Tag Archives: The Guardian

Doctor Who: Resolution review – old foes and Brexit gags in spectacular satire

I have to say that I have pretty much been a lifelong Dr Who fan, though not an obsessive. I like the fact that the stories mutate much like the Doctor’s regenerations. Yes its a variable feast but it can still surprise and delight even after all this time. 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Doctor Who: Resolution review – old foes and Brexit gags in spectacular satire” was written by Mark Lawson, for The Guardian on Tuesday 1st January 2019 20.01 UTC

Having upset some traditionalists by skipping a Christmas Day special in favour of a New Year’s Day spectacular, Doctor Who’s show-runner Chris Chibnall compensated by bringing back the show’s most famous enemy.

The episode was a Dalek origin story, although a two-minute prologue seemed designed to attract the Game of Thrones fanbase too. Hairy blokes in coats that looked recently ripped from goats stood around wood fires on war-torn land. A growly voiceover explained that the ancient Britons had fought an enemy so terrible that his conquered corpse had been sliced in three, and the portions stored around the world, starting at a Pacific island and a Siberian freezescape.

I made a mental bet that the rest of the super-warrior would be found under Sheffield, which turned out to be the case. After only 11 episodes in charge, Chibnall is already growing his own in-jokes. As well as audibly coming from Yorkshire, Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is returned there at every possibility. So the squid-like innards of a Dalek, usually hidden within that man-sized pepper mill on castors, were inevitably dug up by archaeologists working in the S1 postcode.

As well as making the series more Earthbound, especially around the West Riding, another mark of Chibnall’s tenancy has been topical commentary. The first season was explicitly pro-ecology and anti-Trump, and implicitly anti-Brexit.

So liberal-friendly has the show been, it was a surprise in this special that the Dalekian inner jelly didn’t turn out to be called Jacob Rees-Blob, or that when the extraterrestrial glop was enclosed in a plastic bag, it wasn’t the packaging that proved to be the biggest threat to the planet.

With 88 days to go until the UK is supposed to leave the EU, however, there was one pointed political reference. When the Doctor tried to call on the cross-border Unified Intelligence Taskforce to help save Sheffield from extermination, she learned that Britain was no longer a member after falling out with her “major international partners”. Another satirical gag was aimed at the cross-planetary force threatening to exterminate the BBC.

When the Daleks broke the internet, a mother warned her children that no entertainment was available. “Not even Netflix?” pleaded a child. But no, even that modern superpower could not defy the croaky rollers.

Presumably coincidentally, the overall theme overlapped with this year’s Queen’s Christmas message by stressing the need for national and community unity. The final scoreline was: United Sheffield 1, Daleks 0.

Another Chibnall signature was entwining the extraterrestrial with the domestic. The absence of Bradley Walsh’s doctorial sidekick Graham from one key Tardis mission was so odd that you initially assumed a filming clash with The Chase, but it transpired that the character had been grounded in order to discuss responsible parenting with guest actor Daniel Adegboyega, as the absentee dad of sidekick Ryan (Tosin Cole).

Having shown in Broadchurch an exceptional skill at writing family dynamics, Chibnall now extends this exploration into the broadest church of all – the universe. The show ended with a parent-child hug.

That interaction poignantly wasn’t open to the main character, in a performance that gave us a bonus extra day of some of the best TV acting of 2018. Between intermittent radiant smiles and sharp one-liners, Whittaker’s dominant note in the role is a sense of lonely responsibility – carrying the cares of the solar system on her shoulders – which the scripts keep underlining.

Preparing to face down the Daleks again, she is warned, “You can’t do it alone!”, but shrugs: “Always have done.” When an Earthling notes that dads are complicated, the Doctor ruefully replies: “So I’m told.” She is parentless, childless, partnerless, but everyone needs her.

This Doctor feels like the world leader we want for these times. Sadly, though, she won’t be on screen again until 2020, the producers having asked to make the next episodes slowly. Quality control is the reason for the delay, and the classiness of this first series finale gives Chibnall a high bar to beat, but ensures that viewers will want to watch him try.

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There is a path to a second referendum – and only Labour can win it

It would be great if this Brexit nonsense could be stopped, but I am not very hopeful. A lot of people seem to think that we will suddenly be in some sort of “little England”  eutopia.  I will be the first to congratulate them if it works out that way but I don’t think it will.

Why are we cutting ourselves off from the rest of Europe and its moderating effect?

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This article titled “There is a path to a second referendum – and only Labour can win it” was written by Tom Kibasi, for The Guardian on Monday 31st December 2018 15.47 UTC

If it was the season of peace and goodwill towards all, then politics failed to get the memo. Not only did hostilities continue through the Christmas period, some of the main protagonists announced in advance that they were incapable of taking a break. If anything, the holidays provided more opportunities for irate, booze-fuelled Twitter rants. One particular object of ire was Jeremy Corbyn’s pre-Christmas interview in the Guardian, where he appeared to dash the hopes of many on the left that Labour would immediately become the party of remain.

As the political class sobers up in January and returns to Westminster, it will become apparent that little has changed. The size of the majority against the prime minister’s deal will have diminished but – as No 10 briefed in the run-up to the internal confidence vote in her leadership – it only takes a majority of one. Bizarrely, Downing Street has chosen to amplify the threat of no deal by announcing more money and even the deployment of troops. But this strategy seems set to backfire: it will only give comfort to the European Research Group hardliners that there can be a soft landing to jumping off the cliff edge.

It makes sense that Labour should seek a general election because its critique of the government goes well beyond the handling of the Brexit negotiations. From an electoral perspective, there are more marginal constituencies that backed remain than marginals that supported leave. It is an open secret in Westminster that a new centrist party is readying to launch and, together with the Liberal Democrats, could form a repository for enough remain protest votes to deny Labour a majority if it were to go into a general election promising to deliver Brexit. It has never been apparent why Labour should fear losing leave voters to the Tories more than losing remain voters to other parties.

While it is true that many Labour constituencies voted to leave, for many of these voters Brexit is a far less important issue than stagnant wages, large class sizes and lengthening NHS waiting times. Moreover, many of these areas are strongly tribally Labour, and what has changed since 2016 is that Brexit is now “owned” by the Tory party. Crudely, many of these voters hate Tories more than they want Brexit. For all these reasons, it is inconceivable that Labour would go into a general election without a promise of a further referendum with a remain option.

Yet in all likelihood the government would win a confidence vote even if it had lost the vote on the deal. With May’s deal defeated, a general election ruled out, and no deal a calamity, there would be few options left. One option could be for a renegotiation of the political declaration (rather than the withdrawal agreement) but a closer economic partnership would probably see May lose as many Tory MPs as she might be able to persuade opposition MPs.

Even if the political declaration were to be tweaked, it would not be binding on May’s successor—making it politically dangerous for Labour to endorse.

So after the meaningful vote, Labour may be confronted with a choice between no deal and a second referendum. In all likelihood, pro-European MPs will put down an amendment to the finance bill requiring a referendum as a condition of the government collecting tax. Labour may have little option but to back a second referendum if it is to protect the country from no deal which it rightly believes would be a disaster. In this scenario, Labour will want to remind the public that they are being forced to the ballot box again as a result of May’s failure to negotiate a deal that parliament could support, not because of the choices made by the opposition.

That’s why there have been many credible reports of No 10 and Conservative central office ramping up preparations for a second referendum. Paradoxically, it may be that Downing Street is talking up no deal precisely in anticipation of a second referendum – so that it can claim that it was willing to go ahead with no deal but that Labour forced a second referendum. Whatever the manoeuvres, the public are likely to conclude that the government is responsible for the failure of the Brexit project.

With more than 80% of Labour members wanting to remain in the European Union, Labour would plainly back remain in a future referendum. While the remain and leave blocs have proved more resilient than many anticipated, there has been an important shift towards remain, and even more so when offered against the specifics of either May’s deal or no deal rather than the undefined leave option. Corbyn has been repeatedly criticised for his lack of enthusiasm for the EU; but this may prove to be a decisive advantage. It is mildly Eurosceptic voters who need to be persuaded, and Corbyn could speak authentically to this group about the balanced case for voting to stay in the EU.

Crucially, the most significant group of swing voters in a future referendum are working-class women – this group has been hit hard by austerity and Brexit is not their top issue. These are precisely the same voters that Labour needs to win a general election. If Labour’s second referendum message of “vote remain, let’s rebuild Britain instead” can convince them in 2019, it could build the momentum for a Labour victory in the next general election too. And it would smash the generational project of the right, leaving conservatism in disarray.

If there is a second referendum, only Labour can win it – and winning it might be Labour’s path to power. All of this will be determined in the coming weeks. It’s time to take a deep breath.

• Tom Kibasi is director of the Institute for Public Policy Research. He writes in a personal capacity

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Article 50 could be reversed, government may argue in Brexit case

Interesting. So we can leave then change our minds?
This should be fun then.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Article 50 could be reversed, government may argue in Brexit case” was written by Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent, for The Guardian on Saturday 12th November 2016 06.40 UTC

Government lawyers are exploring the possibility of arguing in the supreme court that the article 50 process could be reversed by parliament at any time before the UK completes its exit from the European Union.

Prominent academic experts have told the Guardian they know the government’s legal team has sounded out lawyers about the potential change of tack, which some argue would lead to a victory in the case brought by Gina Miller and other campaigners.

Prof Takis Tridimas, an expert in EU law at King’s College London, said: “I know that the issue of revocation is a live issue in terms of the supreme court hearing.” He had heard that the government had commissioned research on the subject, he said.

Earlier this month, the high court ruled that the government could only invoke article 50, which begins the EU exit process, through a parliamentary vote. The case was decided on the basis that, once article 50 was triggered it was irreversible and British citizens would inevitably lose rights granted through the 1972 European Communities Act.

Royal prerogative powers – the government’s executive authority – cannot be used to repeal rights granted by parliament, the three high court judges concluded in their ruling, which was sharply criticised by several tabloid newspapers, including the Daily Mail which described the judges as “Enemies of the People”.

If the government argued that MPs could vote to revoke article 50 during the exit negotiation period, some academics say, the outcome of the government’s appeal to the supreme court would be different, because it would imply that the sovereignty of parliament had not been removed.

Dr Eirik Bjorge, a senior law lecturer at Bristol University and an expert in EU law, said: “If the government decides to – and is allowed to – argue that the article 50 notice can be revoked, then it is all but sure to win in the supreme court. In those circumstances it cannot be said that, once the trigger has been pulled, the bullet will inexorably hit the target and expunge our rights under the European Communities Act 1972.”

   <figure class="element element-video element--supporting" data-canonical-url="https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2016/jun/29/what-is-article-50-brexit-video-explainer" data-short-url="https://gu.com/p/4mqd2" data-show-ads="true" data-video-id="2578097" data-video-name="What is article 50? – video explainer" data-video-provider="guardian.co.uk"> <video data-media-id="gu-video-577251eee4b030d83eb4b037" class="gu-video" controls="controls" poster="">  </video> <figcaption><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2016/jun/29/what-is-article-50-brexit-video-explainer">What is article 50?</a></figcaption> </figure>   <p>Tridimas is one of those who believes the article 50 process could be reversed before the UK’s exit from the EU had been completed. “My view is that it is reversible,” he said. “There’s nothing in the wording of article 50 which says that it cannot be withdrawn. The Vienna convention on the law of treaties says that they can be reversed unless they state otherwise. The point of no return is two years after notification has been given [to the EU].”</p> <p>Prof Paul Craig, an Oxford University expert on both EU and constitutional law, said the triggering of article 50 should be revocable by parliament. “It is a cardinal legal principle that a party is not bound by a contract or treaty until agreement has been reached,” he has argued in a blogpost. “The consequences of not being able to revoke would be particularly severe: withdrawal would have to proceed even if invocation of article 50 triggered an economic meltdown in the country.”</p> <p>However, Craig said, enabling parliament to give its approval at an early stage might have dangerous consequences for democracy later on: “There is a deeper paradox in this litigation.” <br></p> <p>He said the claimants, who he said would like Britain to remain in the EU, were “willing to risk everything for some parliamentary voice at the trigger stage”, but this could result in a decisive parliamentary vote to invoke article 50, which would be difficult to undo subsequently.</p> <p>“The government wishes to exit the EU. It conceded the article 50 point knowing that it might then lose the immediate battle, and would therefore have to seek parliamentary approval, but was confident enough that this would be forthcoming, and that thereafter the war was won, since the triggering, once done, was irrevocable.”</p> <p>The government has already submitted its initial grounds for appeal at the supreme court. The papers do not indicate any shift of emphasis so far in the way the case will be presented, although it is possible that could change before the hearing in December.</p> <p>A government spokesman said: “Our position is clear: the country voted to leave the EU and we will respect the will of the British people. The government told the high court that as a matter of firm policy, once given, the article 50 notice would not be withdrawn. Because legal proceedings are under way it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

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The Guardian view on Labour’s byelection win: not such a bad week after all

There’s always hope, though I am not sure how much.
You have to have faith in something though. 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The Guardian view on Labour’s byelection win: not such a bad week after all” was written by Editorial, for The Guardian on Friday 4th December 2015 19.05 UTC

Labour retains safe Labour seat in Lancashire heartlands byelection. No story there, then. Except that, in the case of the Oldham West and Royton byelection, there undoubtedly is a story. This has been a torrid back end of the year for Labour. Splits, bad blood and bad headlines have cooked up such a witches’ brew for Jeremy Corbyn’s party that the expectation on all sides, based on doorstep evidence, was of a Labour slump and even perhaps a loss to Ukip. Early editions of the Daily Mail on Friday were so confident that they ran a pre-declaration story headlined “Corbyn effect costs Labour thousands of votes.” But, let’s be honest, no one else saw evidence of a big Labour win coming.

It is true that the Labour vote fell this week in Oldham West compared with the general election. But so did everybody else’s. That’s because turnout as a whole went down from 60% in May to 40% on Thursday, sadly typical for a modern byelection. What matters though, was that Labour’s share of the vote actually went up – by seven points – not down, while the Conservatives fell by 10 points and Ukip, supposedly the great threat to Labour this week, managed only a small increase while still ending nearly 11,000 votes adrift of Labour’s new MP Jim McMahon.

That’s a good bankable win for Labour in anyone’s money. Mr McMahon’s success puts him into the top 20 Labour shares of the vote in Britain and gives his party a much-needed electoral fillip after a grim time. The flip side of it is that it’s a bad loss for the challengers, Ukip and the Tories, never mind the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, all of whom might have persuaded themselves that Oldham West might offer them something. The gas has gone out of Ukip’s balloon, at least in Lancashire, while George Osborne’s party has no electoral dividend to show for all his northern powerhouse-building.

It’s a mistake to pretend that Labour’s win is all that unusual, though. By a coincidence, the first byelection of the last parliament was in neighbouring Oldham East and Saddleworth in January 2011. Labour successfully put up its share in that byelection too, by a meaty 10 points, while the Tory share halved. It was a reassuring win for Labour’s new leader Ed Miliband, whose party mostly did well in byelections for the next three years. But like most byelections in the early part of a parliament it said little or nothing about the 2015 general election result when it eventually came. There was a long way still to go, then as now.

Mr McMahon was clearly an excellent candidate in a crucial contest for his party. Talented, local, competent, well known in an area where he is the council leader, he was nobody’s callow besuited candidate from Westminster central casting. These things probably mattered more than that he was on a different wing of the party from his leader. Labour’s factions will argue long and loud about whether Oldham was a victory for Mr McMahon or Mr Corbyn. Their respective conclusions will reflect their respective prejudices. The truth is surely that, between them, they did enough to allow the Labour brand to win once more.

Real votes matter more than opinion polls. Yet each of them is important. Labour can draw comfort from Oldham West. But it has to beware the message of a poll this week which showed, first, that the voters grew more doubtful about air strikes in Syria as Wednesday’s Commons vote drew near but, second, that Mr Corbyn’s job ratings have fallen sharply since he took over in September. Mr Corbyn now has a net approval rating of -41, compared with -8 in September. David Cameron, by contrast, has a rating of zero, with voters evenly divided. That should be cause for Labour concern.

Still, we should not be hypocritical. If Labour had lost Thursday’s byelection, this editorial and this weekend’s political talk would all be about Mr Corbyn, especially after a searing week at Westminster over Syria. His leadership would be on the line. The profiles of Hilary Benn would be being burnished. So if defeat for Labour would have been bad for Mr Corbyn, it surely follows that victory for Labour must be good for him. His leadership is therefore not on the line right now. In Oldham at least, Mr Corbyn was not the issue in the way his opponents and critics might have imagined. On Wednesday, Labour MPs went along with majority party opinion and supported him on Syria by two to one. This tells us something, perhaps not too much, about the future. Nevertheless, the Labour leader can undoubtedly breathe a sigh of relief this weekend. And so can his party, at least until next time.

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This is as good as it’s going to get for Cameron – and he knows it

Dave is digging a big hole which he will fall into.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “This is as good as it’s going to get for Cameron – and he knows it” was written by Polly Toynbee, for The Guardian on Wednesday 7th October 2015 17.41 UTC

Things will never get better for David Cameron. That triumphal speech was his apex, the acme, the zenith of his career. How he gloried in that exit poll victory moment: “There was a moment when I thought I had died and gone to heaven.” This is as good as it gets.

Secretly he must wonder if he should quit right now in this ascendant, all-conquering moment. For his “national crusade” in a “turnaround decade” of “social reform” is a delusion, as his map marches the country in the opposite direction. Wherever he imagines the common ground or centre ground to be, he has no compass nor any intention of going there. The disconnect, the cognitive dissonance, between the words in his speech and his actions past and planned made for a dizzying acrobatic performance. Talk left, walk right. Listen to what he says, don’t look down at what he does.

Here was a reprise of “let the sun shine in” early Cameron, the hoodie-hugging, greenest ever, poverty-angst leader of what he again calls his “one nation, moderate, compassionate Conservative party”. He gives a stellar platform performance – but we now know to check the silver. None of his plans point to “great social reforms”. Next month’s spending review will reveal all we need to know about his true direction. Follow the money, not the words.

Cameron’s “all-out assault on poverty” was an all-out assault on reality too. Crocodile tears for the “scourge of poverty” and “the brick wall of opportunity” hardly tallies with monumental £12bn benefit cuts taking from the poorest. All week he has smiled and faced down facts in interviews challenging the £1,000 in tax credits taken from three million “hard-working” families. How calmly he asserts that higher wages will compensate, though he knows it barely covers a quarter of each household’s loss. Within hours the Resolution Foundation showed that on top of the extra 700,000 children in poverty the IFS predicts, this summer’s budget alone throws another 200,000 households into penury – all of them families in work. But Cameron never blenches.

Does language matter more than deeds in politics? Can clever words entirely obscure deeds? Initial reaction to his speech suggests it works, at first. Look at the wild talk of his moving on to the centre ground, his tanks on Labour lawns. But in the end reality bites. That’s why nothing will ever be better than this for Cameron. Voters will find Cameron’s “party of working people” is an illusion. “The NHS safe because of us” was just one of his boasts unwinding as he spoke.

What does he really believe? Is he an ideologue, a pragmatist or an opportunist? Unlike Margaret Thatcher, he’s no theorist with a battered copy of Hayek in his pocket. But his Tory generation inhaled from political infancy that unquestioning fixation that the state must wither, all forms of welfare be cut and public spending shrivel. By all his choices, we know Cameron is a fundamentalist – but how well his silver tongue disguises that from a nation unprepared for what his government has in store. A state at 35% of GDP is nowhere in his prospectus – and he will be gone before the country finds out what that really means.

In his early days, Cameron kept Harold Macmillan’s photo on his desk to signify his moderation, consensus and compassion. But he’s no Macmillan. That Tory prime minister’s contribution to the welfare state was 350,000 new council homes built every year. Cameron makes housing his flagship – but look at the difference. His legacy effectively ends social housing, though few will realise that’s what his “dramatic shift in housing policy” means. He promises to move “generation rent to generation buy” in new starter homes, but who exactly? Shelter says it’s only a few of the top third of earners.

His scheme gets private developers to build homes for sale, but only for those with a £100,000 deposit in London, £40,000 outside. These aren’t for the nurses, police and teachers who need them, let alone for the council house queues or the homeless. Average earners will be priced out in 58% of local authorities: Londoners need to be earning £70,000, or £50,000 earners elsewhere.

This reverses Macmillan’s era of social housing because to build them Cameron is abolishing affordable homes schemes, releasing developers from section 106 levies that paid for councils to build for cheaper homes. Add in his right to buy for housing association tenants and his forcing councils to sell off their vacant homes and that loses hundreds of thousands of social homes. His own Kensington and Chelsea will put 97% of council properties up for sale as they come vacant. No hope for most of the 5 million renters. “Security” is Cameron’s current watchword – “for families, for the country” – but there is no security for families forever on short private leases.

Social mobility, he said, is the lowest in the developed world. But the answer is “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome”. That’s an old Conservative trope, conveniently denying any need for redistribution. How reasonable equal opportunity sounds: few want some soviet equaliser regardless of merit or effort. Eloquent in acknowledging some start far behind, he promises “everyone having the same shot”, but what’s missing is any recognition that there’s no fair shot for those start out too poor to live the same lives as their school mates. Education is the answer, he says, but he must know how few who start school without a decent home or income ever catch up with the rest. Behind the golden upbeat tones, he relies on people not knowing the facts that belie his words.

In Manchester we saw a leader sitting atop a smouldering volcano. The fires of the Euro referendum were quietly heating up under every power contender’s speech, their words carefully calibrated to let them jump for in or out, depending which way the party leans. And all the signs are of a party heading for Brexit. Cameron walked the tightrope in his speech, neither ready to “take what we’ve got and put up with it” nor “just walk away from the whole thing”. As a rehearsal for the battle to come, he was testing the ground, but up against Theresa May’s Powellite case for leaving the EU so as to bar immigration, the Cameron line feels perilously wobbly. He called the referendum, but he may not be able to hold back the molten tide he has unleashed.

For all his talk of loving every part of the nation, his legacy may be a disunited kingdom – politically more angrily divided than any time since Thatcher ignited the 1980s. This emollient speech will be forgotten if his epitaph names him as the man who took us out of Europe and thus lost Scotland and broke the Northern Ireland peace accord. He will not just have shrunk the state and left a dwindled public realm, but he will have lost the realm itself. He may look back on this speech as his finest hour – and a political lesson in how fine words never in the end disguise political deeds.

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There are limits to our empathy – and George Osborne knows it

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “There are limits to our empathy – and George Osborne knows it” was written by Jonathan Freedland, for The Guardian on Friday 10th July 2015 18.08 UTC

Perhaps it’s unwise to admit it, but one of the challenges during a budget speech is to stop your mind from wandering. Even an address of astonishing political audacity – as George Osborne’s was – has its longueurs, its moments when the stats are coming in such a blizzard, the borrowing projections merging with the annual growth percentages, that the brain, briefly blinded, looks elsewhere.

On Wednesday, mine wandered to Philadelphia. Not the city itself, but rather the Republican national convention held there in 2000. They gathered to anoint George W Bush as their nominee and laid on a spectacle that had one striking feature. Though only 4% of the delegates in the hall were black, one headline speaker after another was either African-American or from some other identifiable minority.

Primetime slots were given to Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, obviously, but the three co-chairs also happened to be a black Oklahoman, a Latino Texan and a white single mother. They found room for a gay congressman, while music came from Harold Melvin and Chaka Khan (African-American) with a cameo from Jon Secada (Cuban).

The whole effect was so brazen, it was almost comic. (One reporter likened the extravaganza to the Black and White Minstrel Show.) But the political logic was clear. The Republicans didn’t expect huge swaths of black American voters to end their historic allegiance to the Democrats and join them. They knew their prospects among Latino and gay Americans were limited. But those groups were not the target audience.

What Bush wanted to do was reassure white, suburban, swing, or floating, voters – especially women – that the Republicans had lost their harsh edge. That they were no longer so mean-spirited that a vote for them made you a bad person. The diverse faces on show at Philadelphia were there to salve the consciences of white soccer moms hesitating before backing Bush.

Which might explain why the memory of it returned on Wednesday. For a similar dynamic was at work. Who was Osborne appealing to with his announcement of a “national living wage”? He knows that precious few of Britain’s lowest-paid workers are set to rally to the Tory banner any time soon.

No, the voters Osborne wanted to reach are those for whom the Conservative brand is still tainted, those who may be doing quite well themselves, but who still associate the Tories with selfishness and even a callous disregard for the poor. Osborne was making a long-term bid for those votes. He knows they already trust him to have a cool head. Now he wants them to believe he has a warm heart.

This calculus is not new. It underpinned the modernisation project on which Osborne and David Cameron embarked a decade ago. When 2005-era Cameron spoke of “compassionate Conservatism” it was not the poor he was wooing. He wanted the votes of those who care about the poor, or more accurately those who don’t like to think they’re the sort of person who doesn’t care.

If that sounds cynical, that’s only partly because – to quote the Resolution Foundation, the group name-checked by Osborne when he announced the policy – the “national living wage” is a misnomer. Now that tax credits are to be taken away, you couldn’t actually live on it. It’s simply a welcome boost to, and relabelling of, the regular minimum wage. With unassailable chutzpah, Osborne has co-opted a halo brand that is not his – the living wage – in the hope that some of its glow will shine on him.

There is a deeper reason for scepticism. Osborne’s generosity was very carefully rationed. His judgment on who should be helped was not based not so much on need as political value. At its most obvious, there was the now-familiar bias against the young, who don’t vote, in favour of the old, who do. But this is about more than just voting blocs. Running through the chancellor’s decisions was a judgment about who the public will deem deserving and who undeserving.

Privately, the prime minister says pensioners have to be protected because they cannot change their circumstances. Which implies that the 20-year-old who will continue to work on the existing, miserly minimum wage, and is soon to be denied housing benefit and the possibility of a maintenance grant for study, is master of all he surveys, and only in his current situation because he has chosen not to change it.

It’s not important whether Cameron or Osborne truly believe this. What matters is their assumption that the voters believe it. They are gambling that Britons have empathy for pensioners and underpaid over-25s, but little for the young, for those on incapacity benefit, or on a low income with more than two children and for those who work in the public sector – all of whom were hit hard by the budget.

The cynical person here is Osborne himself. He is making a judgment about the limits of sympathy the majority of the electorate have for those falling behind. He has seen the shift in public mores, from the Cathy Come Home era of half a century ago to the Benefits Street culture of today, in which the poor are just as likely to induce anger as compassion.

And what compassion there is, Osborne has learned not to take too seriously. He doubtless remembers those 80s opinion polls which for years showed Britons insisting they regarded mass unemployment – the issue then championed by Labour – as the prime challenge facing the country, only for those same voters to re-elect Margaret Thatcher again and again.

Osborne has surely concluded that you need to do just enough to show you care – and then you can get away with plenty. Witness the inheritance tax giveaway that will take nearly £1bn a year out of the public purse by 2020 and which hands the children of those with assets a big slab of untaxed, unearned income.

In the supermarket trolley of Osborne’s budget were stashed a variety of such luxury treats, but he concealed them by putting a conspicuously organic, free range item – his “living wage” plan – on top.

Labour should be watching and learning. It would be a mistake to conclude the British public is uncaring. But nor can Labour make its pitch to the electorate on empathy alone. Voting is not an act of charity, but of self-interest – even if that self-interest includes the kind of society you want to live in. Voters want to know they can trust you to run the economy – and if you can be kind to the less fortunate, the deserving ones at least, then that’s a very pleasant bonus. But it’s that way around – and George Osborne knows it.

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