Jesurgislac’s Journal

May 12, 2010

Wednesday Recipe Blogging: ConDem Cocktail


    306 Conservative MPs
    57 Liberal Democrat MPs
    A shot of ambition
    A double-shot of lust for power

Mix in tall jug of disbelieving horror

Pour into House of Commons

Add two public schoolboys

Scream and refuse to drink it.

Jokes on Twitter about ConDem compromises: (tag: #torylibdempolicies)

1. Gay people to be allowed to have a bed but not breakfast at Christian B&Bs.
2. The UK will remain in Europe, but strictly in the geographical sense.
3. Terminally ill patients will have the right to die… but only if they can’t afford to pay for their care.
4. Proportional representation Rupert Murdoch style – the more money you have, the more votes you get.
5. A cap on immigrants, but only for immigrants who arrive not wearing a cap.
6. Split Easter Bunny from Santa Claus so they can operate as 2 different organisations. Sell 49% of shares in Santa and reinvest in the Tooth Fairy.
7. Red tape to be cut… into little strips about 6 inches long and used to tie Diploma Certificates into bundles – to burn (Alternatively: Red tape to be replaced with muddy green tape.)
8. More funding to help under-privileged kids, through a series of new “workhouses”. Sure start scheme for chimney sweeps.
9. Immigrants to be rounded up and killed but their heirs made exempt from inheritance tax.
10. All bribes to be taken in Euros.
11. Bankers to be allowed hedge funds if they stick to privet.
12. Massive wall to be built across English Channel. With a door.
13. Gay partnerships allowed Wed to Fri only. Winter fuel allowance cut except for Old Etonians. Sure Start on Thursdays.
14. Public schoolboys’ fags to receive minimum wage.
15. Gay married couples to get a £150 tax break… towards a one way air fare to anywhere outside the British empire.
16. An open and free, unbiased media. Owned by Rupert Murdoch.
17. Full support for Europe, but refer to the ‘The British Empire’ within ear-shot of any euro-sceptics.
18. Massive cuts to public services, spread proportionately across the north, Scotland and Wales.
19. William the Hague to form stable whilst Nick the Clegg mucks out. Horses surprised.
20. A penny on income tax for schools, no sorry a penny OFF income tax paid for by schools.
21. Proportional representation in LibDem seats – forever.
22. All domestic staff to be given Right To Buy Own Aga and to receive a Golden Retriever Allowance.
23. Proportional representation, but only for the House of Lords
24. Fair taxes for all foreigners living abroad.
25. Reduce the deficit slowly, to allow for tax cuts to the rich.
26. New businesses needn’t pay their first ten employees, particularly if they are gay or immigrants.
27. British Summer Time scrapped in favour of Proportional Daylight Savings. Scottish kids to start school at 3am.
28. London Marathon reformed to abolish first past the post wins.
29. Trident to be scrapped and replaced by Lord Ashdown, the only peer trained to kill with his bare hands.
30. Compulsory moats round all homes to increase water storage.

May 9, 2010

Personal opinions on electoral reform and the Lib Dem position

With the help of the 38 Degrees website, I sent this letter to 30+ “senior Lib Dems”. The subject line I chose was; Labour and LibDems have 52% of the vote & 315 seats in Parliament . I wrote:

I was surprised to find when I did Votematch on the Telegraph website that I actually supported more LibDem policies than I did Labour – though my highest match was Green. I’ve always thought of myself as a Labour voter who votes Green in my Scottish Parliament list vote.

In my constituency, the Lib Dem candidate (I gave their name) was the only one who stood a chance of beating Labour.

I wanted a Hung Parliament – exactly the situation we’re now in – because I wanted the LibDems to have the power to tell Labour, that the next five years of left-wing/liberal government depend on Labour agreeing to change the First Past the Post system of election.

There’s been a list vote and a region vote in Scotland and the result has been ten years of progressive leftwing liberal rule: unquestionably good for our country within the United Kingdon. It’s been tried, it’s worked, and we need it to happen in the UK.

It will not happen if the LibDem ally with the Tory party. I’m hearing on the news as I type that Nick Clegg will meet with David Cameron tonight and talk to his MPs tomorrow. (This was Friday.)

I tell you now, what I told the LibDem candidate earlier today: Labour said before the election that a vote for the LibDems was the same as a vote for the Tories. If Nick Clegg proves Labour correct by allying with David Cameron and giving us another right-wing government, taking us back to Tory Britain even though over half the electorate voted against that, I will never vote LibDem again. And that, in the First Past the Post system that David Cameron will keep in place in order to keep the Tories in power, will matter: I will advocate to any shaky or uncertain voter that if they want to keep the Tories out, they must vote Labour: under no circumstances must they risk voting crypto-Tory by voting LibDem.

Nick Clegg’s talk of respecting the will of the electorate, is meaningless if he is prepared to disregard the will of a 52% majority in order to get himself and his cronies seats in the Cabinet of a Conservative government.

The Sensible Thing To Do

As discussed in previous post, The Arithmetic of Democracy, the next government of the UK – and the future of electoral reform – depends on the deal Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, makes over the next couple of days.

The sensible thing to do is to make a coalition agreement with the Conservatives. A ConLib (or as they’re calling it on Twitter, a ConDem) coalition government has a sufficient majority over the Labour party (and a solid overall majority) that it might well last four or five years if an agreement can be forged to suit both parties. It would mean abandoning PR for the lifetime of this Parliament; it would lend weight to Labour’s campaigning that a vote for the LibDems is a vote for the Conservatives. But it would be sensible, and John Rentoul explains why in the Independent.

Or Nick Clegg can help form a rainbow coalition – Labour, LibDem, SNP, Plaid Cymru, and Green – which can stand against the Conservatives. This rainbow coalition has many disadvantages and only two advantages.

A disadvantage: this rainbow coalition couldn’t hope to stay together for four or five years. It barely achieves a majority in Parliament. SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs seldom spend much time in Westminister: this coalition could fall if five MPs had the flu, four were stuck abroad due to volcanic ash, one was in Lerwick for the weekend and the tenth MP slept in. When the government fell, it would be back to the General Election madness – and while the Conservatives could afford a fullscale campaign with rich donors to back them, no other party could so quickly after the last. Nor would the public in general be happy with having this disruption occur again.

Further: there might be (and there certainly would be a media narrative to that effect) a feeling that by siding with the rainbow coalition, Nick Clegg was joining (in Janet Daley’s charming phrase) a coalition of the losers – never mind that as a group, this bunch of progressive lefties got the larger share of the vote and have more seats in Parliament. More people voted against the Tories than voted for them. But this won’t be the media narrative.

And the key disadvantage: Rupert Murdoch owns 40% of the British media. He wants a Tory government in place to gut the BBC, which competes with his properties. If Nick Clegg does not lie down with the Tories and accept what they choose to give him, the vilification he experienced during the pre-election campaign will be nothing compared to the vilification that will be piled on him post-election. A rainbow coalition government and its constituent parties would be subject to unceasing media attack.

The objective would be, if the rainbow coalition were determined to stay in government until they had got a PR system of election in place and then to call a General Election using PR, to bring down this coalition and to force a General Election by FPTP, with mass media talking up the Tories. So if Nick Clegg goes rainbow, and loses, the next General Election could well have the Tories in place with a big enough majority to form a government without partners – and every incentive to bury PR, perhaps by instituting their own “parliamentary reform”. (David Cameron came up with some cool gerrymandering ideas of “standardised constituencies” that would tend to reduce the number of Labour and SNP seats in Parliament.)

The advantages are only two, but they’re big ones.

One: If the rainbow coalition can work together (and refrain from taking holidays or falling seriously ill) then PR can be delivered. There needs to be a referendum promised in the Queen’s Speech, with a yes vote promising PR for the next General Election: there needs to be some serious work done on which form of PR the UK should adopt: and there needs to be a committment from all partners to oppose the Tories and support the Labour and LibDem policies. The LibDems have been a tail-of-the-dog third party in UK politics for decades, even though they muster 25-30% of the vote: PR should change that permanently. And it’s what a majority of the British people want. 62%, a clear majority, favour a change from FPTP. cite That won’t affect the Tories – their whole opposition to PR is that they want to be in government even though a majority oppose them – but it ought to affect the other parties.

Two: A dealbreaker. I very nearly voted LibDem this time. (I didn’t, because I did some complicated vote-calculations and concluded that the Green party needed my vote more.) I have voted LibDem in past elections, where the candidate seemed like the right person and had a better chance of winning than the Labour candidate. (It’s usually that choice.) But if Nick Clegg demonstrates that voting for the LibDems is pretty much what Labour always says it is – a vote for the Tories – then I’m certainly never voting LibDem again. If Nick Clegg gives up on PR in order to do the sensible thing and get into government, then the UK needs to have a two-party system, Labour v Conservative: we can’t afford to have the LibDems kicking around wasting votes any more.

I’ve been following 38Degrees for a while. On Friday, I e-mailed the senior LibDems via their site, letting them know how I felt. Yesterday, I went to a rally they and other organisations put together. Today, I donated to their campaign to fund full-page newspaper ads to tell Nick Clegg: Don’t sell out on PR. Fair Votes Now!

They began this fundraising campaign just over three hours ago – about 2pm. Their goal was to raise £5000. In three hours they’ve received £14,307 from 925 people. [Update: it’s now 15,235, donated by 976 people, so 50 people donated an average of 18.56 in the past hour and a half. The earlier average was £15.46 per donor, so it looks like donations may be getting bigger as the total goes up… and 4 people just donated an average of £20 each in the last 4 minutes, so, yes.]

We can’t afford to let Nick Clegg do the sensible thing.

The arithmetic of democracy

Formally, any party in the UK Parliament needs at least 326 MPs in order to have the right to form a government.

Current composition of Parliament: Conservatives, 306 seats (will be 307, when the Thirsk and Malton seat can hold its general election – they went emphatically Tory in 2005). Labour, 258 seats. Liberal Democrat, 57 seats.

The Conservatives have the largest single bloc of seats and can therefore claim the right to form a minority government – but Labour and the LibDems can outvote them (315 seats) any time both parties agree they’d rather defeat the Tories.

There’s now one Green MP, and as the Green party has never had an MP at Westminister before, they’ve got no tradition of which party to ally with: but she’s much more likely to vote with Labour or LibDem than with the Tories.

The mainland nationalist parties, Plaid Cymru (3 seats) and the Scottish National Party (SNP, 6 seats) have an informal alliance at Westminster, and are again more likely to vote with Labour or LibDem than with the Tories.

A Labour-LibDem coalition government, that could count on the support of the Plaid Cymru and the SNP and the Green MP, would have 325 seats, an effective majority, and could function against Tory opposition – for a while. This kind of government would be terribly vulnerable to challenges and obstruction, but they might be able to get one or two things done before another General Election had to be called. And what the LibDems very much want to get done, is Proportional Representation – an end to the First Past the Post system in UK government.

Whereas if the Tories get the formal support of the LibDems in full-on coalition, the ConDem coalition government would have 364 seats and be able to function as a government – though it’s really unknown what they could do, since the agreements that the Tories and the LibDems have on policy are relatively trivial, and their disagreements are profound.

The Northern Irish parties (18 MPs) add this to the mix (correction: I added up the NI MPs, made it 17, and thought to myself “didn’t they have 18?” but then thought that they might have been nipped of one MP in the past 5 years as has happened to Scotland and Wales. No: for some reason the BBC omitted the Ulster Unionist MP for North Down.)

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP, 8 seats) traditionally support the Conservatives. They have 8 seats, and the Tories can likely count on them at least to preserve them as a government, if it comes to that: so the Tories can really count on 315 seats.

The Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP, 3 seats) are the Irish nationalists: they’re the DUP’s natural opposition, so in effect they whittle the effect of the DUP’s support down to 5 seats, providing they care one way or another.

Sinn Fein, the IRA’s party (5 seats), are the Irish nationalists who won’t swear the oath of allegience that would allow them to take their 5 seats in Parliament, so in this situation the main thing about them is that the Westminister parliament is effectively 645 seats – any party that can muster a vote of at least 323 MPs can defeat a vote of no confidence. (Unless, of course, the Sinn Fein take a look at the potential power this hands them, and decide to find a way to take the oath in order to be able to offer their 5 votes to one mainland-UK party or another.)

The Alliance party have never sent an MP to Westminister before [correction: not since the early 1970s], and whether she’ll vote with the SDLP or abstain or even vote with the DUP, is really an unknown.

Plus one Ulster Unionist MP whom I’d completely overlooked!
Demo for Democracy 8th May 2010

May 6, 2010

Voting for democracy

The first election for which I had the right to vote was in 1987. I voted Labour. The incumbent was Conservative. The Labour candidate got in, and held the seat till this year, though (thanks to the expenses scandal – he was one of the embarrassing claims rather than one of the shocking ones) he won’t be standing this year.

Since then I’ve never missed voting in any election I had a right to vote in: UK Parliament, European Parliament, local council, or Scottish Parliament. My great-aunt turned 21 in 1929, the first year in the UK that women had the vote on the same terms as men: her first General Election would have been 30 May 1929, and I expect she voted Conservative, but Labour got in. Still, though she was quite aware that neither myself nor my sister nor her niece, our mother, would be voting the same way she was (lefties all of us) she was adamant that we should vote.

This year is the first year since goodness knows how long that none of the pundits or the bookies have really been sure who would be in government in Westminster the next day. (Seriously. 1992, it had to be either Labour or Conservative, and it ended up being Conservative: 1974, Labour formed a minority government: but mostly, really, you know.) But now?

April 25, 2010

Lies about Islington demonstrate Tory desperation

Right up till 15th April, it looked like the results of the general election were going to be one of two dreary prospects:

  • Either Labour was going to remain in power with a bare majority, and we would see five more years of the same kind of no-risk party government as we saw under John Major (who won the 1992 general election with a margin so narrow that without the Ulster Unionists he couldn’t have stayed in power);
  • or the Conservatives would win majority (which of course they could still do, even if a majority of voters in the UK clearly reject their policies – see Johann Hari on the forces that block British democracy) and we’d be in for five years of right-wing government.

Then for the first time in the UK, there was a prime ministerial debate, and, even though no one seriously expected a LibDem victory (ten days ago? they didn’t stand a chance: they have 63 seats in the Commons, and they had a hopeful list of 30 constitutencies which they were hoping they could flip from Labour or from Conservative – I live in one of them, and I didn’t think they had a realistic chance here) they very properly invited Nick Clegg, Lib Dem leader, to stand with Gordon Brown and David Cameron. (And I bet Brown and Cameron are both wishing they’d said no to Clegg.)

Because Nick Clegg won the debate.

January 23, 2009

Transition Tells Tales

Apparently, as Bush and his crew left for Texas as the inauguration crowds booed (it has to be the first time in 8 years that Bush had been at an event where the “crowd” wasn’t either/or US military, reporters, or checked/confirmed Bush supporters), there were some complaints on the plane about how Obama’s inaugural speech had criticised the Bush administration.

And now, as far as some of them were concerned, the new president had used his inaugural lectern to give the back of the hand to a predecessor who had been nothing but gracious to him.

Karen Hughes: “There were a few sharp elbows that really rankled and I felt were not as magnanimous as the occasion called for. He really missed an opportunity to be as big as the occasion was and, frankly, as gracious as President Bush was as he left office.”
Dan Bartlett: “It was a missed opportunity to bring some of the president’s loyal supporters into the fold.”
Marc A. Thiessen: “It was an ungracious inaugural. It was pretty clear he was taking shots.”

Karen, Dan, Marc: I want to tell you a story, kids. About a really ungracious transition.

A new President came in, with a new staff. Damaging rumours were spread in Washington that the White House had been left trashed. Computers had been filled with pr0n downloads. Pr0n had been pasted on walls. Cables and wires had been slashed. The new White House press secretary told reporters that the damage included the removal of the letter “W” from 100 computer keyboards, five missing brass nameplates with the presidential seal on them, 75 telephones with cover plates missing or apparently intentionally plugged into the wrong wall outlets, six fax machines relocated in the same way, ten cut phone lines, two historic door knobs missing, overturned desks and furniture in about 20 percent of the offices, obscene graffiti in six offices, and eight 14-foot loads of usable office supplies recovered from the trash, and a photocopy machine that had copies of naked people hidden in the paper tray so they would come out from time to time with other copies. The new President wouldn’t confirm or deny the reports, saying he just wanted to “move on”.

Eighteen months later, after an official investigation, the Government Accounting Office published a report: it had all been lies. There had been no campaign of wilful damage, no pr0n pasteups, graffiti, slashed cables: the condition the White House and associated offices had been left in had been usual and expected.

This was the Bush administration’s “gracious” transition, Karen, Dan, Marc: your team began, in January 2001, by trashing your precedessors. Your President, whom you were touting as an example of “graciousness”, sat back as lies ran about Bill Clinton’s administration, and smirked a “let’s just move on”. You complain that Obama’s inaugural speech was “sharp-elbowed”? You’ve got nothing.

January 21, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, the First Family of the United States

Filed under: Elections,Full of win — jesurgislac @ 10:36 pm
Tags: ,

First Family of the United States


January 20, 2009

Ah, bless…

Filed under: Elections,Full of win — jesurgislac @ 6:40 pm
Tags: , ,

Tonight, let’s rejoice.

President Obama disappointed me in so many ways before he was inaugurated – of which the invite to Rick Warren was just the visible peak.

No doubt during the 4 to 8 years he will be President, he will disappoint me many times again: he is a conservative/right-wing Christian, who would never earn my support if he were a candidate for office in my country.

But: George W. Bush is no longer President. Dick Cheney is no longer Vice President. No last-minute pardons were issued to save either of them, or Bush’s administration from prosecution for their crimes in office.

And an intelligent, thoughtful, painstaking man who’s already achieved so much, is today President of the United States. That’s something in which to rejoice, whatever else may come.


Tuesday Recipe Blogging: Promises Are Pie Crust

“Promises are pie crust” – easily made, easily broken.

Obama has promised he will remove “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and LGBT people will be able to serve openly in the military; he has also promised he will have the Defense of Marriage Act repealed, which will mean that a same-sex couple who live in a state where they are legally banned from marrying, can go to a state in which they can marry, get married, return home, and their home state will be legally required to recognise their marriage as valid.

Both are huge legal steps towards legal equality for LGBT people in the US. But all we know for sure about Obama’s Presidency is that today, Rick Warren will give the invocation prayer at his inauguration.

When Barack Obama was born, his parents could not be legally wed in multiple states in the US. The last state to take the laws against his parents’ being married off the books was Alabama, in 2000. Young Barack Obama was not quite 6 years old before a Supreme Court decision anti-democratically overturned the legislation against the legal marriage of Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr. The same kind of Christians who today oppose same-sex marriage, back then opposed miscegenation or interracial marriage, and in the same terms: it was against God’s will, they said, to give mixed-race couples the legal right to marry: it was against God’s will for them to have children.

Would Barack Obama invite a preacher who had, a few weeks ago, told him that his parents were morally the same as child or animal molesters – that for his mom and dad to marry legally was on the same kind of moral plane as paedophilia and bestiality? If he would not, why does he feel it’s Okay to invite Rick Warren?

Pie crust is easy to make. The best kind is short-crust pastry. For this, you need:

1. Cold hands. If your hands are not naturally cold (cold hands, warm heart) hold them under the cold-water tap for a minute or so before you start rubbing the fat into the flour.
2. Cold water. Cold as you can get it without it actually freezing over.
3. Fat. You can use butter or margarine. Butter has a lovely flavour in itself, of course, but really, for a pie with a flavoursome filling, margarine will do. If you use a fat that is hard in the fridge, it needs to be at room temperature – that is, soft to the touch – when you use it in pastry. This is, in fact, the best reason for using a soft margarine if you just want pastry right now – it won’t be the best, but it’ll be fine. Non-vegetarians tell me that lard is good.
4. Flour. In principle, you want a low-gluten flour – a “soft” flour in bakers’ parlance. This is because a high-gluten flour, or “strong” flour, will make you pastry that’s very hard and stiff. But if you are a dab hand with the rolling pin and can roll your pastry out very thin, I personally think that the stiff pastry that results from a high-gluten flour can be very nice – but you do need to plan on using it for a thin, thin crust.

For short-crust pastry, if you are making a batch with four ounces of flour, you want two ounces of fat. Half the weight of fat to flour.

With cold hands, rub the fat into the flour to make crumbs. Do so gently and quickly. Don’t over-rub. There are all sorts of techniques advised, like using a knife to cut the fat into the flour until it is evenly distributed, but the reason for all these rules is simply: You don’t want the fat to melt. You want the grains of flour to be englobed in fat that is still fat, not oil. So: cold hands, don’t rub too hard, if you’re deft with a knife use a knife as much as possible, keep your hands cold…

Mix the crumbs with cold cold cold water. Just enough to draw the crumbs together into a ball of pastry-dough. Not too much.

Wrap the pastry-dough in cling film and put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or up to two days. (Seriously; if it’s wrapped up, it’ll be fine in the fridge for a couple of days.) If the pastry’s been in the fridge for more than 30 minutes, make sure it’s at room temperature before you start rolling it out, or it’ll crack.

If you’re making a pie, divide the pastry into two rounds. It would be otiose to point out that you will want the round for the bottom crust to be larger than the round for the top crust: about a third larger. Either you are the kind of person who thinks of these things before you start rolling out the pastry, or you are not. Flour a cold surface, flour the rolling-pin (I picked up a marble rolling-pin in a second-hand shop for peanuts, years ago: it makes great pastry because it’s cold) and roll your pastry out. Keep dusting the pastry and the rolling-pin with flour if it seems to be sticking to the pin. Line the tin you are using with the first round of pastry, fill it with beans, and blind-bake it in the oven for a few minutes to make it crisp.

Roll out your second round of pastry. Fill the pie with your filling. Apple pie is the best. Cover with the pastry. Trim off the edges. Press holes in the top with a fork (or cut with a very sharp knife). Do fancy things with the trimmings like making shapes of leaves or apples if you like, but you’ll make me feel inadequate – I usually just bake the trimmings in the oven spread with mustard and cheese for instant cheese straws, yum. I am not artistic.

Bake your pie in the oven. You will find that the pie crust is like promises: easily made, easily broken.

—Update, 2nd May 2009—

Sometimes, I really hate being right when I’m cynical.

You remember those promises being made post-election, pre-Rick Warren? The civil rights section of the White House website is now de-gayed. versionista cite

(waves at cleek)

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