Sunday, May 31, 2015

So Long It's Been Good To Know You (Compleat)

So Long, It's Been Good To Know You (7)

XI: Survivors

The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things - praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts - not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
                                C.S Lewis 

We're science fiction readers. We know how you survive in a post holocaust world. 

In Earth Abides Isherwood realizes that it is impossible to preserve civilization after a plague: there are simply too few people left to continue the old ways of living. All he can do is hand on tiny little bits of knowledge that may give the human race a slight survival edge. 

In Terry Nation's TV riff on the same idea, the remnant of humanity keep on keeping on, laying out tablecloths, singing We Plough The Fields And Scatter, wearing floral print dresses and making tea. When the tea runs out, they use toasted carrot. They carry on being BBC English people even if nine tenths of the population of BBC England has died of Lurgy. 

So: there are a few of us left who still believe in sharing and equality and fairness and politeness and kindness. We don't need to go as far as Socialism. Socialism is a word with too much baggage. Lots of people think that the unemployed should be paid an allowance but certainly don't regard themselves as Socialists.

So what are we Survivors to do in the face of the apocalypse?

Well, promote equality and fairness and sharing and kindness and politeness in the old fashioned ways, of course: demonstrations, letters to the newspapers, chaining ourselves to railings, jumping in front of race horses if it really comes to it. The Opposition won't support us: they will say that these are old fashioned approaches, not the way of the future, likely to discourage the John Lewis Pizza voting for Our Lot in 2025. If you really love the BBC, the best thing is to let the zombies destroy it, they will say. And the Government won't pay any attention. If we get a million man pro-Human Rights march together, they will say "Hooray! That means that the other 63,100,000 people agree with the Horrible Torture (Restoration) Bill." Probably, these things will progressively be banned as extremist and contrary to British values; quite likely the thing that replaces the BBC will only be able to interview us if our words are spoken by an actor.

So we will create single-issue parties, single-issue campaign groups. The next progressive coalition, I submit, will not be Our Lot and Your Lot against Their Lot. The next progressive coalition will be the Anti-Climate Change Party, the Medical Treatment For Poor People Party, the Public Service Broadcasting Party, the Humane Treatment of Prisoners Party, the Free Education Party, the We Love Badgers Party and the Free Books For Everyone Party — a huge alliance of people voted into parliament to ride particular hobby horses. They will have messy arguments and massive rows. (There will also be a Christian Party and a Muslim Party and a Jewish Party and they will be embarrassed about how much they agree on.) They will have lots of huge defeats and lots of tiny victories. The Survivors will save a small theater in Putney even as the zombies dissolve the Arts Council; the survivors will force the screws in Wandsworth Prison to provide prisoners with toilet paper even as the Zombies are restoring flogging. (As a deterrent and a last resort, of course. We don't envisage ever actually doing it to anyone, oh dear me no.) No Anti-Slavery Party ever won an election; no Homosexual Party or Anti-Caning Party and certainly no Suffragette Party. Groups of nutters with agendas gradually won reforms. 

Parliament will become increasingly irrelevant. It doesn't, in the end, matter if the NHS is abolished. What matters is that everybody, however poor and however black, gets medical treatment when they need it. So maybe all the people who believe in sharing will have to agree to pay a tithe, over and above their taxes, into a huge trust fund to pay people's medical bills. 


A few years ago, a confused man in America wrote the following. 

With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to health care, you have realize what that implies. It’s not an abstraction. I’m a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery. It means that you’re going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants who work in my office, the nurses.

Basically, once you imply a belief in a right to someone’s services — do you have a right to plumbing? Do you have a right to water? Do you have right to food? — you’re basically saying you believe in slavery.

I’m a physician in your community and you say you have a right to health care. You have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away and force me to take care of you? That’s ultimately what the right to free health care would be.

Now, the confused man was telling a willful lie -- or, at best, making a pun around the word "free" in the hope that we would become as confused as he is.  In England health care is indeed "free" in the sense that I don’t have to pay the doctor any money when I get sick. (People from Abroad would hardly believe how normal we find this. Do you remember when the Avengers' butler betrayed them to Ultron because he urgently needed money to pay his old Mum’s medical bills? I literally didn’t understand what "medical bills" meant.) But that obviously doesn't mean that doctors work for free, any more than police officers or court appointed lawyers do. 

However, it's worth taking the confused man on his own terms.

If a drowning child is washed up on the beach and I can do resuscitation, then it is absolutely my duty to save that child's life. If someone bangs on my door in the middle of the night and says that there's been a shipwreck then it's absolutely my duty to run down to the beach in my pyjamas and save as many lives as I can, until I fall asleep with exhaustion. 

If I the confused man were a physician and if he lived in a Wild West town and if there were a hundred miles of injun infested badlands between him and the next doctor, then absolutely it is his moral duty to treat everyone in town, at any time of the day or night, regardless of their ability to pay, as long as he was physically able.

If we can trust Little House on the Prairie, and frankly, if we can't trust Little House on the Prairie we can't trust anything, Wild West physicians did, in fact, treat everybody. Doc Baker sends bills to the very rich and treats the very poor for free. The middling people bring him eggs and apples and fruitcake, or fix his wagon for him when it needs fixing. Unadulterated communism. If it were the case that Doc Baker was being woken up every night by dying children and never got to catch his breath or go fishing, then presumably he would have sent for a doctor friend from Chicago and they would arrange things so that when one of them was having a day off the other one was on call. They would share out the money and the eggs and the apples and fruit cake between them. 

Voila: socialized medicine. It really is a very good idea. 

I understand that the confused man is going to run for U.S President next year.


If the Health Service is abolished or privatized, most doctors will continue to treat people who can't afford to pay or don't have the requisite papers. But if there are zombie doctors who won't, well, the rest of us will have to shame them. Maybe there will have to be some kind of non-violent vigilantes who stand outside doctors houses in the middle of the night banging saucepans together until they get up and save the dying child. I wouldn't go as far as planting burning crosses on the lawns of physicians who stayed in bed and left poor patients to die, myself. But I could envisage troops of Morris dancers following them round town, rattling little bells, whacking them with balloons on sticks, and singing "He let an old lady die! He let an old lady die. Hey nonny no, he let an old lady die." 

Hey: I'm brainstorming here. 

But we may have to go a stage further back. The Nasty Party won it's famous victory because people stopped believing in fairness and politeness and equality and kindness and sharing. They stopped believing in them because the Nice Party stopped telling people what brilliant ideas they were. And the Nice Party stopped telling people, I think, because they became complacent. We all started to think that paying poor people an allowance and treating everyone the same even if they looked different and not strangling criminals and not hitting children and not calling black people bad names on TV comedy shows and taking care of sick people out of a common pot and all chipping in so we could have the best television and the best radio in the whole world were simply the natural order of things.

And this allowed genuinely nasty people to come out of the closet. It turned out that behind every sensible leading articles about English speaking schools finding it hard to cope with Polish speaking pupils without extra help, there was a failed reality TV contestant wanting to exterminate immigrants like cockroaches and cancer cells. Behind every perfectly reasonable comment about small businesses finding it difficult to fund maternity leave, there was a disgruntled science fiction fan who couldn't quite see the problem with throwing acid in women's faces. While sensible people with serious faces made hard choices about cutting back on library provision in the name of austerity, children's authors came right out and said that poor people had no right to read their books without paying for them. 

We allowed nasty to become the new normal. So we may have to go back to first principles and restate the case, not for Socialism or Liberalism or Marxism but for being nice. Basic human altruism.  

For historical reasons I don't necessarily agree with, it's quite easy for Rev'd Dum and Rev'd Dee to get a platform: in their local paper, in the House of Lords, on the Today Programme. So they might agree to use that platform to promote being nice instead of banging on and on about where men put their willies. Similarly humanists could spend less time banging on and on about suicide and more time explaining why being nice would be a brilliant idea. Same goes for the Muslims. There's some nice bits in the Koran, I believe. Atheists seem very committed to utilitarianism, which is a nasty idea, but individual atheists are often much nicer than the people who claim to speak for them on television.

The important thing is that the survivors make themselves visible: don't every let the nasty people believe they are majority, and never again allow politicians to think that they have to be nasty in order to win an election. Nice people should talk about how much they like paying tax; how proud we feel if we are rich enough to pay the higher rates. Maybe we could start organizing parties at the end of the financial year, with everyone wearing badges saying "I contributed yay much to living in a civilized society." (We could invite the Morris Dancers.) If we get sick, remember to tell everyone how great our local hospital is; all the great things our kids are doing at school; what a weird and brilliant idea it is to have big parks that even unemployed people and poor people and immigrants can play in.

We need to be careful of becoming prigs, but people who make their living being Nasty need to be shunned, shamed, or at least have custard pies thrown in their faces. If someone looks at the horoscope, there is a good chance that someone else will say "you don't honestly believe in that rubbish, do you?". If someone lights up a cigarette, there is a good chance that someone will tell him he needs to give up, and he'll certainly be asked to leave the room. So why do we let nasty people get away with it? Billy Bragg tells me that it is still fairly hard to buy a copy of The Sun in Liverpool: that if you are seen reading it in some pubs, you will be asked to leave. If we see a friend reading the Daily Mail, why don't we react as if they told us they were driving home after five rum and cokes; or as if they oggling a girly magazine in public? Calling a person in receipt of JSA a "scrounger" ought to have the some effect on a room as calling a dark skinned person the n-word.

The BBC may die: but we'll still have the DVDs: let's agree to show our kids Doctor Who and Life on Earth and Bagpuss regardless of what Murdoch's tits and propaganda channels are showing. Libraries may come to an end; but we can still lend our own books to people who haven't go any. (We may have to put stickers in our windows. "Ask to borrow my books. Ask to use my toilet." I think things may get that bad.) Or, at any rate, tell anyone who will listen that stories are brilliant and there is more to studying than cutting and pasting Wikipedia pages in a different font. Cameron may start conscripting the unemployed to stack shelves and sweep floors in return for their "welfare", but we can agree to call it by it's proper name -- scab labour -- and boycott those businesses which employ scabs.

Boycott; and paint graffiti on the windows; and stand outside their offices playing annoying music all day. 

And one last thing: let's not make any of this the only, or the main thing, we do. What's ultimately nasty about the nasty parties is their gradgrindianism, their willingness to sacrifice everything to make sure that Our Lot has more votes than Their Lot. They want there to be libraries so kids can do well in their SATS and get a well paid job; they want kids to play sports because that reduces the amount of juvenile crime; they want people to be healthy because healthy people work hard and earn money; they want the BBC, if they want it at all, because it gives "us" some kind international prestige. We want people to be healthy because healthy people can go for walks in the country and play cricket; we want there to be libraries so that people can accidentally stumble on Tarzan Triumphs and Imperial Earth and the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. We want the BBC to carry on because Just A Minute is bloody brilliant. 

The zombies have deep emotional feelings about Scottish Devolution, First Past the Post Voting, Disfranchisement of Prisoners and Pork Markets In China. We must never start to love those kinds of things. Because if we do, we will have become zombies too.

Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.
Robert E Howard

Saturday, May 30, 2015

So Long It's Been Good To Know You (6)

X: Mad Men

The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made.
Groucho Marx (and others)

The Tories won the election fair and square. But one of the eccentric things about our system is that you can still win a Famous Victory even if the overwhelming majority of voters vote against you.

In one sense, the Tories can claim to have a popular mandate to abolish the BBC license, privatize the NHS, repeal the Human Rights act, abolish most benefits, withdraw from Europe, etc. But the opposition parties can, in a much more intuitive sense, claim a popular mandate to block those extremist measures.

They may not win all the victories. They shouldn't expect to, or even want to. Unlike Tony Blair, I think sensible centrist government happens when there is a compromise between two extreme positions. But surely, as the Opposition, it's their job to try?

But they aren't going to.

Literally minutes after being wiped out, the Liberal Democrats were talking about "bouncing back" in 2020. The Labour Party is having a lovely time debating the ways in which it failed to connect with the voters and how they might appeal to a different demographic at the next election.

Their first thought was not "What can we do to prevent millions more children being forced to rely on food banks?" or "What can we do to make sure that, even if he abolishes the Human Rights Act, Michael Gove doesn't reintroduce torture?" Their first thought was "What can we do to get more votes in five years time?” And so, naturally, they started to think like advertising men; asking what they could do to make their product appeal to people who didn’t buy it this time round.

An advertising man doesn't really, deep down, care whether or not your shirts are clean; he only cares that you buy the brand of soap powder he is selling. It is said that a really good salesman has to really believe in his product; but if you are claiming that one brand of detergent will give you a happier family and more beautiful kids than another identical brand of detergent, you probably don't believe in it very strongly.

It's all about who you sell it to. If your washing powder has a reputation for being cheap-and-cheerful, you will probably decide to put it in a snazzy box and show pictures of posh people washing their shirts before attending the ambassador's reception. Lager still has a bit of a reputation as a bit of a girly drink compared with ale, so adverts for lager are relentlessly blokish.

From an advertising perspective, if people perceive the Labour Party as being about cloth caps and trades unions and poor people, it makes marketing sense to show pictures of Labour voters buying their pizzas and penguins at the poshest shops. The party that stands for the Bosses' interests has persuaded the Workers to vote for it, so the Workers' party needs to have a jolly good go at selling itself to the Bosses.

But surely that isn’t the only thing which matters?

Imagine two Vicars, having a discussion about getting some pious bottoms back onto their church pews. Rev'd T. Dum thinks that church is much too stuffy; and wants to spice it up with the New English Bible, experimental worship and modern hymns. Rev'd T. Dee thinks that, on the contrary, people positively want old familiar tunes and old familiar words. Dum wins the argument; the church invests in an interactive white-board and state of the art espresso machine, and starts mixing heavy rock worship songs with a hiphop liturgy. The pews remain resolutely empty. "Oh dear" says Dum, after a few months, "That didn't work. Let's try it your way, with the Authorized Version, the Book of Common Prayer, and Hymns Ancient and Even More Ancient. If Nescafe was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for us." I don't think that anyone would call Dum a hypocrite. (Or, indeed, blame Dee for throwing himself heart and soul into the modernizing experiment while it lasted.) Because both Vicars care about something more than they care about music and liturgy: namely, getting people into Church and preaching the Christian message at them. The electric guitars and the big black books were merely tactics in that greater game.

It would be surprising if, at the end of a disastrous election, politicians were not talking about where their parties went wrong. But what I find strange and off-putting is that is that politicians who, hours ago, were working their red, white and blue socks off to get make Ed Miliband Prime Minister and Ed Miliband's policies the policies of Her Majesty's government are noq happily saying that they never thought he was much of a leader and never agreed with his policies in the first place.

It's almost as if leaders and policies were merely tactics to persuade people to buy your particular brand of washing powder.

The reason, and I genuinely hate to say this, that Farage was so good was that he was selling a brand of soap powder he honestly and truthfully believed in. He honestly does hate the European Union, he honestly does hate immigrants; and he honestly does think that the European Union is forcing us to allow more immigration than is good for us. He believes this much more than he wants to be Prime Minister. When Britain withdraws from Europe in 2017 I can well imagine him disbanding UKIP and saying "My work is done". And so he resonates with other xenophobes, and with people who are not xenophobic themselves but are impressed with his sincerity. Even I quite liked him.

And the Labour Party says "Oh, well, if that 'xenophobia' stuff is popular this month, we'd better carve 'Down with foreigners!' on a rock and sell 'Down with foreigners!' mugs, and put on our special 'sincere' faces and say 'We just happen to honestly and sincerely feel in our hearts that foreigners are horrible' and in that way we'll be as plausible and convincing and affable on TV as Nigel."

And it doesn't work. It never works.

The Green Party really and truly believe that we need to save the planet. The Scottish Nationalists really and truly believe that Scotland should be an independent nation. I suppose that some Tories at least really and truly believe that poor people are poor because they are wicked, and if poverty is made sufficiently unpleasant, they will choose to stop being poor. The Labour Party really and truly believe that, er, there should be more of Our Lot and less of Their Lot in the House of Commons. 

Being a politician is no longer about having a clever plan that you really believe in and think has a good chance of working and persuading other people that you deserve a chance to put your plan into action. It is about deciding what you think other people think would be a good plan, and then pretending that that’s the plan you really believe in.

Well, “pretending” isn’t exactly the right word. Doing a sort of mental somersault by which you convince yourself that you really believe it – working up subjective emotional states called "sincerity" and "belief" and "feeling passionate about" and "just happening to believe".

So what is required is a paradigm shift.

Tribal party loyalists think that the overwhelming question is "Can Our Lot become enough like Their Lot that Our Lot will get more votes than Their Lot in 2025."

The answer is "No, you cannot: and even if you could it would make no difference — we would still be governed by Their Lot, only under a different name." The old joke about "whoever you vote for, the government always gets elected" would become literally true.

An opposition that has sacrificed it's believe in the BBC, the NHS, Human Rights and the Welfare State in order to gain Murdoch's endorsement is no opposition at all. If Rev'd Dum had said "I reckon we can get people back into church if we dropped all that stuff about God and Jesus and the Bible", then Rev'd Dee would have very properly have kicked him out of his church, and also stopped reading his weekly column in the Guardian.

The question is not "Can a party with the label Labour or Liberal or Green win an election in 2025."

The question is about political survivalism.

There are still a few of us left who still believing in Sharing and Equality and Fairness and Kindness.

What can we humans to do preserve civilization in the face of the forthcoming zombie apocalypse?

There is much rash idealization of past ages about, and I do not wish to encourage more of it. Our ancestors were cruel, lecherous, greedy and stupid, like ourselves. But while they cared for other things more than for civilization - and they cared at different times for all sorts of things, for the will of God, for glory, for personal honour, for doctrinal purity, for justice - was civilization often in serious danger of disappearing?
              C.S Lewis - "First and Second Things"

Friday, May 29, 2015

So Long It's Been Good To Known You (5)

IX: "Values"

In an interview on Newsnight, Keir Starmer (who has sensibly decided that he doesn't want to be the one resigning on May 8th 2020) said the following: 

[People are saying] "we want an authentic debate about what Labour stands for". Really simple values, and we want to boil them down. Most people want a job that pays them properly, where they can be skilled up and get on. Most people want a house or a home where they can live with their immediate family.

Well, hang on a moment. 

Stop: think.

That's actually really sensible!

What does Labour stand for?

1: Everyone who wants a job should be able to get a job 

2: Everyone who has a job should be able to afford a house 

I'd vote for you on those two policies alone. 

And I guess, given five years, a favourable wind and no wars, a government could have a jolly good go at delivering on those two promises. Massive programme of house building, to make more houses available and to make the price of existing ones fall. (The Daily Mail would hate that, which would be another advantage.) Massive job creation scheme, especially in the house building industry, to move us towards full employment. Financial jiggery-pokery to reduce mortgage interest rates. Living wage defined as "the minimum you need to afford a mortgage on a basic house". Legal minimum wage increased to "living wage" level. Laws against landlords sitting on empty properties. New council estates with low, subsidized rents for people who can't get mortgages. Right-to-buy council houses, with a proviso that for every council house sold to a tenant, a new one is put up somewhere else. 

Dammit, Jim, it's a long shot but it just might work...

Sadly, I don't think hat this was what he meant.

I don't think he meant that a future Labour leader should pledge that if he becomes Prime Minister, everyone who wants a job can have a job and everyone who has a job can afford a house. I think he meant that Labour values should be that having a job and owning a house were good things.

Values is a slippery word. You can disbelieve in God and disagree with Jesus Christ's moral teaching, but still believe in Christian values. Her Majesty the Queen thinks that the English and the Saudi Arabians have common values: where "values" presumably means whatever is left over when trivial differences of opinion over letting ladies drive cars and stoning rape victims are disregarded. 

I don't think he meant "If I were Prime Minister, everyone would be able to afford a house of their own." I think he meant "If I were Prime Minister, I would encourage poor people to think 'Maybe one day if I'm very good I'll be be able to afford to have a house of my own, like the rich folks over there.' "

Thursday, May 28, 2015

So Long It's Been Good To Know You (4)

VIII: On Pizzas and Penguins

Tony Blair has a special relationship with the English language. He wrote a short essay in the Guardian on the morning after the election explaining what he thought had gone wrong. Most of us were left none the wiser.

"Second, the centre is not where you split the difference between progressive and conservative politics. It is where progressive politics gets the breadth of territory to allow it to own the future. The Labour project must always be one oriented to the future. We win when we understand the way the world is changing and make sense of how those changes can be shaped for the good of the people. We have to be the policy innovators, those seeking new and creative solutions to the problems our values impel us to overcome."

I take it that "progressive" politics means old fashioned Red Party stuff: "progressing" towards equality, at the expense of freedom, if necessary. I  get that the Very Red Party used to demand total equality, and was prepared to have a totalitarian state in order to bring that about; and the Very Blue Party wants total freedom even if that means orphans asking for more gruel and stealing handkerchiefs on behalf of sinister Jewish people. I get what "The Red Party should move to the Centre" means. It means "We've been asking for too much Equality. If we asked for a bit less Equality with a bit more Freedom, more people might vote for us, and that way at least we'd get a bit more Equality than we've got at the moment."

Maybe it's not that pragmatic. Maybe it's "In the olden days, we were wrong about how much Equality we wanted. We've changed our mind. We still want some Equality, but not quite so much as we thought we did."

But what does "the centre is where progressive politics gets the breadth of territory to own the future" mean?

I've tried to translate it into English:

"The centre doesn't mean that we should ask for less Equality and more Freedom; the centre means we should get exactly amount of Equality and Freedom that we were going to get anyway, which must be definition be the right amount".

I give up.

And what does it mean to "own" the future? Is he saying that everyone will one day believe in Sharing and Equality regardless of what the Labour Party does,  so we should just have to sit back and wait for it to happen? Or is he using "own" in an archaic, Shakespearean sense of "accept" or "concede".("I own that thou art an honest man"). Does he mean that the harsh reality is that Blue Party values — freedom at the expense of equality — are going to win the day, and the Red Party needs to accept that?

"We should all fight hard for the victory of the Party, because it is historically inevitable that the Party will be victorious whether we fight for it or not" - that kind of thing?

This fetishisation of "the Future" seems to be about the only thing that Blairites really believe in. Chuka Umunna (who, younger readers will remember, was at one time hotly tipped to be the next Prime Minister but three) said he wanted to reform the House of Lords, not because it was undemocratic, but because it was old-fashioned. He wanted to build some nice new modern Houses of Parliament like they have in Scotland not because the present buildings had a leaky roof and there was no internet access, but because they were "a relic". Old things bad. New things good. Bleat. Bleat.  

So "we need to seek new and creative solutions to the problems our values impel us to over come". "We need to solve problems" is so uncontroversial it's not worth saying. But what is a "new" solution or a "creative" solution? If my problem is a leaky tap, my solution is to fit a new washer, or, if I'm honest, to pay a man to fit a new washer. That's an old, uncreative solution, but it tends to work. Why look for a new one?

If my problem is that too many people are too poor, then the old, uncreative solutions are

1: Find them jobs;
2: Pay them higher wages if they have jobs
3: Pay them benefits is they don't have jobs
4: Provide them with public services so that being poor doesn't hurt so much.

Old or new, these are the only solutions which exist. Blair doesn't believe in them, because they smack of old-fashioned Red Party equality. But any new-creative solution will be the old solutions under a new name. Or, more likely, the new-creative solution will be to do nothing at all and pretend that the problem is going to go away.

But I think, as ever, it will be better to assume that Blair doesn't actually mean anything; that trying to tease meaning out of this kind of thing is a category mistake.

Fortunately, we have some of the people who have volunteered to lose to Boris Johnson in 2020 on hand to tell us what the Labour Party now believes in.

One word: aspirations.

Labour lost because Labour moved too far to the Left. Labour needs to appeal to the kinds of people who want to move out of their flat and get a nice house with a garden. Labour needs to appeal to the John Lewis couple. Labour needs to appeal to people who would like to do their shopping in Waitrose. Labour needs to be the party of aspiration.   

There is nothing wrong with aspiration. The secular saints of the Labour Party were paid six shillings a week and aspired so hard to be paid ten shillings a weak that they were exiled to Australia. Trade Unionism is full of people who aspired to be paid an extra pound a week. In the olden days Labour raised the school leaving age and introduced student grants and invented the Open University precisely for the benefit of stone masons from Wessex who aspired to learn Latin.

And there is nothing wrong with wanting to shop at Waitrose. They give you a free cup of coffee. Mind you, the idea that Waitrose is posh and Sainsbury's is common is largely a matter of branding. You can shop as cheaply as one as at the other. They do price-matching. But having a Waitrose in your village is something that people regard as moving up in the world. The deranged Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones thought that it was particularly tragic that a lady from Bristol should have been horribly murdered after buying a frozen pizza from Waitrose. Buying a frozen pizza from Waitrose shows that she was hoping for a better life.

I, on the other hand, have just bought a frozen pizza from the Co-op. So I'm presumably better off dead.

(My Mum would be sad if I didn't point out that the people who invented the Co-op are heroes of the Labour Party as well: lower middle class workers who aspired to eat flour that wasn't adulterated with chalk and indeed to be buy tea and sugar and other luxuries they simply couldn't afford at the company stores.)

NOTE: The John Lewis couple are the ones who bought their little boy a toy Penguin costing £69 for Christmas, even though the whole logic of the advert showed that a knitted one costing 50p at the Women's Institute sale of work would have done the job just as well. £69 is an interesting figure: it happens to be the exact amount of money that the government says that a person who has chosen to do the wrong thing and be poor needs to live on (food, gas and electric, TV license, bus fairs, the lot) for a whole week.

The Nasty Party regard well-off socialists as class traitors. If a doctor or an academic or a businessman, or, god forbid, a popular entertainer, says that he thinks that everyone, including him, should pay slightly more tax so there can be nicer schools, nicer hospitals, nicer libraries and nicer money for people who fall on hard times then the Nasty Party accuses her of being a champagne socialist. 

All this chatter about aspiration seems to accept this false dichotomy. Aspiration as opposed to equality. If you have nice things, you can't be in favour of sharing. If you are in favour of sharing, then you shouldn't be allowed nice things. You say that the unemployed should get a more generous allowance, and yet I notice that you yourself are wearing shoes on your feet? Hypocrite! 

You can buy a nice bottle of champagne from Sainsbury's for the price of a movie ticket.

Ed Miliband wanted to introduce a 50% rate of tax, kicking in at £150,000. Some people think that this means that he wanted to take £75,000 out of the pockets of higher earners. (People whose knowledge of British Economic history comes primarily from Beatles lyrics honestly believe that in the 1960s a person earning the average wages of £16 per week gave £15.20 to the government.) But of course the "additional" tax rate is only paid on money you earn above £150K. A person earning £170,000 under the Tories pays a total of £60505 income tax; whereas under Labour he would have paid £61505. (Rounding to the nearest pecentage point, that's 36% under the Tories, but 36% under Labour.) I don't say that he couldn't have had a nice night out on that extra thousand quid. But "I couldn't afford to live on those tax rates I would have to leave the country and become a tax exile."  

Do me a favour.

Similarly, the so called Mansion Tax proposed charging people £3,000 per year if their house was worth more than £2,000,000. Property prices are still increasing at around 6% per year so we are talking about a person hearing that he'll have to put £3,000 of the £120,000 he earns by sitting around doing nothing into the common pot and screaming  "The commies are going to make me destitute." 

Dah-ling, you can't by a SHED for two million pounds in London.

The suggestion that these very modest tax increases represented a lurch to the left; that they amounted to Marxism; that "the minute someone starts to do well, Labour comes along, takes all their money  and gives it to a welfare layabout" is obvious nonsense.

The notion that three weeks ago Labour was against "aspiration" is simply silly. (Ed Miliband carved "Higher living standards for working families" and "A country where the next generation can do better than the last" into a great big stone tablet, for goodness sake.) The idea that anyone might have said "Well, I might have gone for that promotion, but because I'll have to pay £250 more on each £1,000 over £150,000 I shan't bother" is unhinged.

The sacrificial victims are saying that Miliband veered to far to the left simply because that is what the right wing press said. The Sun and The Mail christened him Red Ed and said his daddy was a commie. But get this: they would have said that anyway. They can drop the mansion tax and the 50p tax rate and support all the means test and be horrible to prisoners and foreigners and the press will continue to denounce them as a bunch of Marxist traitors. They can demand the pillory and the ducking stool tomorrow and the press will still say they are soft on crime. The press hates the Labour Party because the press is owned by the kinds of people who are rich enough to own newspapers. The press hates the BBC because television is much more interesting and fun unbiased than print media, and because billionaire newspaper owners are also billionaire satellite TV channel owners. Yet the the sacrificial victims cling to their faith that if only they could appease the right wing press, they might get to play at being Prime Minister. Every time one of them speaks the a-word, they are dancing to Rupert Murdoch's tune.

Friday, May 22, 2015

One Hundred Years Ago....

Some time in the last millennium, just after t.c Blair had become Prime Minister, I wrote the following. It is worth re-reading, because absolutely nothing in it still applies today. 

If I wrote it now, I might say that the Red Party supported "sharing" or "fairness" rather than "equality". I might also push the idea that the Red and the Blue are rather like Moorcock's Lords of Order and Chaos: both sides can look like "goodies" and both sides can look like "baddies" but the really important thing is that neither side ever be allowed to gain the upper hand. I suppose that means Vince Cable is the Cosmic Balance and Nick Clegg is Elric.

I thank Mike Taylor for reminding me of this piece. Go read his blog . His stuff on the election is better than mine. It contains facts and evidence and everything. (He also wrote a good thing about Doctor Who.)

British Politics Explained

Once upon a time, there were three political parties; a big party, a medium party, and a little baby party, which, due to the vagaries of the first past the post system, stood no chance of getting elected and can be ignored for the purposes of this discussion.

The other two parties, let's call them The Red Party and The Blue Party, had different points of view from each other. (That was why they were different parties.)
The Red Party said, 'We believe in Equality, in particular Economic Equality. We think that the Poor should be a bit Richer, and the Rich should be a bit Poorer. We are prepared to sacrifice a bit of Freedom in order to bring that about.'
The Blue Party said, 'We believe in Freedom. We think that people should be as far as possible be left alone and allowed to do whatever they like, and we are prepared to sacrifice a great deal of Equality in order to bring that about.'
They often had quite sensible discussions around this point.
The Blue Party would say 'But if I have sufficient wealth to live on, why am I necessarily harmed by someone else being richer than me? And since the very rich often pay wages to the very poor, won't taking money off the rich have a long term effect of making they poor even poorer?'
But The Red Party replied 'But since your capacity to do what you want is very largely defined by how much money your have, the very poor are, in fact, not Free: Freedom at the expense of Equality is self defeating.'
There were a small number of people in The Red Party who said, 'What we want is total Equality! Everyone should have the same amount of money as everyone else! Nationalise the banks! Eat the rich!' and a small number of people in The Blue Party who said, 'What we want is total Freedom! The state should not interfere with people at all! Everyone is Free to own guns! No taxation at all! Society does not exist!' But everyone ignored them.
One day, there was an election. For some reason…I don't know, let's make something up…say, because the leader of The Red Party had red hair, or was bald, or wore a shabby coat in church, something like that…but anyway, The Blue Party won the election, and set about trying to make the country more Free but less Equal.
All the bad, wicked institutions which The Red Party had set up in order to make people more Equal, like trades unions, nationalized industries, comprehensive schools, railways, laws, the health service, etc, were abolished or run down, and clever new words like 'competition' and 'entrepreneur' were invented to make it all right to be very greedy. Sure enough, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.
After about a hundred years, the leader of the Red Party got a haircut and bought a smart new suit, and the leader of the Blue Party got old, went mad and turned grey. So The Red Party was allowed to win an election.
But, once he was safely sworn in as President, the leader of The Red Party admitted that he now agreed with the Blue Party about absolutely everything. No one was quite sure how that had happened. Perhaps the leader of The Blue Party put a spell on him, or perhaps he made a pact with the devil. Or perhaps The Blue Party won him over because it had much cleverer arguments; or perhaps it was just that so many people in The Red Party had done well under The Blue Party, and acquired lattes and television sets and didn't want to give them up.
This left the leader of The Red Party in a bit of a quandary. He could no longer have arguments with the leader of The Blue Party about Freedom versus Equality, because they both now agreed with each other that Freedom was more important. They disagreed about European Integration and Fox Hunting, but when they talked about that, everyone fell asleep.
But from time to time, wicked people asked the leader of The Red Party what he believed in. First, he just said 'Look' and 'You know', but they asked him again.
Next he tried listing lots of numbers. Some of them were almost true, like 'Our school children are the best in the world', (provided you didn't ask what 'best' meant, and who decided). But some of them were a load of old codswallop, like 'The rate at which crime is increasing is speeding up more slowly.' But it didn't make much difference, because when he used numbers, everyone fell asleep.
So instead, when people asked him what he believed in, he said that he believed in Goodness; or, when pressed, in Fairness and Social Justice. (When he was asked if he believed in God, he squirmed, and looked embarrassed, and said 'Look' and 'You know' so much that people took pity on him and didn't ask him any more.) He said that these had always been the Values of the Red Party, and very good Values they were too; but that all that talk about Equality was horribly out of date and not Modern. And in any case, by Equality, they had never meant Economic Equality, which meant everyone having the same amount of money as everyone else. They had always meant Equality of Opportunity, which meant everyone being Free to make as much money as they wanted to all by themselves. 
Most people listening drew the conclusion that, since the Red Party was the party which believed in Goodness and Fairness and Social Justice, the Blue Party must be the party which believed in Wickedness and Unfairness and Injustice: because otherwise, why would there be two parties at all?
So all the Good people voted for the Red Party, and the Red Party changed its name to the Good Party, and the Blue Party changed its name to the Bad Party and, after having some drinks and insulting a few black people, they disbanded. So the Good Party was allowed to do anything it liked, and everyone and everyone lived happily ever, after apart from the poor, who never voted anyway.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

So long, it's been good to know you... (3)

III: Is Nick Clegg a shit?


Scenario 1:

Five years ago, Nick Clegg decided that the Liberal party should go out in a blaze of glory, his only regret being that he had but one party to lay down for his country. He could either join a Liberal / Conservative coalition, or else he could force a second General Election which the Conservatives would certainly have won outright. He chose the Coalition, reasoning that this was the least worst option for the country. He gambled everything on the idea that the Liberals would make a Conservative government less bad than it would otherwise have been.

He would have probably preferred a Labour/Liberal coalition, but that was never really on the table. Labour hates the Liberals far more than they hate the Conservatives, and they hate coalitions far more than they hate Liberals. 

Never been sure that supporting a Very Bad Thing to stop an Even Worse Thing happening is morally defensible myself. "Oh, personally speaking I'm dead set again beheading old ladies, but if they are going to behead old ladies anyway surely it's better that they do it with nice sharp cleavers from my nice sharp cleaver shop..." 

On this view, Clegg was literally a hypocrite. When he was defending coalition policy, he was taking the party line. Pretending to agree with stuff that he didn't agree with, because he'd promised to. But all politicians do that. Cabinet responsibility, it's called. Tell the Prime Minister that something is suicidally insane behind closed doors, and then go out and say it's a brilliant idea on live TV. (This is why so many of them cheat on their wives and expenses, incidentally. Lying convincingly is part of the job.) 

Lawyers also have to put forward arguments that they know are bullshit. But they don't have to pretend that they think that Mr J.T Ripper is innocent: merely to explain to the court why he thinks he is. This doesn’t make them bad people. It’s their job.

Scenario 2

Clegg formed an alliance with the Conservative Party because he honestly believed all the bollocks that Cameron was talking. He honestly believed that "austerity" was a necessary response to the economic crash, and not a pretext to do all the stuff that the Tories have wanted to do for years. He honestly believed that the economic crash was the fault of "the-mess-we-inherited-from-Labour" and nothing to do with the banks. He honestly believed that unemployment is caused by poor people being too lazy to go to work, and that reducing unemployment benefit will therefore cure unemployment. He honestly believed that people only go to food banks because they're greedy and love a freebie. 

See, if Scenario 2 is true, things aren’t too bad right now. The Conservative/Liberal coalition was doing pretty much the exact same things that the Conservatives would have done on their own. So we've got another ten years of that to look forward to. 

But if Clegg is what he appears to have been — a sincere and principled politician playing the best game he could with a rotten hand...

Well, what we've had for the last five years has been what the Conservative Party looked like with the Liberals holding them back. And now, there is nobody to restrain them. The brakes are off. They get to do what they actually want. 

In other words: Armageddon. 

IV: Armageddon

The BBC is over, of course; and the Health Service is over. The Welfare State is over as well. Oh, ten years from now there will still be something with the BBC logo on it, in the same way there is a still a Woolworths website and someone owns British Movietone News. But once the licence fee goes the idea of public service broadcasting comes to an end and Rupert Murdoch moves into the space it used to occupy. All those little things that we used to take for granted that meant that even if the very worst happened, it wouldn't be too bad — the dole; giro; the social; family allowance; housing benefit — are now lumped under the vile American term "welfare". So "welfare" is pretty much finished as well. How can we have a "welfare state" if all the parties are agreed that Welfare is a Bad Thing? 

And that's before we've got to the genuinely scary stuff. Europe is over; at any rate, Europe is going to have to manage without Britain because Britain is going to go it alone. Oh, there will be an In/Out referendum, but that will come after 18 months of foreigner-baiting; 18 months of Murdoch and Dacre printing made up stories about straight bananas and pensioners being hauled in front of Sharia courts for weighing their jam in feet and inches. Something like 1 in 10 people voted for a party with no policy apart from withdrawing from Europe.

I am sure that there is a sensible discussion to be had about the economics and politics of federations as opposed to confederacies as compared with treaties and contrasted with free-trade zones. I am equally sure that no-one is remotely interested in having it. It's not Britain Withdrawing From Europe that I fear so much as the two years of xenophobic rhetoric that precedes it and the month long xenophobic victory parade that follows it. 

V: Point of Need

Did you see that thing on the Interwebs about how much it cost to have a baby in America as compared with how much it cost to have a baby in the UK? (The medical costs of having a baby safely delivered and cared for, I mean. Actually producing the child is still relatively cheap in both countries.) They said that it could easily run to $100,000 in America, but that in England it is free.

This is not true. This has never been true. 

In England, it very expensive to have a baby, or get treated for cancer, or even have to have a chat with your doctor because you've got a bit of a hurty leg. Doctors and surgeons are highly paid professionals. Nurses and midwifes don't get paid nearly enough, but they don't work gratis. We have developed an ingenious scheme whereby everyone pays up front regardless of how many times they get ill, and then get to go to the doctor as often as they want regardless of what they've paid. Someone has done some sums and worked out what everyone can afford, and we pay it annually. The rich pay more and the poor pay less. No-one sits around saying "It's not fair. I don't have cancer, so I'm not getting to use the cancer ward I contributed it." We say "It's brilliant. Even if the very worst happens and I get cancer, I know there's a cancer ward waiting for me to go to. And in the meantime, if I get a hurty leg, I just go and get it seen to."

You could call this "pooling risk" or  "national insurance" or even "socialized medicine". A better word would be "sharing". 

Oh, yes, the rich sometimes say that they are paying more than their fair share and the poor sometimes say that the rich aren't paying enough. And there are sometimes stories (made up by people who hate the whole idea of "sharing") about someone who got something paid for out of the common pot that someone else thinks was frivolous or unnecessary or a waste of time – homeopathy or penis enlargement or gender realignment. And there are always tragic stories about some kid who had cancer and there were some magic pills that could definitely cure him but "you couldn't get them on the health service" because they were too expensive. If you are working on the sharing system, then someone does sometimes have to decide whether or not everyone can afford to pay ten million pounds for a treatment that might keep someone alive for an extra fortnight, horrible and painful though those kinds of decisions are. I think that's what made the crazy lady think that socialized medicine involved Death Panels. God knows, the National Health Service isn't perfect. But if you have appendicitis or a heart attack or a bit of a hurty leg it patches you up and sends you home without a bill.

Honestly, it does. You have to pay for pills and glasses.

Do you remember that big pageant they held before the 2012 Olympic Games? Deaf kids singing the National Anthem in their pajamas, James Bond shoving the Queen out of a helicopter, Paul McCartney making a spectacle of himself? Then you may also remember that Mr Rupert Murdoch said that he quite enjoyed the ceremony, but felt that it was "a bit too politically correct".

"A bit too politically correct." I wonder what he could possibly have meant? Did he wish that some of the hymn singing kids had shouted "Pooftahs! N*ggers! Cripples!" at the Queen? Did he find out that there were paramedics on hand in case anyone got ill, as opposed to, as he would presumably prefer "ambulance blokes"?

In the lexicon of the extreme right Political Correctness does not mean avoiding using nasty words if a nice ones are available. Political Correctness is a conspiracy by Marxists to destroy civilization. (Jewish Marxists. Weird looking Jewish Marxists who can't eat bacon sandwiches, I shouldn't wonder.) What Mr Rupert Murdoch objected to about the Olympic Games was J.K Rowling reading to sick children; thousands of dancing nurses and the letters N.H.S suspended above the arena: the tribute to the National Health Service as one of the unequivocally Good Things about Britain that we can boast about to the rest of the world. The Common Sense Brigade hates the Health Service because it is, genuinely, a Marxist idea. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need: it really doesn't get more Marxist than that. As noted, in England Marxist isn't an insult, but a description. Most of think that Marxism is quite a good way to run public health but quite a bad way to run, say, the steel industry. The Common Sense Brigade hate that the N.H.S exists; hate that it's successful; hate that it's popular. 

“The new National Health Service will provide you with all medical, dental and nursing care. Everyone, rich or poor, man, woman or child, can use it... But it is not a charity. You are all paying for it, mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in time of sickness.”

For 60 years, there has mostly been a consensus that sharing is quite a good idea; that people in work should help people who are out of work; that well paid people should lend a hand to the poor. Not necessarily by handing the poor huge clumps of five pound notes. Mostly by having things called "libraries" so that people who can't afford to buy books can still read and educate themselves; and by having things called "parks" so that even if your dad doesn't have his own tennis court, you can still play sport; and by having — call me old fashioned — things called Council Houses so people who can't get a mortgage can have somewhere to live; and by making the state schools so good that no-one really needs to send their kid to a private school and...

But that consensus is gone. Poor people are no longer unfortunates to be helped with a spoonful of "there but for the grace of god go I". Benefit claimants are no longer people like us, going through a bad patch and needing some help. (Most people claim benefits at some time in their lives.) Poor people have become, through some bizarre heresy of Calvinism, the enemy -- wicked folk who have done the wrong thing by choosing to be poor and require punishment. Not in their own interests, but in the interests of folk who virtuously chose to be rich.

We have Cameron in his manifesto:

"Under Labour, those who worked hard found more and more of their earnings taken away in tax to support a welfare system that allowed, and even encouraged, people to choose benefits when they could be earning a living. This sent out terrible signals: if you did the right thing, you were penalised – and if you did the wrong thing, you were rewarded, with the unfairness of it all infuriating hardworking people." 

We have Labour politicians, agreeing with him: 

"We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work. Labour are a party of working people, formed for and by working people.” 

And we have a right wing pundit in the Guardian. 

“This issue is self-interest. You have permission in this country to defend your own interests, and to vote accordingly, only if you’re poor, or otherwise disadvantaged....If the issue is tax, and it isn’t always, why should it be shameful to vote to keep more of the money you’ve earned but noble to vote to appropriate other people’s money...and award it to yourself or to the groups with which you personally sympathize.”

Granted, the Guardian, being a left wing paper, presumably picked a right wing pundit who could be relied on to say something stupid and unpleasant, but still, this kind of thing wouldn't have been said or even thought a decade ago. Over the next ten years, that rhetoric will increasingly be applied to the health service, libraries, public parks, museums, arts subsidies, child-benefit, education. Why should someone steal money from me just so that some child who has chosen to be poor can read books, play in the park, have an education, go to the doctor...

VI: How bad could things get?

The Tories are going to legalize fox-hunting, or at any rate, have a free vote in the house of commons to see if fox-hunting can be legalized.

Some things are more important than other things; and fox-hunting would be somewhere near the bottom of any sensible list of important things.

So why are the Tories pressing forward with their plans to legalize it?  Mainly, I suppose, because they know it will annoy the Left. In fairness, the Left banned fox hunting mainly because it would annoy the Tories. We are often told that fox hunting is a really popular day out for all different kinds of people, that families from estates in Birmingham regularly saddle up their horses and go and slaughter a few woodland mammals. For all I know this might be true. But people in red jackets shouting "tally ho!" is one of the first things which comes to mind when you think of the English upper classes.

Fox-hunting is a symbol. Legalizing fox-hunting sends a message. "When we say that we are going to govern for the whole country, we mean we are going to stick up for the Toffs and two fingers up to the oiks, the commies, and anyone who wears sandals." 

I mention this because David Cameron’s other top priority is to abolish the Human Rights Act, and I am very much hoping that he wants to abolish the Human Rights Act mainly in order to annoy the Left. And I am very much hoping that when he says he wants to abolish the Human Rights Act he means that he wants to abolish the Human Rights Act and not, for example, that he wants to abolish Human Rights.

The Human Rights Act is much hated by right-wing pundits, but the Human Rights Act that the pundits hate is largely a fictitious Human Rights act, a Human Rights act that tells policemen that burglars are allowed to order take-away meals during sieges and school children have to wear goggles to play conkers. (Human Rights, like Health and Safety, is a branch of the Jewish Marxist conspiracy to destroy civilization.) Tearing up the Human Rights Act (or “Labour’s Human Rights Act” as Cameron likes to call it) is mainly a way of identifying with Daily Mail and Sun Readers and kicking Guardian readers in the teeth. There isn't actually any plan to say that Human Rights don't apply in the United Kingdom.  

Is there?

A lot of Tories think that if you scratch Tony Blair and Ed Miliband, what you would find underneath would be a Clause 4 (*) believing cloth cap wearing brass band listening union belonging Old Labour Man. A lot of us Lefties fear that you would have to peel a lot less layers off David Cameron and Micahel Gove to find an old fashioned hang'em flog'em Tory underneath. (In British English, Hang’em-Flog’em-Tory is all one word, like Bleeding-Heart-Liberal in American English.)

The question we can't answer at this stage is: do Hang'em-flog'em-Tories actually still believe in hanging and flogging? 

VII: Earth Abides

The Church of England, the BBC, the National Health Service. Three things which made Britian Britain. One of them self-destructed, the other two are going to be broken by a gang of posh boys because they can. A fiercely patriotic little island, regarding the countries around it not as partners or allies but as competitors or opponents. Scotland a scary little left-wing foreign place that we're taught to dislike almost as much as we dislike the French. No health service anyone who grew up in Britain would recognise as a health service. No public service broadcaster with a remit to give us what we need as well as what we want; Murdoch stepping into the breach with topless ladies and far-right propaganda. The unemployed reliant on charity; or living on the street as hobos; or maybe working for food coupons or gathered into workhouses. (What do you do with poor people if there aren't jobs for them and you aren't prepared to give them any money?) An England tentatively hanging it's first paedophile and wondering whether free schools might be permitted to start gently and sensibly beating children again. No libraries; if you can't buy books on Amazon, what right have you to read? No parks, because why should poor people play on lawns that working people paid to have cut?  

Well, it may not come to that. But the Tory Party are steering us in that direction. And any suggestion that we might not want to go in this direction; or even that we might not want to go in this direction quite so fast; is denounced as crazily "left wing" and "communist" even by the Labour party itself. 

So what is there to stop this happening – except the innate good sense and decency of the British people.

So Long, It's Been Good To Know You (2)

II: Note, for the edification of people in the United States and other non-cricket playing nations.

In England, the liberal party is called the Labour Party and the conservative party is called the Conservative Party. However the Conservative Party is much more liberal than any American liberal party.

The Liberal Party used to be more liberal than the Conservative party but more conservative than the Labour Party, but in recent times the Labour Party and the Conservative Party have both become much more conservative. This process is known as “moving to the centre”.

When we say "liberal" we don't mean what you mean by "liberal". When British Liberals say they are liberal they mean that they believe very strongly in personal liberty and civil rights. When other people say that someone is liberal they mean that they are moderate, middle of the road or "sitting on the fence".

What Americans mean when they say "liberal" is closer to what the British mean when they say "socialist". What the Americans mean when they say "socialist" is closer to what the British mean when they say "communist". However, in British English "communist" is a description of a political point of view, as opposed to an insult.

Our Liberal Party is actually called the Liberal Democrat Party, because it merged in 1988 with the Social Democrats, who were a group of socialists who left the Labour party in 1981 because it was too socialist. Our Liberal Democrats are nothing like your liberal Democrats. (We also have Liberal republicans; as a matter of fact most of our Liberals are republicans.)

The word "Tory" is simply a nickname for the Conservative Party, although it has connotations of an aristocratic, high-church, Royalist politics that would be regarded as old-fashioned in modern party. The word originally means "brigand" or "cattle thief", obviously.

Our Private Schools are called Public Schools and we drive on the left hand side of the road.

Lady Bracknell: What are your politics?
Jack.  Well, I am afraid I really have none.  I am a Liberal..
Lady Bracknell.  Oh, they count as Tories.  They dine with us.  Or come in the evening, at any rate.