subtitle

...a blog by Richard Flowers

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"!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Day 5190: A Budget of Signposts and Pitfalls

Wednesday Budget Day Election Day Minus Forty-Nine:


So, for the last time in the first fixed term Parliament, Master Gideon did a thing.

Liberal Democrat policies once more featured strongly (and anonymously) in the form of future rises in the personal allowance towards the minimum wage and a promise of an end in sight of austerity.

But most of what he did was mess things about. A little. He cut some taxes a little; cut some spending a little less; made the tax system a little more generous to favoured industries/more complicated with more loopholes. And made several bad jokes. Mostly about the unfortunate Mr Milipede's kitchen arrangements.

When he wasn't cracking our sides with his rib-ticklers, he gave us not so much substance as a full meal, more a sort of taster's trolley to whet our appetites for the shape of Parliamentary things to come.

Most of the actual tax arrangements are, of course, post-dated, setting the sort of traps for a future Labour Chancer– in the decreasingly likely event of there being such a person – just as Mr Allstar Darling did for him, with the "for one month only" 50% tax rate (which did indeed successfully blow up in Gideon's face). The promise of a little less squeezing of the pips on higher rate taxpayers (in the assumption that the Venn diagram of higher rate taxpayers and Tory voters is quite a large overlap) gives a sweetie to his base today that might reward a second time if incoming Hard Labour have to reverse it to make ends meet after the election and post Financial Review. Likewise, the £1000 tax free interest is a giveaway to the "haves" that makes the tax system yet more needlessly complicated (with interest rates at ½% you can "have" up to two-hundred grand in the bank before paying any tax on the interest). And aside from the Chancer's personal delight in being able to string two catchphrases together do we really need yet more money injected into the housing bubble? I'm just surprised he didn't rename the newly in-out-shake-it-all-about ISA his "long term economic savings plan"!

Meanwhile he sketched out a – suspiciously "Coalition flavoured" – direction of travel, adopting that Liberal Democrat pledge to bring an end to austerity and offer a promise of better days to come. His compromise of beginning to increase spending on public services "after four more years" falling mid-way between the Lib Dem position of "after three more years" and the Tory one of "after hell freezes over". Cutting the lifetime allowance for payments into a pension was also a Libby Demmy way of raising a few more tax dollars from the richer end of the spectrum.

This is, as we know, typical Tory strategy: use the Lib Dems as a sort of THINK TANK from Planet Nice to generate socially acceptable policy and use this to detox the brand (while pretending to smile and nod along to the wingnuts, and occasionally unleash a "Go Home Van" to keep them drooling happily).

Just because he's EXACTLY as scary-right-wing as his Romulan haircut suggests, don't ever think Gideon isn't PRACTICAL.

(And, in many ways, another Coalition is actually the best way for GIDEON to keep his own job: if they lose, he'll have to come third to Boris and Theresa in the ensuing leadership bloodbath; if they win on their own, then he might have to think up some policies of his own without Danny to hold his crayons for him!)

And look at how he did bang on about how the Coalition had brought economic success.

Obviously that's a GREAT advert for letting the Tories RUIN it by running the country off the rails on their own!

Being in Coalition has given him GREAT COVER for making it all up as he went along (or in fact letting Nick and Vince and Danny make most of it up for him, and then copying their homework). For all that Gideon the Chancer is a man who's made much political capital out of sticking to "Plan A", it should be apparent that we are by now on something like the "F Plan" (the diet nobody sticks to) or the "G-Plan" (given his wooden delivery). Whatever, he's in danger of running out of letters!

"Plan A" only lasted about a year. That was the "stick to Alistair Darling's disastrous plan to cut all capital spending" Plan. Fortunately the widely underrated Mr Danny managed to persuade Gideon to go on an Obama-esque Keynesian spending spree. That would have been Plan B. Plan C was the disaster of the OMNISHAMBLES budget, quickly walked back to Plan D. The REAL disaster being that budget had contained some attempts to simplify some of the tax system, and there's no way Gideon was going to try THAT again! And even last year we were still on Austerity Eternal of Plan E, but it appears that that didn't test well with the voters.

The only thing "Long Term" about the Conservatories "Long Term Economic Plan" is how long they've been ramming the stupid message down our throats!

Not that Hard Labour have much to crow about.

(It won't stop them. That Mr Allstar Darling was on the radio last weekend crowing about his own last budget – because, as he himself admitted, nobody else would – and saying that the Coalition's plan has arrived us exactly where he predicted the economy would be… slightly overlooking the fact that this must mean his own plan would have missed the target by miles and landed us in much worse straits! And also rather undermining Hard Labour’s case that they’d have done anything at all DIFFERENT!)

But in the absence of having bothered to pay any attention to what Gideon was saying, Mr Milipede delivered the speech he'd memorised anyway. I KNOW it's the hardest job in politics, replying to the budget with no notes or notice, but do you think he could at least TRY to remain on topic?

And if "long term economic plan" is becoming the most BORING big fib in British politics, then surely there's some sort of mutant hybrid of Godwin's Law being spawned on the other side: "the longer a debate goes on the closer to 100% gets the probability of Mr Milipede claiming it will lead to the privatisation/dismantling (the meaning of these terms being indistinguishable to his audience) of the NHS".

So today Mr Milipede invented the Tories "secret plan to fight inflation"…

No, sorry, that's "secret plan to wreck the NHS"; it's just he's so clearly and painfully obviously been watching too many episodes of his "West Wing" box set. It's all that free time he has not doing any work on actual policies.

But PLAGIARISM, Ed? Again?

I mean, bless him, he's only got one trump card, but he does keep playing it… in fact, it looks like he's only got one card AT ALL, at least only one that doesn't say "the same as the Tories but, er, nice" (see also what Rachel the Reever wants to do with welfare and Tristram the, er, Hunt wants to do with Education.) But it's clear that his schoolboy debate club tactics are no good when the country is calling for a STRATEGY.

The worst part of his day was probably the moment where you can see the dawning realisation creep into his sad eyes that the Conservatories are going to win, to beat him, beat him probably quite a lot. It was probably the time when he laughed at the second or third second kitchen joke.

Even until recently I had expected Labour to improve, and the Tories at best to hold their ground in numbers of seats. How could the Conservatories do anything OTHER than go backwards after the PAIN and the AUSTERITY and the BEDROOM TAX? But today, Miliband looked like a loser. No, worse, he looked like HE believed he was a loser, and that sort of thing is INFECTIOUS.

And Gideon looked like HE thought he was a WINNER.

Because Master Gideon's real talent is luck. The sort of luck that lets him get away with it.

Because this recovery isn't really a result of ANY plan – long term or otherwise – by this Government. It's mainly driven by the Saudis response to American fracking, pumping oil like it's going out of fashion (because it is!) driving down energy prices.

What the Coalition has actually done is a series of smart economic tacks across the wind, sheltering most people from the worst of the storm of the recession, while the rest of Europe has been battered by the ongoing Euro crisis, and while the rise of China and India drove a huge spike in energy prices and food prices, all of which delayed any chance of real recovery. We’ve been keeping more people in work – at the price of depressing earnings; keeping down homes repossessed; shifting the burden of taxation a few notches up the income scale. When the Lib Dems were stronger, we also kept benefits rising with inflation.

That doesn't mean that the austerity was WRONG or didn't work. If nothing else, thanks to the Coalition Britain was at least in a position where we COULD take advantage when the wind changed in our favour.

But what we've also done, again largely Lib Dem policies, is laid the groundwork for FUTURE economic strength: the pupil premium, and add to that free school meals, already giving kids a better education; the apprenticeships scheme, not just getting young people into jobs, delivering two million more quality training places, but kicking off a total reappraisal of the worth of vocational verses academic further education; even the hated tuition fees cum sort of graduate tax has delivered more young people from less well-off backgrounds into higher education.

You can, as Cap'n Clegg is fond of saying, still do a lot of GOOD with a bit of goodwill and three-quarters of a trillion pounds!

All of which means THIS is where the fight gets DESPERATE.

Liberal Democrats, we might have thought that we could go quietly into Opposition, sit the next Parliament out, lick our wounds – which will be many – and rebuild our tattered reputation under the cosy leadership of Saint Tim, while enjoying the no-doubt-hilarious spectacle of a minority Labour administration giving new definition to being propped up with a (lack of) confidence and supply (of demands) from the SNP.

WE MAY NOT HAVE THAT OPTION.

The Tories are already planning how to wreck democracy: that infamous "black and white ball" they held, that wasn't to raise funds for the General Election. They've already GOT the funds to fight the General Election. THAT was to raise funds for the SECOND General Election.

Remember, our slogan is "Stronger Economy; Fairer Society; Opportunity for All".

It's NOT because we'd deliver a fairer society than the Tories and a stronger economy than Labour. (Though we would. But that's OBVIOUS.)

It's because we'd deliver a FAIRER society than LABOUR and a STRONGER economy than THE TORIES!

Labour: the Party of I.D.iot cards, 90 day detention, dog whistles on immigration, cutting benefits for young people, introducing ATOS, introduction Work Capability Assessments, introducing tuition fees (yes, that burns), cash for peerages, cash for Bernie Eccleston, Iraq… no WAY are Labour the Party of "fairer society".

But equally, the Tories: the Party of throwing our relationship with our single biggest trading partner into doubt, the Party of toying with GBrexit, the Party of slashing immigration and all the benefits that come with it, the Party of slashing benefits(!), the Party of tax cuts for Dead Millionaires (promised again, this week), the Party of blowing dirty great wads on Trident… no WAY are the Tories the Party of "stronger economy".

People, if you DON'T want the LUNATICS to take over the asylum, if you don't want the drawbridge pulled up and the curtain run down on five centuries of Britain being the greatest trading nation on Earth, we CANNOT let the Tories win! Labour are about to surrender. It's up to the Liberal Democrats.

No pressure, then.


In this post:

Master Gideon = Gideon known as George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Mr Allstar Darling = Alistair Darling, his Labour predecessor
Rachel the Reever = Rachel Reeves, Labour Shadow Welfare Minister
Tristram the Hunt = Tristram Hunt, Labour Shadow Education Minister
Mr Milipede, reverting to Mr Miliband = Ed Miliband, probably-doomed leader of the Labour Party
Cap'n Clegg = Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Mr Danny = Danny Alexander, Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary (i.e. second in charge) at the Treasury
Mr Vince = Dr Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and widely respected as Lib Dem economic spokesperson and stand-in leader

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Day 5168: An Elephant's Eye on the Election

Tuesday:

You may not have noticed that there's an election coming. They've been keeping rather quiet about it.

A number of people have said that this year's election is "too close to call" or "too complicated" but I think that, even this far out, the results are pretty obvious.

The Liberal Democrats will come fourth in vote share with probably about 16% and win two-hundred and nine five-way marginals. Nick Clegg will become Leader of the Opposition as Al Murray is swept into Downing Street, made Prime Minister as leader of the Stop Farrago Alliance of Labour, Tory and SNP.

Okay, maybe it won't QUITE happen like that. It might be two-hundred and EIGHT – get down to Hornsey and Wood Green because we CAN win there and help keep Lynne Featherstone as MP for Awesome.

Okay, okay, maybe not two-hundred and eight either. But there are reasons for OPTIMISM. Maybe not quite as much optimism as Auntie Caron managed to muster in telling the Westminster Hour we could hold all fifty-seven of our current seats, though you've got to admire her for saying it with a straight face.

I think we can hold at least half, probably somewhere in the mid-thirties, and maybe a gain or two as well.

The reasons for this are, of course, complicated, but come down to the weakness of Mr Milipede's Hard Labour and the split vote on the right.

LABSERVATIVES


We only HAVE about 15 seats facing challengers from Hard Labour or Nasty Nationalists – well, we have a couple more than that, but no one is taking Charlie Kennedy or Alistair Carmichael's seat without Viking Longboats. Most of our seats are a fight with our so-called partners in Coalition the Conservatories.

In order to counter the PERCEIVED threat from the Party they REALLY want to be in bed with, the Kippers, Mr Balloon has been not so much tacking to the right as galloping for the starboard flank as fast as Master Gideon's little legs and Theresa May's kitten heels can carry him. Policies like deep cuts in benefits, targeted at the young and the fatshamed; the obsession with cutting spending deeper and harder than necessary – while promising vast and unfunded give-away tax cuts, not to mention remaining highly dubious in their attitude to possible tax evasion especially by their rich supporters; their increasing security paranoia, with Civil Liberties infringements verging back towards New Labour era; above all the frothing venom over Europe and immigration… all these are painting them as the Nastier-than-Ever Party.

It makes it all the more desperately important than ever that Liberal Democrats hold the centre ground, not because we're wishy-washy and moderate, but because we're the Party with a radical social conscience and grounded, practical, old-fashioned British COMMON SENSE.

Fortunately for Britain (not to mention us!), Mr Milipede's cohorts appear to have decided that he's already lost. They have wasted the last five years conspicuously failing to come up with an alternative plan to Osborneomics-lite while ostentatiously avoiding any engagement with apology for the catastrophe that overwhelmed them in office. In much the same way as Mr Vague's disastrous 2001 election odyssey descended into "Save the Pound! Save My Job!", they are reduced to pitiful wails of "Save the NHS! Save the Milipede!"

It isn't that they don't have any policies. It's just that they don't have any policies that would make anything BETTER.

Take the latest mini-spat over TUITION FEES. It's clearly ALL about the POSITIONING. They want to be able to play the Nick Clegg card AGAIN, so they want to wave a policy that LOOKS totemic (but isn't) so that they can wave Lib Dem pledge cards around (please no one notice Labour pledges). Except first it means pissing two-billion quid up the wall and Mr Balls can't find the cash, and second, more importantly, it's a give-away to the RICHEST students, and doesn't actually HELP people who need it. Whereas the as-good-as Graduate Tax that the Liberal Democrats negotiated has ACTUALLY helped a huge increase in the numbers of people from the least well off backgrounds making it to University.

(The man responsible, Tristram Hunt – surely that's a silly nickname? – is clearly a total liability, whether it's announcing that he's PRIVATISING SURE START – which I remain astounded has not received more coverage; though not at the total lack of synthetic outrage from Pollyanna Toytown – or insulting all NUNS. That's no doubt why he's convinced himself he's got a shot at Mr Milipede's job.

Though to get it, he'll have to get past Mr Woodchuck Umunna, whose face can currently be found next to the Wikipedia definition of "ambition".)

Meanwhile Mr Balls, while remaining the man who most people blame for the crash, has recently managed to forget the names of Labour's business backers and suggest that every window-cleaner needs a paper audit trail. Bill Somebody and get a Receipt, you might say. Mr Ball's position is, er, erratic to say the least, oscillating between occasional adherence to the terrifying splurges of Modern Money Theory (or Magic Money Tree economics) and back to flat out austerity and refusing any of his colleagues the cash to fund their endless lists of not-quite-pledges.

So the rest of the Shadow Cabinet are all "on manoeuvres" rather than campaigning to win. They expected to inherit the Coalition's position on the green benches, but if they can't do that they'll settle for inheriting Milipede's seat instead.

That's where the Liberal Democrats need to press hard that we remain the ONLY Party that stands between the country and a terrifying Tory majority. Hard Labour just aren't up to the job. The last five years have shown that Liberal Democrat ministers and back-benchers have got the guts and determination to hold the line against the Tories.

SICKLY GREENS


One response to Mr Milipede's shambles has been the Green Surge. No, I don't mean BARFING.

The Greens would be more admirable if their one MP hadn't been more loyal to the Labour Line than many of Mr Milipede's own alleged colleagues. (Apparently the Green Party's own slang is "Watermelon" – Green on the Outside, Red on the Inside – but this is probably RACIST to watermelons.) Seeking to capitalise on Labour's weakness and to outflank them on the left they are standing as a Syriza-like anti-austerity ticket, though that might not play out so well now that the real Syriza have apparently capitulated to European Union demands to stick with the austerity programme.

(Thus probably saving Greece, but SELFISHLY denying us the service of demonstrating the Farrago Folly by proving that dropping out of the Euro actually COULD make things extremely very much WORSE.)

What I REALLY object to, though, is how much of an Ed Balls Up the Greens are making of selling the policy of a Citizens' Income, a policy that apparently I, a stuffed elephant, understand better than the Green Leader Ms Notaclue Bennett.

There are many positives to be gained from providing a basic flat rate cash stipend to every single person in the country, potentially saving a lot of bureaucracy, protecting people from abusive employers, rewarding carers and housewives/husbands for their contribution, and greatly simplifying and maybe even SAVING some people's lives. But it's neither cheap nor simple to get there and it needs a good, strong PLAN that you can lay out to get to all the upsides. What you absolutely cannot do is KEEP going on the radio and the tellybox and waving your fluffy feet in the air saying "read the website, I don't remember this bit!"

NASTY NATS


The OTHER response to the Great Miliflop is the rise of the tide of nationalist parties. "Blame-the-other-people" parties always do well in difficult times, and the economic times we've been through have hardly been difficulter.

And after five solid years of Labour supporters screaming blue murder about the Liberal Democrats for working with the Conservatories, it is quite a BITTER IRONY that they find the exact same tactic being turned upon them by the Scots Nats for supporting the Conservatories and other pro-Union Parties in the Referendum Campaign.

There could hardly be a better demonstration of the FLAWS of our First Pass the Port electoral rules (and how STUPID our journalists are) than what is happening in Scotland. The press appear ASTONISHED that the LOSING side in the referendum seems to be doing so well in the prospects for Parliament. But it's simple MATHS.

Under ANY system of alternative voting, the pro-Union votes transfer to block the minority Nasties. Which is what happened in the Referendum.

But under First Pass the Port, the LARGEST LOSER WINS.

Because there are SEVERAL Parties that want to keep the United Kingdom, the winning side is DIVIDED; because the Scots Nasties are ISOLATED, they hoover up all the anti-votes. Ironically, this is the tactic of MARGARET THATCHER, who they hate.

Hilarious as it is that the Nasties are probably going to deprive Mr Milipede of any chance of an outright majority, the worse outlook is that they might ALSO deprive him of enough seats to form a Coalition with the remaining Liberal Democrats.

KIPPERS


Channel Four's mockumentary "UKIP: The First 100 Days" has received record numbers of complaints. Mainly because that's what Kippers do best: complain. In fact, it's difficult to know if they do anything else. Except make on-camera racist remarks.

Though also, it was RUBBISH.

There was almost no sting to the satire, no ring of dangerous truth to the warnings. Police snatch-squads and brutalisation of innocent minorities were treated much more DAD'S ARMY than SECRET ARMY. Economic implosion didn't seem to affect anyone's standard of living, in spite of all the factories closing. And the nice lady UKIP parliamentarian turned out to be nice in the end, so that was all right. We didn't get to see the follow-up scene where it's explained that she's "had a breakdown" and she's carted off to Broadmoor in one of those coats that ties up the back while her family are on a one-way flight to Karachi.

No, if anyone should be complaining it's the OTHER PARTIES for this far too nice portrayal, that seems to imply we could get away with electing a bunch of RACISTS without it all going Nuremberg on us.

Of course, the last thing Farrago wants is to actually WIN. Winning means having to do something other than complain. Worse, it means being the one who is complained ABOUT. No, he likes his nice cushy Euro-job where he gets paid a fortune and doesn't have to show any results. Or even show up!

Still, lucky for Nigel our electoral system is so horlicksed that he probably won't have to face his nightmare scenario of being everyone else's nightmare scenario.

LIBERAL DEMOCRAT GOVERNMENT


The PLAN for the Liberal Democrats has always been to show that Coalition WORKS, and that we can be TRUSTED in Government. We've certainly shown that a Coalition CAN last five years. Remember, almost EVERY SINGLE commentator in 2010 expected a second election within six months. We've proven them wrong once already. Whether we can be TRUSTED is… a slightly other matter, unfortunately.

It's difficult to see how we can continue in Coalition with the Tories. We've largely used up the areas of policy overlap, not to mention the GOODWILL, between our Parties. Equally though, many people have suggested that a period in Opposition, licking our wounds, might serve the Party well.

Maybe it would, but would it serve our Country well?

I still believe that the purpose of political parties is to be in Government, getting things done.

(Not the Labour Party's urgent desire to be in Government just to be in Government; not the Conservatories belief that they are entitled to be in Government because they are entitled.)

A Labour/Liberal Coalition, with Vince Cable as Chancellor (finally!), would be a better outcome for the Country (AND demonstrate that Coalition can remain stable even if the larger partner transitions) than a feeble minority Labour administration, with Scots Nats and Green demonstrating the real meaning of "propping up" (where they can take ALL the blame and get no policies at all enacted). And another Liberal/Tory Coalition, could one be bodged together in the wake of the election tearing strips out of each other (probably around an agreement that WE will run the country while Mr Balloon plays Euro-referendum) would STILL be better than letting the nutters run the asylum on their own (with the Farragistas not so much propping up as pushing to topple over).

But the real choice belongs, quite rightly to the British people.

And we've only just begun.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Day 5060: DOCTOR WHO: Remembrance (Day) of the Cybermen*

Saturday:


There’s one central idea here done superbly well: the Master is just doing all this to get her friend back.

Alex once wrote a piece – one I fully endorse – titled “The Time Lords are Gits and Always Have Been”, chronicling their use and abuse of arbitrary power from “The War Games” on.

And suddenly, watching this, I realised that it’s the Doctor who is the fallen Time Lord, not the Master. The Master, Missy, just wants him to see that they are supposed to be ruling the cosmos and then he’ll come back and play with her the way they used to.



Michelle Gomez is really good at this. Properly bananas as her character says. Even in handcuffs. (Eat that, River Song!) The horrible brutality of killing Osgood the cos-play fangirl – for no reason – is exactly the sort of thing that the Master needed, to underline that she is not just some suave giggling loon, but really properly evil. And grounded in a solid motivation (and decades of “shipping”), the character is a better, more worthy adversary than she has been in years.

It’s not a novel observation to say that “Dark Water”/“Death in Heaven” is Moffat doing “Army of Ghosts”/“Doomsday” his way. Ghosts or skeletons that are revealed as Cybermen; a global invasion; a twist halfway to introduce another old enemy (the Daleks even get a cheeky name-check); even the hand-brake turn last-minute twist to stop the heartbreak ending being too much.

Nor is it a secret that Moffat is not very fond of two-parters: he hasn’t done one since “The Rebel Flesh”/“The Almost People”; hasn’t written one himself since “The Pandorica Opens”/“The Big Bang”; and even when he has, it’s usually to perform a big scene shift to a second part that is often hugely different in location or scope or tone.

But Russell clearly got something right when he minted the new series with a spectacular two- or even three-part finale at the end of every year.

The success of the individual stories is less of the issue here, than how they round out the seasons. For the record, we love the Mister Master in his “Last of the Time Lords” trilogy, and of Russell’s five finales, only “Journey’s End” and “The End of Time” bellyflop into disappointing us, but your mileage may vary. What I’m saying is that the Moffat era could be characterised by series – six, seven a and seven b – that come to an end without coming to a climax.

So it’s some sort of irony that Moffat’s here using the form to write what is ultimately a pretty good story that is also a seriously good capstone to the series arcs, for a series where those arcs have been based in character rather than plot. It seems that Steven is just better at re-writing Russell “but better” than he is at his own stuff.

The other fantastically good scene here is, of course, also a collage of Russell moments, which is Clara’s farewell (even though it isn’t… what is it with Moffat-era companions not being able to say goodbye?).

The way that it’s prefaced with Danny’s inevitable self-sacrifice (a voice from the other side, riffing on Rose’s summons to Bad Wolf Bay in “Doomsday”) and intercut with the raw emotion of the Doctor assaulting the TARDIS in grief that the Master lied and Gallifrey is still gone beautifully composits the information that the audience needs to understand what is happening.

Coleman and Capaldi have been brilliant all year, but never better than in this goodbye that caps off the emotional arc of (this year’s version of) Clara Oswald where all her lies have finally come back to bite her on the bottom, only for her to finish by telling the biggest white lie of all to spare the Doctor just as he does the same for her.

If only all the moments could be as good. Or at least not so cripplingly disappointing.

When I said last time that I thought I’d been spoiled, it wasn’t about the slow, careful, clever build up to the revelation of the Cybermen in “Dark Water” being blown in the teaser at the end of “In the Forest of the Night”. Although it was.

(Of course knowing there would be Cybermen, it was obvious that they were Cybermen, to the extent I didn’t even realise it was meant to be a surprise and so the slowly draining tanks reveal seemed a bit pointless. But I didn’t spot that the 3W logo was a Cyber teardrop until the doors closed to reveal them as a pair; I’d been thinking of it as a “map” of the Nethersphere touching the larger sphere of the real universe as it were as the City of the Saved.)

But I had a much bigger problem with “Clara Oswald has never existed”, because to me that suggested a retrospective redemption of the whole Impossible Girl arc and too-good-to-be-true Clara of season seven.

With Missy, as everyone guessed, turning out to be the Master and also, as everyone guessed, the “woman on the phone” who gave Clara the TARDIS telephone number, along with the drop-in scenes suggesting that Missy “chose” Clara for the Doctor… the expectation rose that Clara was either a construct of the Master’s, like Seb, or maybe the Master’s TARDIS (remember how Clara and the TARDIS did not get on in series seven?), or even the next regeneration of the Master herself (Missy = Miss C Oswald… apparently, nahh). (Or was Oswald the Penguin!)

Having Moffat’s companion be the most specialist ever, who jumps into the Doctor’s timestream to save him and so meets him (and beats him!) everywhere smacks just a teensy bit of “Mary Sue”. But having the Master wrap him/herself around every point in the Doctor’s timestream because… “a Universe without the Doctor scarcely seems worth imagining”, now that would be properly epic. In fact, it would be an almost perfect reversal of the “they turn out to be the same person” ending that Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks had in mind for their “Final Problem”, and incorporate elements of the Reichenbach Fall ending that Saward and Holmes planned for “Trial of a Time Lord”. It would even be satisfyingly timey-wimey for a Moffat story.

Really, the only other way to go would be for Clara to turn out to have been the Doctor all along.

Oh.

The twist with Clara turns sour because it is so obviously a fake-out, and such a waste of a terrific idea.

It would be such a great story to do, too: the end of season switcheroo reveal that Doctor and companion were actually the other way around. But having done it for false now, how can someone do it for real?

But you couldn’t have done it at the end of this season eight. You couldn’t have done it after seeing Matt Smith turn into Peter Capaldi, or after the scene in “Deep Breath” where Capaldi’s Doctor remembers the phone call made by Smith’s. You couldn’t do it after a season that included “Listen” that expressly takes the present Doctor back to his childhood on Gallifrey. You couldn’t do it after a season that included “Flatline”, a story about Clara trying to be the Doctor. (Though wouldn’t that have worked differently in retrospect if she’d turned out to be the Master!)

What you needed was to end “The Time of the Doctor” with Clara (or “Clara”) returning to the TARDIS and meeting Capaldi, and he knows nothing about who he is so she tells him that he’s this man called “The Doctor” and then season eight is about her setting out to teach him how to be this Time Lord, this hero.

(And – suggests Alex – we could have cast that jobbing actor, even though he’d been in it before, who’s been in tons of things and was very respected but really became well-known when he got a bit older and got all crabby and sweary and was in a sit-com. He meant “A Very Peculiar Practice” and “Waiting For God” of course…)

In order to work, it needs some things to be more ambiguous. The fake Doctor can’t fly the TARDIS alone, for example, so can’t keep materialising at Clara’s home to collect her. And he can’t rely on pulling knowledge or Gallifreyan superpowers out of his hat (though you could slyly imply that Clara does – perhaps having her seem to appear somewhere out of nowhere, the way Missy appears to shift at super-speed when she makes her move and grabs Osgood).

There was a chance there to have done something jaw-dropping. But instead, Moffat burned that idea. Tossed it away for a gag. It brings to mind his engineering the Doctor’s regenerations so that he could be the one to confront the “thirteen regenerations limit”, only to blow it off with “and the Time Lords gave him some more lives”.

Burning up ideas like TARDIS keys, Moffat is closing the box on other people using these ideas to tell much better stories, and I think that’s a real shame. Russell used to throw out ideas for people to tie up in better stories – the Fall of Arcadia, the Moment – so it’s a good job no-one’s used those up in half-baked fan-fic…Hang on…



The Cybermen were, obviously, totally wasted. Where exactly did all those metal suits come from, I ask? Gallifreyan technology, says Alex and fair play to him I’ll give him that. And I suppose you could say that just for once in her lives, the Master teams up with a monster menace only to betray them before they betray her!

But really, do we have to believe that every single human was willing to delete their emotions and turn bad, unless they were so specially-wecially as to be in love with Clara Oswald (or the Doctor… see below). Seb tells us the Nethersphere is emptying and we see the lights going out. And yet only two Cybermen out of all of humanity resist the conversion.

Again, it’s the better story not told. The Cybermen are never (apart possibly from “The Tenth Planet”) treated as individuals. They all just become an army of grunts. (Ironically, when the season’s been trying so hard to tell us that soldiers have personalities too.)

Whatever Danny might say about the Doctor being an officer and a general, he’s lying to himself if he thinks he’s not doing exactly the thing he condemns when he orders the Cyber-army to their deaths without compunction. Though to be fair, he’s probably had Clara delete his compunction.

As for his big soldier speech to the Cybermen – was anyone else just hoping they’d reply to “love is a promise” with “we don’t care; we’re Cybermen, you moron!”?

Still it could have been worse. Oh wait. It was.



I’d really expected that the Doctor would use the TARDIS to save Kate from falling out of that airplane – as he’s done to save River Song at least twice. It’s not like he was going to be late for getting to Clara in the graveyard in his time machine. And at least it would have spared us the Cyber-Brig. Oh for shame, they even painted his handles black to make him a Cyber-leader.

The Brigadier’s passing in “The Wedding of River Song”, the Doctor missing it, and learning a lesson about mortality, was understated, tasteful and a last nod to a beloved old friend. So why the need to bring him back? And as a Cyberman?! What is it with Moffat-era companions not being able to say goodbye?

(And while we’re at it, “permission to squee” is up there with burping bins and farting Slitheen as… something I will have to get used to.) I’m glad to say that Alex enjoyed it, though. Mainly because the Master immediately shot him.

If there’s one tiny sliver of redemption for the whole wretched idea it’s this:

“Who will save your soul, Doctor?” Well who is it who is always there to shoot the monsters so that the Doctor doesn’t have to?

But, having got all that out of my system, let me return to the story that was actually there, rather than the stories I thought might be there or hoped might be there, because the one that Steven does tell is still a good story.

The genius of it is this: all season we have seen Clara trying to be the Doctor, trying to keep up with his breakneck lifestyle, trying to match his moral ambiguities. And all season the Doctor has been asking the question that Clara should have been asking herself, practically shouting it in her face: am I a good man?

How often do we stop to interrogate our own actions? Or do we, like Clara, keep on doing what we’re doing – telling the little lies to cover the bigger ones – because it’s simpler to keep following the path rather than stopping to think, really think if it’s the right path.

We all like to think we are “good men/women/choose your own label or none”. We are all the heroes of our own story, as the saying goes; and as Moffat has said, Clara thinks the show is called “Clara”. But the Doctor’s answer is a good one: it’s too hard to be a “good man”; it’s okay to recognise yourself as a silly one, one just muddling through with a box and a screwdriver, trying to help. That’s actually quite liberating – the freedom from the obligation to “do good”; and the avoidance of the total harm that “do-gooding” can do (take heed, politicians of all stripes).

The Master thinks only in absolutes. She takes the logic of being good to the max: obviously you want an army raised from the dead and slaved to your will because if you are going to be “good” you need to do all the good, stop all the evil, destroy all the monsters.

And that’s bananas.

We, as a society, seem to have gotten ourselves stuck in a place where we are all expected to work harder, increase the productivity, deliver more. We are trapped in a World of “The Apprentice” where we have to give it 110%. And that’s the same logic that the Master uses. It’s not okay to be just okay.

I like that our hero, the fallen Time Lord, wins with the simple, welcome realisation that it’s okay to fall short.

So forgive me for demanding better stories. It was wrong, when the lesson of this one is so good.

Also, somewhere, presumably, Rory has just come back from the dead again as a Cyberman.

Next Time: Santa Claus? Santa Claus! Dammit we’re British! He’s Father bloody Christmas!

Start the Wham! It’s “Last Christmas”.


*May not contain actual Cybermen.