Archive for December, 2010

My Predictions for 2011

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Here are 11 predictions for 2011 (with some explanation to make it vaguely interesting!). I promise to come back and mark myself honestly this time next year…

1. Ed will still be leader of the Labour Party. Of course he will, we don’t have the money, the stomach or the suicidal insanity to re-fight that fight. That won’t stop the bitching or the briefing but as what most people know becomes ever clear to those who can’t quite see it yet, these will subside.

2. Labour will remain – in aggregate – ahead in the polls. There will be times when we are quite far ahead, and times when the Tories spike. We should treat these imposters both the same. We are a nose ahead and should fight accordingly.

3. Labour will win Oldham East & Saddleworth, but it will be close. In the end, not enough Tories will switch to compensate for the loss of Lib Dem voters to push the Lib Dems over the line. The Libs could possibly have won this with a different candidate, but that we will never know.

4. Labour and the Greens will be the big winners in the local elections, both increasing their numbers significantly at the expense of the Lib Dems.

5. The AV referendum will be closer than I once thought it would be, but it will be lost. I just don’t think enough of the public care enough. I know I don’t – I’m a hack and I don’t even know which way I’ll vote.

6. The coalition will hold, but will falter briefly as after the AV & local election losses, Lib Dems see their polling number increase to about 12-15%. There will be some agitation from the left of the Lib Dems that that’s as good as it’s going to get and they should take that opportunity to leave. The leadership will tough it out. They will succeed in doing so as unless there is a new war, the totemic issues for the left have already been capitulated on.

7. This will strengthen the Tory right and Cameron will have to give them something. It probably won’t be hunting as the polling and imagery is too bad, it probably can’t be Europe, so I suspect there will be something on either tax cuts or immigration or both.

8. Gove will be reshuffled into a role he can’t screw up so publically.

9. There will be at least two more cabinet resignations, and at least one will be a big beast. Neither will be Vince Cable who missed his chance to make a difference, and is nicely neutered as far as Clegg and the Tories are concerned.

10. The 10% cut to Housing Benefit will be dropped from the Welfare Bill.The Lib Dems will claim this as a victory despite a lot of the other pernicious stuff that will remain.

11. There will be at least one quarter of negative GDP and unemployment will rise.

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The Four Kinds of Politico

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

I’ve been in and around politics for a long, long time. I’ve never really been “inside”, but I’ve been close enough to study the beast at work and play. So it strikes me that there are four basic types of politico. But that we all the propensity to be each type of politco depending on the forces bearing on us. Some react well to the challenges of Government, some can’t bear the compromises entailed. Some react well to opposition, some give in to bleak despair refusing to rebuild, wallowing only in the ashes of past glories. All of us at times have succumbed to the differing traits of the politico models.

The Optimist

The optimist can only see the good in any given situation. Your party is at 8 in the polls – well that always happens. Your ministers are making terrible decisions – well that’s the compromise of a new situation (some recent Lib Dem contributions I have read manage to hold these contradictory positions within the same post). There is a lot to be said for optimism. It cheers the troops and keeps the spirits up for the next fight. However, it can veer rapidly into complacency. Polly Toynbee’s recent column went far too far from hopeful to blind optimism. Optimists are a necessary part of the world politicos inhabit, but should always be well tempered with realists and pessimists.

The Realist

the realist tempers the optimist but understands the value of optimism. they know that politics has to be about presenting a positive vision as well as simply doing down your opponents and hoping for the best. This Anthony Painter column may be about optimism, but it’s about how that must be harnessed and translated to the real world. Realists see the world as it is, understand the obstacles and troubles facing their party and use every tool at their command, be it the fear of the pessimists or the energy of the optimists to negotiate a path through. Realists are what we all think we are. Realist are who none of us are all of the time, but it is the point a lot fo us reach when veering between pessimist and optimist.

The Pessimist

Pessimists aren’t good at answers but they are extremely adept at spotting where the problems lie and discussing them sensibly. This post by Rob Marchant is a pretty good example. He’s meticulous in outlining the danger’s inherent in Labour’s current strategy. Pessimists don’t get downhearted because they expect to lose. But they also aren’t what you’d call inspiring.

The Nihilist

The nihilist was probably once an optimist. But an optimist that took so badly to losing, to getting it wrong that they zoomed through realism, past pessimism to wallow in a nihilistic pit of despair. The nihilist no longer cares about their party winning or losing, they care only for their status as a self appointed Cassandra. “You’ll all be sorry when I am proved right” they think, while they go about furiously trying to make their grim predictions come true. This piece where Dan Hodges finally tips over from extreme pessimism to nihilistic narcissism shows how easy it can be. It’s great to feel like you’re the only one who’s right, who knows the truth, but as I have written before - it actually damages deeply your credibility and those who fight alongside you. Nihilism usually comes from a trauma in your past that leaves you feeling that you cannot win. Reading Dan’s piece, I can’t help but think that like so many before him Dan too is fighting the 1992 election over and over again.

To build a successful team in politics, you have to have a blend of people. You can’t simply fill your life with Pollyannas who never see dangers, nor can you spend time only with those who see nothing but the bumps in the road and not the bright horizon. But you simply cannot be dragged down by dead weight. I think Dan Hodges is a great writer. I hope he takes time to have a good break over the holidays and manages to work his way up from nihilist to pessimist so he can once again be helpful rather than destructive to the Labour cause. I hope Polly Toynbee can reign it in a bit and that no one follows her brand of casual complacency.

I hope the rest of us continue to find the best parts of our realist, optimist and pessimist senves and continue to fight the good fight.

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RIP The “New” Politics 2010 – 2010

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Remember the “new” politics? It was all about pluralism and parties leaving behind tribalism to work together in the interest of a better way of doing politics. It was – frankly – yet another way that Lib Dems liked to kid on that they are different. They aren’t “tribal” like Labour. Yeah Right.

Huhne and Warsi put the new politics on the critical list in the summer with the Press Conference of Hate. During this conference they displayed quite clearly that tribalism was back with a vengeance, and that the only difference was that they were now part of a joint and bigger tribe.

Yesterday, the life support machine of the New Politics was turned off by Tim Farron, in his refusal to even contemplate working with Labour to ensure that either a future Labour Government would have policies that the Lib Dems had influenced, or that a future Lib/Lab coalition had pre-arranged common ground.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a tribalist. I get where Dan Hodges is coming from when he says that he doesn’t want to be a Lab Dem but political realities involve doing things we don’t like. Ed’s right to say that Labour doesn’t have the monopoly on good policy. The Lib Dems had a few before the election, but they’ve been junked in favour of damaging cuts and ministerial limos. But there are good Lib Dems who want to promote liberal policies on civil and human rights finding themselves very uncomfortable as they watch Government by police baton being carried out in their names.

But yet again, the Lib Dems have proved that the tribe comes first (in fact the best justification for Farron’s actions was that it made the activists feel good – if that’s not putting the needs of your tribe above the needs of a better politics, I don’t know what is!). Equidistance used to be a sensible political positioning for the Lib Dems. It’s obviously been permanently damaged by having to pick a side, and day by day their positioning and what made them unique is further eroded by being used as human shields (and when Channel 4′s Faisal Islam and Today’s Evan Davies are openly discussing this on Twitter, you know the Lib Dems have a real problem) you need something that will give you some distance from the Tories and a space to reassert your social liberal credentials.

Farron’s snapping like a spoiled brat may have given his activists a brief warm glow. But frankly it suits Labour fine. Firstly, we are continuing to reassert the true narrative of the coalition negotiations, and as the Lib Dems are branded more and more as liars, this kind of childishness reaffirms the Labour account of what happened. Secondly, while the offer is genuine and real, it is also generous. It looks good and the Lib Dems can either take it and share in some of that or reject it and continue to look like petulant children. Either way Ed wins.

I think what has been shocking me most since May, and the reason I focus so much more attention on the Lib Dems at the moment than the Tories (wait until the cuts start to really bite) is that I am baffled by just how bad at politics the Lib Dems really are. From a party that ran arguably the best election campaign to this endless shambles in just a few short months is just astonishing. As a partisan I find it amusing, as a political observer I find it fascinating. Just how much more can they mess this up….?

Edited to add: Tim Farron pulled the plug, now Cllr Richard Kemp, leader of the Lib Dems in the LGA,  has written a spite filled eulogy. Words can’t express how stupid this is.

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Iraq, The Anti-War Movement and Me

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

I’ve been putting this post off for just about forever. It’s almost impossible to write properly, such is the jumble of my thoughts and feelings on the subject. I don’t know why I’ve chosen today to sit down and finally write it, but I think it’s important that Labour try to work through its feelings on this topic, and given I’m quite good at loudly demanding the Party behaves in one way or another, it would be hypocritical of me not to attempt to do the same.

I was against the war in Iraq from the start. I had a number of reasons for being so, not all of them noble. I marched and chanted, I wrote to my MP and to Tony Blair outlining why I thought action was wrong. I had long passionate arguments with people on both sides (of which more on the anti-war side later).

I am not a pacifist. My Mother is. My Father isn’t so it was a discussion I was used to having by the time I was creating my own set of beliefs from the foundations they gave me; and I saw that war can rarely but sometimes be the lesser of two evils. Having been extemely concerned about the plight of the Afghan people since my attention was drawn to the terrible treatment of women by the Taliban. It seemed to me then, as it does now, that, as an internationalist, my feminism and sense of solidarity with oppressed people should not stop at my own borders. So after the 9/11 attacks made it clear that there would be a war in Afghanistan, I supported that action.

But I wanted that war to be conducted well and with full respect to international law. So when the rumours started that vital resources that should have been poured into what was already a very difficult conflict were going to be moved to support a new war, one for which I did not feel the justification or the timing was as strong, I was dismayed.

None of that is to say that I felt that Saddam Hussein should not have been removed if at all possible. Nor that his sons would have been an improvement. Saddam was a brutal dictator, and I know that the choice I would have made by not going to war, had it been up to me, would have left people suffering. That is the kind of decision making you have to accept if you are a nation’s leader, and no one does so lightly. But whereas above I said I felt war could sometimes be the lesser of two evils, here I felt that prosecuting one war well while not intervening elsewhere was the right thing to do.

I realise this all sounds like hindsight. I am confident in myself that it is not, and that I was making these arguments at the time, but I would utterly forgive scepticism on this point. However, things having happened as they did, and the Iraq war being a drain on resources having happened as it did, this must be part of any future consideration of conflict.

One thing to consider, when thinking about why the Labour Government, and Tony Blair in particular brought us in to this war, is what would have happened if Britain hadn’t joined in. I personally don’t believe that it would have stopped America going to war. I don’t think anyone could argue that would have been the case. They’d just have stopped eating English Muffins (what are these, crumpets? Muffins? Scones?) or renamed them “Freedom Muffins” It would have been a huge diplomatic incident, but it would not have stopped the war.

Here’s something I believe: Tony Blair thought (probably rightly) that the war would be better prosecuted if the American troops were softened by force with a better record of community engagement. I think Blair thought that the British army could soften the bullishness of the Americans and bring about a more liberal engagement strategy. Essentially, I believe – and always have – on Iraq, that Tony Blair did the wrong thing for good reasons.

Now I really wish I had posted this before the election, becuase this next paragraph is going to look like pure opportunism.

I would like to ask the Liberal Democrat who read this blog if they can now – after all that they’ve been through propping up the Tories in the belief that in doing so they softened them – understand a bit more of what Blair’s thinking process was. When people say that tuition fees could be your Iraq, we know people aren’t dying over tuition fees, and that as such it makes it on a superficial level an odd comparison. But here you have a leader, claiming to fervently believe in a policy that is tearing his party apart, the justification for which is that their involvement is what makes that a better policy than it would have been otherwise. I don’t ask you to forgive Blair for Iraq, but perhaps now you do have a greater understanding of why we ended up there – despite so many in the Party telling Blair how damaging it would be to us as a Party.

You see, I told you not all my reasons for not wanting to go to Iraq were noble. At least part of me didn’t want us to go because I knew that the decision to do so was already tearing the Party apart and that could only get worse the longer we were in conflict. So I believed that going to war in Iraq would damage the Labour Party, and our ability to govern and campaign effectively. This has – of course – been true, but basing decisions about going or not going to work on domestic political concerns – while a regular occurrence – is not exactly morally spotless.

So that’s why I went out on a freezing day in February 2003 to March with 2 million others who had come to the same conclusion through a variety of different routes.

The problem with doing so was that it put me down as a fellow traveller of some people for whom I have very little time. I don’t believe one should follow the old adage the enemy of my enemy is my friend (look how well that turned out with Osama Bin Laden for a start), and I am not happy to call the vast majority of what’s left of the Stop the War Coalition my friends. I have no time for George Galloway or the SWP, nor of the black and white way they tried to fight this argument. When I watched Fahrenheit 9/11 I was disgusted by the depiction of prewar Iraq as a sort of pre-Blue Meanies Pepperland. I felt it debased me and the complex nuances I was trying to argue. I know that as a result of being publicly anti-war, part of my choice was to be considered a fellow traveller of these people. I can only hope that those who get to know me know that I am not a Saddam apologist and never have been.

So where do we go from here? In many ways it’s almost a moot point. The failures in Afghanistan and Iraq have rendered the doctrine of liberal intervention if not dead then in for a very long period of hibernation. If another war comes it will likely only follow such an immense and clear act of aggression that few will be able to discount it (though some numpties will try) and the case for war will be far clearer. Labour need to reclaim a mantle of international law enforcement that we gained in Kosovo and had severely tarnished through our engagement with Guantanamo Bay and other failures. We need to have a stronger doctrine of saying no to our stronger allies where we feel it is important to do so. This need to be written into our understanding of foreign policy. We must have red lines here too.

So there you have it. One woman’s attempt to understand where we went wrong, explain her own position and examine where we go next. It’s not complete and I suspect no one will agree totally with my thinking or analysis but it’s the best I can get from the morass of thoughts that have been accumulating in my head on this issue for years.

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Decaptitation Looks Good, But to Kill a Weed You Have to Go For the Roots

Friday, December 10th, 2010

There has been a strong feeling in Labour Circles today that the Lib Dems are dead in the water already, and we should be focusing all our fire now on the Tories. Important Labour thinkers with whom I largely agree such as Ed Balls and Mark Ferguson have written as such. Certainly after last night it’s a tempting and seemingly true narrative.

But it worries me. I don’t think the country is ready for us to go after the Tories yet. I don’t think we’ll find fertile ground there. The cuts haven’t started to really bite they way they will next year, and people are still in a wait and see mood. The economy may well stutter as a result of Osborne’s cuts and unemployment will almost certainly rise. There will be time enough for this to settle in the public consciousness, but it hasn’t happened yet.

In the meantime, the Lib Dems are clearly dazed and confused. They are stumbling and lost. But the tuition fees vote wasn’t the knockout blow, it was what creadted the space for a knockout blow. That comes in May.

We need to remember that the Lib Dems are like weeds. We can knock off the heads as often as we like, but unless we tackle the roots, they’ll grow back stronger than ever, and ready to wreak the same havoc they are enabling now.

May is going to be our opportunity to tackles those roots. To elect Labour Councillors at the Lib Dems expense the length and breadth of the country. Keeping the focus on the Lib Dems until the May elections will maximise our wins and energise our members ans supporters while at the same time vastly reducing and demoralising their activist base. It will be at this time when the effect of the cuts start to kick in and once we have neutralised the Lib Dem threat, we can then turn our fire on the Tories at a time when it will be most beneficial to do so.

While I agree that we need to defeat the Tories (and the Lib Dems are doing a fine job of defeating themselves) we can’t make the mistake again of forgetting that we are up against two opponent parties, not one. We did that at the last election, and gave the Lib Dems far too easy a ride and now look where we are.

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What A Mess

Monday, December 6th, 2010

My God the Lib Dems have screwed this one up royally.

Let’s leave aside for the moment, the rights and wrongs of the policy, this is just stunning political ineptitude. Every step they take seems designed to make them look more ridiculous than the last.

Look first at Vacillating Vince. Will he vote for his own policy. No one – especially not Vince – seems to know. In the end though he will of course vote for it. As will enough Lib Dems to ensure it passes. They’ll be left with the worst of all worlds, having adopted the policy while trying to weasel out responsibility for it. Which of course, anyone with an ounce of political nous can tell you won’t happen if the policy passes.

The interesting thing is that the really high profile likely rebels – apart from Tim Farron – are the giants of the past. Ming Campbell and Charles Kennedy won’t be back in senior positions again, but still command a great deal of respect from the left of the party. Their high profile rebellion this early in the parliament is quite significant.

The problem Clegg and the Lib Dems have, is that they have allowed the Tories to front-load all the stuff they hate before the AV referendum. The cuts have been announced, they are going to pass the hideous housing benefit changes, Tuition fees will largely have been and gone, the changes to the NHS, Education and Policing will have Lib Dem support on the record, even if the votes haven’t occurred.

So when the AV referendum and council seats are lost, the cold comfort of the raise to the basic level of tax (more than off-set by the VAT rise) or the Pupil Premium (not new money) will not be enough to reinvigorate demoralised activists. The hardcore few will remain. These will be those who are more wedded to the coalition than those who have slipped away. They will cling ever harder, because they will rightly see that before 2015 and a change of leadership (at the least) the Lib Dems will not survive alone again.

There are a lot of people who see the splits over tuition fees as the beginning of the end of the coalition. I don’t – I think it binds the two parties tighter than ever. However, what it could easily signify is the end of what we currently know of as the Liberal Democrats as a single and separate political force. Large parts of the party could be wooed by the Tories into a more permanent political Alliance (they’ve been there before). While some others may join the Liberal Party or struggle on as a seatless wraith. The ghost at the feast of plural politics. The warning to all politicians to be careful what you wish for.

Frankly, the way they have bungled this, it remains to be seen if they will even have the nous to salvage that much.

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Labour Conference Should Reflect Our Values

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

Let’s be clear – Labour has done really well on issues of Gender Equality. When you look at the Labour benches in the House of Commons the difference is stark between our mixed benches and the swathes of men in grey suits on the Government benches. We have taken and continue to take difficult action to ensure that our party is becoming more and more representative and as I have written before, I think this is not only morally the right thing to do, but is also politically beneficial. I am extremely proud of the work done within the party in this area and the obvious difference between us and the Tories and especially the Lib Dems shows how well these measures are working and how needed they are.

However, I was somewhat disappointed that the organisations who come to our conferences to talk to us have not recognised these as part of our intrinsic values. Too often at this year’s Conference we were faced with all male panels again and again. It’s insulting to our values as a party and to myself as a woman to be presented with 4-5 experts over and over again only to be implicitly told that there are no women good enough. I also know as someone who organised panels at conference that it’s just lazy. I always ensured that at the very least there was a female chair, but I also always strived to ensure there was at least an advertised female speaker (anyone who organises events at conference will tell you of the endless horror of speakers pulling out at the last minute, a practice that is not gender-biased!).

Some friends and I started to talk about this and what we though was the best course of action. We don’t want to stop reasonable people holding meetings on the conference fringe. Proper discussion of ideas is what being a democratic Socialist is all about. However those ideas would be better discussed and represented if a wider range of voices were heard. So in true ConDem nudge theory style, it struck us that we would never seek to ban such meetings, but one way to persuade the organisers to think more carefully about their platforms would be to impose rules on the advertising of these events in the official Labour Party fringe guide. The idea is inspired by the rule the Liberal Democrats have where they won’t accept any adverts for meetings in venues that aren’t fully accessible.

As a result, we have drafted the letter below to Margaret Wheeler – chair of the Conference Arrangements Committee:  

Dear Margaret,

Advertising of fringe events with no female speakers in the Labour Party conference guide

 Over the past few years the Labour party has made massive strides towards gender equality – not least with the make-up of the Shadow Cabinet, making our party being far and away the most diverse in Parliament.

 We are however concerned that these values are not always reflected in some of the fringe events, organized by third parties, at Annual Conference. Too often we have attended events where the line-up is all male, with no thought having been given to presenting a representative platform – despite the  number of vocal and interesting women in the party.

 We understand that the freedom to assemble (in whatever form people choose) is a fundamental human right, and we would not seek to ban such meetings. However we do not believe that there is an equal fundamental right to advertising.  We also believe that the Party can and should seek to encourage organizations to reflect Labour’s values more closely when they choose to host events at our conference and as such would like to propose that the Labour Party adopts a rule whereby no event can be advertised in our fringe guide if there is not at least one woman represented on the panel of advertised speakers (accepting that last minute changes occur). We believe there is precedent for this in the rule by the Liberal Democrats that no fringe can be advertised in their guide if it is does not have full disabled access.  

 We believe that provided sufficient notice was given to potential event organizers, adopting such a rule would not result in the loss of advertising revenue to the Party, but would instead awaken organisations to the causal and lazy sexism of presenting all-male platforms, and will make them more innovative in their invitations – thus improving the fringe overall.

If anyone would like to be a co-signatory of this letter, please get in touch with me, or give me your name and CLP etc in the comments. I will be sendingthe letter in early January as I know such a move would take time to implement  and want to give the party as much time as possible to make this work.

I hope that this move will be accepted by the party as the positive step it is intended to be and that we can all work together to make our annual conference as interesting and diverse an event as possible.

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