Posts Tagged ‘Cheltenham Festival of Literature’

Stephen Hawking to Play The Book in New Series of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

February 18, 2018

The I newspaper yesterday reported that the physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, is set to play the Book in a new radio series of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Entitled ‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Hexagonal Edition’ the series will commemorate the original show on Radio 4 back in 1978, featuring the original cast.

I loved the original series of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the first two books based on the show, the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. However, I lost interest in it after the third book. I tried reading the fourth, only to give up. I think by that time Douglas Adams himself was growing tired of writing them. I’ve heard someone say on an interview that he was only lured back to write his last Hitch-Hiker book by the publisher’s promise that in it he could destroy every possible Earth in every possible universe. So I’m not sure I’ll listen to it, especially as the series is being carried on by other writers.

I also wasn’t impressed by Adams’ expressed contempt for the genre he wrote in. Back in the 1990s he was interviewed on the radio by Paxo, who said his book was Science Fiction, but different. It was good. Adams replied by saying that he didn’t write Science Fiction. Which is odd, because that’s what Hitch-Hiker is. But I guess Adams wanted to avoid being pigeonholed as a genre writer.

At that time the prejudice of the literary establishment towards Science Fiction and Fantasy was much stronger than it is now. I can remember seeing Terry Pratchett speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, saying how the organisers looked on him as if he was going to talk to people about fixing motorcycles. There’s a clip of the BBC arts programme, The Late Review, in which the Oxford lecturer and poet, Tom Paulin, and a female litterateur are asked to review one of Pratchett’s books, where they both make very disparaging remarks. The woman states that she felt like writing across it in big lines ‘I cannot read any more’. Paulin compared it to lifting up a stone to find all these weird people doing weird things underneath it. And going further back to the 1950s Brian Aldiss commented in The Trillion Year Spree that at that time, despite being championed by Kingsley Amis, pornography had a better reputation than Science Fiction amongst the literary elite.

Pratchett had to fight against that literary snobbishness throughout his life, but is now being taken very seriously by critics. I think Adams avoided it. Back in the ’90s he and Hitch-Hiker were the subjects of one edition of the South Bank Show with Melvin Bragg. But perhaps the price of that critical acclaim was his denial that he wrote Science Fiction at all.

But other people are different, and so I’ve no doubt that there are millions of Hitch-Hiker fans out there, who will be delighted to hear the news. They know who they are. They’re the people, who bought merchandising, like the Hitch-Hiker bath towels. This was a large, white bath towel with the text from the HHGG talking about how every Hitch-Hiker really needed to know where their towel was on it. I found one of those in Forever People, the comics/ SF shop in Bristol. The show’s fans are also the people, who organised conventions with dubious names like ‘Slartibartday’, after one of the creators of the Earth, Slartibartfast.

Hawking is in many ways an ideal choice for The Book after the death of Peter Jones, who was its original voice on Radio 4 and then in the BBC 2 TV series. He already has an electronic voice to fit the character of an electronic book, and is a world famous space scientist and advocate of space colonisation. But you wonder how massive his ego will be after playing a publication, which the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy describes as, amongst some people, having displaced the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom.

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Lembit Opik Goes through the Papers on RT: Loss of International Agencies, Cruelty to Animals and Tory Austerity Deaths

November 22, 2017

This is another great piece from RT. It’s their version of that section on the British mainstream news shows, like Andrew Marr and the morning news, where they go through the papers with a guest commenting on stories of interest. In this piece from RT’s Going Underground, main man Afshin Rattansi’s guest is Lembit Opik, the former Lib Dem MP for one of the Welsh constituencies. Opik lost his seat at the election some time ago. Before then he was jocularly known as ‘the Minister for Asteroids’ by Private Eye, because his grandfather was an astronomer from one of the Baltic Countries, and Opik himself took very seriously the threat of asteroid Armageddon in the 1990. I can remember meeting him at a talk on ‘Asteroid Impacts’ one year at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, where he and the other panellists, including Duncan Steele, an Australian astronomer who now teaches over here urged the world’s governments to set up an early warning system to defend Earth from such catastrophes.

Here, Opik picks out the stories from the papers about how Britain has lost its position as the seat, or with a member on, three international regulatory agencies as a result of Brexit. We no longer have a candidate sitting at the International Court of Justice. The European Medical Agency will go to Amsterdam, and the European Banking Authority will go to Paris. Opik makes the point that all these agencies are leaving Britain, as there’s no point in them being here if we’re not in the EU.

There’s a bit of lively, spirited disagreement between Opik and Rattansi, which doesn’t seem to be entirely serious. And in fact, the tone of their conversation makes me wonder if they didn’t have quite a good lunch with liquid refreshment. Rattansi is something of a ‘Leave’ supporter, and says in reply that they can go. We don’t want them. And perhaps if the International Court of Justice actually worked, we could prosecute some of those responsible for war crimes.

Opik’s next story is about a ruling by the Tories that animals don’t feel pain, and have no emotions. Which he points out will amaze anyone, who’s ever had a dog or seen one howl. He and Rattansi then comment about how this is all about the Tories trying to make it easier for themselves to go fox hunting, and for Trump and his children to kill more animals.

Opik then goes on to a funnier story, which nevertheless has a serious point. Documents released to Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information Act have shown that Britain lobbied Brazil over obtaining the rights for Shell and BP to drill for oil in more of the Brazilian rainforest. This is a serious issue. What makes it funny is that the government tried to redact the information. However, they got it wrong, and instead of blacking out the embarrassing pieces of information, they highlighted them instead in yellow marker. Which they then sent to Greenpeace’s head of operations. Opik then goes on to make the very serious point that this is information, that the government was trying to hide from us.

The last story is from the Independent. It’s about the finding by one of the peer-reviewed British medical journals that the Tories’ austerity policy is responsible for 120,000 deaths, in what has been described as ‘economic murder’. Opik’s sceptical of this claim, as he says he’s seen stats misused like this before. Rattansi counters in reply by saying that it does come from a peer-reviewed medical journal. Opik does, however, accept that Tory austerity policies have harmed some people, but is sceptical whether its 120,000.

These reports show that Britain is losing its influence on the world stage as a result of voting to leave the European Union. There’s even the possibility that we will lose our place on the UN Security Council if Scotland breaks away. It’s also interesting to hear Rattansi remind Opik that David Davis, the Tory MP, claimed that Britain wouldn’t lose her position as the base for various international agencies and ruling bodies if we left the EU. This is another failed prediction from the Tories. Or another lie, if you prefer.

As for the Conservatives ruling that animals don’t feel pain, the Independent states that this is ‘anti-science’. Absolutely. I think anyone, who has ever kept a pet knows that animals do feel pain, and do have emotions. Or at least, creatures like birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. My guess is that they’ve passed this ruling not just as a way of making the return of fox hunting easier, but as part of an attack on a whole range of animal rights legislation, which they probably see as a burden on farming and industry. Like whatever legislation there is protecting the wellbeing of farm animals or regulating vivisection. And it is very definitely an ‘anti-science’ ruling. It seems that new discoveries are being made regularly showing how animal cognition and mental abilities are much more sophisticated than we previously believed. For example, crows are able to make and use tools. They’ll use sticks to open tin cans, for example. This amazed scientists when they first discovered it, as tool use was previously considered to be confined to primates. And in yesterday’s I there was a report on the finding by scientists that sheep can recognise human faces. And yes, the I has also carried several stories over the years about how scientists have found that dogs really do have emotions. When I read these, my reaction was ‘No sh*t, Sherlock!’ It’s very obvious that dogs do have emotions. But not, apparently, to the baying anti-science morons in the Tory party.

Mike put up the story about medical researchers finding that Tory policies have killed 120,000 people in the UK. I don’t entirely blame Opik for being sceptical, as there have been similar claims made that have been vastly inflated. However I don’t doubt that this is true in this case. We have over a hundred thousand people forced to use food banks, and millions of people living in ‘food insecure’ households, where they don’t know when they’ll eat again. Even if poverty and starvation do not directly cause their deaths, they are a contributing cause by leaving them vulnerable to other factors, such as disease or long-term illness, hypothermia and so on. And there are at least 700 people, who have been directly killed by the Tories’ austerity. These people died of starvation, or diabetic comas when they could not afford to keep their insulin in a fridge, or in despair took their own lives. They’ve been commemorated and their cases recorded by Johnny Void, Stilloaks, Mike at Vox Political, and the great peeps at DPAC.

Many of these poor souls actually left notes behind saying that they were killing themselves because they couldn’t afford to live.

But the DWP has refused to accept it, and blithely carries on repeating the lie that there’s no link between their deaths and austerity. And certainly not with the murderous sanctions system introduced by David Cameron and Ian Duncan Smith.

Rattansi was right about the failure of the International Court of Justice to prosecute the war criminals, who led us into the Iraq invasion and other wars in the Middle East. But nevertheless, there was an attempt to have Bush, Blair and their fellow butchers and liars hauled before international justice for their crimes against humanity. A group of British, Greek and Canadian lawyers and activists tried to bring a prosecution, and the lawyer in charge of looking into the case was, at least initially, interested. Then American exceptionalism won out once again, and the US placed pressure on the court to throw out the case.

Being tried for war crimes is just something that happens to other, lesser nations, you see.

If there were any true, international justice, Blair and the rest of New Labour and Bush’s vile neocons would find themselves in the dock, like the other genocides and mass-murderers who’ve been punished. And I’d just love to see Cameron, Smith, Damian Green, Esther McVie and Theresa May join them for their ‘chequebook genocide’ against the disabled.

But unfortunately that ain’t going to happen. However, we can at least get them out before they kill many more people.

Hillary Clinton to Appear on Graham Norton Show Tonight – But Will He Ask Her About Corrupt Uranium Deal?

October 20, 2017

I’ve been posting various articles this week attacking Hillary Clinton and the lies she’s been spinning as she promotes her book, What Happened. This is her account of how she failed to be elected the first female president of the US in 2016, losing to the fake-tanned, bewigged maniac now determined to plunge us all into a new Cold War. Killary was in Australia one week, where one Ozzie journo caught her telling five whoppers when she was interviewed on ABC. She has since come to England, where she’s been speaking at the South Bank Centre and at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature.

She’s going to appear on the Graham Norton Show tonight, Friday 20th October 2017, at 10.35 pm. The blurb for the programme on page 114 of the Radio Times states

Hillary Clinton talks to Graham about the US presidential campaign, as detailed in her book What Happened. Jeff Goldblum, Gerard Butler and Jack Whitelaw join her on the sofa.

Another piece on the previous page, 113, adds rather more information.

This time last year Hillary Clinton had her heart set on the Oval Office and probably expected to spend her evenings on a White House sofa. How on earth has she ended up on Graham Norton’s couch instead? She’ll tell him “What Happened” while discussing her new book about her annus horribilis.

Here’s hoping Clinton doesn’t try to describe 2016 after a glass or two of Norton’s house reserve, though. He’s never one to resist a red, white and blue gag.

As with so much, you are not going to hear the unvarnished truth from Clinton because, to paraphrase the old Hollywood line, ‘she can’t handle the truth.’ The simple truth is that many ordinary, working Americans were sick and tired of the poverty and massive income inequality the Reaganite neoliberalism championed by her and Bill had created. They were sick and tired about public programmes being cut, while money was poured into the banks and big businesses that were already bloated from public money anyway, and which had profited massively from the economic mess they’d created. They were sick and tired of American imperialism, of seeing their finest young men and women sent off to kill and be killed in countries which, with the exception of Afghanistan, had not attacked America on the orders of a lying president, just as Brits are sick and tired of the same neoliberal policies and the same militarism heavily promoted by the Clinton’s fan and George Dubya’s poodle over here, Tony Blair. These wars are being fought not to defend America or promote democracy, but simply to despoil and loot these other nations for the benefit of western, chiefly American, multinationals.

She lost because Americans were sick of rising medical bills, which a growing number simply can’t afford, even after Obamacare. And far from being the traditional image of the welfare recipient as an unemployed scrounger, the majority of these poor around the developed world are working people, who are now paid so poorly thanks to Thatcherite doctrines of pay restraint, that they have to work two or three jobs simply to keep their heads above water, go on welfare, or, in Britain, subsist using food banks.

And the American public, Blacks and Whites, also remembered how she exaggerated the threat of crime by young Black men, in order to push through highly punitive legislation that now sees something half of the Black American male population go to the slammer. For the profit of the privatised prison system, of course.

American women saw through her faux-feminism, in which she tried to present herself as campaigning for all women, when in fact she was a bog-standard corporate insider, despite her repeated claims that she had to be an outsider, ’cause she was female. Killary represented nobody but herself and the other, rich, entitled women like her. She was perceived as massively corrupt, massively insincere, and profoundly unsympathetic to the plight of ordinary working people.

But Killary can’t handle any of this, and so has been running round blaming everyone but herself. She’s blamed Bernie Sanders, the genuinely left-wing Democrat she and the head of the Democratic National Convention, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, stitched up and from whom she stole the nomination. She’s also blamed the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, who was a stronger feminist figure. Both she and Bernie promised Americans Medicare for all. She’s blamed it on a culture of misogyny. While this does exist, her claim that she was being bullied because of her gender by Sanders’ supporters is another lie.

And she’s also ramped up international tension by blaming the Russians. Because WikiLeaks published internal Democrat party documents showing just how corrupt she was. She’s claimed that Russian hackers were responsible for this, when in fact the former British diplomat, who took custody of them for WikiLeaks, said that they came from a Democrat Party insider.

And Killary has absolutely no business screaming at others and accusing them of corrupt dealings with Putin’s Russia, when this is exactly what she and her husband and the chief himself, Barack Obama, did. A little while ago, the New York Times broke the story that before she signed off on a deal, which saw uranium mines in Kazakhstan and a fifth of the uranium processing industry in America itself taken over by a consortium of Russian companies, the Clinton Foundation received $145 million from individuals connected with these companies. And her husband, Bill, was given $500,000 for a speech he gave to a Russian bank.

One of her aides, Brodnitz, pointed out in an internal document for her campaign that this affair would damage her electoral chances, and put people off voting for her. Now the American paper, the Hill, has also published a piece reporting that the FBI was investigating her and Bill for two years for this, but the Department of Justice only decided to release the details to the public after the deal had gone through. Thus, Obama had actively connived at preventing her and Bill’s possible prosecution for it, until after the deal had been made. And very profitable it was too for her and Bill, though possibly not for the American taxpayer.

In the video below, the American comedian Jimmy Dore and his co-hosts, Ron Placone and Steffi Zamorano, the Miserable Liberal, discuss this latest revelation of Killary’s corruption and double-dealing.

This is just more evidence that Bernie should have got the nomination. If he had, he would have been the far stronger opponent to Trump. And we just could now have a genuinely progressive, Democratic government. This would, in turn, have been a filip to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party over here, as well as genuine left-wingers and Socialists elsewhere in the world.

But this would have been too much for the corporate hawks running Congress to stomach, so they gave it instead to Killary. Who then lost to an even worse candidate, Trump, but one who was better at articulating popular American hopes and fears than she was.

I like Graham Norton. He’s a genial host, although I’ve long stopped watching his show. I dare say he’ll get Killary to talk at length about her book, and she’ll spin and lie about the reasons she lost, just like she’s been lying to interviewers and the paying public all over America, Australia, Britain and the rest of the civilised world. I dare say that Norton will ask her some awkward-ish questions, but they won’t be so awkward that they’ll embarrass her or stop her making similar appearances in the future.

But I doubt very much he’ll ask her about her very real corruption scandals, like the above relationship with the Russians or the handsome payments she got from Wall Street in return for protecting them from further regulation.

From RT: McDonnell States We Will Not Sell Arms to States Abusing Human Rights

September 29, 2017

In this short clip from RT, presenter Afshin Rattansi asks John McDonnell about the party’s policy regarding arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Both he (McDonnell) and Jeremy Corbyn have both said that arms sales to Saudi Arabia should be suspended because of their use against civilians in the war in Yemen. Rattansi then asks him if he doesn’t find it odd walking past posters for BAE Systems. McDonnell replies that their stance is that Britain has an arms trade, but we must stop selling arms to human rights abusers, like Saudi Arabia. And this has to stop immediately, because people are dying.

I find it grossly immoral that the Labour party has accepted sponsorship from BAE, which has for decades sold arms to every dictator and butcher on the planet, as well as desperately poor states, who don’t need them, can’t maintain them, and whose purchase diverts money that could be better used on welfare or development programmes for their people. They are also responsible for making weapons that are illegal under international law, such as electric shields and batons.

Unfortunately, big business has wormed its way into the sponsorship of the Labour party, and Tony Blair was as fully supportive of the merchants of death as the Tories were. McDonnell’s statement that he and Corbyn won’t sell arms to the Saudis and the other repressive regimes around the globe sound like a restatement of the late Robin Cook’s ‘ethical foreign policy’, which became a dead letter almost as soon as Labour got into power.

Cook was, in many people’s eyes, the man who should have been head of the Labour party instead of Blair. Speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature nearly two decades or so ago, Giles Brandreth said that when he was a minister in Major’s cabinet, Cook was the man they were most afraid would lead Labour because of his ‘forensic intelligence’. He was genuinely further left, and Private Eye opined that Blair included him in the cabinet because ‘it was better to have him in the tent p*ssing out, than outside p*ssing in.’

The Tories, Lib Dems, the Beeb, the rest of the media, and big business are terrified of Corbyn and McDonnell. This strongly suggests to me that they are afraid that Corbyn, unlike Blair, means what he says. And McDonnell is right: the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia needs to be stopped now. The war hasn’t just killed the people hit by the bullets and bombs. It’s also created a famine that may kill 7 million people.

The Saudis have butchered innocent civilians in factories, mosques and schools, simply because they’re Shi’a. They were also responsible for the 9/11 attack that plunged us into the War on Terror and which was falsely blamed on Iraq. They have also funded and supplied other aid to ISIS in its trail of murder and chaos across the Middle East. I’m aware that the Saudis have turned against ISIS after they released a video trying to encourage the people there to rise up against their rulers. Even so, my guess is that support for the jihadis is nevertheless very strong. Any guns and other ‘wonderful kit’ – in the words of David Cameron – we sell to the Saudis therefore has a strong chance of being passed on to the fanatics to be used against our troops.

There are thus very strong humanitarian and selfish reasons for not selling any further weapons to the Saudis.

Owen Jones on the Chilcot Report, the Iraq War and Tony Blair

July 6, 2016

The news today has been dominated by the Chilcot report, and its findings about the launch of the Iraq War by Tony Blair. In this video from Owen Jones, the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, gives his view on the moral and possible legal culpable of Blair for starting a war that has killed hundreds of thousands, destroyed an entire nation, and caused the entire Middle East to descend further into chaos and carnage.

He states that the report’s publication and its conclusions gives him no satisfaction, but it does vindicate what opponents of the war had said. He quotes a Labour MP, Simpson, who used to be his boss, who stated that Blair was desperate to join Bush in a war regardless of the cause; that the country was being pushed to war. He notes that Chilcot has also confirmed that the intelligence reports, which formed the basis for Blair’s decision to go to war, were ‘flawed’. He quotes Christian Aid, a charity, not a political organisation, who also opposed the war because they believed it would lead to further internal violence in Iraq, and that Iran would seek its own advantages. Jones notes that at the time the anti-War protesters were attacked and vilified by a press determined to promote the war. He also urges his viewers not to be taken in by Blair, when the man the Italians dubbed ‘The Scrounger’ (but in Italian, obviously) says that it’s all obvious in hindsight, but couldn’t be known at the time. Jones makes it very clear from all the above that it was very clearly understood by the war’s opponents at the time how dreadful it would be and the terrible consequences.

Jones states that the report doesn’t conclude whether there is a legal base for prosecuting Blair. He hopes that is the case, and that there will now be moves to see if such a trial is possible. But even if he isn’t legally liable, he is morally culpable. He, and the media that enabled and promoted the war, have to live with that. And the consequences of this conflict will be with us for decades to come.

Jones is correct, and his video is cut with shots of anti-war protests and demonstrators. It’s refreshing to see on this video quotations from the Labour and Left-wing protesters against the war, like Jones’ old boss, Simpson, and the late Robin Cook. Cook resigned because of the war, and was arguable the man, who should have led the Labour party. I can remember seeing Simon Hoggart, the journalist and compere of the News Quiz on Radio 4, Giles Brandreth, a former Tory cabinet minister, before he became one of the faces on The One Show, and Brandreth’s Labour opposite number, talking about political diaries at the Cheltenham Literary Festival one year. Brandreth said that Cook was the man the Tories were dreading would lead Labour, because of his incisive, forensic intelligence. At the time, here in my part of the West Country, most of the voices raised in protest were Tories. On the local news this evening the Bridgwater MP, Tom King, and two other Tories have appeared commenting on the Report and how they were against the war at the time. This is true. Peter Hitchens, the former Marxist, now right-wing journo, has always made it very clear that he despises Blair for starting wars that have sent good men and women to deaths for absolutely no good reason. And while I don’t like Hitchen’s views on the return of the death penalty, or his tough stance on law ‘n’ order, I respect him for his views on Blair. I am much more suspicious about other members of the Tory party, because of the way they threw their weight behind Maggie’s and Major’s wars – the Falklands and then Gulf War I. I wondered at the time how much of their opposition was due principle, and how much was simply because Blair had stolen their mantle as the ‘war party’, just like he stole so much of Conservatism. Their opposition to the war did have some effect. One of my friends, who’s actually very left-wing, started reading the Spectator for a time, because it ran articles by a leading Tory – possibly Matthew Parris, but I couldn’t swear to it – attacking the war. It’s good to be reminded that there were those on the Left as well, who marched and protested against it. And not just the supporters of George Galloway.

As for the intelligence that Blair used to take us to war, Chilcot is too kind, or perhaps just understandably cautious, when he refers to it as ‘flawed’. It wasn’t. It was deliberately doctored. And from what I understand from Lobster – which is a vociferous opponent of British intelligence services – the pressure to inflate and distort the evidence came, not from the intelligence services, but from Blair and his cabinet.

Jeremy Corbyn has made it very clear that he wishes to prosecute Bliar for war crimes. I don’t know if that will ever happen, as I can imagine the political and media class closing ranks very quickly to shut down that possibility. But the Chilcot report does show that Bliar is morally, if not legally culpable, as Jones points out. The rhyme was right:

Blair lied:
People died.

And the tragedy and injustice is that people have gone on and will go on dying, long after Blair has receded from public life.

Quentin Letts and the Tory Attack on Short Money

January 21, 2016

Last week or so Mike over at Vox Political put up a piece about the Tories wishing to abolish Short money. This is the funding given by the state to opposition parties. I’m not actually surprised the Tories want to get rid of it. They’re authoritarians anyway, who hate any kind of opposition. But I’m particularly not surprised they’ve decided to attack Short money, as it’s one of the issues criticised by Quentin Letts in his 2009 book, Bog Standard Britain (London: Constable and Robinson Ltd).

Letts is the parliamentary sketch writer for the Daily Heil. He’s been one of the panellists at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, and also on at least one edition of Have I Got News For You. Here’s what he has to say about it in his book:

Our political class has a horror of losing its perks. Nothing new. In 1970, soon after losing the general election, Harold Wilson was seen queuing for a taxi late one night outside the Members’ Entrance to the Commons. Friends of Wilson were distraught. A few days earlier he had been Prime Minister but there he now was, waiting for a cab like the rest of humanity. Instead of seeing this, as they should have done, as eloquent testimony to the ephemeral nature of elected office, Harold’s cronies secured him a state-paid limo and chauffeur.

We have been paying ever since for Leaders of the Opposition to be thus pampered. In 1974, having regained the premiership, Wilson returned the compliment by slipping the shadow cabinet a wad of public money. This ‘Short money’, named after Edward Short, the Labour minister who presented the proposal to Parliament, is now worth some £7 million a year to the Opposition parties. short money was given on the premise that an Opposition would be improved by having researchers who could prepare meaningful policies. It would result in better government. Nice one! In practice, Short money allows an Opposition to save its money for election campaigning. This creates an arms race of electoral fundraising which in turn results in dodgy donors being given undue pre-eminence over the political parties’ mass membership. Short money also allows Opposition spokesmen to keep large retinues which makes them feel important and saves them having to do so much thinking for themselves. Result: an overblow secretariat, lazy parliamentarians, hefty bills which have to be picked up by the taxpayer. Short money is an expensive con. All it has done is expand a professional political class. And all because socialist Harold’s friends thought it was improper that he should have to queue for a taxi. (pp. 219-20).

Letts’ party political bias is evident here. He despises ‘Socialist’ Harold Wilson, for having money given to him and his party after he left office. I’ve no idea whether the story about the limo and Wilson waiting at a taxi stand is true. I assume it is. But that’s not the reason the Tories want to get rid of it, nor is the explanation that it’s all about curtailing the bloated retinues and pomp of the political class. If that were the case, then Cameron would be happy to see greater clarity of the political process through the Freedom of Information Act, and by quite happy to see MPs’ expenses scrutinised by the press.

In fact, the opposite is the case. Cameron and his hand-picked cronies, including Jack Straw, are doing their best to rip the guts out of FOIA. They don’t like people challenging government decisions, and particularly not when it comes to MPs’ expenses. Hence the government got very huffy when the Independent asked for them under the Freedom of Information Act. Campaigners and journalists making such requests have been told that the Act is to allow people to understand how government decisions are made, not for them to challenge them. So shut up, run along, and do what we tell you. We’re back to the old slogan of Mussolini:

Believe.
Obey.
Fight.

As for forcing parties to rely on their grassroots’ members’ subscriptions, rather than contributions from wealthy donors, that’s a load of hogwash as well. The Tories are raking huge wads of cash from their backers in business, as well as corporate largesse from courtesy of lobbyists. And they have absolutely no interest in what their ordinary members have to say. The local, constituency parties have complains again and yet again that they are ignored at Westminster. The effect of corporate funding on the parties has been that they’ve all shrunk, both Labour and the Tories. The Tories are now under 100,000 members. That’s a massive fall for the party that was, not so long ago, Britain’s largest, with at least a quarter of million members.

They simple fact is that the Tories want to stifle the opposition anyway they can. And they’re trying to do it by starving them of funds. This explains the latest Tory attack on the union levy. And simply by their attack on the Freedom of Information Act, it seems to bear out that the Short money must actually be doing the task for which it was intended, namely, allow the Opposition to frame policies better. That’s clearly a danger as they’re trying to stop people using the Freedom of Information Act, not just by narrowing even further what may be released under it, but also by raising the fees charged.

This is clearly a very, very frightened government.

Well, if Cameron wants to play that game, then I suggest Labour also plays it too. Mike suggested that Labour should immediately cease any co-operation with the Tories, such as the pairing agreement, which states that if one Tory MP can’t make it to a debate, his Labour opposite number must be drop out as well. The Tories only have a majority of 16. Let’s make it impossible for them to govern.

Way back in the 1970s and ’80s, any government that consider cutting Short money could count on being told by the Mandarins in Whitehall that the policy was ‘very courageous’. Meaning, to those who used to watch Yes, Minister, that it was likely to lose them election. Let’s put that into practice, and make sure that it does.