Friday, January 21, 2011

After Johnson

A few quick-fire reflections on the implications of Alan Johnson's departure as Shadow Chancellor...

1) Blairism is dead. Again. For now. And not within the coalition government, unfortunately. But worth a hearty cheer, all the same.

2) Labour's top team has lost its best communicator, and now looks a little less likeable and 'normal' in general.

3) Our assumption that the departure of Brown and Darling would mean that the Labour leadership looks much less Scottish than for decades isn't quite as true as we thought it would be.

4) On the other hand, Douglas Alexander now sticks out like a sore thumb as the most over-promoted shadow minister since...well, the Gold Standard that was David Mundell.

5) Cancel point 4. I was forgetting Liam Byrne.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What's in a name?

A little while ago, a poster on Political Betting made the very good point that voters should have little difficulty understanding the AV voting system once they've heard the US name for it, "Instant Run-off Voting". I'm sure that's right, which begs the obvious question - why don't we just call it that and have done with it? Alternative Vote seems almost like a randomly chosen 'brand name' by comparison. It doesn't give a particularly accurate impression of how the system works - if anything, it implies that everyone has just the one 'alternative' vote, which confusingly is how the Supplementary Vote works, not AV. Ironically, "First Past The Post" might also be more of an apt name than Alternative Vote if it hadn't already been claimed - after all, the objective for each candidate is to get past the winning post of 50%, whereas the whole point of the system we call FPTP is that there isn't actually a defined winning post at all.

Come to think of it, a much more accurate name for our present wondrous Westminster voting system would be something like "Whichever Horse Happens To Be Ahead Whenever They All Decide To Stop Running" (or a snappy WHHTBAWTADTSR for short).

Monday, January 17, 2011

If the Telegraph had done their 'research' (ie. asked me) they'd have realised Alan Cochrane is a rubbish columnist

Well, it was always fairly predictable that Alan Cochrane wouldn't be able to resist marking Alex Salmond's impertinent dalliance with Respectable London Society (ie. going on Desert Island Discs) with yet another tedious Telegraph ramble featuring the word "Eck" rather a lot...

"But I'm afraid Miss Young's researches – or researchers – let her down badly in her estimation of Mr Salmond.

The idea that he is this Great Debater is, quite frankly, rubbish. I have seen every single formal debate – in parliament and elsewhere – in which Alex Salmond has taken part over the past 15 years or so and it is simply not his forte. Oh sure, he can do the smart one-liners, the often-personal put downs and he is a very good, sometimes brilliant, television performer and an often inspirational campaigner. However, there are too many holes in his basic argument for him to win many debates."

So the Cochrane logic seems to go something like this. I think Scottish independence is a bad idea. Alex Salmond argues for Scottish independence in debate. Ergo Alex Salmond is a poor debater. Oh, and Kirsty Young doesn't acknowledge that fact, ergo she and her team don't read my column (it goes without saying they couldn't have read it and - gasp - disagreed with it), ergo they haven't done their "research" properly.


On one small point we can probably all agree with Cochrane, though...

"...the London-based media is too lazy to find out what is really going on in Scotland."

Where we'd have to instantly part company with him again, though, is in his estimation that the only things of relevance "going on" in Scotland are his own thought-waves. And Jenny Hjul's, at a pinch. How else can we explain his bizarre insistence a couple of years ago that the SNP's planned local income tax was "universally known in Scotland as the Nat Tax", when to the best of my knowledge no-one other than him had ever actually used the term?

* * * * *

The substantial gap between Labour and the SNP in the latest TNS-BMRB poll clearly makes for sobering reading at this stage of the electoral cycle, but the raw percentage shares for the parties frankly have very little credibility. Does anyone seriously think Labour has the slightest chance of achieving 47% on the list vote, when even under Donald Dewar they only managed 35%? On past form, it may well be that both Labour and the SNP are being overestimated - the million dollar question is whether they're being overestimated by a similar amount.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What happens when voters with 'nowhere else to go' have somewhere else to go?

From the fateful day in May that the Lib Dems turned their back on the possibility of a progressive coalition and entered a Tory-led government instead (admittedly partly as a result of the antics of Labour neanderthals such as John Reid and Tom Harris), I've been fairly pessimistic about the impact on Scottish voting trends. It seemed obvious that Labour would prosper as the default anti-Tory option for many Scots. But there is a more positive way of looking at it as well, as indirectly identified by Fraser Nelson in the Spectator's Coffee House -

"Some 51 percent now disapprove of the coalition government. Who do they vote for? Coalition has granted Labour monopoly control of opposition."

Not everywhere it hasn't - and in these parts, of course, that 51% figure is a lot higher. The opposition ranks (in Westminster terms) have indeed been squeezed in Scotland - but to two, not one, and that presents an opportunity for both opposition parties. I suspect in many parts of Scotland, the SNP is still a more attractive option than Labour for disaffected Lib Dems (and indeed Tories). Nelson is probably right - for once - that the 'where else do you go?' logic will soon see Ed Miliband in a commanding position south of the border, but it's just possible the effect in Scotland will be somewhat more complex.

Rockets don't go to the Moon. People go to the Moon.

Just as an illustration of how pervasive this moronic "guns don't kill people, people kill people" meme is throughout large swathes of the US, here's a pearl of wisdom I spotted doing the rounds on Facebook...

"To everyone who is calling for stricter gun laws in light of the tragedy in Tucson, may I offer this little tidbit: If guns kill people, then pencils misspell words, cars drive drunk, and spoons made Oprah fat! Remember: Hold the person accountable for their actions, not just the means they chose to utilize!!! Reposted from another friend's status message. Don't just like it.....repost it."

Quite right too. And let me just add a couple of choice examples of my own. Oxygen doesn't keep us alive. That's silly. People keep themselves alive by breathing. Pretty much any gas will do. And rocket technology didn't take us to the moon. If we hadn't had rockets, we'd still have got there in 1969 - we'd have just...jumped.