Monday, 6 February 2012

Harry Potter star withdraws support for Lib Dems.

I've watched all the Harry Potter movies. You know, they're not bad. That said, I've always been amazed how this regurgitation of public school ritual and traditional folklore (interspersed with spells in elementary Latin) has struck such a chord with the public. It's so dated on so many levels that it makes C.S. Lewis's Narnia allegories look positively modern. Perhaps it's the safe, comfortable tone or the moral message that good always triumphs over evil that are key to understanding where Harry Potter's appeal lies - either that, or it's simply down to effective marketing. All the same, I've never truly understood it.

Similarly, I found it strange that the press should have made so much of Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe's support for the Lib Dems in the past, or that so many column inches should be dedicated today to his indicating that he has now withdrawn that support. Why is this remotely newsworthy? I don't think the majority of voters are very influenced by support from "celebrity" backers, and quite why Radcliffe's opinions are so important remain as great a mystery as why Dobby the House Elf never considered approaching a psychological therapist to help rid him of his various demons and personal insecurities.

The article in The Guardian is interesting though. Radcliffe's grasp of political reality is exposed in the opening paragraph, when he claims that Ed Miliband is "genuinely left-wing". Really? Does he understand what left-wing means? For all the talk in his acceptance address to his party's conference in 2010, Ed is anything but a left-winger. His philosophy is so devoid of ideology to be vacuous. There are plenty within the Labour Party who aren't sure what Ed Miliband stands for. And we won't talk about the unions' views...

Radcliffe claims that Clegg is the Tories' "whipping boy". Again, I would have expected someone of Radcliffe's profile and intelligence to be able to have a better constructed view of political reality than that of the average Daily Mirror reader. I understand the point he's making (I've also been critical of Clegg at times and feel there have been instances when he has been used by the Conservatives) and obviously he's entitled to his view, but surely as a Liberal Democrat supporter he recognises the several occasions when the party and Clegg himself have successfully curbed the Tories' ambitions, the way we have frustrated them on key issues (e.g. the NHS) and openly confronted them on others (e.g. Europe). Clegg is many things and in some respects has been a disappointment, making serious mistakes - but he's no-one "whipping boy". That really is a simplicity that needs challenging.

Interestingly, what really seems to motivate Radcliffe is his passion for LGBT rights and ending faith schools. Ah, a man after my own heart. He doesn't seem to have much in the way of a personal political philosophy, although he does suggest that he would like a more redistributive economy based on fairness: "if you make a lot more money than most people - like I do - you should pay more tax and subsidise people who work just as hard as you, but don't earn as much." So you'd think Cable's proposals for a mansion tax would appeal to him, as well as the historic Lib Dem commitment to marriage equality.

But no, he thinks that Ed Miliband "speaks for what he believes in". Hmm. I don't know, but if your beliefs amount to abolishing faith schools (Radcliffe calls himself a "militant atheist") and increasing taxes for the highest earners I'm not sure you should put too much faith in Ed, who won't commit to extending the 50p tax rate and has only made vague noises about a "wealth tax" (essentially the same principle as Cable's mansion tax). And as for Ed's views on faith schools...maybe Radcliffe should read The Guardian a bit more often.

I have to admit to being amused that Nick Clegg had "asked to meet [Radcliffe] and talked [with him] about gay rights and faith schools." Perhaps sometime Nick wouldn't mind talking to me about how we can reverse the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats here in Scotland. (I'm still waiting for a reply to that letter!)

Of course it could be that Radcliffe's understanding of politics, or even interest in it, is nothing more than superficial. He once gave an interview in which he said he'd vote for us, now he thinks he'll vote for someone else. That's not unusual, but it's also not exactly newsworthy and I can only speculate at the motivations of the media when they are so keen to give such a "revelation" significance it doesn't exactly merit.

While I'd much prefer it if Daniel Radcliffe continued to support the Lib Dems (and it sounds like he has some definite liberal principles) I'm not sure why his change of voting intention is given more media attention than defecting councillors or, perhaps more crucially, grassroots activists either changing their allegiance or leaving political activity altogether. That is a greater problem for our party: they are, after all, the people who make our party what it is - not the celebrities who temporarily endorse it.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like sour grapes to me.

You can hardly blame Daniel for withdrawing support for a party that has no power and no effect on the country beyond standing behind people with real power and nodding or making up excuses for why their coats are turning so fast they are almost catching fire with the friction.

Andrew said...

Sorry - did you read this?

It's not sour grapes at all - I really don't care for what celebrity actors think. I didn't care when he announced his support (as evidenced by the link); I don't care now. I'm not losing sleep over this. It's really in itself not important. The role and actions of the media however, most certainly are.

And I don't blame Daniel for withdrawing support. I understand it (to a point) - even I've expressed more than a few concerns about our leadership (go on, take a look!). What I don't quite grasp is the need for such a positive endorsement of Ed Miliband who's struggling to convince not only voters but his party of his leadership capabilities. It's one thing to say "I'm going to vote Labour", another to say that Ed Miliband is the most wonderful person since Proferssor Dumbledore. So glowing was the endorsement, I'm surprised he didn't mention that Ed was seen outside a London chippy feeding 5,000 starving people with five fish suppers and two bottles of Irn-Bru.

And my main point was that we've got other things to be concerned with - namely that instead of having cosy meetings with celeb actors, Clegg should do whatever he can to stop "ordinary" Lib Dems jumping ship, losing hope in the party or giving up on politics altogether. That to me is a far more real and pressing problem (and something I might lose sleep over) than how a young film star will vote in three years' time.

AndrewM said...

I'm afraid any Lib Dem (and I used to be a member) who thinks, like you seem to, that the Lib Dems have achieved substantial changes to the Health and Social Care Bill (or "frustrated the Tories" as you put it) is deluding themselves. If the Bill had been fundamentally changed and the concerns of patient groups, medical professionals and health policy experts had been listened to, why would they still be so vehemently opposed to this unholy mess of a Bill?

Thankfully, though, when it comes to the Health Bill, Lib Dems like you are in a shrinking minority (no personal offence intended, you're just completely wrong on this). As the LDV poll published today shows, Lib Dem members are waking up to how dangerous this Bill will be for the NHS and now oppose it by 2 to 1:

Withdrawal of the Bill and starting over, actually listening to what patients want for the NHS, as opposed to what Andrew Lansley wants, and going no further than what the Coalition Agreement requires, is the only way forward for real NHS reform.

Andrew said...

Sorry Andrew, where do I mention the NHS Bill? I simply said that the party (as a whole, not the leadership or MPs) frustrated the Tories in regards the NHS. That's not the same thing as saying that the NHS Bill is brilliant. Or that there are "substantial changes" that have been made.

Personally, I think it's a disaster.

And I think our MPs did insufficient until conference stepped in. Even with that intervention (some belated concern expressed from Clegg), there wasn't the kind of response that could make the required difference. But the party as a whole did stand up to be counted and yes, for a while the Tories were deeply frustrated by our actions to the point that it seemed it was crisis time for Lansley.

I oppose the Bill and always have. But there's no doubt we have frustrated the Tories on both the NHS and EU - even if we regrettably did not successfully press home what seemed advantages at the time. There is a difference between the party and the cabinet - in my view, it's the party that's doing most of the "frustrating" our Conservative counterparts!

What we have to do is turn those frustrations and headaches into significant victories. That so far hasn't happened. But that's a different issue.

AndrewM said...

I am glad to hear that you think the Health Bill is a disaster, but the question is what are Lib Dem Lords, MPs and members (like yourself) going to do about it?

For instance, suppose you were going as a voting rep to Spring Conference (which will take place while the Health Bill is still at Report Stage in the Lords), and suppose the emergency motion that gets picked for debate calls for the Health Bill to be withdrawn. Would you vote for it?

Also, when you claim that "there's no doubt we have frustrated the Tories on both the NHS and EU", with regards to your usage of 'frustrated':

verb (used with object)
to make (plans, efforts, etc.) worthless or of no avail; defeat; nullify

If you had really 'frustrated' the Tories on the NHS, I would be thrilled, because that would mean Lansley's plan to dismantle the NHS would have been defeated or nullified. Unfortunately, what you have *actually* done to the Tories on the NHS is merely inconvenienced and annoyed them, and the fundamentally bad bits of the Health Bill have not been altered by the Lib Dems' interventions.

And those interventions were substantially weakened by the decision at the Autumn Conference not to vote on the SLF motion on the Bill, which I think in hindsight many Lib Dems will come to view as a major strategic error.