Archive for October, 2010

Worst Blog Post of the Week

Friday, October 29th, 2010

A new feature entirely inspired by this week’s winner, I have decided to highlight the most ridiculous posts I have read (of any party persuasion – if I was running this a few months ago, this piece on Labour Uncut wouldn’t have escaped) in the week.

This week’s post- sadly almost inevitably these days – comes from Lib Dem Voice. It’s this spectacular own goal from Matt Gallagher. Lib Dem voice is not the interesting read it used to be. It’s almost parodic in the dissonance between the vast, vast majority of the articles which aren’t simply – as you would rightly expect – pro-coalition, but are almost Maoist (New Labour?) in their purity of thought. This runs to two strands: How great the coalition are, and how awful Labour is.

In a month where the main party political story was the Lib Dems reneging on a pledge (not a manifesto but a signed seperate pledge)  made not six months beforehand, this attack on labour seems at best ill timed, and at worst defensive rubbish. As –  to their credit – the commentators on the piece seem to recognise.

So for his Karl Rove like ability to attack in others that which you are most guilty of, well done Matt Gallagher! You are the inaugural Worst blog post of the week!

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The Opression of Moderation

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

See the thing is, I’m angry. I’m angry at the plans the Government is making, at the actions they have already taken and the lives already disrupted.

Most of the time I try to channel that anger into action. Campaigning against changes that will see our inner cities devastated and lives ruined. Campaigning for a better and electable Labour Party to ensure that come the next election we have a good offer to put before the public to stop any further damage being dome by the economic right wing.

But sometimes I need to let off steam and be angry. And having recently done so elsewhere I have been told that my passion is unhelpful to the debate. This may or may not be true, but it’s a funny sort of debate that only allows those unmoved by the prospect to take part. Sometimes I am not trying to win an argument, sometimes I am not campaigning for votes but am expressing the pain that is being caused. And if you deny the expression of that pain, wittingly or unwittingly, you skew the debate. You make it seem as if there aren’t strongly felt objections (or for that matter support) simply moderate people and a middle way. This may represent the majority, but it doesn’t represent the whole debate.

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A Tale of Two Websites – Or Why I Believe the Yes to AV Campaign Will Lose

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Take a look at the official website for the Yes to AV Campaign: http://www.yestofairervotes.org/ it has some negative and fairly strident (but ultimately unprovable) comment about how awful MPs are. Then asks us to care about how they are elected. This website absolutely takes for granted that every and any person who lands on the website is ready to man the barricades for AV. There is absolutely nothing there for anyone interested but undecided on the issue. no arguments, no persuasion, no gradual drawing in. There is in the bottom left a very small “about” link. This takes you to a page of only 105 words. These words again are all about the campaign (who they are, who they do and don’t represent),  not the issue.

In order to get any further with the website, you have to sign up to get involved. For you, dear reader, I submitted my details in order to see what lay beyond that. First there was a page where – once you had signed up – you are asked to submit details of at least one friend. You cannot get to the next part of the website without giving another email address to them. Luckily I have two email addresses and enough curiosity to want to see it through to the bitter end. However I suspect that the Venn diagram for people interested in electoral reform and people interested in data privacy has a pretty big cross-over. So not being able (as far as I can tell) to access any information without both signing up yourself and giving the details of another is insanity.

The final page is about what you are willing to do for the campaign. It’s only after agreeing to take some form of action that you can access a screen that looks like it might be helpful and have the kind of information that someone interested in the issue might find useful. This page has the landing text “Thank you for growing our movement.  We will be in touch soon to let you know how you can get involved in the campaign. But in the meantime can you use the buttons below to spread the word via Facebook and Twitter.” It also has links to a blog and to “why vote yes”. The blog has two posts in Lorem Ipsum and the why vote yes page cannot be found. So in other words – nowhere on that site – to my untrained eye – was a simply list of arguments as to why I should vote yes to AV. It just feels like a website written by people who feel the argument has already been won, and who didn’t bother to consult with anyone who was unsure on what might be needed to convince them. I am sure the answer to this will be that the campaign website is still being constructed. But the problem is, the campaign was launched on September 11th and it’s now October 21st. The Campaign shouldn’t have been launched without fully functioning website and for the website to remain so inaccessible and uninformative over a month on is inexcusable.

This matches closely my experience of talking to campaigners – particularly those who are Lib Dems – about this. They have cared about  this issue for so long now that they simply don’t realise that most of the country doesn’t know very much about it and even fewer care. A campaigner said to me yesterday that he thought there was “simply no moral case” for voting any other way.

Now there is nothing wrong in believing that passionately in change. But to deny that the other side has a case is to deny yourself the ability to answer that case. To further deny that you might have a party political problem in spending most of your time slagging off Labour members while expecting them to then join you in fighting for a measure even the Lib Dem’s own leader described as “a miserable little compromise” is naive.

The people running the pro-AV campaign need to do some focus grouping very, very quickly. it may already be too late. This interesting article on Labour List says that to succeed a referendum should start with a 2:1 lead in the polls. A YouGov/Sun poll in early October already has the vote at 40% FPTP, 35% AV and 18% undecided.

Now have a look at the current (temporary) website for the other side: http://no2av.org/ It has easily accessible information and arguments. The stories are updated every few days. There is even a section on what AV is. It’s not patronising, but it does present the arguments clearly and openly accepts that they won’t be familiar to everyone. The website has many, many times the information that the pro-AV website has -  and it’s just temporary.

I understand that the different sides probably have very, very different funding levels. But if half the energy and passion I have seen from pro-AV campaigners had been put into devising their principle portal into actually informing the populous (as a pro-democracy campaign really ought to do) they would at least have some blog posts up and a decent basic FAQs on the positive argument for AV.

As it stands, I don’t see the commitment to democratic discussion and argument making from the pro-AV lobby that will be essential if this referendum is to have any legs at all. And that in itself is the biggest insult to democracy I can think of. It may be that the campaign is not being run as passionately as it could be because the proponents themselves believe it’s a compromise measure. But if we in the UK are going to spend £90 million on a referendum, it ill behoves us all to do so halfheartedly.

As things stand, if the yes campaign doesn’t step up, I simply cannot see how a yes vote is going to be won.

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This Was Not Fair

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

The CSR was an attack on the most vulnerable in society along with the squeezed middle. It will completely redefine the welfare state not as an indicator of our civilisation, but as a Victorian squalor provider, hidden from the view of the rich who caused the problems in the first place.

Because it’s an area I know about, I will exemplify what I mean by talking about the cuts to social housing, which are appalling. a 60% cut to the budget for building desperately needed new properties is expected to be made up by charging new tenants up to 80% of the market rent. This is not affordable housing by any stretch of the imagination, particularly in areas where the market rate is ridiculously over inflated. There will then be a split in social housing providers between those who build and those who house the poorest, which will mean over time that we end up with ghettos rather than vibrant mixed communities.

This is just one way to examine what is clear. This budget is deeply unfair. When the budget for local authorities are cut by twice as much in percentage terms as the money given to the richest woman in Britain, that’s  not fair.

When the poorest  suffer as the second most impacted group  (after the very wealthy who can – of course – bear the impact far better), that’s not fair.

A final thought for you. On the Guardian Website, they ran an interactive feature called You Make the Cuts. In the cuts options offered for the Department for Transport, one option is to privatise 10% of the road network and introduce charging. This would generate £75 Billion. Not a single other measure would have to be taken. Not a job lost, not a university place unfunded, not a social house unbuilt. There would even be money to invest in public transport to alleviate the suffering of those who would be worse off.

Not even considered.

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In Tribute to the Chilean Miners

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

The story of the survival and rescue of the Chilean Mineworkers is an extraordinary tale of the best of humanity. No one watching could fail to be moved by their strength, dignity and courage.

But we shold not forget that this is also a tale of the worst of humanity. The mine collapse occured in a mine owned by a company with a poor safety record. There are only three mine inspectors in the whole Atacama region covering 884 mines due to budget cutbacks.

So while we rightfully rejoice in this amazing feat of human endurance and struggle, let us not forget the other human side of this story, and the reality of what it is to live with companies shirking health and safety duties.

Perhaps the best tribute to the miners the British g0vernment could make would be to end the war on Health and Safety at work legislation that they and the tabloids have so effectively promoted, and start a more grown up conversation about the absolute necessity of protecting workers from the ravaging of profit based cost cutting.

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Shadow Cabinet

Friday, October 8th, 2010

[I am writing the depts and not putting shadow before each not out of arrogance but because it just makes this much more readable]

Overall I’m pretty pleased. There are people I would have liked to have seen in that aren’t (Eric Joyce wrote one of the best application letters for the role of Defence Secretary, Tom Watson would have been great against Cable at Business and while I think Meg Hillier is great, I would have loved to see Emily Thornberry at DECC). I’m not that keen on Caroline Flint at CLG, but I’ll give her a chance – she may come over well against Pickles and face it couldn’t do a worse job than he is.

I am delighted with Harman at DFID, Cooper at FO, Khan at Justice and Healey at Health. Burnham should be very interesting in Education and will have no problem demolishing the paper tiger that is Gove. John Denham is another interesting and likeable figure who will be able to skewer Cables vacillations pretty well too.

I have said before that I wanted to see Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor as I have been so impressed with his performance in this area during the leadership debates. However I can see both the internal and external political advantages of putting Johnson in the role. He’s a big hitter who is popular with the public and will therefore be able to take forward our economic message in a way that will be listened to. He will unite the party behind Ed’s leadership, while not running an internal campaign for leader himself (I don’t think Balls would have done this either, but he would have got more crappy media speculation about him trying to). He will also be best placed to give the lie to Osborne’s “all in this together” narrative with his ordinary bloke persona. Already the internet and Twitter are full of “Well he’s just an ex-postie” class based jibes which show how the Tories really, really don’t get it.

Ed B will have an interesting brief at HO as Ed M has already made clear our direction of travel on civil liberties issues (Khan at Justice also makes this clear). Implementing the leaders strategy is vital in a Shadow Cabinet, and I trust Ed B enough to believe he will do this well.

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The Truth About Conspiracies

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

On a web forum I frequent far too often, once every six months or so a poster who never joins in any other discussions pops up starting new threads on 9/11 and the theory that it was an inside job. Every single time he does so, the “evidence” he posts is expertly disputed, the “arguments” he puts forth easily countered and dismissed. Yet every six months, back he comes with the same “arguments” and “evidence” presented by slightly different credulous nutters on You Tube.

So why do we fight back every time, when we know we won’t convince him and we ourselves don’t need convincing? I can’t speak for the other posters, but my reasons break down into these two overarching themes:

1. It is actually harmful to the cause of investigating and dealing with the aftermath of the attacks, and how they were used and abused by the US and UK Governments to overreach on internal security and extend a Middle East war into Iraq.

I don’t believe 9/11 was an inside job. I’ve watch one edit of Loose Change (I believe it’s now had more edits than Blade Runner) and it was Swiss-Cheese-Like in its holes and so easily debunked I frankly felt short-changed. If this is the great bastion of truth, should it not be a little less stupid? When the poster first started a thread on this many years ago, I followed several of the links, but there was no sense to be found, just an awful lot of “what if”. It was depressing that people were spending so much of their time and political energy on it, but I can at least say that I read what was offered to me in decent faith.

But I can’t say I didn’t go in sceptical. Because I have spent the best part of the last decade working in and around British politics and Government (though before anyone gets too excited and starts calling me a stooge, I have never worked FOR Government), so I had two good reasons to be. Firstly, no politicians (Nick Griffin possibly excepted) are actually evil. They just have different visions of how to implement a good society and different visions of what that society is. Secondly, no one in politics is remotely capable of keeping a secret, never mind one that big.

So I don’t believe that 9/11 is an inside job. I know some people do and the reason I don’t simply ignore them is the same reason I don’t carry a Socialist Worker placard on demonstrations: Because I don’t want to get lumped in with these extremists allowing my reasonable criticisms of government policy to be side-lined. That’s the political danger of these people. Not that they might be right, but that in being wrong, they taint a whole movement of questioning the terrible response to the Al Qaeda attacks.

There are really important questions to be asked about the response to what happened on the 11th of September 2001 (by the way, what happened is that a bunch of nutters hijacked 4 planes and flew two of them into the World Trade Centre and one into the Pentagon. The fourth crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers tried to overpower the hijackers). The way the US government in particular, though other governments are guilty of stark overreaction, acted since these events, and have used these events to pursue the “war on Terror” has been a disgrace, and questionable at every level.

Those of us who want to not only keep questioning these actions, but also act on the answers are continually hampered by the tin hat brigade who simply question any and everything for the sake of their own sense of importance in the world “No Ma! I’m the only one who knows the REAL truth”. It sickens me because it allows the lazy right wing to lump together all criticism of the “war on Terror” into the same tin hat category, and actively hinders any in depth questioning of the real issues.

What motivates me is the separation of my position from theirs. I don’t want my rational questioning of the response to 9/11 to be associated with this brand of mania.

2. It risks lives.

If we were to believe that 9/11 and 7/7 were inside jobs, then Al Qaeda would clearly not have carried out these atrocities. We should therefore spend a lot less effort and resources on vigilance against future attacks. This is – of course – exactly what truthers believe. They believe the bombings were constructed by the respective governments to justify beefing up the security forces just because the Government want more security forces.

I truly believe and have often written that we in the UK have gone far too far with the security measures we have taken post-9/11. 90 Days detention, extraordinary rendition, ID cards etc. As well as the war in Iraq were all wrong.

However, I do believe that the UK, USA and Indonesia were attacked by AL Qaeda in attacks which killed and maimed innocent civilians, and that the governments of these respective countries have a duty to protect their citizens to the best of their abilities against future attacks whilst also protecting their freedoms. It’s an incredibly difficult balance to get right, and no one really agrees on how you do that. I understand the temptation to opt out of doing that difficult thinking, where if the Government is to blame for the threat, they cannot be infringing freedoms for anything other than selfish atavistic reasons. But it’s lazy thinking that endangers lives and as long as I am engaged in politics, I won’t stop challenging it.

So that is why I continue to argue against the “truthers”. Not because I am being paid by my shadowy overlords to try to hide the truth. Not because I am too blind to see what’s really in front of me, but because It’s so deeply counterproductive.

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Questions & Suggestions for Ed

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Some questions and suggestions from some of the great people I talked to at conference. Apologies for the dodgy filming!

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Reflections on Conference

Friday, October 1st, 2010

So we won. And not just the leadership contest, but the wider battle to bring the party together and start the process of uniting behind a new leadership and a new direction. The healing process has only just begun and will take time, but Ed’s confident, assured and frankly barnstorming speech, one which outlined every value I have wanted to hear from a Labour leader for so long, started that process. Tuesday the party felt like it was healing the wounds that had threatened to tear us apart. By Wednesday we were looking and talking like one party working together to rid ourselves of the truly destructive force of the government. It won’t be easy and it’s a long hard road ahead, but I do feel we have made the best of all possible starts.

However, it would be inhuman not to feel for David Miliband at this point. He’s an extremely bright and able man who is far more nuanced a thinker than is sometimes presented. He will be a loss to frontline politics, but I believe he has made the right choice for himself and for the party.

Later on I will upload some more videos of some ordinary members I met with their asks for the party.

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