A Hung Parliament is in the air again after a roguish poll in today’s Observer which suggests the Conservative lead over Labour has been cut to six points. Owing to a quirk in the electoral arithmetic, the Tories need a 10-point lead to achieve a parity of seats with Labour.
Following on from more than a year of opinion polls showing a much higher lead, the outcome of the next General Election appeared reasonably assured. Now tongues are vibrating again, BlackBerries flashing red, hopes rising and falling, and predictions earnestly reappraised.
If this poll is confirmed by others and a downward trend confirmed, it would certainly be alarming for David Cameron. However, he seemed quite chipper on Andrew Marr’s programme this morning, no doubt comfortable in the knowledge of his party’s private polling results.
Let us assume, though, that in the run-up to the election, the government gets the usual swing back, if only by a few percentage points. Cameron would need to shore up seats where he can on a micro-management basis.
He should immediately take up Syntagma’s suggestion of declaring a referendum on an Association Agreement with the European Union, to be held three years into the next Parliament once the new Government had stabilized the economy. That could mean 20 seats to the Tories, a life-saver in the close result.
I know he has said he will not do this, no doubt based on focus-group results. But such numbers are always skewed by the artificiality of the setting. Big picture tendencies like patriotism and long term national security are swept aside by urgent concerns of the moment.
When 70 percent of voters say they feel cheated of a referendum, you can be sure that anything up to 10 percent or so will vote with that somewhere in mind. Alas, the Tory fiasco over their own promise has lost them a priceless advantage.
It’s not too late to claw back that ground. As I have written here before, a new promise would nullify much of Ukip’s threat in 2010, satisfy the Eurosceptics and the Tory Right, and provide the radical edge that’s missing from Conservative policy without threatening the broad sweep of centrist measures. It would also add a sense of justice being done, and seen to be done, over the most contentious issue in British politics.
I commend it to the Cameroons.
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Annoyment of the Week
A Gordon Brown-free zone
It has to be the Queen’s Speech, hasn’t it? And that’s not the Queen’s fault, of course, but the gargantuanly gothic nature of Gordon Brown’s mind-swamp.
Many have pointed out the futility of legislating the ends without thought for the means. It’s not without precedence though. Think of it as a reprise of Red Dannie Cohn-Bendit’s cry of “We have no policies, only demands”, which rang out during the Paris riots of 1968. Brown remains a student Trot at heart.
While there won’t be another Queen’s speech this side of an election, there will be a Pre-Budget Report and possibly a spring Budget too. Brown is widely expected to lay down a scorched-earth policy for an incoming Conservative Government, no matter that it could cost Britain her sovereign Triple A rating.
Alistair Darling should do the decent thing and write an honest Budget report based on Treasury and Bank of England advice. He should deny Gordon Brown any input, even if the shoddy Ed Balls is drafted in the last moment.
Darling would then be the only participant in this rear-end shambles of a government who could leave office with his head held high.
And command a sizzling advance for his memoirs.
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At first glance, the two appointees under the Lisbon Treaty look harmless enough. The betting is they’ll hardly figure in the outer show of the EU, and we’ll probably be encouraged to forget them.
President van Rompuy is not a commanding presence, and High Representative Ashton is eminently forgettable.
We should not, though, forget the offices they hold as placestooges. One day, someone much more formidable may emerge and, by sheer force of personality and rhetoric, fight his way to the pinnacle of European power.
In wild scenes of enthusiasm from crowds in the original six member states, he may proclaim a new age of glory for Europe and press all the archetypal buttons of the Great Leader.
God help the Muslims, who could well become the new Jews, and the archetypal “enemy within”. Any policy can be countenanced when there’s a dangerous enemy at large.
Far out? It was less than 20 years ago when the last outbreak of ethnic cleansing and mass murders occurred in Europe.
Don’t ever trust the European Union. Its ghosts are never entirely dead.
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Blogging fatigue is a well-known syndrome among web workers. I know, I used to be a blogger. Here’s my advice for newbies to the scene.
It’s possible to get so caught up in blogging and the blogosphere that the rest of existence becomes filtered out, like the view when a mist drops silently onto a landscape. I call the effect “Blost”, or lost in blogs.
The result is a narrowing of focus, and an increase in superfical attention. Real attention includes awareness of the world around you. The outcome is a loss of counterbalancing channels of information, and an increasingly eccentric outlook on the world.
The symptoms of Blost
1. An obsession with blogging as lifestyle as well as work.
2. A belief that something called Web 2.0 is changing history — it’s not, it’s just being driven by portable communication devices and is therefore part of the driven universe, like the Blost.
3. A conviction that there’s a moneymaking bonanza somewhere out there if only you can get enough Google juice to light its fire.
4. A determined insistence that blogging is easy and has no downside.
Having said all that, most writers will recognize the tunnel-vision syndrome from the last time they wrote a book. Where blogging differs is that it doesn’t have a cut-off point; a moment when the work unit is finished. It goes on forever, Blost in space and time.
1. Bloggers should get out of the blogorium at frequent intervals to escape the damnation of the Blost.
2. They should retain other channels of news and information to avoid the idee fixe of the geek mentality.
3. Trim, clip, slice and cut the contents of feed readers. They will eat you alive if you let them. They’re not called “feeds” for nothing.
4. Cull email notifiers. You just have to reply to every white box that rises compellingly from the bottom of the screen.
Actions to take:
1. Write letters occasionally, walk to the Post Office, buy a postage stamp and stick it in the top right-hand corner of the envelope. Place the whole in the slot provided.
2. Read a newspaper offline. You’ll be surprised what’s left out from the screen version.
3. Beg, swipe or borrow a “book”: a bound swatch of paper containing extended arguments and narratives. You might try mine.
4. Re-engage in romantic interludes with that familiar ghost who wanders around the house saying, “Are you still on that computer? I thought we were going out.”
5. Be a better blogger. That mean never spending more than four hours a day online.
It may be your last chance. Ever.
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Syntagma Books is currently riding high, with some peripheral talk of my book, The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? becoming a bestseller. As a result we’ve decided to build a proper website for the new publishing house.
At first, I wanted the simplest structure possible, as plain as a white wall, so that the books would stand proud in a shimmer of irridescent glory. Well, something like that.
In the New Year, we have asked our usual maestro, Thord Daniel Hedengren, to weave his customary magic among the pixels and develop a great website for us.
You can buy the book here for a mere £10, including 1st class postage:
Outside the UK, please use Amazon.com, or your usual outlet.
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Have you ever read one of those modern business books for busy entrepreneurs in which every page has an acronym and a long list of “to do’s”? If you’re at a new product launch you may be exhorted to BISCUIT:
4. Cut edge
5. Ululate (I’m running out of ideas)
7. Tranquillize (as if).
All these books have one fatal flaw, they lack simplicity. The 80-20 Principle (another member of the tribe) claims that 20 percent of our activity yields 80 percent of the results, while the remaining 80 percent produces only 20 percent. The trick is to know which is which, and outsource or eliminate the 80 pecent. Now that speaks to me.
So much of what we do is superfluous to our well being, even to our income. When Thoreau said: “Simplify, simplify, simplify”, he was at his most practical. Here was a man who lived in a hut in the woods as a hermit during the week, returning home for the weekend and the occasional dinner with friends, all the while maintaining his pencil factory to keep the dollar signs ticking over. A man after my own heart.
If you need this type of book, you’re probably beyond help. Remember the words of Socrates in The Way of the Peaceful Warrior: pay attention and learn to make do with less. You will always have enough.
Thoreau would have approved … with a wily wink.
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