A quick post about why I rejoined the Labour party

Provided this as a quote to someone writing an online article about people joining Labour post-Brexit, but thought I’d share it more widely. You may also want to read this for context about how much this leadership challenge is being coordinated to cause maximum damage.

I was quite content with voting for Corbyn as a supporter and letting Labour get on with being a half-decent opposition that actually articulated an anti-austerity position that didn’t pander to anti-immigration sentiment or scapegoat welfare recipients. But it’s really clear that the PLP just aren’t willing to allow that to happen – he’s had to deal with constant sniping and whining by people whose only solution to Labour’s problems are triangulation and image manipulation. They don’t understand the social and economic changes that are driving the economically insecure section of their traditional electoral base towards UKIP or non-voting, and even if they did, they are ideologically opposed to any of the policies which might tackle those problems.

This isn’t a surprise, but the destructive and cack-handed way they’ve gone about things has made me utterly livid. If they had any sense, they’d have taken a good hard look at themselves and their policies and tried to work out why they were so comprehensively defeated last year. If Corbyn is as dreadful as they claim, his obvious failings would have become apparent, he would have lost support in the party and they could have put up an alternative candidate with a hope of wining. Instead we’ve just had endless bitching to the press and now this obviously choreographed string of resignations. I don’t think Corbyn is perfect, and I think he will eventually need to be replaced by a younger candidate who isn’t so easily pigeon-holed by the press as a socialist relic & terrorist sympathiser, but until the party gets reformed so that MP’s don’t have a chokehold on who can stand for the leadership, he needs to stay in place.

I quit Labour in 2003 because it obviously was not capable of restraining Tony Blar’s warmongering, but right now it’s closer to being democratic and left-wing than it has in my adult lifetime. No way am I going to sit back and let a bunch of jumped up shits like that undercooked testicle Wes Streeting ruin it because they want a ministerial career and their understanding of politics only goes as deep as personalities and the news cycle. They keep talking about how they want a functioning opposition, but what they mean by that is they want an opposition that tries to ingratiate itself with the tabloids and offers up a more diluted version of neoliberalism augmented with gentler scapegoating of immigrants and welfare recipients to tempt Labour-Tory swing voters. Fuck that and fuck them. They picked this fight and they are going to fucking well rue the day. Their politics died on its arse in 2008 and the fallout brought us to straight to the vicious xenophobic clusterfuck that is Brexit. I’ve got much better things to do with my time than Labour party infighting, but it’s obvious we’re not going to get anywhere without deselecting MPs who would rather fight the left than organise together with us, so that’s what we’re going to have to do.

A response to James Lovelock’s ‘Enjoy it while you can’ stance

A friend asked me what I thought about this interview with James Lovelock. My response:

I think Lovelock is a dangerous crank, and it deeply upsets me that the media continually portray him as some sort of elder statesman of the environmental movement. For example, this article says that the Gaia ‘theory’ is the basis of all climate science, which is utter bollocks.

Insofar as Gaia is a falsifiable scientific theory, my understanding is that it is incorrect – what we know about Paleoclimate is that it has been in different ‘steady’ states in the past, and the issue with greenhouse gas tipping points is that there are probably warmer ‘steady’ states that the complex system that is climate may eventually end up in – ie the planet is not a self-regulating organism.

I’ve not read his recent writings, but I would guess that Lovelock may have some crazy notion that climate change itself is the way the ‘organism’ is ridding itself of some pestilent humans, but that takes us out of the realms of falsifiable scientific theory and into the domain of unhinged millenarianism.

Basically, he’s not to be trusted on climate policy, and his views should be treated as dangerous lunacy, rather than as the authentic voice of environmentalism. He is not a climate scientist and his ‘revelation’ in 2004 that climate change is irreversible has no grounding in the science. His statement about it being impossible to power the UK with renewables is also complete bollocks – see for example: –

  • http://www.zerocarbonbritain.com/
  • http://www.withouthotair.com/

One last point – we don’t have the luxury of deciding that climate change is a lost cause and we should just get on with our lives. Apart from it being incorrect on an objective level (though the social, political and economic barriers to making the necessary changes in an appropriate timescale are certainly formidable), we simply don’t have the right.

Those of us in the wealthy, developed world are responsible, individually and collectively, for most of the cumulative emissions, and yet live in societies that are the most resilient in terms of cushioning ourselves from the effects of climate change. Those of us in North West Europe are also living in a pocket where the effects will be significantly less severe than elsewhere.

Climate change isn’t just something that is being done to the planet, it is something that we are doing to other people, and it’s causing them to die in increasing numbers. While none of us are able to stop it happening individually and we very much need to see it as a collective responsibility that needs radical collective solutions, we can’t just decide that the consequences of our actions on other people is inevitable and therefore we might as well not worry about it. In fact, as a suggestion, it’s beyond obscene.

Policing in the absense of democracy – Barton Moss article on OpenDemocracy

I wrote a long piece about the policing of the Barton Moss anti-fracking protests. I’m rather pleased with it, and you should totally take a look if you haven’t already:

…The policing at Barton Moss needs to be understood in the light of this discrepancy between the support of elected representatives and the widespread opposition of local people. When those in power feel they are entitled to decide policy without consulting people who are likely to be affected, it is hardly surprising that any dissent by those people will be regarded as illegitimate. It is only a small step from there to enforcing contentious policy using violence, and deploying the law as a tool to suppress dissent.

 

Just as the most obvious explanation for the violence used by individual officers is that they believe they have tacit approval of their superiors and expect to be protected by them, the most obvious explanation for the tactics and strategy that GMP are pursuing is that they believe they have tacit approval and expect to be protected by their political masters. The indications are that police violence at Barton Moss has got worse over the last few weeks, rather than better. There are fears that if Peel Holdings are successful in their application for an eviction order for the camp, GMP may take the opportunity to be even more brutal.

 

Barton Moss is an advanced case of what policing looks like when those in power work on behalf of private and corporate interests, rather than the people they are supposed to be serving. We need to pay attention, because unless we engage in wholesale reform of our governing structures and the police, this is something we are going to be seeing a lot more of in the future.

This is what it looks like when the Fracking industry know they can’t win the argument

It’s no surprise to find the Telegraph shilling for the fracking lobby. After all it’s the mouthpiece of two paranoid billionaires living in tax exile on a feudal rock somewhere west of Guernsey. As such, it is fairly predictable that its sympathies would lie with the extractive industries rather than the communities whose lives will be blighted by this dirty, destructive practice.

Similarly, the Telegraph’s long embarrassing downmarket slide, in the hope of capturing some of the Daily Mail’s tawdry  market share, is a matter of public record. So, it’s really not a surprise to see the Telegraph aping one of the Mail’s long-running tactics: running ‘exposé’ articles smearing activists and others they feel are getting ideas above their station. These usually include personal details completely unrelated to the campaign or issue that brought the person to public attention, and are unabashed attempts to intimidate people the Mail disagrees with into silence.

It’s tricks like this which make the Mail terrified of meaningful press regulation – it fears limits being put on its freedom to browbeat and bully those it disagrees with. In this battle the Telegraph can invariably be found also manning the barricades – spouting pious guff about the sanctity of a free press. What they actually mean to defend, of course, is the inalienable right of rich newspaper proprietors to pay minions to publish spiteful ad-hominem attacks on people they disagree with in the national press.

In these two respects, Sunday’s attack in the Telegraph on two anti-fracking activists is an unremarkable piece of gutter journalism. The angle of attack, too is relatively predictable – the idea that activists are somehow ‘outsiders’, and don’t really represent the imaginary silent majority who are secretly delighted with the prospect of companies coming in to install endless drilling rigs, pollute groundwater, cause earthquakes and destroy the climate into the bargain.

This isn’t simply a lazy PR angle, picked up by a lazy journalist. The fracking companies know very well that the tactics which halted fracking in New South Wales, prevented it in Victoria and were so successful in Balcome involved local communities organising amongst themselves and using direct action to fight back. This is why we saw so many planted stories in the press about protesters coming from elsewhere to take action at Balcombe – it’s a classic attempt to divide and rule. Of course, some people who lived outside Balcombe came and joined in with the protests, but in general they were welcomed by the community; the whole campaign was underpinned by a locally run consultation which showed that 82% of local people were against fracking. Against that level of opposition Cuadrilla didn’t stand a chance.

A similar consultation is being run right now around Barton Moss, and the early indications are of very strong local opposition. With the drilling rig having arrived this week, greeted by a series of well-timed actions and blockades, the fracking industry is panicking. They desperately need to try and drive wedges between the emerging opposition, or failing that to persuade the government and their spooked investors that they are facing a small group of “professional” activists travelling around, rather than broad unwavering local opposition wherever they try to set up. Attempting to single out protesters as having no connection to the local area does both.

However, what this article actually did was to go way further than this. It singled out two activists involved in the No Dash For Gas group who they claimed had “no connection to the area”. One of them was British Asian, the other has a Polish surname and was pictured wearing a headscarf.

I’ve not been very deeply involved in the campaign at Barton Moss, but I know it well enough and enough of the people involved to state with absolute certainty that there is only one rational justification for picking on these two. Other individuals are more deeply involved, have featured more prominently in press releases, have played more central roles in setting up the camp and have repeatedly put themselves on the line standing in Barton Moss lane blocking lorries. Quite a few of those individuals did not live in Manchester before this autumn and could easily be portrayed as serial protesters – some of them even have dreadlocks. The only difference is it is much harder to make them sound foreign.

The article is subtle, as dog whistling often is, but the whistling is there: the choice of photographs, including a caption (since amended) which incorrectly states that one of the pair is from Poland; mentions of them living “hundreds of miles away” and referring to “demonstrations as far afield as Turkey and Gaza in support of Palestinian rights”. The underlying message, backed up by mentions of trade-union membership, attendance at Cambridge, and involvement in struggles elsewhere in the world is that these ‘leaders’ of the campaign at Barton Moss, if not strictly foreigners, are some variety of rootless cosmopolitan. At the very least they are portrayed as the kind of ‘outsider’ who should rightly be spurned by the kind of forelock-tugging grim-up-north worthies that inhabit Salford in the imagination of your average Telegraph journalist.

For the sake of accuracy, it should be pointed out that the entire premise of the angle – xenophobia nodding, divide and rule bullshit aside – is factually unsound. The campaign at Barton Moss doesn’t have any leaders. That’s not just sloganeering: at its most organised it involves a very loose coalition of groups, none of whom have any formal hierarchy. As mentioned above, if you wanted to select the most prominent individuals to smear, you wouldn’t pick the two mentioned in the article.

Furthermore, these two individuals put forward as having “no connection to the area” actually do. One of them has lived less than 10 miles from Barton Moss for more than three years, and the other, while currently based in London, worked in Salford for two years and lived in Manchester for three. Again, the obvious conclusion is that they were in fact singled out because they were able to be fitted into some weird stereotype of the foreign ‘other’.

There’s also a wider question about this whole narrative – what’s the deal with this idea that there is something dubious about people not living nearby being involved in a protest? Did I miss a memo about there being some kind of radius-of-acceptable-concern – that beyond 50km from your place of habitual residence, you are forbidden to give a shit about any untoward events? Fracking is a deeply misguided policy being rolled out at a national level. It has climate change implications – meaning it affects the basic habitability of the whole planet. What kind of a twisted worldview finds it unusual that someone might chose to travel up from London to try and do something about it?

Even if people from Salford did have an unaccountable suspicion of everyone living further away than Stockport, one suspects that they’d resent being told who to trust by a journalist sat in a desk in London, writing in a newspaper owned by two blokes who divide their time between Monaco and the Channel islands for tax reasons.

This is what it looks like when the fracking industry know they are losing the public debate – instead of trying to argue on the issues they are resorting to running cack-handed smears via their toadies in the press. They have every reason to be afraid – there is absolutely no public mandate for fracking in the UK: no political party championed or even mentioned fracking in their manifesto at the last general election; both of the parties now in government were elected promising to tackle climate change, not make it worse.

The very best case that can be made for fracking is that it will deliver us in a few decades time back to where we are now, only worse off – still shackled to an unsustainable and antiquated energy infrastructure, with even higher energy bills, more fuel poverty and a destroyed climate to boot, and if we’re lucky we’ll only have a few poisoned water supplies and earthquakes along the way. It will benefit almost no-one and the consequences will be literally disastrous – the shale gas deposits under the UK need to be left in the ground.The only reason fracking is being pursued in the UK is that it stands to make a few people extremely rich, and a substantial number of those people are intimately connected to the Tory party.

One of the interesting facts about fracking which the industry are very keen for you not to know is that the wells are much less productive than wells drilled for conventional gas and oil. This means that for a deposit to be commercially exploited, loads of wells need to be drilled, often several per square mile, otherwise it’s not profitable. The sheer density of wells required for profitability means that they can’t go ahead in the face of sustained local opposition – it’s simply not viable.

If the fracking industry thought that 2013 was hard work, they are going to be waking up to their worst nightmare in 2014 – organised local resistance everywhere they try and start drilling, while public opinion increasingly gets wise to their false promises of jobs and cheap energy. They can’t go ahead in the face of sustained local opposition, and they won’t. Happy new year….

Is the NHS charge for immigrants the next phase of privatisation?

The Tory plan to charge migrants for NHS treatment has rightly come under fire for being policy directed at an invented non-issue; because it will therefore probably cost more money than it will save; and because it will change the doctor-patient relation in an insidious way – asking doctors to police their patients. However I haven’t seen anyone has highlighted the possibility that the charges are part of the NHS privatisation agenda.

The single fig-leaf that the Tories used to disguise their massive privatisation of the NHS was that it would remain “free at the point of use”. The claim was that even though you could be treated by a private healthcare provider, commissioned by a GP consortium run as a business, the fact that this was all being done with taxpayers money and you didn’t have to pay anything upfront made it all ok, and not really privatisation at all.

This plan changes that – for the first time patients will not get their treatment free at the point of use. A charging system and the infrastructure and bureaucracy for it will need to be built into the NHS – every site of treatment will also need to incorporate a cashier. All patients will need to be divided into the deserving, who will get free care, and the undeserving, who will have to pay.

Can you see where this is going? Once all of this is in place, it will be very simple for future governments to widen the circle of the undeserving and shrink the circle of the undeserving. I wouldn’t expect anything before the next election, but I bet in the next parliament some Tory think-tanks start talking about widening charges for easy targets: the long-term unemployed, binge drinkers, drug users or the morbidly obese. We could then see something of this sort in the Tory manifesto for 2020. After that, it would be a feasible step to a full-scale reorganisation where only people who have paid enough national insurance get free healthcare, turning it into actual nationalised health insurance. Obviously this health insurance system could then be privatised with no meaningful public opposition, just like the Royal Mail is being now.

The Lansley reforms were the end of the NHS as a publicly owned universal provider of healthcare, and were clearly intended to see it incrementally phased out from providing healthcare at all. The charges for immigrants are the end of the right to free healthcare for all British residents. What I’ve described above are a series of politically feasible steps to get completely get rid of the NHS in our lifetimes. It’s speculation, but it’s important to see that the first two steps are the most politically difficult – destroying the founding principles of the NHS.

One of these steps has already happened, the other is being put forward as government policy RIGHT NOW in a way that will make it very difficult to oppose. In fact it probably has significant public support, because it’s bashing immigrants. What I’m describing is a long game, with plausible deniability at every stage for the politicians implementing it. However, if you think that some people in the Tory party don’t imagine precisely this as a long-term political goal, you’re an idiot. If you don’t think that the Tory party is capable of this, you’ve not been paying attention.

No Dash for Gas – A little Background and a Call to Arms

I’d like to talk a little bit about why 21 people are being sued for £5 million by EDF, but first can we talk a little bit about risk? I guess we’re all a bit more familiar with risk these days. We used to be told a that the people running banks understood risk. It was said that they had mastered risk, through the combined power of algorithms, automated trading and their 7-figure bonuses. Nobody says that any more, of course, but it’s pretty clear that they understood risk just the right amount. Not enough to prevent a few of them scurrying home in September 2008 with their desk toys in cardboard boxes, or to prevent a global recession, but when the dust settled it turns out they were clever enough not to be risking their own pensions, houses or the money they made in the good times, despite the huge collateral damage they caused.

Most importantly, the risk to the survival of the financial institutions came to be borne by wider society. The size of their losses and the extent to which they were embedded in the wider economy meant that the politicians blinked first. Now those institutions are still there, with the same influence, obscene bonuses and seedy business models. In retrospect, that was never really in doubt. The central idea which allowed these institutions to wield such power, and risk such enormous sums of money – that markets are rational ways of determining the best outcomes for all – still passes for common sense in the corridors of power. So now, as an economic model built on largely illusory growth continues to deflate, instead of risks to those institutions, pensions and profits we see risks to our public services and welfare.

Even though they lost everything, they still won. That, I would contend, is the sign of a group of people who really understand how to manipulate risk to their own benefit. As with the big con, so with global capitalism: if you can’t see who the ‘mark‘ is, that means it’s you. Or rather, in this case, it’s us.

EDF

Another group of people who really understand risk is EDF energy. EDF energy is a subsidiary of the state-owned French nuclear power company Électricité de France. They own all the currently functioning commercial nuclear power reactors left in the UK (except one which is due to close in 2014), having purchased British Energy in 2008. They also own 3 gas and coal-fired power plants.

A bit of history for you: British Energy was the supposedly profitable portion of the UK nuclear industry, which was privatised in 1996. It lasted about six years, before it became financially unviable and had to be bailed out with public money. This came in the form of loans worth hundreds of millions of pounds, and the government taking on between £1.7 and £5.6 billion of British Energy’s liabilities – mainly the cost of disposing of nuclear waste and decommissioning old power stations.

Under the original privatisation scheme, which raised only £2.1 billion for the government, the private company was supposed to take on these liabilities, but apparently they were a little too risky. Of course, the financial difficulties didn’t prevent British Energy paying out a £432 special dividend to shareholders in 1999, or paying bonuses to executives. In 2004 the Public Accounts Committee of the UK parliament warned that paying bonuses to British Energy executives would mean that they were profiting from the government bailout of the company. Despite this warning, it was later reported that bonuses worth £30 million were being offered to senior executives. Sound familiar?

EDF know all about this history. They also know how the other part of the UK nuclear industry, which was such an enormous money pit it was never even considered for privatisation, has saddled the public with a decommissioning bill of (at the last count) £100 billion. Despite all this, EDF really want to build a new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK.

As I’ve said before, EDF are masters at managing risk. In contravention of official coalition policy, the government has already agreed to subsidise new nuclear power plants by underwriting the potential costs of a nuclear accident, and the costs for waste disposal, but this still left EDF with the risk that the cost of building the plants will make the electricity too expensive for them to make huge profits. After intensive lobbying EDF have persuaded the government to include nuclear (re-branded as a ‘low-carbon power source’) with renewable methods of generating power, and give them a guaranteed price for electricity.

This subsidy was originally intended to give new technologies like renewables a chance to develop and mature. If the market price for electricity is below the level at which that would be the case the difference will be made up from surcharges on customers’ bills. It was never intended for established technologies like nuclear, and effectively means that consumers are underwriting the risk that EDF are too incompetent to finish a construction project on time and to budget.

The latest news is that EDF have persuaded the government to guarantee these subsidies for 40 years. If EDF wins by constructing their plants on time and to budget, they win by getting even higher profits, and if they lose, they still win because their profits are subsidised by a levy on people’s bills.

The UK Energy Market and the Big Six

Of course, EDF are far too canny to bet their whole future business on the malleability of politicians, or on nuclear power. Like many of the UK energy giants, they also want to build gas-fired power stations. Consequently a lot of lobbying has gone on behind the scenes convincing ministers that renewable energy is far too expensive and the UK should be ploughing money into gas instead. The basis for this is some wildly speculative claims from people who hope to make lots of money out of shale gas, and the assumption that for the price of a few earthquakes and horribly polluted water supplies we will be able to put our heads in the sand and pretend that non-renewable sources of energy somehow aren’t going to run out, but instead are going to get cheaper.

You might ask why the energy giants want to bet the country’s energy supply on such a dubious premise, but if you think hard you’ll be able to work out the answer – there’s actually no risk to them. Let’s have a look at their current business model.

A little background: while the Tory government of the 80s and 90s had a mania for privatisation, they couldn’t get around the fact that the electricity network was a single interconnected grid distributing an identical ‘product’ (electricity) to all households and business, with no obvious way to differentiate it. They got around this by creating three distinct types of companies when they privatised the electricity sector – suppliers, generators and distributors.

Distributor companies were given a monopoly over the grid and transmission to houses and businesses in a particular area, but the separate category of ‘supplier’ company was created. Suppliers charge each customer for the electricity they use, and buy electricity wholesale from generating companies to make sure the same amount was being fed into the grid that their customers were using. This allowed the creation of an artificial market in electricity.

Again, the logic behind this is that the market is a rational way of determining the best outcomes for all, and that decisions about future energy investment should be taken by private, rather than public, entities. The reality was that supplier companies quickly found that being at the mercy of the market for your energy supply was not pleasant, and was far too risky for profits. They solved this through ‘vertical integration’, bringing together generator and supplier companies, so that both entities could rely on a steady price and profits could be guaranteed.

Through acquisition and vertical integration the UK energy sector has quickly become an oligopoly, with the Big Six (EDF, British Gas, E.ON, npower, Scotish Power and SSE) controlling 99% of the energy market. Because they have a stranglehold on both supply and generation, it is almost impossible for any other player to gain a foothold.

Because we get most of our electricity from burning fossil fuels, and because of vertical integration, the only cost the energy companies cannot control is the price they pay for gas and coal. As we’ve seen over the last few years, the Big Six have simply increased the prices they charge their customers as global prices of hydrocarbons rise (though they have been slower to reduce them on the occasions global prices have fallen). The consumer has assumed the risks of fluctuating global energy prices, while they enjoy risk free profits.

Why The Dash for Gas?

Climate change, of course, represents a challenge to this harmonious picture of corporate welfare. Naturally, the immediate risks of climate change are externalised, and will not greatly impact the big energy companies. Instead they will be largely felt by other people, other species and other generations. However, the changes in the way we generate electricity necessitated by climate change do represent a risk to their oligopolistic business model. The way I see it, the threat is manifested in three ways.

Firstly we are looking a transition away from established technologies in which the Big Six have so much knowledge and expertise that no other players can seriously challenge their dominance. They can be pretty sure that no upstart company is going to work out a much more efficient way to burn coal, set up a new power station down the road, and start undercutting them. With renewables they can be far less certain of maintaining their privileged market position.

Secondly it’s not at all certain that the way we generate electricity in the future will mean that large generation plants will always be more efficient than smaller ones. A taller wind turbine with larger blades is more efficient than a tiny one stuck on your roof, but are 100 of the larger ones much more efficient than one on its own? What about when we’re talking about solar, wave or tidal energy? If larger isn’t necessarily better, this is a real threat to the current model of a few energy behemoths running a handful giant generation plants. The scenario of an energy sector comprised of lots of small-scale, community owned, renewable projects is the Big Six’s worst nightmare.

Thirdly there is the threat to the current demand-matching model of electricity generation. At present the idea is that consumers will turn on appliances as and when they need them, and power stations will feed electricity into the national grid to match the demand. Obviously, renewable generation can’t easily be scaled up and down in this way, though this isn’t as serious an issue as it is portrayed by right-wing journalists and the denial industry. Properly seen, this is an engineering problem and the solution is to reduce demand through energy efficiency, spread out renewable generation sites over a large geographical area, build more connections from the national grid to other countries and to start building a smart grid.

Smart Grid technology would mean that various household electricity usage, such as fridges or the charging of electric vehicles, could be raised or lowered depending on the current capacity of the grid. Giving consumers the ability this amount of control over their power usage would be a fundamental shift away from the old model, empowering people at the expense of energy generating companies and enabling a decisive break from the polluting technologies which they can easily control and profit from.

From this it is obvious why the energy industry is lobbying heavily for the transition away from established technologies to be as slow as possible, for the transition to be implemented so as to maintain the market position of the large companies, and why they are so keen to denigrate renewables and maintain that we need supply-matching power plants as ‘backup’.

Once the UK’s energy infrastructure is designed around gas-fired power stations generating a sizeable proportion of the electricity on the grid, it doesn’t matter to the Big Six if the price of gas doesn’t decrease in accordance with the industry’s wild predictions. The cost will just be passed on to the consumer because that’s the only way we’ll be able to keep the lights on.

Captive Politics and People Power

The story of corporate capture of politics is a story too long, depressing and familiar to get into now. Suffice it to say that the Big Six have been very successful at managing the response to climate change in a way that presents no serious risk to their privileged market position or profits. This isn’t just limited to the energy industry in the UK: it’s speaks volumes that 5 years after the collapse of the financial markets in 2008, the major international effort to deal with the ‘greatest market failure the world has ever seen‘ is based upon the creation of an artificial market.

In the UK, one of the very few notes of hope in this bleak cacophony has been the willingness of people to stand up and physically intervene to prevent major carbon-intensive infrastructure projects. Over the prospect of new coal-fired power stations, or the third runway at Heathrow, direct action has been a major factor in preventing the go-ahead of schemes pushed by craven government ministers at the bidding of big business.

This has not been appreciated by the big energy companies or their bag-carriers in government. We have repeatedly seen collusion, aimed at stifling protest, between the police, energy companies and shadowy branches of central government. The police’s ability to unilaterally set pre-trial bail conditions is increasingly being used to try to punish activists and disrupt their lives before they have even been charged, let alone found guilty. In some cases these have even stipulated where people should sleep every night or that they should not ‘associate’ with housemates or work colleagues.

Most infamously, the police have been spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money every year to infiltrate protest movements with spies. Answerable to the Association of Chief Police Officers, instead of a publicly accountable body, they have been paid to infiltrate, befriend, manipulate and sleep with groups of people whose only ‘crime’ has been to threaten the profits of big business.

Meanwhile, the ability of corporate lobbyists to influence policy has only increased under the coalition. Eager to roll back the meagre policy gains that have been won on climate change, they have found a natural ally in George Osborne, a man of such unlimited incompetence and malignant arrogance that, not satisfied with having wrecked the economy – his nominal area of responsibility, he also appears to be actively trying to destroy the climate as some kind of demented hobby.

West Burton

Throughout 2012 Osborne has been working within government to weaken the UK’s carbon reduction targets. His unstated but obvious intention is to break the terms of the Climate Change Act, which was passed in 2008 with support across all political parties including from David Cameron. In December last year Osborne announced tax breaks for shale gas extraction, despite public warnings from governmental advisers that his strategy will cause the UK to breach its own legally-binding targets. There is absolutely no electoral mandate for this. In fact, it is completely contrary to even the Tory manifesto from 2010, which called for  ‘low carbon economy’ and specifically mentions the target which the Climate Change Act is designed to deliver.

In short, the dash for gas is a completely undemocratic, illegal and ill-thought out policy, designed to protect the business model of a handful of corporate giants at the expense of the planet. None of the institutions of traditional politics seem to be capable of preventing this so people decided to take matters into their own hands. Just under three weeks after Osborne presented his plan for shale gas tax breaks to the Tory party conference, 21 people occupied West Burton gas-fired power station, which is currently under construction by EDF, and shut it down for a week as a protest against this hugely retrograde step.

You might say that EDF, by pursuing a short-sighted and catastrophic business model that we will all eventually end up paying for, is openly courting the risk that saner individuals might try and put a stop to it. You might say that’s just the risk they take for what they’re doing, and that protest of this kind is the only option when traditional politics is failing so visibly.

You might also think that if ‘No Dash For Gas’ were doing something wrong they should be taken to a criminal court and put before a jury. But EDF, the police and prosecutors don’t want to take the risk that a jury of ordinary people in possession of the facts would acquit the protestors, as has happened before.

Instead any charges against ‘No Dash For Gas’ which would have had to be heard by a jury have been dropped so that the case was heard in a Magistrate’s Court, and EDF has adopted an altogether more insidious strategy. They are attempting to sue the activists for £5 million, betting that the risk of losing their homes will scare them off from protesting in the future, that the risk of paying back EDF a portion of their wages for years hence will scare people into not taking direct action.

Let’s have no illusions about the type of people behind this. EDF have a record of fighting dirty and trying to squash opposition – in 2011 a French court fined them £1.3 million and sent two members of staff to jail for spying on Greenpeace. Nottinghamshire police, who already have a reputation for collusion with the energy industry and dirty tricks against activists following the policing operation where Mark Kennedy acted as an agent provocateur, appear to have been closely involved in drawing up the case.

This is now about more than the dash for gas, EDF’s business model and even the climate. This is about whether people who care so much about an issue they are prepared to risk their bodies and their liberty should be made to lose their houses and spend a lifetime in hock to the very companies they have dared to confront. EDF are gambling that they can get away with this outrageous attempt to restrict our right to protest – that ordinary people are not going to be outraged enough by this to stand up and be counted.

EDF don’t believe that the risk to their reputation and business is large enough to pass up on the opportunity to intimidate their critics into silence. EDF think they understand risk, and that we’ll keep on picking up the tab the way they do business, while they continue picking up profits. That’s your right to protest under threat here. That’s your future going up that chimney in smoke. Do you want to risk it?

Dave Cullen Is a supporter of No Dash For Gas – Twitter: @humbleetc

 

Take action to support No Dash for Gas

Syria: How do you see this one turning out?

….asks a friend, in response to my tweeting the Guardian’s latest story, which is headlined that Saudi Arabia is poised to start bankrolling the Syrian insurgency. The more significant aspect to the story is the degree to which it is apparent that Turkey & the Saudis are throwing their lot in with the Free Syrian Army.

The story mentions a command centre in Istanbul, opened with Ankara’s blessing, a well organised system of cross-border arms shipments and the plan to put the FSA on the Saudi payroll (particularly significant in that wages would be in dollars or euros, rather than the beleaguered Syrian pound – giving a clear financial incentive for Syrian army personnel to defect). It also makes it clear that Turkey wouldn’t sign up to any of this without US blessing, and that the CIA is very busy on the ground making sure that the recipients of this largesse meet with their approval.

As it’s a rainy day, and I have tea & cake, it seemed like a good time to dust off my inexpert opinions and gaze into my crystal ball. So let’s take stock:

Firstly, if Turkey, Saudi Arabia have gone this far, they are not going to rest until Assad is gone and Syria is stable. As the US has clearly signed up for this too, the same goes for them. Their bottom line will be a reversal of the current trend of an escalating, increasingly ethnically charged conflict which could spill over into Syria’s neighbours, and to a lesser extent an end to harrowing news stories about massacres.

Assad has been busy burning bridges for the last 18 months and shows every sign of being a man who will keep doubling down until the casino collapses around him. It shouldn’t need repeating that this mess is entirely of his own making – he turned a series of peaceful protests into an armed uprising by brutally suppressing it, and has consistently upped the ante with military responses, inflammatory rhetoric about foreign interference and by staging terrorist bombings to justify his warped narrative. He has eschewed the various opportunities he has been given to extricate himself from the disaster he has brought upon himself and his country, and it is safe to assume he will continue to do so.

As he won’t help himself, it looks like the best outcome for Assad is that he is ousted in a coup by people around him who see the writing on the wall but are not sufficiently vindictive to offer him up for trial as a sacrificial victim. Whether that will come about as a direct result of the removal of Russian patronage remains to be seen.

Assad clearly cannot militarily suppress the uprising – he’s been unable to manage it the past 18 months when his neighbours were not assisting the FSA, and the brutality of his response thus far has cemented resistance to him within the country. If having the slightest connection to the uprising means that you and your family are marked out for wholesale slaughter and mutilation, then you have a strong incentive to support it, no matter how hopeless the cause may seem.

With an ongoing stream of weapons and money for the uprising coming from Turkey, which is presumably also being used as a safe haven by the FSA, Assad’s forces will require serious discipline not to create some kind of border incident with Turkey in the not-too-distant future. As he is already relying on irregular militias who have been carrying out massacres when he was supposed to be implementing a peace plan, and the conduct of Syrian forces so far has followed a clear trend of unnecessary escalation, the logic of events tends towards a direct confrontation between Turkey and Syria.

Intriguingly, the other big news is that Syria has shot down a Turkish F-4 jet, which is exactly the kind of thing which could lead to Turkey becoming directly involved in the conflict. I would be surprised if it came to that, and the immediate Turkish response to the attack on the jet seems to be playing for time, rather than gunning for war. However as things drag on, particularly if there are several ‘provocations’ from Syria, this may change.

My guess is that it would take the intervention of a neighbour to militarily remove Assad – however successful the FSA are, however well armed and funded, they aren’t in a position to take on full army with heavy vehicles and artillery. As such, the immediate prognosis is for ongoing asymmetric civil war, with the Army following something like a scorched earth strategy in any areas thought to have rebel sympathies and the FSA retaliating but largely avoiding direct confrontations.

This is basically a recipe for a long and ugly stalemate. The things which could change that are some sort of incident which draws Turkey in, a significant increase in defections from the Syrian Army, a serious step up in the outside aid given to the FSA (this seems unlikely at present, but as various countries are now committed to the fall of Assad, they will probably up the ante if the FSA does not seem to be prevailing), or a change in the position of Russia.

My friend wondered whether ‘The West’ was likely to be drawn in, and I guess that’s a question of definitions. If you are wondering whether the US or an ad hoc European coalition will intervene militarily in Syria, my considered opinion is that they wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole.

There isn’t a clearly defined area under rebel control like Benghazi and Misrata were, meaning any intervention would be militarily messy and less likely to be effective. Public opinion shows very little enthusiasm for intervention, and there certainly aren’t the politicians chomping at the bit in Europe like there were over Libya – Sarkosy is long gone, and Cameron has enough on his plate, as does Europe in general, for that matter. Obama is already struggling to prevent himself from being dragged into the war with Iran that Netanyahu keeps threatening to launch, and won’t do anything that doesn’t convey to a direct electoral gain for the next four months. Blundering into another Middle Eastern military commitment is right up there with ‘flooding a major US city’ and ‘performing the Hajj’ in Obama’s list of things he will not be doing between now and November.

Of course, if by Western involvement you include encouraging your regional allies to arm the FSA while you pretend not to get involved, and flooding the place with spooks to make sure the money and arms are flooding to ‘our sort of people’, then that’s already happening, and no doubt we are expected not to worry our pretty heads about it.

The meta-concern for the US, and the reason I’m sure they won’t get involved, is the position of Russia. Russia has strategic interests in Syria, which don’t necessarily require Assad to remain in power, but so far Russia seems to have calculated that their best chance of protecting their interests is to protect him from censure in the security council.

Russia’s wider concern is also more about national pride and respect – a sense that in the past the US regarded Russia as a dispensable player in international affairs, and a determination to be seen as an essential international stakeholder whose position and interests should always be taken into account. While the wording of Security Council resolution 1973 made it clear (by the standards of euphemistic diplomat-speak) that it was authorisation for something more assertive than the enforcement of a no-fly zone, there is a perception that this was not done in the case of Libya.

The US needs Russian cooperation in other matters – particularly Iran, and the US supply lines to Afghanistan – so any international action on Syria is going to go at Moscow’s pace for the time being. No doubt Obama will face calls for unilateral intervention with each grisly news story that comes out of Syria. Romney, ever the opportunist, has picked up on this issue, and we can also expect to hear plenty more from rent-a-quote war addicts John McCain & Joe Lieberman. Obama’s opponents will try and paint his attempts to accommodate Russia as weakness, but this is nonsense: another indication that the foreign policy debate in the US is basically an argument between those who wish to continue with its long and inglorious tradition of realpolitik and those who prefer to retreat into fantasies of omnipotence.

If Russia really decided to throw its weight behind Assad, it has more tools at its disposal that a security council veto. As far as I can tell,* they haven’t approved new shipments of heavy weapons since the crisis began, though I seem to remember credible reports of a transfer of machine guns and suchlike last year some time. Although Russia are repairing previously sold weapons, they are stating publicly that they will not deliver arms that can be used against peaceful protesters. This gives them some leeway for arms sales for use against an armed uprising, of course, but let’s take it as read that Russia currently recognises some obligation not to be seen to obviously assist the wholesale massacre of civilians, but is perfectly capable of flooding Syria with weapons if it wants to, as this debacle with the shipment of repaired helicopters is proving.

As such, Obama is right to ignore the domestic voices calling for intervention, and unless public opinion in the US changes radically he can afford to. A change in public opinion can’t be ruled out, and Obama will want to show he has control over events, however limited his actual policy options, but my sense is that the US feels a bit too fragile and uncertain to muster up the enthusiasm for a war right now. Any propaganda effort in that direction will be saved for Iran, in case that is deemed necessary.

If I’m right, the key question is how long the conflict will remain limited to Syria without drawing in Turkey or other neighbouring countries. Lebanon would seem to be at risk, especially with the increasingly ethnic dimension to the Syrian conflict. Personally I don’t buy the possibility that Syria could strike at Israel through Hamas or Hezbollah. It was always an oversimplification to regard either group as just proxies of anyone, but certainly now neither will be taking orders from Damascus. Shooting civilians is just not a good look for a national liberation movement.

Iran has an alliance with Syria, and has already been providing advice on how to crush the populace, but as the two countries share no land borders, their ability to give direct assistance is limited. Their only route would be through Iraq, and the billions the US is still providing Iraq in aid will ensure that door remains closed.

Assad will have to do without military assistance then, though I expect he isn’t going to run out of ammunition any time soon, and he isn’t currently under threat, unless or until he gives Turkey a reason to get seriously involved. However, if a serious enough reason was to emerge, I suspect that Russia might shift its position. It is one thing to protect a client state which is massacring civilians, but protecting one which starts a fight with its neighbours is another matter entirely.

There is also the small point that Turkey is a NATO member – were Syria to infringe Turkish sovereignty in some way, technically the US and most of Europe are supposed to join in the retaliation. Moscow would struggle to defend an ally which managed to fuck things up so royally. China, which has supported Russia in the security council over Syria, might also waver if it was no longer a matter of their treasured doctrine of ‘non-interference’ in domestic affairs and things started to escalate to the status of a regional conflict.

So it would appear that all solutions to the crisis lead through Russia, which is far from an optimistic prospect. What will it take before Russia abandons its ally to his fate, or will something else give first? The shooting down of the plane probably isn’t enough to change the game, unless the circumstances which emerge turn out to show Syria in a particularly bad light, but if several other incidents of this type were to occur, that would probably be sufficient. If the US et al are taking a highly Machiavellian approach, they will probably be looking to engineer these events. But for the time being, the outlook is for an increasingly ugly conflict and more suffering for the people of Syria.

*This article in Foreign Policy establishes firmly that Syria is using Russian arms to crush the uprising, which we knew already, but fails to establish that any of them were transferred more recently than 2011, despite the sensationalist headline, so the story here is FP getting up to its old trick of giving warmongering the veneer of academic respectability.

Romney – “To find out which is which, hold a sausage at both ends, or strap to the top of a car”

My friend is trying to troll me with the prospect of President Romney, and to this end posts some commentary from Andrew Sullivan in the Sunday Times:

Romney is clearly much more neoconservative than Bush…he has pledged to launch a US-Israeli war with Iran if it continues to develop its nuclear capabilities; and he would encourage more settlements on the West Bank….Of all his friendships with foreign leaders, none goes as far back or as deep as that with Binyamin Netanyahu, with whom he worked in the 1970s for Boston Consulting Group. One of his advisers, Dan Senor, even recently tweeted “Mitt-Bibi will be the new Reagan-Thatcher”…He has described Russia as America’s “No 1 geopolitical foe” (and his advisers have repeatedly referred to the Russians as “Soviets”)…He is Dick Cheney on steroids…He has pledged to spend 4% of GDP on the Pentagon, a huge further hike over the massive increases under Bush

Let’s be clear: Mitt Romney is  not Cheney on steroids – Cheney fervently believed all of that evil bullshit as a matter of faith. Romney has only come to espouse it because he needed to dance the loony dance in order to win the Republican nomination against a field of clowns.

Just because he’s weaselly scum, doesn’t mean he won’t enact a lot of this stuff, but it’s dangerous and foolish to act as if he believes any of it. Romney’s greatest problem is that he is a massive phoney and he comes across like he learned about being human from Dr. Xargle. The greatest thing standing between him and the presidency is that he’s a conviction-free power-whore, and the best thing we can do about his candidacy is remind everyone that he’s never taken a position he wouldn’t forsake for a marginal polling benefit.

Doubling Down on the Tory Right

There’s definitely more joy to be had in politics when watching your enemies lose than the successes of people with whom you grudgingly acknowledge allegiance. Success is always contaminated by the nagging expectation of inevitable betrayal and disappointment. I think this must be down to some basic masochism in the political psyche – there can never be victory, at least not in national politics, only the postponement of disaster and the incubation of failure. Watching the bastards go down though, that never gets stale.

So it is that I woke today to the welcome news that the Tories got roundly shafted in the local elections. This rounded off a glorious couple of months where the veil truly slipped and they were exposed as venal, incompetent, Murdoch-shilling plutocrats without a plan or even a half-baked excuse for the absence of one.

The central act of this disgusting farce was the final demise of their long-suffering excuse for their destructive policies – that it was all an unfortunate necessity brought about by “Labour’s” economic mismanagement. This threadbare nonsense has been brutally overused in the the last two years, and there was no way it could deflect the fallout from the  confirmation that the economy had indeed entered a double-dip recession.

Instead the public at large was forced to confront the awful truth that, rather than being a bloke no-one liked but was kept around because he was really good at his job, George Osbourne was basically a medieval quack doctor marching around in a beaked mask, torturing his patients to death under the guise of some pseudoscientific ‘treatment’.

The Party’s Over

What then will be the fallout from the revenge voters inflicted on the Tories for this unpleasant revelation? To general delight, the swivel-eyed lunatic wing of the Tory party (apparently comprising somewhere around half their MPs and about 2/3 of party members), has weighed in with an early pitch. The Daily Mail has splashed with the obviously pre-determined line Now Stand Up For Tory Values and threatening “Coalition civil war”.

The Mail Article is pretty vague about the actual policies they want enacted, but the subject areas mentioned plot a predictable course through the usual right-wing boner list including tax-cuts, law & order, and the wholesale destruction of human rights, the EU, the NHS and environmental legislation.  The rent-a-quote MPs in the article are clearly more fixated on what they hate than what they want – Gay Marriage, Lords Reform and ‘wind turbine Toryism’, but I guess they and the Mail know their readership well enough that these items add up to a coherent mental picture, and some twisted idealised conception of what makes a good government.

Happy Days

At the outset I’d like to say that these developments have pleased me no end. I haven’t felt this happy about British politics since those few heady hours on 10th May 2010 when it looked like the Tories might be shut out of government and would set upon David Cameron like sharks with the smell of blood in their nostrils, tearing apart the most electable leader they’ve had for 20 years. Cameron was a bit too quick-witted to succumb to that fate then, but the last few hours have convinced me there’s still hope, and that the dream of Karl Stromberg can still be realised in the upper echelons of conservative politics.

It is one of adult life’s sad realisations that Parliament is not brimming with the greatest intellects in the land, but actually seems to have an uncanny ability to attract people with blunted critical faculties. Sadly, I think that’s probably one of the personality traits which allows people to rise to the top of party politics. I guess it’s in keeping with the Tory party’s status as kind of repository for the most base and atavistic traits in the British national character, that they nurture some of the very dimmest.

Jonathan Freedland has already mentioned the absurdity of this knee-jerk Tory reaction in his response piece for the elections:

Cameron will have to do his best not to reveal his exasperation as he explains that when a party loses votes to its left, it is potty to move right.

But this doesn’t really capture the idiocy of what’s being proposed. Fully 74% of voters rejected Cameron’s re-branded conservatism at the 2010 General Election. It takes a very special kind of intellect to decide that what was at fault was the window dressing, rather than the foetid and rotten product it sought to disguise.

Ugly History

Furthermore, it’s really important to recognise where brand Cameron comes from. The Tory party in the UK before 2010 had been out of power for the longest continuous period of time since the First World War, a brutal shock to the mojo of a group who consider themselves natural rulers. While some of this was due to the personal qualities of Tony Blair, it has much more to do with the legacy of Tory rule from 1979 to 1992, dominated by the reign of Margaret Thatcher which brutalised and alienated large swathes of the population before collapsing into a prolonged 4½ year death spasm a few years after her demise.

In those last few years of the miserable tenure of John Major the party managed the following: pissing away its reputation for economic competence; indulging in savage infighting over Europe so serious the prime minister resigned as party leader, in order to force a leadership contest & re-assert some control; making itself a national laughing stock by bleating about a return to traditional family values while being publicly exposed as a bunch of sex pests and philanders;  and most infamously appearing to suggest that the solution to the country’s problems was a phone line for members of the public to call if they discovered a traffic cone which was out of place.

Basically they turned everything they touched to shit, and hunkered down in Whitehall bickering and selling off national assets to pass the time, postponing their final reckoning with an outraged electorate until the last possible moment.

This kind of behaviour is electorally suicidal by any standards, but as an encore to 10 years of Thatcher (who was deeply reviled by much of the electorate but stayed in power because her government was seen as more competent than the opposition), it approaches monumental levels of self-destruction. Since then, the Tories have had to deal the with the fact that a sizable proportion of the electorate justifiably think they are venal, ham-fisted scum with anti-social tendencies serious enough to warrant sectioning.

Lancing the Boil

There were some attempts to deal with this poisonous legacy within the party – Theresa May notably pointed out that they were seen as the “Nasty Party” in a speech in 2002, but until Cameron there was no serious attempt to make a clean break with the past. Of the previous leaders, Hague and Iain Duncan-Smith, were both known to be Thatcher’s choice of candidate (and serial incompetents to boot), and Michael Howard had been Major’s home secretary, and was gifted the leadership as a caretaker to salvage the party from the wreckage of IDS’ tenure.

By the time Cameron became leader in 2005, the Tories had been behind in the polls, and polling consistently below 40% since October 1992, 13 years earlier. The only election they had won in the previous 18 years had been a huge surprise because significant numbers of their supporters were too embarrassed to tell the truth to polling companies. That bears repeating: even in 1992, before John Major’s disastrous 5 year term term, the Tories were so reviled that around 8% of the electorate, around 20% of the people who voted for them, were so ashamed of themselves they mislead pollsters about their voting intentions.

Now, I think Cameron has already proved himself a patronising half-wit who isn’t fit to run a lemonade stall, but to give him his dues he recognised the importance of demonstrating that the party had changed. The rest of course, is recent history – huskies, hoodies, sneakers, LBGT Tories and repeated vocal support for the NHS, all of this stuff which has irritated the Daily Mail and the Tory right, both of whom have been dying to stick the knife into him from day one.

Even with this mammoth PR undertaking, combined with the massive bungling of Gordon Brown and the largest financial crisis since the 1930s, Cameron only persuaded 36% of voters to back him. This is the context within which he is being urged to return to Tory values. As I said before, to reach a conclusion this perverse takes a very special kind of intellect.

Tory Essentials

Actually, the way project Cameron has played out tells you quite a lot about the nature of the Tory party. The next time someone attempts to argue that the Tories do not exist primarily as a vehicle to befit the wealthy and powerful, remind them how in the last few years they have jettisoned the homophobia and attacks on single mothers which where so characteristic of the party in the 80s and 90s, but Osbourne couldn’t even manage two budgets without falsifying his own claim that “we’re all in this together” by cutting the top rate of income tax.

Two years down the line it’s increasingly clear that Cameron’s long performance of being a different kind of Tory was basically cover for the extremely regressive policies he has pursued on welfare, state spending, and NHS privatisation. The fact that things have unravelled so quickly – two years of rule undoing 5 years of staged photo-ops suggests quite strongly that they just can’t help themselves.

The Tory party is basically for people who shamelessly favour the weathy, who see nothing wrong with taking donations from private healthcare companies while you secretly plan a policy which will seriously enrich them but will be hidden from the electorate. For people who are quite happy to fob the public off with cant about their disabled son and the NHS when it is expedient, then placidly producing plans to dismember it once the dirty business of getting elected is finished with. Although this attitude was obviously going to bite them in the arse soon enough, you almost get the feeling that they are so arrogant they actually expected to get away with it.

Cameron’s softly softly approach to despoiling the few remaining things which still mark out the UK as a half-way civilised country has always been anathema to much of the Tory party. These people not only need to be regularly sated with fresh blood, but also they also need to hear their leader bellow to the moon about traditional values, and how everyone who is suffering under their misrule has really brought it on themselves by being poor/feckless/immoral/disabled/leftwing/female/from the wrong country (delete as appropriate) and therefore deserve everything they get.

Cameron Stuck on the Horns

The trouble is, actually talking about it is antithetical to Cameron’s whole shtick. The more brazen he is about their his radical economic agenda, the less cover he can get for it from his social liberal act . He’s always suffered from the creeping suspicion that he is phoney, and to give the right-wing what they want, he’d need to renounce several of his long-cultivated positions, torpedoing his public trust and hastening his removal from office.

That’s even if he wanted to. Obviously his interest in the environment was wafer-thin, and he doesn’t give a flying fuck about kids in hoodies, so long as they’re kept out of view, but I reckon he probably does actually think gay marriage is an inevitable progressive development. Probably in private he and his circle treat Nadine Dorries and her regressive social views with the contempt they deserve.

Furthermore, Cameron is in coalition with the Lib Dems. He can’t rock the boat on human rights, law & order, gay rights or Europe, and his room to manoeuvre on the environment is pretty narrow as well. Clegg has, of course, been extremely flexible, and supported pretty much every demented Tory policy to come out of the government (at least initially). But the wider party have on occasion demonstrated that their collective gag reflex is still functioning.

After two years of being the Tories’ useful idiots, and taking fire on their behalf, is it finally time for the Lib Dems to be useful idiots for the rest of us and dampen the reflexive Tory instinct to meet adversity with ever more extreme and savage measures? Let’s hope so. A fat lot of good it will do them, but they are a lost cause either way – they might as well ameliorate some harm on the way out.

It used to be the case, back in the early days of the coalition, that the Tories could reasonably expect to do well out of a snap election and could hold that possibility over the Lib Dems, who would expect to be decimated. With Cameron’s current poll ratings, that is no longer the case, and unless his numbers turn around we should expect both coalition partners to stay locked in a death-grip until the 5 year term is up.

Following the Daily Mail’s advice could also be electorally harmful for Cameron. If we take Gay marriage, one of the handful of totemic issues that he is being urged to change course on, only a minority of voters are against it and public opinion is particularly in favour of it amongst young people and women, neither of whom Cameron would be wise to antagonise.

Cameron, it seems, is in a classic dilemma. On the one side lie his coalition partners, his governing majority, his long-cultivated socially liberal image, the electoral middle ground and at least some of his natural instincts. On the other side lie his party, including many of his cabinet colleagues and sizable section of the press who are getting restive and whose violent canibalistic instincts will increase as they taste blood and his electoral fortunes dwindle.

The more vocal the opposition within Tory ranks, the more his electoral fortunes will dwindle, and the wider standing of his party along with it. The spectre of UKIP stealing votes on the Tories’ right flank will be raised repeatedly, even though their actual share of the vote in these elections was 5% and they didn’t gain a single candidate.

Expect plenty of idiocy on a European theme from Cameron in the coming months. He’s going to have to try and solicit votes from a political constituency full of people who share Anders Behring Breivik’s analysis, whilst preventing further haemorrhaging on the political centre ground. He’s already chucked some red meat rightwards in the form of a shameless dog-whistling speech on multiculturalism (cited approvingly by Breivik from the dock, incidentally), which has predictably enough turned ethnic minority voters off the party of Enoch Powell even further.

All in all, we’re looking at a fair wind for some serious Tory infighting and a good chance they’ll relegate themselves back to the position of reviled minority opposition party that they’ve occupied for most of the last 20 years. In the meantime, sit back and watch Cameron’s contortions while his party circle biting big chunks out of him. Buy popcorn.