In several Star Trek episodes and films, trainee James T. Kirk's solution to Starfleet Academy's Kobayashi Maru test is spoken of with alternately, admiration and disdain. Here's the version from the recent film:
The point of the Kobayashi Maru test is that it's unwinnable. A captain who tries to win misses the point that it's a test of character in an impossible situation: facing death is the real test. James Kirk cheats: he reprogrammes the simulation to make winning possible. Here's Kirk's explanation from The Wrath of Khan.
Which brings me to Paul Uppal MP and Equal Marriage. When he was lobbied last week, he expressed a view that he opposed it: firstly for legal reasons and subsequently on the grounds of religious freedom. Personally, my feeling is that he reckons the Daily Mail voters on the western fringe of The Dark Place plus the Sikh vote will get him re-elected if he panders to their prejudices enough. I also think he's wrong: Sikhs, like everybody else, vote according to a range of personal concerns and can't be treated as a block. They won't vote for him just because he too is Sikh.
The other impulse pulling Paul Uppal was his craven loyalty to David Cameron. As I said yesterday, he voted for student fees, NHS dismemberment, EMA withdrawal, multiple wars, benefit cuts for disabled children and any number of vicious and retrograde laws. He is a man for whom the mirage of advancement means much.
So there he was, last night: his own personal Kobayashi Maru. Vote against equal marriage and lose his 100% record of unthinking loyalty but appease the bigots who elected him. Or vote for equal marriage despite his own views and alienate said bigots, making re-election even less likely? Luckily (and I should have seen this coming given his record thus far), Paul did a Kirk. Rather than face the test, he bottled it and abstained. In one of the most symbolic votes in years, one which firmly divides the political class between humane progressives and reactionaries, Uppal took the coward's way out.
Will it help him? I don't think so. He presumably calculates that Cameron's revenge will be focussed on those who voted against the Bill rather than those who quietly ducked the challenge, while the anti-equality voters will similarly give him a free pass. Wrong. The Conservative leadership will despise him as an unprincipled coward while the bigots will take the view that the Tories enacted equal marriage and won't make any distinction between abstainers and supporters when it comes to putting an X in the box.
Uppal won't go on to save the universe and breed with multiple glamorous aliens. He's destined for humiliating defeat and a life of bitter contempt for the voters. He faced the unwinnable situation and cheated in the most spineless fashion possible.
I know Captain Kirk. And you, Mr Uppal, are no Captain Kirk.