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When I first heard the news, I honestly thought it was an Onion satire. A couple living in Rotherham, England, had their foster kids taken away from them because the council received an “anonymous tip” that they vote for UKIP. Unless golf has been scientifically proven dangerous to your health, this is a classic example of “political correctness gone mad”. UKIP might be centre-right but it ain’t a racist organisation, yet the council insists that because the children are from an ethnic minority background it was necessary to separate them from a home environment that contained “strong political views” on subjects like immigration and Europe. In the eyes of some on the Left, right-wing politics is now synonymous with child abuse. The irony is that this knee jerk policy has actually disrupted the home life of three vulnerable children, and Rotherham’s social services have cast themselves as the embodiment of welfare state hypocrisy.

There’s plenty for UKIP to be outraged about. Their policies are little different from those of the Conservative Party 7 years ago and this kind of heavy handed concern would probably never be shown to fosterers who are members of the Socialist Workers Party (even though they could very well expose their kids to a dangerous mix of outright lies and boredom). That said, foster parents should be properly vetted and it’s important to wait for the full facts of the case to be disclosed before rushing to judgement. Nor is social work only the past time of pernicious surrealists – the vast, vast majority of them are decent people doing a difficult job under almost inhuman circumstances. The most thoughtful and intelligent statement made about the case so far came from the British Association of Social Workers, who wrote, “A willingness on the part of foster parents to respect the culture and background of a child is extremely important, which is why UKIP's reported position on multiculturalism appears to have been a cause for concern in this case. However, membership of UKIP should not be considered, as an isolated factor, sufficient reason to dismiss the suitability of a parent or parents, which is why, given the limited information available, this decision is difficult to fully understand.” Amen to that.

The case will probably be treated as an isolated example of incompetence, but it actually speaks to a troubling development within liberalism. This is how it all ends, with liberals “protecting” children from “illiberal” ideas – and, in the process, destroying liberal democracy. 

The greatest historical strength of liberalism has been its respect for free thinking, the rights of the individual and cultural diversity. Yet in recent years liberals have begun to confuse ends and means, presuming that in a liberal society everyone will make the choice to think and live as a liberal. The reality is that some parts of a liberal democracy will always reject the tenets of liberalism (more fool them), and if you are a true liberal then you have to suffer that sad fact. Alas, contemporary liberals seem to think that tolerance of intolerance poses such a challenge to democracy that it must end. Their clampdown on bad thought has begun on the margins but is slowly working its way towards a new censorship of mainstream political thought. “First they came for UKIP” ... then they came for the rest of the golf club. Before you know it, they’ll be arresting people who vote for Rylan Clark.

Bond is back, sadly...

Having written two negative reviews of a movie I’ve never watched, I finally bit the bullet and went to see Skyfall. Sorry kids, but it’s a dull dud. Running at 2 and 1/2 hours, you’d think they’d find time to fit in a death ray, but no. It’s just Daniel Craig running around looking thoroughly miserable, breaking everybody’s ribs. The movie’s only highlight is Javier Bardem as the evil Raoul Silva. With a mop of blonde hair and a girly laugh, he was a delicious throwback to the campery of yesteryear. In fact, Bardem should’ve played Bond and Craig should’ve played the villain. Then we might’ve at least got a ski chase and some hanky-panky in an airplane. “Any higher Mr Bond and my ears will pop!”

One serious complaint: this was one of the most misogynistic movies I’ve ever seen. Bond meets a woman who has been a sex slave since she was twelve. Desperately seeking a hero to rescue her from her pimp, Silva, she tells Bond to meet her aboard her yacht. Later that night the poor woman is taking a shower and, low and behold, a naked Bond appears from nowhere and starts mauling her neck. If Jimmy Savile had done that, we’d rightly be outraged. But Craig seems to get away with this kind of “no questions asked” sexual advance because the audience is primed to think that it’s just “Bond being Bond.” Later, Silva captures the girl, balances a glass of whiskey on her head and, in a mockery of William Tell, purposefully shoots her dead. He asks Bond what he thinks of his sadism. Our hero replies, “What a waste of a good Scotch.” What a schmuck.

How I miss the good old days of Sean Connery and Roger Moore, when Bond was basically Are You Being Served? with guns. As if it had been commissioned by an old fashioned department store, every movie was just another advert for more nice things: velour tux, cigarettes, golf jumpers and Martinis. Even the henchmen had uniforms. Did every villain have an HR department to design and assign them?  I can imagine the board meeting on the first day of building the underwater nuclear base. “Item Six: Uniforms. Have you had any thoughts on this Mr Humphries?” “Yes I have, Captain Peacock. I’m thinking pink for the scientists, blue for the torturers and a nice bright orange for the henchmen.” “And for Mr Blofield?” “A serge uniform with gold braiding – and Mrs Slocombe’s willing to give him use of her pussy on Mondays and Wednesdays.” A better time.

 
 
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Polls indicate that Ed Miliband could be Britain’s next Prime Minister. Having abandoned Labour activism a couple of years ago, I have to admit that the news hurts. It’s a little like divorcing your wife on the assumption that you’ll flower as an international playboy and she’ll spend the next 30 years living alone – only to discover that she’s the one marrying a bionic gym teacher and you’re the one left raising cats. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I'm the one with the great hair.

In fact, my gut tells me that Ed won’t make it to Number 10. He faces the age-old problem that Britain is a country of masochists where we always vote for the fiscally tougher party. Everyone resents the coalition and everyone’s hurting, but we all suspect that we need the pain to cut the spending and make us fit again. How else do you explain 18 years of Tory rule in the 1980s and 1990s? Nobody enjoyed it – we just thought it was what we deserved.

The other problem is Ed himself. A lot is made of his weirdo factor, but that's often just press nastiness (it's not hard to take an unflattering photo and inset the caption "normal" beneath it to comic effect. Very comic effect). The challenges that he faces aren't unique to himself but typical to all politicians. Folks just don't like 'em any more.

My own revolt against Labour (a family affiliation) was a rejection of politics in general. I could see the way things were going. A new class was emerging of professional politicians – all under 40, bright, obsessive, dedicated, clean (too clean).They were joyless people who would say no to the spliff being passed around the room for fear that it might kill their chances of becoming PM in 40 years time. They were also sexless (so many seemed sprouted like vegetables) and fanatical about the party in a way that was divorced from history or ideology. I recall being dragged out campaigning within weeks of the 2010 general election and told that winning a seat on a local district council was “where the fight back begins.” It was absurd. I was telling confused old ladies that David Cameron was tearing the heart out of Britain when he hadn’t even moved his tennis rackets into Number 10 yet. From me, the passion was faked. But for everyone else it was scarily real. Their eyes burned with belief as they rang the doorbell, collecting souls from the electoral register. Canvassing for Labour had become like evangelising for the Jehovah's witnesses - but without any Good News.

All three parties have been conquered by what TS Elliot called “the hollow men” - politicians who exist to exist. There is so much in life worth wasting one’s evenings over, including alcohol, Radio 4, jazz, love, God and Hell. But for these kids there is only the party.

Ed Miliband is one of those hollow men. He has worked and lived nothing but politics. The same goes for Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper and most of the shadow cabinet. They all share that odd lack of regional accent, having a voice that feels focussed grouped to appeal to everyone from Margate to the Orkneys. Can you imagine any of them writing a book about Persian history? Seducing an intern? Eloping to Scotland? They are all a far cry from the grand party of Neil Kinnock – a man who could rouse, sing and shout in a voice that trembled with working-class dignity. Vote for Kinnock and you were settling a score that was centuries old.

The most important poll isn’t the one that puts Labour ahead but the one that says the British can’t imagine Miliband as Prime Minister. That’s sad, because I’m sure he’s a very nice man who wants to help. But what he fails to grasp – what Labour fails to grasp – is that we are all sick of politics. Most of us blame government as much as the banks for our financial catastrophe, so voting for a professional politician is as stomach churning as voting for a banker. In this climate, the only men who are likely to win the public’s respect are those who stand for something (Salmond), are entertaining (Boris) or speak to some sectional prejudice (Farage). David Cameron wins a second term by default. After all, he’s hurting us … and the Brits live for bondage.

 
 
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At the sidelines of British life, everything is okay. Ann Widdecombe is starring in panto and 80’s comic due Cannon and Ball have published a book called Christianity for Beginners. In other news, Neil Hamilton has joined UKIP. I found out by mistake when I saw a link for an online video labeled “Neil Hamilton – I’m coming out”. It turned out to be a speech to this year’s UKIP conference (presumably in a lockup in Cornwall?). Neil was wearing a union jack bowtie he’d had made for himself during the 1975 referendum on Britain’s membership of the Common Market. It’s incredible to think that thirty six years later … Neil Hamilton’s still wearing bowties.

For American readers, who are these people and why do they matter? Neil Hamilton was a former Conservative MP who was accused of taking bribes. Evidence now suggests that he was innocent, but that didn’t stop his career spectacularly crashing. Bankrupted by legal fees, he and his fantastic wife, Christine, were reduced to appearing on game shows and painful self-parodies. One of the strongest memories of my adolescence was watching Neil host a show about political scandal. The producers had him whip the camera with a cat-o-nine-tails and whisper, “s-s-s-sex!” I swear it left me impotent for life.

UKIP is the United Kingdom Independence Party, and it’s a perfect fit for Mr. Hamilton. It was founded by Right-wingers who quit the Conservative Party in the 1990s in protest at its post-Thatcher drift to the center. In particular, they felt it was too accommodating to the European leviathan. What the contemporary UKIP does precisely stand for is up for debate, but it can no longer be dismissed. Having come second in the last European elections and attracted one million votes in the 2010 general election, it is now officially Britain’s fourth party. If the UK practiced proportional representation, there would probably be about thirty UKIP MPs. The House of Commons bar would never be empty again.

UKIP is home to hundreds of thousands of disenchanted voters. People who are disenchanted with the process of UK politics tend to join the Liberal Democrats. People who are disenchanted with its lack of humor or ideology swing to dear old UKIP. Voting UKIP is white people’s way of telling the Prime Minister to “kiss my black ass”. Polls suggest that it pulls in surprisingly even amounts of support from Labour and Conservative voters. Despite its populist appeal, UKIP is blighted by an image problem. It has come to be seen as the party of the golfer – the Right-wing, retired stock broker with diabetes and a wife who is fanatically devoted to Bridge. Its leader, Nigel Farage, is the epitome of the classless Tory. He talks openly about going to lap dancing clubs and there’s something about his cheerful patter that is more redolent of the race track than the polo circuit. Farage is the best weapon UKIP has at the polls. The previous leader, the perpetually bored Lord Pearson, would admit to only a passing knowledge of his party’s manifesto and exhuded a kind of resigned good humor. Farage, in contrast, crashed onto the British political scene like a populist tornado.

If I write jokingly of UKIP then it’s not for the usual, disingenuous reasons (most British commentary on the party is filled with snobbery and spite). It is innately funny because it wallows in its own outrageousness. Its central proposition – that the UK should leave the European Union “NOW!” (regardless of the cost) – is a powerful magnet for a perverse mix of bloody-mindedness and commonsense. The European Union is a disaster that has ruined several member states. There is no good sense in trying to harmonize the economies or governments of Germany (a strong economy based on export) and Greece (a weak economy based on selling dirty rags to tourists). And yet the Union has tried to do just this – for reasons of political ideology. The fundamentalists driving forward European integration care nothing for its economic cost. Still less do they care about concepts like national self-determination or self-governance. They see the desire to rule oneself as an Anglo-Saxon eccentricity. Incredibly, some British people see it that way, too. There are Brits who fly the European flag on their front lawns. To what do they feel they are committing their allegiance? The metric system?

UKIP has become a lightning rod for people angry with European integration, whatever their reason. Old socialists reject the single market’s anti-regulatory impulse (it is essentially illegal under EU law to nationalize an industry, and the EU has forced terrible spending cuts on member states). Tories and nationalists abhor its collectivism and assault on sovereignty. A fair few Britons will admit that they just don’t like the French. The feeling is mutual.

What makes Europhobia so potent is the fact that the British political class has ignored it. Despite strong public support for withdrawal, no party with run on that platform. Countless politicians have promised a renegotiation of the terms of our membership and failed to deliver. Anger at Europe has been internalized into anger at Britain’s gutless politicians. This is something UKIP’s establishment critics don’t understand about the party: it has as much to say about Britain as it does Europe.

If UKIP’s real issue is political corruption, the problem is that it isn’t united on the solution. Certainly, every single member wants some degree of withdrawal from the EU. But one of the reasons why it has failed to set a domestic agenda might be a lack of unity beyond that point. Farage and Hamilton represent the dominant wing of the party, which is shamelessly libertarian. They basically want UKIP to pick up where Mrs Thatcher left off: free trade with the developing world, social liberalism (read: lap dancing), the deconstruction of the welfare state, and taxes lower than a dachshund's belly. But there is another side to the party, one which approximates more to the populist conservatism of Gianfranco Fini or Jorg Haider. Their presence is obvious in UKIP’s opposition to the wearing of the Muslim veil, its anti-immigration rhetoric, and its demand that church and businesses be free to discriminate against gays. There is absolutely no evidence to support this assertion, but I’d bet good money that the libertarians tend to be middle class golfers and the populists are more working class.

Ironically, UKIP’s coalition is rather more European in flavor than it is British. It is common in Europe – particularly the Latin countries – for a coalition of wildly different activists to form around a single idea or person. Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (defunct since 2009) was an example. It combined liberals, Christian Democrats, and former communists - all united by the need to modernize the country’s political and economic structures. Each faction enjoyed control over an aspect of policy, satisfying everyone by giving in to their most passionate demand. UKIP has achieved a similar degree of harmony by allowing the populists to govern immigration, the libertarians to decide tax policy, and everyone to unite around withdrawal from Europe. This is only new in the British context, where parties are traditionally motivated by ideology or class. Having attended a UKIP Christmas party, I can attest that it attracts an extraordinary mix of people. The only things they had in common were a hatred of foreign governance and a tendency to drink and drive.

If I had one wish it would be this: that UKIP becomes the British Tea Party. We have no independent conservative movement in Britain because the Conservative Party saps its energy and money. Without a real primary system, there is no effective way to protest Conservative policy or hold the party to account. By threatening to take away votes at a general election, however, UKIP could force the Conservatives back to the Right. If they finally won seats in Parliament, a coalition could ensure some meaningful renegotiation of our relationship with Europe. The use of external pressure is what forced the Republican Party to the Right in the 1970s: the independent candidacies of George C Wallace encouraged it to think again about states’ rights and taxes. Likewise, the Tea Party’s domination of the current GOP primaries demonstrates how an independent movement that teases candidates with seductive offers of support in return for hardcore policy commitments can change the national political discourse. That is what UKIP must try to become: an American style independent conservative movement that blends anti-government and Moral Majority fervor.

The question is, does UKIP have the degree of seriousness and depth necessary to do this? The arrival on the scene of Neil Hamilton suggests not. Pleasant and witty though the man is, for millions of Brits he is associated with exactly the kind of corruption UKIP exists to wipe out. God bless him for re-entering our lives, though. There’s something so wonderfully English about a career that begins in Parliament and ends on television. In America, it’s so often done the other way around.

 
 
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I’m finally leaving America. My visa has expired and they’re kicking me out. I’ve spent my last few days in Washington DC, drunk as a skunk. I was collected from the airport by The Contractor (my mysterious friend who supplies various military regimes with “things they need”), driven to the Capital Grill and pumped full of T-bone and red wine. We had a furious but friendly debate about whether or not slavery is immoral (I think it is). All of this was a welcome switch from Los Angeles, where I lived on a diet of liberalism, lentils, and a once-in-a-blue-moon Mojito. I’ve always found Washington to be a fun place. The average worker ant is boring and aggressive (all those Republican boys in their blazers and cargo pants pushing they way through the Metro), but the old lags who hang around the National Press Club and the bar at the Bombay are fantastic.

In late July, however, Washington is physically unbearable. In past times, the city emptied at June and everyone went home for fourth months to cool their hands against buckets of ice. Nowadays they have to stay and endure this horrible wet heat. Los Angeles was scorching but dry, so the skin had room to breathe. Washington is humid and sticky, like eating a curry in the bath. People are dying of this weather. It accords with the apocalyptic mood that has descended over the capital. I’ve been away three months and it feels like three decades of revolution. The Murdoch Empire is on its knees, Amy Winehouse is dead, some lunatic killed scores of people in Norway, Michele Bachmann declared for the presidency, and San Francisco tried to ban goldfish. America’s budget default creeps closer. All we need now is a whore on a ten-headed dragon to ride into town and we know we’re finished (and that’s probably already happened on this season’s True Blood).

Yet I leave America feeling strangely optimistic. If they count their blessings carefully enough, America and the world should feel happier than they do. Consider the following.

1. The American economy is still fundamentally strong. Growth and profits are back up, although they haven’t been shared in jobs increases. This shouldn’t really surprise us. Like the production shock of the early 1980s, a lot of the recent recovery has been about resizing and stripping bad assets. No one actually wants the banks to return to their profligate ways, so it’s inevitable that capital is a little tighter than it once was. But that’s not a problem so long as we continue to innovate. I know that all TED seems to showcase right now is “Al Gore’s Electronic Flower Pots”, but the beauty of the free enterprise system is its ability to not only dig itself out of a hole but also invent a cybernetic shovel with which to do it. Something’s around the corner and I suspect it’s the energy market.

2. China’s getting fatter. Almost mystical powers of economic productivity are projected onto China. But as she gets richer, she also develops many of the same social problems that the West has – smoothing down the competitive edge between our two markets. It’s estimated that somewhere in the region of 25 percent of the Middle Kingdom’s subjects are now porkers. Not only does that have a deleterious effect on the quality of their labor force, but it demonstrates that those hard-working devils are turning into lazy-ass consumers too. Ergo, MacDonalds now has now committed itself to opening a new store everyday within the next four years. That’s to compete with the Colonel’s tally of 3,200 stores across the country. The cost will be measured in increased demands for health and social services, forcing China to replicate the welfare states that are now bankrupting the West. In 50 years time, the Chinese will owe us money.

3. In a revolution, no one’s safe. In the past, disorder tended to create new orders that would last a little while longer than the last. Nowadays, chaos follows chaos in quick succession. No sooner had the expenses scandal crippled Gordon Brown and helped elect David Cameron, the Murdoch scandal had knee-capped Cameron and possibly opened the door to Ed Miliband. Likewise, the Tea Party revolution is being eaten alive by its own radicalism at the moment – destroying the credibility of the congressional Republican leadership and catapulting the country towards bankruptcy. That might not seem like a reason to be happy, but it is nice to know that Western democracy is proving more sensitive to public tastes than it once did. In the past few months, the people are destroyed two venerable parties – the Canadian Liberals and Fianna Fail of Ireland. It’s likely that they will strike the deathblow of Gaullism in the next French presidential elections. All have been eclipsed by radical parties on the left and right (Irish Labor, Canadian New Democrats, French National Front). The center will not hold. For those of us driven by ideas, it’s an exciting time to be alive. We have finally emerged from the centrist abyss of the 1990s; ideology is back.

I return to a UK in turmoil. What is unusual is that there is no obvious winner from all the political disaster. Labour theoretically leads the Conservatives, but Ed Miliband is widely seen as a bad leader. The Liberal Democrats have extinguished themselves as a party. There is some hope in the bizarre collection of libertarians, disgruntled socialists, Sedevanticists, and golfing fanatics who make up the United Kingdom Independence Party, but they are hamstrung by the First Past the Post voting system that makes it tough for minority parties to break through.

In contrast, the American party system seems fairly stable and alive. What Britain did in the last ten years – consciously and systematically – was kill off all internal party opposition. That’s strangled new ideas and left large swathes of the country without representation. There are no young voices in Britain that are definitively liberal or conservative, whereas the Americans have charismatic lobbies working on both sides. It may seem odd to see the deficit crisis as anything but a crisis, but it does highlight the fact that the US still trades in ideas and philosophies of government. I regret having to leave that debate for the rather more tepid one in Britain, which, despite all its anxieties, still obsesses about emptying the bins and cleaning up dogs’ mess.