Musings on Coalitions and Party Splits

When celebrating my birthday a few weeks ago, a friend and I had a lengthy conversation about the state of British politics (I never did like parties, and I was drinking a beer at the time.) Whilst mounting a defence of Nick Clegg, we both agreed that the Coalition, for all its faults, was a better government than the one we currently have.

Neither my friend and I have much time for either party, especially the Conservatives (he being a socialist, myself a former Blairite, now a politically homeless, small-c conservative social democrat), we nevertheless thought that the Lib Dems likely blunted the sharper edges of their senior coalition partners, and that the numbers were never there for a Labour-Lib Dem coalition.

In this age of marked polarisation, the extremes of both of the two main parties second guessing the motives and morals of everyone who does not align with them, we came to the conclusion that coalitions are actually desirable, all the better to represent a broader swathe of the population. This in turn led us to consider favourably our political parties to split.

Such is the afore mentioned polarisation, parties at war with themselves, it seems untenable and undesirable that different ideologies coalesce under a single banner. We agreed for example that the party we know most about, Labour, would be better off splitting into four distinct groups: Old fashioned state socialists, predominate in the shadow cabinet in the leadership and the membership, soft left social democrats, pro market social democrats, (Blairites if you will), and your old school Labour Right, a relatively small faction who espouse more conservative views on social issues, and preferring bottom up localism to top down state socialism, and rejecting to much of globalisation.

With regards to the other two main non-nationalist parties in Britain, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, we thought it better that the former spit between its neoliberal and traditionalist wings, the latter between the more market liberal and social democratic wings.

What these theoretical parties would call themselves would be up to them, and no doubt with our elections being tribal, with long established parties that generations have grown up with, there would be much confusion, adjustment, and resentment. Long-term however I think it would be beneficial for the electorate to be provided with a broad choice of parties, exposure to different views, the better to have more of a genuine choice in elections.

More parties I believe would result in coalitions being more palatable and understandable to the electorate. Rather than voters investing too much in a particular party, and a party in turn promising all things to all people, there would be a need to compromise, indeed it would be an imperative for stable, representative government. Hopefully then when coalitions are formed voters would not feel the need to buy into any sensationalist ‘betrayal’ narratives, and tribalism in politics would be exposed as archaic and regressive.

 

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French Open: Men’s Final Preview

It had to be these two, right? As the only Major played on the surface, winning the French Open is the high watermark of any clay proficient players tennis career.

With ten Roland Garros titles and counting, not to mention 46 clay titles at other venues, there’s no need for me to wax lyrical about Nadal’s pedigree on the red dirt, making him the clear favourite in the title clash.

His opponent, the Austrian Dominic Thiem, is no slouch on the surface himself. He has been widely touted as Nadal’s heir apparent on clay, a surface he cites as being his favourite, and there is an expectation that he will in his career lift the French Open trophy on multiple occasions. Eight of Thiem’s ten titles have come on clay, two alone this year. He has also beaten Nadal on the surface this year in Madrid, the Spaniards only clay loss this season, and has inflicted three defeats on Rafa in total on the dirt.

Nadal though has won six of his meetings with the Austrian on clay, incidentally the only surface they have ever met on, a sure indicator of their clay proficiency. Nadal beat Thiem quite handily in Monte Carlo this year, dropping just two games, and last year they met in the Roland Garros Semi Finals, the Spaniard putting in a dominant performance to win in straight sets.

It isn’t all doom and gloom for the Austrian. Although Nadal has looked sharp this tournament, making light work of Del Potro in the semis, he was slightly challenged in his first match, whilst the diminutive Diego Schwartzman gave him pause for thought in the quarterfianls with a battling, aggressive display, pinching a set, and challenging for another before folding. Rafa has looked dominant, but not quite as dominant as he was last year.

Nadal will look to push his opponent back, and direct a lot of high topspin shots to the Austrians backhand. Although Thiem’s signature shot, the forehand is arguably the more consistent of the two groundstrokes, and will likely deal Nadal more damage. The Austrian ought to look to keep things simple, using his blend of raw power and spin to hit with aggressive consistency, and take Nadal’s high bouncing shots on the rise, redirecting them and pushing him back. My worry for Thiem is that he reverts back to type, and plants himself too far behind the baseline. Although this works against the majority of opponents, he will find himself in a world of pain against Nadal if he cedes too much ground.

I think ultimately Nadal will win the day, using superior athleticism, experience, and clay court tennis acumen to grind down his opponent in the best of five format. I fancy though that the Austrian will give as good as he gets, and give Nadal a challenge with his power and margin that for error that has seen him become such an effective clay court player in his own right.

Winner: Nadal in four sets.

Why I Voted To Leave

Nearly two years on from the EU Referendum, it’s time to mull over my reasoning for voting to leave.

First and foremost, I thought that the Remain side would win. I had a slight antipathy towards the EU. I did not hate it per se, but rather slightly disliked it and its seemingly unaccountable institutions and arrogance. Annoyed also by the Remain camp not keeping their powder dry, and insulting large swathes of the population with their smug scorn weeks before the result, I wanted to ensure that Remain won by as little a margin as possible, the better to stop even the vague notion of ‘ever closer union’ with the EU.

This is not popular for a recent student in their mid-twenties to say, but I also do not think that all immigration is good for its own sake. Houses are in short supply, we are a relatively small country in terms of land mass, and watching the contortions of the left liberal green types, simultaneously bemoaning the impact of human habitation and activity on the natural environment, but extolling the virtues of immigration without any thought given to how the increase of population inevitably increases the demands for infrastructure that so hurts the environment and encroaches on natural spaces.

A further reasoning behind my slight tilt towards leaving was the overwhelming focus on the collective economic bonus of remaining within the EU. This might have been true for certain regions of the UK, particularly in the South east, but that’s crumbs of comfort in individual localities with stagnating wages, increasing waiting lists for social housing, dozens of applicants for an ever decreasing amount of jobs. This complacency with the lot of those who lived in such areas that voted overwhelmingly for Leave, expecting them to display gratitude for supposed economic benefits of EU membership that did not trickle down, deserved to be punished.

Finally, I thought it was a great opportunity to, forgive me, and shake shit up. I hated both the then leadership of the government and the then and unfortunately still leadership of the opposition. The referendum for me represented a once in a lifetime chance to depose a prime minister by means other than an election. In this I feel vindicated, seeing the smug Cameron and Osbourne humiliated and booted out of office. It did not quite work out the way I hoped with the Labour Party. As I thought would be the case if the Leave side won, it would precipitate a leadership contest due to outrage over Corbyn’s going on holiday during the referendum campaign, and his half-hearted, lukewarm attitude to the EU, once describing it as a ‘capitalist club’ many years ago. However, the hive mind that makes up the mainstay of the current Labour Party membership, essentially worker ants bereft of independent thought and any critical faculties, could not bring themselves to be angry at St. Jeremy, voting for Marx’s representative on Earth to remain as its leader.

I will be glad when this sorry chapter is over, the oversimplification of two castes in our society, Remain and Leave, one inherently good, the other the embodiment of evil. I hate many elements of the leave side too, and remain an internationalist with my support of targeted foreign aid, and supporting financially and militarily any efforts to preserve or expand liberal democracy. I am optimistic that we can be grownup, carry on living in a multicultural, multi-ethnic society, and enjoy warm, amicable relations with our immediate neighbours.

The EU in my opinion is destined to fail. The disparity of wealth and industries between Sothern and Northern Europe, different cultures, the steady rise in calls for national sovereignty, and Macron recently opining that a referendum in France would see the French people also vote to leave as well. We can see the collapsing scenery staring us in our face. I hope the resources and energy that are being used to keep the EU together can one day be applied by its leadership to manage an amicable and frictionless breakup.

On Political Homelessness

I have not written about politics in any length for quite a while. Jobs, and increasing scarce leisure time have put paid to my love of writing about current affairs and political thought, usually being content now to share on my social media feeds articles and digs about figures or groups I deplore. I have a well-earned reputation for negativity and denunciation, and where once this would be accompanied by more of my own insights and views, said absence of time has resulted in a lack of will or energy to engage in writing in any depth.

So then, for someone who imposes political posts on others with annoying regularity, what is it exactly that I believe?

I am probably best described as a social democrat without a home. I have recently left the Labour party in disgust at what I regard as an inept leadership, and a hostile takeover by Bennite fantasists who prize membership led policies above pragmatism and compromise. For me this will ultimately be politically suicidal for the party. Inevitably the membership of any party will be more animated and idealistic about issues in a wat that the mainstay of the voting public will not necessarily be. A Labour voters general concern for increasing costs of living would not potentially be in line with a party member who wants significant tax rises. In much the same way as a Brexit voting Conservative supporter may not dwell on the issue as much as a John Redwood or Liam Fox.

As a party becomes more detached from the realities of its base, proposing more abstract policies from an enthusiastic membership disconnected to the core vote, the more moderate, floating voter will potentially look elsewhere, tribalism be damned.

Am I then one of the detested ‘Blairites’, that increasingly meaningless term for anyone to the right of Jeremy Corbyn? Not anymore, and not for a while. Last year I wrote of how I went from being a New Labour apologist to its critical friend. I am an admirer of Mr Blair, and think however poorly handled the decision to bring Iraq into a post Saddam era was moral and necessary, but the bungling and misinformation will forever be a stain on the administration. This a pity for a government who intervened morally and successfully in the Balkans and Sierra Leone.

I think the New Labour era, for all its achievements in the redistributing of wealth, alleviating child poverty, record investment in public services, was in hindsight too timid, too complacent with the wealth of the city, and too keen on top-down dictates, increasing the power of the executive. I am quite critical of the parental state socialism which Corbyn and his acolytes advocate, and although I would not claim New Labour to be a socialist government, it remained very centralised, very self-assured, and thought that throwing money at all projects would always result in better provision of public services, with scant heed paid to the locality. This inevitably led to the death knell for the administration come the financial crash and recession, with the Conservative front bench, previously committed to matching New Labours spending targets, freed to propose and then implement cuts to public services that have been too far and too fast.

As you can see, I have a mixed relationship with New Labour, and for all of my reservations I believe finding a third way between state socialism and unbridled capitalism to be the only moral way forward. Should then I move over to the Lib Dems permanently, a party that I leant my vote to in 2017? No. I am not massively in line with the current so-called liberalism that seems very illiberal in policing thought and private consciences, and seeks to redefine what is right and wrong. I am a freedom of speech absolutist, and the dogmatic liberalism that has also seeped into many parts of the Labour Party, as well as superficially into the Conservative modernisers. Two cases in point: Firstly, I believe that someone who identifies as the opposite gender should be treated with dignity and kindness, but that is no more or no less important as an individual’s right to say objectively speaking, the gender you are born as is the same gender that you die as. Secondly, as someone who at a push identifies as ‘gay’ (oh how I hate the word), I believe people who have a personal objection to this should not be demonised and hounded, as was the case last year with Tim Farron. There is a clear difference between disapproval and persecution.

The only political group that I feel any affinity to at the moment is the ‘Blue Labour’ movement, promoting a small-c conservative, ethical socialism vision. I have reservations about Blue Labour, at times too rooted in the past, and also overly romantic about notions of family and a national community. Despite such qualms, it has a lot to say that chimes with my worldview, namely a more federalised UK where there is more emphasis on the common good, with local communities more empowered to control their services and individuals their outcomes, not being told by the national media or Whitehall what is best for them, nor this more and more alarming cult of youth where it seems only young people’s views on Europe and more broader social matters are somehow more valid than older people who may well have a vast reservoir of experiences that have shaped their own politics.

To summarise after a potted and tangential essay, I am a small-c conservative social democrat, a freedom of speech absolutist who wants to see a more community led, bottom up politics that transcends who is in control at Westminster. I want to see politics that is relevant to people’s lives, also a return to a criminal justice system in which one is presumed innocent until proven guilty, with a sentence structure that ensures the violent and deadliest criminals stay in prison substantially longer, if not for life in the case of murder. Above all I want to see the end of simplistic, utopian decisions, no more ‘public good, private bad’, and vice versa, or clinging onto certain taxation figure as though high tax is good for its own sake, rather than something that should be subject to constant revision to meet both the needs of public expenditure as well as ensuring that taxpayers and businesses are not so heavily taxed that they cannot make ends meet or have sufficient money to pump back into the economy.

Davis Cup Changes

The proposed changes to the format of the Davis Cup are for me at once regressive and pandering.

I have always had mixed feelings about the Davis Cup. It is certainly not one of my favourite tennis events, first and foremost because I have an ambivalence towards nationalism in sports. For me tennis is at its best as an individual game, and I do not feel any obligation to support a player who happens to have been born on the same forsaken lump of rock as myself.

Additionally, I struggle with the raucous crowds, chanting, and instruments that the Davis Cup crowds use to create a carnival and partisan like atmosphere one would expect to see at football matches. One of the draws of tennis for me is at many events it has a civilised, quiet quality to it, and this is spoilt somewhat by the noisy hollering at Davis Cup ties.

All that aside, I have warmed somewhat to the Davis Cup in recent years. First and foremost, it provides me with the opportunity to watch best of five tennis matches. This is a rare commodity for the tennis viewer, especially since the ATP did away with five set finals on the main tour for the Masters Series and Masters Cup.

Secondly, it provides unforgettable moments of drama. It seems that players of a lesser rank and calibre play above their usual level in this team competition. Two matches that stick in my mind in particular. The first is when James Ward clinching the deciding match in the round of sixteen of the World Group in 2014, beating Sam Querrey, ranked some eighty spots above him, in five sets against the odds and an away crowd. The second was during the final in 2012 when Radek Stepanek deified age and his lower ranking to outfox the raw power of the hot-headed Nicolas Almagro of Spain, winning in four sets in the deciding rubber to clinch the title for the Czech Republic.

Finally, I am something of a stickler for tradition. The Davis Cup is a throwback to a different time, over a hundred ago since years since its inception. There isn’t the crass commercialisation that one oft sees on the main tour, and it offers fans the chance to see a variety of players, levels of play in far flung corners of the globe.

Whilst in many respects a tennis traditionalist, I do not view everything as sacrosanct. For example, I would be open to their being a fifth grand slam event, perhaps in the autumn and held in the Far East where tennis is enjoying a boom of interest. I also recognise that the scheduling leaves much to be desired, ties often taking place just after major events and taking place on different surfaces, at times putting unreasonable demands on players who reach the latter stages of the larger tournaments.

In spite of the inadequacies of the tournament in its current form, it seems that the powers that be are going from one extreme to the other with it being held once a year in a single location with less countries able to participate, and only two singles rubbers being played per tie. These changes might be in the interest of the biggest stars, but in one fell swoop it drastically cuts the amount of players able to play for their country, and the number of fans able to witness exciting, live tennis who would not be able to otherwise.

Federer Vs. Cilic: Australian Open Final Preview

Roger Federer will be gunning for his twentieth Grand Slam trophy in Melbourne tomorrow, and if his record against his opponent is anything to go by, he will likely claim it.

The Swiss leads Croatia’s Marin Cilic 8-1 in their head-to-head, Cilic’s sole victory against Federer coming in the US Open semis in 2014, off of the back of a gruelling five setter in which the Swiss barely survived against Monfils. The pair last med in a Slam last year when they contested the Wimbledon Final, a lopsided affair in which Cilic folded against a superior players variety, as well as the occasion and a blister conspiring to limit his effectiveness.

Federer goes into the decider having not dropped a set, whilst Cilic had an almost five setter against Nadal in the quarters, as well as dropping a set each earlier in the tournament against Pospesil and Carreno Busta. Federer will certainly then be the fresher of the two, and Cilic is naturally slower than the Swiss at the best of times, and lacks his opponents agility.

Most importantly though in the context of this match is that it is simply a bad matchup. Cilic has weapons, but sometimes is content to rally, and Federer likely will pounce on this as he has before. Whilst Cilic possesses a big serve and solid groundstrokes, none are huge, and with Federer constantly pressuring with his own aggression, gaining plenty of free points with his serve, and manoeuvring the Croat around, taking advantage of his opponents relative slowness and tendency to stay behind the baseline, I can only see this match going one way if the Swiss is injury free and firing on most of his cylinders.

Merely on account of Cilic’s pedigree as a Slam winner, and his taking a set off Federer at the Year End Championships last November, I can foresee his taking a set if he serves a high percentage.

Winner: Federer in four sets.

 

 

How Far Can Kyle Edmund Go?

I have enjoyed watching Kyle Edmund’s progression as a player over the last two years. Although yet to win a main tour title, I believe that his run to the Australian Open Semi Finals indicates that he is the real deal, with the tools and the mind-set to enjoy a solid career.

He possesses one of the best forehands in the game, and his serve, whilst not as powerful as some of his peers, remains a weapon that gives him regular free points, as well as setting up his forehand which he uses to dictate play. The backhand has at times looked suspect, but it seems to have improved and is certainly not a weakness. Some commentators have noted his improved movement and fitness, Kyle himself has admitted that he has been guilty of not putting in the man hours required to stay with opponents in the longer matches.

This tournament, whatever the outcome, should stand him in good stead mentally. He has beaten en-route to the semis a grand slam finalist, Kevin Anderson, as well as the in form Grigor Dimitrov, ranked 3 in the world. His run has seen him tough out matches, including a pair of five setters. This is quite a turnaround even from two months ago when Kyle led Jack Sock in the deciding set 5-1, only to choke and lose the set and the match.

With his improved fitness and self belief, combined with his powerful game, I think Edmund could be a staple of the top ten for some years, competing for big titles with regularity. With players seemingly peaking more and more in their mid to late twenties, there is still time also for him to improve, combining his weapons and improved mental strength with more tactical nuance as he gains more experience.

I have read in the past that clay is Edmund’s preferred surface, and one can see why with his big forehand setup and height being ideal attributes for the dirt, and I foresee him enjoying better results on slower surfaces generally. The decline of the dominant ‘Big Four’ will usher in I believe a period where men’s tennis will be something of a free for all, the larger titles hanging ripe for picking from anyone who can string a series of good matches together. I am not convinced that Edmund could necessarily dominate the game, but I expect him to use his growing belief and talents to consistently challenge for the sports top titles.