The Thick of It


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Islington registrar loses appeal against marrying gay couples

I joined Labour because I believe in equality and civil partnerships are an important and lasting legacy of Labour in power. It grated me then that a registrar in my borough, Islington, had refused to carry out civil partnerships because of her religious beliefs.

Lilian Ladele had claimed that conducting the ceremonies went against her religious beliefs. I'm pleased that the High Court has ruled this not to be the case. The ceremony is civil, not religious. It is also about recognising that every couple has an equal right to celebrate their partnership, publicly and in the eyes of the law.

The challenge is now over and I hope we can all get on with being a more equal society.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Uganda's death penalty for gay people

I've not been able to blog regularly recently due to a protracted house move leaving me without broadband at home. I my share details of my complaint with Sky here in future. I've got a minute though and wanted to express my disgust Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill. I'm even more disgusted that a British "Christian leader", Stephen Green of Christian Voice who thinks the bill a just means of protecting children from gay people. I'm ashamed that someone from my country would assert such spiteful nonsense.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Poverty: better or worse under Labour?

According to David Cameron it has got worse and that because of Labour's reliance on the "big state". He proposes that charities and community groups should step in and boost social mobility. This was the Thatcherite message of the 1980s, one that failed disastrously. The result of 13 years of Labour government is that poverty has decreased, or at least increased less, depending on how you measure it.  

Channel 4's Fact Check has published a detailed analysis of Labour's record on poverty. I'll paraphrase the key parts here. 

"When looked at as a proportion of the population as a whole, the percentage of people in poverty drops by either eight or 10 percentage points, depending on whether housing costs are taken into account...there would be some more traction in Cameron's claim if judged only on the poverty figures in recent years."

It is true to say that Labour hasn't eradicated poverty. However, the picture is at worst cloudy and at best showing a clear effort to bring people above the poverty line. The increase in relative poverty that began under Thatcher in 1979 has slowed for the frist time, under Labour:

"This increase (of the last three years) pales into comparison with that which took place under Margaret Thatcher. Cameron's claim on poverty just doesn't wash - the number of people in general, and particularly children and pensioners, in poverty have reduced since Labour came to power, although progress seems to have stalled in recent years.

"It's worth noting too that Labour's tax and benefit reforms have been redistributive (Robin Hood-like). Had they kept the same system they inherited, there would be far more people in poverty today."

Richard Wilkinson of Nottingham University has been widely quoted by Cameron. He himself admits, unlike Cameron, that: "if Brown's budgets hadn't been redistributive then things would be worse than they are now."

That Cameron is talking about poverty at all shows that 13 years of Labour government have shifted the parameters of political debate. During the 1980s and 1990s the Tories consistently said that relative poverty didn't matter. If they have learnt one thing from being in opposition, I'd hope it was to admit that relative poverty does matter. I doubt however that they have the answers or the desire to eradicate poverty.

Liam Bryne thinks that Cameron's approach amounts to "little more than crossing your fingers." Cameron has no plan and no answers, and as such, he is wrong to make such play of poverty.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I shielded myself from the onset of winter with a couple of weeks in Cyprus. I have visited the island many times. Politics runs through the island.and I have over recent years started venturing into the Turkish occupied Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Turkish troops have occupied around 37% of the island since 1974, while British troops occupy 3% with two Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia. I was pleased to read today that Britain is to propose returning half of the SBA land, to both sides of the divide, in order to help achieve a lasting peace.

Having only been divided 35 years ago, the occupation is still felt by many. The unresolved issues of compensation for land for people who had to move away, on both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot side is still to be resolved. For many years there looked to be little hope for a mutually agreed solution. The rejection of the Annan Plan in 2004, which sought to unify the island as a confederation, looked to hold back peace.  The election of left wing leaders on both sides of the border, both committed to negotiation offers a chance for peace. 

The holiday itself was immense fun and included watching Apollon versus Omonia on the Saturday night. The crowd made for a wonderful spectacle, the football somewhat less so. Playing for Apollon was English journeyman Junior Agogo, formerly of 14 clubs, including Bristol Rovers. It made me think, if I was a mediocre English league player, I'd much rather be a relative star and live on a holiday island. Playing on the Greek side, Agogo will get a few more plaudits and the chance to play in UEFA competition, something not yet available for his counterparts in the North's Birinci Lig.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Cameron = New Labour?

I haven't got the time for a more detailed post now, but my initial thoughts about Cameron's speech today are that:

  • Poverty:  "Don't you dare lecture us about poverty. You have failed and it falls to us, the modern Conservative Party, to fight for the poorest who you have let down" - is this a joke? What about tax credits, the minimum wage, Sure Start and investment in education?
  • A more comprehensive account is taken by Left Foot Forward, whoI defer to. They say: "According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (i) “between 1998–99 and 2004–05, Labour oversaw the longest decline in poverty since the start of our consistent time series in 1961"
More on this tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Honesty on cuts or honesty on Tory motives?

I don't expect to but it would be good to hear something from the Tories this week admitting that Gordon Brown's fiscal stimulus was necessary to keep the economy going. They are more interested in highlighting the size of Britain's budget deficit. Cameron and Osbourne claim this is because honesty is needed about dealing with the deficit. I'd like to hear a little more honesty from the Tories about cutting public services. 

Osbourne didn't mention what he would do with increasing tax receipts as the economy begins to grow again. Alistair Darling intends to use these to reduce the budget deficit while protecting public services. The Tories are using the deficit as an excuse to make cuts to public spending. In both the 2001 and 2005 elections this was the predominant theme of their manifesto. 

What will George and Dave do when the economy picks up? Osbourne yesterday left the door open for make cuts to inheritance tax for the rich and mentioned that he wouldn't scrap the 50% top tax rate at the moment, leaving open the possibility of scrapping that in future. Cameron's Tories have been accused of being light on detail - they are now, at last, telling the public what they intend to do with government. Rather ominous gaps are still there and it will take a strong response from Labour to show the country why the Tories are wrong. Rachel Reeves at Progress agrees: "The banking crisis and recession will be used by the Tories to do what they always wanted to do. Cutting back the size of the state and then cutting taxes for the few."

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

George Osborne: necessary evil or nasty party incarnate?

George Osborne today made much play of telling the truth about the country's finances, while claiming that Labour are telling "lies" about it. All sides of the political spectrum agree that the government needs to start balancing the books as we head back into growth after global recession. Does Osborne's speech today set out the answers the country needs?

Public sector pay restraint is going to mean that again those working in the private sector will be able to benefit from a growing economy, while teachers and ordinary civil servants have to wait. Osborne has set the bar too low, with those earning more than £18k subjected to a pay freeze for one year. I doubt these workers will get much in year two from a Tory government. The economy needs public sector workers spending their money just like everyone else. I agree that high earners from the public purse should be subject to restraint, probably for longer than one year.

Tax credit and benefit cuts should be carefully targeted. Labour wants less people claiming incapacity benefit and more working. This needs to be balanced with jobs for the unemployed to go to. I'm unconvinced that Osborne's plan will deliver this part of the deal.

There is little in his speech about what to do with rising tax revenues as the economy recovers. Will these be used to pay for tax cuts or to keep public services running instead of cutting them?

There was plenty of detail from Osborne today. The Tories are setting out their agenda for government. I'm going to cast a very interested eye over the next set of opinion polls to see whether the public accept the Tories somewhat austere plans. My suspicion is that Cameron and Osborne would prefer cuts to taxes and services. This means we may be looking at the start of a very unpopular government.

House of Twits

As an avid social media user I've been a keen reader of political social media aggregator House of Twits for some time. I'm delighted to say that I am now a member of the site's Labour "Front Bench" of bloggers. I'll be blogging from there too from now on.

The site is a great way of keeping in touch with the best political Tweets - somewhere that gives me content from across the spectrum without having to look for it! Anything that saves time and puts everything in one place is a winner for me.

Monday, October 05, 2009

London at the Tory vanguard

Boris Johnson's mayoralty always looked like acting as a prototype for a future Tory government.
His proposed £5bn of cuts to London's budget through "efficiencies" looks impressive. How will it be delivered, if it actually can be?

What will he cut if the flagship projects remain? Delaying pollution curbs by implementing the low emission zone late? What about cutting London's income by scrapping the western extension of the congestion charge? That might not be legal or advisable. What about wasting money by getting rid of bendy buses - adding 12% to costs? That won't help,

He might take the headlines by freezing the mayor's portion of Londoners' council tax - but putting up fares on the tube and buses will impact Londoners pockets on a daily basis.

The cuts sound impressive, yet there is little in actual detail from Johnson. Much like David Cameron, he is able to make bold statements, yet founders on the detail. Londoners will want to know what BJ actually wants to do.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tory lead cut after Brown's speech

According to YouGov the Tory lead over Labour has been cut to 7% following Brown's speech. As I stated to LBC's Nick Ferrari this morning, the real test is whether Labour can keep this level after Cameron's speech to the Tory conference last week.

The Tories will get widespread positive press from a friendly media, so I'm more interested in seeing the polls next week. Nevertheless, some mildly good news.

Does The Sun lead or follow?

Last night The Sun announced that they will back the Conservatives at the next general election, 12 years after backing New Labour, with today’s front page announcing that: “Labour’s lost it.” In 1992 the newspaper’s election day headline “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights?, leading to the later claim “It was The Sun wot won it”. Can we judge the shift to Cameron with the same weight?

I was part of a panel discussing this last night on BBC Radio 5Live’s Richard Bacon show, with commentator Shane Greer and a host of senior media and political heavyweights calling in. It was no surprise that Labour politicians such as Ed Milliband thought the decision lacked the significance of the past, while it was welcomed by Conservative Chairman Eric Pickles.

Tony Blair’s former spokesman Alistair Campbell played down the significance, writing today that “Sun switches ain’t what they used to be.” He suggested: “It is a big media story, and the media love nothing more than a big media story,” adding that with a fragmented media very different from 1997, consumers are also savvier. “While the public may know the politicians spin them a line from time to time, they sure as hell know the papers do too.”

Roy Greenslade also took part in last night’s debate, confirming today his view that The Sun is “placing itself as a central actor in a political drama. It is saying that what it thinks really counts. But there's precious little proof of that any longer.” The Sun’s circulation today is 35% lower today than it’s mid 1990s peak. Greenslade, like Steve Hewlett, thought the newspaper a follower of public opinion, not a leader.

The Sun may not be as significant as it once was. Nevertheless, last night’s announcement hijacked the headlines and to that extent was successful for the paper’s new editor Dominic Mohan. Otherwise it wouldn’t have led last night’s debate on Five Live, or been talked about across the media today. Can a mainstream media title, like The Sun, be as influential as it once was? Does the fragmentation of readership habits mean that no single title will ever again be able to claim an election as its own?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gordon Brown sets out voters' choice

Gordon Brown today set out his terms for the choice voters face at the next general election. He began strongly by ringing out Labour's achievements, the minimum wage, an end to NHS waiting lists and every school rebuilt. He stated clearly that the Tories would put this all at threat.

There were some new policy announcements such as the National Care Service, something that will extend the helping hand of the NHS to those needing full time care. Talk of tackling anti social behaviour was Brown attempting to talk to the mainstream.

What is clear is that there is a choice at the next election. A choice between a Tory party that would not have invested in public services, improving the NHS, education and regenerated our cities - and a Labour government that did. A choice between a Tory party that would have let the recession run its course and a Labour government that led the way in global action to re-energise our economies.

The Tories had no answers at the depth of the recession, a situation that has enabled them to bang their favourite drum - public service cuts. Brown made it clear today that this is the Tory ideology, it is in their DNA. Labour will ensure the market isn't left to itself and that those in most need will not be left to fend for themselves by an indifferent government. The Tories stand for change, but that is a change back to the 1980s.

Was today's speech the game changer that many commentators suggested it needed to be? Probably not. It was good enough. No general election has been won or lost on a conference speech. The real test of Brown's speech is whether voters will start listening to him again. Will Labour get a boost in the opinion polls? Crucially, will they be able to hold it after next week's Tory conference?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gordon Brown and Andrew Marr

Gordon Brown today looked astonished as Andrew Marr asked him twice if he was using "prescription painkillers and pills to help them get through." Was this a valid question? Brown certainly thought not.

Marr's raising of this unsubstantiated rumour gives it, perhaps incorrectly, credibility. True or not, asking something like this invades the personal privacy that even the prime minister has a right to.

It will fuel reporting in Monday's press about whether Brown is losing control of his health together with the country. I'm sure may will speculate about whether there really is credence in the rumours by analysing every Brown mannerism for signs of weakness. Judging by the serious comments at The Times most agree that with this line of questioning Marr was overstepping the mark.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I also blog elsewhere...

I also contribute to my company's blog, Measurement Matters. My latest blog post suggests that Google are attempting to take ownership of more web content to take even more revenue from advertising with the launch of the Sidewiki...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nick Clegg for PM?

Nick Clegg this week declared his ambition to be prime minister. Every year Lib Dem leaders make their claim to become number one and every year (after the annual leadership change) the idea becomes more fanciful.

As our third party there is no chance of Clegg leading the country. Even with electoral reform Clegg would stand no chance of leading the country. Why Kennedy, Campbell and Clegg feel the need to pretend nobody will notice their fantasy and claim that they will become PM seems preposterous. The Lib Dem members in the conference hall this week applauded Clegg's delusional claims. Surely they cannot all be that stupid?

After discussing the 'point' of the Lib Dems on Five Live on Monday, it became clear that the Lib Dems felt they were not taken seriously enough. If their leaders make such preposterous claims is it any wonder?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lib Dems identity crisis

The row following Vince Cable's proposed property tax for homes valued over £1m has shown the confused identity of the Lib Dems. Cable looks left, Clegg looks right and everybody else gets dizzy.

Last night's Five Live debate didn't throw up any answers for the Lib Dems. Only questions. Voters don't seem to really understand what the party stands for. This is no surprise when the public face of the party nationally is multi-faceted and when many peoples' local experience of them varies so greatly. Social democrats in South West London where they profit from the anti-Tory vote and soft conservatives in the South West of England where they fight the Tories on their own platform.

There is a role for a third party in British politics, though Clegg's Lib Dems are yet to fill that and don't look likely to.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What is the point of the Lib Dems

This week's Lib Dem conference really kicks off the run in to next Spring's general election. Lib Dems will be hoping that this week can be the spur to a resurgence for our third party against an untrusted Tory party and tired Labour government. For a third party to survive in a two party electoral system requires them to have clear goals and radical ideas.

The Lib Dems have always struggled to define a single, clear purpose. Are they the party of opposition - to both left and right? Are they the party of radical ideas? Are they the party of social democracy or the libertarianism?

Today's policy announcement that Lib Dems would tax properties valued over £1m, to take the poor out of income tax, is both radical and socialist. Nick Clegg's constant assertions that "savage" cuts are needed to the public sector is lthat expected of a traditional liberal - today mostly found in the Tory party.

Within the last 24 hours these two events have shown that the Lib Dems are still facing in two directions. Which one the public gets to hear from depends on which Lib Dem voice is speaking. Former Labour Party adviser Vince Cable or the remarkably Tory sounding Nick Clegg. The Lib Dems are still in the shadow of their late 1980s formation from two very different political parites - the SDP and the Liberal Party. Cable and Clegg are each from these different arms.

Until the Lib Dems work out who they are and what they stand for they will struggle to define clear ground for themselves. Without this and a clear identity it will be difficult for them to attract votes on a national basis. Without that, they will always struggle to compete effectively with Labour and the Tories.

Clegg's savage calls strike of a desperate swipte at headlines without really thinking about the effects on economic confidence. Creating a vision of an aggressive and painful future isn't attractive. One criticism that certainly can't be levelled at Gordon Brown is rash decision making. His often well deliberated solutions to problems often get lost in the mire of news headlines, while sometimes managing a little praise for quantitative easing and stabilising the banking system.

More discussion follows tonight on Five Live's Richard Bacon show. Me, Bacon and Mark 11.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is anybody listening?

David Cameron still has some way to go before he has total control of his party. Today's outbursts by Douglas "clean my moat" Hogg and Sir Patrick Cormack that MPs deserve even more pay, following the expenses scandal, shows a party still very much out of step with the national mood.

The Daily Telegraph was simplistic to suggest that many MPs don't need a second home when they have to work late in Parliament. However, to suggest that MPs' pay should be doubled is so far off the scale as to be simply stupid.

Once MPs stop having second jobs and focusing on the job they were elected to do we'll be in a better position to start sorting the mess out. If MPs themselves actually agreed to the many sensible reforms of Parliament that have been suggested on a number of occasions we might start to make progress. If Parliament met at reasonable office hours, not at night, we might have progress. It might also allow MPs to spend more time with ordinary people and less time in the Westminster bubble. That really would be progress.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Proud of the NHS?

Is the NHS safe in Tory hands? It certainly wasn't in the 1980s and 1990s when I grew up. On the evidence of today's comments by Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, attacking our proudest achievement, I am led to suspect the answer to be no.

I've not been surprised at the American reaction to Obama's plans to expand state health care provision. I have been a little surprised though that ordinary Americans might be against extending their rights to better health.

Hannan's view of the NHS is not one I share. Waiting lists are no longer an issue like he says. As a member of the Tory party perhaps he should remember the closed wards and patients left to die on trolleys every winter as was usual when his party was last in power?

Hannan's Tory party is one of a small state, cuts and always putting the individual first. This is what lurks behind Cameron's compassionate conservatism. I suspect this to be revealed after the next election.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Who are the progressives?

Osborne claims the Tories are. He claims that Labour does not want to reform public services. Are these the same public services that were in disarray in the mid 1990s? Where every winter people died on trolleys in our hospitals because the NHS didn't have the capacity to treat them? This doesn't happen any more. In 1997 the dominant association with the NHS was of waiting lists. These have all but been eradicated.

Labour has reformed public services by making them more effective. Re-building hospitals, slashing waiting lists and rebuilding every school in the country is an impressive record of Labour reform.

Friday, July 31, 2009


Brand Republic reports that Labour now has a Twibbon - a Labour logo to appear in the corner of one's Twitter profile photo. I'll be waiting with baited breath for the weekend's opionion polls, this really could be the catalyst for a startling recovery...I'll still be adding one to my own Twitter profile.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

No second jobs

I have always felt that MPs should have only one job - the one they were elected to do. I'm pleased that second jobs won't be permitted by Labour and that the Tories are following suit. It might mean that Parliament actually begins to sit at reasonable hours, making it less necessary for some MPs to have second homes.

Howard Stoate may be a good local MP, but if the same rules apply to lawyers and bankers, they should apply across the board and it is only right that he should focus on one job.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Is the government responsible for unemployment?

Last night I debated this on Richard Bacon's Five Live show with Tory blogger Shane Greer. Yesterday saw a record increase in the number of unemployed in the UK. The reasons for the increase in unemployment are manifold, not least that Britain is suffering together with the rest of the world. Also that not many people spotted this coming.

There is a clear differential between Labour offering business and individuals support, including the holiday on business rates for small businesses; and the Tories offering no alternative. There is also a huge difference between today's recession and those of the 1980s. Before mass privatisation the government was directly responsible for employing huge swathes of the population - and then making them unemployed - when this is no longer the case.

The government here is also ensuring that wide scale public sector construction projects, like Building Schools for the Future and Crossrail continue.

Globalisation also means that we're under ever increasing pressure from the rest of the world to be economically competitive. At the same time, this also offers our best escape route, giving UK business the chance to trade overseas. Protectionism isn't an option.

Listen again, I'm on in the first hour.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Time for defections

After reports that a deselected Labour councillor in Waltham Forest has defected to the Lib Dems, I bring some heartening news from the North West. At a time when many are washing their hands of Labour, when the party really needs them, at least two former Lib Dems have seen fit to join Labour.

Denton Parliamentary Candidate Paul Moss and former Lib Dem leader on Tameside Council Karen Wright have switched to Labour according to the Manchester Evening News. Wright said: "Lib Dems in Tameside have become disorganised and are now showing little sign of understanding what local people need."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Barking and Dagenham Labour Party de-selects 13 councillors

It looks like Barking and Dagenham Labour Party have wielded the axe over a number of sitting councillors in advance of next year's London local elections. Tribune has also touched on this recently.

I'm not close to the local party there, but the time of selections does pose questions for all party members about the type of representatives we seek to offer voters. I'd suggest that the Labour Party needs its representatives to look like the people they represent, should be both ethnically and gender balanced and should offer the voters the chance to elect people who will use their positions of responsiblity to work hard and stand up for them. It is always disappointing whenever some feel that the party no longer represents them. As Labour heads towards a general election, I hope all members can feel enthused to fight the threat of a Tory government and not their own comrades.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Phone tapping and smearing

David Cameron has backed Andy Coulson after the News of the World was alleged to have illegally phone tapped private citizens to subsequently smear their reputations. This could be dangerous, especially if Labour's planned attack is able to stick mud to Cameron's reputation.

However, I doubt whether Labour have the team to really mount a successful sleaze campaign, the moral high ground to do so or a receptive media to take on the campaign. Comparisons could be drawn with the Damien McBride and Derek Draper "Red Rag" affair a few months ago, where there Brown's aide was forced to quit. However, Coulson has not been accused of doing anything wrong whilst working for the Tories.

The phone tapping allegations are not all that surprising, distasteful though they are. It isn't that far removed from journalists rooting through rubbish bins to find information. It is potentially damaging to Cameron. While taking the political initiative over Brown in the expenses scandal, he hasn't come out of it with his nose clean. Cameron himself claimed some of the highest expenses possible. Coulson's role or otherwise in phone tapping just makes it that little bit harder for Cameron to claim he is the anti-sleaze champion, especially when he backs Coulson publicly.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


This blog has been on holiday in Egypt. I'm back, more soon. Every time I go on holiday it seems that Labour relaunch and that the British political scene changes, except it looks much the same as when I left. nobody has agreed how Parliament will be cleaned up, Labour still talks of reforming the House of Lords and neither Labour or the Tories will admit what public spending they would cut if they won the next election.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Expenses scandal: the casualties

Iain Dale wrote yesterday that the media has decided it wants and needs a scalp (or several) from the expenses scandal. Today we have Labour's Margaret Moran - which I thought was inevitable - and the Tories' Julie Kirkbride, who has had her name sullied largely by her husband. Dale also points out that the lady leading the Bromsgrove protests against her is a member of hard left Respect.

Any media led campaign like this almost always needs its victims. I suspect there will be a few more. From a public relations point of view, both Labour and the Tories need this to stop. It would be better if the internal disciplinary procedures were quick and decisive instead of relying on individual MPs' ability to withstand or crack under media pressure.

It is symptomatic of the whole expenses affair - one that broke through a media leak - that action and regret has only taken place when nudged by the media. The political moral compass still seems to be lost.

I meet popular music act The Saturdays

On Tuesday I was a privledged guest of Veet to see a secret show by The Saturdays. They are embarking on a UK tour next week.

Friday, May 22, 2009

John Smith

Recently linked to Labour blog Red Threads tagged me in a post about John Smith to mark the fifteenth anniversary of his death. The idea is to get as many Labour people talking about our late (great) leader.

Where were you when you heard John Smith had died?
I had just got home from secondary school, I was 14. My mum was standing by the radio in our kitchen and told me the second I walked in the door. When she told me I felt like the world I had hoped for had just been snatched away from me. I felt a slightly desperate. I can remember staying up late with my dad in 1992 to watch the election results come in and getting deeply upset. John Smith was Labour's last hope and he was no longer.

How did you view John Smith when he was leader and how do you view him now?
In the run up to the 1992 election it had seemed that the media and much of the public was deeply suspicious of Neil Kinnock. John Smith was painted as the sensible alternative who would have led Labour to victory - despite his disastrous shadow budget and the subsequent Tory Labour's tax bombshell adverts.

At the time I viewed him as the only man left who could lead Labour back into government. Now I view him as a man who probably would have led Labour to victory in 1997, but who would have led a different party to that which Tony Blair took into government. Reform of the party would have been less aggressive than under Blair, Smith's victory was OMOV, I'm not sure he'd have wanted to take on more. As a result it could be argued that Labour might not have been able to hold onto power for as long as it has. Or it could be argued that he might have kept Labour old and that the party would have remained stronger. I'm not necessarily convinced of the latter. Key strands of his policy as Shadow Chancellor in 1992 were a national minimum wage - something enacted by Blair's government.

Do you think he would have made a good Prime Minister?
Smith would have made a good PM. I don't know if he'd have been able to decimate the Tories in parliament and in elections as the centrist Blair managed. They were so tired by 1997 though, so who knows?

What do you think is his lasting legacy?
Smith carried on necessary reform of the Labour Party and his commitment to social justice was undoubted. It is important that we continue to remember him in the Labour movement. It is so easy to forget that Blair's dominance of British politics and Labour Party came about by accident.

London's Euro election candidates

If anyone actually cares while Parliament continues to implode over the expenses crisis, UK Polling Report has a useful breakdown of all the candidates, by party, for June 4's Euro elections.

Former England footballer Stuart Pearce's brother, Dennis, is standing for the BNP. I've always had a lot of respect for Stuart and was shocked when I heard the news. At least the People have documented "Psycho's" "fury" at the news.

I have been campaigning recently in Islington with Labour's Claude Moraes. He has been zig-zagging his way across London meeting as many voters as he can. Like me, he is worried that the cynicism in politics and politicians brought about by the MP expense scandal should lead to gains for a party of the far right.

Not all politicians need to come way tained by the current crisis, not least Islington's MPs Emily Thornberry and Jeremy Corbyn who have never claimed for second homes.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

An MP should be an MP and nothing else

I've always felt that an MP should be and MP first and last. Representing your constituents is paid as a full time job and should be treated as such. MPs, mostly Tories, have often had outside paid employment, which is wrong. Kenneth Clarke and William Hague are two key examples.

Working for a tobacco firm as Clarke does, or earning around £1m in additional income as Hague does, opens up MPs to several weaknesses. The first is that they are not devoting their time to representing their constituents fully, or to their (shadow) ministerial duties. Further, it opens them up to accusations of being influenced by outside interests. Much of the additional income from these outside consultancies will come from firms seeking influence. Why else would they pay politicians? Therefore, if a company pays an MP or minister, they are seeking to influence them.

A benefit of the MPs' expense scandal is that we might finally get to the stage where by seeking probity, politicians divest themselves of these outside interests. Voters are entitled to ask their MPs what they are doing to represent them if they are being paid to do something else when they are also being paid by the taxpayer to represent their constituents.

Hague has finally hinted that he may give up his outside interests. It is absolutely right that he should do so and others should follow. For the public to have any confidence in our politicians we need MPs who are MPs and purely that. State funding of political parties will mean accusations of cash for influence will die too. The sooner this happens the better.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

MPs' expenses: payback

The row over MPs' expenses has caused carnage in Westminster, directly implicating all three main party leaders and a host of others. Politicians are queuing up to apologise for making extravagant claims and to state how "strongly" they feel that the system is wrong. How few have actually acted to show that they understand the public anger is incredibly disappointing. Care Minister Phil Hope showed he gets this, while Ann Widdecomb showed a lack of understanding in criticising David Cameron's crackdown.

Widdecomb's is right to point out that we don't want to end with a parliamentary system that only allows the rich to become MPs. Criticising any clampdown while the public backlash against the current expense system is misguided and will win few plaudits.

It is right that there should be an independent investigation into the MP expense system. Public money should be treated with respect and the simplest way to resolve this row is to simply pay MPs more and expect them to cover their expenses from their salaries, just like the rest of us. MPs' pay should also be assessed independently. The days of MPs voting on their own pay rises has gone. MPs have shown that they can't manage their own expenses so we can't expect them to manage their pay either.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

MPs' expenses

There has clearly been fault from all parties with MPs making the most of a generous expense allowance. I'm pleased that The Daily Telegraph has turned the tables on the Tories, campaigning for Labour at the weekend wasn't easy when at that point, all the public knew about were Labour claims.

A common mitigation from MPs in the spotlight has been that they kept within the rules, but that these rules need changing. Again, there is agreement from almost all involved that the rules need changing. It has taken a national newspaper to leak the details of expenses to trigger the desire for change. Proposals to change the expense system recently have either been rejected by Parliament or have failed to be agreed by the main party leaders.

If Cameron is to discipline his MPs that have claimed for swimming pools or homes they already owned outright; or Brown to (unlikely) discipline MPs for avoiding tax, someone has to decide where the line between acceptable claims and unacceptable should be drawn.

Most MPs will get away with it. They made claims, if not in "good faith", then within the rules. Some claims might have been making the most of the system but claiming for furnishings and decorations of new homes will most likely have to be left alone. Those who have switched homes to create an additional allowance, especially properties that have nothing to do with parliamentary duties (like Luton MP Margaret Moran's Southampton home) should face censure. Those who have claimed for swimming pools, tennis courts and chandeliers should face censure. These claims are unreasonable under any system.

The Daily Telegraph's campaign has done much to breed cynicism in politics and politicians in general. Clearly the blame lies with the politicians for making unreasonable claims, though the effect has been wholeheartedly negative.

The only means to redress this is to set out a new system that pays MPs fairly for having to live in two places. This should also limit the outside interests of MPs. Being an MP should be their only job. At the same time state funding for political parties should be introduced to rid the British political system of all opportunities for abuse of power and and accusationis affair should lead to root and branch reform of the whole UK poli

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Where is Brown's team?

I am continually astonished about the lack of cabinet names appearing in the media to talk up the government. I mentioned it on Five Live last week, about a year after I'd first mentioned it there. Jonathan Freedland makes this point today, that Brown has no praetorian guard to defend his every move. This is either because Brown won't let them or because they are unwilling.

Every leader needs a strong team for support and to take some of the flak when things don't go well. Brown needs to do that urgently. He needed to do it some time ago, it isn't too late to avoid meltdown. Using the cabinet more might actually allow Brown himself to start presenting ideas to the country about his plans for the next five years, were he to win the election. Without doing so his plans will be lost and the election with it.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Is there anything Brown can do to save himself now?

David Blunkett's assertion today that Labour "has lost its political antennae" marks a significant juncture in the life of Gordon Brown's government. Even Peter Mandelson commented that "it never rains but it pours." Blunkett suggested that at present Labour is heading for the worst case scenario, a comprehensive defeat. I hope, like Blunkett, that we can plan for the best case and fight all the way to the election.

This has been a woeful week for Brown's government. In losing in the Commons over the right to let Gurkhas live in the UK and having to retreat over MP expenses, the government has shown that it is has lost the strength to stand by its convictions and also has lost touch with public opinion.

It is vital to the success of any leader that they pick their fights and battles wisely. Pick fights they can win and fights that are crucial. This week it would have been sensible to back public opinion over the Gurkhas and to seek a consensus over MP expenses.

I spoke on Victoria Derbyshire's Five Live discussion this morning with Michael White, Bob Roberts and Lance Price about this. I said that Brown needs to use his team more effectively. He takes too much on himself. It is rare to see other cabinet ministers given high profile media coverage (outside of their strict policy remits). Whatever good Brown might do, he has a poor reputation. He has handled the economic crisis well but his poll ratings remain the same.

I'd like to see others given a higher profile. Alan Johnson, James Purnell and Jack Straw have all been very quiet.

Brown has much to offer, shown by his handling of the banking crisis and the G20. Yet any good work by the government is never associated with him and has no effect on opinion polls. The handling of MP expensive is symptomatic of a government machine that is unable to communicate a good idea effectively. Much has been made of the unreasonable claims made by MPs and of Brown appearing on YouTube to announce his plans for reforming the system. This has meant there has been no mention of the fact that it was Labour's policy to open up MP expenses to public scrutiny in the first place.

I'm a strong supporter of Labour in government. The country and public services are in better shape than they would have been if the Tories had been in power - I firmly believe that we'd be in an even bigger financial mess had they been. I had to agree with White though that I don't see any way back for Brown and Labour at the next election. I agreed with Price, that the next 12 months shouldn't be abandoned. We have a year to show that we have a positive agenda and that if Labour does lose, for it not to be catastrophic.

Many of us have been waiting a long time for Brown to take the initiative. I'm preparing for the worst case scenario and hoping for the best.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dispatches on Boris

Tonight's Channel 4 Dispatches study of BJ's first year in charge of London passed a judgement of a mayor without a plan. I'm still unsure exactly what Boris Johnson is trying to achieve for London. I have not yet been able to establish what he wants to do, much like Simon Jenkins, quoted in tonight's programme.

BJ claims that he wants to make London greener, cleaner and safer.

How is he making London greener? Encouraging public transport use is one obvious means of doing so. Bendy buses were meant to have killed cyclists. This has been shown to be false, something the mayor has had to admit. Most people wanted to keep the bendy buses according to the public consultation. However, the mayor is getting rid of them anyway. Journeys will take longer and taxpayers money will be wasted on needlessly replacing them. As I blogged before the election, the replacement Routemasters will not hit the roads for several years in any case. Further, the much vaunted bicycle hire scheme was actually started by the previous mayor.

How is BJ making London cleaner? Scrapping the extension of the low emission zone and the extra congestion charges for gas guzzlers won't make London cleaner.

BJ promised to give Londoners more bang for their buck. While the (small) mayoral portion of council tax has not increased, keeping my bill down, my transport fares have increased by far more than he could ever save me on council tax. That doesn't feel like value for money.

Is the mayor making London safer? Causing Sir Ian Blair to quit as Metropolitan Police Commissioner, then being referred to the Standards Board over allegedly compromising confidential information about Damien Green's arrest was unfortunate. Creating turmoil in the Met should be avoided, not unnecessarily created.

BJ's London is not getting greener or cleaner. He is giving "pocket money" to improve local parks and is cancelling the improvements to Parliament Square and Highbury Corner. Further evidence that the rhetoric fails to match the reality. Evidence of muddled thinking.

Much criticism was levelled at the former mayor for running a programme of vanity projects. If BJ's ludicrous "idea" to build an airport in the Thames estuary is the very embodiment of a vanity project. To commit the billions it would cost to build would be total lunacy in the current climate. The environmental cost would be huge.

I'm continually drawn to a mayor with no coherent plan. Tonight's Dispatches presented the argument from one side. This evidence was compelling, that the mayor's programme doesn't match the rhetoric, is often contradictory and is failing London.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Are the Tories ready for government?

They would certainly say so. The polls suggests that they are likely to win the next election whether they are ready or not. The volume of seats Labour has to defend with minimal majorities suggests that they might. Andrew Rawnsley and Max Hastings both implied that the Tories are not ready, but are likely to be in power regardless. Will the Tories win? Are they ready?

The Tories are now in position to win. The Tories lead in the polls has remained, despite Labour action and Tory inaction on the economy. An election is little over a year away. The economy is likely to get worse rather than better in that time. As incumbents this will disadvantage Labour. To run an effective election machine costs money. Labour's finances are in a parlous state, the Tories are awash with Ashcrofts cash and paid staff in key seats. The election is the Tories to win.

Are they ready? The Tories might win the election but will find government very tough. Inexperience won't make it tough itself, Labour managed ably enough in 1997 without government experience. Government will be tough for the Tories because they haven't prepared for it. What do the Tories plan for the NHS? What do they plan to actually do to better the environment when in London Boris Johnson is cutting back on schemes to cut pollution?

The Tory plan for government isn't clear. If it exists it must be well hidden. Over the next 15 months the country has to make a serious choice. It isn't a fair choice when the choice is made without full knowledge of the consequences.

I fear the electorate won't be interested and that the Tories will be elected anyway. With parlous results for the country. Labour has to show why the Tories don't deserve to win. Labour has to pull the gaping holes in Tory policy open to the country. Labour needs to attack the Tories and ensure the election is the challenge the country deserves it to be when so much is at stake.

The Tories might win. They are not ready. Labour has to make sure this becomes an issue.

Friday, March 13, 2009

In the Loop trailer

Emire magazine have linked to the trailer for Armando Ianucci's upcoming political classic: In the Loop. I can't fucking wait.

National Health Service survey

Please complete this survey to show your support (or otherwise) for the NHS. This is for a friend who is looking to understand people's experience of healthcare in the UK. It only takes a minute and your support is greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lazy Islington LibDem blogs: follow my leader

I was recently quoted in an article in the Islington Tribune highlighting how Islington Council Leader (Lib Dem) James Kempton had abandoned his blog because nobody was reading it. After narrowly keeping their grip on power after the 2006 local elections, Islington's Lib Dems claimed they had learnt their lesson, that they needed to listen to the people of Islington more.

ng a blog was one of Kempton's means of listening. A blog can be a powerful tool for leaders if used properly. Putting yourself into the social media sphere means you are prepared to take part in a conversation, not just to talk at people. A blog lets people make their point and to engage their leaders in a debate.

n gave up too easily, had he tried harder he might have found that it was worth listening to his electorate. They might have given him some ideas. However, he chose to give up, perhaps because listening is not that important to him, rather, he would prefer to say he is listening and hope people think that is enough.

Kempton stated in the article that if people wanted to keep in touch with him online, they could check his Facebook page. FYI, Kempton's page shows he has 126 "friends". Not many have taken him up then. Further analysis of his friends list shows that virtually all of them are fellow Lib Dem members (Bridget Fox, Meral Ece, Nick Clegg...). Not really a cross section of the public.

ne of Kempton's IslingtonLib Dem colleagues, Meral Ece, has been succesful at blogging, despite not having a whole "executive support" office to support her, unlike her boss. Kempton didnt even have to write or promote his blog, that is the job of his support team.

n the interview for the article I mentioned that another of Kempton's colleagues, Islington South Parliamentary candidate Bridget Fox, had started blogging for The Guardian as a result of her personal blog. I checked her Guardian blog today and noted has died too, just like Kempton's. Fox's Guardian blog hasn't been updated for four months. Whoops. I shouldn't have mentioned that. Her personal blog does get updated though. You can find that for yourself.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Johnson blows off at Vaz

Yesterday's news that Boris Johnson had irked Commons Home Affairs Committee Chair Keith Vaz over his knowledge of the Damien Green affair and that he then followed this with a tirade of the f-word should suprise nobody. It disappoints me. Our Mayor should be able to get his facts right. First he should not mislead Vaz in the first place over when he did or didn't call David Cameron on the day Green was arrested. If you don't know the facts, don't pretend (Some people call pretending lying). That aside, swearing in parliament shows a poor understanding of the standards required of those in public office.

Even the Evening Standard has covered this. As usual, Tory Troll has shamed my attempt to cover this story.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Council tax under BJ

Boris Johnson has taken time out from re-announcing things that were already happening bfore he was elected (cycle hire scheme, London Recycling network, public open space to be the legacy of the Olympic park) to finally announce that he is sticking to one of his election pledges. The mayor's portion of council tax will be frozen. Hurrah! This will have little effect on frontline services. Hurrah! Oh, but this will only mean that I will "save" about 11p a week against what loser Ken had proposed. Oh. Not that special really.

If Londoners are to get 'more bang for their buck' as promised by BJ we need to actually see more evidence than this. If the Mayor's budget has been 'cut' by 15% then why haven't my bills?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Norfolk nonsense

I logged onto the site where Norfolk really matters, the Eastern Daily Press, and found a laughable account of a place called London. In this city they speak of, the highlights include the London Dungeon, Madame Tussards and "Romanian gypsies brandishing sedated infants." The buses are beset with an "appalling tide of violence" caused by having to sit in traffic. If everyone is being forced to go to Madame Tussards then perhaps that is why the bus travelling public are revolting? Does anyone from London even go to look at wax models? Or perhaps they are just angry that they aren't going to the Mustard Shop in Norwich?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

South West Trains to accept Oyster pay as you go after all

After much wrangling and feet dragging, I note with pleasure that South West Trains has finally agreed to accept Oyster pay-as-you-go. As someone who frequently travels from North East London to South West I've often been delayed by having to break my journey at Vauxhall or Waterloo to buy another ticket. Long queues and additional costs add to the inconvenience. This has taken far too long and clearly wasn't something that Stagecoach SWT were keen to adopt, even though Transport for London has picked up the £40m bill.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cross River Tram

Boris Johnson doesn't think the Cross River Tram is worth investing in. Funding for any infrastructure projects won't be easy in the current financial climate. However, investing in the future will help London become more prosperous in the long term. London did this in the 1930s and for those of us who agree with Gordon Brown that doing so again, missing out on a project that had already been heavily invested in seems at best a waste and worst a missed opportunity.

Southwark Council has been vocal in opposition to Johnson's decision to scrap the project. Johnson come into office claiming to be a mayor who would listen to the boroughs rather than dictate to them as he claimed Ken Livingstone did. Southwark's Lib Dem leader Nick Stanton claims that Johnson failed to consult with his council when he planned to scrap it.

Stanton is seeking support from other affected councils. I don't expect the Department for Transport to provide capital funding without the crucial TfL contribution from the mayor, or private funding. I expect Stanton's worthy fight to fail because the mayor isn't interested.

Perhaps spending valuable funds on the unnecessary Boris Bus might have allowed the mayor to contribute to the Cross River Tram. However, he has shown little appetite for funding projects that benefit those who voted for Livingstone, as Southwark, Lambeth and Camden (the areas to benefit most from the scheme) all did.

Read more:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

WASP councillors?

The Local Government Chronicle reports today that the average age of councillors in England is now 59.

In their 2008 annual National Census of Local Authority Councillors the Local Government Association asked our locally elected representatives a range of profiling questions. The results reveal a clearly defined image of England's councillors:
  • 97% are white
  • 87% are over 45
  • 68% are male
It is not surprising that our town halls are run by older, white men. That doesn't make it right. Turnout for local elections is typically very low, at around 35%. Engagement in local politics isn't exciting for many busy people. However Local politics can never enthuse voters if it doesn't both change it's image and start to look more like the communities it represents.

I like to think that my pitch that as a young man I could offer representation of young people in the place of experience, at the 2006 local elections, helped me to significantly increase the Labour vote.

All of the major parties need to ensure their candidates look like the people they will represent. We need more young people, more women, more different people. I hope that I won't look at the same survey in ten years and see the same results.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

How do you spell Isllygnton?

As one who is frequently irritated with the poor use of grammar and punctuation on pubilc signage, this news from Islington amused me. Hazellville Road in the borough appears with different spellings on street signs, bus stops and council improvement notices. If only the sign writers could have added extra apostrophes it would have been complete...

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Bendy buses

Having used a 149 bus last night from Seven Sisters to get to White Hart Lane and suffered the crowds I was reminded of the reason they were introduced int he first place. Bendys have the largest capacity of any passenger bus on the market. They were introduced on the routes with the highest demand, like the 29, 38, 73 and 129.

Boris Johnson was elected stating he wanted to rid London's streets of bendys. He was also elected stating he wanted to give Londoner's "more bang for (their) buck." Scrapping the bendys was meant to make London's streets safer for cyclists, however, when pressed by the London Assembly, Johnson was forced to admit that bendys had killed no cyclists on London's streets. It now transpires that not only will scrapping the bendys not make London's streets noticably safer, the replacements will also cost Londoners more (thanks Boris Watch).

The new buses will be smaller, there will be more of them on the roads causing more congestions and they will cost more, with no discernable safety benefit. Is this the "common sense" politics we were promised by the mayor?

Further reading recommended at the Tory Troll.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Can a recession ever be a good thing? Part 2

Boris Johnson and the Evening Standard have now got in on the act of trying to cheer us all up about the recession. In an article headlined "Mayor: London can benefit from recession"Johnson outlines what he perceives to be the benefits of a recession:

●The fall in house prices would mean London's £5billion housing budget, which will help homeowners avoid recession by taking temporary equity stakes in their property, would go further.

●Tourism and exports would be boosted by the fall of the pound with London representing greater value for money for foreign visitors and investors.

●The brightest graduates, especially scientists, who might otherwise have gone to work in the City, could look for work in the public sector, particularly teaching.

●Workers with more time on their hands because of the downturn could help tackle knife and gun crime among young people by volunteering.

I spoke on this subject in December for BBC Radio Five Live's Richard Bacon show. My premise then and now is that whatever "benefit" side-effects of a recession may bring, it is inherantly a bad thing.

Our market economy is based on work. Work pays for food and shelter and to keep the rest of the economy going by allowing people to buy goods and services. Without work this collapses.

I'd prefer my mayor to be talking about what he plans to do to help Londoners through tough economic times, rather than telling them not to worry. Can't afford to go on holiday any more? Don't worry, you can look at all the tourists in London instead, taking advantage of the cheap pound. Great.

Johnson must be wrapping himself in a coocoon if he believes a recession will help tackle crim by providing more volunteers. Basic sociological theory suggests that unemployment leads to poverty and poverty is a drving force behind increasing crime.

If johnson is to really show that he intends to govern for all Londoners then he needs to start showing that he understands the stresses and pressures most of us are under. He isn't doing that. I don't expect him to do that. He doesn't know how.

Boost your worker productivity

New Portable Sewing Machine Lets Sweatshop Employees Work On The Go

Monday, January 05, 2009

Blog returns no thanks to BT

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