Archive for May, 2012

12
May
12

Just don’t spill your gin yet…..

I was very kindly asked by Harry to pen a few thoughts on the whole political field we find ourselves in at this moment in time. I was naturally delighted, and have done my best…

So then, the Queen’s Speech was lacklustre in a legislative manner and has been decried from all corners of the political sphere… This is nothing new. Don’t spill your gin just yet!

Despite this Coalition’s first Queen’s Speech just over 2 years ago to the day – having paved the way for the most vicious Thatcherite parliamentary session this country has had to put up for nearly a hundred years: this one was remarkably unambitious, even by their particularly low standards. It is thus no surprise to see that it had been widely panned across the entire media sphere: irrespective of ideology.

Perennial brown-noser Louise Mensch apart, the criticism of it was universal from left to right. The Daily Mail screamed in anger as to the missing plan for jobs and growth: ‘the I’ were rather polite in noting how it was just “lacklustre”, but its fine columnist Steve Richards then lambasted it as a “ragbag worthy of Blair”. Unlike Redblog’s otherwise fine guest poster Alex Hylan’s take on Blair, I am no New Labour apologist. Personally, they owe the nation, and our party, an apology, for by and large wasting 13 years of possibilities on transforming Britain.

Even as an avid republican, you almost felt sorry for ol’ Liz sat there in her big golden chair as she read out this most incredibly vacuous, hollow and pompous plan – as if she was somehow about to take the blame for it.

The critique of the whole sorry farce that I laughed at most came from all places – of the Economist’s front cover, (courtesy of avid Tory, Sunday Politics regular and George Osborne biographer Janan Ganesh). Dave is stood in hunting gear on the left side – blissfully unaware of the fire behind him. It was poetically captioned “Crisis? What crisis!?”  

Do not mistake this Queen’s speech as a veiled intent of moderation from the coalition’s powers that be; we’ve got more chance of finding Lord Lucan on Shergar than this. Frankly, I’d rather have the latter running the country!

With Labour comfortably clear in the polls, Jeremy Hunt’s head being demanded on a plate, the Leveson inquiry in full pelt, double-dip recession returning for the first time since the 1970s, unemployment being abhorrently high – you’d almost think that the Coalition would be desperate to recapture some of the initiative. After all, as incumbents they have the ultimate advantage of the system, and quasi-authority to boot. It’s yours to lose. Indeed, Britain hasn’t removed a first term government since Ted Heath picked a fight with the miners and lost!

Yet – seemingly: Nero & co are rather too comfortable fiddling whilst Rome burns, and no pathetic Kim Jong-il-esque, stunt in an Essex tractor factory will change that.  With Dave’s texts to Rebecca, (lol!), revealing that he’d long since recognised that the horse had bolted – you’d think that they would try to usher the wee creature back home. Rather: the door has been slammed shut, so should the horse ever wish to return – it wouldn’t get in!

Sympathisers with this current, intolerable mob may point to such fond, cuddly measures as more flexible post-natal parental leave. Indeed, this is admirable: but on its own – fundamentally spineless and pathetic.

Not only is it increasingly unlikely that either, (let alone both!), will have jobs thanks to austerity and ideological neo-liberal libertarian fantasies, but if this is the best a government can do in a year – then it is not worth the urine I wouldn’t release if they were on fire…

As members of the British public, we all ought to mourn this scandal. For our government are indifferent to our plight, and actively worsen it with outrageous fabricated links to the likes of Greece and Ireland. No wonder a rather large slab of Scotland would like to go its own way. Frankly – with Labour up to 43, (Yes – 43!), points clear of the rest of the rabble in the North: it seems a fair few of us would rather join them!

But if I were a Labour strategist – I’d be quietly smirking to myself. Incompetence always trumps whether or not a government is seen as fair or otherwise: but lazy incompetence – which is increasingly becoming the by-word for this Coalition government. Quite right too. The Tories’s own backbenchers increasingly despair, and the civil war at the 1922 Committee is beyond hilarious. A change of government is easier to sell to the public if they believe that the government have been sat on their hands for a large part of the 5 years.

Also, the less damage there is for any future Labour government to reverse – the better. We will have our hands rather full from removing all profit motives and vested interests from the NHS, and returning our public services to anything like acceptable in a civilised society. A jolly full plate you might say.

This all follows an absolutely excellent night for Labour at the local elections – with comfortably north of 800 council seat gains defying all daft targets and demands set on us by the unsympathetic outsiders in hopes that we would fall at the first hurdle. Quite rightly, when Ed M was busy touring the newly-gained councils of Exeter, Southampton & Harlow et al – he was pleased but not complacent. Need I mention William Hague and his baseball cap?

But there is extremely good reason to be optimistic, and nothing that this current coalition of the damned is set on doing, looks like coming close to reversing that. 2015 is a long way away to say the very least, but all lights in the distance look green.

I hate to mimic Neil Kinnock, but onwards to government comrades… Just make sure you don’t mess it up now Ed.

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10
May
12

A Word on Blair – Alex Hylan

A poll on the Guardian’s website found that only 33.7% of respondents would welcome Blair’s return to British Politics. I guess this is unsurprising, even though Blair remains one of our most charismatic leaders at a time when apathy towards politics is so populist.

Guardian comments such as “I would prefer to see him in the dock at the Hague”, thanks ‘Paddy01’ and “I’d welcome his return, if only to remind us how loathsome and disgusting our politicians can get”, keep up the dream, ‘LabourStoleMyCash’, seeming to be quite representative of general opinion on our former prime minister amongst my friends and other people I’ve spoken too.

Myself? I’ve always liked Blair. Look at him, look at that steely determination on his face, isn’t that just likeable?

I recently read Blair’s memoir, A Journey (available from all good Book shops, but get it from a library because it’s so much cheaper). I did this not because I’m a Blairite, but because I’m a Labour supporter and I always think it’s interesting to hear from people who have had such a massive influence on our party. I particularly wanted to hear about things from his perspective, because I feel as if Blair’s absence from British Politics has allowed others to define him instead of him defining himself.

A passage I particularly like comes early on, when he’s talking about his Dad (who you may remember, stood as a Conservative but had to back out because of illness):
“What Dad taught me above all else, and did so utterly unconsciously, was why people like him became Tories. He had been poor. He was working class. He aspired to be middle class. He worked hard, made it on his merits, and wanted his children to do even better than him. He thought – as did many others of his generation – that the logical outcome of this striving, born of this attitude, was to be a Tory. Indeed, it was part of the package. You made it; you were a Tory: two sides of the same coin. It became my political ambition to break that connection, and replace it with a different currency. You are compassionate; you care about those less fortunate than yourself; you believe in society as well as the individual. You can be Labour. You can be successful and care; ambitious and compassionate, a meritocrat and a progressive.  Moreover, these are not alien sentiments in uneasy coexistence. They are entirely compatible ways of making sure progress happens; and they answer the realistic, not utopian, claims of human nature.”

I’ve always believed passionately in the idea that, just as the demographics of our country has changed over time, so too should our Labour party. Our party is the party of the people, and while we should always remember that we strive to protect and shelter the poorest in our society, we should aim to govern for the country, not any one sect of it.

I’ve also always felt that Blair is the political figure that has most clearly articulated the notion that ambition and compassion are not diametrically opposed ideals, as Blair himself said: ‘You can be successful and care; ambitious and compassionate, a meritocrat and a progressive.’ The fact that we ever allowed the Tories to claim that they were the party of ambition is beyond me, what a fanciful lie that turned out to be.

Simply put, I think Blair has done a tremendous amount for the Labour party, in terms of making us a governable force again and bringing a lot of our polices in to government. Just as we praise the Nye Bevan’s and Clement Atlee’s of our history, we should also praise Blair; who, let’s not forget, won three elections in a row, two of them ecstatic landslides. We should be thankful for that.

A quick paragraph on Iraq, which I don’t want to go too much into, purely because I think it’s a whole different debate that has structural factors as well as personal ones:

In hindsight it’s very easy for us to criticise the decision to go to war in Iraq, sit here with our laptops and our social media and commenting from 9 years hence. Iraq has proved itself to be a war we should never have got involved with, I’m not disputing that, but Blair did not know that at the time. He was operating in a climate that was both paranoid and uncertain, and had to make a decision whether or not to take a risk and trust that there were no weapons of mass destruction. It was a risk he was not prepared to take that chance on. I don’t think we can name any other high level figure in British politics that, given the same circumstances, pressures and constraints, would have taken a radically different course of action. I don’t mean to gloss over the issue of Iraq and, rightly, it has become part of his legacy; that’s just my two cents and I’m no expert on the subject.

If you disagree with me, as I’m sure many people will, or just have an opinion on this issue, then please comment- I will endeavour to answer as many points as I can. I don’t acquiesce to Harry’s requests to write these blogs in order to be populist, and I’m always more interested in other people’s opinions that my own. The only thing I’d ask is that the comments aren’t completely Iraq centric, as important as that issue is. The reason I ask this is because, as I’ve said before, I’m no expert on the in’s and out’s of the subject, I was 10 at the time.

PS- Did you know that when you do a Google image search for ‘Blair’ three out of the first five images are of Blair Wardolf, a character from Gossip Girl? If that isn’t a sad indictment of our political times I don’t know what is.

Oh wait, that’s right, a Queen’s speech at a time when unemployment is set to rise to 9% that makes not one single mention of the word ‘jobs’. Now that, that is a shocking indictment of our political times.

Alex is a 19 year old Labour party activist and member of Sheffield Labour Students; studying Politics & Sociology at the University of Sheffield.

09
May
12

The Living Wage needs to be a central plank of Labour’s economic narrative- Darrell Goodliffe

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Labour needs a strong and coherent economic narrative which tells a story of a new economy, one built out of the ashes of austerity and the financial crash. Of course, it is not enough to string pretty words together, we must practically show how we will do this through eye-catching policies which encapsulate and embody the vision we want to put to the electorate. If you look at the French election, Francois Hollande did this well by pushing the 75% top-rate of tax on earnings over  1 million euros. This embodied his insistence that the rich shoulder the burden of rebuilding France’s shattered national economy.

Ed Miliband has already expressed the view that it is the toiling mass of people who are society’s real wealth creators and therefore they are the ones who should be most rewarded. Ed is correct in this point of view but he has yet to substantiate it with a policy that makes his point in a clear and unequivocal way. However, the living wage fits the bill perfectly, coupled with real controls on top incomes it would send a clear signal that Ed is prepared to back his fine words with equally as fine deeds.

We will be assailed with all the traditional arguments against, ‘it will lead to unemployment, it would be bad for business’, etc, etc. However, put lightly, these arguments are economic hokum. J K Galbraith deals with some of the arguments here in a US context:

Would prices go up? Some would. But rich people can afford it — and workers would have extra income to pay the higher prices, so most of them would come out ahead. Women in particular would benefit because they tend to work for lower wages. With more family income, some people would choose to retire, go back to school, or have children, making it easier for others who need jobs to find them. Working families would have more time for community life, including politics; Americans would start to reclaim the middle-class political organization that they once had. Because payroll- and income-tax revenues would rise, the federal deficit would come down. Social Security worries would fade.

Not only that, but households would be able to, slowly but surely be able to make headway into the personal debt mountain which blights our economy; here Ed will need to offer other support, like the extension of Debt Relief Orders and action against high prices (something he has already muted). However, a living wage would be a huge boost to struggling households and therefore to our flagging economy.

Up to this point, Ed has only mooted a ‘voluntary’ living wage (in return for which companies would receive tax incentives) however, this is pointless and misguided. If it is voluntary it would introduce two-tier wage system (with a clear division between companies that only offer minimum wage and those that offer a living wage)  which would run the risk of increasing rather than tackling social inequality. Also, the benefit to the state would be limited because it would be paying out money to the private sector in the form of tax breaks (as well as presumably footing the bill of increased public sector wages).

Simply raising the minimum wage to the level of the living wage, which is what Galbraith advocates, therefore is more economically sensible and beneficial all round as opposed to a half-baked voluntary scheme. Ed needs to be brave and not fight shy of the ideologically motivated but economically illiterate opponents of a living wage; he needs to take them head-on and make the living wage a central plank of Labour’s narrative which espouses a bold and radical vision of a new economy created out of the ashes of the old.

Darrell is an ex-intern and Labour activist and blogger and a candidate for NEC.

08
May
12

Time to enfranchise the great ignored. A guest post from Liam Young.

For over a year now I have been stating the case for a campaign that is close to my heart; lowering the voting age to 16. When I was a young boy, at roughly the age of 6, I told my family that one day, I wanted to be the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Ten years on, I still hold that dream.

In ten years I have attended events ranging from local party meetings to national conferences, I have spoken at events that ranged from local council chambers to conference halls and I have spent hours of every day reviewing the latest political gossip and checking up on the political scene. If they were to mean test me and judge whether I was of a ‘sound mind’ to vote, then I’m pretty sure, and hopeful, that I would pass.

You may think that my story is unique and one that is not often unheard of; but you’re wrong. I think it is possible to accept that not many people want to be the Prime Minister, and I believe you’re probably right in thinking that no one would exclaim it at such a young age; but young people are interested in politics. At the age of 16 many people undergo tutorials in politics at sixth form, and from the age of 12, when compulsory citizenship education comes into effect, we begin to learn about government and our political surroundings. Young people become aware of what they believe in, but they cannot voice their feelings through the ballot.

The bulk of people involved in last years rioting belonged to that ‘youth’ category. Maybe one reason that they voiced their anger against society through brutality and destruction is because they had no other way to do so. Maybe if they were taught that they had the ability to make a difference, then they would have pursued different avenues.

If I can legally sleep with my MP, if I can legally marry my MP, if I can pay tax to my MP and if I can go to a distant land and fight for my MP, why shouldn’t I be able to vote for my MP?

David Cameron spoke about the ‘great ignored’ during his election campaign in 2010, when he promised to ‘engage and represent’ this group of people in society. By disenfranchising young people, he fails to keep this promise. He called this group of people, “the hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding majority.” Maybe he should think about the 1.7 million 16-17 year olds who work hard, often pay some form of tax and abide by the laws of the country, but are denied the vote simply because they are deemed too ‘immature’ to be given the right to vote.

In the local elections just passed, over 70% of adults who were eligible to vote decided against doing so. Let’s give young people the chance to show that they can accept the responsibility of voting and can build on the dismal turn out of the already so called ‘mature’ population. It’s time to enfranchise the great ignored, it’s time for votes at 16.

Thanks go to Harry Barham and the Red Blog for the publication of this post.

Liam is a 16 year old Labour activist and blogger. To follow his campaign or his political trails, follow him on twitter @liamyoung.