Blatter to be next UK Labour leader

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has stunned British media by announcing his intention to stand in the forthcoming Labour leadership contest. As an outsider, he is seen as offering a clean break from the widely-discredited policies of the Brown-Miliband era. Said one party insider: “It’s an inspired move. We’ve been really struggling ever since Teflon Tony quit, but this guy’s the real deal. I mean, he’s won FIVE consecutive elections – Thatcher and Blair could only manage three.”

“He ticks so many boxes for us,” said another Labour apparatchik. “We got hammered by the Tories among voters over 60; well, Sepp’s 79, so that gives us a lot of leverage over a young whipper-snapper like Cameron. Plus, he’s not Scottish, which tends to lose us votes in England, nor is he English, which costs us so many votes to the SNP – it’s a win-win.”

Critics have pointed out the ongoing FBI corruption investigation as well as alleged human rights abuses in Qatar. Labour insiders were unrepentant: “Look. heaps more people got killed in Iraq and we’re still dealing with the fallout over the cover-up. But with Blatter, we’re only talking about 30 or so construction workers dead in Qatar. He looks clean in comparison, and he is the ideal figure to continue Tony’s legacy of bringing death and destruction peace and goodwill to the Middle East. Being Swiss is a big plus: they know all about how to be a successful European country while remaining outside the EU – this should stop us haemorrhaging votes to UKIP.”

A man of remarkable political gifts....and a recipient of lots of other gifts too.
A man of remarkable political gifts….and a recipient of lots of other gifts too.

Voters were mostly enthusiastic. Dave Cretin, of Romford, who voted UKIP at the last election, was ‘definitely’ considering changing to Labour if Blatter became leader. “He’s seems a genuine bloke and he really likes the football, innit? So long as he’s not a Chelsea fan, I’d vote for him.” In one of his rare interviews, Blatter once declared that he was a supporter of whichever football team he happened to be watching, so long as they were winning. “That’s a pretty straight up kind of answer”, said Cretin. “I think he could appeal to all sorts of voters,” he chirruped, before roaring off in his white van.

Publically, the Tories have dismissed Blatter’s candidacy, but privately they are worried. “His biggest critic is Gary Lineker, and people stopped listening to him years ago,” said one. “We will need to watch him carefully. He’s also alleged to have shagged more women than Boris – that’s a populist lothario we could well do without.”

To the critics who have ridiculed his lack of Westminster experience, Blatter had this to say: “I knew diddly squat about football management, but now I’m a multi-millionaire.” Clutching a bulging brown envelope, he murmured enigmatically: “I can offer a vision of success and aspiration that Labour has been lacking in recent years.” The new Labour leader will be unveiled on September 12th.

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Dude, where’s my surplus?

Let me get this right. National, a party of the right, have just released a budget whose centrepiece is an above-inflation increase for welfare beneficiaries costing $750m. This is the first above-inflation increase since 1972. To pay for this, they are disincentivising savers by canning the Kiwisaver kickstart bonus, and introducing a tax levy tax on air travellers in and out of New Zealand. At $22 per person that’s $88 extra for a family of four from Struggle Street to get away to the Gold Coast. Blimey. They said satire was dead when Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, but this takes the concept of parking your tanks on the opposition lawn to another level.

Channelling the socialist spirit of Rob Muldoon.
Channelling the socialist spirit of Rob Muldoon.

The rest is just the usual list of clichés masquerading as lollies: $1.7bn on healthcare just keeps our heads above water in terms of providing the essentials, and at the end of Bill and John’s Bogus Journey, the question on everyone’s lips was “what on earth happened to the surplus?” Perhaps he left it in the caucus meeting room. This has become something of a bad joke. If he had managed a surplus, he would have been crowing about ‘prudent fiscal management’. Every time he has missed it, however, he has blamed it on ‘tough economic conditions’. It’s like a hapless English Premier League manager, whose side is sliding towards the relegation trapdoor, telling the press that the seventh defeat on the trot was due to the referee / quality of opposition / pitch conditions, but that the splendid win which is surely just around the corner is all down to his managerial genius. Sure.

When will the fans voters tire of this? It all does remind me a little of some of Tony Blair’s later policies, though in reverse. In his zeal for planting New Labour ever more firmly in the centre ground, he would adopt more and more of the opposition’s policy wishlist in order to wrongfoot them, culminating in his obstinate commitment to useless, illiberal, expensive ID cards and dodgy PFI deals. In the end, it was left voters who began to desert him first. When even a sensible loyalist like David Farrar declares that ‘it is not a budget I support’, perhaps the more Conservative types in National’s broad coalition of voters, having tolerated Key’s pinko leanings because of his teflon poll ratings, might just start to think they’ve had enough.

And so, we got a political point-scoring Budget, when what was really needed was a long hard look at some of the fiscal icebergs dead ahead. ACT leader Arnold Judas Rimmer David Seymour proffered an interesting wishlist: at the top is a ‘referendum to decide the future of superannuation’. Referendums are a daft idea because they distil complex issues down to a binary choice, but I applaud the general sentiment. While National tinkers and fiddles, and Labour and the Greens attack, a consensus on what the future of retirement should be for an ageing and longer-living population becomes ever more urgent. Should it be universal? Should the entitlement age rise? What part should Kiwisaver play now that one of its incentives has been gutted? I doubt that ACT’s solutions will marry with mine, and the rest of their list was the usual neoliberal nonsense, but at least they are asking the question.

Asking the right questions, but coming up with the wrong answers.
Asking the right questions, but coming up with the wrong answers, mostly.

So, a National government pings savers and taxes holidaymakers to boost welfare, and is condemned for it by Labour and the Greens, while I find myself agreeing, a little bit, with ACT. I think I need to lie down.

And so farewell, John Campbell; although hopefully not for good. Mike Hosking’s mates in the right-wing twittersphere have been crowing about this ‘blow to the left’, but really the decision was only ever about viewing figures and ad revenue. And sadly, prime time programming demands lowbrow entertainment. The latest Private Eye has a depressing stat: just over 30m votes were cast in the UK election, while 40m votes were cast in last year’s X-Factor! It’s to Campbell’s credit (but little consolation to him) that his more thorough brand of journalism could not compete with the vacuous drivel of Seven Sharp. Indeed, the human-interest tabloid stories which had been noticeably on the rise on Campbell Live in the past year, probably under orders from the Mediaworks mandarins, would doubtless have irritated him further.

The solution, of course, was to move Campbell Live to a later slot. Even the BBC, that bastion of highbrow current affairs programmes, runs Panorama and Newsnight well past 9pm. I am hopeful that some similar vehicle for Campbell’s nerdier, earnest style will resurface in a late evening slot, or else NZ current affairs will remain a little poorer, and the Dark Side will remain a little cockier.

If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.
If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.

LibDemageddon

And so farewell: the Liberal Democrats. Once upon a time in the 60s, the joke was that you could fit the entire parliamentary party in the back of a taxi. Now, a large people carrier – a Honda Odyssey, say – could do the job. When Nick Clegg stood in the rose garden five years ago, holding hands with his new friend, and fellow self-confessed ‘liberal’, David Cameron, a bright new era of coalition government was dawning for the long-suffering Lib Dems. Five years later he strode from the stage in Sheffield, tears cascading down his face, after apologising miserably to his loyal activists for the electoral tsunami which had overwhelmed its MPs. Cable, Laws, Alexander, Davey, former leader Kennedy: all gone. And most of them to the Tories, like a lioness turning savagely on its cub, after a mostly solid and amiable coalition relationship.

You just have a cup of tea and a good cry. We'll let you know when it's safe to come out again.
You just have a cup of tea and a good cry. We’ll let you know when it’s safe to come out again.

Indeed, some of their Conservative usurpers seemed visibly and genuinely shocked at their victories. The young woman who toppled Big Vince in Twickers spent most of her speech paying choked tribute to her predecessor. Not so Labour, who whooped and cheered when they unseated Simon Hughes and groaned their disappointment at their failure to decapitate Clegg. And there is perhaps the first lesson of this election. The left and centre-left were divided, bitterly at times, as Lib Dem votes flew to Labour and the Greens, and working class Labour votes went to UKIP. The tactical arrangement which boosted Blair and Ashdown/Kennedy in the Nineties and Noughties has well and truly unravelled. And when the left and centre are disunited, as any fule kno, the Tories always win. How very 1983.

Plenty in Labour have gracelessly crowed about Lib Dem traitors getting their just desserts for being enthusiastic quislings to the hated Tories. But I do not think what the Lib Dems did was wrong in 2010. The numbers for a Lib-Lab coalition did not stack up and the GFC demanded a stronger commitment from the Lib Dems than just a loose confidence and supply arrangement. I also genuinely think that they have moderated Tory policies and austerity. They took their government roles seriously and seemed to offer support and criticism.in the right places. Nor do I think trashing the tuition fees pledge made their humiliation inevitable. It was a foolish promise to make when there was a real chance that they might end up being in power with the Tories, and it sent hordes of student voters to Labour and the Greens, perhaps never to return. But the Lib Dems could always fall back on their South West and Scottish heartlands, couldn’t they?

This is the bit where I do come to bury rather than praise, although they have rather buried themselves. They should have known what they were risking in 2010. It is an axiom of politics that smaller parties who join coalitions tend to haemorrhage support at the next election. It was therefore essential that the one bit of legislation for the Lib Dems to get through was electoral reform. And they stuffed up royally. They should have negotiated harder with the Tories at the outset, to avoid the pitiable referendum which was rushed through early on with little time to educate the public. More gallingly, the system put forward was shit. The Lib Dems have been fixated with Alternative Vote and AV+ since the Jenkins Commission, but its main drawback is that it is not proportional. A switch to PR for this election would have seen them lose just 5 seats instead of 49. Too late now, of course. And a long spell in the wilderness beckons.

Farewell also: Scotland. Bonnie Scotland. If anyone had predicted maybe 10 years ago, when support for independence was running at about 30%, and when the number of SNP MPs was in still in single digits, that a knife-edge referendum and then a landslide drubbing of Labour in Scotland was around the corner, they would have been told gently to put away the Buckfast and get away to bed. Labour were wiped out in Glasgow, for crying out loud: one of the great bastions of socialism and trade unionism in the 1920s and 30s. But Labour’s cleaving to a unionism of a different sort sealed their fate. And is there really any going back? Gigantic 20,000+ Labour majorities were not only wiped out, but replaced with 10-15,000 majorities for the Nats: a colossal swing of the pendulum by any measure. The more the Scots look in the devolved mirror, the more they like what they see. They are not just thinking the unthinkable but merrily going ahead and carrying it out.

Crivvens! There really are pigs flying!
New SNP MP: Crivvens! There really are flying pigs up there! Sturgeon: Aye, and I think ye’ll find they’re finest tartan.

If the first SNP majority devolved government was something of a trial separation, then last Thursday, England stumbled into the bedroom to find a sheepish but delighted Scotland engaged in flagrante delicto with the very attractive notion of real independence. The genie is floating further away; the stable door swings limply on its hinges. If it is goodbye, as I said in my post last year around the IndyRef, then the divorce should be amicable. I’d hate to think that shipments of Caol Ila and Laphroaig would be cut off from England out of spite – my dad would go mental. But keep your deep fried Mars bars and mediocre sectarian football teams up there, eh?

Inching towards the finish line

Thursday is D-day for UK voters. Even by the standards of previous negative campaigns and tactical exhortations – think the Tony Blair devil eyes poster or “the Sun wot won it” – fresh depths have been plumbed this time. While the posters are entertainingly creative, the sentiment increasingly seems to be “don’t vote for them, because x will happen” rather than a positive endorsement of one’s own policies.

Cynical
Cynical
imgres
…and a good riposte.

Yet the main feature of this election is the increasingly fractured British political landscape, along with a dilapidated electoral system that is no longer fit for purpose. Unless there is a late late swing to either the Tories or Labour, it will be another hung parliament. The last time there were consecutive hung parliaments was 1910. And for those two heavyweight parties which dominated 20th century British politics, it will likely be an all-time electoral low. In 1951, almost 97% of the votes cast were for the Tories or Labour. Their combined total on Friday morning will be lucky to reach two-thirds of the votes cast.

What has happened? A rising tide of insurgent parties has shattered the cosy duopoly. And here is where the result will be close to farcical. Good Old First Past The Post. The Greens should poll at least 5%, but will be lucky to hold onto their sole MP. UKIP, riding a wave of popular support since their Euro-election breakthrough last year, ought to get anywhere between 13 and 17%; yet most pollsters have them winning between just one and five seats. The Liberal Democrats, paying the price for propping up the Tories, will probably lose two-thirds of their votes, but perhaps only half their seats.

On the other hand, the SNP, unfazed by their 2014 independence setback and having replaced canny Alex Salmond with even cannier Nicola Sturgeon, could wipeout Labour in Scotland, unthinkable eighteen months ago. They ought to get more seats than proportion of the vote, and replace the Lib Dems as kingmakers.

On any rational analysis, this is all demonstrably unfair. Green and UKIP votes may have an effect on Tory-Labour marginals, but by themselves they will be mostly wasted. First Past the Post’s benefits are no longer evident, and its faults are now glaring.

Only in Tunbridge Wells - a town divided
Only in Tunbridge Wells – a town divided

Myth One: FPTP is decisive and stable; it may not be fair, but it guarantees one party a majority. See above – complete nonsense. And in a country which is unused to coalitions, the fun will be far from over on May 8th. Since all the parties have been quick to tell the electorate who they won’t do deals with, and what their red lines will be in negotiations, the impasse could drag on for weeks, with a minority arrangement still a distinct possibility. The last minority government of James Callaghan had to do secret deals with minor parties on every single bill for almost two years, until it fell, exhausted, to a one vote confidence defeat which ushered in Margaret Thatcher in 1979. And he at least started with a small majority.

Myth Two: FPTP is far superior to those proportional systems and their dreadful lists. You see, MPs who lose their seats are out. Sure. Any idea how many MPs lose their seats each election? On average, about 60-70, which is roughly 10% of the total. Even Blair’s seismic mega-landslide of 1997 saw a record 180 seats change hands, but that was still just over a quarter of all seats. So, 90% of MPs are in safe seats. It’s a wonder why any voters still bother.

Myth Three: OK, even if I can’t boot my local MP out easily, at least I have someone representing my area’s interests who has a good chance of being vaguely local. In a word, no. For truly independent voting, you need to go back to before 1850. Most MPs aren’t from their local area, rarely have time to visit their constituencies if they are frontbenchers, and usually vote with their party on nearly every vote – honourable exceptions excepted.

And it has always been thus. There was a Tory MP in the 1930s who lived permanently in Monaco as a tax exile, despite holding a Midlands safe seat. It is surely time to finish the job begun by the Great Reform Act of 1852. Hilariously, the Tories helped scuttle reform in 2011, when the Lib Dem referendum to change to Alternative Vote was defeated. It is a delicious irony that under AV, the Toires would now be cruising to victory because so many UKIP second preferences would fall to them. Hell, on almost any proportional or transferable system other than FPTP, they would have a clear majority with UKIP. So much for the merits of sticking with blinkered tradition, eh chaps?

It's been suggested I bear a passing resemblance to Farage - charming...
It’s been suggested I bear a passing resemblance to Farage – charming…

I’ll finish with a suitably complex prediction. No clear winner, of course, but the Tories will just about be the largest party. And the two most likely alliances (LD-Con & Lab-SNP), however loose they might be, will both fall short of the magic 323 seats needed. After that, who knows? Perhaps the only certainty for fed-up British voters might be another bloody election. Cheers!