Progressively stupid alliance

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Numbers, pictured yesterday

There has been talk of a progressive alliance between Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green party. In this alliance each party would agree not to compete against each other for seats and, instead, let the party with the best chance of winning field a candidate, unhindered by the other two parties splitting the ‘progressive’ vote.

This presents a strong anti-Tory option, which only has three main drawbacks:

  1. It’s stupid
  2. It’s stupid
  3. It’s stupid

Let’s examine those problems one-by-one.

First off, it’s stupid

The Conservatives currently enjoy fairly wide support. They are polling within a few points of having half the country behind them. If they want to be sure of translating that polling success into actual voting success they have to come up with a plan that nearly half the country supports.

Undoubtedly it will be the usual Tory bit about opportunities for everybody who works hard, a strong economy so we have the money to fund the NHS and schools, etc, etc. It just needs to be a ‘steady as she goes’ job, a Foster’s lager of a manifesto, with nothing to offend anyone other than its blandness. They’re looking at gaining 90+ seats, so there’s no need to go in hard.

A progressive alliance changes that; if they are going to be white then the Tories need to be black. They’ll need to pick the carcass of UKIP to get at every last voter. May, seeking to free herself from the need to listen to the swivel-eyed loons on the right of her own party may end up having to pitch a whole manifesto towards them instead.

She wouldn’t even have to worry about the Lib Dems. Their vote would, they’d be well aware, be a proxy vote for Corbyn and his rainbow of incompetence making a pitch for running the country. As many of them are in the Lib Dems precisely to get away from Corbyn in the first place it’s hard to see that playing well. In the alliance there are 15-20 seats that the Lib Dems could take that would otherwise go Conservative. May only needs to persuade those yellow voters to stay at home, and as Corbyn is as pro-Brexit as she is (probably more so) she has all the ammo she needs to show that they have Hobson’s choice.

Secondly, it’s stupid

On current polling numbers a non-aggression treaty would cost the Tories seats, but still leave them the largest party, albeit 20-odd seats short of a majority. Labour would still trail 50 seats behind them, and the 25-or-so seats that the Lib Dems would pick up (if their voters turned out, and didn’t jump to the Tory side when they did) wouldn’t be enough to cover the gap.

The Greens would still be barely relevant. They’d still have a single seat, or two if they haggle hard over who stands in Bristol West.

So even if every Labour, Lib Dem and Green voter can be talked into getting out and voting for the alliance it’s still likely to lead to a massive, messy coalition guiding parliament through the uncharted straits of Brexit, with Captain Corbyn at the helm.

Finally, it’s really, really stupid

With the Conservatives and Lib-Lab-Green pact both short of a majority the balance of power, either in coalition or on a vote-by-vote basis, lies with the SNP.

With the SNP outside of the progressive alliance they’d lose two or three seats, still leaving them with enough to make them a powerful parliamentary force in a fragmented Westminster.

Inside the alliance, on the other hand, they’d make all Scottish constituencies a choice between voting for them or voting for the strongly unionist Conservatives. In effect the general election would become a second independence vote.

Once again the Conservatives would pitch to England the possibility of the SNP running the country, while shoring up their Scottish vote by playing up the threat to the union.

Even if the alliance survived this, and did as well as it possibly could, everybody knows the price of doing business with the SNP, and having Scotland exit the UK at around the time the Brexit negotiations come to a head, still leaving all of the major parties short of an overall majority, would be…an opportunity. A huge, steaming opportunity.

Is there a clever solution?

Not really, no.

Labour are going to be wiped out and there isn’t another option to oppose Brexit or Tory rule. So, I don’t know, either stay at home and hope that their crushing defeat is again the spur to get them to cleanse the party of the hard left, or vote Lib Dem and start building their numbers back up, ready for 2021…when it will be too late.

Depressing as shit, isn’t it?

PNS in A SNAP

As the long-term reader of this blog will recall, last year I announced the launch of my own political party, PNS (Party for Northumbrian Sovereignty).

PNS

I must admit that when I wrote that I didn’t quite realise there would be paperwork involved, and that paperwork has since being sitting in my ‘to-do’ pile, underneath the red credit card bill, but on top of the court summons, since then.

Now the PM selfishly calling a snap general election has forced me to move the credit card bill to under the summons and actually look at the paperwork involved. Man, it’s a pain.

My first order of business is going to be getting some crowd-funding going. I’m hoping to raise enough money to put together a much better crowd-funding appeal, which will cover the deposit I apparently have to pay if I want my name on the ballot paper (is it any wonder the poor don’t vote, when they’re excluded from politics like this).

I also have to find some other people to join my party; Northumbria used to run from the Humber to the Forth, so I’ll really need to get candidates elected in the regions that I want to reclaim for the glorious Northern kingdom, otherwise people living in those areas may not feel that I have a genuine mandate.

Ultimately I’ll need to find some voters as well, preferably enough to see my candidates winning all of their seats and PNS thrust into parliament, with me as deputy prime-minister (I’ve never really been a leader).

I also, apparently, need a manifesto. This is principally to avoid awkward silences between the bit where I knock on somebody’s door and say, “Bye, don’t forget to vote for me!”

I’ve had a few ideas knocking around for a while, but this is the first time I’ve tried to jot them down, so please excuse any rough edges…

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The NHS

The NHS consistently polls as one of the most important topics for voters of all types right across the country. I’ve no idea why everybody loves the Northumbrian Health Service that much, but I like to think it’s because we all have a little bit of PNS in us.

In line with its voter appeal PNS are making the NHS one of our top priorities. We’re pledging that in our first term in office we will have a fully-funded, fully-staffed hospital in all the major population centres; Hexham, Alnwick, Seahouses, etc. We will also work tirelessly to aim to provide at least basic medical services in out-lying rural areas, such as Edinburgh and Leeds.

We will shamelessly plunder the rest of the UK, Europe and the world for leading specialist in core skills; such as sewing on bits that have come off because of a threshing machine, undoing the most baffling and intimate of bailing twine knots, and real ale poisoning.

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Brexit

Obviously our priority will be ensuring full independence for Northumbria and delivering freedom to those who find themselves oppressed by the Scotch and the Yorkshires. Once that independence is achieved, and we have our own royal family installed, we will be ready to ask the hardy Northumbrians how they feel about joining the EU.

We certainly don’t oppose the idea, unless it turns out that lots of Northumbrians do…then we do as well. As I like to say, if you’ll give PNS a go then we’ll back you up.

Education and children

Nothing is more important than our children. At some point in the future people who are children now will literally be older than I am as I write this. With that in mind it’s vital – nay, important – that today’s children get at least as good as a education as what I got.

It’s also important to us that Northumbrian children don’t grow up in poverty. Every child has the right to grow up scratching out a substance living on a windswept hill-farm that gets no more than 12 minutes of daylight in winter. Sadly, this dream is now beyond the reach of many parents.

To combat this PNS will be raising the family allowance by a whopping 100%. In return we’ll be asking parents to pay £20 per week per child towards the cost of their education. This scheme is, therefore, revenue neutral, but makes parents richer and schools better funded. A true win-win policy that we’re expecting other major parties to poach.

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Taxation

Northumbria aims to be truly revolutionary with regards to taxation. We’re planning to become the first ever kingdom of the UK to introduce a flat-tax.

Under our scheme everybody pays ten grand a year in taxes. No dicking about. Ten grand each. This avoids loads of administration and is, unarguably, fair and just.

To avoid penalising low earners, the elderly and children we’ll be allowing people who are a bit short to pay what they can and do us an IOU for the rest, and I’ll keep track of these IOUs in an Excel spreadsheet I’ve already designed for that very purpose. If you throw a seven before your IOUs are paid off we get first dibs on your stuff.

On the flip side of the coin, if you’ve got a few extra bob kicking around you can pay your taxes up to 10 years in advance, thus avoiding any inflationary rises. This policy is unashamedly designed to attract the super-wealthy, with £100k+ to spare, to move into Northumbria and pay 10 years of taxes at a time. Even if we only land 10 such people that’s an incredible £1 million straight into the coffers!

We’re honestly not sure why all the other parties make such a fuss about taxes. They’re a piece of piss.

Trade and international relations

We hope to remain on good terms with England and what will be left of Scotland after we’ve had our slice out of it.

Tourism will probably do well, what with our new royal family (applications open after the general election), and we’re taking to some guy on Facebook about getting our own Centre-parcs. If worst comes to worst we can always live of that million quid for a couple of years.

We’ll get round to thinking about defence after independence, but, honestly, those Danes haven’t bothered anyone for years. We’ll probably be applying for NATO membership, once we’ve found their freephone number.

Other stuff

Is there other stuff? The bins and what-not seem to be sorted at the moment, so we’ll probably just leave them as they are, to be honest.

In conclusion

So there you have it.

I like to think we’ve put forward a strong and well-reasoned case for Northumbrian independence, at least on par with any of that Scotch independence lot.

If you’re interested in standing as a PNS then give me a call after 6pm (sorry, busy with work at the moment).

If you’re interested in voting for us, then go for it. Shout, “I demand PNS!” as you march into the voting booth. Everyone’s 90 year old mother will cheer, guaranteed!

If you’d like to donate to our fund-raiser to raise funds for a better fund-raiser then give me 10 minutes to find out how Kick-starter works and then check back.

Whatever you do, get involved now, on the ground floor – because this country is crying out for a viable party with electable policies, and we are that party!

PNS may be small, PNS may not be in everybody’s mouth but, by god, we have spunk and our time is come!

Gorton: A guide

The Prime Minister’s announcement, today, that she’s going to hold a general election on June 8, has thrown the Manchester Gorton by-election into a whole new light.

Until this morning it was a hotly anticipated contest to see how much (if any) of their 24,079 margin Corbyn’s Labour could manage to retain. Now, with the by-election taking place after Parliament is dissolved for the general election, the winning candidate will not even get to take their seat before having to re-contest it.

Here’s your quick guide to the newly irrelevant by-election:

Who are the candidates?

Nobody cares. Quite possibly they will out-number the voters.

What issues will the by-election be fought upon?

Nobody cares. This is a perfect opportunity for minority issues, such as “Shall we rename the constituency to ‘Gordon’?”, “Do we want fewer trains on telly” and “Is it ‘scone’ or ‘scone’?”, to come to the fore. With turnout predicted to be in the high 8s only one thing is certain…that we still won’t know for certain afterwards.

When is the closing date to register to vote?

Doesn’t matter.

Will Labour retain the seat?

If they do nobody will care. If they don’t then exactly the same people will care.

How intense will the press coverage be?

The Manchester Evening News is provisionally reserving 4 column inches below the fold on page 8 to cover the story, but they stress that this may be dropped if Kerry Katona is spotted in the region again.

Is George Galloway still running?

Yes.

Oh god, is he still a massive cock?

Also yes.

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Manchester, pictured every day

Schooled

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Labour’s announcement today of a policy of charging VAT on private school fees to make £1 billion available, to offer free school meals to all students, has divided Twitter over the case for and against universalism.  Or, as the ever readable @youngvulgarian put it…

young vulgarian universalism

I’ve argued the case against universal free school  meals (hereafter referred to as ‘FSM’) which, I’ve learned, means that I’m against feeding children.

Straw-men aside, the points I’ve seen raised in favour of universal FSM have been:

  1. It removes the stigma of those who have to take FSM by necessity.
  2. Means testing is inherently wrong
  3. Why should we have universal health-care if the universal FSM are so wrong?
  4. It’s nice to feed all children

feeding all kids is brilliant

I’m not going to argue that point. Feeding all kids would be brilliant. I’m not against feeding children. I completely agree with a point raised, by a teacher, that hungry kids don’t learn. Eliminating hungry kids is a massively worthy goal, both from an educational viewpoint and as a display of basic human decency.

If you guessed that the next word was going to be “but” then you’re right…or would have been if I hadn’t put in this sentence congratulating you for your blog-smarts.

When I’m not writing tedious blogs, or mucking about on Twitter, or doing whatever it is I do to make a living, I spend my time being a school governor.  I’m both the chair of the governing body that I sit on and the chair of their resources committee. This means that a disproportionate amount of my time is spent squeezing every penny out of the school’s budget. These are desperate times for schools; nationally around £3.5bn, in real terms, has been removed from the under-18’s educational budget over the past 5 years, or around £340 per pupil per year.

I took half a day’s holiday from work yesterday to spend it in a meeting finalising the budget for the current financial year, and it was a grim affair. Teachers had to make do with wishy-washy hopes for a better future in place of structured (and deserved) career development, there was no money for IT or for scheduled maintenance of the school buildings, bought in services for substitute teacher insurance schemes, HR support and staff training were all cut back to lower levels. The music and library schemes both went last year, fixing the water-logged end of the school field or the potholes in the car-park have been unattainable dreams for as long as I’ve been a governor, we spent a long time wondering if we can find somewhere cheaper to rent a photocopier.

Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that, in the whole budget, we found a mere £1,000 for ‘Educational materials’. That’s to buy books, tools to help teach maths and phonics and IT, paints and craft items, the everyday detritus of education…and this for a school of 4-9 year olds, who are really stimulated by the new, but tend to lose or damage existing resources.

Hungry kids don’t learn, but neither to kids devoid of stimulation and starved of interest.

Nationally around 16% of children take a FSM. If, from the remainder, 3 times that many have a home that struggles to feed them (and I’d consider that estimate to be very high) then still more than half of the £1 billion spend would be going to providing meals for kids living in homes that are not having any difficulty feeding them.

And, yes, means testing is generally awful and, yes, it will always create some cases where somebody undeserving gets something while someone more deserving gets nothing, but the alternative is spending £500 million where it’s genuinely not needed, won’t eliminate a single hungry kid and will just free up a few extra quid a month in a household that isn’t counting the pennies.

That £½ billion could be used to replace some of the funds that schools have lost, or it could be used to help those most in need, because it’s not just meals that poor kids miss out on. There are school trips, after-school clubs, wrap-around care, things that don’t have the slogan potential of “Feed all children!”, but are part of socialising and growing the children and preventing a split into haves and have-nots. Social delineation does not begin and end at meal times.

On that note, for those playing on the stigma of FSM – have they set foot in an actual school in the last 20 years? Kids aren’t queuing up to hand over lunch-money; direct debits, electronic payments and canteen swipe cards have replaced the cash economy. There is – or at least should be – no visible difference between those whose meals account is topped up from a Swiss bank account and those whose food is courtesy of Westminster.

Which leaves the stickiest point until last – if we rail against universal FSM then why not against universal health-care? I find that most worrying, not because I think it counters any of the arguments I’ve made against universalism, but because it doesn’t counter a single one of them. I wholeheartedly support the NHS, I defend it, my wife works in it, I’d always want it to be there…but I find myself wondering if I’m wrong about it.

Maybe, sometimes, we can’t have something just because it’s brilliant.

Three deaths

 

a. A big death

The universe dies because of the laws of thermodynamics. Everything – absolutely everything – is being moved from an ordered state to a disordered one. Given enough time all of the ordered structure in the universe – the stars, the planets, the black holes – will be worn away by the endless beak-rubbing of entropy. The death of the universe is a vast featureless void, hovering just a few degrees above absolute zero. The final triumph of chaos.

b. A tiny death

Our body daily orders the death of countless cells in our body. Tiny chemical signals are sent to them, telling them their time is up and, bless them, they shut down and dismantle themselves, to be washed away as rubbish by our bodies.

c. A human-sized death.

Dawn was my friend for 20 years. Because of her I have a hard time thinking of chaos as being cold and empty. Her house was generally chaos…three kids, a cat or two, the more-frequently-started-than-finished DIY projects of her husband, generally (it must be recorded, without judgement nor admonishment) a bit of a mess, craft projects battling each other for control of every flat surface. But it was a house that was always warm, where life, in all its spirally unpredictability, flourished. Where there was always a cup of coffee, a chat, a laugh, a story.

Some time, probably around 5 years ago, a cell of hers refused to die when it was told to. It lived on. It recruited others to its rebellion. More and more cells joined it as the years went by. Signing up stealthily, their revolt unnoticed until last year.

A little earlier today their combined insurrection killed Dawn.

She leaves her husband to finished the great DIY project of his life alone. She leaves two grown-up boys. She leaves an autistic daughter who will never truly be grown up. She leaves two grieving parents and leaves ripples on the ponds of the many lives that she touched in her 49 years. She leaves craft-work projects unfinished, chats unsaid, jokes without a punchline, a boiled kettle un-poured, a chaotic home without its matriarch.

There are many worse off than me tonight; I am poorer for her passing, but richer for having passed time with her. Goodnight.

Dickshark: The FINal chapter (part II)

This Dickshark review was born on the day the UK voted to leave the EU.

I never intended it to take 9 months and 12 blog posts to review but, as it has, it seems fitting that it ends today, the day that the UK formally notifies the EU of its intention to leave.

There are other synchronicities as well:

  • It’s a fucking stupid idea
  • It’s a fucking stupid idea, being implemented by the least talented people possible
  • It’s a fucking stupid idea, being implemented by the incompetent, entirely it seems for the benefit of one, smirking homunculus
  • It has no idea of what it wants to be
  • There’s no plan or structure to it
  • Because there’s no plan people just keep saying whatever comes into their heads, and then that’s what we’re doing now
  • A lot of it is just there to appeal to the lowest common denominator
  • Did I mention that it’s a fucking stupid idea?
  • It ends really, really badly

Of course, although it seems to go on forever, the whole thing is done and dusted in 2½ hours. It’s not like it goes on for years, and then negatively impacts your life for decades after that.

Thank god there’s nothing like that, eh?

And thanks also that we never have to think about Dickshark (or anything like it) ever again.

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It’s all gone down the crapper now

 

Dickshark: The FINal chapter (Part I)

In June, on the day the UK EU referendum result was announced, I decided to cheer myself up with a quick review of a terrible film, Dickshark. This is how it all started.

Nine months later, and we’re only days away from the PM invoking article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which will formally begin the process of us exiting the EU and, for neatness, I want the Dickshark review to end on the same day.

Hence only a day after the last instalment we’re pushing on to finish off the review, so that I can do my final thoughts (part II of this blog) on the day itself.

I have to start by confessing that I’ve made a terrible mistake. At the end of the last review, when we cut to this image…

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Journo Stephen, pictured yesterday (Awwww)

…I thought the scene had ended.

But it hadn’t!

We are going to see Bill’s “special” way of lighting a candle!!

Where is your god now?

Fortunately it just involves staring at it and using the power of his mind to achieve the impossible…prevent us from noticing this is a just a reversed clip of him blowing the candle out.

Bill’s dad makes another of his RSC audition speeches Bill collapses to the floor. His dad calmly picks up a katana and cuts Bill’s head off. Well, we’re assuming that’s what he does – actually showing a decapitation would be way too much like a real special effect for this film. So instead he draws the sword, goes over to where Bill is and then fucks around with candles for a couple of minutes…because of art.

Then we go to a shot of the moon, that’s quickly replaced to Jill (who wasn’t eaten, thereby ruling that out as one of the possibilities for the last scene she was in) tied – still naked, natch – to a stake.

Bill’s dad approaches, as does the Dickshark (cunningly shot in near darkness, in a valiant yet futile attempt to hide that somebody is carrying it). Knocking Bill Snr to the floor, with the lightest touch of its fin, it makes a bee-line for Jill, but gets so distracted on the job that the young old man has time to get to his feet and give it a fairly mild sushi experience.

He barely has time to revel in his victory before Jill stabs him with his own sword. You might ask how she got untied, how she got the sword and why the old Bill didn’t notice either – and, if you do ask those things, you’re entirely the wrong sort of person to be watching a naked-woman-with-a-sword-film, I guess.

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And, to be fair, this is how I want to go

The wounded dickshark, in its most pathetic form yet, tries to make it back to the water, with Jill’s spotlit (and little spotted) bum pursuing it.

And then…something. I really don’t know what. The shark is being crap, then Jill turns her back and seems to walk away and Bill’s dad closes his eyes and his hand, still holding a candle, falls into some water and the candle goes out. Then…

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Not only is that the ending – where I can’t work out what the fuck happened, but THEN you choose to reveal that I’ve spent 9 months of my life desecrating the graves of these five people. I don’t just hate you for your film now, Bill, I hate you for what you’ve made me become.

Fortunately there’s a full 5 minutes of credits for me to hate you during.

And the credits are all about the music. There hasn’t been a single song in this film that I ever want to hear again, but the credits give snippets of each song and detail the band who performed it, which album it’s from and adds in a load of miscellaneous typos to keep you interested.

Eventually even this passes, and with it any hope that Nick Fury was going to appear and recruit Dickshark for the Avengers.

It’s over. Dickshark is finished. All that remains are my final thoughts.

The review concludes 29/3/17