Monday 30 November 2015

Strider for the Sega MegaDrive/Genesis

Canons (not cannon) are funny things. What is it that makes something a go-to work, an exemplar of something that is technically brilliant, utterly compelling, and is said to condense the themes and woes of an age? Beats me, though I will concede the the absorbing/compulsive aspect of an artifact. After all, the Western literary canon, once a bastion of dead white gentlemen, did actually feature fiction of some merit.

Video games are interesting in this respect. As the newest media staple in a long line of media staples made possible by the printing press, electricity, and computing what constitutes a canonical video game is open to contestation to some degree. For one, they haven't been around long enough for canonisation to be sanctified by a caste of academic types with research interests in video games. Canons, as such as they are, have been established primarily by games magazines and these are challenged and sniped at by tens of thousands of YouTubers and Twitch'ers. Also complicating matters is that each machine - past and present - has its contested canon, and the invisible hand of the market has built huge followings around a relatively small number of game franchises. Nintendo, of course, rule the roost with largest number of best-selling series, but all top software houses have to have one to a handful mega-sellers to keep them a going concern.

Yet winding the clock back 25 years, it was a little simpler. Not just because the games industry was younger, the technology simpler, and was considered more of a niche hobby for kids and geeks. But because of amusement arcades. These were the big deal. I can remember going into my first arcade - before I'd set eyes on a computer - when I was about five or six and being utterly enthralled by the flashes and the bleepers. Yours truly was far from alone. All throughout the 80s and 90s, they exercised a pull on a generation of young 'uns to the extent that arcades were to gaming what cinema was to film. Titles were released by coin-op firms which were then converted to the various home computer formats (here in Britain, at least), before later getting recycled as compilation fodder and the two/three quid budget titles. Big titles were sought after by the big software houses because of their money spinning potential. Ocean of Manchester and US Gold (owned by, but not that this was common knowledge, also by Ocean) tended to get the big name licenses from the likes of Taito, Konami, Sega, and Capcom, and their conversions for all formats were usually eagerly awaited. While there were plenty of original titles about exclusive to home systems, the arcade was the source of the top tier games. If it was a big hit, a game's chances of becoming canon were very good - provided the conversions were top notch.

Come the dawn of the 16-bit Japanese games console, the big selling points of the PC Engine, Sega MegaDrive, and later the Super Nintendo was their ability to bring the arcade experience home. For the fraction of a cost of a coin-op, all were sold on games that were virtually indistinguishable from their arcade parent. Sega proved particularly adept at this producing early on close - not quite perfect - conversions of its own and select Capcom titles. In North America, this enabled Sega to make significant inroads into the aging NES market, which couldn't hope to compete. In Europe, despite being on a rough technological par with established 16-bit computer formats, side-by-side MegaDrive conversions were better executed, more stylish, and played better than the competition. Unsurprisingly, the computer magazines of the day gave out gushing reviews, more or less sacralising each new arcade conversion to come off the boat from Japan. What was established looked routine and tired, so by the time the SNES arrived here in 1992, Sega had already dealt the home micro a killing blow. It also ensured that first slew of games achieved canonical status from the off, and many to this day retain their place in the pantheon.

One such title that sold loads of MegaDrives here and in North America was Sega's conversion of Capcom's Strider. Something of a smash in the arcades, it received a warm reception and healthy sales when US Gold handled the home versions here - despite their being not-terribly-close iterations of the original. Nevertheless, it became a must-have title for gamers because it was Strider. The game, which wasn't terribly original, was a stylish platform slash 'em up that cast you as Strider Hiryu, a natty ninja with a nifty blade. The plot, such as it is, has you traipsing through a future Soviet landscape dishing sword-related endings to henchmen, dogs, and robots in ushanka hats. Along the way you acquire power-ups that extend your slashing range, as well as energy bonuses and a couple of drones which, occasionally, turn into a cyborg panther that can be used Shadow Dancer-stylee. And there are your required end-of-level bosses.

MegaDrive Strider wowed because it is a pretty close conversion. Going from the screenshots plastered over contemporary games mags, it looked amazing and attracted superlative comment and scores in the must-have range. And despite retailing for £44.99 on its release (the first eight megabit (just over a megabyte) cartridge) it showed gamers who the future belonged to. Almost from the go it took up a seat in the MegaDrive pantheon and has remained there ever since. It regularly appears in YouTube top tens and has plenty of fans nostalgically waxing over it. I have never understood why.

My own previous experience of this canonical work was the Spectrum version. I wasn't taken with it then, nor was I when I finally acquired Sega's Strider 24 years after its release. Looking at it the game does look stunning - arguably even better than the arcade original. Yet once it moves the animation is pants, the sound an overrated cacophonous mess, and the gameplay is as stiff as a board. There is no satisfaction to be had slicing up the enemies and, I'm afraid to say, the controls aren't as responsive as they should be. It's not a hard game, but it is a dull game and one that doesn't merit the praise piled upon it. Of course, as a relatively early title with a modest sized cart - at least compared with what later became standard 16-bit sizes - the animation and so on can be forgiven, but the action isn't my bag. Compared with the contemporaneous Revenge of Shinobi, it pales.

Sacrilegious words where Sega fandom is concerned, but I just can't imagine how anyone could find this anything than other a brief but dull experience. Again, at least as far as I'm concerned, its merit lies not in the game-in-itself but rather the splash it made at the time. Because it looked arcade perfect and played pretty much like it, replicating a much-loved and successful coin-op guaranteed its canonical status. It's just that status doesn't necessarily mean it's any good.

Saturday 28 November 2015

Simulating War Against Islamic State

The sometimes mischievous French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard earned himself a bit of notoriety in the wake of Operation Desert Storm by declaring that the the Gulf War did not take place. Of course, he wasn't suggesting it didn't take place in the sense that conspiracy theorists maintain NASA didn't land men on the Moon. Baudrillard's observations noted instead the simulated character of the war. Simulated because it was less a war and more a massacre as the large but antiquated Iraqi military was bombed to bits by the very latest weapons technology the Western coalition had at their disposal. Simulated because the fighting, from the perspective of the coalition military, was done at arms' length - ground operations were little more than skirmishes, were infrequent, and not germane to the eventual outcome. And simulated because the media fixated on camera-mounted missiles, guided artillery, footage of warplanes embarking and returning from their sorties, and so on. Viewers of Western news bulletins could be forgiven for thinking they were watching a piece of Hollywood militaria with state-of-the-art whizz-bang effects.

The media being the media, Baudrillard was attacked by the dumb empiricists who took his provocative title literally. Yet he was right. Since 1991, Western military adventures - with perhaps the exception of Blair's largely-forgotten Sierra Leone outing - have all followed this pattern. If anything, the strides in drone technology have increased the distance between Western combatants and the front line. For their operators, you could be forgive for thinking war is shading into the simulated environments of the video game, with the exception that the destruction their actions wreak are very real.

When politicians on both sides of the House move to vote on bombing Syrian again next week, it is this form of warfare they have in mind. Something smart, surgical, and trained on the bad guys. Yet, if the government carry the vote, and it looks like they may, it will mark yet another step toward the virtualisation of warfare. When I was a kid, playing a game was playing for its own sake. Likewise, the extension of the RAF's bombing of IS targets in Iraq into Syria is an exercise of war for war's sake.

As it happens, I'm not a pacifist. There are just wars, and unjust wars. IS, or whatever you want to call them, are a disgusting bunch of thugs armed with a theology that justifies and excuses their brutality. They are the very opposite of mainstream Western values, let alone the politics of labour movements and of socialism. As such, I have no principled objection against burying them under a barrage of heavy ordinance. Though motivated for their own reasons, when the US Air Force were ordered to provide the Kurdish YPG with cover in Kobane and offensive operations against IS, that was a good thing. It'd be even nicer if the US took the PKK off their terrorism list and told Turkey to stop bombing PKK positions in northern Iraq too. Here there was a clear objective and today the US still provides targeted bombing for the only unambiguously democratic and secular force in Syria. The alternative to this had the US not intervened would have been wholesale slaughter and a further strengthening of the blackest reaction.

What price our non-intervention in the Syrian conflict? With Russia, France, the US, and a motley crew of Gulf states already charging about the desert skies it's difficult to tell what difference a handful of RAF jets can make. Are there bits of IS infrastructure the others require super special British skills for? I somehow doubt it. Are there forces on the ground we can provide air cover for? The Free Syrian Army, Dave's favoured outfit, are more interested in fighting Assad than concentrating their efforts on IS. With the Russians pounding their positions in support of the government it's highly unlikely they'll transfer assets and fighters to combat IS on fronts that aren't as threatening, regardless of what the British ask of them. The al-Nusra front are unlikely to be getting any support, and for whatever reason - perhaps to avoid upsetting Erdo─čan - the UK isn't keen on the cut of the Kurds' jib. The fighters Dave spoke of in the Commons last week were but 70,000 figments of his imagination.

Without ground support, without a strategy, what then can bombing IS hope to achieve? Nothing, apart from the most extreme form of a simulated war yet. Combine everything that Baudrillard said about the Gulf War with a series of actions lacking objectives, actions that are taking place to make it look as though we are "doing something" against IS, this simulation is all about keeping up appearances - of the UK looking tough and standing with France against IS. It's not going to work simply because it's not setting out to achieve anything. It's war for war's sake, an exercise that, unfortunately, will do more harm to the civilians caught up in the bombing than damage to any terrorist infrastructure. The cynicism of it all, the very absence of any compelling case for this type of operation makes shows the proposed actions to be unjust and unwarranted.

Friday 27 November 2015

Local Council By-Elections November 2015

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- Oct

* There were three by-elections in Scotland
** There were six by-elections in Wales
*** There were five Independent clashes this month
**** Others for October were Scottish Libertarian (20), Llais Gwynedd (112 & 49), People First (58), Epsom Resident's Association (591)

Overall, 33,957 votes were cast over 22 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Ten council seats changed hands in total. For comparison with October's results, see here.

As the results tumbled in over the course of this month, it was looking very grim for Labour. Indeed, up until the final round of by-elections yesterday the party was trailing behind the LibDems. Can this be taken as an early indicator on Jeremy Corbyn's performance in front of the electorate? It's tempting to say yes, but the answer has to be 'don't know'. First off, the gap between Labour and the Conservatives remains relatively narrow. And second, both vote shares have been hugely depressed by the freakish characteristics of this month's contest.

The improving LibDem numbers have a role, but there were also four contests that saw neither a Tory or Labour presence, which is most unusual to say the least. As long-time followers of the by-election round-up know, the Tories put more effort in than other parties to stand everywhere. Combine that with a few seats where local independents polled exceedingly strongly, and a bucket load of by-elections in Wales makes for a weird month. Still, coming third isn't going to warm many Labour hearts.

Once again, UKIP are caught slipping. Hard to think they once consistently polled as well in local by-elections as they did in national polling. Of course, their depressed vote is as affected by the weird contests as everyone else, but that trend is definitely pointing downwards. Will they recover?

Thursday 26 November 2015

Mao, McDonnell, and Mirth

As a general rule, quoting from anyone at the dispatch box is a risky business. There are lines that can be fluffed, contexts to be aware of, and a chance the audience in the chamber (and at home) haven't the foggiest about which you speak. The more niche or controversial the figure, the more risk. When yesterday John McDonnell reached into his jacket pocket and produced a copy of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book, you knew straight away it wasn't going to end well.

Yet it could have worked. Could. John made some very serious and pertinent points about Osborne's relationship to the Chinese state, a relationship that would have called down Tory fire and brimstone on the chancellor's head had Labour flogged off a key part of Britain's energy infrastructure to - effectively - the Chinese government. It highlights the Tory approach to selling off infrastructure, that they're okay with state ownership as long as it's anyone but the British state. After making observations about Osborne's new comrades, he could have just got the book out and handed it over with a quip. That was all. That could have worked as a bit of political theatre. Unfortunately, as we know, we ended up in the present ridiculous situation instead.

John, however, isn't the only MP to have recently quoted the Great Helmsman on the floor of the Commons. As @woodscolt79 notes, three members from the Conservative side have done just that. It's all there in Hansard. Should our friend Robert Halfon have said:

"This Gov are more Chairman Mao than Joseph Stalin and we believe in letting a hundred flowers bloom when it comes to devolution."

Or how about chum-of-the-coppers Andrew Mitchell when he noted "As Chairman Mao once said, fishes need water to swim in."

What a pair of inconsiderate bastards. How dare they quote Mao without condemning his heinous crimes. Particularly that Halfon, whose words can only be construed as shading into praise-worthy.

The fact of the matter is there is nothing particularly outrageous about quoting Mao, Stalin, or any other despot you care to mention. Nor does it indicate that those who utter their words would minimise the crimes or prefer for them to be forgotten. While John was foolish to do what he did, I think those imputing further motives need to get a grip.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

George Osborne's Gamble

In war, there's only a short amount of time your weaponry has an edge over the enemy. Labour has spent the last couple of months shelling the Tory trenches with the party working tax credit shells. This week, the new 'police funding' gun has been pressed into service. Both pasted the Tory position to the point it became strategically vulnerable and, this afternoon, the chancellor pulled his forces back to a better fortified position. The u-turn on tax credits and the u-turn on police cuts now means the Tories are out of range and its up to the boffins to come up with something new. Unfortunately, the dropping of John McDonnell's Mao bomb missed its target by some distance and threw our follow up assault into disarray.

Enough of the tired battlefield allegory. Given the media's mood music, you could be forgiven for thinking that an omnishambles-style catastrophe was in the offing. Unfortunately, it was the very opposite. Despite being forced to backpedal publicly on the cuts to tax credits, and the reverse on police, Osborne had a very good statement. It was cheeky because, like before, he wrapped himself up in the same Labour clothing the Tories had, pre-election, denounced as communist overalls. Muscular because he blithely skipped from unfunded spending commitments to ruinous cuts, yet managed to project himself as if he was delivering a budget for a strong, growing economy; not the imbalanced and precarious mess it is presently. This was a confident chancellor, one who visibly enjoyed taking the stand and occasionally tickling the Commons' ribs with comedic asides. Looking askance, that's probably what people not normally interested in politics picked up on when they watched tonight's new bulletins.

Of course, Osborne is fortunate. He's lucky. Some might extend that luck to the character of the opponents facing him on the benches opposite. His programme, however, is premised on an "unexpected" windfall of projected tax receipts - as divined by the Office for Budget Responsibility. If someone on zero hours contracts signs themselves up to spending commitments over the next year on the assumption they'll get steady work, that's something of a risk. To stake a programme of government on the same is taking a bit of a risk. Yes, the economy is doing okay, but what Britain needs is economic policies that shore up the home market - not measures designed to pull money out of it. Around the corner is instability stoked by war in the Middle East, slowdown in China, stagnation in the Eurozone, and the ever-present costs of climate change. It won't take much for the smug grin on Osborne's face to get wiped off, but it's not the likes of him who'll pay the price for his fall.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Understanding Corbynmania

It's not the key factor explaining why Labour aren't doing spectacularly well at the moment, but the never ending tit-for-tat in the press, on the telly, on the internets isn't helping much. It is a truism that divided parties don't win elections, after all.

Then there were these polling figures of Labour Party members. Some 65% of them think Jeremy is doing well as party leader, while only 38% of those polled believe he'll ever make Number 10, and, controversially, 56% say taking a principled line is the correct way to do politics, even if it means losing elections. You can imagine that caused a few feathers to be spat down Portcullis House.

There's no use pretending there aren't divisions. And divisions, I'm afraid, are inevitable in large parties. Not because we're full on ornery b'stards who factionalise for kicks, but because both the big Britain-wide parties are agglomerates of different interests. The Tories aren't simply the party of business and Labour the party of workers, both are sectionalised by occasional tension, occasional competition between types of business, industrial sectors, professions, status, occupational groups. Behind each set of ideas or policy agendas duking it out in committee rooms and association bars are interests they correspond to. It's not that shadowy cabals sit around and think up stuff that helps them (though, of course, this happens too, which is why a lot of corporates and super rich sugardaddies flood think tanks with cash), but rather at some point down the line an idea is caught up with or pushes against certain interests that structure British politics. For example, Liam Byrne's economics appear neutral and technocratic, but implementing them would meet stiff resistance by sections of business, despite offering a programme that business-as-a-whole stands to benefit from. I digress. The divisions we see between Jeremy and his majority, and the PLP and their minority in the party likewise map onto those competing interests, and they're not going to go away. The job for the leadership - any leadership - is to manage them, and for any challengers to be aware of how they balance out and ride them when they feel it's opportune.

This in mind, how then are the, for want of a better phrase, - Corbynites - to be understood? I think, more or less, there are two broad groups. There were the members and long-time supporters that voted Jeremy in the leadership campaign. These are 'party people', comrades who are Labour to their marrow, folks who understand the party's culture, understand the party is a coalition, and understand that if we're going to get anywhere we have to pull together as a collective and pool our talents as well as our energies. Everyone who supported Jeremy that I know in real life come from this group.

The second group, and the real topic of this post, are the more visible and more "enthusiastic" Corbyn supporters. The ones who enjoy trolling the likes of Mike Gapes and other standard bearers of the ancien regime. The ones who launch petitions against recalcitrant MPs, and festoon their social media with markers of Corbyn authenticity. There's a lot of them, and a good chunk have joined the party. Yet in the main, their Labour support begins and ends with Jeremy. I see the "if Jeremy is toppled I'm leaving the party" refrain everyday, give or take. The party and the movement isn't the repository of progressive social change, a single man is. Ironic considering this 'great man' approach is a million miles away from Jeremy's own politics. They swell constituency membership lists, but tend not to get involved in meetings or campaigns, preferring to keep their activism, such as it is, online. As a whole, they tend to be raw and new to politics - hence why they share analogous characteristics with cybernats and UKIP supporters one tends to bump into online: a black and white view of the world, faith in one or two leading figures, scathing responses to naysayers, and dare I also say an assumed victimhood?

It's the latter group, of course, that attract the headlines and the moaning in the papers, as if sending a few nasty tweets was akin to getting a midnight visit from the GPU. Yet it is entirely explicable and, perhaps, avoidable.

Let's have another lesson from history. Political radicalism, of whatever stripe, takes root and puts on mass weight when large numbers of people are excluded from political process. Hamas, for example, owes its support amongst the imprisoned population of Gaza because, whatever you think of them, they portray themselves and have a record of being Israel's most implacable foe. That wouldn't be possible without Israel sitting on them. Why did the Provos assume a republican socialist character in Northern Ireland? Because militancy and armed struggle was perceived by the Catholic minority to be the only language the British state understood. Why did the early mass workers' parties of Western Europe adopt Marxist and revolutionary politics? Had the exclusion from official politics of the proletarian mass have something to do with it?

Corbynmania finds its ultimate source not in the whiz-bang campaigning skills of Jeremy's leadership team, but the exclusion of members and the perceived interests of working class people from having any meaningful influence over the direction of the party since at least His Blairness took over in 1994. For example, trade union exec after trade union exec lined up behind Jeremy because they remember being taken for cash cows and little else at best, or potential enemies at worst. The truth of the matter is Blair's centralisation of the party institutionalised an organised distrust of the members. It was the PLP who had the nation's pulse, not the activists who, being "real people" themselves, presumably mix with "real people" daily. And as lines for directing policy from the constituencies were shut down, and candidate selections were manipulated and circumvented for the benefit of favoured folk, and, let's be honest, right-wing policies adopted on grounds of supposed electoral expediency, a resentment built in the party and the trade union movement against all of this. The initial offerings in the Labour leadership contest, followed by the cack-handed debacle of the tax credit vote catalysed the resentment and burst open the repressive bonds that had hitherto held it in check. We know the rest. In hindsight, is it any surprise Jeremy trounced all-comers?

This brings us back to the poll. These numbers are being fed by a perception that, despite winning the leadership, there are plenty in the PLP carrying on in the old way, of trying to exclude and thwart the newly empowered membership. The more certain MPs carry on, the more they're making a rod for their own back. That resentment that took 20 years to fester is still there, and many Corbynites feel it keenly. And it's not a battle our PLP refuseniks can win. I know what the calculation is. Many couldn't give two hoots if tens of thousands of new party members decamped if they manage to toss Jeremy out of a window. They suppose that the potential for deselection is lessened. True, but it is also a possibility - one that had grown increasingly probable thanks to the foundation of Momentum - that many raw Corbynites are integrated into the party and become "proper" party people. On the one hand they're not going to look too kindly upon MPs seeking reselection in redrawn constituencies if they've been vocal in their opposition or seen to have undermined Jeremy. And second, by virtue of their behaviour, a stab-in-the-back myth could be persuasively powerful in mobilising a winning majority behind a leftist successor. No wonder there are those on the centre and right of the party who keep their mutterings to themselves and think active opposition is most unwise.

Sunday 22 November 2015

Jeremy Corbyn and Insecurity

Relax, Labour is not going to lose the Oldham by-election so there's no need to look for a bus to throw Jeremy under. It will be fine. Ish. Yes, the majority bequeathed by Michael Meacher is going to be cut, and part of that's because fewer people turn out for by-elections unless fired up by some motivating factor or another. Yet the coming performance can, should, and will be read as an early verdict on Jeremy's leadership.

Remember, Oldham West is a so-called "core area" filled full with "our people" - a mix of white and Asian working class and small business people. If Labour cannot win and win convincingly in a constituency of this composition, then we're in trouble. Second, much was made during the Labour leadership campaign that Jeremy had what it takes to reach out to voters alienated from politics, chiefly Labour people who've drifted to UKIP, or lapsed into voter abstention. Can his leadership inspire these folks back to the fold? Well, going by the inside track among activists who've worked the seat solidly these last few weeks, there is a Jeremy effect but, unfortunately, not the one the tens of thousands who supported him were hoping for. Apparently, one-in-ten of our regular supporters are either thinking of sitting at home or flirting with another party on by-election day.

As any party activist will tell you, voter ID is hardly a benchmark the science of data collection relies on. But then there is that ComRes poll that has the Conservatives on a 15-point lead. Is that the sky I hear tumbling down outside my door? No. As UK Polling Report note in their useful commentary on the poll, this is less a result of our party vote fracturing and more a case of them weighting it to reflect turn outs by class and age demographics. This could be dismissed seeing how the pollsters proper cocked up the general election, but the trend - also helpfully provided on the aforementioned - is one of divergence vis a vis the Tories. If that wasn't annoying enough, the actual votes in actual local council by-elections this month are pretty poor, and with only one more Thursday to go it's unlikely Labour are going to pull the irons from the fire in time to avoid turning in the worst monthly performance since this blog started tracking local by-elections.

This could be a temporary blip, a week being a long time and all that. Unfortunately, I don't think this is the case. Consider this for a moment. The government are on the ropes over tax credits. Jeremy Hunt, the clutz in charge of flogging off NHS services to "any willing provider", has provoked an ill-judged dispute with junior doctors. He's had his face smacked by a 98% support for full strike action on a 76% turn out. This week Osborne's going to announce more swingeing cuts to public services and, if that wasn't all, the press regardless of political complexion has been rammed with coverage over the shitty behaviour of Mark Clarke and the predatory cesspit of Tory activist life. It's hard to imagine the enemies of our movement getting a rougher ride out there in real-life land, and yet our support is failing. Why?

The Tories won in May because they played the fear card. They could very well win in 2020 as their policies increase precarity and pile up social anxiety. What Labour needs to do is make the issue of security its own. I've been banging about it for ages, not least because insecurity and the fear it engenders is the well-spring for all manner of nasties. Racism, antipathy to immigrants, social distrust, UKIP/far right voting. This was something the old leadership under Saint Ed at best only half-got, but what Jeremy and co. understood. Until this week.

Jeremy's position on shoot-to-kill is right, but was handled spectacularly badly in the wake of the Paris attacks. His equivocal response painted his leadership into a corner that suggested he would not countenance armed responses to terrorists on the streets of Britain. Very quickly, it didn't take much to string this together with his pacifism, with John McDonnell's did-he/didn't-he signing of a letter calling for the abolition of MI5 and armed police, opposition to bombing IS targets in Syria, and long-term objection to Trident replacement, And in so doing, Jez fell into a bind of his own making. In an anxious country where the Bulldog spirit has long since evaporated and insecurity is milked for political purposes, putting yourself out there as someone who isn't prepared to do what is perceived to be necessary to make the country safe against its enemies is doomed politically and guaranteed to fail electorally. In short, Jeremy has positioned the party as an unsafe option, and that is not a great place to be in.

Can Labour come back from this and win? It pains me to say this. I think anyone addressing the British political scene soberly, with an understanding of the emotions, the interests, the shifts that structure it day-to-day and week-to-week is going to have to err on the side of no. It's one thing to stir up insecurity for political benefit, as the Tories are past masters at doing. Quite another to be seen inadequate and equivocal before it.