The Thick of It


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Trip to Rio de Janeiro

I've spent the last few weeks in Rio de Janeiro. It is always odd for a northern hemispherite such as myself to spend part of the Christmas period somewhere hot and sunny, but a very good thing.

I went to see two football  matches, seeing Vasco de Gama nearly win the Brasiliero, only to draw with a Ronaldinho inspired Flamengo. Given that the Olympic stadium isn't in the nicer end of the city it will be interesting to see how the Rio authorities deal with that in time for 2016. I suspect there will be a bit of bulldozing to tidy up the short journey from the station to the stadium with scant regard for the locals, but we shall see.

Rio is an odd city. Naturally blessed with stunning beauty. It is hard not to enjoy yourself there because the Cariocas are incredibly friendly and always ready to party. Some districts, Ipanema, Lagoa and Leblon, are home to extremely wealthy people who would be able to afford to live in  Kensington or Knightsbridge. The shops that support this very smart part of the city are priced appropriately. Then there is a burgeoning middle class living in apartment blocks. Beyond that there are people living in sometimes extreme poverty.

Brazil is gaining new found wealth from the discovery of new natural oil and gas. What remains to be seen is whether that wealth transposes itself into an improved infrastructure, education system and opportunity for the masses or whether it ends up in the hands of corrupt politicians and international businesses.

I also visited the stunning Ilha Grande, Brazil's biggest island. It has no cars or roads, just mountains, treks and unbelievably ideallic beraches, like Lopes Mendes. Being there was dreamlike. So much so that while there I bumped into Goodbye Lenin and Edukators German actor Daniel Bruhl.

The last thing I did was go to see Jesus, Cristo Redentor, atop the Corcovado mountain. I'll leave you with some rather stunning views.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More racist Tories

When will the Tories learn that racism is bad, immoral and just plain wrong?

The St Andrews University student society burnt an effigy of Barack Obama. The conveyor belt continues.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When politicians and civil servants clash

The toppled head of the UK Border Agency Brodie Clark hit back at his former ministerial boss Theresa May today, claiming that despite her claims, he had never exceeded his authority. This amounts to a stinging attack and suggests that May misled parliament in claiming otherwise, to save her own skin.

Neutral civil servants hate being politicised or being pushed into political storms. I see their point. Secretaries of  state are there to carry the political can, not their servants. In a reversal of historical assumptions that the civil service is naturally conservative, their current Tory masters view their servants with great scepticism.

This row reminds me of one that rumbled on and on in the early days of New Labour's second term.

When Stephen Byers' Labour special advisor Jo Moore famously thought 9-11 a "good day to bury bad news"  the email was leaked and a political row erupted. The neutral head of departmental communications Martin Sixsmith got fed up and later said "Princess Margaret is being buried [on Friday]. I will absolutely not allow anything else to be". 

Sixsmith was eventually forced to quit over the row, together with Moore. 

After quitting the civil service Sixsmith made no secret of his unhappiness at being forced out. His autobiography was blocked, so he turned it into a novel, Spin, released in 2004, two years after he left his job. He has since written several books and contributed to Armando Ianucci's superb political satire The Thick of It. 

Has May created a spurned civil servant and in the process done the very opposite of saving her skin? Time will tell but it seems likely that she will only come out of this row looking worse. 

Monday, November 07, 2011

Tories hitting you in the pocket

Here is an example from 1974 that shows how the Tories have always made life more expensive:

Friday, November 04, 2011

Racist Tory weekly #9

Regular readers will know all about Southend Tory councillor Blaine Robin who was filmed attending an English Defence League meeting recently. He was suspended by his party pending an investigation. That investigation has now closed and Robin has been reinstated.

Worryingly for the Tories this shows that they are happy to be a party that borders on the fringes of such extremist groups, like the EDL. AS the party gets ever more anti immigration and anti European will such liaisons become more frequent?

This can't be what David Cameron had in mind when he tried to create a compassionate conservatism in 2005.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

David Cameron is the new Ramsay MacDonald

At last nights tenth Aneurin Bevan Society lecture, Ed Balls likened David Cameron's economic policy to former Labour then national government PM Ramsay MacDonald. Piling austerity measures onto a struggling economy stifled and lengthened recovery from depression then and threatens to do so again.

Cameron won't end up with the same fate as MacDonald, hated for history by almost all in his party. At the moment Cameron is only riled by some of his party but not to the extent that MacDonald is by Labour people.

Balls suggested that the binding nature of the Tory Lib Dem coalition agreement, that prioritises deficit reduction over all else, is creating an inflexibility stopping the government from being able to change path. Further, their ideological attachment to shrinking the state means that whatever the economic indicators tell us, the coalition won't change policy.

Politically, Balls said, the Tories are fuelling cynicism and pessimism because they tell us that there is no alternative to their chosen path. That means we should accept that stagnation, falling living standards and rising unemployment are an unavoidable medicine we all have to endure.

If people believe there to be no alternative to their lives getting worse thanks to government policy that will only turn them away from politics. What is the point in voting if it doesn't achieve anything?

Progress of UK recessions
It doesn't have to be like that, argued Balls. Government is capable of making people's lives easier and managing the deficit at the same time. This is the Labour alternative.

The chart above shows the UK economy improving until the middle of 2010 when the Tories got in. Since then growth has been non existent. Without people in jobs, shopping, paying taxes and contributing to GDP as unemployment rises the deficit will get bigger, as demonstrated by the extra £46bn of borrowing under the Cameron-Osborne axis. This is simply because former tax payers and shoppers are now being paid benefits and are not paying tax or creating anything for the economy. Simple stuff.

Bevan understood that nothing was possible without power. Balls gets that too. He needs to get his message across to the country to ensure voters get it.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

VAT hits the poorest hardest

The Tories and their Lib Dem pals would never admit it, but we all know that VAT costs poorer people harder than rich. As a flat tax, paying the same fee as a sales tax will always be a greater portion of a lower paid person's income than someone with higher earnings.

George Eaton at the New Statesman aptly demonstrates:


Spending patterns differ between people with different earnings. That was the riposte I received from both Tories and Lib Dems when debating this after the election. Their smugness shielded them from the reality.

Eaton's analysis of the ONS work shows that the poorest 20% of earners are spending the equivalent of 10% on their income on VAT. Thise in the top 20% pay just 6%.

The Tories are a risk you cannot afford. They cost you more. We're not all in this together.

The attack of the Trip Advisors

Last night's Channel 4 documentary the "Attack of the Trip Advisors" showed a ranged of disgruntled businesses who felt unfairly treated by customer review sites.

This probably strikes a chord with politicians who frequently complain about media attention, some fairly, sometimes not so. Social media has increased the intensity by widening the scope of people who comment and hold both businesses and politicians to account.

Recent complaints about the media from politicians include Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Liam Fox.

Hoteliers and restaurateurs complaining about social media review sites publicly airing criticism of their businesses strikes me as rather out of touch. In the past people would have had no redress if they didn't like the service. Now they can stop others from suffering the same fate. It also gives businesses more opportunity to rectify problems because they get feedback they wouldn't otherwise have had.

Hotels, restaurants, shops or politicians should be no different from each other. Feedback and being held to account should enable you to become stronger, offer a better service, closer to what people actually want.

For people in positions of authority, or business owners, social media can seem like the extension of the surveillance society. I'm sure there are unfair or unrepresentative reviews, just as there are in any situation. For the bigger brands and well known politicians there tends to be a critical mass where those that offer a good service tend to be highly regarded online. Those with customer service problems tend to suffer negative sentiment.

The hotels, restaurants or banks that tend to get it right tend to get good reviews. Most reviews are positive, with an average Trip Advisor score of 4/5. Politically most blogs are partisan, with each side attacking the other and defending their own.

I don't have a problem with it and I don't think anyone else should. All of those under scrutiny need to get with the times.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Nick Clegg calls for referendum on Europe

The big story of the last week has been the potential rift in the coalition between the anti-Europe Tories and the pro-Europe Lib Dems. Driving a wedge between his party and his location partners  Nick Clegg said to the Daily Telegraph: 

"For as long as I've been in politics, the Conservative Party has had a bee in its bonnet about Europe.
"I think eurosceptics need to be careful what they wish for. We as a country are massively dependent on a successful Europe for our own prosperity, British jobs, for money in people's pockets. Every step towards the exit sign will lead to lower confidence in the British economy.
Given that and how the media continually portrayed the Lib Dems as the only party united on Europe, in favour of great British participation in the EU and against a referendum on membership, many will wonder why Clegg was pledging a referendum himself just last year. 
This is not just a surprise for everyone who thought Clegg was against a referendum on EU membership but also highlights, if we really needed to do it again, the duplicitous nature of Clegg's "i'll do anything for a vote" Lib Dem opportunists. 
Remember that the same 2010 election was the one in which Clegg and his candidates personally signed pledges not to increase student tuition fees. No this. Voters will be left wondering what Clegg really stands for? It certainly isn't clarity or consistency.

Homelessness could rise

Housing minister Grant Schapps today launched his social housing "swap" scheme. What struck me about that was the obvious questions, isn't there already a swap scheme? There is indeed.

There is an acute housing shortage. In places like Islington there is a huge lack of family sized affordable homes. Private rents are the highest in London. Overcrowding is rife.  More housebuilding is needed, yet the Tory government has cut capital finding to build new social homes from £8.4bn to £4.4bn this year

The average age of first time buyers has now reached 35 because of high prices and a lack of credit from banks.

Fewer homes will get build while a return of right to buy will mean an ever diminishing supply. The problem will only get worse under the Tories. Worsening economics, higher unemployment, will this also mean more homeless people?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Racist Tory rumours

The Barnet Eye blog reports that a Tory Barnet councillor, John Hart "BA (Hons) MA" has been hauled before the borough's standards committee for allegedly making racist comments to constituents at the  Hendon and District residents' forum.

That sounds unwise, out of touch and very stupid. Why is it that there still seems to be a catalogue of Tories who believe this rubbish? Why is it that they think it is OK to spout such nonsense in public?

If he is found guilty, what punishment will the standards committee bestow on him? What about the Tory party? There have been far too many Tories caught making similar comments, who have apologised for being either misquoted, misunderstood or unaware that what they said is wrong.

It is time to draw the line and show that the Cameroons are different. Unlike many of the Tory party's representatives.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Should we have a referendum on EU membership?

Every time I hear a Europhobic Tory MP tell us how the country is crying out for a referendum on the UK's continued membership of the EU I wonder which people they are talking about. I really don't think most ordinary people worry about it that much.

Tory MPs are not ordinary people though and they are absolutely obsessed with the EU. The last two elections have seen a marked increased in anti-Europe MPs being elected for the Tories, making them a much more anti-party today than they were in the 1990s when the issue ripped John Major's government to pieces. That and the sex scandals.

Just after the 2010 election I appeared on a LBC radio debate. I sat opposite rather smug looking Tory and Lib Dems. They congratulated each other on how the coalition agreement was going to lead to seamless and untroubled governing. I thought otherwise. There is only so much you can pro-actively predict. I suggested then that something would come along, divide the coalition and the Tory party. That would be Europe.

They laughed at me.

How I laugh now.

Whenever opinion polls have asked people whether they want to pull out of the EU, as those Tories calling for a referendum do - this isn't about "choice", it is about going solo - they show a spit country. Today that shows 49% in favour of pulling out and 40% want to keep the status quo. Whether that result would stay the same once people were properly educated about the pros and cons of EU membership is quite another matter.

What we can be certain of is that David Cameron is going to have to waste significant political energy on the issue. This will eat away at energy better spent on fixing a rather broken EU and a creaking British economy. And for him, on trying to stop becoming an ever more unpopular prime minister.

Those anti-European Tories probably don't care about damaging their leader, because in their eyes, he betrayed them by signing up with the Lib Dems.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Crime up again under the Tories

In the 1980s and 1990s crime kept going up. At the time we thought it was just the way society was going. Then in the early 2000s crime started to go down. In the last year, crime has started to go up again. There is a common theme here:

1980s: crime up under the Tories
1990s: crime up under the Tories - peaking in 1992
2000s: crime down under Labour
2011: crime up again under the Tories

When I was growing up the Tories were meant to be the party of  law and order. How is that so when the reality is so starkly different?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Two polls, two stories

Opinion polls can't decide whether the Tories are unpopular or not. At the weekend YouGov, the most accurate at recent elections, put Labour and the Tories only three points apart. If that is so, Labour could be screwed. Unless things get a lot worse, which they look like doing.

According to Populus for yesterday's Times, Labour has romped to an eight point lead over the Tories, leading 41% - 33%. What does this all mean?

Polling isn't accurate. We know that already. We also know that the election isn't for several years. In that time Ed Miliband will or won't make an impact with voters. The economy will get worse and might, but probably won't get better again.

Economic pain and the unpopularity of the Tories and Lib Dems won't be enough for Labour. The big problem is that while people don't like government cuts and hate recessions because it means they get poorer and could lose their jobs, they might not blame the Tories.

Labour is to blame for the economic mess. That is what many will say. The Tories freely offered that line time and again, backed up by the Lib Dems. When they talk about the problems we face now, as things get worse, this is somehow related to a different global economic slump to the one we found ourselves in 2008/9. The Tory message has stuck and Labour hasn't been able to shift it.

Lots of voters still blame Labour. Until an alternative message sticks Labour's poll leads will look vulnerable, especially when boundary changes loaded in favour of the Tories come into effect. Labour is skint too. That means a decent election campaign is beyond the party as it simply can't afford the staff.

Both Labour and the Tories leave much to be desired in the eyes of voters. We have an unpopular government and an untrusted opposition both fighting to get heard. Labour has reasons to worry, as Mark Ferguson and Olly Parker outlined at Labour List, while the Tories do too, as outlined by Tim Montgomerie.

Does this mean Labour supporters should be depressed? Of course not. It simply means that there is everything to play for.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The unknown world of political lobbying

Today's newspaper headlines about attempting to uncover what is being painted as a "murky" world of political lobbying actually says something quite stark about politics. Lobbying isn't new and is a big money business. 

Every major company in the world employs lobbyists, as do all the major charities. Some of the biggest PR firms also have specialist lobbying functions, such as Edelman and Weber Shandwick. What these headlines reveal is an ignorance to the reality and perhaps a faux naivety about the level of business involvement in politics. 

A quick glance at the Association for Professional Political Consultants (APPC), the lobbying trade body for the UK lists 64 member companies and hundreds of staff. While it purports to "ban on any financial relationship with politicians" though clearly we can all see that the lines are blurred. What counts as a financial relationship? A politician might not be getting paid by a lobbyist but will be receiving information, briefings or hospitality. As a £2bn industry, the money has to be paying for something.

As someone who has lots of friends who work as both politicians and lobbyists I've been slightly surprised by the public's shock about this. I thought everyone knew. Clearly that isn't so. I've worked in PR for a number of years, before my recent move into advertising, and it was clear to me that the PR industry, often at the hand of the same companies that lobby politicians, was responsible for influencing journalists to write nice things about them. Yet I don't think most people realise this. 

There is a big difference between the rather unpleasant web of influence that Liam Fox and Adam Werrity's close working relationship through Atlantic Bridge has revealed, and that of companies or charities seeking to inform the policy making process legitimately through lobbying. 

When David Cameron predicted that lobbying would be the "next big scandal" he was right. Though I don't think he hoped it would afflict his own party. He then said he wanted politics to "come clean about who is buying power and influence." As that picture starts to reveal a rather sinister edge to his party, is he so sure he wants the public to know?

The public need to be educated about what actually happens. Politicians then need to decide whether they are happy to continue as they are. The more people learn about lobbying the less they may like. I hope that the legitimate side of lobbying that really does improve and inform government policy making, isn't thrown out with the bath water. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Liam Fox and Dave the ditherer

Every day this week has seen a new litany of allegations against defence secretary Liam Fox. His boss David Cameron says that he is doing a "good job", as if that matters when he has been involved in some seriously questionable behaviour.

Today The Times details the people who have funded Adam Werrity's globe trotting trips to be at his chum Fox's side. The Guardian outlines how Fox and Werrity went to Dubai for Fox's official special advisor Luke Coffrey's stag do, funded by the taxpayer. When Fox is sacking thousands from the military, despite their service to the country, this is deeply offensive.

The big question that leaves a rather dirty stench around the whole affair is why was Werrity a health "expert" when Fox was shadow health secretary, then suddenly changed to become an "expert" in defence when his idol moved to defence?

There is so much circumstantial evidence that should worry Cameron. That this has now been joined by a litany of rich businessmen and foreign officials who have provided concrete evidence to firm this up means Fox has to go.Or the growing list of activities that directly oppose official Foreign Office policy in Sri Lanka that he has supported.

Cameron has spectacularly failed to show himself to be any better than his predecessor, Gordon Brown. Cameron made great political capital out of dubbing Brown a "ditherer". Given how long Cameron dithered over firing the corrupt media man Andy Coulson and now the questionable Fox, who is the ditherer now Dave?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

David Cameron, Liam Fox, Andy Coulson: spot the difference

David Cameron is resisting rising pressure to fire his Defence Secretary Liam Fox. The allegations that Fox and his associate Adam Werrity had a rather unhealthy working relationship continue to dominate the news and to undermine Fox's initial claims that there was nothing in them.

Cameron is trying to divert us all by highlighting what (he believes) a good job Fox is doing. That is irrelevant when Fox has lied and broken the ministerial code. It also marks a distinct change of approach from former PM Tony Blair's management of scandals.

Under Blair and Alistair Campbell's rule, anyone who was making bad headlines for more than two days had to quit. It happened to Peter Mandelson despite him later being found to have done nothing wrong. Fox has whispered a hugely caveated apology, that he clearly felt no reason to give.

The question here is how long will Cameron hang on to a minster in Fox who is now responsible for more than a week of damaging headlines? Cameron has form, after employing Andy Coulson in the first place and then clinging on to him by his fingernails despite a growing storm around him about phone hacking.

What was Cameron's defence? At the time he said Coulson was doing a "good job."

We've heard this before. How many more times will a less than convincing Cameron utter them before cutting his losses with Fox?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

London Olympic stadium farce

The London Olympic Legacy Company is no longer selling the 2012 stadium to West Ham. Cue sigh of relief to West Ham fans. Cue worry from Spurs fans. Cue a sigh of relief and worry from Leyton Orient fans. As a football whore I fall into the latter two categories.

Fans of none of the clubs want to watch football behind a running track. Spurs fans don't want to move to East London and Orient fans deserve better. Having a bigger club dump themselves on your doorstep and then give away thousands of free or reduced tickets to fill an overly large stadium threatens Orient's very existence.

The football authorities should know better. They got it badly wrong in letting Wimbledon "move" and become a new club, with a ready made football league place, with MK Dons in 2004. Letting either West Ham or Spurs move in just a mile away from Orient would be a disaster. Orient are a fantastic example of a community club, having won awards for their work with the locality.

Spurs are playing a game of high brinkmanship. They want to get as much money provided from the public purse for improvements to the Edmonton area to make their own Northumberland Park stadium project "viable". At the same time they don't want anyone else getting a helping hand. They are of course technically right that Newham's proposed £40m loan to West Ham looks very much like a "state aid" (government hand out) to a private company, which is banned by EU law.

The mayor and Olympic legacy company won't want an empty stadium to rot after 2012. That looks likely if a deal for West Ham to rent the stadium doesn't come through. That leaves the same problems, that will be unpopular with fans because the running track will remain and threatens the future of one of London's oldest clubs.

Throughout the whole saga nobody has successfully argued how a 60,000 capacity athletics stadium would be viable in London. I just don't believe there are enough people in London that would want to pay to watch athletics live more than once or twice a year.

The scramble for the Olympic stadium is a race that will have losers whatever the outcome:

  • West Ham move in: Orient struggle, Hammers fans bemoan lack of atmosphere
  • Spurs move in: Orient struggle a bit less, Spurs fans upset at move east
  • Orient move in: Orient struggle in huge stadium
  • Athletics only: huge, over capacity stadium rarely used, taxpayer loses

Friday, October 07, 2011

Racist Tory weekly: issue #7

Two updates this week. First up is an old "friend", Dover councillor Bob Frost, who posted that rioters were "jungle bunnies" on Facebook. This was enough to see him leave his teaching job, but not enough to get him kicked out of the Tory party.

He has this week been reprimanded and warned about his future conduct. Is that it? Someone who doesn't understand that sort of statement to be deeply offensive without having it explained to him doesn't deserve to hold office. It is insulting to the people of Dover that the Tory party are letting him.

Frost himself said, after the event:

"“Looking at the dictionary it would appear that the term jungle bunnies is pejorative and is a racist slur relating to African-Americans. I did not mean to use any offensive racist term and was referring to the urban jungle. As for the bunny bit it was originally ‘animals’ but I thought people might object to me calling fellow humans this so I chose something I thought was innocent and also cuddly.”

Can anyone really believe that?

Next up the one of the faces of the Tory become a councillor campaign. I can't claim the "scoop" here, that is the excellent Political Scrapbook's. Southend councillor Blaine Robin was called out and praised at a meeting of Southend EDL:

When will someone clear out this rubbish from the Tory party or does the leadership not care?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

#cpc11 Cameron & Osborne have no plan B, sort of

The key messages of this week's Tory conference were that the government will stick forthrightly to its debt reduction plan. There will not be any loosening of the purse strings in an attempt to stem the nosediving growth figures.

That much was to be expected. The deficit reduction programme overrides everything else. It seems that it does even when the IMF, economists suck as Irwin Stelzer and the public think it is the wrong approach. Put simply, cutting government spending so sharply has turned off the life support to may parts of the economy. That  means companies lose income from government contracts, rising unemployment means government is paying to support people rather than having them pay taxes.

That George Osborne has allowed the Bank of England to enact another raft of quantitative easing today is very surprising. I'm pleased he did, but it is far from expected. Osborne's single track approach to our economic woes has been to focus on cutting spending and getting the deficit down. Nothing else. He hasn't shown much concern for collapsing consumer demand, so anything like this that seeks to stimulate is, isn't from his manifesto.

Politically this shows Osborne's weakness. While we've seen a show of confidence and strength from the Tories in Manchester this week, scratching the surface reveals a worried party. The Tories are worried that the economy won't get better by 2015. If that happens then nobody will thank them for their harsh medicine of austerity.

Their worries about popularity have led to U-turns on the NHS and now quantitative easing. In 2009 Osborne said:

"(quantitative easing)  an admission of failure and carries considerable risk"

You can see for yourself what Osborne thinks of his own policy on the Conservative Party website. At the very least you'd have thought someone would have thought to take it down to hide a bit of embarrassment before announcing their U-turn and show of weakness wouldn't you? 

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

#cpc11 Nothing new from David Cameron's big speech

David Cameron focused his attention on Labour and Ed Balls in particular, again dubbing him, and Labour, deficit deniers. Balls was the only Labour politician mentioned. This narrative has already stuck and will continue to do so. Labour's fightback is important and very necessary. Cameron tried to tarnish Labour with creating a poor education system, poor immigration and housing systems.

He tried very hard to tarnish Labour's fairness image. The Tories,according to him, are the party of fairness. I doubt anyone will actually believe that. Nevertheless, it is remarkable to hear all the major parties talk about housing so much when it has been ignored for so long. The message from implementing gay marriage was important as it means to show that the Tories are still compassionate.

Unfortunately for all the grand ambition of Cameron's words to make Britain fairer, I just don't believe it. The toxicity of the Tory brand continues and many others won't believe Cameron either.

His delivery was impressive. That sets him apart from Ed Miliband, though the robustness of their respective policies will be what sets them apart in the end, especially when much of their rhetoric was the same.

There wasn't a great deal of substance in his speech.The messaging was more important. Responsibility, for country and community. Unlike the Blair/Brown years we don't seem to get politicians reeling off lists of new initiatives in their big speeches any more.

There was precious little that suggested how Britain's economy will start growing again. This is the major issue facing the country and the answers he gave were weak. Deficit, deficit., deficit. That is all Cameron and the Tories care about. This supersedes helping people struggling with unemployment and rising cost of living.

The expected lack of anything new means we're in for more of the same. The slog is just beginning. A stuttering economy. Party leaders battling over the same, centre ground. Ordinary people struggling. Tough and arduous times are ahead. 

Latest polling shows Labour and Tories unchanged

The latest YouGov poll for The Sun shows that the party conference season has done nothing at all to change support for the main parties:

This reinforces my expectation that we're in for a long, muddy, groggy, slog over the next three and a half years. None of the main parties has hauled themselves away from the 2010 election that they all lost. Each has major reasons to worry and as yet, none are showing that they have the answers to haul themselves clear of their rivals.

Of course, this matters very little. The election isn't tomorrow so there is plenty of time left for the Tories to become more unpopular and to regain popularity if the economy somehow gets better. There is plenty of time too for Ed Miliband to start landing blows on the Tories and to gain credibility with the electorate.

All we know at the moment is that there are a lot of unknowns still there and there is a lot of work to be done to resolve that.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

#cpc11 The Tory band is toxic

The Tories spent a long time telling us all that they had learnt from their mistakes in power. That usually meant saying that they had learnt from their mistakes when in power. Little else. Once they got their swagger back and were given a bit of power they reverted to type.

David Cameron put so much effort into trying to build a compassionate Conservative brand. Remember "hug a hoodie"? Yet when it comes to proving it by what you do in power they show themselves to be a very different beast. That beast is very similar to the one we all remember from the 1980s and 1990s. People didn't like it then and they don't like it now.

New Statesman research suggests that up to 60% of voters would not vote Tory at the next election.


This follows a recent Guardian survey with similar results. That found that 42% of people would never vote Tory, while only 30% would never vote Labour:

IPPR/YouGov poll on voting intentions

Add in the toxicity of the Tory brand to females, who are bearing the brunt of most Tory cuts to family support and benefits and the picture isn't that rosy. The Tories will swagger, but underneath is the nervousness that shows in the frequent U-turns and falling public confidence.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Tories: slick, confident, in government and unpopular

George Osborne's Conservative Party Conference speech today, like yesterday's press interviews exuded confidence. The Tories are presenting themselves in a slick and confident manner. They know where they are going and they won't flinch or falter. They have more money from a wide range of rich financiers, as shown over the weekend, and they are using it to put on a thoroughly polished show.

What you won't hear this week is the anxiety they clearly feel about the worsening economy. Worse still, the effect that will have on the likelihood of them winning in 2015 will not reach our screens.

Being in power gives the Tories a confidence that was missing from 1992 until about 2008. The money that follows power boosts it further. Many of their front bench are also much better TV performers than many in Labour's front bench.

All of this public schoolboy self assurance though doesn't mean they are confident about either the economy or their own prospects. Neither look good. The economy has flat-lined, the unpopularity of their policies will deepen.

People shouldn't be fooled by Tory bravado. I don't expect them to. They exuded this almost complacent sense of triumph before the election as Labour stuttered and they controlled the news agenda. Yet it didn't let them walk into power with the automatic victory they expected.

The Tory compromises and U-turns over the NHS, quantitative easing and whatever else comes up (there will be more) shows they worry about their popularity. It also shows that their "plan" isn't cast iron. Talk of sticking to "plan-A" is the public, conference line, but the reality shows a weak and vulnerable government.

This only matters if Labour can rebuild its own strength up to a position where it can take advantage of Tory weakness. There were many occasions during New Labour's reign when it was weak but continued to govern, almost unchallenged, because the Tory opposition was completely ineffective.

To find that out, we will have to roll on to the next six months and see whether Miliband can strike repeated blows against his cocky opponent, Cameron. Only if that happens do I think the smile will be wiped off Cameron and Osborne's faces. Otherwise they'll continue to exude that public confidence that belies the worries within.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Three and a half years is a long time in politics

The coalition is committed to spending a full I've years in power. They are unpopular and the economy is getting worse. Thy have little option but to hold out for as long as possible in the hope that things get a bit better and that voters thank them for that. This also gives Labour plenty of time in which to sort itself out and to regain credibility. All three parties lost the last election. Labour lost power, the Tories failed to win the election and the Lib Dems failed to take advantage of Cleggmania and lost many seats. At the moment voters are yet to be convinced by Ed Miliband, dislike the Tories and ate struggling to see the point of the Lib Dems. The economy means Labour has to come up with something credible and popular that doesn't cost money they were not able to do that very often in government when Brown was keen to announce new spending on a regular basis as the economy continued to grow. The Tories have little wriggle room. The economy is getting worse. This deprives them of their hoped-for recovery that would erase the bitter memory if austerity from voters' minds. Cameron, like Milband, needs to show radicalism to fans a chance of winning in 2015. That would in turn risk the ire of his own party if he was deemed to be too left wing. It would pease the Lib Dems and also expose them by showing that heir influence is unnecessary to achieve radical policies. Radical would be something we wouldn't normally expect from Tories. More council homes could be the one though given the time it takes to plan and build them I doubt it. Could 2015 follow 2010 to be the election nobody wants to win?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ed Miliband: evolution not revolution

Ed Miliband's conference speech this week didn't represent a breakthrough moment. It shows that he is a leader who has growing potential but he isn't a galactico.

Opinion on both the quality of his speech, its content and plans differ. I noted that many of those who were at the conference we much more impressed than those outside. Of course, many at the conference work closely with Ed and are therefore more likely to agree with him. They often ignored the wooden and unglitzy delivery of the speech. They focused instead on what Ed had to say. Ed, rightly, emphasised at a question and answer session yesterday that he cares more about substance than style. Ultimately that is all that will matter if he gets into power. To reach that point though his delivery and public demeanor will need to continue improving so that voters, people who will never meet him one to one, get to see a bit of the Ed that all those who do meet him know. He cares, gets "it" and is highly personable, much more than his brother. Between them they'd make a perfect leader.

Many of those outside the conference centre and his opponents in the right wing media have kept the question marks up against Ed's leadership. As a result, for the second year running Ed was forced to spend the day after his set piece speech defending himself to the media. Last year it was against the "Red Ed" tags and this year it was stating that he is not anti-business. This is disappointing because it would have been better to have got it right first time and to have planned for the backlash and addressed this directly in the speech.

The content of Ed's speech saw him focus on his values. They are ones that most people will easily be able to identify with, though I'm not sure he can present himself as an "outsider" when he has hardly come from a difficult background. His speech and question and answer session yesterday show that he does understand the key issues voters worry about. His answers also showed someone who knows politically where he needs Labour to fight: against the Tories and for Tory votes, in the centre and not on the left of the political spectrum.

I hope this speech represents the first steps in the right direction for a four to five year journey to a commanding poll lead and election victory. As a leader of potential rather than as a ready made star I don't yet know if that will happen. I hope it does.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More racist Tories

Last week's round up of recent racist Tory comments was I admit, a bit of a cheap shot. There wasn't anything new. This week we have some new content to report. Whoops. Two weeks was obviously too long before it happened again.

The Scottish Herald reported that the editor of a Scottish Conservative site, Stewart Green, had to apologise after making allegedly racist remarks on the Tory Hoose blog, reportedly a Scottish version of Conservative Home. 

An example of Green's tasteless tweets included: 

 “An Asian festival is taking place a few doors up, either that or several cats are being strangled. Can’t quite decide which.”

Why is the Tory party home to such disgusting people?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

#Lab 11 Ed Miliband's speech

Four years from an election the polls don't really matter but they do consistently show that Ed Miliband's leadership is yet to make a breakthrough. In today's speech Labour supporters like me were looking for a breakthrough from Ed. 

Winning back voters trust is central to Labour winning again. Miliband was calm and clear, his delivery has improved and he shows that he understands the issues that worry most ordinary people at the moment. There was a great deal from Ed about what is wrong in Britain at the moment. He cited the likes of Fred Goodwin of RBS as the wrong face of Britain. 

A new bargain for our economy, the something for something deal. "Producers versus predators". Suggested changing tax and regulation of the economy. A system that incentivises those that produce sounds great. Ed made great play of being on the side of business. That is crucial and it was clear that Ed wanted to talk more about business than unions. He then went on to hit the energy companies, moments after hitting bankers. He spoke of wanting to open the "closed circles" of opportunity. 

His delivery was calm and methodical and gave the feeling that he cared. There were lots of promising signs and he has clearly grown into the job. 

A great line was hidden in the middle of his speech. Contrasting the VAT rise with Tory attempts to cut the 50% top tax rate, he said that only David Cameron would make "ordinary people work harder by making them poorer and richest work harder by making them richer."

I can't help feeling that there wasn't enough. Delegates applauded loudly when he said you can't trust the Tories with the NHS. Fine. But this speech needed to be about what the Tories are doing wrong and how Ed's Labour will be better. 

He closed by saying he wanted to fulfil the promise of Britain. Today's speech showed me he knows what is wrong and has some ideas of how to change this. For me this wasn't a breakthrough moment. It was a steady and promising speech, one of potential rather than that of a star who is already there. 

Next for the media reaction...

Tony Blair and Channel 4's Dispatches hatchet

When I was growing up I looked forward to investigative political programmes on TV such as ITV's World in Action, BBC's Panorama and Channel 4's Dispatches. Unfortunately there isn't much left of that once great axis of investigative journalism. Last night's Dispatches about former PM Tony Blair's activities since leaving politics is a sad example of that decline, a cheap re-hash of similar Daily  Mail articles by the same author.

I've been used to Channel 4 giving up its Dispatches programme for biased political hatchet jobs over recent years. Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson and climate change have all been victims of poorly researched, politically motivated attacks. Oborne, like many committed Tories is a fervent Blair opponent, much as Polly Toynbee doesn't like David Cameron very much. Imagine the right wing derision if she led a documentary against their Tory pals?

Blair is an easy target because many people hate Labour, hate Labour being successful and hate Blair for his role in that. Some dislike him for the Iraq war too, which I understand. Right wing Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph writer Peter Oborne likes to link the two, for political purposes.

In last night's programme Oborne claimed that Blair has lobbied on behalf of Palestinian telecom firm Wataniya because of links with investment bank JP Morgan. This is untrue. In his role acting for the Quartet, Blair is charged with enhancing the Palestinian economy. Therefore attracting foreign investment for the project is part of his role, one he has been asked to undertake by the Palestinians. One can read about this on Blair's website.

Oborne was critical of the sums Blair is meant to have earned after leaving politics. Blair's advisers have confirmed to me that these figures are incorrect. Aside from that I don't think it is anyone's business what someone earns after leaving politics - provided they are not in conflict with their previous jobs.

In the light of the Libyan revolution it has become easy to hit Blair for trying to build bridges with the former regime when he was in power. I'm sure Blair would have preferred a more democratic regime to have been in place, but he had to deal with the situation as it was. He should be praised for helping to persuade Gaddafi to give up his chemical and nuclear weapons programme.  It is also preposterous to suggest he had anything to do with the release of Megrahi. Blair has also never had any commercial  relationship with any part of the Libyan government or company.

John Major has made millions since leaving office in his role as a director of the Carlyle Group that made a mint from privatised British defence contracts. Where is the Dispatches about that?

Oborne is obsessed with Blair and has been peddling many of this nonsense for several years in his Daily Mail  and Telegraph columns. It disappoints me that Channel 4 thought it worthy of an hour of their airtime last night.

Monday, September 26, 2011

#Lab11 Ed Balls at conference: state is still the answer

Ed Balls attacked the Tories. His speech was well received by the conference. He repeated his attacks that rising unemployment will stop the deficit being paid off. He said that voters are not interested in Labour's previous record, they worry about making ends meet.

Balls cited Labour's mistakes when in power. Mistakes: 10 tax abolition, tougher migration controls needed, wasted spending and not enough banking regulation.

Nevertheless he went on the attack: "Don't let anyone tell you Labour went into the recession being profligate with public money". British debt was lower than elsewhere. He blamed the economic crisis on bankers, not on public spending. He blamed the worsening economic position on the Tories. He said that "austerity is an abdication of responsibility" by the government and one that hits the poorest hardest. 

He equalised Labour's mistakes with bigger Tory mistakes: included wasting billions on unnecessary NHS reorganisation, which is choking off the recovery when it needs it least.

Balls' gung-ho approach can win over people already committed to Labour. Will it win over those voters who switch between Labour and Tory? Labour needs their support to win power. That depends on who they believe was responsible for the Tory framed debt crisis. It also depends on if they believe Labour can make their lives better and protect their standard of living in the future.

Balls listed five steps he called on the government to take, which they won't. More taxes on bankers to support young people into work. Invest in infrastructure. Cut VAT on home improvements. Reverse VAT rise.National Insurance tax break for small businesses taking on new workers.

This is the first time under Ed Miliband's leadership we've heard specific commitments that takes account of the lack of money available but still offers to help people in difficult times. It is clear that he still believes the state is the answer to both the economic and cost of living problems we face.

Balls on the attack is the most ferocious member of the shadow cabinet. It is clear he can achieve the cut through with the media that perhaps his boss, Miliband, hasn't been able to. Both of them suffer from a closeness to Brown. Balls has to convince voters he has the answers for the future and that he understands the analysis of the past that says Labour didn't get it all right.

"Britain is no safe haven" under the Tories he repeated. He is clearly going to take the argument to them.

Refounding Labour @ #Lab11

The Labour Party desperately needed a new lease of life by the time 2010 brought election defeat. Being a party member means different things to different people but it is clear that whatever your view the structures and rules of the party needed a refresh. Ed Miliband's response was Refounding Labour, a wide consultation asking members for their views about how the party should work.

Personally I find it tiresome that being a Labour member often means spending at least one evening a week at a meeting. It is important that the Labour Party provides members an opportunity to debate local and political issues and I understand that there is always a certain level of administration, news and decision making that any local party needs to get through.

Unfortunately though I feel this structure of ward meetings, consistency general meetings, constituency executive meetings, local government meetings added to campaign meetings and whatever else one might have volunteered for leads to boredom and fatigue.

Given the many pressures on most peoples' time these meetings put a strain on how much time people can give to the party. If I go to all of these meetings and I want to also remain committed to my job, family, have a social life and commit enough time to sorting out my own personal administration there isn't much left. And people wonder why members don't attend meetings.

After attending all of these meetings I then have no time left to go campaigning. If Labour doesn't campaign Labour doesn't win and it doesn't meet the electorate. The meeting culture makes being a member almost self defeating because it doesn't prioritise the most important aspect - campaigning.

Peter Hain's conference speech yesterday alluded to changing the party to be focused on campaigning. This is encouraging but Refounding Labour needs to bring about  a huge cultural shift in the party too. Making sure councillors and MPs campaign is a start but it isn't enough.

I'm looking for Miliband and Hain to bring about wholesale changes though I suspect that won't happen, which disappoints me greatly.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The racist Tory weekly

The Friday racist Tory bulletin is become a regular feature on this site. Over recent weeks I've featured:

Could I really make it five weeks in a row? Unfortunately not. The Tories have given me a week off as they prepare for their party conference. Instead Tory run Basildon council is facing claims that its action against the illegal traveller site at Dale Farm is racist from many. Though the issue isn't easy for any council is should and could have been handled much better.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Does the UK work the longest hours in Europe?

I'd traditionally been led to believe that the UK worked the longest hours in Europe. This made us grumpy, tired and less productive than our European cousins. Finland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic and Slovakia all work more hours each year than us in the UK. Obviously, people in France do work far fewer hours than us, so some stereotypes are true...


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ed Miliband's conference message

I have just received Ed Miliband's pre-conference message. Watch it.

He sets out the key values that we should be hearing much more about over the next couple of weeks.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Do party conferences matter?

Conference season traditionally gives each of the main parties a week of owning the news and, they hope, a poll boost. They are also the time when leaders with something still to prove are expected to show they mean business. A bad conference can damage both credibility and popularity.

Gordon Brown had several "make or break" conferences, according to the commentariat anyway. It didn't make any difference. His first as leader saw him hint at a snap election, only to back down and to gain him the unwanted reputation as a "ditherer". He was unable to shift that tag.

Ed Miliband will enter his first conference as leader level in the polls with the Tories, or with a small lead, depending on which one you read. Your interpretation also flavours the results. Miliband's approval ratings might have gone down recently, but he is still the least unpopular between himself, Clegg and Cameron. His personal ratings are also similar to those Cameron received when he'd been in charge for a year.

A good speech will help his image, which has been a problem. The only way he'll really make headway in voters' minds though is through consistently saying the right thing and responding effectively to political events. He did well during the outbreak of the hacking scandal, more is needed. The political village gets excited every week at prime ministers questions, while it passes much of the country by. Conference season is little different.

Clegg's Lib Dems are failing to reap the benefit of being in coalition, with poll after poll still showing that around half of those who voted for them at the last election won't do so again. Lib Dem conference won't do anything to change that. Much as a bad conference for Miliband will lead to the same headlines being trotted out about his "poor leadership" and a good one will excite his friends and go unnoticed by most people.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Racist Tory...again

Every Friday for the last month I've Googled "racist Tory" and every week news of another inappropriate comment has emerged. How long will this go on for? What does it say about Cameron's Conservatives that they seem stuck with a party full of old men with a 1950s colonialist racist attitude to the world?

Another Friday and another report of racist comments made by a Tory. This time it is the slightly more significant Deputy Mayor Richard Barnes who is having his judgement and ethics being questioned. According to the Daily  Mirror, Barnes is alleged to have said, in the wake of the London riots, a highly sensitive time for the city: "why did police put Persil in the water cannon? To stop the colours running."

Not funny and plain racist.

After a member of staff complained Barnes is now under investigation.

Remember that Barnes is the same Deputy Mayor that you will remember recently made racist comments about Irish people, so this is potentially his second offence in just three months.

How long before Boris Johnson cuts him adrift? Or would he rather keep a racist deputy than lose yet another, having already lost three?

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Bus fares when Boris Johnson came into power in 2008 were 90p per journey. In January he is putting them up to £1.40. That is a staggering 56% increase. Over the same period retail price inflation was just 13%.Tube and train fares in London will also go up by about 7-8%.

In 2008 my zones one and two Oyster single from Finsbury Park to Moorgate costed me £2. It now costs £2.50 and in January will cost me £2.70. That is an increase of 35%. You can see details of all next year's fares on the Mayor's site.

Stacking rises onto bus journeys, as BJ has done hits the poorest Londoners hardest as they rely more heavily on the cheapest form of public transport and make shorter journeys.

We all understand that government budgets are under increased pressure at the moment. That in itself though doesn't excuse Boris' eye-watering fares hike. Unfortunately, despite promising in 2008 to give Londoners "more bang for their buck" Johnson hasn't delivered.

Wasteful Boris is squandering our cash on a host of vanity projects at the very time when we can least afford them:

  • The new routemaster, more expensive and carries fewer passengers than bendy buses - and where are they? £2.27m per bus, plus all the costs of ending bendy bus contracts early...
  • Thames cable car - who wanted this? Entertainment group AEG were happy to pay for their own when bidding for the dome, but now Boris is getting us to pay for it - at least £57m at latest estimates
  • Cycle hire scheme - reports suggest that this loses £10m a year
  • Squandering up to £70m of revenue by scrapping the Western extension of the congestion charge to appease his Tory buddies in zone one Kensington and Chelsea

The Tories hit you in the pocket. Their supposed fiscal expertise comes down to stealth taxes and an increased cost of living. That's OK though as the millionaires in David Cameron's cabinet and Boris Johnson don't use public transport anyway, so at least they are going to be OK.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Shirley Porter would be loving this

Politicos have long anticipated the Tory instigated boundary review and seat reduction. Now that the provisional plans have been released, they show what those of us on the left suspected: a reduction in seats benefits the Tories.  Britain's political boundaries, like those in many other countries such as the USA, mix geographical areas with common identities together with artificial political boundaries. That these are being shaken up doesn't matter that much as people will get used to the change.  What matters is the motivation behind these changes. To this end I can only see political advantage to the Tories driving this.  Citing a reduced cost of politics might sound amiable but it doesn't work when set against a higher social cost of having fewer MPs. This is especially so in urban areas, where most of the reduction is happening. This is why Labour and the Lib Dems are facing the greatest losses.  Modern MPs who do their jobs properly act as social workers for their constituents dealing with a host of problems, from immigration cases to housing. Lengthening the queues to see the remaining MPs doesn't make sense.  It also doesn't make democratic sense as it takes our representatives further away from voters. With his supposed classical liberal credentials I wonder how Nick Clegg let this through. Then I remember how he gambled everything to get the AV referendum. He lost that, his party will lose from the seat reduction. Unfortunately voters will too.  - Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, September 09, 2011

Racist Tory sacked

Dover Tory cllr Bob Frost who recently claimed he didn't realise calling rioters "jungle bunnies" was racist and offensive has lost his job as a secondary school teacher. Fair enough. Why is the local Tory party still "investigating"? What he said was clearly racist, he has shown he didn't understand that by not apologising "unreservedly" as he claims by sticking in the disclaimer "I did not mean to use any racist term."

He is either naive or more likely telling fibs.

Time for the Tories to show that they understand what Frost doesn't and give him the boot.  

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Will Cameron take Britain out of the EU?

The profile of Tory MPs is now weighted towards those in favour of the UK pulling out of the EU. As news reports show them getting more serious about organising their anti-European campaigning, will David Cameron be made to pay for buying their votes to win his leadership election?

At today's prime minister's questions, when asked by Tory MP Mark Reckless if Britain should pull out of the EU Cameron repeated his oft muttered line that the UK needs to re-assess its relationship with the EU to get the best deal from it.

What does this mean for Britain's future relationship with the EU? Anti-Europe Tory MPs want out and they are a sizeable bunch. They are already frustrated at the influence of the pro-European Lib Dems on a government they'd prefer to be pure-Tory. This leaves them without influence both because Cameron has to compromise with his coalition partners to stay in power and also because those Lib Dem votes mean he doesn't need to compromise with his own Tory right wing to get his legislation through.

My expectation is that their calls for a drastic pull out will fall on deaf ears as Cameron like those before him realises that to do so isn't easy or advisable. Continued problems in the Eurozone will weaken the current EU model but not fatally. The stronger northern European economies such as Germany, Britain and the Nordics will be able to exert more influence than those which have been ripped apart by the collapse of their economies.  

This means Britain can become more powerful and gain more from throwing its weight around. I expect Cameron to make the most of that but to keep Britain in the EU. If he wins a slim majority at a 2015 election his position will be weakened and that of the anti-Europeans in his party strengthened leaving the prospect of am more anti-European government than that of John Major who had more pro-Europeans for support than Cameron will have.

Cameron doesn't want to take Britain out of the EU but his party wants him to. At the moment they don't have the power but that could all change.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Captain Darling's weapon

Anthony Seldon's article in yesterday's Evening Standard was spot on in its analysis of Gordon Brown's strengths and weaknesses, in the news again following the release of Alistair Darling's book.

Darling has told us that Brown had no plan for government after spending years focusing on ousting Tony Blair. Brown was a nightmare to work with at times. Most of the cabinet except Ed Balls wanted Brown to quit but didn't force him out. This much we know. He also reacted to the global financial crisis superbly and led an international response. This much many of us knew and many dispute for political reasons.

Darling's book is interesting because he is such a reserved, measured and careful politician. Anything he says has to be taken seriously. Though there doesn't look to be much revelatory content in his book it does bring the Brown years to live in even more detail. It also gives the Tories a bit more mud to sling at Ed Balls who has again been heavily implicated in much of the negativity attributed to Brown.

Politically Labour still has work to do to establish economic credibility. That Darling and Brown disagreed with be played out as Balls making the wrong call. Balls is big enough to deal wit the blows he now expects to receive. It is going to be interesting to see how this is played out in the polls and whether voters really care about arguments that bother those in the Westminster bubble.

Friday, September 02, 2011

The greatest newspaper in the world

The Daily Express is according to itself. It seems to have moved on from Princess Diana's untimely death and is back to competing with the Daily Mail about scroungers. Today's front page made me chuckle:

I agree that it is scandalous that so many don't have work. What does the Express think we should do about it?  Either this is, as the Express claims, because of a culture of welfare dependency, or perhaps a symptom of post recession rising unemployment. Something that is happening worldwide.

I'm worried about John Cleese too. Has he only just noticed that London is an international city or that it is in Britain?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

A Lib Dem future?

Ed Miliband and many in the Labour Party still feel that an olive branch to disaffected Lib Dems is a path back to redemption. There are votes to be had at the Lib Dem's expense though I doubt these will be sufficient. Recent Guardian/ICM polling shows that Labour and the Tories are neck and neck. Something else needs to give Labour the poll surge it needs to stand a chance at the next election.

Tories on the right will be keen to drive open divisions in the coalition as it still rankles with them that they don't rule alone. 

The Lib Dems claim they are exerting a moderating influence on the Tories. The polls suggest people think otherwise. 

Lord Adonis told that he wants Labour and the lefty Lib Dems to be closer aligned. Despite not fitting in with their Orange Book colleagues, these MPs and supporters find it difficult to reconcile their differences with Labour, either because they hold a 1980s grudge or because they feel that Labour in government was too authoritarian. 

I can't envisage any significant shifts in the party political boundaries in the near future. The Tories are keen to show that their tough medicine will help the country in the long term and want to win and govern alone at the next election. The Labour Party needs to be attractive enough to win votes from Tory voters in addition to the demotivated on the left. The Lib Dems are desperately trying to hold their nerve in government in the hope that people thank them in the end. As Rafael Behr points out, Nick Clegg "can't be ignored." Labour and the Tories hope voters think otherwise and that still seems likely.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Politics is bankrupt

Labour is £10m in debt and the proposed changes to party political funding threaten its future further. If donations are capped at £50k then the party, so heavily reliant on trade union funding, wouldn't be able to operate.

Blair tried to move away from the union dependency, unsuccessfully. He instead sought funding from wealthy businesses. That ended in tears with the cash for honours "scandal." Rob Marchant highlights that Blair regretted not reforming the party more to put it on a more stable future footing. That opportunity was missed, leaving the party vulnerable to a Tory Lib Dem pincer movement.

The simple reform that would have stopped this becoming a problem of debt and trade union funding would have been state funding of political parties. This was the favoured option of the man who led the most recent investigation into political funding in the UK, Sir Christopher Kelly. Yet his recommendations were deemed unpalatable.

Given that politics is already largely funded by state money in paying for MP's researchers and caseworkers, plus opposition support and civil servants it would be more honest to do this properly and openly. I'm sure most voters don't realise this at all. It is unhelpful that many of these costs are currently described as MPs' expenses, when office costs and those for moat cleaning are quite different.

That the Tories and Lib Dems are even in a position to push through a chance that would have such a one sided impact on party politics shows how wrong the system is. We need something fair and independent of parties that means politicians and favour can't be bought. Yet nobody seems to be making this case.

Politics will become morally and financially bankrupt if this happens. It leaves the door open for a future scandal. That in turn will only put people off politics even more and close the opportunity for the only honest solution available.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Where is your society Cameron?

Cameron expressed shock and anger at the riots, like us all. Unfortunately he has talked Britain and our sense of community down since. Now that the initial shock should have passed we need to focus on understanding what happened and why. Bringing back the cheap slogan of "Broken Britain" won't help that. 
Tony Blair's response to the riots was right and highlighted where David Cameron has failed to understand British society. Blair highlighted that the reaction to rioting, with mass clean ups and funds to help victims tells us more about our society than the rioters do. 

"Broken Britain" turns a society where community is valued to one where there is no community. Cameron's rhetoric has echoes of Margaret Thatcher's claim that "there is no such thing as society." Perhaps that is because Cameron and his millionaire cabinet colleagues have never lived in an ordinary community.

Cheap jibes at the expense of community from Cameron doesn't surprise me as he is a Thatcherite to the core but it goes against the compassionate Conservatism language he used a couple of years ago. This shows that to be acting and that he has now reverted to type. 

What British society needs is a reaffirmation of community. Talking it down, denigrating the sense of togetherness that most people feel about where they live won't make things better. If we all bar our windows and stay at home every night for fear of a feral youth attacking us there will be no point in living in any of our cities.

If Cameron wants to lead he needs to show that he has moved on from the opportunist rhetoric of opposition drawn up by Andy Coulson and start to show he has a positive vision of the country. Panic and derision will only lead us into the gutter.