Monday 29 February 2016

Mandates and Mendaciousness

They say politics becomes bitter and personal in inverse proportion to the seriousness of what's at stake. On this occasion though, the battle for Young Labour's seat on the NEC is a weighty matter.

As readers know, the party is precariously balanced. Jeremy's army of supporters make up the bulk of the membership, which helps explain the 72% approval rating the leadership currently commands. And, of course, there is the small matter of his occupation of the leader's office. Meanwhile his opponents on the right and centre command a majority in the parliamentary party, the party administration, the National Policy Forum, and in the various committees at local and regional level. Therefore every position, every seat on anything that inputs into party decision-making is a battleground.

Over this weekend there's been an awful lot of crying and crowing over goings-ons. The successful candidate, Jasmin Beckett, secured her place amid accusations of dirty tricks, and is now the subject of a code of conduct investigation. As that is ongoing, there's little to be served by offering my opinion about the allegations. However, I'm more interested in claims about vote-rigging and the pressure put on some attendees at the Young Labour conference to vote a certain way.

One Zac Harvey took to Twitter to prove that he had been "intimidated" by Unite "fixers" to vote for James Elliott, the Momentum/Unite-backed candidate for the NEC place. What despicable, outrageous anti-democratic behaviour.

Except it's nothing of the sort. Zac wasn;t an ordinary attendee free to cast a vote as he pleased in a secret ballot. He was a delegate. Now, the word delegate is oft abused in left wing circles - particularly by small organisations on the fringes of the labour movement to suggest they represent more than just themselves by so labelling all attendees - but the meaning is pretty clear. When you are a delegate, you are a representative of an organisation and have been deputised by them to vote in accordance with their wishes. They are awarded a mandate that may require them to cast ballots in a particular way. Perhaps Zac wasn't aware that being a trade union delegate required him to vote along with the rest of Unite's delegation, but officials were well within their rights to insist on scrutinising the ballots of their delegates. In much the same way it's proper that party whips insist that elected representatives follow the direction given by the leadership.

There really isn't anything to see here, though it's disappointing but not at all surprising for some to try and delegitimise the common democratic practice of trade unions.

Sunday 28 February 2016

Gun Smoke for the Nintendo Entertainment System

It's true to say Western/cowboy-themed video games have always been thin on the ground. Off the top of my head I can name High Noon for the Spectrum, Konami's Sunset Riders from the 16-bit era, and more recently there was Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption. And there is this from Capcom: Gun. Smoke.

Thus styled with the dot for copyright reasons (it was definitely not not a video game revival of the old US TV show), Gunsmoke hit the arcades at roughly the same time as the fondly remembered Commando, and the premise is basically the same. Guide your guy up the screen and blow the baddies away. There are a couple of key differences apart from the theme - one is the presence of end-of-level bosses in Gunsmoke, and a significant change in the control scheme, of which more shortly.

When it made its way over to the humble NES in 1988, Capcom made a number of small changes for the home. It was pared down a bit (the number of bosses were cut down), power-ups were introduced and could be purchased from in-game shops, and meeting the big bad at the end of the level required the acquisition of a wanted poster - a "neat" little trick that meant levels had to be played over and over until one was either acquired or purchased from the store. Interestingly, the localisation work was done by someone with a sense of humour as well. Plot-wise, you're up against a gang of varmints called The Wingates. They've taken over the town of Hicksville (yes, really) and you, their saviour, trades under the name Billy Bob. Brilliant.

Like many an NES game, it's hard and occasionally frustrating. By far the worst are those minions who spawn behind you, which is tricky as you're stuck facing up the screen. And having evil doers appear suddenly from windows, tepees, and out of the window isn't helpful for a speedy journey through the game either. It has its peculiar moments too. Level four has something of an oriental theme, and sees you blasting away at shuriken and sword-wielding ninjas. Now, I don't know a great deal about the Old West but I'm pretty certain there weren't many of them running around terrorising pioneers, prospectors, and the like. And, it being a Western by programmers from a country not known for racial sensitivities, there's a level full of dodgy representations of Native Americans. Published in the 1980s, ideology from the 1880s.

Readers know I have an interest in extinct play mechanics that never caught on. As mentioned earlier, Billy Bob faces straight up the screen. His saving grace is button A shoots diagonal right, B diagonal left, and both together fires dead ahead. It's second nature once you get used to it, but it a massive pain confronting enemies behind you. At least in Commando and its sequel, Mercs Capcom realised that was quite a handy thing to do. Therefore, unsurprisingly, despite not being game-breaking this sort of control method slipped into obscurity with the title that carried it.

As such, while not a common title Gunsmoke isn't horrendously expensive. As a venture into a path of gaming conventions, it's a not unpleasant stroll.

Saturday 27 February 2016

Local Council By-Elections February 2016

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/-  Jan

* There was one by-election in Scotland
** There was one by-elections in Wales
*** There was one Independent clash
**** Others this month consisted of the Pirate Party (nine votes)

Overall, 31,081 votes were cast over 21 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Six council seats changed hands in total. For comparison with January's results, see here.

That's the second month on the trot Labour have secured a plurality of by-election votes, though declining percentages and vote shares demonstrates it's been a February of relative retreat. It also has to be said that since Jeremy won the Labour leadership election the party has yet to finish a month with a net increase in councillors. At least now we're back into "normal" performance territory, though on this occasion the good vote comes from strong showings in areas where Labour is already strong. And - again - for us to not contest three by-elections when we're the largest party by a country mile simply isn't acceptable.

Quite solid performances from the Tories, unfortunately. More interesting are the LibDems where, yet again, actual votes have them significantly outperforming expectations suggested by the polls. Even though UKIP did better this month, they're nowhere near their 2013/14 peak. It does appear that the yellows have clawed some of their 'none of the above' vote back. Also, surprisingly, the Green vote is yet to be obliterated by Labour's new leader, and its persistence around the 3-4% level suggests that not going to happen any time soon.

Thursday 25 February 2016

Awkward Moments in Transition

Not in the mood for a proper post tonight, so thought I'd share this short film from the folks at My Genderation. It's a lighthearted look at some of the issues, with varying degrees of seriousness, that affect trans people. A recommended watch.

Wednesday 24 February 2016

A Note on Yvette Cooper and Nationalisation

This was bound to come back at some point. Yesterday in a speech to launch The Changing Work Centre - a new think tank looking at, you guessed it, the changing nature of work - Yvette Cooper admonished Jez and John McDonnell for talking about re-nationalisation. "Labour must not get drawn into touting yesterday’s solutions to tomorrow’s problems. Things like nationalising power companies don’t do anything to help young people trying to build a new app or older workers stuck in precarious temporary work." Of course, she would be right. If that was what the Labour leadership were actually arguing.

This line first got an airing over the summer. As she was the one who took His Tonyness seriously and tried to make the future her "comfort zone" by talking about futurey things, Yvette - subtly, of course - painted Jez and John as Jurassic Park extras for advocating the most offensive N-word in the New Labour dictionary. However, it's completely disingenuous.

Yvette knows what Jez and John aren't arguing for old-style nationalisation. She (or at least her minions) read the same press releases and reports as everyone else, and nowhere among them do you find calls for utilities and transport to be modelled on the gas, electricity, and water boards of old, or the late and (surprisingly) lamented British Rail. Something much better is on offer.

One of Labour's bright spots is its economic radicalism. Concretely, its embrace of cooperatives, pledge to support them, and the promise of legislation that gives workers first refusal when it comes to the selling off of firms is exactly the kind of innovative radicalism that should be embedded in our politics. Similarly, what is being proposed when it comes to nationalisation is socialisation, the extension of the sovereignty of the polity from the rarefied debating chambers of government over sections of the economy by offering them democratic accountability and control. And why not? If Labour under Blair and Brown thought something as complex as medical services were capable of democratic self-governance, then why not organisations that are much simpler like ... gas suppliers? Yes, there are issues around implementation, scale (local, regional, national?) and what role - if any - should markets play here (for my money, democracy works best when relationships are decommodified), but it's not beyond the wit and ingenuity of our people to run these kinds of institutions. It might help solve that skilling up and precarious work problem too.

I've said it before, if the right want to come back into contention they have to start dealing with the reality of where we're at - advice Blair used to dispense in rather different circumstances. And that means engaging honestly with the actual policy positions of the leadership . So come on, Yvette, how about debating these ideas as everyone finds them, rather than flicking back to the 1945 Manifesto and treating current policy as a retro retread?

Tony Blair and Pragmatism

There isn't much point taking a swipe at Tony Blair these days, but that's not going to stop me from having another go. And so our Tone caused a brief ripple yesterday as his interview in The Graun confessed to being mystified by the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. He's not the only one. As either "can't win" and nothing is possible without holding office, why would anyone back them?

Far be it for me to contest the wisdom of the winner of three general elections (and one world cup), but his observation is a touch out. As we've seen, not least on this blog, there remains a big question mark over whether a Jez-led Labour Party could do the business. The prospects for Bernie Sanders, however, are a touch different. In January, Sanders was doing a better job than Hillary in outpolling Republican rivals. According to USA Today, he trails Trump less. Where's the pragmatism, Tony?

Nevertheless, we have seen some important advances in Tony Blair Thought. He notes "Part of it is the flatlining of lower and middle income people, the flatlining in living standards for those people, which is very frustrating. It’s partly an anger for sure at the elites, a desire to choose people who are going to rattle the cage." He's getting there. Social media also plays a role, too - though something tells me the down-at-heel turning to Trump in significant numbers have little to do with Twitter of Facebook updates. He also says the centre left have got some serious thinking to do to get back its "radical cutting edge."

Being conditions consciousness, so I can understand where Tony's coming from. Superficially, his personage was once an asset for the Labour Party. He was young and fresh, untainted by Tory sleaze and the naffness surrounding the party under Kinnock's tenure. Under his leadership, Labour was able to affect a certain dynamism because he was the change candidate. He might like to think his programme was radical, but it wasn't. Better, certainly, but market fundamentalism was not only taken for granted but expanded. Important rights at work around equality legislation and parental leave were important, but benefited workers as individuals when, in order to renew itself, Labour needed to extend collective rights. Yet, written out of his theology is the likelihood that John Smith, had he not died prematurely, would also have carried the party to victory in 1997 - and one that would have seen Labour return as the Tories collapsed into disarray.

What His Blairness has done is not approach elections pragmatically, but turned the experiences of the 1997 victory into a model valid for all time. It's commonsense that you must have a policy diet and a leader palatable to a plurality of an electorate, but Blair's "pragmatism" is ideological flimflam that ignores the political context of his victory and alibis his own safe, distinctly non-radical politics.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Poulantzas and Marxist Approaches to the State

Beginning our reading of State, Power, Socialism, Poulantzas turns his attention to established Marxist understandings of the state. He argues these fall into two broad categories: the instrumentalist (or expressive) and the economist.

The former has an impeccable orthodox pedigree. Lenin in his State and Revolution described the capitalist state as an instrument of the bourgeoisie, of the owners and directors of capital. Therefore regardless of the appearance a state forms, whether liberal/social democratic, authoritarian, or fascist, they share a universal inner core as guarantor of class power and capital. Following from Marx and Engels's observations about the revolutions of the 1840s, and against the revisionist positions of German SPD thinkers like Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky, Lenin felt compelled to bend the stick in this direction to clearly bring out the class nature of capitalist states against those who would obscure it. This was exported into the official communist movement, and from there found itself informing the theologies of Trotskyists, Maoists, anarchists, and assorted libertarian Marxist currents. The state is a class dictatorship and the job of Marxists is to work for its overthrow and replacement by the democratic organisation of the workers.

As far as Poulantzas was concerned, this viewpoint was too simplistic and cannot account for immediately obvious phenomena. Such as why the political representatives of the various fractions of capital compete politically to keep social democratic parties, regardless of how institutionalised and integrated into the established order they are, from office. It's almost as if the right has an instinctive distrust of state power lest it be used against them, a fear that shouldn't be there if the state was a straightforward organ of capital. The second observation touches social security. In the late 1970s prior to the assault on the social wage, conservative and social democratic governments alike expanded the welfare state. Adherents of the instrumentalist view have usually explained this in terms of concessions to the labour movement, but that suggests pressure can be exerted over the state for it to act against the interests of capital. Both therefore point to the necessity of a more complex and nuanced approach to the state.

The economist approach to the state comes back to our old friend the base/superstructure metaphor from the 1859 Preface. Oft interpreted in a mechanical, strictly undialectical manner in which 'the economy' is positioned as the active element and the rest of society, its 'superstructure' (and therefore the state) as the passive recipient of its instructions and imperatives. This kind of interpretation of Marxism was a key prop cited by various Post-Marxist types in their jettisoning of historical materialism while, interestingly and contemporaneously, politicians of the centre and the right couched their market fundamentalism in terms not far removed from affirming a crude, unidirectional relationship of determination. Poulantzas however notes an alternative economist reading of the arrangement. Here, again, the economy is an active element, but one with its own terrain and specificity. Supposing it a discrete set of social relations with their own rhythms and tendencies, we're but a hop, skip, and a jump away of treating the rest of society as sets of autonomous spheres, levels, and practices.

Both kinds of economism and the expressive view are crude and wrong. Rather, there is a certain, mutually constitutive fusing between economy and state. As he puts it, "The political field of the state (as well as the sphere of ideology) has always, in different forms, been present in the constitution and reproduction of the relations of production" (p.17). This presence of the state in the economy, and the reverse, the economy's presence in the state is always conditioned by the relations of production. I.e. not just private property in the means of production, but also the state of the class struggle at any given moment. Lastly, in capitalist societies proletarians are formally separated from the labour process. They do not own the means of work, rather they are employed to give up an agreed quantity of time working for an employer in return for a wage or salary. This separation is mirrored in the relative degree of separation that exists between the state and economy (in terms of function) and in how the institutional structure of the state works (more on this in a future post).

What this means is, contrary to the expressive and economist schools, one can put forward certain theoretical propositions about the state, which is what State, Power, Socialism does. But we cannot advance a serious position about the transition from one state to another. For instance, just as Lenin's waxy corpse has been preserved for gawping tourists, so those who lay claim to his politics have been quite content to let his approach lie there without thinking about the method behind it, and so are in the habit of applying the Russian Revolution as if it's a model appropriate to every time, every place. As far as Poulantzas is concerned, the issue of transition, of socialist change, is always contingent and depends on analysing the concrete circumstances - the conjuncture. The Marxist approach to the state then is not to have a model of the state-in-general and apply it ideal-typically, but to analyse afresh in light of the experiences of our organisations and our activism. That is the Marxist approach.

More Poulantzas here.

Sunday 21 February 2016

Boris Johnson: Vanity and Opportunism

The part-time Mayor of London, part-time MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and full-time self-promoter Boris Johnson shocked nobody earlier today when he came out for Vote Leave. It was said he'd been wrestling with the decision for some time. Yes, it's tough when a berth in Number 10 could be the prize for going against long-established and well known views. Indeed, as recently as two weeks ago today, Johnson was writing "the single market is of considerable value to many UK companies and consumers, and that leaving would cause at least some business uncertainty, while embroiling the Government for several years in a fiddly process of negotiating new arrangements, so diverting energy from the real problems of this country – low skills, low social mobility, low investment etc – that have nothing to do with Europe." As a slippery customer, Johnson goes on to list the bad things about the EU, which are virtually the same as Michael Gove's complaints.

While the left typically agonise over ideas and values, the Tories never place principle before power, and so Johnson has proven no different. But there are a number of troubling qualities fans of his ever-so-funny routine have to watch out for.

In the first place, as anyone who's had contact with Johnson knows, it's all about him. It's his show. And in the 57 varieties of Leave, well, there are some pretty gargantuan egos that are not going to lean back and keep the limelight to himself. Whatever one thinks of George Galloway, for instance, he is a man not noted for his retiring modesty. Ditto with UKIP. Nigel Farage has established himself as the preeminent motormouth on all things EU-related, and has helped take his party from nowhere to third place in last year's general election - no mean feat. As such he probably, and not unjustifiably, might bristle at the circus now surrounding and amplifying Johnson, especially as it's pretty likely he'll do no campaigning work beyond the odd media appearance and set piece.

And that comes to the second point: his laziness. Anyone possessing a passing acquaintance with Johnson's biography knows him to be an idler. Everything he has achieved has been through leaning on people, having doors opened and ladders dropped for him - be it as Telegraph hack, Spectator editor, or during stints as an MP and mayor. Like a layer of politicians who've entered the Commons in the 21st century, struggle is something other people have to do, and upto and including on their behalves. If it's too much work and doesn't interest him, he's not arsed. In that case, Leave are welcome to his unique gifts of hot air and baseless hype.

There is then his self-obsession. Some in the Leave campaigns might look at it philosophically and think why he's decided to throw his lot in with them doesn't matter: the fact established is one of the best known and most-liked politicians in the land is backing an exit. Firstly, they're overestimating his pulling power. As incredible as it may seem, the only figure whose position mattered as far as a significant chunk of the voting public were concerned was the Prime Minister's. A snake oil salesman he may be, nevertheless Dave is seen as someone who is polished, competent, and fair-minded. Few are going to trouble themselves over his theatrical wheeling and dealing this last week. If staying is good enough for him it's good enough for others. Never underestimate the legitimacy of his office. Second, everyone knows this is Johnson's pitch for the Tory leadership. His pro-EU comments are the stuff from which a thousand Remain leaflets can be made. Everywhere he goes between now and June, he will be asked, nay plagued with questions about his ambitions - so don't expect him to take on any debates or tough tete a tetes with Andrew Neil and co.

Lastly, it's self-evident from the standpoint of the short, medium, and long-term interests of British capitalism that it retains free, unfettered, and stable access to European markets both for the continued health of the country's home grown businesses and as the key destination for foreign direct investment from outside of the EU. In the classical understanding of sectarianism as outlined by Marx and Engels in the Manifesto, Johnson has put his petty ambitions before the interests of his class. And in so doing has shown himself ill-suited to lead a Conga line, let alone a government.

Saturday 20 February 2016

Michael Gove's Fairy Tale

As Dave has fired the starting pistol for what is set to be a very long EU referendum campaign, his dear friend and alleged Tory intellectual Michael Gove has gone into print to explain why he's not backing the boss in the crucial crunch vote. And it's pretty much the usual stuff: the EU is a monster whose bureaucratic tentacles choke off innovation, research, opportunity, initiative, and sovereignty. Nevertheless, unless a politician gives a reason to think otherwise, Gove's piece should be taken at face value. His principles may be ashes in the mouths of the education workers he insulted, micro-managed, and drove out of teaching, but within the envelope of Toryism he makes a principled argument.

There is so much that can be said about his little fetishes for Britain's foreign policy role, the quality of British democracy, and the obsequious deference accorded the things the Tories are in the process of dismantling: the NHS, schools, and the very liberty that he name checks as Britain's lasting gift to the world. There's also some economic illiteracy about the Euro as the cause of economic stagnation on the continent, and bad taste gloating about mass unemployment in the EU's other advanced economies.

As it's a Saturday night and there are better things to do, this is not a line-by-line rebuttal. But there are some annoying bits of his argument that cannot be allowed to lie, as the 57 varieties of vote leave campaigns throw them around like silver bullets.
Even though we are outside the euro we are still subject to an unelected EU commission which is generating new laws every day and an unaccountable European Court in Luxembourg which is extending its reach every week, increasingly using the Charter of Fundamental Rights which in many ways gives the EU more power and reach than ever before. This growing EU bureaucracy holds us back in every area. EU rules dictate everything from the maximum size of containers in which olive oil may be sold (five litres) to the distance houses have to be from heathland to prevent cats chasing birds (five kilometres).
We all hate unnecessary bureaucracy because it gets in the way of things. The problem Michael has that in the event of removing ourselves from the EU, a lot of that red tape will remain. There's a chance it could get worse. Assuming a post-Dave, post-EU Britain is able to negotiate a settlement similar to a Swiss or a Norwegian arrangement, to continue trading in that market those pinnikity missives about straight bananas will have to be implemented. Contrary to what the right think, markets generate bureaucracy because they need for regulatory mechanisms and authorities that can adjudicate. As the "Court in Luxembourg" has jurisdiction on these matters, a "sovereign" Britain shall have to submit to its dictates and expend sums lobbying governments to get the sorts of rule changes favourable to its needs.

On the small matter of movements of goods and people. While Gove doesn't touch on this in his piece, Farage and friends have been mind-bogglingly complacent about a post-exit Britain getting favourable trading terms on the grounds that, as a large economy, the EU is also dependent on the UK. This is magical thinking. Removing Britain from the EU is a business opportunity for others, and there will be sections in all the EU's most important countries minded to punish us. Look at what's going on in Greece - it's not rational to impose crippling austerity from a business standpoint, yet it happens all the same. If favourable terms aren't secured, then a resurgence of bureaucracy around visas, transport permits and the like are more than possible. A vote out isn't a vote against unaccountable rule making. By depriving Britain a seat at the EU's top table, Gove and co would exacerbate it.

Then there is the money. What of the money?
But by leaving the EU we can take control ... We can take back the billions we give to the EU, the money which is squandered on grand parliamentary buildings and bureaucratic follies, and invest it in science and technology, schools and apprenticeships. We can get rid of the regulations which big business uses to crush competition and instead support new start-up businesses and creative talent ...
Given the Tories' poor record of investing in industry whenever they've received a windfall, from North Sea Oil to better-than-expected returns to the Treasury, it's reasonable to conclude any savings would be frittered away on further tax cuts for the rich. I digress. The point is, as Sion Simon noted in his visit to last night's meeting of Stoke Central CLP, costs and benefits go far beyond the subs the government pays the Commission, and the trade deficit between ourselves and the EU (which stood at £3.6bn for December 2015). The UK is the favoured destination within the EU for capital coming from the rest of the world. Some of it is speculative and socially useless (hello, Russian oligarchs), but some of it is productive and stimulates economic activity in the real economy. In his talk, Sion discussed Tata Steel, but it can equally apply to car manufacturers, drugs companies, and anything whose operation sets up chains of supply that in turn sustain hundreds of businesses and tens of thousands of jobs. The reason why Britain attracts a disproportionate share of foreign direct investment isn't because we're Jolly Nice Chaps: it's that we're the country with the global language, an unparalleled level of economic openness, and because we're in the EU. We're the ideal springboard for companies from the Commonwealth because we have the world's biggest, most affluent market on our doorstep, and free and easy access to it.

In the event of us leaving, I can't see large companies immediately pulling their investment. But because of the uncertainty surrounding the exit negotiations, investment plans would be put on hold and you could see a running down of operations over a period of time. Why wouldn't firms like Toyota start thinking about alternative sites in the EU proper if access to the market is jeopardised? They'd be foolish not to. And haven't the Tories spent the last 30-odd years telling us that business would bugger off if we can't provide them what they want?

I will give Gove some credit though. His piece does articulate a little bit of a vision and offers something new: an Arcadian future of a free-born nation facing the world on its own terms. It's a nice fairy story, and one that would warm hearts grown wretched on beggar-thy-neighbour politics, xenophobia, and acute social anxiety. But in the real world millions of jobs and the long-term viability of British industry is at stake.

Thursday 18 February 2016

On Tim Montgomerie's Resignation

Tim Montgomerie is no household name, but his resignation from the Tories after 28 years of membership have certainly caused ripples on the right side of political life. As the founder of the Ashcroft-bankrolled Conservative Home and former backroom boy for various leading Tories, Tim is probably the most influential Tory not to hold any kind of office. As Paul Goodman notes, a number of his ideas have got taken up by party bigwigs. So as that vanishingly rare beast, the Conservative Intellectual, Tim's departure from the scene is something of a deal. You'll have to get the night vision cameras out to catch them now.

Nevertheless, anyone aware of Tim's views know he isn't your run-of-the-mill ideologue of the Liam Fox mould. Unlike the Thatcherite epigoni holding office, he takes issues around social justice seriously, albeit within the limited horizons of Tory paternalism. After all, if one does not look out for the plebs there's every danger they might start looking out for themselves. And yet, incongruously, this meshes with the free market fundamentalism that is a given in these Tories these days. Still, he's far from the first right wing intellectual to try and square that tricky circle.

And so, as you might expect, his resignation note is a bit of a mishmash. He lacerates Dave over his EU renegotiation stunt by observing,
... nothing registers more strongly on the social injustice front than recommending staying in the EU. It remains the greatest source of social misery on the continent — requiring intense austerity in countries such as Greece and causing terrible youth unemployment across southern Europe from which millions will suffer lifelong scars.
A quote that could almost have come from a Trotskyist newspaper. He goes on,
What about fundamental change in Britain’s relationship with Brussels that the PM pledged, promised and vowed to deliver? ... The newspapers that called the deal a “joke”, “conjuring trick” and “delusion” weren’t exaggerating. But it took the Fourth Estate rather than Tory MPs to point out the emperor’s naked state. With a few honourable exceptions Conservative parliamentarians were silent when Mr Cameron, pretending to have changed anything that matters, stood at the same dispatch box at which Mrs Thatcher vowed to fight European integration.
Ouch. And right there is the contradiction in Tim's thinking. He sheds tears about the awful consequences of EU austerity, though, of course, precious few fall for victims of his own government's cuts - indeed, he praises them. He also invites another unflattering comparison,
Faced with a weak, divided opposition in the 1980s Mrs Thatcher moved the country forward. She seized the opportunity to deliver tough reforms that a more effective opposition might have stopped. Today, David Cameron and George Osborne are doing little that Blairites or Cleggites could object to. I recently asked Peter Mandelson what separated his politics from that of Mr Osborne. He joked that the top rate of income tax was too high. At least I think he was joking.
What Tim despairs at is how removed Dave's mob are from the Thatcherite ideal. She had strategic vision and a will to recast the country in her image. The PM and Osborne only care about power for power's sake, of managing from the middle without the desire to do anything beyond getting re-elected. The pledges about getting immigration down, tackling the deficit, and sorting out the mounting pile of public debt were less guides to policy action and more electoral flimflam, promises made in the heat of a battle the Tories barely won. In fact, it's virtually identical to the discontented sentiment running off the Tory backbenches and into the gutters provided by the right wing press. "Dave's not really a Tory." "There isn't really any austerity." "They've put power before principles." You've heard the self-indulgent whining all before. A mirror image of what is oft said on the left, in fact.

Tim and those sympathetic with his disappointment in Dave not being Thatcher's second coming are indulging (perhaps a necessary) self-delusion. As people who understand materialism at the immediate level of numbers in the bank account, it's something they fight shy of when analysing the way of the world. The truth is Thatcher was a creature of her time, with a political programme that was only possible at that point in time. Thatcher's successive governments took the post-war consensus of prices and incomes policies, of state intervention to maintain full employment, of nationalised industries, strong working class communities, and powerful unions, and they tore that up. Deregulation and privatisation meant riches for the few, precarity and a shackled labour movement meant anxiety and uncertainty for the many. The Britain we have today was pretty much in place by the time the 1990s came around, so a Thatcherite repeat is surplus to requirements. Market relationships and private capital are deeply embedded in the public sector, industrial action is as rare as an intelligent Tory, and social security has been pared right back. There is very little left for a Thatcherite to deregulate, to sell-off, to cut without a) causing the Tories serious political harm, and b) undermining the health of British capitalism.

As they stand, many of Dave's policies are short sighted and counter-productive, but the government's freedom of action is circumscribed by social necessity. There are limits beyond which they dare not go. Were Tim's dream to come true and Dave was a Thatcherite visionary, what would his government do? There's virtually nothing more they can do without risking unforeseen costs and the possibility of future social explosions.

Tim has not only packed his bags and left his political home. He's bid a final farewell to understanding the realities of political life.