Thursday 26 February 2015

Rolling Barrage

Nick Drew used the term Rolling Barrage to describe the latest political moves.
Its a quality metaphor.

Politics is only the continuation of war by other means. 

Our UK politics is still very much fought in the way of wars of old. Not so much the modern battlefield's high tech kit. Powerful communications. Great flexibly in multi-role operations. Cost effective units..High tech, low manpower..highly trained professionals.

No. Our politics is a titanic struggle of Might and Money. Mobilisation and National Will. Depots and railheads and fixed timetable battle-plans during the campaign season.
 Citizen volunteers led by a mix of old regulars. Fresh faced amateurs. Public Schoolboys and keen as mustard university students.  Each side containing far greater numbers of journeymen generals than first class leaders. Each with more incompetent or raw officers than veteran field commanders.
Each side proclaiming a great victory for every mile of useless mud gained. Each refusing to accept a defeat. Instead calling it a "rearwards advance" or a "change of base."

Two huge, opposing, power blocks. Separated only by a very narrow ideological strip of no-man's land.  Yet fighting to the death to control that thin marginal seat ground.
Our political leaders scour the battlefield. They send out Political Spad XIII scouts to search out the moral high ground, from where the Heavy Artillery Politicians can dominate the battlefield.    Bellowing out their thunder day and night. New fangled 'Fokkos Gruppen" report on the movements behind the enemies lines.  Seeking out concentrations of troops and the buildup of supplies. Also attempting to find what weakness the enemy has camouflaged under those rear area nets.

Certain sections of the trench line may be very weakly defended. Salients ripe for lopping off.
Other sections are so heavily entrenched, like the NHS, ring-fenced with miles and miles of barbed wire, and well sited union bunkers, that to assault it head on would invite ruin.

Some trench sections led by unflappable Liberal Democrat Captains, have the potential to stand fast,  even though the lines either side of them are wiped out. 

And the thump of a shell sploshing into the mud. Followed by a dreaded hiss as it releases its toxic topic of "Immigration..Immigration" can have even first line troops of the major parties fleeing to the rear in panic.

Certain sections may be in a safe zone. Weakly defended with second line troops. These could suddenly fall victim to new allies joining the war. The Scots nation and The UKIP opening up like the Turkish and Italian fronts.

The basic battle plan remains the same for both sides.
Find either a strength on your side or a weakness on theirs. Mass forces. Set up a timetable. Brief everyone concerned, making sure their is no deviation from the plan, whatever happens. Then set up a tremendous barrage. Days and days of relentless prattling. Followed by a creeping barrage of sudden explosions and a mixture of Statistics Piercing Shells. Highly Explosive Revelations..Tons of smoke-shells to disguise own mistakes..And the never ending chatter of machine tweets, as the poor bloody infantry try and get their flyers read before they hit the recycling bin.
Once the offensive begins its too late for fine tactics. Simply hammer the opponent and hope to break his front line, so allowing penetrations and flank attacks and try and force him back to his second or third lines.

The chances of a knockout blow are slim to say the least. More often its just attritional, positional warfare , where each side attempts to overwhelm the other with sheer numbers.
Costs are not considered. The war chest has already been amassed and there is no point saving any for the next battle. So every gun that can is brought to bear. And the winner is often the one that made the fewest mistakes.

Our politicians are very old fashioned. They are impressed by something as ancient as a database that might or might not show them where their supporters are. This startling lack of hard reconnaissance means they fire off millions of leaflets, carpet bombing rather than strategic strikes. 
They know the marginals are the key to victory. So they bombard them the hardest. But again, just using weight of shells to try and counter battery their opponent into silence.

Communications,  the key to the modern era, is not quick enough. MPs rely on a pre-mission briefings and what appears to be field telephone. So they sometimes go over the top into a hail of fire that could easily have been avoided by being forewarned.

Can't help feeling that the first party to master  the Westminster equivalent of radio-telephone. Coded messages. Combined arms. Close air support. Mechanised transportation and self-propelled artillery is going to waltz through the political landscape and cause an almighty upset.

I think that's taken that metaphor as far as it could possibly travel. 
But for the historians amongst us..

The Entente

The British Empire - Conservatives 
Ill prepared. Too parsimonious and too active on too many fronts prolonged the conflict and prevented gathering of forces for a decisive campaign. The Empire takes a long, long time to become effective.

The French Empire - Democratic Unionist Party 
Always up for an offensive. But after sustaining terrible casualties their morale declines. Prefer to remain on the defensive within their own sphere.

Czarist Russian Empire - Liberal Democrats
The least prepared, financed and equipped of the great powers. Poor leadership causes severe losses, Even being propped up by the British Tory Empire can't prevent capitulation then revolution.

Serbia - UKIP
Impossibly small. Friend of neither  the Allied nor Central Powers. Somehow, despite attacks from all sides, remain in play. And even mounting offensives.

Central Powers

Imperial Germany - Labour
Once the dominant power. But the war machine was no longer the power force of the 1870s. Outspent by the Entente and lacking allies and with weak leadership, they struggle to find a way to win.

Austro-Hungary - SNP
Allied by virtue of a common ideology to Imperial Labour. But wish to rule as a nation in their own right. They lose almost every battle, yet remain a powerful player in the war to the very end.

Ottoman Empire - Plaid Cmyru/ Respect 
Dragged into the conflict through economic dependency on Imperial Labour. Proved ill prepared and ill financed. Charismatic Caliphate leader keeps them going much longer than expected. But eventually defeated and destroyed.

The Kingdom of Bulgaria - The Greens
Originally both the central and allied powers wanted the Green agenda on their side. Eventually the Central Socialist powers proved more able to deliver Green desires. After limited initial success the Kingdom failed in its offensives.. Poor health of troops and lack of money and supplies led to catastrophe. The blame was placed on the idiocy of their leader, who abdicated.


andrew said...

Excellent metaphors.

The trouble is that the ground they so messily fight for is only really valued by the activists on both sides.

The people they are fighting over are not mud or land - that analogy was good 20 years ago. They have moved on and I see them as something more like this.

Nick Drew said...

Gentlemen both ! I was already feeling quite perky this week (as you'll have gathered) and your brilliant metaphors - ultra-sustained and ultra-concise alike - have started my Friday morning on an even more cheerful note. Thank you !

did I say ultra-sustained? nay, Bill, that's a vertiable idiom you've conjured up there !

what must it be like to be a starling in one of those aerial formations? absolutely ecstatic! - like being at Twickenham when Swing Low starts up, absolutely spontaneously, at a perfect, critical point in the game - but multiplied a hundredfold, a whole-body experience

having been a soldier I have always been wary of extending military metaphors in the world of business, where one finds really crass attempts all the time: it is just too tempting

(how many American businessmen swear they are guided by Sun Tzu? It's laughable. But not all Americans: I once had the privilege of working for a heavy-duty VietNam vet & he was stongly contemptuous of trivial business-military analogies, all the more since he guessed his minions were doing it to impress him, even if only subconsciously)

I shall return to this, *ahem*, fray later

Dick the Prick said...

Brilliant Bill, thankyou. As per Nick, I think there's a bit of floor in that there's a 3rd group - The Swiss maybe - which are larger than both the Allies and the Beligerents who are just sitting it out and couldn't give a monkeys. Not all of them disengaged but war weary and immune to the pusillanimity of the fake leaders foisted upon them. When it's a choice between bullshit or dogma, well, they're still gonna end up paying for it somehow...errr...unlike the Swiss!

andrew said...

Drawing on themes from elsewhere as well as the above,

I think the swiss / the starlings are basically well educated young people,
or possibly invading bodysnatchers.

Well educated != degree, just someone who paid attention in A levels.

these people have been
- taught to think for themselves
- their parents were generally not very respectful of authority (to me this is the key)
- dont get paid to enter higher education - they have to pay
- cannot afford a house and so will form a family later in life

generally they are more socially acceptable than I was at 18 (perhaps a bad benchmark), but also very much more aware of the wide range of views and more willing to pick one for themselves.

Along with the good side - 20-25 yo grads are much more entrepeneurial than my classmates were if indeed it even occurred to us at the time (robyn exton)
You get the bad side - jihadi john.
And the disappointing - russel brand (but he is about 37 so doesnt count)

You will not be able to appeal to these people using traditional means.

I grew up with my parents basically being respectful of authority, the messages we received (this rolling barrage) were in the TV or posters or newspaper ads.
The key point here being there was one message that everyone got.

Young people dont read national newspapers or watch tv in the same uniform sense we used to.
They have grown up using apps on tablets that provide content tailored to them, in smaller class sizes where they are treated more like individuals and their parents probably involved them in decision making a lot more.

They think differently.

Carrying on with the metaphor, the obama/labour 'ground war' does go some way towards getting to young people, but having some 55yo retired mum explaining why a house full of 25yo people should vote conlablibkip might not be a well targeted delivery.

A good meme / image will always work

'safety first' / 'labours not working' / 'things can only get better' / 'farage and a pint'

but they are vv hard to create - you only see a really good one every 10-15 years.

if it was me i would try humour ideally with song you can hum.

Bill Quango MP said...


You illustrate the point I was making. Politics is using very old tactics. Its has not evolved well at all.

This is really quite strange. Politics is a branch of advertising. Political parties can hire who they want. Utilise any platform.

Yet all sides really just use this WW1 slogging approach.
The generals of WW1 did not use this approach through choice. It was just that the armies of the day were reasonably equal in size , reasonably equal in skill, and had very similar technology.

So it became a weight of numbers. But the size of the armies was much larger than the ability of commanders to effectively control. This had been the case since Napoleon.
The growth of the military and the massive numbers of replacements required meant the overall calibre of the leaders was uncertain at best.

So, the fixed plan of attack was adopted as the best method for managing a battle.
Centrally planned attacks.

But the plans , by necessity, lacked flexibility and precision. The general staff was too small to be effective. Communications were too slow and too uncertain. And there just weren't enough munitions or personnel or time to exploit success.

What would Gereral Haig have given for a mobile phone?

Now, we need to discover how the SNP are managing to poll so high.
It can't all be just backlash. They were not doing this well during the all important battle for the Highlands.
Do they have some method of communicating that Labour don't?
Are they using social media and targeting younger voters?
They have only equal resources to Labour.. so how are they managing to win this ground war?

I really don't know.

andrew said...

my geuss on the snp is that

When my parents are told that a vote for anything other than conlab(lib) is a wasted vote
- by default they believe it

When my children are told that a vote for anything other than conlab(lib) is a wasted vote
- by default they think that person is talking out of their bottom

and in times where you have less money than your parents did, less prospects than your parents did, less chance of buying a house etc etc...
- you express discontent on a continuum from voting to rioting.

(I also think a strategically deployed wallace and gromit song would tip the balance)

Sebastian Weetabix said...

The SNP are polling well because the 45% of my compatriots who are stupid twats were not going to vote 'yes' in the referendum and then suddenly switch back to a Unionist party. Throw into the mix the fact that Labour in Scotland are complacent, incompetent and corrupt, the Tories are posh Etonian (English!! Boo hiss!) bastards with all the charm of Flashman and the Lib Dems are the quislings who put them in power... you get the SNP cleaning up. The Union has made a lot of sense for a long time, but if the rules are going to be made in Brussels in perpetuity, a lot of Scots think it makes sense to cut out the middle man.

Truly our political classes have a lot to answer for.

Electro-Kevin said...

I prefer the footballing metaphor.

Since the Tories stripped our defence budgets to the bone (to pay for welfare) there's fat chance of a military action - unfortunate now that the Bears are rocking up in our airspace and in the Channel. (Having decided to bugger Putin around)

Football is a far better way of describing it - the Blues and the Reds (Sunday pub teams) fully engrossed in their game and bewildered passers by not giving a toss about it and wishing they'd pipe down with the shouting so we can watch our usual TV.

With leaders as weak as Miliband and Clegg to deal with (not to mention the Greens) Cameron should be facing an open goal.

He isn't. Why ?

Immigration immigration immigration.

People are VERY worried about it. We think our country is coming to an end and that it has no future.

But if we are going to insist on the battlefield metaphor then lets get at least one thing clear. UKIP are NOT the enemy. The LibLabCon are. They all want to hand our country over to Brussels.

Bill Quango MP said...

Well...the latest Labour offensive, that looked so promising on paper has come unstuck.

Ed Miliband reckons he needs just a few hundred thousand votes to scrape into number 10. So labour are shuffling around trying to pick a few hundred votes here and there.

Hence the pink bus. To try and lure in some women.
Now a £6,000 tuition fee cap

Sadly for Ed, both of these offensives have been dreamed up in a hurry. The ideas are sound but the planning and the evidence for them has been dreadful.
So both failed.

and here , as I've said many times before, is my annoyance with Miliband. He has had four years to get his campaigns in order.
And he's utterly failed to do so. He's clutching at straw after straw when he should be steamrolling the government.

He annoys because his job is win elections. And he has no idea how to do it.

Bill Quango MP said...

EK - the open goal is Ned's , surely?
Without wishing to become a poundland Dan Hodges, that Miliband has had every possible advantage that an opposition leader has ever had. And he's on the verge of throwing it all away.

SW - Still doesn't explain why people switched in the first place. In 2010 , not very long ago, Labour's vote share went up in Scotland. Down everywhere else, but up in Scotland.
And the Tories made a very real, if unsuccessful, attempt to woo Scotland in 2010.

So why, in 2010 very very very pro labour.
2015 .. anti-labour?

I'm as baffled as Labour.

Andrew: I don't know. But the children of voting age I know are not even aware who the political leaders are. They have zero interest in politics.

This isn't the 'most important election ever.'
The last one was more important. This is either a continuation or a minor course change election.

Electro-Kevin said...

We could well be entering yet another Parliament without a majority Conservative government. The last time was 18 years ago. It looks like we could well go to 23 years.

Why won't Cameron do a pact with Ukip to keep out of each other's way in key marginals ?

Electro-Kevin said...

Reply to reply BQ

All those Labour votes going to UKIP. (I can't see them switching to Tory or many to the Greens after recent performances, can you ?)

Has anyone factored this in ?

Sebastian Weetabix said...

The SNP charge about Labour getting into bed with the hated Tories hits home with "low information" voters in the less salubrious parts of Glasgow, unfortunately. As I say, stupid twats.

Nick Drew said...

Can't help feeling that the first party to master the Westminster equivalent of radio-telephone ...

a topic to be endlessly pondered upon (& bottle the answer if you can)

things have evolved over my years of political awareness (OK, decades) and some aspects have moved on a lot - but others haven't, not least the 'troops on the ground' who are just the same people only older ... (much older)

HOWEVER, caution before believing in a future higher-tech, youthful insurgency: was Obama an insurgent, with his crowd-based fund-raising etc? doesn't look very revolutionary now, does he?

many (most?) yoof-trends are orchestrated by the Simon Cowells of this world

and truly hi-tech stuff is web-dependent: and who controls that? I mean, increasingly, real hands-on control, they've seen various social-meejah-based revolutions and they ain't gonna have another if they can help it ...

(what happens to a really disruptive thing like bitcoin? gets wiped out by The Man, that's what)

remember the riots of 2011: I well recall reading how the genie was well and truly out of the bottle now: nebulous hoards of flash-mob looters with a taste for mayhem, conversing on encrypted blackberries would always outwit the dumb, slow-moving police ...

also, a particularly interesting anon-comment on C@W, that we'd better watch out when a truly tech-savvy and truly alienated officer-class emerged from the ranks of the sour uni-dropouts, able to harness the lumpen looter-mobs into a fearsome semi-political, semi-anarchical force for god-knows-what-but-it-won't-be-good

somehow, The Man soldiers on in his sluggish 20th century ways

you may be right BQ, and as i said at the start it's well worth watching out for: but thus far evolution has trumped revolution every time within these shores - even the Labour Party was house-trained in just a very few years, and simply joined the club

any signs of real green-shoots innovation? (Russell Brand - well yeah ...) votes for 16-year olds? (Cowell will just join forces with Crosby)

at the end of the day, T.E.Lawrence had a lot of fun but it was Allenby who smashed up the middle and routed the Turk

Bill Quango MP said...

Don't disagree with that Nick.
But someone will, one day, manage to get the Instagram generation on their side. And they will garner brand new votes.

I don't need to tell you that in business, winning new customers is the game. Its far easier to keep the ones you've got, than to find new ones.

Some party will hit on something as simple giving a free Meerkat cuddly toy to anyone who joins them for just £1 annual fee.

now that £1 goes nowhere. That Meerkat costs £5. They are 34 down already.

But , there will be some other freebies. Have you registered yet? register to vote {here} and get £5 of amazon vouchers.
Make sure to register for postal voting.

{months later]
Remember that postal vote you asked for? It will be in the mail anyday soon..All you have to do is...XXX

Think before you vote .. our party of fun is offering [long list of youth related policies and opportunities]
but its your vote - you decide!

etc etc etc

Not the Obammy revolution.
But a real attempt to win over younger people.

they are not the key. But if it was possible to gain a 1/4 million more votes .. ?

Anyway. I stand by my piece. And I believe the Coalition is having the best of the slogging match so far. Even the Labour Huns HSBC whizzbang didn't do much except scare the horses.

Miliband has been messing about trying a Dardanelles strategy here and a Salonika front there.
To little real effect.

He knows he needs a real breakthrough. Its going to have to be on the economy. Holding NHS hill just won't be enough for him.
He's running out of time to find a way through.

Laban Tall said...

I think the Greens may surprise - the plague-on-all-your-houses vote that knows "I'm not racist like that UKIP lot". Who could have put such a thought into their heads, I wonder?

A colleague was thinking of a Green vote - late-30s, young family, not well off. He hadn't a clue that among their policies were open borders (literally) and was horrified when I told him. Because it's expressed as "We believe the UKs problems are caused by the system under which we're governed and not by people born abroad" - which was the approx line I heard on Any Questions.

Just imagine - open borders and a Citizens Basic Income for anyone who can get here. Camp Of The Saints time !

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