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...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, May 18, 2015

Day 5251: Welcome, Our New Parliament

Monday:


Today we witness the return of Parliament after the General Election, including all the traditions: the formal opening; the re-election of the speaker; the swearing at, sorry in of the MPs.

We particularly welcome the surviving After Eight Liberal Democrats: Reverend Nick (Cap'n Clegg, retired); Tom (no) Brakes; The Laird of Carmichael; Shirley Williams; Pugh Pugh Barney McGrew; Greggs Pies; Norman Conquest; and Saint Timbo of Farron.

We wish them well and hope they all remember to vote against the abolition of the Human Rights Act.

Meanwhile, here are some totally unrelated pictures of fluffy sheeps (no relation)…


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Day 5241: The Balloon Goes Up

Friday:


Well, as Sir Bedivere might have said surveying the field of Camlann and the ruin of the flower of England, that could have gone better

Fear won the day. Scotland voted for the SNP out of fear of the Tories; England voted Tory out of fear of the SNP. This was terribly cynical populism on the part of Mr Balloon and Mr Nicola Insturgent. We are as a nation more divided, more diminished as a result.

Not that the Liberal Democrats' campaign was innocent of blame in this.

Fear won the day because we didn't give hope a chance.

Sometimes only chocolate can help


Launching our manifesto, Nick Clegg said it was time to give people hope at the end of austerity, but instead we fell into a trap of saying we would try to moderate between extremists. "Who do you fear more?" was the underlying language of our "hearts and brains" message. "They're scary, vote for us because we'll keep you safe."

It wasn't what we WANTED to be saying – we had a story to tell about ending austerity once the job was done; about the opportunities of education; about lifting the stigma of mental ill-health; about creating a green future – but we quickly got side-tracked into debating deals, darkened rooms and red lines.

It would be easy to blame Cap'n Clegg. Some already have, though the swiftness and dignity of his departure has drawn much of that sting. He was at his best inspiring people in the debates before 2010 and in his resignation after 2015. It was only the intervening five years as Deputy Prime Minister that got in the way of seeing him as a decent man.

Hindsight and cynicism might say we should have replaced him a year ago, pulled out of the Coalition and let the Tories run as a minority for a year, to show everyone who bad it could get. But that was never what we went into Coalition to do. We wanted to show it could work and that we could be trusted in office to do our duty. We couldn't have defenestrated one leader and then saddled a new one with Coalition partnership.

And we're not really that sort of Party anyway (no matter how ruthless people think we were with Chatshow Charles and Sir Ming the Merciless).

Ultimately, this election was lost in May 2010. Never mind the tuition fees: that was the albatross hung around Cap'n Clegg's neck, but the opinion polls showed that the voters had already deserted us. We lost because we went into Coalition at all.

So add to the (depressingly long) list of things that the Great British public says that they want, but do not vote for: cooperation between parties that behave like grown-ups.

I was, fluffy feet in the air, totally sold on the Coalition. If we were or are to mean anything as a Party surely that has to mean getting our fluffy feet on the levers of power and implementing some of those policies. And implement them we did, many good policies – raising people out of tax; pupil premium, school dinners and apprenticeships; pension reforms; and most personally equal (er) marriage.



The Liberal Democrats paid a VERY high price today so that we could wear these rings as husbands. Thank you. We are SO grateful. It will NOT be forgotten.

Pluralist politics is off the agenda, now. No one will go into a coalition, possibly ever again.

Before the election, the positioning of the Nationalists – the Scottish Nasties, their Welsh Mini-Mes or the English Kippers – and their hangers-on the Greens that they would never join a coalition, that their principles were too "pure" was just too precious and too self-serving for words. They would get their policies by "confidence and supply", they claimed – no, you get nothing for confidence and supply; if you want policy to be implemented you need a minister to guide it through; you've got to get your fluffy feet DIRTY.

But now, who in faith could recommend a Coalition deal if the punishment meted out by the voters is so vastly, disproportionately out of scale to the offence.

Which is a great sadness, as it marks the death of a tradition in British politics going back to the start of Cabinet government.

We become more Presidential, more dictatorial, more in the Thatcher-Blair model than the tradition of debate, scrutiny, argument and compromise that was very British.

And look at the things we might not have in five years' time: human rights, a welfare state, a place in Europe, the BBC

Within hours of the election, the now-Liberal-free government was already planning on cutting benefits for the disabled while Theresa Nuts-in-May was revving up to rummage through your emails by reintroducing the "Snoopers Charter".

This will be the first test for the new Parliament. There are Tories – notably David Davis who forced a by-election on the issues of Civil Liberties – who might be persuaded, cajoled, even honour-bound to vote against the intrusive and unworkable spying on every citizen. Mr Balloon's majority is as thin as an After Eight – or an After Twelve, perhaps.

Leadership hopefuls, take note: the Liberal Democrats have got to be in that debate, making a lot of noise, and a dozen new friends!

And this is merely the beginning of the scale of what faces the new Liberal Leader (I look forward to the contest, and Norman Lamb will no doubt give him a good debate and maybe even a run for his money, but it will be Tim Farron).

There are plenty of good people putting forward "where do we go from here" plans: Auntie Jennie, Auntie Alix, Andy Hinton, David Howarth, to name but four, all have decent takes. Even Daddy Richard tossed out some thoughts over the course of election night:

We need to stop being so cautious, playing piggy-in-the-middle and say something that might frighten the horses, so:

1) Housing. We need a radical alternative that says how we can deliver the "build more" we all know is the answer. So raise a tax on existing property equal to the (few billions) you need to spend building. And to discourage NIMBYism, the more houses we build the lower the tax (hmm, taxing existing land values, strikes a familiar chord). And while we're at it, pay for housing benefit by taxing rents.

2) Clean the air of our cities. This means planning to replace *all* cars with electric, which means planning the charging infrastructure and planning how we're going to generate all that electricity (which means fusion).

3) Wi-if. Free. Nationally. Same rationale as the penny post in the Victorian age – it's a key architecture for government so the public might as well get it for nominal cost too.

4) Drugs policy. Currently the war on drugs is obviously utterly counterproductive. Decriminalise. Medicalise. Possibly even legalise regulate and tax in case of weed.

Firstly, and it's a thing that comes up several times from the suggestions my fellow Lib Dems are making, is the need to reboot the Liberal Democrats as a Party – hold our own constitutional convention, as Jennie puts it – to reform the organisation into something a bit less like a drunken gavotte by a spider drenched in ink. It is vital that the Party recognise its big failings from the years in power and before that allowed what happened with the likes of Mike Hancock and the whole Chris Rennard debacle, where no one saw any justice and we all came out looking sleazy. It needs to be done, so let's get it done, and do it right, but it is essentially inward-looking. We need to be projecting a positive face outwards too.

So, looking forward, HOUSING is the idea that clearly coming forward from the thinking in Lib Dem circles: it's a clear crisis in supply and one intimately linked to the fundamental flaws of the British economy, namely that most of it gets turned into wealth and tied up in property instead of working to create jobs and opportunities. Ideally driving down house prices would increase opportunity for people to own their own homes while releasing capital into more production, non-rent-seeking projects. Our ability to make large-scale changes – planning garden cities – may be curtailed by the wipe-out, but local campaigns can still focus on local developments, particularly those that fail to make affordable provision part of their mix.

This is a START but we need something BIGGER, not just managerial tinkering but real radical change.

The linking theme of those policies is that they are about changing things for the better, offering hope and opportunity.

That is an agenda that we need to move swiftly to seize. The roots of it exist within our 2015 manifesto, as I've already said, and in the slogan "Opportunity for Everyone".

The Blairite faction within Labour are already urging their Party to become the Party of "aspiration"; we need to give people a REAL CHANGE alternative to Thatcherism-lite, and do it pretty darn quickly.

Where, in all this, the Labour Party?

Well, Labour lost the election badly for all the reasons I've been spelling out for months: they never made the effort to address their failures at the end of Mr Frown's government, they didn't develop a critique of the Coalition's policies. No, shouting "traitor!" and "no cuts!" (then mumbling something about how you'd cut "nicely"), does not amount to a critique. Mr Milipede's personal handling – scoring cheap debate-club points and stunts, culminating in the infamous EdStone (now known as the "heaviest suicide note in history") – were every bit to blame, but so was the rest of the Party by letting him muddle through putting off the difficult decisions because he wanted to avoid the fights that characterised the Blair/Frown years in office.

Truly, Labour's problem was that they spent five years being ANGRY, and angry does not win elections.

The blogger Another Angry Voice put up a typical meme hitting out at the folly of the electorate punishing the Lib Dems for siding with the Tories by electing the Tories.

It's obviously enjoyable seeing so many Lib-Dems MPs suffer the consequences of their self-serving treachary, but seeing so many of them lose their seats to Tories beggars belief.

How can you punish the Lib-Dems for collusion by voting for the very people they colluded with?

AAV says "It's obviously enjoyable seeing so many Lib-Dem MPs suffer" demonstrating *exactly* why the left lost this election. When you would rather see people suffer than campaign to *stop* suffering, then you're part of the problem, not the solution, no matter how clever you think you are by calling the electorate "drunk".

The suggestion is that Labour's spite sent teams to Sheffield to try and unseat Cap'n Clegg when they should have been working Ed Balls seat, and so they lost the shadow chancellor to their own decapitation strategy.

In a way, though, Labour will be helped by Ed Balls losing his seat.

I am sad for Ed Balls personally, for losing a job he clearly loves.

But more broadly, I hope that it helps Labour move on, rethink their economic policy and admit to and move on from the errors of the Gordon Brown era.

Also, it will allow Yvette to contest the leadership without the shadow of standing against (or blocking) her husband which would have been used (unfairly) in the way Ed v David was used.

Labour's travails do impact on us. So long as they remain in eclipse, they drag down the politics of hope with them. By looking a shambles, or worse in hock to the Scottish Nasties, they strengthen the Tory position, which is of course based on fear.

Which brings us back to where we came in.

We cannot let fear win.

There IS a place for the CENTRE: not as "neither one thing nor the other" but as heart and hope; not splitting the difference between left and right but healing the divisions in our society; not just holding back the tide against things getting worse, but saying it's okay to believe that things can and will get better.






In this diary:


Mr Balloon is David "Call Me Dave" Cameron, leader of the conservative party and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom with a majority of 12 seats on a 37% share of the popular vote.

Ms Insturgent is Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland, the devolved government of Scotland, whose Party won 56 seats in the UK Parliament on 4% of the nationwide popular vote (the quirk of our voting system that it rewards geographical concentration rather than broad popular support – normally I call this Largest Loser Wins, but in Scotland in 34 out of 56 seats, the SNP polled more than 50% of the vote)

Cap'n Clegg is Nick Clegg, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister, resigned after winning just 8 seats on 8% of the popular vote. I should probably start calling him "Parson Blyss" now that he's retired.

Mr Milipede is Ed Miliband, former leader of the Labour Party and Her Majesty's Leader of the Opposition, resigned after winning 232 seats on 30% of the popular vote.

Chatshow Charles is Charles Kennedy and Sir Ming the Merciless is Sir Ming Campbell, the two leaders of the Liberal Democrats immediately preceding Nick Clegg. The Party's MPs persuaded Charles to stand down when it became apparent he had an alcohol problem; Sir Ming stood aside of his own accord when it became clear that the newspapers were only interested in his age as an issue, and not the Party's message.

Norman Lamb and Tim Farron are two of the remaining Liberal Democrat MPs: Norman is a former minister and seen (fairly or unfairly) as the Clegg loyalist successor; Tim is former Party President but stayed out of government to maintain his independence, seen as the hot favourite.

Mike Hancock and Chris Rennard are Liberal Democrats who were involved in scandals during the last five years (both alleged to have behaved inappropriately to women).

Yvette is Yvette Cooper, wife of Ed Balls, Labour's Shadow Home Office spokesperson, seen as a possible leadership candidate, though rumoured to be uncertain she wants the job now.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Day 5239: Worst! Election! Eveh!

Wednesday:


A British General election is NEVER an "edifying" process. The electoral system makes most voters irrelevant and the media craves the spectacle of a car crash not informed debate, so the voice of the people is most often lost under the slanging match.

In my fluffy lifetime, I've seen one or two British General elections. (Well, four, ACTUALLY, but I don't remember 2001 when I was 1 [R: nothing] –shut up, daddy), and my Daddies have seen LOADS more, but even THEY don't remember one that's been as HOLLOW and EMPTY a CHARADE as the current Cavalcade of Whimsy™.

The prospect of another hung Parliament, almost guaranteed if the current polling is even remotely close to accurate, has made the question of the Parties' policies, their differences and their overlaps, ever more vital to the empower the voter to understanding of how to use their choice.

So OBVIOUSLY the entire campaign has been reduced to two questions:
• who will "get into bed" (in a "darkened room") with whom – or, apparently more importantly, who will RULE OUT getting into bed with whom; and
• dividing ALL policies of all Parties into (not, as you might expect, those that cause cancer and those that cure cancer), but into those that are RED LINES and those that are TUITION FEES.

The media are of course completely culpable, and have totally let down the public (though the public's almost complete disinterest in controlling their own lives was just begging to be let down).

We have not had any representation of different policy or philosophy; instead, we've had a three-ringed circus, where the clowns throw meaningless custard pies at each other and the Nationalist/Green alliance – riding on the suddenly-popular coattails of Nicola Sturgeon (this year's Nick Clegg, lest she think she's in any way special) – have had three bites of the cherry in every debate while former media darlings the Farragist Kippers have been sidelined to their furious but impotent chagrin and the Liberal Democrats have been stitched up like, well, kippers.

Only the third, "Question Time" style "debate" came close to properly interrogating the leaders and drawing out any differences. Even then, the differences were primarily: "I won't tell you where I'm cutting" v "I won’t tell you I was overspending" v "sorry about that".
The meeja have OBSESSED about what the deals post-election will be like – it's almost as though they're deliberately ignoring the one part of the narrative that they cannot control and is increasingly predictable only in its unpredictability. So they've been pressing all and sundry on who would do the deed with whom, leading to this silly spectacle of ruling out partnerships that the public may press upon us.

Yes, I realise the Liberal Democrats did that too. Yes, we were wrong to. This is a democracy: we have to work with who the people send to Parliament to represent them. You won't beat the Nationalists by isolating them – that just makes them SPECIAL. Northern Ireland could only BEGIN the path to healing when we TALKED to the Irish Nationalists. Where does not talking to the Scottish Nationalists get us, other than BROKEN? Liberalism BEST represents people by bringing them together. We are pluralist by nature; we form coalitions because it is our PHILOSOPHY not merely pragmatism.

So please, no more ruling out deals before the people have got a word in edgeways!

And if I NEVER HEAR the words RED LINES again in my LIFE it will be too soon.

(Yes, we are guilty of this one too.)

The possibility that it might just be SLIGHTLY more complicated than "this policy will cause an irretrievable breakdown of coalition negotiations" while "this policy will be tossed to the winds for a whiff of the ministerial leather", does not apparently excite anyone.

So we see Cap'n Clegg trapped on Andy Marrmite's sofa between Nasty Nige and Yvette "the Snooper" Cooper and trying to put on a brave grin as he is harangued from left and right, as each howls like a banshee to demand that he rule out this or rule in that; while interviewers, thinking they are being SOOOO clever, try "trapping" candidates with the question "well, it's not on the front of the manifesto so is it a red line?"

(Apparently we're afraid to just answer: "no, we'd like it and we'll get it if we can", to this. It would be nice to think that that would be the grown up answer, but you just KNOW it only sends us further down the rabbit hole of "well, is it more important or less important than your pledge on tuition fees?".)

And you know what, not even the tuition fees policy was as simple as "red line" or "toss it aside": the Liberal Democrats had to barter it up to a better deal for students, effectively a graduate tax, and the price for that rather than just Labour's system plus unlimited fees, was having to vote for it.

CHAPTER ONE: LABOUR AND THE BIG LIE


The nadir of this is the blind arrogance of Hard Labour's "our entire manifesto is the red line"; the take it or leave it and accept nothing from anyone else approach. Well, it's what Mr Milipede and the rest of the Labour "negotiating" team "offered" the Liberal Democrats last time. Remind me, how'd that work out for him?

(Clue: it got his boss fired.)

The bitter irony is that there's nothing IN Hard Labour's manifesto, their anodyne pledges – carved, ludicrously, into a giant tablet (of soluble aspirin, probably) – do not amount to a hill of beans large enough on which to mount the fatuous Ed Stone!

I think – I hope – that people voting for the Labour Party are doing so because they hope for a better society, a more compassionate one, a more responsible one where people care for each other.

(Because the CYNICAL view is that it's a load of public and third sector workers demanding that the government spends a lot more of other people's money on the public and third sectors… and calling the Conservatories the SELFISH ones. But that would be – almost literally – uncharitable.)

What I regret, though, is that I see absolutely no evidence that the Labour Party will deliver on that hope.

Harriet the Harminator and Rachel the Reaver promising that Labour will get "tough" on benefits. Mr Milipede, son of immigrants, promising that Labour will get tough on immigrants. This is not a ploy to fool the Kipper vote and slip into power; this is what these people truly believe. If power means sacrificing some poor/foreign people, they'll be first to construct the giant wicker Kinnock.

I remember who it was who started taking away the benefits of disabled people because they decided that people too sick to get out should prove they were not fit to work. And it wasn't the "evil" Tories. The Tories may be VENAL, but they only want to cut the money. Hard Labour will sanction your benefits BECAUSE IT IS "GOOD" FOR YOU.

And so, the beginning, middle and end of ANY deal the Liberal Democrats do with the Hard Labour Party has got to be to require the HARM PRINCIPLE be made a fixture of the work and benefits system!

"First Do No Harm" is the Hippocratic Oath; we need a "First Do Not Starve People to Death Because You Believe They're Not Working Hard Enough" Oath!

(I refer again to how ANGRY I am with the Greens for making such a total DOG'S BREAKFAST of selling the Citizens Income!)

In spite of this… in spite, or even BECAUSE of the Milipede-crafted model of offering nothing to anyone in order to offend no one… I was almost coming to the conclusion that Mr Milipede, arrogant and yet useless as he is, with his talent for holding things together by an act of zen-like doing nothing, might be the man for the job, the Perfect Prime Monster for a Parliament that no one wins and cannot do anything.

And five years of Parliament doing nothing might be a blessed relief to us all.

But then he went and told a direct lie.

He told Mr Marrmite: "The deficit didn't cause the financial crisis; the financial crisis caused the deficit."

This is palpably, provably untrue. Hard Labour spent more than they raised in tax, and so had to borrow the difference – that is, in the jargon "ran a deficit" – in 2007. And in 2006. And in 2005. And 2004. And 2003. And 2002. And 2001. A Debt Odyssey. Long, long, LONG before the economy was consumed in the flames of Northern Rock's crash and burn and Lehman Brothers' self-immolation.

But that lie was a cock-up. A rhetorical spasm caused by trying to sound cleverer than he really is.

The real lie that Labour have been telling is a complicated one, hidden by claiming that they are the ones lied against: that the story of the recession is itself a lie, one told against them.

The left generally, and Labour particularly, have latched onto this line: "Labour's borrowing did not cause the financial crash".

This in itself is NOT clearly true.

Certainly it's not a DIRECT cause – the banks lent too much money to people who could not afford to pay it back, and in the end those loans (the so-called "sub-prime" mortgages) going bad is what toppled the global banking system.

But WHY and HOW did the banks lend that money?

WHY did the banks lend the money? It takes two to tango, so WHY did so many people go on a borrowing and spending spree? WHO – implicitly, even explicitly sometimes – encouraged them? Buy now pay later was the ethos of the naughties, condoned by a Hard Labour government "entirely relaxed about people getting filthy rich", and who totally played along with their PFI schemes, paying for vanity projects on the never-never.

The bankers were ABLE to lend too much because credit was so cheap, because the West's leading bankers – including those in the Bank of England – wanted to keep interest rates low to stop the bursting of the dot-com bubble from turning into a recession. Mr Frown's fingerprints are on that decision, entirely supporting the "wizard" Alan Greenspan at America's Federal Reserve, just as Lord Blairimort gave unquestioning support to President Bush.

And who should have been regulating the bankers? Step forward City minister, Ed Balls. Oh yes, egged on by the Conservatories. (And of course over the protests of the Liberal Democrats and sage warning of Dr Vince "the power" Cable!) And as the old saying goes, if Mr Balloon had said go "jump in a lake" would the Labour Government have done that too?

So Hard Labour are far from INNOCENT of responsibility when it comes to causes of the crash.

But that ISN'T the point.

Overspending IS A BAD THING.

It is A BAD THING regardless of whether the entire global economy goes into meltdown on your watch.

Hard Labour's BORROWING might not have led directly to money-geddon in 2008, but that absolutely does not mean that borrowing to cover your spending at the height of the biggest bubble in history was OK!

WHO said "no more boom and bust?" Who was proved SPECTACULARLY WRONG about that?

There's a very scary thesis about – called Modern Money Theory (but known as the Magic Money Tree for reasons that quickly become obvious) – that a lot of dangerously stupid people who think they are clever (cough cough Ed Balls cough cough) have latched onto, that says "if you print your own currency you cannot run out of money". Oh BOY are they wrong!

The Chinese famously invented paper money. The VERY NEXT thing they invented was HYPERINFLATION when the Emperor's children thought "if we're printing this stuff, then we cannot run out of money".

[Sidebar: In fact, Great Britain and Americaland HAVE printed a whole lot of money during the recession – the "Quantum of Easing" you may have heard of – and the Eurozone is doing it now. But we just about got away with it because the DEFLATIONARY pressures of the economy IMPLODING kind of cancelled out the INFLATION of blowing up the currency.

But when Mr Alistair "Captain" Darling – ADC to Mr Frown's General Melchett – printed a whole lot of money in 2009, there was a huge spike of inflation in 2010. Coincidence? (Darn it, fairness makes me admit that partly it WAS – food and energy prices also shot up as India and China expanded. But only partly!)

So it's treated like playing with FIRE because everyone but everyone knows that if it goes into a hyperinflation spiral then it's next stop Weimar Germany and literally Goodnight Vienna!]

And yes, it's correct, as they keep saying like it proves anything, the national debt WAS a lower share of national income in 2007 than in 1997 – that's because the debt was at a high point in 1997 and was brought down by following Ken Clarke's Tory spending plans for Labour's first term, and the economy was in a dip in 1997 (post housing crash, pre dot.com) and at the height of a boom in 2007, a bit like saying you're shorter as a share of altitude when you jump off Beachy Head than when you jump of Brighton Pier. It's still not clever to jump off either!

The Tories ran up the national debt in the Nineties to get themselves out of the political and economic hole caused by the Poll Tax and the ERM debacle and the house price crash. And they were JUSTLY punished for their economic incompetence. Why do Labour think THEY should be allowed a free pass for hosing money on THEIR political toys?

So Hard Labour say that it's a "Big Lie" that people say "Labour's borrowing caused the crash".

But that itself IS the lie – NO ONE says that; what they say is that Labour's borrowing (and their decision to put all our eggs in the City's basket, AND their failure to supervise the unscrupulous bankers, AND the climate of borrow today and leave the future to deal with the debts) left us in the WORST position to survive when the crisis hit.

We, Great Britain, had the longest, deepest recession and slowest recovery of the Western nations. But Labour says that was ALL the Coalition cuts, and nothing to do with the depth of the swan dive they had taken. Oh no, honest guv, you can trust us, we're mates with that Russell Brand now.

Labour's economic message is one of COMPLETE DENIAL, a total failure to recognise that they were in any way to blame for the pain of the last five years, or that they would have done anything substantially different, or to come up with any realistically different alternative plan for the next five years. ("The same but with the pain lasting a bit longer and not properly finishing the job," would be the fairest assessment. And the SNP's "end to austerity" is just "the same as Labour but with even longer pain again"!)

When Ed Balls (and those on the left who parrot him and retweet him mindlessly) accuses Master Gideon of ending up where Labour were planning to be in terms of borrowing as much as Labour planned and cutting as much as Labour planned… what exactly IS the accusation here? That Labour wanted the cuts to be deeper?


CHAPTER TWO: TORY FANTASY ECONOMICS


So how DID we end up where Hard Labour were planning to be?

Well, dur! Because Master Gideon's "long term economic plan" lasted about a FORTNIGHT!

It was about that long before the nice people in the Treasury realised he couldn't even work an abacus and gave him some bricks to play with while asking Danny Alexander to take charge. (David Laws, alas, not available!)

(Master Gideon, remember, is the "genius" who engineered the "No" vote in the AV referendum and thereby GUARANTEED that the Tories would LOSE this election.)

Lib Dem policy was to invest in infrastructure. Ooh look, the Coalition invested in infrastructure. Classic Keynesian spending in a recession and the economy started to recover. The quid pro quo of shifting to Plan B was we allowed Osborne to keep CALLING it Plan A!

Which of course makes even MORE ridiculous the Tory campaign of: "let us stick to the path we've been on (by veering off sharply to the right into these dark and trackless woods and I'm sure that's not a cliff ahead of aaaaghh!)".

Labour's total failure in the last five years to come up with ANY economic answers AT ALL, is intimately bound up with the Tory's decision to throw economic caution to the dogs and promise anything and everything to everyone: £7 billion for middle-class tax cuts; £8 billion for the health service; £10 billion for a free pony in every child's bedroom (not actually true); and a surplus on the accounts on top!

And all to be funded out of £12 billion of unspecified cuts to "benefits". But not pensioners. Or children. Or the disabled. Or workers. Or non-workers even… It seems we must give a LOT of money to IMAGINARY claimants! That must be why so many REAL people need to use FOOD BANKS!

But not content with stealing Labour's clothes to spend money we don't have, the Conservatories ALSO want to derail the recovery by clamping down on the people who are making the economy work (immigrants) and the people who are buying what we make (Europe).

Hard Labour may want to blame all the ills of the economy (since about 1799, it would seem) on the Coalition – while giving themselves a FREE PASS for "global events" – but back in the REAL world, we are part of the European economy and instability in the Eurozone – Greece, again, but also the domestic slowdown of our neighbours in France, and even Germany, not to mention the troubling, brooding presence of Vlad the Bad making war in Ukraine – are all bad for business.

All of which makes it a REALLY bad time to be causing EVEN MORE uncertainty over whether we might even stay IN the biggest economy on the planet for the sake of FLIRTING with Nationalism.

(It's possible that by now, the pressures that the Kippers and the Europhobe Tories have built up have reached such a pass that ONLY the explosive release of a referendum will settle them; that's no excuse for having built up those pressures in the first place, and this campaign has only stoked the fires further – all heat and no light at all. And, of course, as we've seen with the twisty-turniness of the SNP when avoiding ruling out a Neverendum for Scottish Independence, one referendum is never enough; it's just a temporary "hit" before the cravings start to build up all over again. Or until you kill the patient.)

As for the GROTESQUE pandering to the Kipper tendency over immigration – indulged in by BOTH Tories and Hard "Controls on Immigration, indeed" Labour – is just economically illiterate. The idea that you could just round up the unemployed youth of the country, ship them off to Norfolk or Morecombe and have them replace semi-skilled labourers like crop or cockle-pickers would be FARCICAL if it would not be so RUINOUS to our wellbeing.

(And the Liberal Democrats got burned on this last time so we are FAR TOO CAUTIOUS when we should be defending the rights of people to live and work and contribute where they wish. Immigrants, after all, are PEOPLE who have been GOOD enough to choose HERE of all places to make lives!)

So the Tories want to undermine our key economic strengths of being open for business; pull savings out their fluffy behinds by cutting benefits to they won’t say who; and at the same time spending like it's going out of fashion on unicorns and magic beans.

So OBVIOUSLY their entire campaign has been about the SNP!

CHAPTER THREE: SCARY MOVIES


It's been the FEAR election, hasn't it?

Hard Labour want you to be afraid for the NHS.

That is, the one Party that has NOT promised the £8 billion extra funding that the NHS's own Stephens report said was needed… and that privatised TWICE as much of the Health Service's services when they were in power than the Coalition ever did… says you should be afraid that the two Parties who HAVE said they WILL fully fund the NHS, and didn't put as much out to the private sector, will instead cut the service and sell it off.

So THAT makes sense.

Meanwhile, the Tories want you to be terrified that Nicola Sturgeon will wrap Mr Milipede round her little finger, that Alex (missing in action) Salmond will lead a tartan army of about 7% of MPs to overwhelm the decent yeomen and backbenchers of this very England.

That is, the one Party that is ACTIVELY campaigning for something that could break up the Union, by destroying the equality of MPs, by giving extra powers to the English only… is trying to tell you that Hard Labour must rule out ANY kind of Coalition… while being IN a Coalition themselves, AND playing footsie with the Kippers.

So THAT makes sense too.

And don't think that the Liberal Democrats fluffy feet are clean in all this – we've been putting out the fear of EXTREMEISM (left OR right) to convince people to try and stay with our nice safe middle-of-the-road managerialism.

That is the one Party that should be radical and mould-breaking and tearing down the walls of the establishment and letting in some light and change is saying "you'll be safe with us, snuggles".

So THAT makes NO FLUFFING SENSE AT ALL! But it's all we got. Along with the red lines and the tuition fees.

Everyone insists on talking about LEGITIMANCY (isn't that a spell from "Harry Potter"?) as though the British Constitution were set in tablets of stone (soluble aspirin, again) rather than a form of INTERPRETATIVE DANCE!

Once again, Hard Labour's MORE STUPID bellows of betrayal come back to bite it on the ARSE! Just as the nationalist chickens of blaming EVERYTING on a Westminster elite that takes Scotland for granted has come to roost in the rise of the SNP to supplant them in all their safe seats North of the Wall border, having spent five years slandering the Coalition as "unelected", they are REALLY in no position to claim a minority Labour administration will have ANY moral right to run the country.

Nicola Sturgeon talks about "legitimacy" only if a government draws members from all the nations of the Union, knowing full well how unlikely it is that Scotland will return Tories (Conservatories OR Laboratories!) in enough numbers to satisfy her test – and as a prelude for a pretext to claim "the Union has broken down; we must have another independence referendum!"

The Tories talk about "legitimacy" being conveyed by what I suppose we might have to call the "Clegg Doctrine" of the Party with the most seats and most votes having best and therefore first claim on forming a government. Of course, the Tories want to take this further and make it the ONLY claim on forming a government. Which is even MORE ludicrous, because they know they're not going to. The Party of the Union and tradition reduced to a dog in the manger.

CHAPTER FOUR: THE FUTURE'S BRIGHT; IT MIGHT EVEN BE ORANGE


If there's one good thing that might come out of this total disaster of an election it's this: the system is just so obviously, patently, totally broken, the result will be so plainly totally unfair and askew from what people voted for, and in such a way that it screws over both Hard Labour and the Conservatories AT THE SAME TIME, that everyone might finally realise it's time to stop using a Seventeenth Century system for the Twenty-First.

In fact, I'd say we should ditch ALL of our red lines for ONE thing: we will give you a government for six months – or a year – during which we will all take part in a Constitutional Convention under a Royal Commission that will let us TOGETHER sort out how we elect our Parliament (and executive, and if we want the one to be a chunk of the other or to separate them like America or France or Germany or, actually almost everywhere else, do); and who sits in Parliament (if we want unelected Lords and Bishops and Rooks and Castles, er) or even WHERE it sits (because they've got to move out of that Thames-side fun-palace before all the wiring catches fire)!

The answer is obvious so it will obviously take a great deal of time and patience to arrive at the obvious answer that we need a federal state with Parliament of multi-member constituencies elected by British Proportional Representation, and a national senate replacing the House of Lords Club.

But it can be done. The Scottish people showed the rest of us that it CAN be done: a proper reasoned – polite! – argument that sorts things out.

And maybe next time we can do this General Election thing PROPERLY.

And meanwhile we will rebuild a properly Liberal Liberal Democratic Party. A Party that exists to bring HOPE to people: a Party that will address the crisis in housing and give people the opportunity to live where they work; a Party that will invest in education and apprenticeships and even the living costs of all the students we now have going to universities; a Party that will clean up our environment, improve the quality of air in our polluted cities, by preparing the ground for switching to clean, all-electric cars (and there's a LOT of work that needs doing); a Party that will tax wealth more in order to tax income a less; a Party that will stop criminalising people for doing things that harm no one; a Party that will put a stop to bullying people for what they eat or how they dress or who they love or where they come from.

And, by Grimond, we might even do it in Government!

NOW, GO AND VOTE!



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Day 5229: A Thank You to the Liberal Democrats

Sunday:

And now, a very special episode of...

...and just to be clear:

 Daddy Alex did all the hard work!

 Daddy Richard just pulled faces!


 Run VT!




Happy LibDemiversay!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Day 5217: Church of Thatchianity Manifesto

Tuesday:

This is an ultra-quick skim through the prospectus of our erstwhile Coalition partners. Like Labour's effort yesterday, it has lots of pretty pictures.

The Tories' offer presents as very progressive, full of pro-active "our plan of action" bullets, promoting policies as positives (even when they aren't).

There are perfectly decent things. Unsurprisingly these are mostly lifted unblushingly from the Liberal Democrats: no income tax on the minimum wage; single tier pension and triple lock; apprenticeships; more women on boards; even "gay" marriage (a clue they still don't get "equal marriage").

But the more you read, the scarier it gets.

So I like the stuff at the start, up-fronting all the goodies, on investment and infrastructure. Maybe not the expanded roads programme, but better broadband and free wi-fi in public libraries (I'd go further in making free public wi-fi available; there are benefits similar to the introduction of the "penny post" in Victorian times). And devolution of investment and job creating powers to the North is bold and worthy.

And I like the promises on the NHS.

"ensur[ing] you can see a GP and receive the hospital care you need, 7 days a week by 2020, with a guarantee that everyone over 75 will get a same-day appointment if they need one"

is good policy, and it's long past time that the health service should offer more appointments at the weekend for people who are working all week. Though typically Tory putting pensioners first!

But then we get to the fantasy economics. Lots of spending promises; massive tax cuts, particularly for the better-off, particularly – it even gets its own chapter – for the dead rich in the South-East; and huge but undisclosed benefit cuts.

The one transparent claim…

"We will lower the benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000 to reward work"

…doesn't even make sense! The rewards for work are at best disconnected from the benefit of benefits, but surely this will start to impact in work benefits, reversing the "rewards of work".

While disinterring the inheritance tax pledge is a certain signpost to this being a "if we could govern without the Lib Dems" manifesto; we diverted that money to better use in raising the personal tax allowance for a tax cut for the less-well-off.


Then we start to get to the "Nasty Party" stuff from Teresa May's briefs:

First Immigration, where they won’t give up blaming the immigrants for the problems of not addressing housing, services and jobs:

"Tougher tests for migrants before they can claim benefits"

"We will legislate to ensure that every public sector worker operating in a customer-facing role must speak fluent English."

"And to encourage better integration into our society, we will also require those coming to Britain on a family visa with only basic English to become more fluent over time, with new language tests for those seeking a visa extension."

…all address fictional problems in order to appear "tough".

And later, on Law and Order and Terrorism where they have become almost entirely negative:

"scrap the Human Rights Act"

"and curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights,"

"so that foreign criminals can be more easily deported from Britain"

They claim they would "support victims" – but clearly not if those victims are victims of government and miscarriage of justice.

As for:

"tackle all forms of extremism, including non-violent extremism"
…that's the right to peaceful protest done away with!

While independent journalism and alternative points of view (in entertainment as well as factual) will be further curtailed with an arbitrary swipe at the BBC licence fee, claiming they will

"freeze the BBC licence fee, to save you money"

or (if they were being honest) to strangle the organisation and let Murdoch have free reign.

The "Big Society" returns from wherever we thought they'd buried it, with their new, rushed-out promise to grant three days "volunteering time" to workers (that is, have business pay for people to cover the charities people can no longer afford to support, but that the government needs to cover the services they've withdrawn), and a scheme to "expand National Citizen Service", i.e. put more kids to work cleaning the streets so we don't have to pay for proper road cleaners.

Speaking of kids, on education, the Govian madness continues, with:

"…primary school place for your child, with zero tolerance for failure"

"turn every failing and coasting secondary school into an academy "

"and deliver free schools for parents and communities that want them"

How about delivering schools to every community that wants them, not just the buy-your-own free-schools if they want and can afford them? How about spending money to turn failure around (say… a pupil premium!)?


On the environment, very little "green crap" that isn't actually the work of Ed Davey, but glaringly they toss in:

"halt the spread of subsidised onshore wind farms"

…which surely contradicts their other aspirations of "cutting carbon emissions as cheaply as possible," "and ensur[ing] your homes and businesses have energy supplies they can rely on"?


Finally, they manage to have two whole sections on the constitution – on the United Kingdom and Europe – that miss almost the entire point of why people are crying out for big changes to how we are governed and represented, where instead

"give English MPs a veto over matters only affecting England, including on Income Tax"

and

"give you a say over whether we should stay in or leave the EU, with an in-out referendum by the end of 2017"

are together a short cut to constitutional chaos, and the breaking of our Union at home and abroad, with the most successful partnership of nations in history (England and Scotland) and the most successful trading bloc on the planet (Europe) tossed aside to get on the populist UKIP bandwagon.

(And telling that they would give income tax but not dare to share full budget control with Scotland; especially when they will devolve budget spending, but not income tax, to the "Northern Powerhouse".)


Overall, in spite of the "Let the Sunshine in (encore)" rhetoric, the attack on welfare and basic values of justice and tolerance, coupled with the rolling out of private provision from education to the media even to charity through their "volunteering" wheeze, paint this as a terrifyingly full-blooded Thatcherite manifesto that has abandoned any of the 2010 efforts to detoxify the brand.

And that is even before we get to the biggest clue: the resurrection of Mrs T's signature "Right to Buy" policy, extended to Housing Associations (with no doubt further devastating effect on the social housing stock). It is, as they say, a pretty blatant clue.

It's clear that the Tories are going to put to the test their insane theory that they only lost last time because they were not right-wing enough.

In fact, it proves more than ever how much the Liberal Democrats have done in Coalition to take the better (or only the least worst) Tory ideas and produce a modern, progressive government.

And how desperately important it is that the Liberal Democrats are returned with enough strength to do that again.




All emphases my own; original document here (contains pdf)

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.



PS:

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"!