Sunday, January 31, 2016

In the referendum I will be supporting...

Vote Leave.

I'll go into more depth in the months to come but I am deeply unconvinced that it is possible to achieve any meaningful reform for the European Union. Meaningful reform would involve a massive rolling back of federalism and an end to the nonsense that to be "constructive" [sic] in Europe we have to meekly accept every power transfer. That's a culture that's not going to give up easily. The choice is clear - ever closer union or withdrawal. There is no third option.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

How do you pronounce "LGBTory"?

A trip into the world of acronyms, logo designs and wordplay.

So how do you pronounce "LGBTory"? Is it "Ell Gee Bee Tory", "Ell Gee Bee Tea Tory" or "Ell Gee Bee Tea Ory"?

Over the years the language, names and acronyms of much to do with lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (and more) matters have frequently changed. The acronyms seem to grow every few years - there's one monster of "LGBTTQQIAAP" that is impossible to remember or say correctly.

But problems also affect LGBT (let's stick to that for here for now) groups. Frequently they find changing acronyms and emphases can cause their own names to come under scrutiny. Initialisms can make it worse as they often lend themselves to pronounceable acronyms and/or fancy logo designs that get mucked up by extra letters.

One of the better known cases was the Liberal Democrats' LGBT group using the short name Delga for many years long after the long name had stopped being "Democrats for Lesbian and Gay Action", a hangover from the days when the newly merged party got in a mess with its name but also because "Liberal Democrats for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Action" is hard to turn into a pronounceable acronym. Eventually in 2011 they became "LGBT+ Lib Dems".

I seem to recall, but can't find a quick chronology to hand to be sure, that the "Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights" was using that title for a number of years after it had formally adopted LGBT as its full scope. It is now "LGBT Labour".

Conservative LGBT groups have been particularly prone to names that make for good acronyms and/or logos. The original "Conservative Campaign for Homosexual Equality" later renamed itself the "Tory Campaign for Homosexual Equality" because someone forgot the party hasn't been "Tories" since the 1830s and thought "Torche" made for a fancy acronym. It kept that name until ending in the mid 2000s, long after the rest of terminology had moved on. I forget if the name outlasted the party's old torch logo.

The current Conservative LGBT group also annoyingly uses "Tory" but it's also gone for a portmanteau effect by combining LGBT & Tory to become "LGBTory".  Unfortunately it's got the needs of the logo and the text muddled.

"LGBTory" is frequently written and often spoken as that. And many people don't see a clever portmanteau but rather the omission of Trans. Language matters - if a whole group is left out of the name they naturally wonder if they're also left out of concern.

Now portmanteaus are not uncommon - here's one from the 1990s Doctor Who spin-off video Downtime:

But the name of the institution in the dialogue, in the contemporary novelisation by the original author (one of the Missing Adventures if you're looking) and on the DVD sleeve (sorry I haven't seen the VHS sleeve in many years) is "New World University", written clearly as two separate words. Logos often omit characters that are often present in text - commas are especially likely to be left out.

LGBTory's logo doesn't use multiple coloured letters or an "L" shape to emphasise the joint use of the "T". And what's good for a logo design isn't necessarily good for running text or especially Twitter which frequently destroys the subtlety of capitalisation. It's unsurprising that many ask about Trans or protest about its exclusion.

Currently LGBTory is consulting on a proposed change of name. It's time to correct this unfortunate situation and also take the opportunity to move away from the outdated word "Tory".

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

New Zealand's flag

Dear New Zealand,

You're about to embark upon a referendum to decide if you're going to change your flag or not. It's totally your decision but what it says to the outside world has come up and some Kiwis have asked what we think about it. So here's a Brit on two key issues.

Firstly, yes we do get confused. That said we're more likely to think this:

is the flag of Australia than this:

is the flag of New Zealand. We're sorry about this. In our defence you're not alone. Flags on the European continent are very confusing as well because so many use the same basic design and many of the same colours. There was only a token effort in my school days and since then a good number of countries have changed their flags or even separated out, rendering those lessons even less effective. And we're far from the only ones to make the mistake - even Australian monarchists have used your flag by mistake.

So yes, I can see why you might want to change it to look less like Australia. But didn't your flag come first? Isn't Australia the thief?

But secondly we're told that the currently apparently means New Zealand is controlled by the UK. This is news to us. We don't really control our own country let alone anyone else's. You're a free and independent country and have been for some considerable time. Nobody here looks at your flag and thinks the presence of the Union Jack means you're a colony or overseas territory (or that Australia is!).

However don't worry that we'll feel offended if you change it. We'll still like you, just as we still like Canada. It's entirely your decision.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Is Trick or Treat really that widespread?

I'm posting this deliberately late to make it hard for anyone to break the cycle by knocking on my door today with horrific stuff. (Oh hello West Ham Labour!)

Is it me or is trick or treating much rarer in this country than many seem to think? Oh we get the endless round of people bemoaning that Halloween is now a much bigger thing than in their childhood and how it's all an American import and so forth.

But here's the thing - it's been nearly thirty years since anyone knocked on my frontdoor in the hope of treats. And even then it was only the one time.

Now it's possible that sometimes I've been living behind a door that isn't the easiest to access or perhaps I've been out that evening but many a Halloween has been spent at home in blissful evasion. And still they haven't come.

Is this just an experience peculiar to me or is perhaps trick or treating much rarer than we think?

Or have I just subconsciously scared off all the kids before they knock on my door?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Al Murray on democracy

Here's a less well known moment from the South Thanet declaration - Al Murray's speech.

It's good to see a comedian with a lot more sense than the breach of the Trade Descriptions Act that is Russell Brand. Nice pwning him!

The Farage moment

Here is a reminder of one of the best moments from the general election results.

Al Murray's reaction is priceless.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

When the Liberal Democrats had a strong leader

Apparently the Lib Dems had a party conference this week. Not that it got much notice. The Lib Dems remain in a rut.

But there was a time when they made an impact under a tough leader and were actually very good at coming third. Here's a classic Rory Bremner sketch from those days:

Saturday, September 12, 2015

When did Labour last depose a leader?

Today the Labour leadership result will be announced. And it's already clear a lot of people won't be happy with the outcome, whichever way it goes. But what can they do about it?

I'm not overly familiar with the current Labour Party Rule Book so I don't know the formal procedure for challenging a sitting leader. But I suspect many in the Labour Party don't know it off by heart either and some may be rapidly researching it.

But the problem is not how easy it is constitutionally to depose a leader but rather whether Labour has the culture and the will to do it. And past form suggests not.

When I've asked fellow politicos the question "Who was the last Labour leader to be formally deposed?" there have been three answers:
  • Ramsay MacDonald
  • George Lansbury
  • Pass
Neither of these men is the correct answer. Ramsay MacDonald abdicated rather than was deposed. When in August 1931 his second government was facing collapse over budget cuts he concluded that he could not credibly oppose the expected Conservative or Conservative-Liberal replacement government in implementing a policy he had pursued and so decided to relinquish the leadership. As it happened, he wound up as the head of a National Government that drew members from all three parties and implemented the policy himself but broke with Labour in the process. But that was walking away, not a deposal.

George Lansbury is the other popular answer but he also wasn't deposed. In 1935 Labour was torn over the issue of how to respond to European militarism in the wake of Italy's invasion of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) with Lansbury opposing even sanctions. Other frontbenchers who held this position resigned, including both Sir Stafford Cripps, widely seen as Lansbury's political heir, and Lord Ponsonby, Labour's leader in the Lords, leaving Lansbury increasingly isolated. The party conference of that year was a turbulent affair with Lansbury opposing a pro sanctions resolution on pacifist grounds and then being shredded in a speech by the Transport & General Workers' Union leader Ernest Bevin.

But neither Bevin nor the conference toppled Lansbury. At the time, the power to elect and remove the Labour leader lay in the hands of the Parliamentary Labour Party alone. Lansbury tended his resignation but it refused by 38 votes to 7. This was no Nigel Farage style evasion of a promise but a genuine offer rejected, partially out of continued affection for Lansbury but also a fear that the next leader would be Arthur Greenwood, widely seen as Bevin's puppet. (Nowadays a trade union leader's mouthpiece is the heavy favourite for the deputy leadership.) However, Lansbury felt his position was untenable and insisted on stepping down. The MPs turned to the deputy leader Clement Attlee, expecting him to be a stop gap until the looming general election returned a wider choice but instead he proved to be the party's longest serving leader.

So just who is the last leader to have been deposed? It was the now little remember John Robert Clynes in 1922.

It may surprise people today but the concept of a "leader of a political party" didn't really emerge until many years after parties were established. There had long been leaders of parties in one of the Houses of Parliament but even then their authority didn't stretch over members in the other House unless they happened to be the current or ex Prime Minister. They had no position over the party in the country. Only slowly did parties come to create formal posts of a leader. (In other countries the "leader" is often still divided - e.g. in Germany three different people may be the chair of a party, the leader in the Bundestag and the candidate for Chancellor. And don't even try working out who is the "leader" of the US Republicans.) In the early years what we would now identify as the Labour leader was split across the chair of the parliamentary party, the chair of the party on the National Executive Committee and the party Secretary. The post of leader was created in 1922.

Clynes had been Minister of Food Control in the Lloyd George Coalition before Labour pulled out and then served as chair of the parliamentary party since 1921 in a Parliament where Labour was lacking many of its biggest names after the 1918 election. He led the party through the 1922 election at which it became undisputedly the leading Opposition party for the first time but then faced a challenge for the leadership from former parliamentary leader Ramsay MacDonald, who had returned to the Commons after a four year absence. In a close vote MacDonald defeated Clynes by 61 to 56. Clynes became MacDonald's deputy and served as Lord Privy Seal and Deputy Leader of the House of Commons in the first Labour government (as was then standard the Prime Minister was the Leader of the House but in practice MacDonald was busy, serving as his own Foreign Secretary) and then as Home Secretary in the second Labour government.

This was not the last time a big name was absent from Parliament when a leader was initially chosen. After the 1935 general election Herbert Morrison was one of the challengers to Clement Attlee but unsuccessful. (Attlee's 20 year long leadership was in part prolonged by a desire to age Morrison out of hope.) Tony Benn lost his seat in the 1983 general election and so missed the chance to stand to succeed Michael Foot; he returned in a 1984 by-election and eventually challenged Neil Kinnock in 1988 but was unsuccessful. David Miliband is currently out of Parliament but that hasn't stopped speculation about his returning to replace Jeremy Corbyn if the latter is elected. We can expect some similar speculation about an Ed Balls return at some stage in the next five years, no matter how silly it may seem or how much he denies it.

But for now Clynes remains the last Labour leader to have been deposed and that was 97 years ago. Labour do not have a culture of toppling leaders and that will make it hard to muster the effort to topple this one.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A vote for X, Y *or* Z is a vote for Z? or Why Corbynistas don't care about "electibility"

It's one of the oldest cries in electoral history. Politicians will declare that a vote for one of their rivals is a vote for another. But they don't always mean it the same way.

Consider a case from fifteen years ago in the US when Al Gore and his supporters declared "A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush!" Ralph Nader responded with "A vote for Gore is a vote for Bush!" Presumably George W. Bush declared "A vote for Bush is a vote for Bush!" just in case anyone misunderelucidated.

Gore was making the classic attack on smaller parties and independents, arguing they would split the vote and let the rival in. But Nader clearly wasn't - nobody seriously believed Nader could win. Instead Nader argued that Gore was so similar to Bush that the country would get much the same, whichever one was elected. Now hindsight may suggest something differently and at the time supporters of Gore (and for that matter Bush) could doubtlessly rattle off a huge list of differences between the two candidates & their manifestos but it had no effect. Because Nader's voters either doubted the sincerity of the differences or felt that on the fundamentals both candidates were as bad as each other. A Nader vote at least allowed them to side step actually having to chose between the two and being somehow responsible.

And this isn't confined to the US. Over here in the old days the Liberal Democrats often portrayed both major parties as much the same. However at the same time at the local level the party would position itself as the only credible opposition to one of the big two in the hope of getting tactical votes from supporters of the other. Come 2015 it found this contradiction tearing its vote to shred as Labour & other left-minded voters decided that "yellow Tory" was no different from "blue Tory" and they weren't going to compromise vote for one over the other.

This is part of the reason why the Jeremy Corbyn bandwagon has proven immune to every single appeal to consider what will make the Labour Party an election winner again. The hard left of the Labour Party was never enamoured with Blair and New Labour but largely kept their heads down at the time. But looking back many despise those years and feel all they got was a conservative government in a red rosette. They don't want to make those compromises again. If the country is to have a conservative government it won't be by their votes or through their party.

This attitude exists on the right as well - there's a lot of voters who do believe the "LibLabCon" [sic] is all the same and aren't going to rush to vote one over the other and instead stick with Ukip.

What's the solution? It's old fashioned positive differentiation to show how a party is offering something different and better.

Now does the Corbynistas' attitude seem so strange?


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