Friday, 13 October 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-10-13: Joni

Nights are drawing in and getting colder, and Joni is enjoying her evening lap time.


Herzog and Hope

The film director Werner Herzog explained his philosophy of life last week, on Mark Kermode's film review podcast. It resonated with me, and I believe it's worth transcribing in full.

(The relevant part of the podcast is here, starting at 1:56.)
Werner Herzog.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 6 October 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-10-06: Joni

I am the watcher on the walls.


Joining the Choir Invisible

The British government has pledged that if any petition on its official website receives more than 100,000 signatures, it will merit a formal response from the government and a debate in Parliament.

Going to meet its maker?
Source: Wikimedia Commons

A petition requesting a second referendum on the terms of Brexit has reached that threshold. The Parliamentary debate has yet to be scheduled, but it has received a response from the recently created Department for Exiting the European Union. It is worth quoting in full, as a window into the government's rather flaky state of mind:

Friday, 29 September 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-09-29: Joni

This is my blanket. I like this blanket.


Placeholder

No long post this week; circumstances got in the way. Nothing bad, just time consuming. Cute Cat Friday to go up as usual.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-09-22: Joni

There you are. It's about time you came home.



Joni has taken to climbing onto the garage roof and down into the front garden. She's much less good at returning to the back garden and her cat flap, so tends to wait around in front to be let in.

A Brexit Analogy

Britain would be a lot more fun at parties if, after her third drink, she didn't start mumbling about how awesome the Empire was. Not for the first time, current events have reminded me of this.

Britannia rules no more.

A new campaigning group has a rather curious approach to Brexit. Here is an analogy for their idea:

Friday, 15 September 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-09-15: Joni

All the humans in the family are just back from the USA and very jet lagged. Here is an appropriate picture of Joni, displaying the grace and majesty of a natural predator.

Joni herself is still at the cattery, I'm picking her up tomorrow. I didn't want to commit myself to driving after flying transatlantic with a toddler and then trekking across London to get a train to Cambridge, which I believe was wise.




Junior Officer of the TSA

Short blog entry this week, on account of jet lag. Back to normal next week.

Meanwhile, my son has been deputised as a junior officer of the TSA -- or to give its full title, the Transport Security Administration of the USA. They gave him an official sticker while we were waiting for our turn in the scanners.



The TSA has a reputation for unseemly and unprofessional behaviour. This may have grown out of the sheer absurdity of airport security theatre. They may overcompensate for the fundamental insanity of their job by carrying it out in the most rigid and inhumane way possible. Enforcing rules which make no logical sense, and exist largely to give the impression of doing something, does not strike me as a task which is likely to attract the best and brightest. This is unfortunate; last week we observed the sixteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and real failures in airport security are a serious matter.

To be clear, I don't think a sticker can possibly excuse any misbehaviour by the TSA. I'm more impressed that they are trying at all to be friendly, instead of relying on their overwhelming power to make your life unpleasant. It's as if the Uruk-hai offered the hobbits a nice cup of tea instead of threatening to eat them.

Maybe the sticker is part of some kind of public relations counteroffensive; or someone, somewhere in the humourless bureaucracy of the TSA has retained a sense of fun; or a two year-old could in fact handle airport security just as well as they do. Although my son is a US citizen, if he wants a career in law enforcement I think I'd encourage him to choose some other agency.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-09-01: Quincy

Patrolling the car park at work.


The Terminator: Come With Me If You Want To Live

Terminator 2: Judgment Day was re-released this Tuesday. I went to see it, of course, and also watched the 1984 film The Terminator on DVD last week.



The date was significant: The eponymous Judgment Day, the nuclear war instigated by the machine intelligence Skynet, is named as August 29, 1997. So, the re-release was twenty years later to the day.

The 3D conversion was unnecessary and didn't really add much to the experience; but it was great to see T2 on the big screen, when I had been a little too young on the original release. Furthermore, after three additional sequels which were mediocre at best, the first two films are an exhilarating breath of fresh air. Even after more than twenty years, they feel far more meaningful than the lazy attempts by the sequels to exploit their achievement.

Spoilers are ahead; but the films are respectively 26 and 33 years old, so I feel comfortable with revealing plot details. If for some reason you haven't seen them, you could always go watch the DVDs and then read the rest of this blog entry; I assure you it will be worth your while.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-08-25: Joni

Still life with cat and coaster.


Flag of Convenience

Malta has been selling citizenship since 2014. The price is at least EUR 880,000, or approximately one million US dollars -- a sum which demands to be spoken in your best Doctor Evil impersonation.

A few other countries have done the same, but Malta is interesting because it's a member of the EU and the Schengen border-free travel area.

Valetta, Malta. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The attraction for rich people from less stable countries is not hard to imagine. Travelling and doing business in Europe suddenly becomes much easier. If your home country undergoes a coup or civil war, or its government decides to pursue a vendetta against you, a safe haven is ready and willing to take you in.

I imagine the Maltese government would refuse citizenship to outright terrorists and war criminals, but you don't have to show any positive commitment to Malta. You are required to buy or rent a house there, but under no obligation to live in it.

My instinctive reaction is to find it rather sad and demeaning. It cheapens a country's citizenship to offer it up for sale, like a particularly exclusive sports car.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-08-18: Joni

Taking a nap with Great Cthulhu (in cuddly form, his wing and paw can be seen by her hind legs). Between Joni and our toddler, the Great Old One suffers many indignities in our household.


On Statues

Concerning Trump and this week's events in Charlottesville: It's been clear for a long time that Trump is a racist and unfit to hold the office of President. Now, the last shreds of cover have been stripped away.

No decent human being can stand with Trump. Anyone who does so is standing with a man who defends Nazis. This isn't complicated; the right-wing marchers in Charlottesville were carrying swastika banners, shouting Nazi slogans, and making fascist salutes. They're Nazis.

White nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
Source: Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency / Getty


The only possible excuse for supporting Trump at this point is extreme ignorance. In the case of elected officials, media commentators, and others whose profession is to know about politics, that excuse is not viable. The time has come for them to choose sides. We will see what develops from this.

I still think Trump is likely to hold onto power. He won't resign, not least because he might well face criminal prosecution resulting from Robert Mueller's investigation. As long as his base is loyal enough to threaten Republicans with primary defeat, he is unlikely to be impeached. One day he might go too far for even the dead-eyed sociopaths of the Republican Congress to stomach, but my guess is we are some distance away from that.

The violence in Charlottesville was touched off by plans to remove a statue of the Confederate general Robert E Lee. I've been thinking about the wider issue of statues and what they represent.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Should we be afraid of artificial intelligence?

I've got a guest post on Digital Link, inspired by reports of Facebook chatbots creating their own language. As holder of a PhD in artificial intelligence applied to natural language processing, I have some thoughts. Thanks to the good people at Digital Link for publishing them.

Spoiler: The machines are probably not going to rise up and destroy us.


Friday, 4 August 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-08-04: Joni

Nap time.


The Poisoned Well

President Trump's latest director of communications barely lasted a week. Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone accurately predicted Scaramucci's tenure would be "freakish, embarrassing and all too short."

Rumour has it that the Mouth of Sauron turned down the job.

Mordor may be a volcanic wasteland, but the job security is better.

Ed at Gin and Tacos evaluted Scaramucci's appointment as a sign that Trump had given up on being President. I think it's worse than that: Trump hasn't given up, but he is so far gone that this is what trying looks like.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-07-28: Joni

Enjoying her favourite chair.


Faulty Mechanism

Six months in, the pattern of the Trump presidency seems clear, for however long we continue to be subjected to it.

Trump blusters, rants and tweets. He combines swaggering arrogance and pathetic insecurity, often in the same speech. He can't manage to address the Boy Scouts of America without making it all about him and the many things he hates. He appears not to understand what health insurance is, let alone have any ability to direct health policy. He is unwilling, and probably unable, to perform even the most basic duties of his office.

Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States.
If this fact does not terrify you, you are not paying attention.



Friday, 21 July 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-07-21: Quincy

Our campus cat enjoying a snooze.


Funky Garb

Tim Farron is an utter dingbat and I'm glad he's stepping down as Liberal Democrat leader.

Tim Farron. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Maybe this conclusion seems harsh. It's not based on his faith. It's not even based on his years of obfuscation over whether he considers homosexuality a sin, or his support for homeopathy, although those don't help. It's based on a truly idiotic and self-pitying article he published this week.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-07-14: Joni

Watchful cat on the stairs.

(We have a lot fewer cat-on-stairs photos, ever since we installed the stair gates for toddler safety.)


Ancient History

It was in the UK's national interest to join the EU, and encourage it to grow. The reasoning was broadcast thirty-seven years ago in the BBC comedy Yes, Minister, and remains valid today:

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now, when it's worked so well? 
James Hacker: That's all ancient history, surely. 
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Yes, and current policy. We had to break the whole thing up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn't work. Now that we're inside we can make a complete pig's breakfast of the whole thing: set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch. The Foreign Office is terribly pleased; it's just like old times. 
James Hacker: Surely we're all committed to the European ideal. 
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Really, Minister. [laughs] 
James Hacker: If not, why are we pushing for an increase in the membership? 
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, for the same reason. It's just like the United Nations, in fact. The more members it has, the more arguments it can stir up. The more futile and impotent it becomes. 
James Hacker: What appalling cynicism. 
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Yes. We call it diplomacy, Minister.

Sir Humphrey was cynical, but he wasn't wrong. At least since the time of Elizabeth I, England (and later the UK) intervened in Europe to prevent any one power from growing too strong. It would conduct diplomacy, and fight wars if needed, to constrain strong governments on the Continent. This held true as great powers rose and fell, from Habsburg Spain to Napoleonic France to imperial Germany. In this way the UK was able to promote its own trade, security, and other national interests.


Friday, 7 July 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-07-07: Joni

Happy cat enjoying a chin scratch.



Worse Than We Imagined

Most fictional Presidents are better than Trump, even the really bad ones.

It's not hard to find noble and inspiring fictional Presidents. They may be wise and sagacious leaders (The West Wing); steely-eyed crisis managers (Deep Impact, Tom Clancy novels); or even kick-ass action heroes (Air Force One, White House Down, Independence Day). This is to be expected; the office of President attracts a certain amount of reverence, and stories need heroes.

The White House.
Source: Adrian Grey / Flickr

Friday, 30 June 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2016-06-30: Quincy

Our campus cat and his shadow on patrol.


Peculiar Institution

The American healthcare system is a moral abomination and a practical failure. This matters to me for personal reasons. For the world at large, it's a human tragedy; and a cautionary example of where bad policy decisions can lead, and how difficult they are to undo.

Caduceus


Friday, 23 June 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-06-23: Joni

Scene from last week when the temperature hit 31 degrees Celsius in Cambridge; that's 88 Fahrenheit for Americans and other aliens, so Dave's Syndrome was an ever present risk. Joni was very hot in her fur coat and had no intention of moving.




He shall rise and on the surface die

I started to write a longer and more serious piece on our post-election chaos, but the weather was nice so I went outside in the daylight instead. Maybe next week.

I must admit, I also lacked motivation. There are only so many ways to say we are led by a crew of complete and utter nitwits; and Theresa May is the worst of the lot, perhaps even eclipsing her predecessor David Cameron.

Shortly before the 1997 election, Tony Blair and New Labour had a gigantic lead in the polls. The late Roy Jenkins compared Blair to a man carrying a priceless antique vase across a highly polished floor, terrified that one slip could smash his hopes into a million pieces.

Theresa May, then, is the hapless individual who tripped over an untied shoelace and shattered a couple of Qing Dynasty vases in the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Cameron had no plan for losing his European referendum. May had no plan for losing the Conservative majority in her snap election. Nobody has any plan for how to manage Brexit without making us all substantially poorer. Oopsy daisy, where did all these bits of porcelain come from?

(Some NSFW language below the fold, if anyone is concerned about such things.)

The Kraken. Source: Medievalists.net

Friday, 16 June 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-06-16: Churchyard Cat

A few days ago we went to the island of Sark, which has about 600 inhabitants and no motorised vehicles other than tractors. Here is a Sercquiais cat surveying his territory in the churchyard.


Sunday, 11 June 2017

UK Election Explained for Americans and Other Aliens

By request, I am attempting to explain the 2017 UK election to Americans and others unfamiliar with the weirdness of British politics. This is a high-speed tour of:
  • How British elections work;
  • Why this election happened in the first place;
  • Why it turned out as it did;
  • What the results mean.
The UK has an archaic, complicated and illogical system of government, so what follows has been drastically simplified. I've tried to give a balanced view, steering clear of partisan bias, but other opinions are available.


The Palace of Westminster, home of the UK Parliament.


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Election night drinking game 2017

Election night is upon us once again. I'll be on Twitter at @iainrobertsblog and @ElectionMorbo for as long as I can stay awake. It might not be too long, as I've been up since 6 am and will be travelling for much of the day, but we'll see.

I've composed an update to my 2015 drinking game. It's simple and not especially partisan. Play with the beverage of your choice: Wine, beer, tea, Ardbeg, lemonade, or whatever. I won't judge.
  • Sip:
    • "Strong and stable"
    • "Coalition of chaos"
    • "The many not the few"
    • Fringe candidate is wearing a ridiculous costume.
    • A seat is gained by one of the underdogs:
      • Labour
      • Liberal Democrats
      • Greens
      • Plaid Cymru
      • UKIP
  • Gulp:
    • Cabinet minister loses seat. (Unlikely given the opinion polls, but you never know.)
    • Shadow Cabinet minister loses seat.
  • Finish drink:
    • Candidate has epic meltdown on camera. You'll know it when you see it. The template is Peter Mandelson's "I'm a fighter, not a quitter" rant in 2001 (video below).
    • Theresa May announces her resignation as Prime Minister.
    • Jeremy Corbyn concedes the election to Theresa May.
Have fun, and see you on the other side.

The Good, the Ugly, and the Astoundingly Bad

Thoughts on the major UK-wide parties, as we enter the final days of the campaign:

Liberal Democrats


I am voting Liberal Democrat. My reasons for backing them in 2015 still stand. I agree with their principles, more so than any other party. Their candidate, Julian Huppert, was an exemplary MP for Cambridge from 2010-15 and I would be happy to see him return to Parliament.

The shadow of Brexit hangs over everything now. I believe it is a dreadful mistake. The LibDems promise a referendum to allow us to reverse it.

I encourage anyone in a constituency with a viable Liberal Democrat candidate to support them. More Liberal Democrats in Parliament would provide a badly needed voice in support of human rights; accountable government; and international cooperation, including but not limited to the European Union.


Friday, 2 June 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-06-02: Joni

Watching our toddler race around the garden. Whatever will that small excitable human do next?


Before A Fall

Labour is gaining ground in the polls. I'll admit it: I did not expect this.

Some perspective is in order. The Tories still enjoy a lead outside the margin of error, in every single poll taken so far. Let's look at the last five polls, released between 27 May and 1 June. The Conservative lead varies from +12 (ICM, 29 May) to +3 (YouGov, 31 May). Taking the mean of these five, we have Con 43.4, Lab 35.6, LibDem 8.2, UKIP 4, for a Tory lead of +8. Plugging this into the UK Polling Report swingometer results in a Conservative majority of 46.

Conservative Central Office. Displeased at recent developments, but still planning for victory.

Twenty-five months ago, David Cameron would have given his left testicle for these polling numbers. The boost in Labour support won't necessarily hold up; and it appears to be driven by younger voters, who may or may not turn out on election day.

That said, this election was widely expected to be a walkover for the Tories, with excitable talk of a landslide of 150 seats or more. Expectations were driven so high that Theresa May could win a majority of 40 or 50 seats, the best Conservative result in 30 years, and it would still feel like something of a defeat.

How has this happened?

Friday, 26 May 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-05-26: Joni

Snoozing in a favourite spot on the rocking chair.


Living Well Is The Best Revenge

This week, 22 people were killed and 116 injured by a terrorist bombing in Manchester.

The targets of this attack were concert-goers, most of them young women and girls. They were harming no one. They wanted a night out to celebrate their love of music, and watch one of their favourite performers. A young man wanted so badly to kill them that he was willing to sacrifice his own life to do it.

In response to such hatred, we have to go on living. That means not merely surviving, but living in accordance with our greatest joys and highest values.

It means we must remember the values of compassion, tolerance and the rule of law. They have enabled us to build a free and prosperous society, imperfect though it may be.

It means we must cherish life, happiness and hope for the future. The bombing was an act of vicious hatred, but also one of profound and utter hopelessness. The bomber saw no hope for his personal future; he felt the best thing he could do with his life was end it, along with many others.

We will not live like this. We will not live in the fearful, joyless, stunted condition that the likes of ISIS wish upon us, and practice for themselves in the territories they rule.

Today I am going to the Cambridge Beer Festival. I am going to share in the simple enjoyment of good drink, good food, and good company on what promises to be a warm sunny day.

Needless to say, ISIS would not approve. There will be beer and pork pies involved; but that's not what really matters here. If you don't drink alcohol, or eat particular animal products, fine. It's the enjoyment that will really get to them.

Do what makes yourself and others happy. Share a meal with a friend, call a relative on the phone, be kind to a stranger. Paint a picture, write a story, plant a garden.

In the end, this is what we have. We are motes of life on the surface of a ball of rock hurtling through an incomprehensibly vast universe. Each one of us is a spark of awareness in the dark ocean of eternity, infinitesimally tiny and magnificently important.

Knowing this, hatred and fear are hollow things, which we will not allow to overcome us.

Scene from the 2010 Cambridge Beer Festival.
Image source: Shaggy359, Wikimedia Commons

Related posts:

Friday, 19 May 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-05-19: Joni

Lurking in the tall grass, like a ferocious tiger.


Counterfactual

What if Tony Blair never went to war in Iraq?

I've been thinking about this question, in the context of Brexit and the general election. How might things be different by now?

Demonstration against the Iraq War in Universe Alpha.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-05-12: Joni

In a state of advanced relaxation.



Nice Guy Syndrome

The Nice Guys Finish Last trope is widespread in popular culture, and I've come to realise it applies to the Labour party.

In this trope, women go for the arrogant bastards instead of unsexy nice guys. Sometimes the "nice guys" in question become angry, bitter, and in fact not nice at all, as illustrated by XKCD:

Source: XKCD
Labour is clearly entering the "angry and bitter" stage of Nice Guy Syndrome.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-05-05: Wimpole Courtyard Cat

Resident cat in the stable courtyard at Wimpole Estate near Cambridge. This handsome fellow is elderly but very friendly. The piles of wool behind him are being hand-spun into yarn.


Belief and the Supervillain

Conspiracy theories can be comforting, to bloggers and heads of government alike.

If a shadowy cabal of supervillains is responsible for wars, terrorist attacks and economic recessions, then it's scary, but also kind of cool. It provides reassurance that at least someone is in charge. If you can divine the motives of the grand conspiracy, you might be able to oppose it or at least stay out of its way.

Our Prime Minister, looking particularly villainous.
Image source: Buzzfeed

Friday, 28 April 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-04-28: FOC

This handsome fellow lives a few doors down the street from us; we imaginatively refer to him as the Fluffy Orange Cat. He's very friendly to passing humans, although we suspect he may be a bit of a bully to other cats. Here he is enjoying the afternoon sunshine in his front garden.


The Useless and the Cruel

This is an extraordinary election. On the one hand, we have cruel but competent Tories; on the other, well-meaning and inept Labour. The Tories are not widely loved, but it's unclear if Labour could even function as a government.

A recent column by George Monbiot acknowledges Labour is incompetent, but claims it doesn't really matter:
I would love to elect a government led by someone both competent and humane, but this option will not be on the ballot paper. The choice today is between brutal efficiency in pursuit of a disastrous agenda, and gentle inefficiency in pursuit of a better world.
Monbiot is wrong. To see why, let us consider the word "humane".

In order to be humane, it is not enough to have good intentions. If I sit around thinking nice thoughts while my child goes hungry, that is not humane behaviour. Being truly humane requires action and hard work.

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Cute Cat Friday 2017-04-21: Joni

Joni is bored by talk of human politics.


Waiting for the Hammer to Fall

It is not surprising Theresa May has called a general election. She is likely to secure a crushing victory, such as very few Prime Ministers have done before her. For the rest of us, the news is not so good.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons



The Conservatives have a current majority of 16, based on a 6.5% lead over Labour in 2015 with a feeble 37% of the popular vote. Polls now give them a 20-point lead over Labour, and 44% of the vote, for a predicted majority of 134.

To put this in perspective, there were 19 general elections between 1945 and 2015. Only four of them had a government majority larger than 134: 1945 (Lab 146), 1983 (Con 144), 1997 (Lab 179), and 2001 (Lab 167). May is on course for a historic landslide.

Source: Electoral Calculus, polling from 11-18 April

I think this will be an awful result. The Conservatives are a mean party, in both senses of the word: Cruel and petty. Their expected victory will give them a free hand to victimise the poor, the sick, the disabled, and immigrants. As I've recently discussed, the Conservatives celebrate cruelty as a virtue; one they value above economic success. This does not bode well for their conduct of the Brexit process.

All the same, the early election has a certain democratic logic. The referendum result has instigated Brexit, but the ballot paper said nothing at all about what kind of Brexit we want. In theory, the general election gives us a chance to decide just that.

In practice, we are caught between multiple devils and the deep blue sea.

The Conservatives offer cruelty, but also decisiveness. They will not make many decisions I agree with; but I must admit, they are largely united, and capable of setting policy and carrying it out. They are able to function as a government. It's not clear that any other party can.

The Scottish National Party will keep their grip on Scotland. The more dysfunctional Westminster is, the more it bolsters their demand for a second independence referendum. I don't blame them -- they are perfectly clear that independence is their overriding priority -- but it means they are unlikely to take a constructive role in the government of the UK.

The Liberal Democrats are unequivocally opposed to a hard Brexit. For that alone, I would probably be willing to give them my vote. As it happens, I agree with them on most other issues too. I will gladly support them as I did in 2015. Their former MP Julian Huppert is standing again here in Cambridge; he has a good chance of winning, and I hope he does.

On a national scale, though, Liberal Democrat victories are likely to be no more than symbolic. They have been reduced to a mere nine MPs. If they triple or quadruple their representation, it would be very impressive; but it would do little to dent the expected Conservative majority, especially since many of their potential gains are at the expense of Labour or the SNP.

Even with Labour in disarray, and a clear contrast with the Tories on Brexit, the LibDems are stuck at 10% or so in the polls. I think there will be a hard ceiling on LibDem support, because they simply are not trusted. Voters have not forgotten their coalition with the Conservatives, and their broken promise on tuition fees. Maybe this is unfair, but politics is not a fair competition.

Comrades, we should be struggling together


As for Labour... well, I hardly know where to start.

Prime Minister Corbyn? Really? He's a woefully incompetent leader, and his party quite plainly can't agree on what day of the week it is. Less than a year ago, eighty percent of Corbyn's own MPs voted no confidence in his leadership, and his personal popularity is abysmal. In the latest YouGov poll, 50% think Theresa May would be the best Prime Minister, next to a pitiful 14% for Corbyn. "Don't know" is beating him by a factor of more than two to one.

Labour has published a list of ten pledges. They sound... nice. I mean, who isn't in favour of full employment, improved social care, and protection for the environment? But positive change does not come about solely from the power of good intentions. It requires both ruthless efficiency, and an ability to negotiate and compromise. That does not sound like today's Labour party.

If Labour really means to do this, it's the most ambitious programme for any incoming government since 1997, maybe since 1945. Blair and Attlee had united and fiercely disciplined parties, and landslide majorities in Parliament. Corbyn will have neither.

If by some miracle Labour wins a slender majority, I don't believe they are remotely capable of implementing their pledges. They might as well have promised to ban rain on bank holidays, for all the difference it makes. We would see a weak and divided government, flailing helplessly in the face of the slightest challenge. In some respects that might be preferable to the Tories, but it's hardly surprising most of the electorate doesn't see it that way.

The ten pledges are notable for their failure to mention Brexit. How will Labour handle the central issue of this election? I have no idea, and I strongly suspect the Labour party doesn't know either.

As for Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell trying to negotiate a comprehensive trade deal with the European Union... my mind is well and truly boggled. These are not detail-oriented people, and their preferred approach to capitalism is shouting angry slogans about it. Putting them in charge of complex, delicate, and vitally important international negotiations would be like putting a toddler at the controls of an aircraft. It's possible they would be even less suited to the task than Boris Johnson, which is really saying something.

It's a moot point anyway. Labour's chance of overcoming the Tory lead is so remote, it can only be seen through a powerful telescope. For practical purposes, we're waiting to see how large the Conservative majority will be.

It could be very large indeed. The Conservatives and their allies in the press will unleash a monstering of Corbyn such as we have never seen. His past record provides plenty of material to work with.

Labour's performance in 2015 was so poor, it doesn't have that far to fall. Its near-wipeout in Scotland entailed a 17% swing, which is unlikely to be replicated in England. It had 30% of the UK popular vote in 2015, and even in a worst-case scenario, it is likely to hang onto 20% or so.

That said, there are a lot of moving parts which can work to the detriment of Labour. Remain voters will switch to LibDems, Leave voters to UKIP or the Conservatives. Those disillusioned with Corbyn's leadership will vote for other parties or simply stay home. A great many seats could be handed to the Conservatives, even in the most unlikely places.

Current polling has Con 44, Lab 25, LD 10, UKIP 10. Let's try the Electoral Calculus swingometer with Con 48, Lab 20, LD 15, UKIP 5. This gives a Conservative majority of 216; an all-time record if we leave aside wartime coalitions, and all the more impressive with only one or two Tory seats in Scotland. Of course this is only a crude estimate, but the general point is clear.

I think the Labour party is rather looking forward to this election, because it will allow them to get on with their real objective of fighting each other.

Labour has observed an uneasy truce since last year's leadership contest, but internal grudges have not been forgotten or forgiven. After the expected defeat, moderates will blame Corbyn's incompetence, Corbynites will blame the MPs' disloyalty, and the party will once again plunge into civil war. Few outsiders will take much notice; and for good or ill, Theresa May will have almost total power to rule the UK as she sees fit.