usual.

We have a general election coming up soon, which meant it was also a dry-run for the parties to see how the vote will divide generally and what the ruling party have to be worried about.

On this evidence, a great deal.

For the first time ever, the ruling party came third in its share of the vote. The Tories won but the Liberal Democrats took second place and Labour lost control of councils where it could previously have won without breaking a sweat. It lost heartlands such as Newcastle to the Lib Dems.

Obviously, a lot of that is a protest vote, as it always is in mid-term elections. The UK Independence Party bit a chunk out of the vote for the two largest parties, surprisingly a fair bit of it from Labour in the cities. But the UKIP is a single-issue organisation, based on protests against the ongoing federalisation plans of the European Union, and that's not usually the sort of issue which decides general elections.

However, I think that more was at play than the traditional obstreperousness over Europe, and I am basing this on anecdotal evidence: G, at work, is standing as a LibDem for the local council in a Labour stronghold and did not expect to win. It was his experience in canvassing that a lot of people are angry not at the Labour Party in general but at Tony Blair *specifically* and the issue that has them riled is the Iraq war, which they see as having been expensive for the country in terms of lives, money and, above all, prestige.

This may be a delusion but it's a collective one across the globe: our country is a place where fairness and doing the right thing matters, and if our leaders take us into a war which we do not support and this lowers our standing in the world, then we are shamed.

The electoral evidence would seem to point to the fact that a substantial majority of voters despise George Bush and blame Tony Blair for allying himself so closely to the US president that you couldn't get a fag paper between the two of them. While there was widespread, if grudging support for the Afghanistan campaign, Iraq was a different matter. They distrust Bush's motives, which means they question Blair's judgment.

From having been his party's greatest electoral weapon, Blair may now be its greatest liability.

The one thing that has kept him in power at No 10 is the party's belief that he is a vote-winner. Many in the Labour party despise the fact that he rules presidentially, with a coterie of advisors and think-tanks, that he skews right and cosies up to big business, that he is dictatorial and has gone into Iraq out of some kind of messianic conviction. If they believe he is no longer an asset at poll time, they'll have him out.

One of the delights of the British electoral system is that you can't predict exactly when the elections will be, as the prime minister calls the timing. Or rather, he goes to the Queen, asks permission to dissolve parliament, and calls the election. He has a rough term limit but that is all.

I think I once read that the tightest possible turnaround from dissolution of parliament to election day is 28 days, which is a pleasingly short number. When I was younger, I thought that the US system was way better because you always knew when the election would be and the government knew the marks it had to hit.

These days, I rather like the wily unpredictability of our system, with its snap elections and *short* campaigning season. That means we only have to put up with those nauseating fascist fuckers from the British National Party on our streets and TV screens a limited number of times.

Back in the dying months of the 1980s, Thatcher was also bowling towards her fourth election (no term limits in Britain). She was first elected in 1979, promising a new broom to sweep away the cobwebs, fought a khaki election following the Falklands War, then, on the back of a rather shaky boom, she fought another election in 1987 and won with a cripplingly huge majority born of the fact that the country was utterly divided.

It was after this that Thatcher launched her most treasured policy initiative, one which sprang from her own ideological convictions rather than any electoral calculation. She would replace a rackety old progressive tax with a new flat-rate property tax. And she would try it out first in Scotland, where no one ever voted for her anyway because they loathed her (I have always liked the Scots)

It proved hugely unpopular and the protests about it turned many ordinary people into criminals. Her trusted lieutenants tried to persuade her to abandon the experiment or at least modify her actions. She took little notice, as this was a matter of messianic conviction. Her party loathed the way she governed presidentially, listening to a small coterie of advisers, who skewed way right. Her popularity plummeted.

Does this remind you of anyone in particular?

If we take the Thatcher lesson as a model, Thatcher faced a stalking horse candidate first, who tested the level of support within the party, then a serious challenger. She won the confidence vote but not by enough and her support drifted away.

She went into a rather bitter exile in November 1990, which for my generation is one of our JFK moments. I was in a class on European economic history and when the teacher told us, we thought he was taking the piss until we went outside and the Socialist Workers were doing the conga up and down the union steps and singing with joy.

Blair will be harder to shift. Before his obsession with Iraq, he was a rather protean politician, liable to say what we wanted to hear. His eloquence and intelligence were often persuasive but these days they seem to produce a reaction of weariness in part of the electorate and outright loathing for many, particularly those on the left. And in case Mr Blair has forgotten, the Labour party *is* a party of the left, founded on good socialist principles.

We live in interesting times.

* * *

England play France on Sunday. Big match. Beautiful football.

Goodnight.

Comments

infinitemonkeys
Jun. 12th, 2004 06:43 pm (UTC)
I work on the premise that all politicians are fundamentally corruptible liars and cheats, looking out for themselves first, then their friends, family and anyone who pays them. If I am proved wrong, I am pleasantly surprised. Oh yes. It doesn't matter who you vote for, the government gets in and are up and running and ready to shaft you.

Well, that's a very pessimistic view of the nature of democracy, yes *g*

I don't know that you're necessarily wrong though. I think that Maggie destroyed the idea that public service meant actually *helping* the *public*. The notions of duty and of acting for the good of the community came to be seen as laughably naive in the 80s and I lay the blame for that squarely at her door.

Hee. You know the way you feel about Maggie T? I feel like that about President Blaah. Not so much his policies, as him. I have a chemical reaction to that cheesy grinning face and want to hit it with something heavy.

I dislike his style of government and I don't trust him and I turn off his speeches because all those sentence fragments irritate the hell out of me, but I don't feel the chemical reaction *g*

My ma, on the other hand, *loathes* him. She's just irrational on the subject, much as I am with Mrs T.

Don't get me wrong, the other lot were no better. Except that as a single person living alone, the poll tax seemed fair to me... but I know I am probably in a minority here!

Well, people bring up the case that a little old lady living in a draughty mansion was paying as much in rates as a big family would and that seemed fundamentally unfair. Which, in some cases it was. However, I think there's some kind of rational middle ground to be found in which the hypothetical little old lady wouldn't get shafted but some multimillionaire in a mansion wouldn't be paying the same property taxes as me in a wee terraced house.

OTOH, boy, do you get spanked on the council tax when you live alone. Ouch.
hobbituk
Jun. 13th, 2004 12:53 am (UTC)
I work with local politicians on a daily basis. Say no more! Arsewipes.

I couldn't articulate my dislike for Tone and Chereeee. I just can't bear them, to the extent that if either face appears on the tv I have to turn it over. Just looking at his cheesy grin and her letterbox mouth just really wind me up.

You know what is really funny? The way your ma feels about Tone, hobbitmum feels about Mrs T. Hatred. Virulent, blinding, hatred.

Funny old world, isn't it?