On Saturday 12th September 2015 Jeremy Corbyn was confirmed as the new leader of the Labour Party, completing what anyone who follows politics must admit, whatever their personal feelings on the subject, is one of the most remarkable political stories of our time. The next day Leicester City beat Aston Villa 3-2 to maintain second place in the Premier League, but with Manchester United four points ahead and Arsenal and Manchester City breathing down their necks no one seriously thought this was anything but one of those early season anomalies which regularly crop up. Nearly seven months on, they have pulled of a feat every bit as remarkable, one of the greatest stories in British (if not world) sport.
People have not been slow make comparisons. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was quick off the mark on Twitter
Of course the parallels are not exact – Leicester’s title win is an unequivocal “feel good” story, something which all football fans whatever their main allegiance (with the possible exception of Spurs fans) can celebrate. Corbyn’s election meanwhile, whilst certainly being celebrated in some quarters, has left a number of Labour members and supporters feeling somewhat less than good. Less charitable observers making a football comparison might instead mention Aston Villa appointing Remi Garde as manager. I do think that there is at least an element of feeling amongst the public that it’s good to see someone from outside the political establishment getting a chance, but although they might like the idea in principle that doesn’t mean they will like it in practice when it comes to casting their vote in a general election. Continue reading
Iain Duncan Smith has been in the headlines today, following a piece in the Daily Mail in which he made the all too familiar accusation that those campaigning to stay in the EU are guilty of scaremongering.
The “acrimonious” conduct of the UK’s EU Remain campaign risks damaging the government beyond the June referendum, Iain Duncan Smith has warned.
He said those making “desperate and unsubstantiated” claims about EU exit risked damaging their own integrity.
To be fair, Duncan Smith is well qualified to comment on this subject, having a great deal of experience of making desperate and unsubstantiated claims which damage the speaker’s integrity. Still, his comments did cause my eyebrows to rise somewhat given that Eurosceptics have hardly been averse to scaremongering themselves in the past. Remember those stories about how we were going to be swamped by Romanians and Bulgarians, which turned out to be nonsense? Or numerous reports of how dastardly EU regulations were outlawing insufficiently straight cucumbers, banning children from blowing up balloons or preventing us from composting tea bags, etc. ad nauseam?
Anyone who uses Twitter and is vaguely on the left will no doubt have spent much of last night and this morning revelling in #PigGate – the reaction to the accusation made by Lord Ashcroft’s book and splashed on the front of the Daily Mail that during an initiation ritual for a drinking club in his college days David Cameron ‘put a private part of his anatomy’ into a dead pig’s mouth. To say that Twitter went wild would be an understatement, maybe some would see it as more evidence of “mob rule”, but for others it showed Twitter at its best, demonstrating just how inventive and downright funny it can be when users collectively sieze on a theme, run with it and share the results (there are some good examples here).
Mind you, not everyone found it so funny – certain right wing commentators took to Twitter to tut-tut and wag their fingers in disapproval.
Of course to an extent they’re right. We are being entirely partisan and having fun at our opponents’ expense. That’s what most people do when they get the chance, in fact if we’re honest this kind of partisan sniping isn’t really a drawback of Twitter, it’s (at least partly) what it’s for, and that’s why I’m not as outraged as some that the MSM hasn’t given the subject so much prominence. But that doesn’t mean we are wrong to have our fun. Continue reading
The death of more than 300 people due to the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh which contained factories producing clothes for Western companies such as Primark, has triggered the usual debate about working conditions in such facilites and about “sweatshops” in developing countries, and as usual there are people defending those working conditions and criticising those who demand standards more in line with those we expect in the West.
For example, Alex Massie in his Spectator blog points out that
…sweatshops in the developing world have, on balance, been a good thing. And it is not even close.
For most of human history most life has been brutal, nasty and short. This is not something to celebrate but nor can it be avoided. Working conditions in Bangladeshi garment factories may often remain pretty dreadful. But they are better than life toiling in the fields. Some 45% of Bangladeshis work in agriculture, many of them still, alas, on terms little better than subsistence farming. By contrast, working in a clothing factory is, relatively speaking, an attractive option.
and Matt Yglesias in Slate says
Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules, but it’s entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States.
Bangladesh is a lot poorer than the United States, and there are very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans. That’s true whether you’re talking about an individual calculus or a collective calculus. Safety rules that are appropriate for the United States would be unnecessarily immiserating in much poorer Bangladesh.
Well as Corey Robin at Crooked Timber points out, the people of Bangladesh are making their feelings very clear on this matter, but I want to look at the wider principles.
Neighbours reported a disturbance yesterday at the residence of local family the Milibands. A source close to the family said that things had finally come to a head following the tensions which had been evident since Christmas Day 2010 when younger brother Ed was given the train set which his brother David had long coveted. Ever since then five year old David has been sulking in his room and refusing to take part in popular family games such as “shadow cabinet”, but when this failed to have the desired effect he announced that he had finally had enough and flounced out of the house saying, “I’m off to my mate Barak’s house, they’ll appreciate me there”. The source said “I guess the family will probably miss him, but to be honest they had kind of forgotten about him anyway”.
It seems that no Sunday is now complete without another pile of nonsense about climate change from David Rose in the Mail on Sunday (see my previous post here for example) and this week was no exception.
Rose has found a graph which he claims contains
…irrefutable evidence that official predictions of global climate warming have been catastrophically flawed.
The graph on this page blows apart the ‘scientific basis’ for Britain reshaping its entire economy and spending billions in taxes and subsidies in order to cut emissions of greenhouse gases.
Typically for Rose the whole piece is riddled with inaccuracies and distortions – for example he completely misrepresents the views of climate scientist James Annan and repeats the easily debunked myth that scientists in the 1970s were just as concerned about global cooling as global warming. But the main problem with Rose’s argument is more fundamental. The graph that he shows in order to support his argument simply doesn’t show what he claims it does. His “smoking gun” is not only not smoking, it is not even warm. Here is the graph in question
The graph itself is genuine – it has been taken from the blog of climate scientist Ed Hawkins and shows projections of surface temperatures from climate models going back to the early 1950s and forwards to the mid 21st century with different certainty levels, and actual observations to date. Rose is wrong about the certainty levels they actually represent 50% and 90% but I’m betting that this is an innocent mistake because (as we will see) he just doesn’t understand statistical terminology very well.
“AlanA” at Harry’s Place takes great exception to posters from animal rights campaigners Animal Aid which encourage people not to donate to charities which fund animal experiments. In particular he objects to a lady called Joan Court who appears in this poster, calling her ”a stupid woman who apparently believes that a human life – her life, indeed – is equal in value to a that of her carnivorous cat.” This post is based on two comments which I made there in response.
In my younger days I was a member of Animal Aid and took a keen interest in Animal Rights issues generally, and I did occasionally come across people like Joan Court who opposed vivisection despite having serious conditions themselves. Labelling such people as “stupid” for making a particular moral judgement which they are entirely entitled to make is pretty pathetic IMHO.
At the time I was completely opposed to vivisection but I reluctantly came believe that the benefits from using animals in experiments outweighed the moral objections, so I accept that there is a justification for a limited amount of such experiments (subject to tight controls) where it can be demonstrated that there are likely to be real benefits and there is no feasible alternate method. That doesn’t mean that the moral objections themselves are invalid and it’s an area where I still feel some discomfort, so I don’t agree with those who seem to dismiss such concerns entirely. Continue reading
Having been away for a year or so for no good reason other than laziness I thought I would return with something suitably trivial.
And I happened to notice that today is…. International Talk Like a Pirate Day, so in the true spirit of the occasion here are my contributions.
”Shiver me timbers”
”Avast ye blustering bilge rat”
“Give me a million dollars and you can have your oil tanker back.”
Liberal Conspiracy had an excellent piece earlier this week about the discrimination and persecution suffered by Romani citizens of various EU countries. I won’t quote excerpts here as it really is worth reading the whole thing, but I am glad to see that this rarely publicised issue is finally starting to get the attention it deserves (I’m not trying to claim any moral high ground here, this is my first post on the subject).
Two contrasting pieces in Saturday’s newspapers sum up the problem perfectly and show that even if this country does not have the kind of instututionalised discrimination seen in others bigotry towards the Roma is seemingly the last acceptable prejudice. Firstly, here is the Guardian
The European Union was today accused of “turning a blind eye” as countries across Europe carried out a wave of expulsions and introduced new legislation targeting the Roma.
Human rights groups criticised the EU for failing to address the real issues driving Europe’s largest ethnic minority to migrate in the first place and for choosing not to upbraid countries for breaking both domestic and EU laws in their treatment of them.
And here is the Express.
Now it has to be said that the Express is happy to display its own brand of racism towards all sorts of minority groups, immigrants and (especially) asylum seekers, so it would be unfair to accuse it of specifically targetting Roma, but it is still not unusual to hear people expressing views about “Pikeys” when they would never use phrases such as “Pakis” or “Yids”, and it is unlikely that the Express headline raised many eyebrows. This needs to change.
So it will be a hung parliament, we know that much. The biggest story (apart from the problems with the vote itself) is the collapse in LibDem support, their overall share of the vote is about the same as last time and they are currently 5 seats down – a desperately disappointing night for them. Two small causes for comfort – it was good to see Caroline Lucas win a seat for the Greens and the Tories won’t get an overall majority which seemed possible when the early results came in.
Cameron has of course been staking his claim to form a government, stressing that the results so far demonstrate that the voters have given a clear message that they want change, but given that the Tories have lost a number of seats they were hoping to win and the LibDems have faded I’m not sure that really holds up.
There has been much talk of Labour and the LibDems doing a deal but they are not going to have enough seats between them to have a majority. And much as I hate to say it, given the Tories considerable lead in the share of the vote they do probably have a moral case to try to form a government.