...a blog by Richard Flowers

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.


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.

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