Sunday, December 09, 2018

The collapse of Ukip

Twenty-four Kippers sitting on a bench,
Twenty-four Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should decide it's more important to fight for Brexit and defect,
There'll be twenty-three Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Twenty-three Kippers sitting on a bench,
Twenty-three Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should get expelled for "serious financial allegations",
There'll be twenty-two Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Twenty-two Kippers sitting on a bench,
Twenty-two Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should punch another's lights out,
There'll be twenty-one Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Twenty-one Kippers sitting on a bench,
Twenty-one Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should find her relationship with the party "increasing difficult",
There'll be twenty Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Twenty Kippers sitting on a bench,
Twenty Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should lose confidence in the latest leader and all the potential replacements,
There'll be nineteen Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Nineteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
Nineteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should go and form his own local party,
There'll be eighteen Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Eighteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
Eighteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should find himself out of kilter with the party,
There'll be seventeen Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Seventeen Kippers sitting on a bench,
Seventeen Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should feel the party's been hijacked,
There'll be sixteen Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Sixteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
Sixteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should find the party has become a "vehicle of hate",
There'll be fifteen Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Fifteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
Fifteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should discretely change her listing on a website,
There'll be fourteen Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Fourteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
Fourteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should find the party's direction an impediment to securing Brexit,
There'll be thirteen Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Thirteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
Thirteen Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should point out the party wasn't founded to fight a religious crusade,
There'll be twelve Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Twelve Kippers sitting on a bench,
Twelve Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should find the party has left him,
There'll be eleven Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Eleven Kippers sitting on a bench,
Eleven Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should find the party promoting English nationalism,
There'll be ten Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Ten Kippers sitting on a bench,
Ten Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should rush off to be Flash Gordon, Saviour of the Universe,
There'll be nine Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Nine Kippers sitting on a bench,
Nine Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should find the party has lost its way,
There'll be eight Kippers left sitting on the bench.

Eight Kippers sitting on a bench,
Eight Kippers sitting on a bench,
And if one Kipper should be another to object to relations with the English Defence League founder,
There'll be seven Kippers left sitting on the bench.


Friday, November 23, 2018

Doctor Who on 23rd November

Doctor Who began on 23rd November 1963 and, with the odd break, has been going ever since in one form or another. But what episodes were first broadcast on this date? Here's a rundown.

1963: 100,000 BC: An Unearthly Child

Two teachers curious about a strange pupil whose registered address is a junk yard. They decide to investigate and discover a strange man and a police box full of surprises...

The very first episode of the very first story (which has multiple titles in use), this one naturally appears and amongst fans it's probably the single least criticised episode in the entire history of the series. It introduces the basics of the series though there's a lot of the mythology that is established later on.

1968: The Invasion Episode Four

The Doctor and Jamie, with help from the newly formed Unit (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), rescue fellow companion Zoe from the mysterious electronics businessman Tobias Vaughan, then continue to investigate his affairs only to discover he has some familiar business partners...

This is the only episode on the list which sadly no longer exists today due to the reuse of videotape. This may be the show's fifth anniversary but there's nothing in the episode that acknowledges this. Instead the story is looking to the future, serving as a pilot for a new format for the series that would become the norm in the next few years. This is a Cybermen adventure (particularly famous for the later scene where their invasion force marches down the steps in front of St Paul's Cathefral), but as is often the case with them they barely appear in the story and are only first seen halfway through this eight-part adventure.

1983: The Five Doctors

A mysterious individual lifts multiple past Doctors and their companions out of time and deposits them in the Death Zone, a dark dimension where creatures have fight to survive and discover the secret of the tower at the centre of it.

This feature-length episode celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the series and although in the UK it wasn't broadcast until the 25th November, it first aired two days earlier in the United States. Many past elements are reused in the story, although critics might note that the 1983 season had already seen use of Time Lords, the Master and the Brigadier (and would have also featured the Daleks but for a strike), but it works as acknowledgement of where the series has come from.

1987: Dragonfire Part One

The Doctor and Mel come to Iceworld, an intergalactic Iceland, where amidst the frozen food they find their old friend Sabalom Glitz in trouble with the sinister Kane amidst stories of hidden treasure guarded by a firebreathing dragon.

At the time of transmission Dragonfire was billed as the 150th Doctor Who story, although this depends on exactly how some earlier stories are and aren't counted (other numbers range from 146 to 153), but despite this and the transmission date there's no acknowledgement of the anniversary (Glitz is just a link to the previous season, a common feature in a new Doctor's first year). Instead the show is again looking to the future and showing its experimental nature with this homage to cinema that draws on the likes of Aliens and Star Wars. It also introduces Ace, one of the best written companions in the series and the model for many in the modern era.

1988: Silver Nemesis Part One

A group of Hitler supporting paramilitaries hiding in South America and wanting to establish the Fourth Reich, a 17th century lady with black magic powers, a bunch of alien invaders and the Doctor & Ace all converge on Windsor in 1988 where a comet crashes into the Earth containing a statue of unimaginable power...

For the show's silver anniversary the story does its best with limited resources, thus making a silver statue, a comet that comes near Earth every 25 years and silver aliens all key plot elements. The first episode also has a bunch of cameos from past cast and crew and even an almost encounter with the Queen. It's a fast paced runaround that does its best but there's another story in the season that has a stronger anniversary feel.

2013: The Day of the Doctor

The Doctor's two most recent incarnations team up as their hidden past self struggles with the final day of the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks whilst Unit try to prevent a Zygon invasion of London...

The fiftieth anniversary of the series also serves as a conclusion to many plot points from the last eight years since the show's revival. As a result secrets are revealed, the years when the show was off air are addressed, there are returning old faces but there's also a clear statement for the future of the series. Elements have been building up for years and the result is a strong tribute to both the past and future of the show.

Friday, October 19, 2018

How to publicise railway works

Once upon a time "Operation London Bridge" referred to, well, London Bridge station.

In the 1970s a major project was undertaken to rearrange the railway tracks not just at London Bridge itself but right across south east London to avoid conflict on the different routes to Charing Cross and Canon Street and at the same time to rebuild the railway station to better serve customers.

What's interesting from the modern perspective is the way in which passengers were taken with the project. There was a concerted publicity effort not only to make sure passengers were aware that there was going to be disruption, but also to explain the aim of the improvements and get them on board.

A collection of leaflets and posters can be seen at Southern Railway Publicity, specifically at Station Improvements. Some of the design and level of information may seem odd from a modern perspective but the key message is clear throughout - this was a project to untangle a major blockage in the system and improve reliability.

There was even a special film made by British Transport Films:

Note how often signs would include the words "Operation London Bridge", again making it clear to passengers that this was all part of the major project. This was especially useful at stations some way out from London Bridge itself.

All in all the publicity side can be considered a great success. Today's railway managers could do well to look back at this and remember that just stating "engineering works" does nothing for customer satisfaction.

(What of the changes themselves? Well they made the station more efficient for Charing Cross and Canon Street but note there have so far been no references to Blackfriars and beyond. This is because at the time there was no regular service to there from London Bridge. It wasn't until the late 1980s that the old Snow Hill tunnel was re-opened to passenger services, thus creating Thameslink and massively transforming the needs of London Bridge, with the added problem that the route to Blackfriars brought its own complications. Hence the more recent Thameslink Programme upgrade.

Operation London Bridge may have improved operations around London Bridge itself, but one consequence was a segregation of tracks right out across south east London which could affect the available services as network-wide efficiency took precedence over local through connections. One notable long term casualty has been the Bromley North branch, as explained in detail at London Reconnections: The Past and Future of the Bromley North Branch.)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The problem of rewriting the dictionary - Labour and antisemitism

As an outsider looking in, Labour's repeated problems with antisemitism seem almost surreal. How is it that the party has got itself into this mess? Why is it so reluctant to accept the standard definition of antisemitism? Why is there so much resistance to allowing Jews to determine when they've been discriminated against? Why is a Jewish MP being disciplined for calling out antisemitism in the party?

At first I couldn't understand it. But then the more I thought about it, the more an answer suggested itself. A lot in the Labour Party and on the left more broadly have got themselves into a complete mess because they've gone down a route of limiting the definition of terms such as "racism" and "sexism", to the point that they've predetermined who can and can't experience them, creating problems when this definition conflicts with reality.

I first noticed this many years ago in student politics (where I encountered a number of people who are now Labour MPs - or ex ones - across all sections of the party). It was particularly noticeable that a good number of people in and around the "Liberation Campaigns" (Women's, Black, LGBT, Disabled Students) of the National Union of Students had a pretty firm notion of sexism and/or racism that rejected the idea some people could experience them - "men don't suffer sexism" or "white people don't experience racism". (The use of the terms "homophobia" and "ableism" instead of "sexualityism" and "abilityism" somewhat diminished the issue there.) Instead everything was viewed through the prism of liberation theory, regarding these terms as meaning societal structural oppression and a clear hierarchy of oppressor and oppressed (with detailed tiers for those who experience multiple repression). Aligned to this is the view that only those experiencing repression could say that that is what it is.

But this approach has the effect of a siege mentality with some pretty rigid views on who is contained within the siege. And it also leads to confusion, argument and alienation as genuine concerns about discrimination in the reverse to standard form get brushed aside and potential allies alienated. It also isn't very good at coping with the idea a group of people can be both oppressors and oppressed depending on the context.

To cut to the chase, the Israel/Palestine situation is a complex matter of the kind that doesn't lend itself to easy solutions by shouting slogans. So naturally it attracts those for whom protesting and shouting is the solution to a problem. And whilst Jewish people may be the majority in Israel, they are a minority elsewhere, thus in both positions. Plus a lot of antisemitic rhetoric accuses Jews of having too much power - attacks on bankers, "Jewish world conspiracy" and so on.

Consequently a significant part of the left has wound up defining "racism", and thus "antisemitism" in such a way that just cannot understand a lot of the antisemitic rhetoric flying around. Its whole outlook does not allow Jews to define antisemitism, especially in regards to rhetoric around Israel, because that completely undermines a world view in which everyone is either an oppressor or an oppressed and they've already allocated the former category.

If the left is to overcome its problems here, it has to move beyond such rigid liberation theory and accept a more broader definition of discrimination, racism, sexism and so forth. Otherwise it will continue to cause pain and hurt whilst not actually solving things.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Which US Presidents were denied renomination?

It's looking like Donald Trump will be challenged for the Republican nomination in 2020. (Washington Post: Curtain rises in New Hampshire with president's appearance) Invariably some want to know how many previous presidents have failed to be renominated by their party.

As with many historical questions about US presidential selections this is not simple to answer. Not only has the nomination process changed over the years but also there was historically a lot of smoke and mirrors. In the 19th century there was a widespread belief that one shouldn't seek the presidency but rather be drafted to it. This wasn't quite how some of the candidates approached things behind the scenes but it meant that they didn't always leave the biggest public clues. Sitting presidents were often most subject to this, presenting an image of standing again by popular demand, often only formally declaring their intentions just before a convention vote or even not until an acceptance message.

There was also a belief that presidents shouldn't serve more than two terms, but this doesn't seem to have been adhered to by that many. Between 1837 and 1952 just about every president who completed two terms seems to have considered another, either consecutively or a subsequent comeback. But how far these bids went isn't always clear.

How parties pick their candidates has also evolved. Initially candidates were selected by the Congressional (parliamentary) parties. This system broke down around the 1820s and by the 1840s all the significant parties had adopted the model of a national convention voting on prospective candidates. Delegate selection was initially by state party leaders though in the early 20th century a populist revolt introduced various forms of direct voter involvement through primaries and caucuses in some states. However political leaders managed to nullify some of the effects by limiting the number of delegates selected and/or by running local figures as "favourite sons" in the primaries, with the prospective candidates often not formally announcing until later and treating the primaries as a means of testing the water rather than a formal contest. This system broke down in 1968 with the mess of the Democrat nomination that year, leading to an opening up of the primaries and it is now extremely rare for the convention itself to have any role in selecting the nominee beyond stamping the primary winner.

With all these caveats, here are the various presidents that one way or another wanted renomination but did not obtain it:

John Tyler. Elected Vice President on the Whig ticket in 1840, Tyler was the first to succeed in office. He rapidly proved a disappointment to Whig leaders, vetoing much of their plans. Effectively expelled from the party in late 1841, he governed pretty much as an independent and thus was never under consideration for the Whig nomination in 1844. He instead formed a briefly lived "Democratic-Republican Party" (reusing the name of Thomas Jefferson's old party) which nominated him for the presidency though his efforts were more focused on getting the Democrats to adopt a policy of annexing Texas rather than on re-election. When the Democrats nominated Polk and delivered the assurances Tyler dropped out of the race.

Millard Fillmore. Elected Vice President on the Whig ticket in 1848, Fillmore succeeded in office in 1850 and used the influence of the White House to secure the Compromise of 1850 to settle issues between the free and slave states. However this left the Whigs bitterly divided. At the 1852 convention Fillmore was proposed but lost in the succession of ballots to Winfield Scott. Later in 1856 Fillmore would run as the nominee of both the Know Nothing Party and what remained of the Whigs.

Franklin Pierce. Elected President in 1852, Pierce is the clearest case on this list. Proposed for the nomination at the 1856 Democrat convention he lost in the balloting.

Andrew Johnson. Elected Vice President on the "National Union" ticket in 1864, which combined Republicans with War Democrats, Johnson succeeded as President the following year. A Democrat by background, Johnson fell out with the Republican leaders in Congress and the National Union umbrella dropped away. In 1868 Johnson was proposed for the Democrat nomination but did not have enough support in the ballots at a lengthy convention.

Ulysses S. Grant. Elected President in 1868 and 1872, Grant contemplated a third term but in 1875 the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution in favour of the two-term limit. Facing such political opposition he dropped his hopes for 1876, but later in 1880 he sought another term but did not succeed at the longest ever Republican convention.

Chester Arthur. Elected Vice President in 1880, he succeeded in office the following year. He contemplated running for a full term in his own right in 1884, but suffering from illness and with the Republican factions lining up behind other candidates he ultimately declined to make a serious effort but did not formally drop out of the running as he felt it would raise too many questions about his administration and health.

Grover Cleveland. Now this is the one that is probably the most unclear. Elected President in 1884 and defeated in 1888, in 1892 he became the only former President to return to the office. In the run-up to the 1896 election he did not make his intentions clear one way or the other and so was a possible contender going into the Democrat convention. However the policy debate at the start of the convention repudiated Cleveland's administration on the central economic question of the day (gold s silver) and so any attempt to secure the nomination for Cleveland would have been a waste of time. He was not proposed at the convention, with his home state delegation of New York abstaining on the initial ballot along with New Jersey. A group of "Gold Democrats" did make try to make a third party nomination of Cleveland but he refused it. Later in 1904 the pro gold Democrats recaptured control of the party but Cleveland turned down requests to stand again.

Woodrow Wilson. Elected President in 1912 and 1916, he suffered a stroke in late 1919 that limited his attempts to get the US to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and join the League of Nations. Despite this he held out hopes of being renominated in 1920 but this seems to have been the delusions of an isolated man surrounded by people who wouldn't point out the realities to him. He had further hopes of a comeback in 1924 but died at the start of the year.

Harry Truman. Elected Vice President in 1944, he succeeded in office the following year and won a full term in 1948, he was given an exemption from the formalisation of the two term limit in the Twenty-Second Amendment. By the time of the New Hampshire primary he had not yet found an anointed successor or announced if he would restand, but assented to his name being put on the ballot paper. Defeat in the primary led to his announcing he would not be seeking a further term.

Lyndon Johnson. Elected Vice President in 1960, he succeeded in office in 1963 and won a full term the following year. Under the terms of the Twenty-Second Amendment he was eligible to be elected again in 1968. Like Truman he assented to his name going forward to early primaries but announced he would not seek the nomination after adverse results.

As can be seen from this list, other than Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce it's not easy to say for sure which sitting presidents actively sought renomination but were denied it. Several abandoned plans before formal votes, others treated the primaries as testing the water rather a formal campaign, some had delusions of their essentialness more than anything else, others had already broken with their party, one was making only a token effort. Exactly what does and doesn't count (and even Fillmore's inclusion is arguable given that he was a Vice President who succeeded) makes this list one to debate endlessly over.

The debacle of the Democrats' 1968 nomination has led to the process being opened up with a much more public process and so it's no longer possible for someone to be as ambiguous as Truman or Johnson were about whether they were seeking nomination (in 1964 Johnson only formally decided close to the convention, after the handful of primaries were won either by him or by loyal "favourite sons" collecting delegates). Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and the elder George Bush all faced serious challenges in the primaries. All defeated them but went on to lose their re-election bids and these are the only sitting presidents defeated in the general election in nearly ninety years.

However before anyone rushes to plan a party for Trump's defeat, bear in mind that he has already broken a lot political wisdom so a serious challenge in the primaries may not spell doom for his hopes.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Can an established party truly vanish?

Today Ukip are holding an extraordinary general meeting to decide whether or not to remove their leader Henry Bolton from office. It comes at a time when Ukip is struggling on all fronts, with defections, election set backs, funders deserting, infighting and more, leading to many to wonder whether the party will soon disappear.

But just how easy is it for a party to truly vanish? Many parties have a brief period in the spotlight and manage to linger on for years afterwards, despite major losses. For example many would think Veritas was just a flash in the pan vehicle of Robert Kilroy-Silk for his actions back in 2005. In fact Veritas existed for another decade before merging into the English Democrats (and no, I don't know what happened to Veritas in the rest of the UK, if there was anything by then). It shows how for as long as there are still people around maintaining the registration, a party can just keep on going.

But what of the more significant parties that have actually won seats in elections? Well since 1997 the following parties have won seats at at least one out of Westminster, Stormont, Cardiff Bay, Holyrood or Brussels but since dissolved:
Spot a common theme? With one exception, each of these parties was largely built around a single figure, in four cases a past or present parliamentarian/assembly member. Blaenau Gwent People's Voice did outlive Peter Law for several years but ultimately these were personalist vehicles that hinged on a single figure. When that figure either died or was defeated or sought to join a bigger party, their vehicle soon gave up.

The exception in the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, although even then the party was heavily identified with co-founder Monica McWilliams. However it did manage to develop beyond the one member personalist vehicle that others usually began as, but ultimately folded.

Now Ukip may have been heavily dominated by Nigel Farage, but it was created before him, has had many other representatives over the years and has a clear brand. In normal circumstances there is absolutely reason why it wouldn't continue to exist and contest elections with just a handful of people still going. Around the world this isn't unusual - for instance in the United States the Prohibition Party is still going (and still receiving money from a trust fund established during its heyday) long after its banner issue has ceased to be of any relevance. So expecting a party to disappear altogether may be premature and Ukip do still have some significant broadcast entitlements (helped by the media using a formula that's based on two election cycles) that will keep the group in the public eye.

However there is a major threat to its existence and it has little to do with Henry Bolton (although how the leader handles it may be a factor in how members decide today). The party has been found liable for some of the costs in a libel case (see BBC News: Jane Collins defamation case: UKIP delayed case for more details) and may prove financially unviable. If the party cannot pay then it could be forcibly liquidated. The case could shed light on exactly what and who constitute a political party and are thus liable for its debts. The party's intellectual property and registration might well become assets seized and auctioned off. Could someone buy up "Ukip" to carry on or will the case destroy the party for good?


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