Politics

1992 and all that

Well, a strong sense of déjà vu for those of us old enough to remember the 1992 General Election.

Then, as now, a significant number of people seem to have told the opinion pollsters that they intended to vote Labour (or Liberal Democrat), only to choose the Conservatives when they went to the Polling Station.

Did they really change their mind at the last moment?  Or did the pollsters just get it wrong?

It’s interesting to consider that David Cameron’s ludicrous gamble on winning a referendum on Scottish independence - without making any concessions - seems to have rebounded in his favour, doing great damage to the Labour Party.  And what would have happened if Ed Miliband had stayed in London and not joined the absurd spectacle of the major party leaders rushing to Scotland – on the basis of an opinion poll that may well have been wrong.


Conservative Tories

I have read this several times, but I still don’t understand.  Aren’t all leading Conservative politicians in the UK also Tories?

Seeking the Right Way to Win: Why Conservatives on Both Sides of the Atlantic Are in Crisis

By ANDREW GIMSON  |  Time Magazine | Monday, Apr. 16, 2012

Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic are in crisis. To British eyes, the race for the Republican nomination looks like a disaster, with no consensus emerging about what a modern Republican party can offer. But U.K. Conservatives do not appear to have any solution to the ideological morass of their American cousins.

A cursory glance might lead you to another conclusion. That's because British Prime Minister David Cameron is nominally a Tory, and so is the country's other major Conservative political figure, London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Wikipedia has this to say:

Tory - Current Usage

In Britain after 1832 the Tory Party was replaced by the Conservative Party, and "Tory" has become shorthand for a member of the Conservative Party or for the party in general. Many Conservatives still call themselves "Tory" to differentiate themselves from opponents, and the term is common in the media.

Boris Johnson?  All very well as London mayor (Boris or Ken – what a choice) but does anyone really seriously believe that he could become prime minister?  Being tipped as a future party leader is pretty much a guarantee that it won’t happen.


Scottish independence? Impossible.

Two weeks ago, the SCMP published this ridiculous letter:

Voting rights don't include secession

Virginia Yue ('We should respect voters' choice,' January 30), in her reply to my letter ('Small-circle election for us, please', January 20), can be forgiven for being unaware that universal suffrage can be in the form of indirect election or direct election.

In my letter, I never said anything against universal suffrage per se, only the direct-election mode of it, through which China has been subjected to threats of secession by Taiwan.

The indirect-election mode of universal suffrage, as provided for in Article 45 of the Basic Law, would have provided some safeguard against threats.

But what I would really like to see introduced is a positive instrument, a piece of legislation such as the US Patriot Act. The mainland has such an antisecession law and hopefully in Hong Kong it can be introduced under Article 23.

Yes, respect the voters' wishes, but not when it is secession.

I am sure even the US federal government would come down like a ton of bricks if any state tried to secede, as it did in the secession [civil war] of 1861-65, when 11 states tried to secede.

I suppose, in the case of your correspondent, my argument will fall on deaf ears.

Peter Lok, Chai Wan

Strangely the SCMP has not printed a single letter in response to this load of nonsense. 

Would the US government “come down like a ton of bricks” if there was a political party in, say, California that advocated independence?  No, because things have changed in the USA in the last 160 years, and if one of the fifty states did really want to secede it would all be resolved peacefully . 

Scotland does have a party that advocates independence, and they now control the Scottish Parliament.  They will hold a referendum, and if the Scottish people vote for independence then the UK will allow it to happen. 

There have been several other peaceful and amicable break-ups, such as Czechoslovakia becoming the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

So you have to wonder why the SCMP lets Peter Lok put forward such absurd arguments and then fails to print letters that challenge his ridiculous assertions.


Hovering overhead

Sky News have been making the most of the lengthy post-election negotiations, and they even have (or had) a helicopter flying around London to try to make it all more exciting. On Monday when Gordon Brown was making his first resignation speech of the week you could clearly hear it overhead. It was a curious speech, presented in such a low-key way that you might almost have missed what he was saying. You could imagine the headmaster saying "Speak up, boy, and apologize properly", but Brown couldn't quite bring himself to say that he was resigning.

Predictably, the right-wing newspapers were not happy. They had wanted Brown out, but became even more angry when he confirmed that he would be leaving. Their real fear, of course, was that it increased the chance of a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition. For a few hours this terrifying prospect did seem to be a real possibility, but thankfully the moment soon passed, and last night Gordon Brown really resigned and David Cameron finally became PM.

The Liberal Democrats seem to have got a lot of what they wanted, including the promise of a referendum on the Alternative Vote system and various concessions on policy, but is this really an election that anyone would want to win?  You might think not, but 13 years out of power for the Conservatives (and considerably longer for the Liberals) obviously bring a different perspective.

The difficulty for Sky News is that a “rolling news” channel wants things to be happening all the time - and in public. And when the most exciting thing the Sky helicopter can find is Sky's own reporters interviewing other journalists outside the Houses of Parliament there’s clearly a bit of a problem - though there has been other excitement on the channel.


Ridiculous

image

The Sun really is a ridiculous newspaper.  Their front page today has this nonsense about a ‘Brown Monday’:

DEFEATED Gordon Brown yesterday sparked fears of a City meltdown after trying to hijack a Tory-Lib Dem deal for a unity government.

His bid to rise from the dead by persuading the Lib Dems to prop him up raised the prospect of a stock market "Brown Monday".

World markets were expected to dump the Pound as the deadlock at Westminster continued to cause widespread political and financial chaos.

A deadline for coming to a coalition deal last night was missed - opening up the prospect of a massive wobble when the markets opened at 7am today.

Mr Brown made a desperate late bid to get the Lib Dems on side.

Despite claiming he was acting in the nation's interests, his meddling was not welcome by City experts as he threatened Nick Clegg's delicate talks with David Cameron.

City experts?  Pah..  So how is the Pound?  Here’s The Guardian

9.49am: Looking at Britain again, and the pound has strengthened against the dollar to a morning high of $1.4984 (from $1.48 last Friday). This has compounded (for now at least) speculation of a 'Brown Monday' on the markets as investors ditched the pound because of fears of a Hung Parliament.

12.04pm: The pound perks up after the Bank of England's decision to leave interest rates on hold. It rose 1.4% against the dollar to hit the day's high at $1.5017, but was little changed against the euro.


Infamy, infamy

I think the SCMP only employ Lau Nai-keung to annoy people (or maybe he pays them to publish the nonsense he writes).  Today he gives us the theory that the Western media are just jealous of China (Fakes offend Chinese as much as anyone - subscription required):

After the grand opening of the Beijing Olympics, some aspects of the show were later pounced on by the media. For one, some of the "live" fireworks seen marching through the city towards the "Bird Nest" stadium were computer generated. Then, the nine-year-old girl with the seemingly perfect combination of an angelic face and voice actually lip-synched her routine because the real singer was not pretty enough.

[...] this was like finding treasure for some China-bashers in the western media, and they made a big fuss about it. Let me tell you something: if the Chinese authorities had really wanted to fake things, like any other government, they would have made it a state secret, and nobody would have been allowed to even talk about it.

What nonsense!  How can you fake a firework display in Beijing and keep it secret?  It's not possible.  I don't think anyone would have cared too much if they had announced at the time what they done, but they did try to keep it secret, they failed, and of course that aroused media interest - as it would done if a UK or US broadcaster had done something similar (and fakery is a very hot topic in the British media right now).

The real fuss, it turns out, is not about the show. Critics just used these facts to insinuate that China is faking it and cheating in the competitions. A case in point are the female gymnasts. Unlike their American counterparts, the Chinese girls are so tiny that westerners suspect they must be underage. An American reporter pointedly asked one of the athletes whether she was, in fact, 16. Many western media reports dwelled on this point, citing incidents in the opening ceremony as substantiation of their claims.

It all boils down to one thing: some people are bad losers. If indeed they have so-called "evidence", as they claim, I suggest they file a formal complaint with the International Olympics Committee, which is obligated to do something. Defamation will not help anybody get a gold medal.

Watching the Chinese athletes grabbing one gold after another, I fully understand the feelings of some westerners. Many find it difficult to accept that the Chinese are coming up so fast. It will take time for them to adjust their superiority complex and acknowledge Chinese as equals. It is a western problem, not a Chinese one. The Chinese are basking in the glory and pride; they do not care what these people think.

I'm sure the Chinese people don't care, but if some of the Chinese gymnasts were too young to compete then that's breaking the rules, and again it is bizarre to think that any country would get away with this.  A complaint has been made to the IOC (Olympic probe into gymnasts' ages) and they are investigating - but I think we would all expect the documentation to support what the authorities have been saying all along. 

Any country that wins as many medals as China has done is bound to come under scrutiny.  It comes with the territory.


Wrong again

Gotta love it when they get it so spectacularly wrong.

This morning (Hong Kong time) it seemed like a done deal - Barack Obama's convincing victory in the New Hampshire primary was very bad news for Hillary Clinton.  Then over the next few hours the headlines changed, first pointing to a dead heat and then to Clinton's victory.

Oops.  Opinion polls?  Wrong?  Well, that's never happened before, has it.  Except perhaps when Labour was headed for victory in 1992, or when Zogby confidently called the Presidential Election for John Kerry in 2004.  

All this was changing while British newspapers were being printed, so the early editions will have been stuffed full of articles about the drastic things that Hillary Clinton would have to do to have any hope of reviving her campaign.  Articles that suddenly disappeared from the front pages of their websites and were hastily rewritten for the later editions.


Not what I was expecting, but...

About six months ago I was hoping that the the problems in Thailand would get resolved peacefully.  It now rather looks as if they will be, but only because the military have staged a coup and ousted Thaksin Shinawatra, the democratically elected prime minister.  Which wasn't really what I had in mind as an ideal outcome.  And yet...

One of the problems with democracy is that sometimes the voters pick the wrong person.  You have to wonder what possessed the the British Conservative Party to choose first William Hague and then Ian Duncan-Smith as the leader of their party.  That would never have happened in the old days when the party grandees would rouse themselves from their comfortable chairs and choose a "suitable" person to take on the job.  It goes without saying that they wouldn't have chosen David Cameron (or at least not just yet).

The Thai people chose Thaksin because he seemed to offer a change from the past.  When he proved to be no different from most of his predecessors, he should have lost the next election and disappeared from public life.  Indeed, if the voters of Bangkok had their way, then that is exactly what would have happened, but Thaksin remained extremely popular with the electorate in the rest of the country.  As far as they were concerned, he had made a promise to help them and he hadn't let them down, so they were happy to vote for him.  In a democracy, the majority prevail over the minority, and the majority of people in Thailand live in rural areas. 

Thaksin could probably have remained in power, but he really pushed his luck by ignoring the King's opinions and also trying to put his own people in to run the military.  He must have know that this was a high-risk strategy, and hardly a wise thing for an unpopular leader to do, especially so soon after the fuss about the way that he had avoided paying tax on the sales of his company.  Winning an election does not mean that you can do whatever you want  

Nevertheless, I'm sure there are scores (if not hundreds) of leaders in newspapers around the world today expressing grave concerns about the way that democracy has been undermined in Thailand.  Well, yes, but I suspect that history will judge that Thaksin did rather more to damage to democracy in Thailand than Tuesday's coup.

So whilst I feel uneasy about Thaksin being deposed by a military coup, and by the King's role in all of this, it's hard to escape the conclusion that a new civilian government and a revised constitution could very well be the best outcome.


Scary

What on earth is going on in Thailand

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was criticized for retaining ownership of Shin Corp.  So he sold it, but his opponents complained that he had sold it to a Singaporean company and not paid tax on the proceeds.  They stepped up their campaign to make him resign, and Thaksin called their bluff by announcing an election.  Now his opponents say they will boycott the election.

And so it goes on.  Nothing Thaksin says or does (short of resigning) will satisfy his critics, and yet if he should resign there is (as far as I am aware) no obvious successor. 

I find myself agreeing with The Economist (subscription required) - Thaksin may be a dodgy character, but he was democratically elected and it would not be a good thing for him to be forced out of office:

THIS newspaper has never been a great fan of Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's embattled prime minister. His rise to power was fuelled by money, and his money obtained in part by patronage. When, in early 2001, he was on the point of winning his first election, we compared him to Italy's Silvio Berlusconi. It was not intended as a compliment.

In office, Mr Thaksin has been a mixed blessing. He has handled the economy reasonably efficiently, and has therefore managed to afford the extravagant handouts with which he wooed the rural electorate in 2001, and again last year. In other spheres, though, his touch has been much less sure. Sheer governmental incompetence, for example, is the main reason why discontent in Thailand's Muslim south has bubbled over into insurrection and bloodshed.

[..]

The danger in Thailand is that Mr Thaksin's foes will try to achieve through “people power” what they do not have the numbers to achieve at the polls, or that the army will revert to its previous habit of interfering in politics. In either case, it would not be Mr Thaksin who is democracy's enemy, but those who refuse to accept that he has won an electoral mandate.

If Thailand was a more mature democracy all this would be about as relevant as the Republicans impeaching Bill Clinton, but it isn't, and so the stakes are a bit higher.  Like The Economist, I don't feel entirely comfortable with supporting Thaksin against "the people", but really there is no alternative.  I hope it all gets sorted out one way or another.