Recent Westminster Articles
I’ve not waded that much into the debate on Scotland’s future, partly because I’ve been focusing on ISIS and partly because its not my fight. I support the Union but its up to the people of Scotland to decide and they’re unlikely to be persuaded by this random guy from London.
But I’m perplexed by the pro-independence position that some lefties have taken, particularly the Green party.
The Yes Scotland campaign say their economy is strong and can survive independence thanks to natural resources such as oil and gas. Its a key claim on their website and its true; oil and gas would be key to an independent Scotland’s finances.
Revenue from oil and gas is also how an independent Scotland will pay its bill and stave off deep spending cuts. I’m not saying they’re the only source of revenue but they’re very key to Scotland’s future. Without them there would be deep cuts. Independence would make Scotland even more dependent on that revenue.
As you can see from the chart above, revenue from fossil fuels easily dwarfs everything else combined.
Scotland wants to invest in renewable energy, but the money for investment will inevitably have to come from further investment and money raised through oil and gas.
So why are the Green Party supporting an outcome that makes a nation even more dependent on exploiting its oil and gas resources?
Can someone explain this to me?
If the Greens are arguing that Independence will make Scotland less dependent on fossil fuels, I’d like to see the evidence and sums, since the YES campaign in Scotland isn’t saying that at all.
A bizarre notion has taken hold of some of my fellow Labour commentators. Some of them believe that the Labour party is going to get around 40% at the next election and win by a landslide. They believe this is not only possible but within reach.
This is a fantasy. The results of the 2015 general election are going to be close. Too close for comfort, in fact.
There are simple reasons for this.
1) In 2010 Labour got only 29% of the vote – its second worst defeat ever. The party had become intellectually exhausted, hollowed out and tired. To change minds and add 11% to your vote within 5 years isn’t just a Herculean task – it is unprecedented in British politics. It has never happened because people do not change minds so quickly.
2) The financial crash of 2008 happened under New Labour’s watch. They were “intensely relaxed” about people getting super rich and let the bankers run wild by cutting regulation. Sure, the Tories urged them to be even more reckless but the electorate won’t remember that; the fault always lies with the party in power. And people take a long time to forget that. It took the Conservatives 15 after the ERM crash of 1992 to match Labour on economic credibility.
3) It takes time to change people’s minds and get them to trust you again. This is so obvious a point that it feels silly just to say it. This is especially true when New Labour leaders also lied about invading Iraq and started a war that cost tens of billions of pounds. Labour lost a lot of trust during those 13 years and it will take more than the image of David Cameron’s face to bring them back.
Sure, you say, but wasn’t Labour polling in the low 40s not long ago? Why isn’t this possible?
Again, simple. Labour polled high at a time when discontent against the government was at its peak and the economy was in dire straits (2011 – 2012). The ‘omnishambles’ budget was fresh in people’s minds and anger at the Lib Dems had driven most of their base to Labour.
But the economy has improved; UKIP and Greens have taken some Labour voters away. Some ex-Lib Dems have returned or decided Labour wasn’t particularly liberal either. Momentum within the UKuncut, student and Occupy movements has petered out. Fatigue has set in.
As the economy improves more people will go back to the Tories regardless of what Labour does or say. That is how people respond in any country, including ours.
I think there are strong factors that help Labour. But the shift in public opinion needed to win a big majority is far too much for just five years. That’s why it has never happened on this scale before.
This doesn’t mean Labour should aim low. But getting 36% or so next year is a massive task in itself, and the idea that we are failing because we’re not heading towards 40% is just fantasy.
Political journalists love reporting on infighting: it adds drama and excitement to a beat that is usually about boring policy announcements. This isn’t a criticism – as a blogger I loved reporting on infighting too (even within Labour) because it meant clicks, eyeballs and excitement. Its the stuff we worked for.
The local / EU elections have brought Labour MPs John Mann and Graham Stringer to the forefront for precisely this reason: they’re willing to fuel the infighting narrative.
But listen to what they actually say and you soon realise they’re just spouting empty platitudes. There’s not a single policy demand in what they say, other than Stringer’s demand for a referendum on the EU. I’ve long called for Labour to promise a referendum on the EU too, but you have to be really obtuse to think Miliband is going to u-turn on his sensible and cautious policy now just to satisfy us. And even then, it would make very little difference to the UKIP vote.
But all this is lost on John Mann and Graham Stringer, who repeatedly call on the Labour leadership “to listen to the people” as if this were a new and radical idea.
Listen to John Mann on WATO
They have zero policy advice on what needs to be done. They have zero practical advice for the leadership.
What this does highlight however is a broader issue: the Labour leadership are aware of all the above but there is no simple answer because voters themselves are contradictory.
“Labour should be Labour, but they’re more like Conservative,” a voter from Rotherham told BBC World at One earlier, who had opted for UKIP – a party even more right-wing than the Tories.
A lot of Labour people voted for UKIP because they feel alienated by the party and by Westminster in general. On that front, the party needs broader cultural change and more extensive outreach to voters. But Miliband isn’t idle here either: he’s been fully behind rolling out the community organising model across the country. The leadership have been making heavy demands on candidates to knock on doors and speak to voters too.
On policy, should Labour go harder on immigration? It can do, but it will alienate more liberal voters in London (without which it can’t win in 2015 or 2016). And how exactly do you out-UKIP on immigration? None of these questions are answered.
The Labour leader has chosen instead to focus on the economy, and reach out to people who feel alienated because of growing inequality and are voting UKIP out of frustration. Do the likes of Mann and Stringer have any policy suggestions here? Nope. I haven’t heard a single policy suggestion yet. Which begs the question: how do these people think they’re helping?
The European/Local Elections are coming up next month and the establishment is in full panic. For the first time in British history there is a chance neither the Conservatives nor Labour come first in local elections.
In the Observer on Sunday, Nick Cohen is the latest one to sound the alarm, blaming the media for giving UKIP an easy ride.
This isn’t just lazy, but simply untrue. In fact over the last year the national press has ferociously attacked UKIP over their policies, the cranks that run it and the fruitcakes that are its activists.
None of the negative publicity has hurt UKIP’s support. According to YouGov today UKIP have moved to first place in EU election polls.
Are we surprised that people who express support for an anti-establishment party aren’t bothered by establishment criticism of that party?
That’s just naive. Plus, this attitude is compounded by attacking the UKIP posters are racist, thereby 1) giving those billboards even more publicity and general coverage; 2) feeding into UKIP’s narrative that the establishment thinks any restriction of immigration is racist and will attack it as such.
This plays straight into UKIP’s hands and they, despite the odd mishap, are laughing because it helps them connect with more people.
Blaming the media for the rise of UKIP is absurd. Some Britons have latched on to UKIP as a way to express their discontent with the political system – but the problem is the disconnected and unrepresentative political establishment, not the media. Without the rising anger at Westminster politics, no amount of media coverage would have given UKIP 20%+ in the polls.
The uncomfortable fact is that negative media coverage doesn’t hurt UKIP’s support. It helps them because it cements their place as the anti-establishment party.
Feeling helpless at the rise and rise of UKIP, lefties have taken the easy option and started calling them racist at every opportunity. Its amusing and even I admit to poking fun at them, but this won’t work.
These people hate the national media and mainstream politicians. Why in the world do people think they’ll listen to criticisms of UKIP from the very people they hate?
Some people also think that pointing out Nigel Farage’s City-broker background, or the craziness of UKIP policies, will undermine UKIP’s claim to be anti-establishment.
Nick Cohen sums this up:
He says he represents “ordinary people”. But he is a public school-educated former banker, whose policies will help him and his kind. He claims he is the voice of “common sense”, while allying with every variety of gay-hater, conspiracy crackpot, racist, chauvinist and pillock. The only sense he and his followers have in common is a fear of anyone who is not like them.
But these attacks misunderstand the nature of UKIP’s anti-establishment positioning.
People who hate the establishment vote UKIP because they want to shake it up. They don’t want UKIP to run the country; they are using it as a proxy to express their anger. Just saying UKIP isn’t anti-establishment doesn’t bother them, because they can see how the rise of UKIP bothers the establishment.
UKIP say: ‘if we aren’t the anti-establishment party, why does the establishment hate us so much?’ – and people think, fair enough.
So how do we undermine UKIP?
The key to undermining UKIP is the Left doing a better job of engaging and understanding the voters who vote UKIP. That’s the boring answer but it happens to be the only one constantly proven to work. And we not going to engage UKIP support by constantly sneering at them and calling them racists for voting UKIP.
That does not mean that Labour and the Left try and outflank UKIP from the right. The Tories are trying that but it won’t work. It means better engagement at a community level, making our politics more open and making it less unrepresentative. It means having more MPs who can connect people rather than great at sounding polished on Newsnight.
Once we get better at engaging people, then calling out UKIP racism can have resonance and impact because people trust your judgement. Only when they think you have something substantial to offer will they think you’re not calling UKIP racist to deflect from your own troubles.
An attack on UKIP has to resonate with people who support it. But none of the attacks on UKIP, whether in the national media or by lefties on Twitter, resonate with those people.
If a ‘metropolitan liberal’ like me can detect the sneering attitude a mile off, don’t you think UKIP supporters can too? And why in the world would they listen to people who have so much contempt for them?
At the End Hunger Fast vigil yesterday evening, which marked the end of a 40-day-fast to raise awareness of rising poverty, several people read out Christian prayers. In their prayers they called on the government to deal with rising poverty and act like a Christian for once.
I don’t think this is what they had in mind though:
Britain should be unashamedly “evangelical” about its Christian faith and actively hand churches and other faith groups a greater role in society, David Cameron has insisted.
In a declaration of his personal beliefs, he said he had experienced the “healing power” of religion in his own life and insisted that Christianity could transform the “spiritual, physical, and moral” state of Britain and even the world.
The bizarre thing is that Tory commentators think this is something to do with criticism Cameron has had about the rising number of food banks, and from Christian leaders for doing little about it.
I think that’s unlikely.
Cameron’s problem isn’t bleeding heart Christians abandoning him over rising poverty, but conservative Christians abandoning him over the gay marriage vote.
Tory commentators seem to have (deliberately or inadvertently) swallowed the line that this is about poverty, but I doubt that very much.
The Tories are in the process of shoring up the core vote so that they can make a wider pitch just before the election. Right now its all about welfare, immigration, ‘scroungers’ and anything else that will bring back the voters who have abandoned Cameron since 2010.
Conservative Christians are a large part of that core vote, and they were uniformly angry over the gay marriage vote. Cameron is trying to bring them back. Rising poverty has little to do with it.
The comedian Russell Brand was on Newsnight last night, and although I was sceptical about watching the interview at first, it turned out to be much more entertaining and insightful than I expected.
Like the rest of Westminster, my first reaction to hearing that Brand had never voted, and didn’t feel like voting, was to pour scorn all over him: what right does he have to preach about politics then? But after watching the video, I realised that I was missing the point. Brand isn’t apathetic about politics, he is apathetic to our current state of affairs.
One of my maxims in politics is, never blame the voters. Yes, they’re frequently contradictory in their views and generally clueless about policies, but they behave on instinct and emotion, and that is important because the world would be an awful place if cold rationality drove politics.
Politicos usually agree that you shouldn’t blame voters, but they invariably do so anyway. They’re criticised for voting against their own interests or supporting other parties or sitting at home on election day. It’s tempting to criticise people for making different decisions to you, but it’s also silly.
My defence of Russell Brand is that he’s simply articulating this contradictory anger. People just want a better world and they’re not seeing anyone offer them to it. They’re just seeing people in Westminster talk in incomprehensible language while offering solutions that sound roughly the same. It has become a system geared towards the remaining voters, not all citizens.
Our political system is too narrow. If the proportion of people who didn’t vote were all captured by one party, it would be the largest in Parliament. Non-voters are the majority party, and their proportion has been growing steadily since 1945. And yet, even to a close watcher like me, Westminster politics frequently feels like two bald men fighting over a comb. There are no bold solutions on offer because the system has been captured by middle-class wonks and those paralysed by narrow interpretations of polling.
As someone who feels trapped tween (Iraq-war-starting, civil-liberties-destroying) Labour & (fucking) Tories, I loved it RT @ Whatdjathink?
— Graham Linehan (@Glinner) October 24, 2013
Even Tom Watson said this recently:
It’s been missing from the Labour Party since Tony Blair marched us into the arid desert of pragmatism that was so electorally successful. It’s belief. Belief in ourselves. Belief in the great cause of social progress. The marketing men, the spin people and the special advisers: they’ve won. For those brief minutes of Drenge I wanted to sack them all.
Brand will find sympathy for his frustrated outpouring because he is articulating a deep frustration, even among people who do vote. They don’t necessarily want a whole new system, they just want someone who emotionally engages them.
Politicos scoff at the fact that Brand hasn’t offered a comprehensive alternative, but that’s not his job that is the job of people who do this for a living.
by Matt Whittley
Operation divide and rule has been in full swing since the Tories came to power in 2010. Working hard but struggling to get by on a low income? Blame your unemployed neighbour, or the immigrant down the street, or those fat-cat public sector workers with their bloated salaries and pensions.
In his conference speech, Cameron added young people to his list of scapegoats when he implied that they are in their droves leaving school, getting knocked up and opting for a life on benefits, as he outlined his plan to remove housing benefit for those under 25s not in employment, education or training.
Consider the case of a 24 year old that started working aged 16 or 17, and so has contributed for 7 or 8 years but has just lost their job. Is this person not worthy of temporary support to help them get back on their feet? Are they really, after years of independence, expected to return to their childhood bedroom? And are their parents really expected to welcome them (and their grandchildren, if their child has had kids of their own) back with open arms?
What about the 20,000 young people who, 12 months after graduating, are still out of work? These young people spent three years working hard to better themselves. Many then took (often unpaid) internships – ‘doing the right thing’ as Cameron calls it. Have these people opted for a life on benefits?
What about those living in areas of high unemployment who are contemplating ‘getting on their bike’ to go where the work is? The logical conclusion for them to draw is that they would be better off staying in the family home and out of work. The Tories say they are on the side of hard-working people, but their support doesn’t seem to extend to those who have the audacity to have been born after 1988.
Cameron is also assuming that all young people have a loving, stable home to return to, and from his ivory tower of privilege this is probably an easy assumption to make. But what about those fleeing violent or abusive homes, or those kicked out by their parents? What about the 6,000 young people leaving care every year, many of whom rely on housing benefit as they attempt to make a life for themselves?
This policy clearly hasn’t been thought through, and Cameron may well have made a rod for his own back with this. Either he guarantees a job, training place or apprenticeship for all of the 1.09 million young people not in employment, education or training (a mammoth task), or he is seen to punish young people for refusing to take jobs, training places and apprenticeships that simply don’t exist.
Young people, who had no role to play in causing the financial crisis, won’t have been surprised by Cameron’s announcement to strip them of their social security. This from a government that has trebled university tuition fees, abolished the Educational Maintenance Allowance and presided over an economy in which 21% of young people are now out of work.
Of course we need to support those young people who have become cut adrift from society and help them into work or education. But with five people chasing every job, this government is failing miserably to create the opportunities they deserve. And demonising the young and threatening to remove their benefits won’t change that.
by Andy May
It was a strange feeling watching this week’s Labour conference. Once a political enemy, I could conceivably be voting for the party in 2015.
I joined the Liberal Democrats over a decade ago, and worked for two MPs. My parents are founder members of the SDP. I won’t go into my reasons for leaving – these are self-evident. Clegg is the best recruiting sergeant that disaffected centre-left voters Labour could ever want.
Instead let’s concentrate on five things Labour might do to convince the swathe of progressives who voted Lib Dem in 2010. These people hold the key to a Labour victory in 2015. Many of them, like me, are as yet undecided.
I have discounted the obvious… like not privatise the NHS or entrench inequality in education – plus there has been enough on energy already!
Here are five that specifically push Lib Dem buttons:
1. The Economy
Totemic policies such as the introduction of the minimum wage in the early Blair years have been eclipsed in the minds of voters by mismanagement and light touch regulation in the run up to the financial crash. Ed Balls made a shrewd move towards rehabilitation by announcing he would submit Labour’s spending plans to the Office for Budget Responsibility. But more reassurance will be needed. I want to see the positive role of the state championed without the irresponsible spending and incompetent implementation that came with the Blair era.
2. Environmental policy
Invest in renewables not fracking; tackle energy inefficiency in homes and vehicles; properly fund the Green Investment bank. Plenty more where that came from, but with the Lib Dems in government supporting a dash for gas and failing on initiatives such as the Green deal, Miliband has an opportunity to outflank my former party.
3. Democracy, lobbying and big money in politics.
Miliband is one of the most progressive leaders Labour has ever had on constitutional issues. He deserves more credit than he got for supporting Yes2AV, after fierce opposition from many in his party. He must support PR in the House of Lords, or local government along with party funding reform and lobbying transparency. This will only get noticed by 5-10% of the electorate, but many will be those all-important ex Lib Dem voters. To achieve this some in Labour will need to understand their party does not have a monopoly on progressive political thought.
Most of my twenty and thirty something friends cannot conceive of a time they could afford a deposit. 200,000 new homes a year by 2020 is welcome – the difficulty will be doing this in a sustainable manner that doesn’t wreck the same communities that would benefit from fresh housing stock. Frankly anything sounds good compared to the Governments half-baked Help to Buy scheme.
5. Civil Liberties
When Sadiq Khan claims Labour now the party of civil liberties all I can do is think back to 28 days detention, ID cards, illegal rendition… and laugh. I think it naïve to make such a claim although Sadiq’s personal record is commendable. Labour need to show they not succumb to scaremongering by the shadowy figures in the home office bureaucracy with clear human rights based framework to privacy and security, rejecting the authoritarian excesses of the last Labour government.
Here’s hoping Ed can do it if Clegg cannot. -his speech certainly warmed the cockles of my heart.
I and other social liberals and democrats would prefer not to be stuck in the political wilderness for the rest of our lives.
Andy May is a communications consultant, and formerly worked in as a constituency organiser for the Liberal Democrats.
Ignore the hysterical press reaction to Ed Miliband’s plan to freeze energy prices in 2015 for now.
The Labour leader’s speech at the annual party conference also offered intriguing clues about his future direction. Here are some of my observations.
1) On Tuesday afternoon you could hear a huge sigh of relief across Brighton. The leader of the party had delivered a powerful speech that reassured party faithful nerves and gave them tangible policies to sell on the doorstep. Someone on Twitter said aptly that Labour had gone ‘from Pamphlet Labour to Leaflet Labour’.
These aren’t election winning promises yet, and Miliband will unveil a lot more in the next 20 months, but he decisively batted away questions about his leadership, the party’s future direction and supposed lack of meaty policies. He is secure in his position.
2) Remember how everyone slammed ‘predistribution’ as a clunky and academic word? Well, Miliband’s focus on the ‘cost of living crisis’ is his translation of that word. The focus of ‘predistribution‘ is that governments need to create more equal outcomes even before collecting taxes and redistributing them as benefits.
Miliband’s view is that the only way this cost of living crisis will be averted is through a more fundamental remodelling of how our economy works. That clunky word is no more. It will now be referred to as the Cost of Living crisis.
3) Using the slogan ‘Britain can do better‘ is also important because Miliband wants to position Labour as the party of optimism – not simply one of slightly better spending cuts – and challenge the fatalism of TINA (‘there is no alternative’).
I wrote earlier this year that pessimism about the UK economy could be Labour’s biggest problem in 2015, because voters may simply think Labour cannot do any better. Miliband will directly and forcefully challenge that. It’s a slogan I hope every Labour MP repeats endlessly, with conviction and examples.
4) One of the strongest lines in Miliband’s speech was: “Cameron may be strong when it comes to the weak, but he is always weak when standing up against the strong.”
It wasn’t just a good soundbite but part of a broader strategy. Miliband wants to redefine what is seen as being strong and weak, as our prevailing macho political culture always defines ‘strength’ as taking ‘tough decisions’ (usually against the most vulnerable people). But by taking on Murdoch, halting the rush into Syria and taking on energy companies, Miliband wants to show that strength means standing up vested interests, not cutting social security benefits.
5) By far the strongest re-shuffle rumour was that Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham would swap their briefs. Burnham is widely seen as having done extraordinarily well as shadow health secretary and there will be cries of horror if he is moved. Plus, wouldn’t Cooper’s move be seen as a demotion?
Not exactly, a Labour shadow minister told me. Both Cooper and Burnham want a range of portfolios to their name, in case a there’s a leadership bid in the distant future. Burnham needs something a bit more gritty like the shadow Home Secretary brief, while Cooper needs a populist and softer brief like Health. So it may suit and be welcomed by both.
Writing in the New Statesman, Labour Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan brazenly declares that the Liberal Democrat’s record in Government has left Labour as the party of civil liberties. This has kicked of predictable outrage from Lib Dem activists, with most people citing the poor record of the last Labour government.
Despite the Blair Government’s terrible approach to civil liberties and counter-terrorism, its wrong to call Khan a hypocrite.
For starters, he was one of the Labour rebels who voted against Tony Blair’s 90-day detention policy, back in 2005. More recently, he has admitted the party’s mistakes on human rights and civil liberties. Part of his Charter 88 anniversary lecture was a scathing critique of the last Labour Government’s approach:
And I hold up my hands and admit that we did, on occasions, get the balance wrong. On 42 and 90 days, and on ID cards, where the balance was too far away from the rights of citizens… On top of this, we grew less and less comfortable with the constitutional reforms we ourselves had legislated for. On occasions checked by the very constitutional reforms we had brought in to protect people’s rights from being trampled on. But we saw the reforms as an inconvenience, forgetting that their very awkwardness is by design. A check and balance when our policies were deemed to infringe on citizens’ rights.
If an opposition spokesperson says this, I think they ward off the charge of hypocrisy when they subsequently criticise the civil liberties failings of the Governing coalition. Whether the voters believe Labour or not is another matter, but I think the fact that the spokesman is someone who was a Government rebel on 90 days, and who has been a target of surveillance himself, make Labour’s position that little bit more credible.
Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, included similar nostra culpas in her Demos speech on security and surveillance.
Meanwhile, at the Liberal Democrat annual conference, delegates have approved motion F41 [PDF], a reaffirmation of their party’s committment to human rights and the Human Rights Act.
These debates make me happy. What Khan and McNally’s comments show is that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have begun to see the promotion of human rights as a vote winner. This is by no means a given in British politics, and not something to be taken for granted.
Regardless of Labour’s past failures, or the Liberal Democrats’ current, shaky record in office, we should still applaud these commitments to protect the Human Rights Act.
The alternative is the gutting or abolition of the Act, and a withdrawl from the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Conservatives are threatening to do (David Cameron even had a populist pop at the idea of human rights in a conference speech before he became Prime Minister).
When a politician speaks out in defence of human rights, the public need to show their approval of such statements and publicise them widely.
Who knows, if the politicians see that such positions are a vote winner, we may find that Nick Clegg is inspired to fight a little harder for rights and liberties in this parliament… and that Secretary of State Sadiq Khan is emboldened to defend and extend human rights in the next.
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