Posts Tagged ‘tories’


Ashcroft and nostalgia computing

March 3, 2010

Ashcroft the non-dom close to brewing into a proper, old-fashioned Tory scandal:

Revenue investigators were last night facing demands to launch an inquiry into the tax status of Lord Ashcroft, the billionaire businessman bankrolling the Consevative party, amid new questions about how he was allowed to break a promise to permanently base himself in the UK to secure a seat in the House of Lords.

As anger grew over Ashcroft’s admission that he has secretly remained a non-dom for the nine years he has sat in parliament, there were separate calls for inquiries into his nomination for a peerage in 2000 and his tax affairs.

In a knowing 2010 twist on a mid-90s classic, the foreign businessman lavishing the cash about is actually English and resident here. It’s not nostalgia politics, it’s self-aware, ironic nostalgia politics.

Hopefully Ashcroft can be persuaded onto one of those I LUV 1994 programmes to talk about what japes they all used to have with the citrus fruit and the brown envelopes and whatnot.

The benefactors of Ashcroft’s tax-free largesse also have a whiff of something over-familiar. Wired magazine this month has a feature on “Merlin”, the computerised vote-targeting system, an update of Labour’s 1997 system, “Excalibur”. The Guardian blog has some details:

Merlin allows the party to combine information about a local area gathered from canvass sheets with Mosaic – a subtle classification of voter groups developed by the research firm Experian, which gives a detailed breakdown of 65 consumer “tribes” such as “cafe bar professionals” and “high spending families”. Crabtree writes: “Those socio-demographic categories let candidates see who lives in their patch simply by typing in a postcode”.

This sort of detailed voter information is the life-blood of an election campaign. But there’s nothing new about it.

For well over a century, mass, democratic politics has made use of this sort knowledge. Local activists have always had to know what sort of person they would find behind any particular door. Success in an election campaign would depend on knowing how to target messages. Years of practical, on-the-ground experience have built up inside the major political parties.

The Tories’ system effectively digitises that knowledge base, like copying vinyl records onto CDs. The same underlying information is there, just in a different format. So it’s not clear Merlin does anything more sophisticated than what a well-informed local party branch could do.

And a computer system, however sophisticated, cannot make the imaginative leaps that people can. Politics is a creative art. Initiative and imagination matter.

Except, of course, allowing local activists’ the initiative is something Cameron’s team have become rather wary of.

An expensive new system like Merlin would be a good way to challenge local control. And it might compensate for withered local organisations. In a tight election, that can matter. But it’s no magic wand.


Ducks, Chinese burns, hurled paper balls

February 28, 2010

Far be it for this blog not to comment on the story of the year, nay, decade, as the bullying folderol rumbles on into its second tedious week.

It’s manufactured nonsense, with its attendant crowd of quick-buck merchants flogging either books, or (muffled laughter) “human resources consultancy”. Richard Seymour has a good take on it here.

Had Brown been lurking about in St James’ Park, giving Chinese burns to schoolkids and stealing their lunch money, or kicking the ducks, there might have been a more convincing public outcry.

But when it’s faceless senior advisors and members of the PM’s inner circle being subjected to the odd tirade – really, who cares? Bullying at work is serious, of course, but there’s a world of difference between the average harassed worker, and the powerful, well-rewarded, well-connected aide to the Prime Minister.

There are too many people too interested in the story’s prolonged life for this one to die a quiet death just yet. Its real impact, however, is minimal.



February 26, 2010

David Marquand has an interesting piece, also in the New Statesman, arguing that Cameron’s “modernisation” of the Conservative Party is entirely in keeping with the traditions of Edmund Burke and Tory paternalism. On this basis, the left “dismiss Cameron at their peril”. I’m not convinced – Cameron, as discussed below, hasn’t “modernised” very much. It’s also not clear that Burke’s “little platoons” of stable Tory support still function in quite the way he intended; still, it’s a well-written article, and worth a read.