Archive for January, 2013

The Bedroom Tax exemplifies everything that is wrong with this coalition government

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

The Bedroom Tax is this Government’s sickest joke. It is also a perfect example of exactly how they do business. It is based on both a twisted truth and a false premise, it categorically will not achieve its stated aim (which is well understood within Government as its real aim is quite, quite different) and it hurts the poorest and most vulnerable.

The Bedroom Tax is also the perfect case study for this Coalition government.

First, you need a crisis – real or imagined (so far we’ve seen this applied to the real crisis in the economy, a largely confected crisis in welfare spending, a misunderstanding of the nature of the NHS sold as a crisis… The list goes on), in this case, the very real housing crisis.The crisis is vital. the crisis lets you act radically, no questions asked. The crisis allows the Lib Dems to suspend their morality “in the national interest”. The crisis means you have to act fast, act now and ignore all the experts telling you how wrong you are. The crisis is the Government’s invisibility cloak, it’s Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card.

It helps if the crisis has – at least in part – its roots in a failing by Labour. It is arguable that the Thatcher and Major governments did far more to cause the housing crisis than Labour. It is unarguable that Labour did little to ameliorate it and failed significantly to change or regulate the housing market or to invest in social housing adequately. It was our biggest domestic failing and the lesson that most needed learning. Indications are that it has been. But we must prove that when next in Government.

Being able to blame Labour is really important to this coalition. Hatred of Labour is the glue that binds them. If you can convince yourself something is Labour’s fault, then you can also deflect all criticisms of your solution as partisan tribalism. Lib Dems and Tories can convince themselves that the Bedroom Tax is only being opposed by that nasty Labour Party and their allies because it is them imposing it. not because it is the wrong solution – even when it is their own people coming out against them.

The Bedroom Tax was mooted to solve the problem of people “under-occupying” their properties. The theory is that people will vacate large properties they no longer need and make these available for families who need these larger homes. The people vacating will move into smaller places. The reality is – of course – quite different.

the truth is that there are not anything like the amount of smaller social home available for people to move into. Because of the aforementioned failure to build enough social housing (one of the mooted reasons for this tax remember) these homes don’t exist in anything like the number of those who will be affected by the Bedroom Tax. But the Government know this. Their own impact assessment shows that they expect people to stay in their larger homes and to find the extra money. This blows out the water the argument that this is about the sensible reallocation of stock. It is about two things – raising money on the back of the poorest and most vulnerable people (two thirds of those who will be affected by the Bedroom Tax are disabled) and ideology.

Social housing is one of the most concrete examples of the welfare state in action. But it is one of the most vulnerable to attack. Like the NHS and state provided education it has been denigrated and run down by the Tories and right wing commentators for years. Sadly, unlike the NHS and State education, it was not revived by the Labour Government. New Labour learned most of its lessons in the early 80s. What started as a sensible project to learn to once again become electable became at times a calcified dogma – as stuck in the politics of the 80s as the Tories now seem to be. And little in the early 80s was more iconic than the sale of council houses. Because of that sale and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to it from the public, Labour no longer looked upon building social stock as important socially or electorally. Now however, the Tories try to recreate that moment to little effect. When Grant Shapps was serving as Housing Minister and running for Party Chairman he announced the return of right-to-buy. It did the job he wanted it too – it made him popular with his Party. No one else really noticed.

The idea of Social Housing being a home for life is completely anathema to the Tories. For them the Welfare state should be nothing but the very, very bare safety net. A home for a life encourages someone to have a relationship for life with the state as provider. For the champions of small state, private equity “I’m alright Jack” economics, it makes no sense for them to encourage that. That’s why we’re seeing “Any Qualified providers” snatching as much of our NHS as possible. It’s why Free Schools are being forced into education against the will of parents and teachers. At every opportunity, the Tories and their Orange Book ideological partners will weaken the social bonds between people and state.

If those forced to are not able to cover the extra costs of the Bedroom Tax they will be forced to move to smaller accommodation in the Private Rented Sector. Because of the current differential between rents in social housing and the private sector (though through the Orwellianly named “affordable rent regime” means this differential won’t remain in place for long) their housing benefit will likely go up. The scheme will probably not save as much money for the Government as they are estimating as a result.

But that’s not important. Because this was never about better stock allocation. It was only peripherally about saving money. The Bedroom Tax is about the same thing that is at the core of every policy introduced by this gang of radical headbangers. It is about enforcing a retreat of the state’s support for its people.

The Bedroom Tax probably won’t be the thing that this Government is remembered for. It probably won’t become the shorthand for this Government’s failings (I suspect the words “Triple” and “Dip” will feature there). But it is – for me – the clearest and most obvious example of this government’s priorities and their desire to let’s their overweening ideology do its worst – with no thought at all to the human cost. And I will remember them for it.

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House of Comments 45 – Europe: The Final Countdown?

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Episode 45 of the House of Comments podcast “Europe – The Final Countdown?” was recorded on Sunday and is out today. This week myself and Mark Thompson were joined by UKIP head of press Gawain Towler to discuss Cameron’s announcement of an in/out EU referendum in 5 years time, the intemperate comments of Lib Dem MP David Ward about Israel and the blacklisting scandal.

Around 10 minutes in for a few minutes the sound goes slightly echoey. We sorted it out after that but apologies. It gets better if you listen on!

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here (note – this is a new feed so if you used to subscribe to the old feed a couple of years ago you’ll need to do so again).

Other podcasting software e.g. for Android can be pointed here to subscribe.

You can download the mp3 for the latest episode directly from here.

If you are a political blogger and wish to be considered as a future guest please drop me an e-mail through the contact form.

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us and especially to Audioboo’s James O’Malley who has helped us out getting relaunched. James is also editor of The Pod Delusion podcast which is about “interesting things” and is well worth a listen too! We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from Incompetech.com for our theme music.

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House of Comments 44 – the death of the high street

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Episode 44 of the House of Comments podcast “The Death of the High Street” was recorded on Sunday and is out today. This week myself and Mark Thompson discuss the future of the economy in the context of the recently announced high street troubles for HMV, Jessops, Blockbuster and before them Comet and others. How will our country and its workforce adjust to the new realities and can the state plan for this future or should we just go with the flow? It’s false dichotomy-a-go-go as Mark & I go head to head!

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here (note – this is a new feed so if you used to subscribe to the old feed a couple of years ago you’ll need to do so again).

Other podcasting software e.g. for Android can be pointed here to subscribe.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here (note – this is a new feed so if you used to subscribe to the old feed a couple of years ago you’ll need to do so again).

Other podcasting software e.g. for Android can be pointed here to subscribe.

You can download the mp3 for the latest episode directly from here.

If you are a political blogger and wish to be considered as a future guest please drop me a line through the contact form.

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us and especially to Audioboo’s James O’Malley who has helped us out getting relaunched. James is also editor of The Pod Delusion podcast which is about “interesting things” and is well worth a listen too! We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from Incompetech.com for our theme music.

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Apathy is the left’s greatest failing and most urgent challenge

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

We live in a vastly unequal society. The utopian vision of the classless society has been mugged by the lived reality of the yawning chasm between the rich and the rest, not just in wealth, but in every area of life. The dreams our children can dream are dependent not on their talents and abilities, but on their socioeconomic status.

This suits the right wing. Their belief that this is the natural order, which must be conserved is the basis of their politics. These days, they are cuter about saying so. They festoon their language with that of freedom, entrepreneurial spirit and competition, but their policies always mean freedom for those who already have to take more, entrepreneurialism and competition always translate into a weakening of the rights of workers, a worsening of their conditions, a coarsening of their lives.

Apathy is the right wing’s greatest triumph. As fewer and fewer vote, the correlation between those who do and those who have most becomes starker. Those whose lives have been made harder and harder as a result of political choices have also become convinced that there is nothing they can do about it. Politics is an unattractive offer to those whose lives are hard enough already. What little free time they have left is unlikely to be dedicated to delivering leaflets or discussing abstract concepts in drafty church halls.

The response of the left to this apathy has been to simply adjust their structures. A ‘Field of Dreams’ approach to left wing politics has been all pervasive. Let’s set up another party, another pressure group, another movement. But comrades, you’ve built it, and they didn’t come.

Another network for those who are already politicised and angry will be fun for those involved but will do nothing to mobilise the vast swathes of people who don’t get involved. It won’t politicise the apathetic or expand the body politic. It will be another place for the same people to talk to each other about the anger they feel at the coalition. It will be another set of badges and T shirts – nothing more.

Those who are angry – like me – feel that their anger should be shared by the majority of the population. But it isn’t. And while it isn’t, it is off-putting and frightening. It makes politics a less attractive proposition than ever for those whose free time is an extremely precious resource.

So is the answer the Labour Party and the Labour Party alone? Well yes and no. The Labour Party must be the electoral vehicle, and the movement to make Labour more than that – to make it a hub of community organising up and down the country – is as necessary as it is admirable. But the Labour Party alone cannot defeat the apathy that is felt and cannot alone be the vehicle of people’s anger at the coalition.

The Labour Party’s job is to balance the needs of opposing the coalition with building a coherent, alternative that is electable in 2015. Huge changes are needed to the structure of our economy and our country to make it a more equal and better functioning system. If we become just a vehicle for opposing the coalition we will have failed – however representative of the anger of the minority we are. If we become simple custodians of the current, creaking outdated and outmoded system – promising only to manage it better than the Tories and only to mitigate its effects more justly, we will have failed – however cheered on by the pragmatist centre-right.

Huge societal changes are needed to defeat apathy and these need to be implemented at every level of society. We need vastly better political education that relates the macro world of politics to the reality of people’s daily struggles. We need vastly improved workplace democracies that are felt and understood at every level of every workplace and make a real impact on the lives of every worker and at every level. We need communities that feel invested in each others lives.

Instead of focusing on how to better represent the anger of the minority, the left needs to be asking itself difficult questions about why they have continually failed to turn that passion into a populist movement. We should make no bones about the fact that this is our failing. It is our greatest weakness and the biggest threat to progress. Unless we stop focusing on structures and start focusing on people – all the people; unless we stop competing over the best representation of the few while disregarding the many; unless we focus our energies positively outwards and talk to real people, living their real lives and find out how we can help, we will continue to fail.

The worst part is, that if we don’t seek urgently and realistically to address that apathy, those we seek to represent will barely notice how badly we have failed them.

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The Lib Dem Dilemma (Part 373823)

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Yesterday it was reported that the Lib Dems are discussing a offering a lowering of tuition fees in their manifesto for 2015.

Now I don’t think much of the Lib Dems senior Comms and Strategy team. But even I don’t think they’ll allow themselves to enter their next election – and subject their 57 by election strategy – to that level of sustained ridicule. Like the Terminator, it absolutely WILL NOT STOP until they are politically dead (my guess is an approximate halving of their MPs to around 25). The Lib Dem air war is going to be hard enough. Their leader and Parliamentary party are a punchline, they broke promises and continue to behave in an incredibly excluding and superior manner to a large proportion of their former electorate. They are behaving not as a party, but as a faction. It is only the fact that – cult like – the members don’t protest as they are spooned the Kool Aid of electoral cyanide that stops them looking like Labour in the 80s. In this case- quite the opposite from those ghastly days – it might have been disunity that could have saved them.

So why aren’t more Lib Dems challenging the strategy and positioning of their leaders? My sense is that the reasons are two fold. Firstly, some – but not all – of the left Lib Dems have melted away. Leaving those still fighting that fight even further marginalised by the Orange Book leadership.

But more is the fact that Lib Dem members still cling precariously to their misguided belief in their Party’s “internal democracy”. In a polite but no-holds-barred exchange with my good friend and co-host of House of Comments Podcast Mark Thompson We discussed the relative merits of our Parties internal policy making processes. The exchange took place before the Lib Dems Spring Conference and the fallout of the failure of their Party to follow the lead delegates gave then over the disastrous NHS Bill. You may notice that in that exchange I predict that Lords reform would fail. The current issue their leadership is in the process of ignoring members on is Secret Courts – my cynicism about their processes being robust enough to survive either government or coalition was clearly very well founded.

Yet they still cling to this notion and image of themselves like faithful believers. Which is why tuition fees are back in the headlines. The members wear their size and relative strength in government like a comfort blanket. “Of course we can’t have everything” they say, “we only have 57 MPs in the Government”. That won’t be true of the next manifesto. That can be – must be – 100% Lib Dem. No Big Bad Tories to hide behind here. What’s in or out is wholly up to the membership and the leadership.

So if the membership opt to support a promise – any promise – on Tuition Fees, Clegg will have to decide. Does it go in the manifesto – making them a laughing stock – or not – marking the final disappointment for those Member who still believe they have an internal democracy?

How many more disgruntled activists can Clegg afford to lose? How much does he want to avoid being an electoral punchline? Ground war or air war? Either way, one will be dented. The choice, when it comes, will be fascinating to watch.

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When the perfect becomes the enemy of the good

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Everybody’s human.

There’s a phrase I like to use a lot; “let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good”.

I’ve been thinking about that phrase this past week. About why I use it so often and about why its use is so frequently necessary.

I’m not sure I have a singular ideology. As my Twitter biography says, I’m a socialist and a feminist. What do I mean by this? What do others read when they see this? I know what I mean, but perhaps missing from my biography is the word ‘gradualist’.

Progressive became a word that people on the centre-left used who didn’t (for a variety of reasons) want to describe themselves as socialists. For some it helped them to blur the boundaries as they sought alignment on the left. For others it fitted them better as believers in using the fruits of capitalism for egalitarian ends.

For me, I like the word progressive because I think it describes a journey, movement, progress towards a goal. But I describe myself as a progressive socialist; a progressive feminist. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m not a revolutionary. I’m not a radical. I don’t sneer at small steps, I take them. I am not waiting for the great leap forward but edging society in whatever small way I can towards a better and more decent future. Mine are baby steps if they are steps at all. But they are steps in the right direction.

Why do I do this when there is so much wrong with the world? When the world is such a horrible mess, why aren’t I calling for a revolution? Why do I want to move forward only incrementally? Why when our society is so horribly unequal do I sweat the small stuff?

Because I think those with their eye on the bigger picture, forget that life is actually experienced in the small details. Most people’s lives are ordinary. That’s what makes the ordinary so important; changing small things for the better changes the ordinary experiences of people for the better. It is a small gift that keeps on giving, and brings those who are affected along with the change. Because it is not outpacing them, they have ownership of it. Change itself becomes egalitarian.

So far, 2013 has been a year of loud disagreement. The hard left have been shouting at Labour and the soft left about welfare reform. While Labour rightly and bravely opposed the government’s mean-minded Uprating Bill, apparently they weren’t opposing it in the right way. The steps just weren’t big enough for some, and the size of those steps was – for them – so much more important than the direction of travel.

Everybody’s human and nobody is perfect.

Last week, the writer Suzanne Moore published a piece in the New Statesman about anger – about the anger women should be feeling at their treatment at the hands of this government and wider society. In the piece, she used the incredibly clunky phrase:

“We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.”

What I think (and Moore later intimated) she was getting at was the controversial debate around the role of gender stereotypes and transsexuality. It’s a thorny and complex debate that was worth more than this throwaway line. There is not a singular way to be either a feminist or a trans person – or a feminist trans person. There is not a standard line one can sign up to – you don’t get a manual. So these debates continue.

But the line was bad. It was a bad line in a great piece. It was a bad line in an important piece. It was a bad line in a piece that made a really good point about the ways in which women should use their anger and direct it towards making a difference.

It was stupid of Moore to include the line in the piece in this way. It wasn’t essential to her message and it has clearly detracted from the point she was ultimately making. It was hurtful to a group who are hurt by society more frequently than almost any other. That criticism has been well made by some.

Equally, Moore did not respond to criticism of the line in a good way. She was defensive and was lashing out. She said some really stupid things designed – by that point – to be hurtful to those trans people she felt were tormenting her, that were equally hurtful to others who were not.

What started as a spat became a storm. Then Suzanne Moore left Twitter. The abuse became too much. She was the second high profile feminist to go through such a Twitter storm in recent months. The first was directed at best-selling author Caitlin Moran. Once again a situation where a complex series of arguments had been overlooked for the sake of brevity or simply context was exacerbated by a defensive reaction.

I’ve been involved in altercations on the internet. I’ve even called out people for not recognising their privilege and being sensitive to it. By – in this instance – siding with those being attacked, I know I leave myself wide open to a charge of hypocrisy. I think it’s different. I believe that I criticised rather than attacked. And that the person I criticised – as someone chosen to represent my party in Parliament – is someone I have the right to expect something of. But it is up to the reader to judge. I too am human. I too am imperfect.

Everybody’s human, nobody is perfect, everybody makes mistakes.

What is the upshot of these incidences? Are Suzanne Moore and Caitlin Moran going to be better feminists as a result of being told how dreadful they are by a number of very angry and insulting people? Well, they aren’t bad feminists to start with. They made a few mistakes. But they have dedicated their talents and their platforms to advancing the cause of women’s equality. We should remember and applaud that.

They may well consider it twice before venturing off of well-trodden paths – as may we all. I don’t suppose I will be blogging about the issues that face trans people again after this post. I will get something wrong (I probably have already) and without meaning to I will insult someone I’ve never met, bear no malice towards and whose cause and equality I believe in. I will instead abuse my own privilege by staying silent rather than attempting to speak up.

Suzanne Moore is – ironically – a far more radical feminist than me. Were she to know me, she would probably find my gradualism grating. She writes with the incendiary fire of the revolutionary. That writing can now be found through one fewer channel. Some people who might have had their own fires lit by her writing are now slightly less likely to access it. I don’t call that a victory for better feminism. I call it a mistake.

When Vagenda Magazine asked their readers “why is feminism a dirty word”  among more traditional answers such as “un-feminine” and “not sexy” were responses such as “in-fighting”, “angry”, “confusing”, “hostile”, “dogmatic”, “scary and “intimidating”. Moore and Moran were bringing feminism to their platforms in ways that might have an impact on this negative perception. Moran in particular has a way of writing about Feminism that makes it both attractive and common sense (which is not easy to do – try thinking of a sexy umbrella…). But the backlash against them confirms the worst beliefs of those women who fear they don’t have a role to play or an interest in feminism’s present and future.

So before we decide to attack rather than criticise an ally in our struggles, ask ourselves what the end result will be? Will we build a better feminism? Will the expunging of the impure lead to a moment of revolution? Or will we deny space to those with the power to build alliances? Will we turn off those we most need to attract?

As long as we keep remain more focused on keeping our feminism and our socialism pure, we will also continue to make it exclusive and excluding. As long as we keep waiting for great leaps forward, we will miss the steps we could take to complete our journey. You don’t have to like Caitlin Moran or Ed Miliband. You don’t have to think Suzanne Moore or Ed Balls are always right. They will all be deserving of criticism along their paths. But if we allow that criticism to overtake the bigger fight, we lose ourselves and we will lose our struggle.

If that’s the end result, then we can all hang our heads in shame.

This post first appeared on Shifting Grounds.

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House of Comments episode 43 – the one with the onesie

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Episode 43 of the House of Comments podcast “the One with the Onesie” was recorded on Sunday and is out today. This week myself and Mark Thompson are joined by Conservative activist and former PPC Charlotte Vere to discuss the government relaunch, childcare reform, Labour’s proposals for regulating landlords and we all reveal whether or not any of us own a Onesie like Nick Clegg.

There were some slight technical issues on the Skype call we used to record this it so occasionally the voices break up a bit although it gets better towards the end. Apologies for this.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here (note – this is a new feed so if you used to subscribe to the old feed a couple of years ago you’ll need to do so again).
Other podcasting software e.g. for Android can be pointed here to subscribe.

You can download the mp3 for the latest episode directly from here.

If you are a political blogger and wish to be considered as a future guest please drop me a line through the comment form. Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us and especially to Audioboo’s James O’Malley who has helped us out getting relaunched. James is also editor of The Pod Delusion podcast which is about “interesting things” and is well worth a listen too! We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from Incompetech.com for our theme music.

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Labour needs to see the Lib Dems for who they really are

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

The next general election could open the possibility of a Labour/Lib Dem coalition. But Labour need to realise that the Lib Dems are not simply a left-wing party with an interest in civil liberties

The Lib Dems are not the party some of Labour’s soft left like to think they are. This is not to denigrate the Lib Dems in any way. Most of the people I know who share this opinion are – in fact – Lib Dems. It’s quite insulting to them to be held up in the imagination of others as a left wing party with an interest in civil liberties. They believe the Lib Dems are a Liberal party with a strong emphasis on individual freedoms including some quite right wing emphasis on economic freedoms… Read more.

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House of Comments 42 – Shelf Stacking and Job Snobbery

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Episode 42 of the House of Comments podcast “The Shelf Stacking Reflex” was recorded on Sunday and is out today. This week myself and Mark Thompson cover Labour’s work guarantee, the coalition’s mid-term review and give our own assessments of how the government and coalition has worked thus far. Also, I take Mark to task for being snobby about shelf stackers!

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here (note – this is a new feed so if you used to subscribe to the old feed a couple of years ago you’ll need to do so again).

Other podcasting software e.g. for Android can be pointed here to subscribe.

You can download the mp3 for the latest episode directly from here.

If you are a political blogger and wish to be considered as a future guest please contact me through this site.
Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us and especially to Audioboo’s James O’Malley who has helped us out getting relaunched. James is also editor of The Pod Delusion podcast which is about “interesting things” and is well worth a listen too! We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from Incompetech.com for our theme music.

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Two Takes on Nick Clegg’s Awful New Year Message

Friday, January 4th, 2013

The increasingly unimpressive Nick Clegg had a piece in yesterday’s Times (£) entitled “Carping Labour Must Come Clean About Cuts”. It’s terrible badly written (the man clearly never met a cliche he didn’t like) and it’s arrant nonsense.

I have two pieces explaining why and what Labour’s response should be elsewhere.

On the Guardian’s Comment is Free site I discuss what Labour actually need to do in 2013.

On LabourList I am rude about Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems more broadly.

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