Sunday, 24 May 2015

#F1 – Mercedes Pit-iful in Monaco

What a screw-up!  Lewis Hamilton was certain to win the Monaco Grand Prix today – until, only a few laps from the end, Mercedes pitted him under the Safety Car, and caused him to be fed back into the train of cars in third place, behind teammate Nico Rosberg and Ferrari's Sesbastian Vettel.

The reasoning behind this baffling strategic call by Mercedes has not yet come out.  Mercedes have apologised, and they claim they 'got the numbers wrong', thinking they had enough time to get Hamilton back out in the lead after stopping for tyres.  But why did they pit him at all?  Even if he'd had a lead of over a minute, he didn't need new tyres, and stopping under the Safety Car was a completely unnecessary risk.  (The teams' explanation they worried Hamilton would be vulnerable if Vettel stopped for new tyres under the Safety Car strikes me as little more than ex post facto excuse-making; had Hamilton stayed out, he could've controlled the race to end once the Safety Car came in, and even if Vettel had been quicker on new tyres Rosberg was between them acting as a cushion for Hamilton – on the tight, twisty Monaco street circuit, where it is notoriously difficult to overtake, there is no way Vettel would've caught up to the lead with only a few laps to go.)

My reading of the situation is that teams normally see a Safety Car period as an opportunity to take a 'free' pit stop; it allows them to bring a car in for fresh tyres, but without losing time relative to the other runners on-track, as the Safety Car bunches the whole field up and control the pace.  Teams try to react to this quickly, in order to make the most of this opportunity, and I think that is what Mercedes did today – they pitted Hamilton because that is their default reaction as soon as they see that the Safety Car has been deployed.  In other words, it was a knee-jerk reaction, not a strategic decision; another example of Mercedes switching off tactically, and resting on their laurels of having the fastest car a little too much.

In the end, the decision didn't hurt the Mercedes team too much – their drivers finished in first and third, instead of the first and second places they would have been in line to get, so they only ceded three points to Ferrari in that respect.  But in the individual Drivers' Championship, Hamilton dropped points to his closest rival, instead of extending his lead – that has to hurt.

The important thing for Hamilton, though, is how he responds to this.  His interview on the podium was rather more mature and gracious than I had expected from a driver who has a reputation for 'wearing his heart on his sleeve' (read: 'sulking') when things get difficult for him.  In private, though, Hamilton will be raging – and he has every right to! – but he has to try and channel that energy positively.

If Hamilton starts to see himself as a victim, he will only make things worse for himself.  The inevitable paranoid nonsense has been bandied about social media by 'fans' – but the idea that the Mercedes team did this deliberately (either of their own volition, or at Rosberg's behest) is patently absurd.  As I wrote last year (also during the Monaco Grand Prix, funnily enough) on a very similar topic:
To allow oneself to slip into a 'victim' mentality is one of the worst things that can happen to a world-class sportsman.  If Hamilton starts to believe he is the subject of some conspiracy within the Mercedes AMG F1 team, he will effectively derail his hopes of claiming a second Word Drivers' Championship victory this season; he will become paranoid and resentful, and he will start to kick against his team instead of working with them, and he will cease to make calm, rational decisions on the track, instead allowing himself to become motivated by revenge and an attempt to vindicate himself. 
Luck plays a part in any sport.  Part of being a successful sportsman is the acceptance that you don't always get the rub of the green, and sometimes things will go against you; those who are at the very top of their game, in any area, are those who deal with that the best, and getting sucked into the downward psychological spiral of a 'siege' mentality is not the way to do that.
Speaking of luck, d'you know who doesn't have any?  Pastor Maldonado.  The Lotus driver still has not taken the chequered flag in any of this season's six races so far; I know I've brought this up before, but I really do wonder how much longer the team will persist with him.  After Qualifying yesterday, I predicted:

And so it proved.  Both Lotus drivers looked extremely quick throughout free practice, and in Qualifying…  In the race, however, it was a different story – Grosjean kept himself out of trouble, and despite a five-place grid penalty which left him start in fifteenth, he gradually inched his way up into the lower end of the points positions, and would've stayed there had be not been rammed from behind by the Toro Rosso of Max Verstappen (the incident which precipitated Mercedes' pigs ear pitstops!).  Maldonado, on the other hand, was involved in yet another incident, and adds yet another DNF to his rather unimpressive record.

It is easy to say that this incident was not entirely Maldonado's fault – indeed it is easy to say that for many of the incidents which the Venezuelan has been involved in, and there certainly is some truth in that – but he hasn't finished a single race this year, and that record speaks for itself.  There's only so much bad fortune anyone can have, before you start to wonder whether there's a reason all that bad luck keeps happening to the same guy…

The fact of the matter is, good drivers don't constantly put themselves in situations where bad things can happen to them.  They stay out of trouble.  Maldonado is the opposite of this – his bull-in-a-china-shop approach makes him a magnet for on-track incidents, and the result is no points, and a whole lot of repairs for the team to do.  The longer this goes on, the more likely it is that he will be replaced before the season's even over.

But over at McLaren, the long wait for points is finally over, as Jenson Button scored four points for his eighth place finish today.  They told us to wait until Spain – which was another damp squib for them – but this time out in Monaco, they finally got on the scoresheet.  Can it last, though?  The hard-to-overtake nature of the Monte Carlo street circuit will have helped them out a lot, and Canada (next time out) will be a very different proposition; I doubt Button will be able to keep a Toro Rosso or a Lotus behind him for so many laps at a track like that, they way he managed to this afternoon.  Canada could well bring McLaren down to earth with a bump!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

We're on our way to Wembley… Or, some of us are, at least

The following is an edited, cleaned-up, more coherent rendering of something I posted late last night to a 'Norwich City Fan Forum' group on Facebook, regarding the somewhat fractious exchanges recently between those supporters who've been able to get hold of tickets to the Play-Off Final at Wembley, and those who've missed out.
I can't believe some of the bollocks that's being talked regarding tickets for Wembley.  I would've loved to have gone.  The club have decided not to put any tickets on general sale – no obviously, now, I can't.  That sucks.  But it's up to the club to decide how to do their business regarding ticket sales, and I understand their reasoning. 
What I don't understand is a bunch of smug gits telling fans who are – completely understandably – disappointed not to be able to go one of the biggest occasions for Norwich City in a long time that they're not as 'worthy', not as 'loyal', or whatever.
Everyone understands that when demand outstrips supply, some people will lose out.  We (those people), for the most part, understand why that is, and respect that.  But when the response from those who have managed to get tickets is essentially "Well, that's your own stupid fault – you should've been a better, more virtuous fan, like me!" that can really grate on you. 
Nothing gives any supporter the right to strut about, lording it over others, thinking they're better.  It's "true fan" nonsense – the nasty mindset where some supporters think they are more 'pure', or that their support is somehow worth more than others', because they do it 'better' – and in the past, that has been (rightly) frowned upon by most of the Norwich City Supporters' community.  Lots of things determine whether or not somebody buys a Season Ticket, or Priority Membership – not just the 'quality' of their support – and you have to be either inordinately stupid, or insufferably obtuse, not to see that.  Or, you have to be the kind of self-absorbed, ostentatious cretin who likes nothing more than to feel a sense of superiority over other fans who, for whatever reason, can't have what you have.  And, frankly, that's how a lot of people are acting – which is rather sad, isn't it? 
If you think you are more 'worthy' than another supporter, someone needs to tell you what a stupid, venal attitude that is.  We're all Norwich fans, and we should be enjoying this momentous moment for our club, and celebrating together; instead, some people are bitter, whiney and hurt – while others are being pompous, gloating, self-congratulator popinjays.  It's not pleasant, it's not cool, and it's not a good look for any of us. 
Enjoy Wembley.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Human Rights Sacked

Michael Gove is an intelligent man.  He's opinionated, bullish and stubborn – qualities which made him a lot of enemies during his tenure as Education Secretary in the last Parliament – and he has an unshakable faith in his own infallibility which can be quite off-putting.  But he is clever, perceptive, and a formidable opponent.

It is baffling, therefore, that he is even considering touching the Conservatives' proposed repeal of the Human Rights Act (1998) with a bargepole.  The problems surrounding such a repeal are many – and not easily overcome.  The ramifications could be huge.  Lawyer and legal writer David Allen Green (@JackOfKent on Twitter – well worth following, if you're interested in this area of policy) details the issues with his customary clarity on his Blog.

Interestingly, though, Green also touches on the common misconceptions surrounding the Tory party and human rights issues in his column in the Financial Times – pointing out that despite their reputation, the Conservatives historically have delivered constitutional reform and civil liberties legislation of a significant and lasting kind.  It appears to be the Human Rights Act – not the concept of human rights itself – to which the Conservatives seem to object.

That is, in itself, not unreasonable.  Personally, I don't have any great attachment to a particular piece of legislation; I think human rights, and enshrining those rights in law, are hugely important – but the Human Rights Act itself is just a vehicle for delivering that.  Any other similar vehicle would be as good.  The Conservatives' plans include replacing the Human Rights Act with something they are calling The British Bill Of Rights.  Fine.  If the British Bill Of Rights functions in the same way as the Human Rights Act, I've no objections to that – at least not in principle…

What I do object to is the needless constitutional turmoil which could end up endangering the United Kingdom.  Replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill Of Rights is a task fraught with difficulty.  As we've already seen, the consequences of meddling with the Human Rights Act could be huge; there would be a knock-on effect for devolution settlements in Scotland, and on the Good Friday Agreement (not just an Act of Parliament, but an international treaty) in Northern Ireland, and this controversial move would further strain the already fractious relationship between the national government in Westminster and the devolved legislatures affected.

All of which leads me to wonder: is it worth it?

The Tories' proposal is to remove the Human Rights Act and replace it with something which performs pretty much the same job, but under a different name.  As I have said, I don't object to that in principle – what's good about the Human Rights Act is not its name, but the fundamental rights of citizens which it exists to uphold, and as long as something is fulfilling that duty I don't much mind what it is, or what it's called.

However, the corollary is that if the proposed British Bill Of Rights would do the same thing as the Human Rights Act, why not just leave the Human Rights Act in place?  Risking a constitutional crisis for the sake of removing one piece of legislation and replacing it with another which does pretty much the same job seems, to me, to be utterly ludicrous.

Until we see a draft of it, we don't know what the British Bill Of Rights will hold.  It may well be that the British Bill would enshrine our civil liberties in law just as well as the current Human Rights Act does.  And that would, therefore, be fine.  But even if the outcome would be fine, the process to get there seems incredibly perilous.  Any negatives of the Human Rights Act can surely be addressed without a wholesale repeal, and all the brouhaha that will inevitably cause; that is the much safer, more sensible option for critics of the Act.

It is wrong, I believe, to say that the Conservatives are trying to "take away our human rights", or any such hyperbole as that.  Conservative MPs such as Dominic Raab (a newly appointed junior minister at the Ministry Of Justice) have a keen interest in civil liberties, and genuinely believe that their approach to defending human rights is the best way.  But I think it is correct to say that they are being needlessly, recklessly dogmatic, and putting the future of our country at risk for the sake of what is, essentially, an ideological vanity project designed to appeal to those hysterically populist tabloid newspapers who would otherwise be screaming about the indignities of Brussels-mandated banana curvature.

Replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill Of Rights might not be the worst thing in the world – but getting there is so risky and so labyrinthine that it simply isn't worth it.  I seriously hope this government drops the stunt, stops pandering to whoever in the tabloid press can shout the loudest, and gets on with something meaningful and worthwhile before too much damage is done.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Election reactions

So, it turns out that my election predictions were way off-base.  But hey, whose weren't?!  The exit poll, which everybody thought was so whacky and out-there it couldn't possibly be true, actually turned out instead to be rather too conservative (by which I mean not Conservative enough – note the capital 'C'), and the hung parliament which was 'a given' never materialised.  Instead, the Conservatives achieved the impossible overall majority which everybody said would never happen.

It was a fascinating result – and rather a strange one.  This posts details a few of my thoughts on the result, and the immediate aftermath.

One of the big stories of the night was the total collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote; although leader, and former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg hung onto his seat in Sheffield Hallam, many high-profile Lib Dems defending large majorities were swept aside by a tide of truculent, ill-informed popular opinion.  In all, the party lost 49 of its 57 seats in the House of Commons, leaving a total of just eight Lib Dem MPs.

It is a particularly odd phenomenon, when you consider that at the last general election the Liberal Democrats had a 23% share of the popular vote – the party's highest ever percentage, in its current guise.  We voted for the Lib Dems, and the policies they espoused, in record numbers in 2010 – and then acted shocked and hurt when we actually got Lib Dems in government, enacting their policies into law.

I found it especially strange that so many of the Liberal Democrat losses were gained by the Conservative party.  This suggests that the Lib Dem losses don't represent a dissatisfaction with the record of the coalition government of the last five years overall – otherwise, the Tories would have lost seats too – but a peculiar desire to 'punish' the Lib Dems for some perceived personal slight.

The Tories, on the other hand, ended up gaining seats on their 2010 total.  An endorsement of their record in government, it would seem – but not one extended to their hapless coalition partners.  Is this, as some pundits suggested, a result of the Lib Dems' attempts often to distance themselves from the achievements of the coalition government, and to appear as if they are 'holding their noses' to work with the Conservatives?  No, I don't think so.  It is much more likely to be the result of an electorate casting about for the most convenient scapegoat to turn into this election's unfortunate whipping boys.

The future of the Lib Dems remains uncertain.  It is true that, since the election, several thousand people have joined the party – but I think this means much less to most people than those in 'the political bubble' think it means.  I think the party will survive, though.  It may take time to rebuild, but democracy this country has always had a 'liberal party' of some sort, and the Lib Dems will pick back up again, in time.

The other big shift of the night was from Labour to SNP in Scotland.  The Scottish Nationalists took almost all of Scotland's Westminster seats, toppling some of the Labour campaign's biggest names in the process.  I'm no fan of the SNP's policies, but I do not object to their presence in the House of Commons, when that is so clearly the will of the Scottish electorate; however, I think it's important to remember that the 'legitimacy' argument works both ways…

During the wrangling of the campaign, Tory scaremongering tactics involved 'warning' voters of the 'danger' of Labour forming a government propped up by the SNP – even if the Conservatives were the largest single party in the Commons.  It was claimed that this government would have no mandate, and would 'lack legitimacy', but this was, of course, nonsense.  The general election is a UK-wide affair, and any government which can command a Commons majority is 'legitimate' – as the Nationalists were quick to point out!

The reverse is also true, though – claims that any government not including SNP ministers would 'lack legitimacy' in Scotland are similarly ludicrous.  The makeup of the House of Commons reflects the will of the entire UK electorate (to an extent!), the government formed from which then has a mandate to govern the whole of the UK.  If an English constituency returns a Labour MP, and it is then the Conservatives who form a government, the voters in that Labour constituency may be a bit miffed, but they don't have the right to turn around and refuse to recognise the 'legitimacy' of the national government, based on the overall national vote.  The same is true of SNP voters in Scotland.

The SNP, however, have a rather dangerous habit of conflating their party with their country.  In many Nationalists' minds, the SNP is Scotland, and Scotland is the SNP.  Not only does this lead to a rather nasty characterisation of Scots who vote for other parties as 'quislings' or 'traitors' (although a full 50% of Scots didn't vote SNP), but it allows Nationalists to paint criticism of the party as criticism of Scotland itself – of an entire population.  This is sure to be a factor in the way the party positions itself in Westminster; any refusal to acquiesce to SNP demands will be seen as an insult to the people of Scotland.

Any attempts by the SNP to fan the flames of nationalism by claiming that not giving policy concessions to the SNP is tantamount to discrimination against, or disdain for, Scottish people in general on the part of David Cameron and his government will be as dishonourable as Cameron was being during his election campaign by stoking English nationalism in the hope that fear of the SNP setting the agenda would win him a majority in England.

I understand the temptation of this way of thinking.  But, despite the scale of their victory, the SNP contingent at Westminster do not speak 'for Scotland' – they speak for the SNP, and for its (admittedly many) supporters.  Rejection of SNP policy is not 'anti-Scots'; it is simply a disagreement on a point of policy.

This is especially true when you remember that SNP MPs are not allowed to deviate from the party line.  The Nationalist MPs represent a particular, narrow political viewpoint, not the totality of Scottish opinion.

As for the SNP's supporters…  Well, there may be many of them – but there aren't quite as many of them as you might think.  Certainly not as many as there were UKIP supporters, and yet UKIP only returned one MP (the hugely impressive Douglas Carswell in Clacton).  As a result, the 'political earthquake' promised by so many UKIP activists failed to materialise, with even leader Nigel Farage missing out on his specially chosen seat in Thanet South, sitting MP Mark Reckless losing in Rochester and Strood, and other key UKIP targets also falling to the Tories.

The response to this from the UKIP movement has been anything but gracious, however!  Party activists have gone into overdrive to try and prove that the Thanet South election was 'rigged' to prevent Farage getting into parliament.  Just look at the hashtag #thanetrigged on Twitter.  To me, this shows a distinct lack of maturity from the party; for all that OfCom might have granted UKIP 'major party' status, they can't seem to shake off their mentality of always seeing themselves as 'victims' of 'the establishment'.  For a party with only one MP, this stunningly naval-gazing attitude is simply not sustainable.  After last year's European Election victory, Farage claimed that we 'hadn't heard the last of' UKIP; however, after this disappointing showing, I rather think that we have.

Not that I think we have 'heard the last' of Farage himself!  He may have stood down as UKIP leader, and failed to win his seat, but I feel he will have an important rôle to play yet in the next parliament.  The Conservatives' promised referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union is yet to come, and I have a feeling that those pushing for an 'out' vote will want Mr Farage to play a prominent part in their campaign.  Don't be surprised to see him back in the spotlight in a year or two, debating against David Cameron (who will, of course, campaign for 'in') on television in the run-up to the referendum.

It was not a good night overall for the ungracious, self-absorbed demagogues of British politics.  Nigel Farage's seat was not the only one which was supposedly 'a fix'; the British electorate, it seems, does not take too kindly to bullying – and the Respect party lost its only MP, the divisive firebrand George Galloway.  After fighting a dirty, underhand campaign in Bradford West, Galloway lost his seat to Labour's Naz Shah; he may be miles from UKIP on the spectrum of political views, but the two have much in common when it comes to axe-grinding grievance-mongering.

Having first demanded a recount on the night (despite the result not being even remotely close – the Labour majority was over 11,000 votes), Galloway now says he will sue following his electoral defeat.  For someone who positions himself as a champion of those oppressed by unbending, despotic régimes, Galloway is sure behaving himself like one of those despots.  Unable to accept that he simply no longer has the support of the majority of people in Bradford West, there must be some shady underhand conspiracy to unseat him, and he remains determined to cling to power by any means he can find.
The worry now is not that Galloway's legal challenge to his election defeat will gain any traction – I doubt there are many people who won't see through this desperate attempt to sidle back into Westminster through the back door – but that he will now pop up somewhere else (rumours suggest this could be at next year's Mayoral elections in London) completely undeterred, ready to try the same poisonous, scare-mongering smear tactics.  That is not what democracy in the UK needs.

According to many, what democracy in the UK does need is proportional representation.  The 'Fair Votes Now' campaign is gaining traction on Twitter, and with the sort of angry Facebook 'activist' who spends all day posting 'memes' of David Cameron's face captioned with "I'm going to have my  woodburner modified so it will burn the limbs of poor people instead of firewood!"

I think there is a good case for reexamining the arguments for and against proportional representation.  This election has thrown up some of the biggest discrepancies between voteshare and seatshare in a long, long time.  It bears discussion.  But unfortunately, even after this result, I simply don't think there is an appetite for electoral reform.

We had a referendum on moving to a more proportional voting system in 2011; a move that was comprehensively rejected by the electorate.  I doubt it will happen (there's already one referendum scheduled for this parliament, remember!) but I think it would be interesting to see a re-run of an electoral reform referendum within the next few years.

Unfortunately for the erstwhile electoral reform campaigners, however, I think the result would be very similar to the result of the 2011 plebiscite.  The ordinary British voter has very different priorities from, and nowhere near the same zeal as, the sort of person whose life's work seems to be sharing shouty, aggressive posts from 'Another Angry Voice' on Facebook.

The reaction to the result on social media has been quite startling.  Those disappointed with the results have gone way beyond just being disappointed with the result.  Comments such as "we have woken up in Dickensian Britain" (which I saw on Facebook) are patently rubbish – even if you do believe that the Conservatives are intent on remaking the sort of country depicted in Oliver Twist (which they're quite clearly not), that sort of change would take years to manifest itself.  It wouldn't happen overnight.  To suggest that you looked out of your window on the morning after the election to see soot-blackened factory chimneys belching out smoke, and barefoot street urchins clad only in scruffy rags wandering the streets is nothing short of hysterical.

These generalisations, however, can be (deservedly) ignored.  Far worse is the much more specific nonsense about public services.  "Go and make an appointment to see your doctor while you can – in five years you won't be able to!"  Right.  So, in five years, doctors will simply cease to exist?  I doubt it.  There will always be hospitals, and there will always be schools.  The way they operate and the ways in which they are funded may change with time – and those changes may or not be a good thing, that is a separate debate – but they're not just going to disappear.  This ridiculous hyperbole does nobody any credit.

For many who oppose the Tories, the NHS is sacred.  Privatisation (of anything!) is a bogeyman which should be avoided at any cost, and fought at every opportunity.  This dogmatism – this simplification into black-and-white, 'us' against 'them' – is not how politics should be.  Rational arguments should win the day, and so far I have seen very few of those.

The trouble with rational arguments, though, is that they need to be substantiated.  Unquantifiable platitudes – heavy on emotive rhetoric, light on any actual evidence to support their claims – are far easier.  In 2020, when we have our next election, the NHS will still exist – it may be very different from how it is now, but it will still be there.  And yet it will be almost impossible to hold to account all those who said it was sure to disappear entirely, because of the inherent vagaries of their amorphous, scare-mongering approach.

No, instead of rational rebuttal of Conservative policy, there have been protests and riots.  There has been bitterness and shouting.  There has been the desecration of memorials to women who fought for freedom in World War II.  None of this achieves anything.

The arguments of the protesters (insofar as they are putting forward any coherent arguments at all) are as follows:  1) the Conservative government has no legitimacy, and does not reflect the sovereign will of the British people, because they were elected on only 37% of the total national vote share, and the makeup of the House of Commons is therefore unrepresentative of the views of the public; 2) the Conservative government will pursue policies which will be unfair, and may even be harmful to many people.

Unfortunately, these arguments don't stack up, for several reasons.  The Conservative government may only have got 37% of the vote – but that is still more than any other party got.  You might not like it, but that is actually how our system works; if you don't like that, that's not the fault of the party who won this election, or the party who won any other election in the era of universal suffrage.  As much as you might try to dress it up as being 'angry with the system', there weren't any riots after Labour won the 2005 election with only 35% of the vote share.

Claiming (as I have seen several people on Twitter do) that David Cameron 'lost' the vote by 37% in favour to 63% against is wilful idiocy – it assumes that the only choice was 'David Cameron' or 'not David Cameron', and that everyone who didn't vote Tory can be treated as one homogeneous bloc.  I have already explained why this is a very wrongheaded way to view an election, but to summarise that argument again it implies that all parties who aren't the Conservatives are the same, simply by dint of not being the Conservatives, and that the only options open to the British electorate were 'Tories' or 'not Tories'.  This was not the case, and the argument falls down.

Not only that, but the argument about representation is also something of a smokescreen.  Protesters claim they are angry that the makeup of parliament does not accurately reflect the electorate – however, the numbers strongly suggest that a truly representative parliament would actually be even more right-wing, based on the numbers from the vote.  I doubt most of the protesters shouting 'Tory scum!' in front of Downing Street would be terribly happy about that.

(It is also interesting to note that there have been no such protests about the SNP, even though they have gained unfairly from the First Past The Post system to an even greater extent than the Tories have.  The Nationalists won 50% of the vote in Scotland, but 95% of Scottish MPs are from the SNP; and yet nobody is calling this 'illegitimate' – or questioning Nicola Sturgeon's claims that Scotland voted 'overwhelmingly' for the SNP, pointing out that a 50/50 split is not 'overwhelming'.  Similarly, few protesters are demanding more UKIP MPs in the House of Commons – even though, proportionally, they ought to have many more.  No, this ire is reserved for the Conservatives alone; these protests are not about representation!)

What really puzzles me about the protests, though, is how thoroughly unproductive they are.  It is all noise and vitriol – there are no alternatives being offered.  One of the slogans of the protest has been 'Tories Out Now' – which is rather short-termist.  No one has been able to tell me what happens next (and I have asked).

What if the protesters got exactly what they wanted?  The Tories out.  Right now.  David Cameron holds a press conference this week saying he has listened to the anger of the protesters, and the arguments they've made, and he is resigning.  What happens then?  There are two options: a) another Prime Minister and another government are summarily imposed; or b) a second election is held.

Option a) is fundamentally undemocratic.  Who would the replacement government be?  The Labour party?  For all that you can (disingenuously) claim that the Conservatives 'lost' the election with only 37% of the votes, the Labour party 'lost' even more badly with just 30%.  But who else is there?  However slim the Tory government's mandate is, it is still larger than any other party's.  Furthermore, who gets to decide?  If another election is not to be held, who is it who gets to decide who replaces David Cameron and the Conservatives?  Why does that person, or group of people, get so much power to make such an important call?  As I say, it is undemocratic – and completely unworkable.

Which leaves us with option b), the second election.  That would certainly be democratic – but whether held using First Past The Post as a direct re-run of the 7th May vote, or using a more proportional system, it would quite likely turn up exactly the same result (Conservatives as the largest party).  What would the protesters do then?  Would they finally accept that this is the sovereign will of the people?  Or would they continue protesting?  Would they demand a third election?  Once again, this doesn't seem workable.

The point about policies brings me back to what I was saying earlier.  If you believe that Tory policies are bad, and will make Britain a worse country to live in, you need to explain why.  Win people over. A lot of people – eleven million of them, in fact – said on 7th May that they liked what the Conservatives were offering.  Convince them they were wrong.  Calling Conservatives voters 'scum', 'murderers', and other meaninglessly hyperbolic invective only serves to alienate them more from your cause, and further entrench their Toryism (not to mention blunting the true meaning of those words, watering-down their meaning for when they truly are appropriate).  How is that going to help your cause?

Sunday, 10 May 2015

#F1 – Too little, too late for Rosberg?

A first victory in Formula 1 this year for Nico Rosberg, and he seems so much happier now.  He beat his teammate Lewis Hamilton fair-and-square in Qualifying and in the race for the first time in a long, long time, and he will be feeling so much better about himself as a racing driver now.

I wrote after the Chinese Grand Prix a few weeks ago about the huge psychological effects his underwhelming start to this season have had on Nico Rosberg.  He has looked like Hamtilon's 'number two' at every race so far this season, and he hasn't really seemed to believe that he has what it takes to beat his teammate on track.  In Spain, however, he did believe – and his belief was vindicated, as he stood on the top step of the Podium for the first time since Brazil last year.

So, what does this mean for the Championship?  I think it's rather too early to start describing this as a 'resurgence' for Rosberg – one race win, ultimately, doesn't mean much (remember when Maldonado won this same Grand Prix, a few years back?) – but it is certainly an interesting prospect.

Rosberg will be buoyed by this.  He seemed much more like his old self this weekend – more like the Rosberg of 2014, who fought tooth-and-nail with Hamilton, and who genuinely believed he had what it took to win the title.  And this has come at a good time for him.

This race was very much a 'last chance saloon', after the disappointment of the opening four races; his chance of winning the championship this year had all but gone, and his chances of ever being a World Champion were starting to fade.  He's still on the ropes, but he's proven – to himself; to Hamilton; to his team; and to everyone else – that he can do it.  He can still take the fight to Hamilton, and beat him.  And the next race he'll be going into, on the back of this victory, with all the positive energy that will bring, is Monaco – his home race, where he has a winning record, where he knows he can do well.

How Hamilton responds to this, however, will be crucial.  He will want to reestablish his dominance, and not allow Rosberg to ride a wave of enthusiasm into Monaco and start to build some momentum, and a little winning streak of his own.  The peculiarities of Monaco will mean that much of this will come down to Qualifying.  Is that where this year's Championship will, ultimately, be won and lost?

Elsewhere, McLaren's woes continue.  Still no points, and another retirement for Fernando Alonso, and their season is slipping away fast.  This race was supposed to be the big turning point for them; after a dismal start to the year, the team told everyone to be patient, and wait for Spain – that was where things would start to look up for them.  Alonso believed the team could win its first points of 2015 at his home race.  Well, we waited for Spain – but nothing has changed.  The problems McLaren are having look bigger than anybody thought, and this entire season is going to be a write-off for them.

Pastor Maldonado, also, has seen no upturn in his fortunes this weekend.  He has still not completed any of the races he has started so far this season, and I don't think Lotus are going to put up with this any longer.  It may not always be his fault, but the fact is he always seems to get himself in scrapes.  Lotus have improved hugely from their torrid 2014 season, and they now have a car capable of winning points – but that mid-to-low end of the points positions is the tightest, most competitive part of the entire field, and they find themselves fighting with other teams as desperate as they are.  In that scenario, you need to have two drivers who are able to get into the mix and bring home points for the team.

At the moment, Lotus are relying solely on the solid but unremarkable seventh- and eighth-place finishes of Romain Grosjean; if they had two drivers finishing in that sort of area on a semi-regular basis, they would have overtaken Sauber in the Constructors' Championship by now.  Personally, I think this year will be Maldonado's last season in Formula 1.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

A pointless prediction, and a non-endorsement

It's today.  The General Election.  It has come, and we still have no clue about what will actually happen.  Tomorrow, I can go back to writing about Formula 1 and sandwiches.  But for now, having done absolutely no polling and no research into it, here is what I think – based purely on hunches and guesswork – will happen.

There will be a hung parliament.  That much is pretty obvious.

The Conservatives will be the largest party, but have no overall majority.  As the incumbent Prime Minister, David Cameron will attempt to form a second coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, who will spurn him.  (Obviously, that will be a very stupid move – what is the point of being in politics at all, and standing for election, if you turn down the chance to govern when it's offered you? – but that is what I think will happen; the Lib Dem membership will feel that their support suffered too much from the first coalition to risk it a second time.)

Cameron will then try to 'go it alone' heading a minority administration, surviving each Commons vote as it comes, shored up by MPs from minority parties who will go along with certain issues in return for concessions in other areas – but this will soon crumble, and Cameron won't be able to survive a vote of no confidence.  Within two months, there will be a second election called – and we will get to do this all over again!

I'm probably way off the mark here.  But what can you do, eh?!  Whatever happens, I just hope that we have a government by Saturday morning; I want all this out of the way by Saturday so that I am free to focus on the really serious stuff – Norwich City's Play-Off Semi-Final first leg against Ipswich.

On another note, I am not going to do an endorsement of any party on this Blog.  That's partly because I only get about six readers anyway, so it wouldn't make any difference, and partly because I don't feel I am in any position to tell anybody else how to vote.  However, I will say that however you vote, I implore you to do so for the 'right' reasons.

If you want to vote Labour because you like their policies, or you like their local candidate, that's fine; voting Labour to 'send a message' to Rupert Murdoch, or because Katie Hopkins quipped she would 'leave the country', is stupid.  Similarly, if you prefer another party over the Lib Dems, that's your call; if you would've voted Lib Dem but feel 'betrayed' by Nick Clegg, I have already explained how wrong-headed that is.

Please don't choose who to vote for out of spite.  Please don't vote for a party or candidate because Russell Brand told you to.  You don't have to listen to anybody else; you don't have to be ashamed of how you vote; you don't have to do what your friends, or family, or shouty Facebook acquaintances who share endless pictures of politicians' faces with made-up quotes from/about them superimposed onto the image in bold text, do.  You don't have to take any notice of what the press say.  You don't even have to take any notice of Bloggers like me (although I strongly suggest that you do).

Vote for whoever you honestly believe to be the best candidate in your area, or the best party nationally.  But vote with your head, and in good faith.  Good luck.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

This time, it's personal

But it shouldn't be.

The following image was spotted on my Facebook feed last night (I have blurred out the phone number myself, as I didn't want to be in any way a part of helping spread it):

Also, you misspelt 'Pavilion'.

It is unclear whether this is officially anything to do with the Green Party, or whether its appearing next to a "Vote Green" flyer is just a coincidence; I have contacted the Green Party, their leader Natalie Bennett, and their candidate in Brighton (their former leader, and only MP from the 2010 Election) Caroline Lucas for a comment on this via Twitter, but have so far had no response.

What is clear, however, is that somebody is spreading the personal phone number of the UKIP candidate in Brighton, and inciting people to use it to threaten or intimidate him (what other meaning – before anybody argues that point – of "Want to tell UKIP exactly what you think of them?" could there reasonably be?).

That's not on.  That is not how democracy should work.  I don't like UKIP at all, and I have found several of their activists aggressive, abusive and rude when engaging them in debate on Twitter.  (In the interests of balance, I have also spoken on Twitter with a couple of UKIP activists – one of them a councillor – who were actually perfectly reasonable, decent people, who just happened to have views which differ from mine.)

But no matter how much you disagree with somebody's ideology, this kind of personal intimidation is simply beyond the pale.  Spreading somebody else's personal contact details without their consent is harassment and abuse, and disliking someone's political views does not make that OK.

Whether this is the work of the Green Party, or their supporters, or just somebody working alone, if they can't separate the personal from the political then maybe they should stay out of politics entirely.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

What's in a name?

One thing which really annoyed me when I was watching the BBC Question Time special on Thursday evening, with all three main party leaders answering questions from an audience, was the over-use of people's names.

All three party leaders did it.  A question would come from an audience member called, say, Joseph.  "Well, Joseph, I think that's a really good question…" David Cameron, Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg (whoever's turn it was to face the audience) would begin in response.  (It always is 'a really good question', isn' it?  These politicians never tell an audience member that what they've just said is an absolute load of nonsense, do they?  Even when it is…)

It's a device politicians use to seem personable, reasonable, down-to-earth people who genuinely care about the people they're talking to.  But it doesn't wash, because it sounds rehearsed and stilted, and is obviously something their exorbitantly expensive voice coaches have trained them to do.  It is a perfect example of the polished faux-sincerity which, rather than making politicians look like 'real people', just makes them seem slimy and willing to do anything to ingratiate themselves with voters.  (It is probably worth pointing out that politicians, like as not, don't actually want to do this – but they feel they have to, because there is a perception that we, the voters, want to see politicians who behave like 'ordinary people'.  Even though we then crucify them for giving us what we so often seem to be telling them we want from them.)

Ed Miliband, however, took this device a step further on Thursday, though.  As well as using the names of audience members whose names had already been given (either by them, or by David Dimbleby), the Labour Party leader went out of his way to find out the name of anyone else who asked him anything as well.  It was obvious that the only reason he was asking for people's names before going on to answer (or, in some cases, before going on to avoid answering) their questions was so that he could shoehorn his little "I'm a nice, genuine guy, honest!" gambit in before going on to say anything of any worth.

Unfortunately, the fact that he did this – and did it so obviously, too – made him appear the opposite of genuine, decent and reasonable.  He came over as someone who can't answer a straight question without relying on the 'crutch' of little pre-prepared phrases and tricks designed to make him look good.  It also made him seem profoundly creepy, asking people for their names, taking an unnatural interest in them as people and constantly returning to them, repeating their full name in little idioms which had obviously been carefully worked out in advance.

I would implore all politicians to drop this faux-sincerity that makes them look like such creepy trie-hards, and instead just be genuine; actually genuine – not forced 'genuine' which has clearly been carefully rehearsed to fit certain criteria.  As with any performance, you come over best when you relax, and don't try so hard to look like you really, really want to be there.

Jog on, Jolyon

This is principally a post about how thunderously unimpressed I was by Jolyon Rubinstein's appearance on BBC's This Week (with Andrew Neil) on Thursday night.  A self-appointed ambassador for 'young people' who claims to be a satirist speaking out against 'the establishment', Rubinstein is part of the general 'anti-politics' movement.  You know the sort… Nobody speaks for me, nothing makes any difference, all politicians are bastards, there aren't any more blackcurrant ones left in my packet of Wine Gums, etc., etc., whinge, whinge.

Rubinstein's VT for This Week began with "so why did we deliver a truck full of bullshit to the Houses Of Parliament?  Because Parliament's the naturally-occurring habitat of bullshit!"  Yes, very droll.  What an astute observation.  Such biting satire.

Back on the This Week sofa, his 'go-to' trope was the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  This, apparently, is why young people are so disengaged from politics.  A cock-up it may have been, but I get the feeling people of my generation will still be spluttering "…but, Iraq!" as a rebuttal to any political point in another forty years.  But Rubinstein and his ilk will always prefer a lazy soundbite to any informed political analysis – the latter, after all, might not fit his neat, pre-determined world view.

This was made abundantly clear when – still riffing on Iraq – Rubinstein claimed that young people today were more 'turned off' politics than ever before, and that this was the fault of politicians (who else?!) for being more sleazy, more corrupt, more dishonest and more greedy than ever before.  Alan Johnson made a comparison with the Suez Crisis; Rubinstein tried to claim that this wasn't the same, because there were not "allegations that the invasion was based on a falsehood" – and in doing so, showed up his total ignorance of the subject.

This is the fundamental flaw with attempts to engage 'young people' with politics.  Jolyon Rubinstein embodies the very worst of 'young people' – insular, self-absorbed and inward-looking, and utterly dismissive of anything not within his direct frame of reference.  To Rubinstein, the Suez Crisis didn't count because it didn't happen to him; the Iraq invasion must have been a much worse scandal, with far more wide-reaching ramifications, because he (and other 'young people') can relate to it.

The whole time that Johnson and Michael Portillo were speaking to him (both of them making excellent, well-supported, rational points – or so I thought, anyway), Rubsinstein sat opposite rolling his eyes, looking surly and disinterested.

Rubinstein's insistence that our generation is different, is special, and has things so much harder than the generations who came before (even though, actually, the opposite is almost certainly true), and that anyone belonging to an older generation couldn't possibly know what life is like for us was just embarrassing – these are the sentiments you express when, brimming over with adolescent angst, you join your first band at the age of fifteen, wear your hair almost entirely covering your face, and write terrible, angry songs about how nobody understands you.

This arrogantly maudlin, self-indulgent wallowing might be acceptable in teenagers who know no better, but who will inevitably mature, grow out of it, and go on to write heart-rending break-up albums instead; it's pretty cringeworthy to see this proffered up on national television, masquerading as serious political commentary.