The Thick of It


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Party funding debate has be impartial

After last week's revealing of the party accounts showed Labour falling back on it's trade union partners and the Tories on wealthy individuals for support, today's newspapers report again that the Tories want to put a £50,000 cap on donations.

The Tories and Lib Dems claim such a move would remove big money from politics. It would also rip the historic heart out of the Labour Party. The party was formed from trade unions and ordinary working people have a say in the party as affiliated members. Taking that away would create an artificial imbalance in UK politics. I can't believe that the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life will settle for this.

Unfortunately I don't expect the committee to recommend the only radical change that would stop cash for favours on all sides, state funding.

The Tories always paint the union link to Labour as some sort of sinister connection. The union link makes Labour more democratic and representative of more ordinary people than the other UK parties.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

The state of political party finances

This morning's newspapers were full of reports of who was funding our political parties. Labour, £10m in debt, is even more reliant on trade union funding than before. The Tories have continued to rely on wealthy businessmen. The Lib Dems didn't have that much at all.

I also read that Tory super-doner Lord Ashcroft has just been given responsibility for reviewing Britain's considerable military presence in Cyprus. The Lib Dems are not happy about that. Ashcroft has bought his influence.

That these two stories appeared on the same day further stoked the strong but little heard argument for state funding of political parties in the UK. While big business or trade unions bankroll politics there will always be the accusation that they buy influence. Cash for questions, cash for honours, Ashcroft. The list of suspicious political funding has a long history and won't stop any time soon.

The only argument I hear against state funding is that voters who don't like politicians will like paying for them even less. That doesn't wash. Voters hate dirty politics and if paying a small amount to fund political parties and election campaigns cleans it up, then it is a price worth paying.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Finding the Tory switchers

I wrote yesterday of how Labour needs to target Tory voters to stand any chance of winning power again. The reduction in the number of MPs will only strengthen the need to focus on this. It is only by winning seats from Tories that Labour will stand a chance.

As much as I and many others have revelled in the pitiful state of the Lib Dems, the real enemy has always been their Tory masters.

Caroline Flint wrote for Progress that  Labour has "to reach out beyond our traditional heartlands" to create a real progressive majority. She points out that of the top 100 Labour target seats, 83 are currently Tory. Appealing to these Tory voters has to be the central plank of Labour policy and communications in the next couple of years. Looking at the recent English local election results it is clear that the party is not reaching these people currently.

Ed Miliband will have to blend to aspects as he attempts to drive Labour forward. They are often viewed as mutually exclusive, but I don't agree. Renewing the left of Britain and making Labour a party that rewards talent, is at the centre of our communities, campaigns (and doesn't just talk in dull meetings) can sit hand in hand with appealing to England's centre ground - being aspirational, fair on immigration and winning the economic argument back from the Tories.

Re-founding Labour is a good start but won't be enough as the party has to revitalise without and within.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Miliband to woo Tories?

I always find it interesting when someone suggests that the cure to all of the Labour Party's ills is to copy what Tony Blair did. This interests me because I generally agree but also because doing that is so difficult when finding a leader as talented as he is very difficult.

Aping Blair's style might not be right almost twenty years later but Dan Hodges is right that we would do well to heed political lessons from him. Quite simply people who vote Tory need to vote Labour instead. Wealthy people and those in the south. Picking up votes from disgruntled lefties will be insufficient and likely to end in a William Hague-esque core vote strategy. This is even more important if Labour can't win in Wales and Scotland, traditional suppliers of swathes of Labour MPs in Westminster.

How is this going to happen? Labour needs to be realistic about how it plans to win and smell the coffee. That will tell them that it needs to win in England and it needs to win over Tories, otherwise it is curtains.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The NHS:The end of the public service ethos

The point of the NHS is that it is free at the point of use. Nobody is expected to pay directly for their healthcare, it is paid out of central taxation. Another central principle is that the NHS doesn't exist for profit. What we pay in taxes shouldn't be creamed off to pay dividends instead of patient care. This is the pubic service ethos. The Tories plans for the NHS eat away at this.

Today's reports that one of David Cameron's aides Mark Britnell would be a "big opportunity" for the private sector show that the government's (not publicly stated) aim is to chip away at the public service ethos in the NHS. It strikes me that the point in these reforms is to allow the private sector a greater role in NHS service provision. This makes it likely that the private sector will cream off the profitable parts and leave the state to pick up and pay for the rest. Chipping away at the public service ethos is also likely to chip away at the quality of care given to patients as the profit motive encourages the cutting of corners.

Politicallly Britnell's comments demonstrate an extreme naivety about how people feel about the NHS. It also suggests that Cameron's proclaimed "love" for the NHS isn't the same love shared by the rest of the country. Cameron's advisor's comments were not off guard, off the record or mis-quoted. They show what the Tories really want to do to the NHS. They want to part privatise it.

The "pause" in the NHS reforms were just that. Nothing will change, the same reforms will happen, just a little later. Politically the result will be the same. As the Mirror reports that 62% of people are against the reforms, added to all of the professional bodies, this is yet another unpopular and unnecessary Tory policy. How will the Lib Dems react? They won't be able to stop it no matter how vociferous their complaints. Cameron is ploughing on regardless.

At least today's comments showed the Tories' true intentions, nobody can say they didn't realise what they were planning to do when the NHS gets sold off.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A year in Condemnation

The Liberal Demolition shows no sign of letting up. First there were the glory day(s) in the Rose garden at number ten. Then the betrayals, then the bickering, then the elections.

While repeated blows have landed on the Lib Dems and while they have been serious the victim is more likely to suffer a slow and drawn out death than a knock out punch. The Lib Dems will last to 2015 because whatever happens between now and the next election, like John Major's rebel turkeys, his disgruntled party can't risk a general election that would see them wiped out.

After founding of the coalition David Laws did his best to show that this wasn't "Cleggameron's" new politics as he thieved the taxpayer for several years for rent he didn't have to pay. That Clegg placed the his party's integrity at the behest of what he would have known would be a very unpopular Tory government shows how much he wanted to give his party their raison d'etre: electoral reform. He gambled everything for this. He lost. What has he got left? He has his party to save.

How can Clegg do this? Strong words in public but capitulations in private letting the Tories get their way will only weaken their cause. The real test is whether they can stem the Tory zeal for deep public spending cuts, especially as economic indicators worsen in the coming 12 months.

There is little Cameron will want to do to change the coalition. His government retains control of policy, the top jobs and the blame for anything bad always sits with the Lib Dems. After the initial disappointment of failing to get a majority at the general election a year ago, things could hardly be better for Cameron and his Tories.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Boris Johnson = trash

I find it somewhat odd that mayor Boris Johnson today praised the Transport for London management for negotiating an end to next week's planned tube strikes with the RMT.

Remember that this is the mayor which I liken to a boxer before a big bout. Great on the trash talk. Unfortunately for London, he failed to deliver on this. Remember that this is the mayor that promised to end strikes on the tube and has since been too politically pig headed to hold even a single meeting with any of the tube unions. Responsible governing means he should have done this, despite his political hatred of all the RMT stand for.

Today's statement from Johnson was just another load of trash from a mayor who has achieved nothing for London. He deserves to be knocked out in 2012.

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