Saturday, 31 October 2015

Shadow of the Beast for the Commodore 64

It's the time of year YouTube video game channels jump on the Hallowe'en bandwagon, so there's no reason why this blog should be any different. As an all-round wuss when it comes to horror, there will be no latter day zombie games or their like here. Instead, I'm delving back to the past, to a time when scary games were ... not that scary, actually. One such is Shadow of the Beast, a title that was a big deal when it first emerged in 1989 on Commodore's Amiga. It later spawned a mini-franchise.

Released as the age of the home computer was coming to an end and the era of the games console, in Western Europe at least, was beginning, Beast was a landmark title for a number of reasons. For starters, it was arguably the most visually arresting game on the Amiga. Not just because the sprite work was beautiful - it was - but also for doing something console gamers from the NES onwards took for granted: it not only had smooth scrolling as the screen moved left to right, but had multiple layers - parallax scrolling - moving along at varying rates. Then there was the soundtrack. Beast's opening and in-game music knocked gamers' socks off. A sort of panpipey reverb piece when action went underground, a slow-build crashing anthem out in the open. For Amiga owners it was among the very best and technically accomplished pieces their machine could offer at that time. The only downside was the game play. Beast was by no means a bad game, it was just a little bit dull. Plot-wise, it didn't really matter. Something about being kidnapped as a kid, being experimented on and becoming a key minion for the eponymous Beast, and then rebelling when you find out what the boss had done to you. This gives you license to thump gorgeous-looking enemies, go up and down ladders, solve very simple puzzles, and that was about it. It worked well as a tech demo - it didn't take much to wow the punters 26 years ago. The game itself, however, was very limited.

Nevertheless, despite starting life as a showcase for what could be done with the then cutting edge hardware, over the following couple of years it got ported more or less everywhere. Even the Spectrum got an outing. Where the home computer ports were concerned, it tried stretching their guts in some way. Not so with the consoles who could handle some of Beast's signature tricks with ease, but we're not interested in them. The version we're looking, and arguably its best iteration, was the one to be found on the Commodore 64.

Of course, it didn't look gorgeous. Far from it. The C64 was often graced by games with some of the blockiest graphics of the day. Very few exist that could be described as pretty. Not that it mattered, just as the Speccy had a tiny colour palette gamers then took these quirks of their machines in their stride. Nevertheless, Beast was very, very impressive. The multi-layered scrolling was in. The interpretation of the Amiga's music via the celebrated SID chip was nothing short of stunning. And, incredibly, rather than redraw the sprites from scratch they were ported down from the Amiga and re-rendered. They looked a bit washed out, but you could tell this has been done. It captured a sense of the same technical virtuosity of its more advanced sibling. And game play-wise, it somehow worked better, despite being virtually identical. Perhaps it was because there were fewer levels (the C64 game hit the shelves without the horizontally-scrolling shooter section included in the Amiga version, though - weirdly - they were crammed into the Speccy and Amstrad versions) and a higher capacity to absorb damage - 25 as opposed to 12 hits could now be sustained. The collision detection seemed a touch improved as well, and overall it was quite a relaxing game. Of a Sunday morning it would serve as a relatively short, mindless, but entertaining diversion - especially once it was mastered, which didn't take long. At least that's what I thought of it back then.

Yet what was especially interesting about Beast was its release as one of the few C64 games to get a cartridge-only release. In late 1990, in an attempt to cash in on growing console mania, Commodore repackaged the C64 hardware in a console casing. Known as the C64GS (Games System), it took cartridges - and Beast was part of a handful of games released by Ocean to accompany the launch - but did not have the facility to link up a keyboard or tape deck. Because it was aging, and because you could get an proper C64 without amputated features for about £20 extra, the system was a dismal, dismal failure. However, the cartridges were compatible with the vanilla C64 via one of its expansion ports round the back. What Beast on the '64 was then, more so then its Amiga parent, was a game of transition. It fused together the past of where British gaming was and the direction it was heading. As a tech demo, it pushed the C64 to its limits, and while brilliant and ingenious in and of itself, it looked pretty ropey compared to the rising 8-bit consoles, let alone the Sega MegaDrive, which was available via import stockists. In that respect it pointed to the past. This was as good as the beloved C64 could get. Yet, inadvertently, it served well as an advert for Commodore's console rivals. Being on cartridge, it loaded virtually instantly. There were no long-winded loading times via the tape deck. No horrendous multi-loads because the computer's RAM was too small to hold the game. For C64 owners - though cartridge games were available early on in the 64's life - Ocean's range of triple A titles (plus compilations also available on cart) came as a revelation. They may have been more expensive (Beast retailed for £20), but they promised a more convenient game playing experience, a more efficient one - as tapes were notoriously unreliable - and offered the potential of games that would be plain impossible using the limited storage medium of the older methods.

That this fusion, this uneasy synthesis should find itself exemplified in a C64 game whose protagonist is spurred on by the truth of his own human/monster hybridity is a nice coincidence the programmers could not have known. Beast marks one of the peaks of C64 gaming. It was digital pride before the inevitable fall.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Local Council By-Elections October 2015

Party
Number of Candidates
Total Vote
%
+/- 
Sept
Average/
contest
+/- Sept
+/-
Seats
Conservative
 30
16,612
  27.6%
 +2.4%
    554
   +23
    0
Labour
 26
14,137
  23.5%
 -5.6%
    544
  -127
    0
LibDem
 21
 7,714
  12.8%
 +4.1%
    367
 +129
    0
UKIP
 17
 3,117
    5.2%
 -3.1%
    183
    -29
    0
Green
 19
 2,999
    5.0%
 -2.2%
    159
  -130
    0
SNP*
  8
11,524
  19.1%
 +4.1%
   1,441
  -338
    0
PC**
  1
    780
    1.3%
 -0.1%
    780
 +271
    0
TUSC
  3
    108
    0.2%
 +0.0%
      36
    +5
    0
Ind***
  7
 3,024
    5.0%
 +2.4%
    432
 +300
    0
Other****
  2
    257
    0.4%
 -0.8%
    129
   +42
    0

* There were nine by-elections in Scotland
** There was one by-election in Wales
*** There was one Independent clash this month
**** Others for October were All People's Party (39), and Baker St: No Two Ways (218)

Overall, 60,273 votes were cast over 31 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Seven council seats changed hands, but all balanced out as no overall gains or losses for contending parties. For comparison with September's results, see here.

Could this month signal the return of "normal" politics? Surely all eyes would have been on Labour's performance, seeing as October was the first full month of Jeremy's leadership how have the punters taken to the "new politics"? Well, a commanding Tory lead doesn't look good. The averages, however, tell a different story - the two parties are virtually neck and neck. The lead is an artifact of the Tories standing as widely as they can. And for this, they have to be commended. Despite having fewer members than Labour for at least five years now, it's rare a seat goes without a Tory presence. Perhaps now Labour has doubled in size we can expect to see a wider by-election coverage by the party. Time will tell.

The SNP polled silly numbers again, though there might - just might - be signs of slippage in Scotland. While they took a seat off the Tories, in the Highlands they lost one to the LibDems. An aberration or early warning that the honeymoon will soon be over? Speaking of the LibDems, get them. Nearly 13% in a by-election tally, it's almost like how it was back in the day. Meanwhile, as they rise UKIP slump even lower. The polls might have them around the 14-17 point mark, but results from actual, real elections are tracking them much lower than stated voting intentions. This month the yellows have totally trounced them, and they only just manage to fend off a strong Green challenge. Kippers have got to be praying that the good times will come again, but there has been a shift in the access of discontent. Tax credits have driven immigration off the agenda and, what a surprise, the purples have nothing to say. UKIP could, of course, make a come back. The EU referendum isn't far off and surely they'll benefit from that in some way. That is, unless, the other parties can stake out better positions first.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Remembering Diane Charlemagne

I was saddened to hear the passing of Diane Charlemagne, the woman who gave voice to many incredible dance hits over the years. There is an appropriate way of remembering her, and that's by cranking it up very loud.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Dear Andrew Lloyd Webber

Dear Andrew,

Re: Tax Credits Vote in the House of Lords

Never a fan, so this ain't going to pull lines punning your substantial contributions to musical theatre. Instead, I've avoided them and and baked in a healthy dollop of fury and disgust. That is because you sir, with your 650 millions, power to make and break careers, and alchemical capacity to transmute box office manure into gold, are among the lowest of the low. You epitomise everything that is small-minded, rotten, and hypocritical about the establishment you serve. Not because of who you are, but because you're prepared to go the extra mile in its defence.

Extra mile? 3,459 miles to be exact. I may be a simple prole, but even I cannot fathom why you were so moved to board a jet from New York to be in the Lords last night to try and vote down the challenge to tax credits. Having dug around your internet presence, something I assure you was no pleasure at all, your Wikipedia entry (of all things) attributes a position to you that "his stated view that it's important for democracy that the House of Lords should not override decisions made by the elected House of Commons ...". No link, so no way of knowing if that accurately represents your view. Though it's also worth noting plenty of Tories have trotted out the same line to give their decision to support cuts to the incomes of the lowest paid workers a principled gloss, so for the purpose of this letter I'll surmise that is indeed your position.

Now, I don't expect you to follow politics that closely as there are always new shows to write and glamorous people to hobnob with, but being a Lord n'all, you should know a bit about what that entails. The basic stuff about what the second chamber can and cannot do. You would therefore know that, in fact, the Lords has not and cannot override the power of the Commons, and last night was a case in point. What happened was a delay to the implementation of cuts to tax credits. As per their constitutional roles, their Lords and Ladyships scrutinised a statutory instrument - not a bill debated and passed by the Commons - and sent it back for further work. I don't particularly like this, but it is a constitutional arrangement your party supports and was quite prepared to trade in a boundary review in the last Parliament to defend its privileges. So either you scuttled over from New York because you're naively but unforgivably thick enough not to know the ABCs of Britain's constitution, a constitution in which you play a role; or you are deliberately cynical and wanted to help your mates out of a pickle entirely of their making.

Have you reflected for a moment how absurd and obscene it is for you, a man with hundreds of millions in the back, to tell people on less than what you blow through in a week that their income should be even lower? Take that wealth. You probably think you're entitled to every single penny of it. You're the creative genius, after all. But every one of your productions, all of them were a collective product, a triumph of the purposeful organisation of large numbers (and, initially, Mummy and Daddy's address book). And yet those stage hands, those musicians, those actors and backing dancers, they who laboured to bring your projects to life, all were utterly indispensable to your success. Wherever your shows go in Britain, people like these, who see very little of the revenues they generate for you, might be able to work for you because of the indirect subsidy tax credits provide. You make the profits. And you get away with paying lower than market rates in wages. By flying in especially to try and kick working people further, you not only show yourself up as an especially loathsome human being, but someone who despises his own workforce as well.

I doubt a single word of this screed will pass beneath your eyeballs. Not that I expect you to change your mind if it did. You are a dyed-in-the-wool poltroon, the sort who takes Britain for what they can get out of it without giving a damn about the people who live here. However, inexplicably, there are those who like your material. Some of them would have been destined to lose a chunk of their income had you and your cronies won the vote last night. If this wards one person off from buying your dreadfully derivative dirge again; then penning this letter was worth it.

Yours sincerely,

Phil

Monday, 26 October 2015

Note On Tax Credits and Constitutional Crisis

It takes a special kind of stupid to turn discontent over an ill-thought and mean-spirited policy into a crisis that rocks the foundations of the Mother of all Parliaments. Such is the blindness of George Osborne's overrated "genius" that the Tories have plunged themselves into a serious political crisis. They have threatened all kind of hell fire and damnation in the event the House of Lords votes to kill or delay their cuts to tax credits. They should "think very carefully" about their position, says Dave. Ken Clarke has urged the Lords not to abuse their position, and even cuddly old John Bercow has "reminded" them of the established constitutional position. And if their Lordships don't submit, we've been threatened with a shower (in both sense of the word) of new Tory peers and/or some sinister-sounding reform of the upper house. Both of which were ever likely to mollify anyone, and duly the government were handed their arse. Twice. Two delaying motions have gone through, prolonging the political pain for the chancellor.

Now the Tories have lost, what next? I'm going to tell you: sweet FA. The threats and hints of threats aren't going to come to anything. And here's why. This government is rushing things though for a reason: it is living on borrowed time. Somewhere in a filing cabinet in Number 11 Downing Street, there is a 'George Osborne for Conservative Leader' grid. Its authors, Dave and Gidders, have a fixed legislative timetable set up to maximise the chancellor's chances in the battle to come. The trick is to not only get the controversial stuff out the way early in this Parliament's life in the hope no one will remember come 2020, but to take advantage of the temporary unity of Tory purpose this side of the EU referendum campaign. Hence why there's talk of bringing back the abolition of the Human Rights Act for summer next year, just before recess. According to Dave and Osborne's scheme, the important stuff is out the way with, they can have their idiotic and unnecessary EU renegotiation/referendum in which the Tories will immolate and flay one another. They might call their own some rather nasty names too. Britain votes to stay in, Dave announces his impending retirement for the end of the Parliament and Osbo cruises in to pole position.

It's a tight timetable, and there's barely any wriggle room. Which is why Dave and Osborne aren't going to allow for a blow up over House of Lord reform. They both know packing the upper chamber will damage them when it comes to reducing the number of MPs, and they are equally aware reforming the house is a can of worms where their backbenchers are concerned. It would scupper an already-damaged Osborne's chances if the leadership were to go to war over this. Likewise he can't afford to back down either for being seen as both reckless and weak. The most likely outcome of this damaging nonsense for the government are concessions on Osborne's part. His friendly friends in the media this morning have already indicated he's now in "listening mode", though he was reportedly only interested if the Lords behaved themselves. They haven't, and by defeating the government the Lords are forcing Dave and Osborne to hear things with one arm up their backs. Let the political punishment of awful headlines and barracking from their own side continue.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Britain's China Syndrome

Had Labour done it, the Tories would be screaming bloody murder. I am, of course, talking about the deal with the Chinese to build two nuclear power stations. If the Tories really were standing up for Britain, from a national security perspective it beggars belief that key national infrastructure be handed over to a power they would ordinarily be opposed to. But these are not ordinary times, and for Dave and Osborne, they are quite prepared to do anything to be China's best friend in the West.

On the nuclear deal itself, it's absurd on two levels. First is on the nuts and bolts of nuclear energy generation. In recent years, governments of all stripes and "reformed" environmentalists have green washed nuclear. It's reliable, they say. It's carbon-free, they say. It's sustainable, they say. On all three they're plain wrong. Conventionally mined uranium has, depending on who you ask, between 90 to 200 years worth of stocks left, assuming energy consumption stands still. Which it doesn't. Of course, getting that stuff out of the ground in the first place, transporting it across oceans, and refining it to be reactor-ready is hardly an emissions-free process either. And sustainable? If you can sort out the supply and ensure they remain safe (pray for no more Fukushimas), there's only so many places you can store spent fuel rods, irradiated water, and other by-products for the requisite 50,000 years or so.

Second is the taxpayer subsidy destined to end up in China's bank accounts. 10 years from now, if all goes according to plan, the new Hinkley Point plant will come on stream at the cost of some £25bn. The largest inward investment ever, except the government is acting as guarantor of a fixed energy price. Regardless of what's happening in the markets - you know, those very things Tories ordinarily bow and scrape toward - EDF, the French state company fronting for the Chinese, are guaranteed a floor price for their electricity regardless how low wholesale prices may plunge. In effect, the taxpayer is guaranteeing the investment. But it's not a public subsidy, you understand. The government are very much opposed to those. Meanwhile the vast potential of wind and wave, particularly around the northern quarters of these isles, remain untapped.

Why is this happening? Uncharacteristically, the government have played this straight. They want to be China's best buddy in the West. When their currency becomes fully convertible the Tories need the City of London to be the primary clearing house for capital flows. While London is ideally located between the stock markets of the East and North America, there isn't an exchange in Europe who'd turn down the chance to be the preferred partner of the Chinese government. And, as we've noted before, it helps support a key prop of the Tory base. Naturally, there are many other investment opportunities in Britain for footloose Chinese capital. Osborne has already mentioned the HS2 debacle. Again, billions earmarked for a useless piece of infrastructure from government coffers is a guaranteed return for anyone investing in it. There will be plenty of other opportunities.

Politically, being the number one investment destination for China in the West will help the British economy grow - and if you're a GDP fetishist like the Chancellor those numbers are the only ones that matter. It also allows for infrastructure spending to take place without blowing holes in his deficit and debt reduction schemes, and also allows Dave and successor to stride about the world stage as if Britain matters. We've sucked up to one global hegemon since 1945, so why shouldn't we carry bags for the next one too?

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Adam Rickitt - I Breathe Again

I'm blaming Howie of Howie's Corner fame. T'other day he posted a Dannii Minogue track to the Book of Face that, much to my shame, I was quite into at the time. That got me thinking and remembering the occasions over the last 20 years where artists, and I use that term advisedly, who are naff, awful, and (ugh) mainstream who nevertheless made credible interventions into the dance scene. At least that's the story I told myself when I came across something good from this quarter.

Here's one such example. This soundtracked the summer of 1999 as I slaved in a factory over components for the Rover 75. Adam Rickitt was as far from "credibility" you could get. Even I was arguably way cooler. He was then famous for starring in Corrie and having a chiseled bod. His later work - shilling for the Tories as a celebrity guest on Question Time - is perhaps something worth noting and passing over. I Breathe Again made a reasonable dent on the charts, and rode the wave of mainstream trance/dance that made the year one of the greatest ever. And why not as it's a great little tune. So here I am throwing it down for your consideration

Thursday, 22 October 2015

The Conservative Indifference to Steel

It was like the crashing of dominoes, except the toppling was done by livelihoods, supply chains, ways of life. First, SSI in Redcar announced it was going belly up. And after toing and froing with the government, once it was clear state aid wasn't forthcoming it was as if Britain's steel bosses huddled together and decided the time was right for job losses. 2,200 are going in Redcar. Tata are shedding 1,200 in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire, and a further 1,800 are in danger. They blame energy costs and the flooding of European markets by dirt cheap Chinese steel. That's the government's narrative as well, ruling out action on grounds it's against EU rules. It's convenient to have someone else to blame.

It is true that global markets are eroding the viability of the British steel industry. It is untrue the government are powerless to do anything about it. Behind each job loss is a personal crisis, and the Conservative Party are utterly indifferent. Never mind that the maintenance of a steel industry is a pretty basic trapping of any country claiming major power status, again strategic security concerns - and maintaining the capacity to make stuff is a security matter - come second to Tory short-termism and stupidity. Then again, this is the party suggesting the new Labour leader is a security threat for past associations with Sinn Fein and assorted unsavouries in the Palestinian solidarity and anti-war movement while they are ceding a chunk of Britain's electricity generation to the Chinese state. But of that another time.

Why are the Tories so reticent to intervene? Is it purely spite? As much as some might think that is the case, it's not. There is what passes for brute rationality: the (wrong) view steel is peripheral to the British economy and employs comparatively few people. It wouldn't bring the whole show crashing down in the manner of a bank collapse. There's the usual idiocy of submitting to the hurricane winds of global competition. And lastly a refusal to countenance a bail out on grounds that if they get one, every industry should get one.

Yet I'm convinced something a touch more complex is going on too, something that reaches into the (sub)cultural and ideological neuroses of the Tories as a collective. There is still, deep down, a fear of the industrial worker. The 1970s casts as much of a shadow over Tory thinking as the 1980s does over ours, which is why the walking dead tropes of that decade are dug up and given fresh meat every now and then. This was their lowest point, of having their government brought down by striking miners and a strong, confident labour movement (apparently) surging forward. And at the forefront of it all were vanguards of workers that had slipped their trade union leash. These were the men who worked filthy, demanding, monotonous jobs. They were dangerous jobs too - not because of the threat they posed to life and limb, but to the risks they posed established order. The bonds that kept the workers burrowing a mile beneath the earth, feeding the blast furnaces and smelting pools, gave them the strength to say no: no to management, and no to the government. The solidarity between workers necessary for their collective safety in the job went beyond the gate and out into the communities clustered around the pits, the steel mills, and the factories. This is what made them potent, and was precisely why Thatcher had to defeat them. 30 years after the Miners' Strike and these communities are much reduced, but they still evoke folk nightmares in the Tory imagination.

Osborne plays with the Northern Powerhouse like a fancy train set, but his idea of an industrial renaissance bears the indelible marks of the 1970s trauma. There is no place for the dirty industry of old (or, for that matter, what Dave calls the "green crap"). It's about the futuristic, of the fast, the clean, and the mindbogglingly complex. Nuclear power stations, high speed rail, graphene, quantum computing, medicines, space, big data. This is the only white heat the Tories are interested in. The workers here fit the Conservative ideal: highly educated, skilled, motivated, entrepreneurial. Some might say embourgeoisified too. This is the edge of the coming wave, and where state aid should be focused. Steel mills? They've had their day, best to abandon them to the pitiless grind of market forces. It's a kindness to let them go, and these communities will be healthier and wealthier once they're weened off their century-and-a-half addiction to primary industry.

Unfortunately, the price paid for the Tory psychodrama are by people out of sight and mind. No cameras will be filming the heartbreaking scenes in thousands of homes. No London journos chronicling the further decline of already depressed towns and regions. These people, our people, are being left to rot. How many more will this happen to over the next five years?

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Tory Tax Credit Stupidity

It's proven to be the closest shave of Dave's second term and would have thrown the government into chaos had the ayes won it. Tonight's vote in the Commons, brought before the House by Labour, saw the noes (i.e. keep the cuts to working tax credits) win by 317 to 295 - a tiny sliver of a margin. This is despite Tory luminaries like Boris Johnson weighing in against the cuts, and Heidi Allen - new Tory member for South Cambridgeshire - using her maiden speech to strongly intone that "to pull ourselves out of debt, we should not be forcing those working families into it." And yet talk of a Tory rebellion proved to be tough talk, no trousers. To a woman and a man our would-be insurgents lined up behind George Osborne and endorsed the policy they had spent all day attacking. We always knew their workers' party rhetoric was flim-flam, but the Tories are going to have a tougher time selling that now.

While the decision to announce Seumas Milne's appointment as Labour's new head of comms deflects media attention from the government's difficulties, away from Westminsterland the tax credits cut will, is, eroding the support won by the Tories' round of promises and scaremongering back in May. According to Labour's research, the numbers set to lose money and their geographical spread puts some 70-odd Tory seats at risk. 2020 is a long way away, but voters do not forget. Small business people like Michelle Dorrell, whose brief Question Time intervention made a very big political splash, aren't supposed to be punished. There is some question whether she will directly see a cut, but she's well aware that many of her customers will be so affected and that places her livelihood in some jeopardy. Whatever happens, the stress and anxiety Michelle has experienced won't slip her in a hurry.

And this is problematic for the Tories. The Conservative love-in with the Liberal Democrats did many dark things, but they were choosy about their victims. Seizing hold of the neo-Victorian distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor that had been circulating in the press and policy documents for years, Dave and his little yellow friends set about making the poorest pay for the 2008-9 crash. But those poorest were the ones at best unseen, at worst despised. The unemployed, the disabled, the single parents, the long-term sick, people in social housing, people needing council tax support. Osborne anticipated Labour would have problems opposing Tory/LibDem attacks seeing as the party had gone along with scrounger rhetoric at least since His Blairness was at the helm, and that antipathy toward the undeserving poor was, perversely enough, most acute among the "deserving", working poor - the supposed bedrock of Labour's support. To batter the poorest and most vulnerable for electoral gain, it was some of the most disgusting cynicism seen in recent years (though there was a bit more to it as well).

Yet Osborne, the alleged "political genius" responsible for the coalition of voters that gave him and Dave a majority, has now sprung a trap on himself. He's forgotten that while you can get away with grinding the "undeserving" into the dirt with nary a comment, let alone protest; taking on the working poor is another matter. When you go out to work, you do the so-called "right thing", to be penalised for such is just not on. It threatens to blow away those wispy myths sometimes referred to as Tory principles, it cuts at the party's self-help ethos, it stamps on the hand up/not-a-handout approach to social security. Small wonder so many on the right are up in arms. More importantly, it's making Tory voters not necessarily affected queasy. One voted Tory to sort out the fag-smoking pushchair-pushing scummy mummies always down the offie, not one's personal trainer, one's window cleaner, one's hairdresser. Osborne has proven adept in building a coalition alright, a coalition ranging all the way from the Trotskyist far left through the mainstream parties, to hard right ideologues and the ever-opportunistic "libertarians" in UKIP opposed to his policy.

The Tories have a record of being political stupidity, but usually that's a result of their being entirely shortsighted and not thinking through the medium and long-term interests of their own party, and the sections of British business they represent. On this occasion Osborne is set on machine gunning his own foot. That said, there is an element of "necessity" in what the Tories are trying to do. When Dave and co. exclaim the virtues of a low tax, high waged, low welfare economy they mean it: this is their objective, the tiger in their politics tank. In the long-run they think people who get by with the help of tax credits will benefit. Without the state subsidising employers, wage rates would have to adjust properly to their "natural" level, which is way above where they are at present - a point on which most of the left would agree. Hence the comparatively large minimum wage rise, but other indirect subsidies to employers - such as raising income tax thresholds so workers' (low) wages can go a little bit further. Typical of the Tories though, they're handling it in a brutal, stupid way. Yes, some people would suffer in the short-term but we know what's best for them in the long-run is the not-so-subtle message Tory ministers have so far communicated.

That is the background, but also there's Osborne's leadership ambitions. He absolutely has to dig his heels in and tough the policy out. As one half of a duo that think themselves "strong" and capable of taking "difficult" decisions, carrying tax credit cuts through in the teeth of internal, press, Labour, and wider opposition burnishes, in his eyes, his leadership credentials. Silly George, little does he realise that convincing leadership is about winning minds and getting people to follow because they believe, not because you can bulldoze your way through regardless. Still, if he wants to sacrifice the electoral wellbeing of his party on the altar of his career, I'm not about to stop him.

And so the Tories are in a pickle entirely of their own making. Electoral punishment of some sort will be administered, and they've gone toxic to a whole wave of people they need to win over permanently if they want to win again. Yet at no point can Osborne pull out, lest his chances as Dave's successor be torpedoed. Their position is weak, they can be forced to retreat in the face of the chancellor's intransigence, and that is up to whatever pressure we can bring to bear.