Archive for June, 2010

Chill Out!

Monday, June 28th, 2010

I had a lovely relaxing weekend listening to great music in the sunshine.

Now don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into one of those sorts of blogs. No lolcats here.

But stepping outside of the political maelstrom did give me time to think a little bit from a more external perspective.

Reading the commentary and blogs of late, there’s been an astonishing impatience displayed about the changes needed to the Labour Party, to our offer to voters (particularly disaffected Lib Dem voters) and also an astonishment that voters aren’t rejecting the coalition in ever greater numbers (though I will blog again about the damage to the Lib Dems).

If we keep up this pace of expectation, we risk alienating the public before they are ready to listen to us. Labour have done well in setting and maintaining an oppositional narrative to the budget, but we can’t expect people to fall behind it immediately. We lost the election, and voters – on the whole – are an optimistic bunch who want to give the coalition a chance. There will be  inevitable disappointment, disillusionment and anger as the cuts start to bite, but at the moment, they are theoretical and the sun is shining. Keep up the narrative, but it must be with an understanding that it is mood music, until such a moment come that the public switch to it being their own tune.

If we keep up this pace, we will burn out. We will exhaust ourselves in opposition just as we did in Government. We need to build up to a crescendo, not die down from one. This is one of the reasons I supported taking our time over choosing a leader. While few are listening to us, we can take our time listening to each other and getting the start of an all party dialogue in process.

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The Martyrdom of St Vince

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

At PMQs today, David Cairns MP asked about Sky News’ impartiality andits future ownership, asking for a guarantee that BSkyB would not be allowed to turn into another Fox News – which he called “shouty, reactionary propaganda.” Responding, Prime Minister David Cameron called this a matter for the Business Secretary.

There is little doubt that the Murdochs will be richly rewarded for the support of their newspapers during the election, but passing the decision to Cable is a clear act of low political cunning. It’s not the kind of issue he will resign over, but it will be the kind of issue that will seriously damage him with those on the left of the Lib Dems who still trust him to be their standard bearer. As I said in my post election post “What’s Next?”

“The Lib Dems have to make this work – the Tories do not. The Tories can push their agenda far, far harder than the Lib Dems currently realise, and – particularly this side of any referendum on AV – the Lib Dems will have to go along with them. They need to prove that coalition government works, the Tories – who will campaign against voting reform  – do not.”

The Lib Dems have consistently been the public face of the cuts, and I’m sure Clegg would love making semi-rival St Vince the public face of rewarding Murdoch almost as much as Cameron will. Watch out for even more odd contortions from the man people once thought could do no wrong.

 

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A Budget as Ideological as it is Unfair

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Labour should have ruled out raising VAT altogether. That we didn’t was a huge mistake. That the ConDems have raised it is a bigger one.

VAT is a horribly unfair tax. Office of National Statistics stats show the richest 10% pay £1 in every £25 of their income in VAT; the poorest 10% pay £1 in every £7 as VAT. Those who can least afford it will be badly squeezed by this measure alone.

Unemployment is going up, and cutting 25% of each public service is only going to exacerbate this further. Not just because a possible 1 million of them could lose their jobs, but because the many businesses who trade with the public sector will also suffer. So this is a terrible time to actively reduce the funds available for those who can’t find work. But the CPI linking of benefits – as opposed to the more realistic RPI does just that.

I work in housing, and what I found most distasteful in the budget was the cut of 10% of Housing Benefit if people have been unemployed for a year. This combined with the destructive strategy being enacted bty Eric Pickles in the DCLG of telling councils that Regional Spatial Strategies have been abandoned without putting anything in their place (which has already led to at least 40 local authorities putting a moratorium on house building) means that we will have less and less affordable housing built every year. The differential in the Housing Benefit caps will also lead to a further abundance of single bedroom properties in the private sector with affordable properties for families becomes rarer than ever.

This was not a budget of necessity. Cuts to not need to be this severe or this unbalanced. When part 2 kicks in on the 20th October, and we see what the departmental cuts will entail, people will know this is not a case of cutting waste but cutting vital services.

Labour and the left believe that it is essential in our society that we provide for our weakest members. The Conservatives believe that in so doing we weaken our society. No one is really sure what the Lib Dems believe other that that they should be in the Cabinet no matter what. With this budget – more ideological that anything Thatcher ever passed – the Tories will have the chance to test their economic theories – and we will see the damage their trampling of the state will cause.

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What Socialism Means to Me (and the Candidates)

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

On Monday, I attended the Fabian Society hustings for the Labour Leadership, and was pleased to ask the following question: “Are you a Socialist, and if so, what does that mean to you?”.

All the candidates answered in first part in the affirmative, with David Miliband probably demurring the most, Ed Balls being the most fighting, Andy Burnham unexpectedly quoting Billy Bragg, Diane Abbot being equally passionate as Balls. Ed Miliband was less passionate, but gave the most coherent argument about how his Socialism would work in policy terms.

One of the reasons for the question was following a long beer-fuelled debate with some good friends. Essentially the debate boiled down to them arguing that they wanted to hear from the candidates where their ideas and passions came from, and I said that while that was essential, it was also important to know what that would mean in terms of their take on policies for the future.

Inevitably and quite rightly, when you ask this question, you ask yourself what your own answer would be. That presumably is the ideal answer that you would want to hear.

So I will attempt to give an understanding of what I mean when I declare myself a Socialist, and how this would inform my policies were I to come to a position of leadership (very unlikely, but bear with me here!).

I believe Socialism is about society using the tools at it’s disposal, at all levels, to ensure that the fruits of capitalism are shared by the many not the few. Sometimes that means nationalisation - the railways would be a good example here, sometimes it means fighting privatization – of Royal Mail which was a bad idea under Labour and remains one under “Saint” Vince. Sometimes it means regulation – tougher restrictions on pay and conditions to ensure a fairer society. Sometimes it means local solutions – like freeing councils to build more social housing.

The Socialist solutions are many and varied, but they all stem from the same basic set of principle, that between the five of them the candidates outlined on Monday and which distilled outline my beliefs.

I am Socialist of the Heart like both Billy Bragg and Andy Burnham, and recognise the innate equality we are born with and the inherent inequalities in the system that choke our ability to remain equal. Like Diane I draw my line in the sand and stand on the side of the stand of the voiceless and the powerless. Like Ed Balls I am passionate about opposing measures brought in by right wing Governments to remove the power of the state to stand at people’s backs using the rhetoric of getting out of their way. Like David Miliband I recognise that the responsibilities of Socialism don’t stop at our borders, and that we should be judged on how we represent the voiceless and powerless everywhere. Finally like Ed Miliband, I believe Socialism is about taking action, not just to oppose, but to regulate, organise and bend the capitalist system to the will of the people. To ensure the benefits Capitalism can bring are felt by the many not the few.

I have a declared favourite in this campaign, but I was pleased to find so much talent and agreement about being braver in our understanding and practice of Socialism. I will also work with other members to take full advantage of the newly awakened thirst for internal Labour Party democracy to keep the pressure on whoever wins to keep the fires of Socialism lit, and keep holding the coalitions feet to them!

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Really Listening on Immigration

Friday, June 11th, 2010

There is a lot of talk among the Labour candidates on how we need to be listening to our lost voters, centered around immigration. I think that while this is true, we need to be very clear on two matters: Firstly we must ensure that we know what the result of “listening” can and more importantly can’t entail; and secondly we need to ensure that we are not listening without hearing, and understand what it is that people are really saying to us.

First we must separate those who are simply a little xenophobic from those who have a more substantial beef with being left behind by the forces of globalisation of which immigration is a part of the story. Labour must never become a party that even considers pandering to xenophobia, however much we are told that this is the attitude of our lost vote. That doesn’t mean we can’t address the issues that underlie the public’s worries on immigration and we should cast off the timidity of our past to do so.

What does this mean in practical terms? It means a strong a directed argument in favour of government intervention in two key areas: Housing and Employment.

Labour must set out a national and regional strategy to build many, many more houses, at least 100,000 a year, and at least half of these must be affordable housing (affordable both to rent and to buy – there must be a revolution the funding of social housing provision working both with councils and with Housing Associations). Given the cuts the ConDem government have already unleashed in this area, this will be a policy that will offer voters a distinctively different offer. The case needs to be made that building is not just good for those who need the homes, but for our economy too.

Secondly we need to offer to close the employment loopholes that exclude agency workers from fair deals and protect the employment rights of all workers – immigrant or not – so there can’t be a financial incentive to employ and abuse immigrant workers.

We need to be clear that this won’t stop immigration, and that stopping it is not our aim, but it should alleviate some of the negative effects that are felt by the working class.

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The Next Drilling Disaster?

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

I’d like to draw your attention to this fascinating and terrifying piece by my friend and former SERA intern Kara Causalito: http://www.thenation.com/article/next-drilling-disaster?page=0,2

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More on Quotas

Friday, June 4th, 2010

I think this idea is absolutely the right thing to do, and this is absolutely the right time to do it.

 The idea that this will stop “the best candidate” is a straw man. For any job, there is no perfect candidate, but a set of criteria, and a number of candidates who match this criteria to a greater or lesser extent. All this does is add an extra level of criteria in the essential catagory. In politics we all know that there have always been other factors than simply “merit” in appointing people, and that this is true in all parties. Factionalism is far more damaging to politics than gender balancing but is allowed to carry on regardless as it’s an informal rather than a positive and formal rebalancing.

I hope this wouldn’t be a permanent measure, but one designed to permanently change the culture until it makes itself unnecessary – like All Women Shortlists.

 Politically, I don’t think this can hurts us. Anyone unlikely to vote for a party based on this issue alone, is always going to be unlikely to vote Labour. On the other hand, this single measure gives us back a sense of radicalism and transformative politics that has been missing from the Labour Party for a while. It could have the power to further inspire the base, particularly the women, and to bring in a generation of feminists who see Labour taking real and direct action to improve our offer to women in politics.

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Quotas Are a Great Idea, But We Need Other Measures Too

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

It will surprise precisely nobody that I think Harriet Harman is absolutely right in her call for 50% of the Shadow Cabinet to be made up of women. We have a great deal of talented women in Parliament – certainly more than enough to make up half a cabinet of experienced women in Parliament, and a new generation of women in the new intake who can be inspired to take these leadership roles on. A cabinet with for example –  Anne Begg, Karen Buck, Yvette Cooper, Angela Eagle, Harriet Harman, Meg Hillier, Margaret Hodge, Tessa Jowell, Meg Munn, Dawn Primarolo, Joan Ruddock and Joan Walley is not a cabinet stuffed with also-rans but is vibrant and interestingly diverse in terms of political positioning (something I think would be an inevitable part of making the pool you are choosing from smaller).

I think quotas are vital in the world we live in. As has been shown by the dreadful recruitment rate in the Lib Dems and the lack of A-list success in the Tories, All Women Shortlists has consistently been proved to be the method that works best in ensuring that we get a more and increasingly representative party in Parliament.

But great women candidates don’t appear from nowhere. There need to be far greater support for women taking positions in the party at all levels to give them the experience and confidence to come through and challenge – particularly inareas that have traditionally been male dominated. We need to make sure working class women are also coming through, a d getting the support and networks that they need to continue to make our representative of the working class.

So I applaud Harriet today, and look forward to action in the future, led by changes at the top but in conjunction with strong grassroots action.

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