September 30, 2006


Henry Farrell in the Boston Review has decided to discuss the influence and power of the so-called Netroots movement which clusters around the website Daily Kos . His article is interesting and well worth reading for anyone who wishes to understand how Kos and other liberal bloggers atrios or Jerome Armstrong have attacked the current Democratic Party establishment over their bipartisanship, general ceding of space to the Republican noise machine and ignoring of various state which can't be won. These blogger have definitely challenged the cozy Washington atmosphere of consensus between consultants like Bob Shrum who can't help losing every time and politicians like John Kerry who have lived their political lives, accepting their minority status.

There is something in these blogs that reminds a student of American politics of the highly controversial spin doctors of the early Clinton years, the rajun cajun Jimmy Carville for instance, in their attention to Republican attacks and repudiating them and their general aggressiveness they fit the template well. Farrell thinks that they need to do more, to recapture the agenda of debate and reframe it. The problem is that Kos and his Kossacks are never going to do that- its fascinating that in politics today we frequently here about how x side has run out of ideas or how y side has lots of ideas but never about what those ideas are. Kos has no ideas about policy- he seldom expresses anything apart from opposition to Republicans. What he has is ideas about how to run and win elections- that's as true of so many of these bloggers. To reannex the framing of ideas in part what you need is a rapid rebuttle machine- which is what these guys do well- they do rebutt and use evidence to good effect, look for example at the George Allen racism affair in Virginia almost entirely constructed by bloggers.

Political success and political ideas are not tied together. Merely looking at the magazines that Blogs like Kos are going to replace magazines like the American Spectator but never going to be able to replace a magazine like Foreign Affairs. (One reason for the hatred expressed at places like the New Republic for Kos et al is a sign that they see a competitor which lays bare the fact that that was what these magazines were about, not serious ideas). What is fascinating is the way that on both sides of the Atlantic the Blogosphere has become the netroots- whether Kos or Guido Fawkes- the main icons of the blogosphere are not blogs about ideas but blogs about tactics. The interesting thing about this is what it reveals about the people who read blogs- most of them come convinced to Blogs and read there the tactics of getting their message about there, the blogs in that sense are the equivalent of seminaries sending missionaries out into the communities. What Kos and his comrades reccomend is not a particular policy position but an ethics of evangelisation. Curiously Farrell reccomends them to begin doing other things- ie reconstructing the argumentative space in which politics takes place, but this account shows in one sense they are doing it, they are becoming a democratic noise machine, but on the other they can't replicate the work done by Milton Freidman and F.A. Hayek.

These bloggers are not manufacturers of truth, they are brand managers for what they think is the truth.

Harry's Place, Iraq and Galloway

Two interesting and worthwhile items on Harry's Place today- one marks a new Iraqi Opinion Poll which shows the hostility of the Iraqi people to both the occupation and to Al Quaeda. Another item disloses the latest antics of George Galloway who having expressed his pride in knowing Saddam Hussein now beleives that there is no genocide in Darfur, ummm.

Appealing Apocalypse

The New York Metro magazine carries an interesting report on apocalyptic thinking in this issue , the writer argues that apocalyptic thinking of the times is far from unusual and its preponderance in the US reflects the age of the baby boomer generation (a seductive idea which doesn't explain the global reach of apocalyptic ideas say to Iran where a quarter of the population is under the age of 14 and the median age is 24 (source C.I.A. World Fact Book )).

The predominance of apocalyptic thinking on the left and the right reflects in this blog's opinion two interesting ideas. The first of which is that religious discourse has continued to dominate the West's imagination despite religion's obvious fall from grace- we are affected more by our Christian backgrounds than our secular pretences. The second though explains I think the apocalyptic appeal- one of the interesting characteristics of human depression is what is called catastrophising, the ability to understand every crisis as a terminal one instead of as a minor interruption- as a fatal flaw rather than as a problem to be overcome. In many senses the model of apocalyptic thinking is something to be sceptical of because it reinforces so many of our perceptions about the world we privately live in.

September 28, 2006

Pope for peace

The Pope's representative at the UN made a speech today about the prospects for peace within civil society given the rise in religious extremism. The Pope's representative spoke against, not religious extremism- but religion without reason. As the Pope had earlier declared faith without reason or reason without faith were dangers to civil society. The Pope's representative likened the situation within the world as regards religion to the Tower of Babel with all the representatives of Christianity, Islam and Atheism speaking in different tongues.

This blog would concur to some extent in that impression- its undeniable that appreciating the strength of other people's position is not the peculiar strength of Al Quaeda. On the other hand is it really the irrationality of Al Quaeda that we should be worrying about. Scholars of the Islamist movement like Fred Halliday identify the real radicalism of it as not being its attitude to reason but its attitude to politics. Islamism represents within the middle East the idea that as in Iran the whole state must be sublimated to religious demands- it must in a sense become theocratic. The problem of Babelism, to borrow Giovanni Lajolo's language, lies not so much in the rationality of the opponents that we face, but in their insistance on using a different kind of presumption to begin their reasoning about politics from. Once you abandon the same starting premise, debate becomes more difficult and that is the source of the Babelism we are talking about.

This was not the impression that the Pope's representative would welcome- particularly because the Catholic, Anglican and other Churches all have as their declared aim the introduction of religious principles into politics- take for example the Catholic Church's stated aim of basing the European constitution on religious principles . Maybe the Pope would feel it an appropriate time to tell us how basing a European constitution on Christian principles, would help his proffessed aim of conversing with atheists and Muslims!

(Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for pointing out this announcement from the Vatican- Sullivan gets to a different conclusion with which I disagree.)

Citizen Journalists!

Soon to be launched and coming to the whole of the UK with a broadband connection, with a target audience of around a couple of thousand in its first months, is a new internet tv station run by the leading bloggers iain dale and Tim Montgomery, a leading contributer to conservative home . Both men are sizeable figures in the blogosphere- both contributing incisive and interesting political gossip alongside generally rightwing political commentary.

Both have however seized upon what they see as leftwing bias within the British media at present. This is particularly evident in Tim Montgomery's interview with channel 4 news. Montgomery offers the idea not that the channel will be impartial but that it will represent people who aren't at present included within the political process- especially within the right. The interesting thing about Montgomery is not that this ressembles Fox News- this is actually a station for the political elite- that will represent the kind of people who subscribe to Conservative Home and Iain Dale and other blogs. But what is interesting is what it says about the change in the status of the media in these news saturated days and how it reflects the way that Print Media is changing.

If you take for example the Guardian, the venerable paper of the English Left- what has happened to the Guardian over the last few years has been extraordinary- from a paper that sought to be paper of record, the biggest expanding section of the Guardian is now online and is a series of columns written by many who agree with the Guardian's line but might not be journalists. In a society filled with news the Guardian has moved away from the provision of news, to the provision of comment. What it has further not moved to is the provision of analysis, informed thinking by specialists, but rather comment, generalists extending their political principles to situations they know little of. 18Doughty Street is similar- its an extension of that principle challenging the old fiefdoms of the news by providing comment- it won't probably have apart from at Westminster the resources to compete say on foreign news but people will watch it for its interesting take on the world's events and for how its commenters, who will become celebrities extend their views on to other lines- you will come home and wonder how Iain Dale will reflect on a scandal about David Cameron say given his public support for Cameron.

Dale, Montgomery and others are moving towards the US model of being much more critical of the information that arrives through the Mainstream Media (MSM)- in Britain this has been a rightwing phenomenon, despite the Guardian and sites like labourhome but in America its been a mainly leftwing phenomenen, witness the huge liberal site dailykos . What they are relying upon is services like News 24 which provide rolling headlines, especially services on the internet like memri which provide news headlines and transalations for commenters to rely upon. What Dale and Montgomery and others do in their blogs is package comment- much like J.J. Huntsecker does in a newspaper in the Sweet Smell of Success. Dale and Montgomery are importing this attitude to Television- the idea is that they will surf the net for their readers and find information for them and filter it through a particular ideological mindset. What Dale and Montgomery have though is trust, their readers and listeners trust them to understand their point of view and interpret the world through that point of view, in a sense the idea of Bloggers as 'citizen journalists' comes now to its ultimate exposition- Dale and Montgomery share the ideas of most conservative voters, but have the time to go off and find the facts to support their arguments (that people working don't have) consequently conservatives turn to them for those facts.

Politicians and Public Trust

This is an interview from President Clinton several years ago on youtube. The interview makes an interesting point- at one crucial moment Clinton turns around to Jon Stewart and says that the Republicans were never interested in his policies but interested in him- so that if they could convince people that Clinton was a bad guy then they could get rid of him. Clinton obviously meant this to strengthen his position in terms of policies- like Tony Benn in Britain to assert a kind of high minded liberalism as opposed to a dirty conservatism.

A focus on personality though has become a signature tune of a particular type of politics over recent years, whether it be about Clinton, or Blair or Bush all the cries are about their personal morality and lack of it. Lots of these themes, as I commented earlier are similar to those surrounding the President of Iran but they still need some explanation. Why do some cultures focus upon the ethics of politicians whereas as this article from the Guardian today reminds us Ireland for instance seems perfectly happy to have leaders which aren't neccessarily ethically pure?

This is a question that this blog will return to again and again over the coming weeks, months and years. But we can already identify some things within the political culture of countries which find corruption to be an everpresent problem as opposed to those unworried by it. One of those is a sense that a politician in some way embodies the general will or public interest of the populace. In a country like Britain or the United States it is envisaged that a decision taken under the influence of corruption cannot be a good decision, consequently as politics is all about making decisions, only good men can make them. Thus we collapse in some circumstances the distinction between a private and a public man. A philosophical collapse which is interesting and the reasons for which are very complicated: but one that is nonetheless present within our political culture.

Liberal Carnival

The Liberal Carnival is up at Writings on the Wall- there are some very good articles in it which are all worth reading and there is one from this blog- thanks to the editor over there.

  • Liberal Carnival

  • September 27, 2006

    Johnson in a dither

    Sources close to the Hain campaign could barely disguise their political glee at conference yesterday- whooping with joy as it seems that their man will get an unchallenged run for the deputy leadership (sorry Harriet). For while Johnson dithers about whether to get into a mudfight with a certain brown-eyed pensioner, our perma tanned Northern Ireland secretary is the only leading figure who unambiguously wants the deputy leadership.

    Johnson should be warned and remember that the present Foreign Secretary tried for both jobs in 1994: she got neither- so might he.

    Good Dinnah Sir!

    Well, well, well Jonathan Freedland comes out in the Guardian and says Tone should resign on the day Cameron gives his speech, to overshadow all the camekids and give a big Brown pensioner a very good day.

    But what's this, Freedland was spotted a-wining and a-dining with a certain power couple of the New Labour right, two junior ministers- who you will guess are not a million miles away from the grim masticating monarch of the Treasury- so John's column in the Guardian wasn't John-boy's inspired analysis-

    it was Balls's.

    Mental Health

    Seldom have I read an article which I feel more proud posting on this website and I hope it directs traffic there. Mental Health is a serious issue and effects many many people without knowing it, people respond in different ways and more people need to be aware of how to respond to mental health problems. Making sure that it is classified as an illness is the way forward in my view.,,1881291,00.html

    September 26, 2006

    Iain Dale's Diary: Tony Blair Likens Brown to R A Butler By Mistake

    Iain Dale notices Blair comparing Gordon Brown to Rab Butler in the speech today- ah the veiled insult is so so good.

    Iain Dale's Diary: Tony Blair Likens Brown to R A Butler By Mistake

    Tom Harris MP= Lack of sense of humour

    At Party Conferences during leadership campaigns the media do silly things and politicians have a chance to prove their credentials as men and women with a sense of humour- it was no different this year at the Labour Conference where Newsnight went around handing out wristbands to members of the party to denote who they supported.

    Most took it in good part. John McDonnell found it hilarious. Alan Milburne jokingly stated that he couldn't take one because they had given him his least favourite colour yellow. Stephen Pound took one look and went for a stay to the end of the Parliament and started laughing.

    Some however demonstrated another kind of attitude to politics, foremost amongst those being Tom Harris who denounced the BBC for speculating about the leadership, challenged them about how they were spending the license fee and generally was obnoxious. According to Mr Harris- noone should speculate about the leadership of the country until he and his mates have decided who it should be- one wonders about the man's sanity.

    (Harris later admitted he was being a fool and apologised so good on him!)

    Its that 1936 feeling

    So the Prime Minister overstays his welcome and his chancellor who has been waiting for ten years as the obvious successor is beggining to get tired and at last feels that his shackles are coming off. The only problem is that its 1936 not 2006- the comparision is interesting though for students of British politics. In 1936 Neville Chamberlaine the Chancellor knew that his time was coming, having served loyally under the leadership of Stanley Baldwin as Health Secretary (1924-9) and then Chancellor (1931-7), he had seen off his main rival Winston Churchill (Chancellor 1924-9) and had become the acknowledged second man in the government. He had stayed away from the most divisive issues of Baldwin's leadership- saying very little about either India or foreign policy but maintaining a jealous fiefdom at the treasury and extending an uninvited service of consultancy into health, housing and education. In 1936 Chamberlain might well have been described a towering and formideable figure in British politics.

    Chamberlain's premiership is normally held up as a disaster because of his failure in foreign policy but that failure stemmed as much from his character as anything else. He had very bad relations with the foreign office- particularly its head Sir Roger Vansittart. He had difficulties with both his foreign secretaries- Eden and Halifax- and an almost invincible faith in his ability to do deals with Hitler. Churchill's quip that Chamberlain would have been a good mayor of Birmingham in a lean year reflected the fact that Chamberlain's skills were mostly in administrating detail, sorting out domestic policy and forcing through an agenda- but what he had in policy making skill he lacked in the humility and electoral ability to be a successful Prime Minister. His stiffness and persona made him a less attractive personality to the public than his erstwhile chief Baldwin and his arrogance led to his mistakes with Hitler.

    Whether our next Prime Minister, a similarly long serving Chancellor, with similar arrogance and a need to interfere in every department- will have a similar record to Neville Chamberlain is yet to be seen... I leave our readers to decide.

    The Wit and Wisdom of Grover Norquist

    Bipartisanship is another name for date rape

    This quotation which appeared in the Washington Post three years ago (but which this Blog has only just become aware of and which sums up so much of the Delay regime that its worth quoting) coming from the longtime Republican lobbyist and advocate sums up everything that this blog stands against. Norquist here seems to be equating discussion and compromise with violence and force. Rather this blog beleives that partisanship equals violence and force and goes beyond that into dictatorship- a belief in the legitimacy of other people's views is the ultimate refuge of a democrat (small d) whereas dismissing them and comparing compromise to violent sexual intrusion is the beggining of demagogic dictatorship.

    The Sound of the Mountain

    Part of the misfortune of politics is its energy, its ceaseless passing on from one thing to the next, its ceaseless questioning and crisis making and solving. Often historians looking at the past are stunned, as I have been on occasion, by the realisation that our narratives shaped by crisis and chaos skip the main contours of human life. The seventeenth century in England seems a very discontinuous century- filled with changes of monarch, political regime and civil war- and yet for us as historians we miss some of the more important contemporary happenings. We miss marriages, deaths, births, first loves, regrets, memories and experiences. For most if not all of the denizens of that century the events I described above- the antisceptic glory of documentaries- happened only as they effected them and not as the events that we describe. The seige of Drogheda was important to them because their son died in the town- not because it was one of the most horrific seiges of the Irish part of the English Civil War. (Though of course that is our way as historians of saying that it was important in the same way to thousands of families- through the deaths of family members).

    If history fails therefore to capture the subjectivity of our experiences of the world- then literature can and at its peak does. Take for example the Japanese novel by Yasunari Kawabata The Sound of the Mountain. Kawabata's novel concerns an old man who has lived through the tempestuous history of Japan in the twentieth century. The novel is to use an overused expression elegiac- it chronicles the fading memories and impressions of a sixty year old man about his family and his friends. It talks about all the substance of a real life- he struggles as his children's marriages crumble before his eyes, he is filled with feelings about his own marriage and the choices he made in life and meditates upon his relationships with his favoured daughter in law and his dieing friends. Shingo, the man in question, is a product of Japan's long history and refers to the Russo Japaneese war, there are also frequent references to how war and conflict changed the people in his social circle- particularly how war deformed his son Shuichi. But war and conflict, the stuff of history, are in this novel integrated into the lives of human beings and the culture of a traditional Japaneese family.

    Shingo's vision therefore is wider than the political- and teaches us to be aware of the fact that there is much more than politics involved in life. Politics effects but does not fill life and to understand life one has to understand the substance of Shingo's reflections on the relationships between people. So much probably strikes many readers as a harmless truism- but it must be restated again and again and again. There are fantastic details in the writing by Kawabata- the vision of Shingo attempting to consciously tie his tie and failing to do so and then on a train later being able to retie it because he does it unconsciously. The way that Shingo draws upon his surroundings, the sound of the mountain that only he hears, the pregnant dog, the cry of the Kites and the intimation of mortality that he derives from it, the pines which remind him of abortion, the flowers in a Tokyo garden, the masks of a theatrical performer are wonderful indications of the way that human beings give meaning to the landscapes around them. What Kawabata gives us is a momentary glimpse of how life looks through a subjective lense- what he reminds us of is the fact that every fact we see and perceive takes its only meaning from the act of interpretation that a human performs upon it- from the dream that a dreamer dreams about it- and through the telling of a tale that is about memory as much as it is about anything else, he reminds us that this insight is as true of history and politics as it is of kites and pines.

    September 25, 2006

    Shostakovich's centenary

    Its one hundred years since the great composer Shostakovich was born. Shostakovich in Russia in the 40s suffered notoriously from Joseph Stalin's warped criticism and the Soviet tyrant stopped him from working at various points- he was only fully reinstated as an artist in 1953 with Stalin's death.

    One wonders what would have become of Russian art without Stalin, imagine Shostakovich's symphonies, Akhmatova's and Mandlestam's poetry and Pasternak's or Gorky's novels that remained unwritten- not to mention countless others.

    Browned off!

    The Newsnight focus groups this evening give a very good indication of real difficulties ahead for Gordon Brown. Brown's been around so long that he is in danger of turning into Heseltine and not Major- the problem is that there seems to be no Major around, John Reid is a thuggish one but doesn't seem to want the prize. It is a big problem- no matter how Charlie Whelan tries to massage it in the Guardian . The further problem is that there is no story in Gordon Brown marching to victory- what Whelan and others like Peter Hain on tonights Newsnight have tried to do is close down the story- they want no more stories about the Leadership election only stories about Brown's next government and speculation about it. The problem is that there is a story- Brown's trump card is that he is malevolent and vengeful- he will destroy people if they stand against him but on the other hand it may be that Brown's power only lasts till his election and then fade very quickly. What we may see is that this is Brown's moment and 'never glad confident morning again' after this run to the leadership and after that merely a couple of years of troubles.

    Conservative History Journal: Why history?

    The Tory Historian has to be one of the most interesting Bloggers on the internet at the moment, and s/he has already supplied this blog with one post. On Friday s/he wrote about Geoffrey Elton, one of the great Early Modern Cambridge historians who wrote most significantly about Tudor administration. What s/he wrote did not focus so much on Sir Geoffrey's important contributions to the history of the period- rightly as much that Sir Geoffrey wrote is fading under attack from other historians- but about Sir Geoffrey's approach to history. He identifies history as something studied by cultures based around curiosity and also as something studied by cultures which are linked back through the past to the Greeks and Jews and then uses that to suggest that a division between Islam and Christianity is a reasonable one to make upon the basis that one is a culture of curiosity and one is not.

    It is a pity to accuse such a good blogger of a confusion but this is what it is my duty now to do. Because after all what culture was more a product of Jewish and Greek thought than Islam. In the middle Ages Islam not the West preserved most of the Greek texts that we have and hold to this day- Islam for instance produced the most important studies and thoughts about Aristotle current for thousands of years. As to Judaism the natural comparision for Judaism is not Christianity- a world religion based on an arrived messiah with no sense of a chosen people- but Islam- a world religion which awaits a messiah and has a collection of prophets (bar two the same as the Jews) based around a chosen people- Islam is the Arab Judaism.

    Furthermore Sir Geoffrey isn't right. He is right in his description of the Greek and Jewish traditions and their contribution to the West and had he limited himself to that he would have been secure (or maybe not, Norse saga has neither a Greek nor a Jewish antecedent but still shows history as a major concern of society). Looking Eastwards though both India and China produced profound meditations about the past- indeed Chinese art to a large extent emulated the past in such a way as to become it. Sir Geoffrey might object that such art is ahistorical but it mirrors many attitudes in the West simply in a different way- whereas in the West Romans were updated in art to look like medieval saints, in the East art remained fossilized in the style of a particular Han Emperor- the ahistoricity and the interest in the past are the same.

    And that makes the point for me in reality- Sir Geoffrey was profoundly wrong to dismiss the historical cultures of other cultures- the simple fact is that he looks not to have known about them as much as he should have. All historians have to beware of commenting on that they do not know, this is a case in point.

    Conservative History Journal: Why history?

    September 24, 2006

    Uncovering Iran

    The BBC gets a lot of attacks upon the internet, so much so that it sometimes ressembles a wounded beast speared by many hunters reeling in its bloody death throes through the forest. Yet sometimes it does things that remind us why it is the most important and best news broadcaster in the world- giving a peerless service in educating and extending our minds- such a service is the series launched upon the BBC's Radio 4 and World Service concerning Iran.

    One of the programs deals with the current controversial President of Iran Ahmadinejad, a bogeyman to many in the West and a hero to many in the East. As one of his friends says for Ahmadinenjad Islam is not merely a faith but an ideology, a man who beleives in a black and white version of justice as the guide of his world view. Ahmadinejad's view of politics seems to be very limited- based upon the idea that any politician should defend the view that no one should have privilege. The problem as it occurs within the broadcast is that this is a man whose strongpoint is ideological thinking but doesn't understand subtlety or reality- partly this is for a simple reason- what Ahmadinejad doesn't understand is that justice has many meanings and that people can have principled reasons and will have principled reasons for differing. The program leaves noone in any doubt that he is sincerely if naively religious nor that he has the political skills needed to climb to the top, but as one contributer to the program says the President's impact will not be longlasting because his systemic understanding of society is not sophisticated enough. His distribution of oil revenues which rely upon the price of oil staying high is merely one way in which his naive principles may rebound to the discredit of the Islamic Republic in the eyes of its populace.

    Ahmadinejad's election has been seen in the West as the rise of the theocrats- really it should be seen as a vote against corruption and in favour of simple principles- prosperity for the poor, pride in Iran and a 'really good man' at the top- in the West we know that that is not enough to govern and consequently unless he demonstrates more subtlety there may be problems for him ahead.

    Anyone who wants to take a look for themselves can see Ahmadinejad's blog itself at you can get an English transalation for the site on the site.

    Green Taxes (another thought arising from Prospect)

    So Prospect takes a side swipe at The Boy George this week. According to the "Numbers Game" Osborne is wrong to be so smittened by Green taxes as both a way of tackling climate change and redistributing the tax burden more fairly.

    Look no further than London's congestion charge to see where this sort of thinking can go wrong.

    When initially imagined the Mayor claimed the scheme would generated £1.3Bn over the next ten years, and to prove this was the case he made himself busy spending it. Unfortunately for Red his congestion charge proved more successful than he hoped in persuading people to keep their cars at home, but not as successful as he hoped at furnishing him with the readies.

    A few years down the line and the congestion charge is up and soon to be expanded further to make up the deficit.

    No surprise concludes Prospect. Whilst increases in green taxes appear are the only ones which the public will stomach, and so rather appealing to politicians, they should not be confused for gold mines. After all if you want to tax 4 by 4's off the road, that revenue won't be around for much longer.

    However Prospect misses a wider point here, and not just that the Conservatives are not the only ones guily of such a crime. (The cynic in me would speculate that Prospects' editors wanted to write something horrible about the Cameroons on the same page as they let "One and half Brains" Willetts talk sensibly about Blair's political legacy.)

    No the problem in the long run is as follows.

    Take bio-fuels as the case in point. In Brazil, Flexi Fuel cars are taking off in a big way, or so my Sunday supplements tell me. What makes these cars special is that their engines are equiped to take ethanol or petrol. A God send one would think.

    After all the big problem with alternative fuels is that you can't overnight build an infrastructure to compete with the one that already serves the combustion engine. But Flexi Fuel cars let the consumer choose the more environmentally friendly ethanol (by a factor of about two in carbon emissions) when it is available but can fall back up petrol when the alternative is not.

    Meantime the ethanol infrastructure grows on the back on these new revenues.

    Great one might think. Force Flexi Fuel cars to be the standard for new cars in the UK and then ensure through the tax system that the consumer is rewarded for going green when he or she can. Everybody wins, start handing out the medals now.

    Yet there is trouble on the horizon... Consumers consume. Give someone a comodity for half the price, which they can happily use twice as much of, like transport, and no prices for what happens next.

    If ethanol is really half as damaging to the environment than petrol, and you fix with the tax system for it to be half as expensive as petrol, over time people will use their cars twice as much. The overall impact on the environment will be the same.

    Now this is not the fault of the Flexi Fuel car, which should indeed be made standard for all new cars in the UK if I had my way: but rather the principle of green taxation. Instead of trying to reward individuals for the ethical decisions they make, through the tax system, ensure that ethanol and petrol costs are commensurate, through subsidies to the ethanol trade if necessary, and let the consumer decide themselves.

    What they are left with then is a choice between harming the environment or not- a choice for their conscience. Importantly though they are not offered incentives through "green" taxes to consume more and make a mockery of that choice.

    Personal responsibility should, and ought, do the rest.

    The voice of reason

    I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate. Because nothing will energize my (constituency) like Hillary Clinton. If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't

    Ah when the world seems sane, there is always Jerry Fallwell to comfort you that there are crumbs of unpleasant insanity left in the world to mock and feel fury at.

    It does point to the main problem with Hillary's candidacy- that there are a number of people whose main ambition in life is destroying her, in an election based upon turnout like the last one Hillary might be the Republican's dream to mobilise their base- on the other she might mobilise the Democrats and furthermore the Fallwell's of the world are never going to put Florida back in the Dem column.

    Blair's lies

    John Lloyd wrote an interesting article in Prospect Magazine this week- an article which needs some analysis. He argued that Blair was no more guilty of lieing than any of his predecessors- than the notoriously shifty Harold Wilson, the foolish Anthony Eden or even the magnificent Winston Churchill. (There is a wonderful scene from the American film Nixon which we can imagine now reversing the characters for the new situation, in it Ehrlichman asks Nixon whether bugging political opponents has ever happened before and Nixon replies sure Johnson, Eisenhower, FDR- can you imagine in the Blair Downing Street Tony leaning back and saying to Alaistair sure lieings been done before, Wilson, Eden, Churchill- it indicates a change in political culture that you can't.). Lloyd's point though is that conventionally thought of Blair has never really lied.

    Lloyd is no fool- he counts up the recollections of spending commitments being made three or four times to seem more than they were, policies announced again and again to make us understand the government to have more dynamism than it had, even moments where the Blair administration did actually lie outright- but the point is that over the key points of Blair's premiership, contrary to reputation, Blair has been outrageously honest. I think that there is no doubt Blair beleived there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he said so and prepared a dossier to make his case. Blair fulfilled his commitments upon taxation at all the elections he ran in and at most is guilty of exploiting the spirit of his words, as in his promise not to introduce top up fees in the 2001 Parliament (he introduced them coming into effect with the new Parliament). Quite often Blair has got into trouble more for the dodgy people around him- Peter Foster, Carol Caplin and Geoffrey Robinson spring to mind- than for his own actions, but all Prime Ministers have had their share of dodgy associations- think Churchill and Brendan Bracken. Indeed what would the Sun have made of Macmillan's wife sleeping with Bracken throughout Macmillan's premiership!

    So why has Blair got the reputation of lieing. Lyold mentions a couple of reasons particularly he argues that a loss of deference- compare Kennedy and Clinton's sexual behaviour and its reporting or Roosevelt and Nixon's criminal behaviour and its reporting (Watergate may have started this trend)- preceded a culture of questioning which made every statement by a politician suspect. As Jeremy Paxman once put it he asked every question to a politician thinking 'why is this lieing basterd lieing to me', given that its no surprise that Paxman and a wider public sharing his attitudes (see the blog of Guido Fawkes for example) find what they seek.

    There is another aspect though and that is the way that politics is reported and discussed. 24 hour news has taken the form of endless revolving headlines. The problem is that a complex issue such as the Iraq war is easily reducable to a question of the Premier lieing to the public- whereas the question of the Premier's judgement about Iraq is a much more debatable one. To analyse Iraq one would require a twenty minute program- to analyse a premier lieing one needs a two minute item. Consequently faced with a choice, over the so called sex upped dodgy dossier, its easier for a reporter do to his two minute item on the lie rather than a twenty minute item on the mistake. The form of the news makes our politicians in this case seem infallible but mendacious- in reality as John Lloyd has argued they are fallible and basically honest.