There have been some interesting political developments here in the last couple of days. The Conservative Chancellor, George Osborne is kind of the Treasurer for the country and said to be Cameron’s pick to succeed him as PM in five years. The Conservatives, having recently won the election and with the Labour Party in turmoil, are moving ahead aggressively on their election pledge to eliminate the budget deficit. Predictably, Osborne wants to do this by cutting support for the working poor. That group has been getting tax credits for years, which keeps them and their children from sliding into poverty. Osborne’s plan would immediately cut this support by thousands of pounds for the people who can least afford it. This got through the House of Commons, apparently based on Conservative support for cutting spending and without a whole lot of scrutiny on its impact on real people. Then everyone began to figure out how awful the plan was and the Conservative back benchers in the marginal seats, who had defeated sitting Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs by presenting the Tories as friends to working people, began to raise concerns in the background. Hypocrisy doesn’t really sell and Osborne’s plan leaves them twisting slowly in the wind. (For extra credit, with what Watergate figure was this phrase associated? And to whom was he referring? See below.)
Then today, The House of Lords, who wouldn’t be anyone’s choice as protector of the working class, made it clear that they were disgusted by the rank unfairness of the Osborne plan. They held a series of votes by which they delayed the Osborne plan and probably forced him to alter it, at least in some way. While not completely unprecedented, this is pretty unusual. The House of Lords doesn’t really do much of substance and almost never overrules the action of the majority in the House of Commons and absolutely never on a matter of financial policy. (In fact, it is argued that they acted illegally because the House of Commons passed an act about 100 years ago which prohibits the house of Lords for voting on budget matters. This was after the House of Lords rejected Lloyd George’s budget. But because of the parliamentary procedure used by the Conservatives to get the cuts through, this law didn’t apply.) So now the whole plan to screw the working class to balance the budget is at least delayed and maybe worse (or better if you aren’t a rich conservative). Osborne could try to to just push it through again, perhaps with some cosmetic changes. But he is going to have real opposition this time and maybe not just from Labour and the LibDems, but also from some members of his own party. There is no question that the Tories will go through with their idiotic austerity budget. The only issue is whether they will be able to shred the social safety net and impoverish the working class as much as they would like.
The bigger picture issue is that Osborne, the heir apparent and PM in waiting, now has all the appeal and popularity of Voldemort, as he is supported only by the Dark Lords. It is a real Emperor has no clothes moment for Conservatives and the public. Cameron is said to hate change and he is committed to Osborne, but how far will he go to support him if Osborne is dragging the party down just when they are on high? Does this encourage Conservatives like Mayor Boris to start angling for the leadership role?
On an utterly different topic: My great Aussie friend, David Lee, wrote me the other day urging me to keep watching the Rugby World Cup and root for Australia, even if I can’t completely follow the rules. So Sunday afternoon I popped open a Cooper beer and watched Australia beat Argentina 29-15. (New Zealand had completely outplayed South Africa the prior afternoon, yet only won by two points.) I still don’t really understand the rules, especially most of the time when penalties are called. For example, the teams are in the middle of a scrum, all grunting and pushing, and then a penalty is called by the ref, which the announcers casually note as if everyone know what just happened (probably since most people do know), but I am mystified. New Zealand almost lost their game due a series of these incomprehensible calls. However, while I don’t really completely understand what is going on, I can spot the good teams now. They are the teams that maintain their position across the field on defense and make it impossible to get by them unless you do something creative. All of the four finalists fit this defensive mold. On offense the mediocre teams just run it straight or try one or two short passes (England does this and it was all South Africa could seem to manage against the All Blacks), while the good teams throw multiple laterals or long and risky passes out to speedy wings and do these clever little kicks forward that are run down by teammates. New Zealand is especially dangerous in this area and the Aussies aren’t far behind and Argentina had some creative individual players. The Finals are next weekend. I’m hoping for a Wallabies upset, but even to my utterly untrained eye, the All Blacks appear to be the best team.
And finally: Let’s Go Mets. I lit a candle for them in Church on Sunday.