Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Why Iain Dale is wrong about Parliament Square

I must confess I like Iain Dale, he is one of those few Tories who is prepared to argue stuff rather than just restate things over and over again Gobbels-style like most Tories do.

So it is bearing this in mind that I have to respectfully disagree with his blog post today about the protest camp in Parliament Square. Iain argues that this is unslightly and a disgrace and that we should not allow it. Falling back for a moment into traditional Tory mode he derides those who disagree with his position as being "lefties" and associates by implication those who occupy this space as scroungers and the like. Strangely he also argues that the camp is effectively denying others the right to use the square, although quite what anyone else would want to do in the middle of a roundabout that is busy 24/7 is beyond me.

However his view on this is taken from a typically Tory POV; Tories have never had to struggle to get their message heard by large numbers of people, if not by everyone in the UK. The protesters in Parliament Square have never had that luxury. They do not have right-wing billionnaires who own national newspapers trumpeting every inch of their cause; The Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, the Sun, The Daily Express, the Times, the Evening Standard, Sky News, etc, etc, etc...

Those who wish to have issues raised which the super-rich owners of these papers do not want to have discussed find themselves effectively censored, their arguments not publicised their activities unknown to huge swathes of the population. Let me give you an example of this censorship.

A week or so before polling day this year, a friend of mine felt compelled to go public about one of the Tory candidates, one Philippa Stroud, the Tory candidate for Sutton & Cheam and now one of Theresa May's special "advisers" (and I thought the government was supposed to have been cutting out such 'consultants'). She related how Stroud had funded a church in which gay and trans people could be taken for strange voodoo-like religious rituals to "cure" them of their homsexuality or to "fix" their gender identity "problems". She felt compelled to do this because David Cameron had been at pains to tell everyone how much the Tories had changed and were no longer the homophobic bigots many of them quite clearly are.

Stroud was living proof that the Tories' "liberal" approach to human rights was neither as firm nor as embedded as Cameron would have liked us to believe. This information being made public just before an election could have deterred a lot of people from voting Tory on the mistaken premise that the hateful bigots were no longer part of modern "progressive" Conservatism; that interesting and ultimately meaningless contradiction in terms. Apart from the Observer this story was reported nowhere, with the notable exception of the Telegraph (which prides itself on the quality of news, even news which sometimes undermines its own editorial positions). Nobody ran it. It was effectively censored.

Just to compare, so that the argument cannot be made that it was not important enough, the story about a no-hope, maverick Labour candidate in an unwinnable constituency, who had been disowned not only by his local party but by his own mother, criticising Gordon Brown made headlines everywhere at the same time.

So people who espouse causes which do not fit into the manufactured news agenda of the wealthy far-right supporters of the Tory party are familiar with the concept of the artificial invisibility of some information, stories and arguments. As such the only means they have at their disposal to publicise them is to use tactics such as occupying prominent places, so this is very much a free speech issue. Free speech, is only an academic right, if no-one else can hear you. It becomes a huge issue when certain information is deliberately and systematically censored by self-appointed private-sector censors; "Banned in Boston" still lives on today in the UK media. Until the media in the UK becomes less one-sided, more democratic and stops resorting to censoring information it doesn't like, the existence of the demonstration in Parliament Square will be as justified as the existence of Iain Dale's blog.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Time for Action for Labour is NOW!

The leadership and membership of the Labour Party need to wake up and get their act together extremely quickly. There is a political disaster for the people of this country about to happen and only swift, intelligent and careful action by the Labour leadership (together with the Lib Dem leadership) can prevent it from happening.

The Threat

People seem almost oblivious to the real threat to the prosperity and wellbeing of the people of this country. It is not the economic crisis or even an Icelandic volcano. It is the Tory proposals on constituency reform. Their proposals would result in a system with an inbuilt Tory majority which would be impossible to defeat. We are looking at perpetual Tory government with Labour, or indeed, any other party would never be able to break down.

The Tory Plan

The Tories will never concede electoral reform in a pact with the Lib Dems. As such it has to be expected that there will be no coalition with them and the Lib Dems will be forced to try a coalition with Labour and other smaller parties. It is at this point when the Tories and their friends in the media start to rock the boat in every direction possible. The statesmanlike pose that Cameron displays will disappear into a kind of aloof sniping, with the press barons hacking away at the Rainbow coalition as hard as they can. In other words any coalition will need to be rock solid if it is to resist the Tory Political Establishment’s drive for another election as early as possible, in the knowledge that they have loads of money and the other two parties are broke.

Resistance and cooperation is the only solution

A Rainbow coalition would need to work and work quickly and it would need to get electoral reform on the statute books as fast as possible, with or without a referendum and in the face of enormous bully-boy tactics of the multibillionaire media barons who support the Tories. For this to happen the Labour Party needs to do the following;

  • 1. An urgent leadership contest while Brown serves as caretaker leader.
  • 2. Adoption of Proportional Representation as a matter of party policy
  • 3. Ditching some of the most unpopular policies such as ID cards
  • 4. To be ready to form an electoral pact with the Lib Dems

The reasons for this are as follows;

Brown is too easy a target for the media. Someone new with a good media manner who can deal with the media onslaught and be listened to by the public and who can be ready to fight any subsequent election at very short notice.

PR is going to be the only way ahead for the UK, the old system cannot cope any more, failure to adopt it will eventually result in the Tories gerrymandering their own system which will result in 15 or 20 years of unchallenged Tory rule. Everything labour has fought for, all the positive changes we have introduced, will amount to nothing.

With both parties out of funds the only way we would be able to fight a short-notice election this year would be to adopt an electoral pact which would mean that, in some constituencies Labour candidates would not stand in order for the Lib Dem candidate to be given a clear run at the Tories and vice versa in seats where Labour was the main challenger. Some sort of local or regional twinning might be necessary. This would obviously put some noses out of joint but would stop the Tories in their tracks.

Let me also put it another way; if we don’t do it now we will have to do it in five, ten or fifteen years’ time. Only then we will have had five, ten or fifteen years of Tory cuts, crime and economic misrule. Collaboration will have to be the norm from now on unless Labour wants to leave the population of the country to the mercy of a particularly nasty right wing political-media establishment which will tear the fabric of our society apart, and which will be impossible to dislodge.

This is the time when politicians can really show their mettle, this is the time for great deeds, sacrifice and fortitude. The alternative does not bear thinking about.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

“A Small, Closed and Restricted Offer”, and other Excuses

There is no sense in dealing with the Tories; they have form for lying and will stab Clegg in the back over PR. A much better deal with Labour could be worked out...

As Nick Clegg talks to Cameron about his inappropriately described “big open and comprehensive offer” he would do well to take the utmost care. Unless he comes away with the promise of an immediate binding referendum on electoral reform, as a bare minimum, he might just as well not have campaigned in the election. Anything less will cost him votes and his reduced number of seats will further dwindle, he will end up the worst loser.

I say ‘immediate’ because agreement on a referendum a couple of years or even months down the line would give the Tories the chance to stab him in the back and call another election whenever they can find an excuse to do so. Let’s face it, the very last thing the Tories want, is any change to the voting system. Indeed their only policy on this issue proposes to make the iniquities of the first past the post system even worse, to the extent that many observers believe it would have the effect of building in a Tory majority which would make it virtually impossible to elect anyone else.

This Tory policy of rigging all subsequent elections should represent a dire warning to Clegg that the Tories cannot be trusted. Cameron has used the expenses scandal as an excuse to try and make parliament even more unrepresentative. Indeed this is one of the main characteristics of Tory politics: the excuse. The Tories have a core political philosophy which is rarely expressed. It includes the clear determination to reduce enfranchisement, obtain and centralise power vesting it in unelected, often private sector organisations, at almost any cost and to use that power for the benefit of the few rather than the many. As such their main modus operandi revolves around the excuse. Any excuse. Their policies are based on searching for the excuse to get away with whatever they can get away with. The economic crisis caused by their friends in the City is the perfect excuse to slash and burn public services way above what is absolutely necessary. The concept of the so-called ‘big Society’, a vague and malleable enough concept to be used as an excuse to cut police and social services. Their policy on free schools, now being abandoned as a failure in Sweden from whence they got the idea, is an excuse to create greater inequality in the education system...

In other words they have form, their principles are flexible to the extent that they will find any kind of excuse to justify any policies which suit them in their all-embracing quest for power at any cost. The main basis of this power is the first-past-the-post system, a system which skews the election results meaning that they get access to unrestrained power on a regular basis. To abandon it would effectively mean that they will never be able to achieve the same level of power in the future. First Past the Post is as such the main basis for their power. Proportional representation is something they will do anything to avoid. ‘Anything’ in this case would include finding any excuse to prevent this from happening. As such precipitating another general election would be something they would be very keen on doing to prevent a referendum from taking place or to prevents the results of a referendum from being enacted. Of course Cameron’s promise of an all-party commission to look into the issue of electoral reform is one of the most obvious way of achieving this. Kick the issue into touch, get into power and call a general election before the issue is resolved…

Fortunately Nick Clegg has to obtain a deal which he can sell to his party. The chances of doing that without an immediate, binding referendum on electoral reform are slim. However he would be ill-advised even to consider wasting his time on negotiations without this crucial part of any deal. He needs to secure agreement on this before discussing anything else. He needs to remember however, that a Tory-Lib Dem pact would be the biggest political gift to Labour in history. With a new leader and ditching some of its policy baggage associated with the Blair-Brown era, Labour would be able to Hoover up a fair proportion of Lib Dem votes along with the inevitable dissatisfied Tory ones.

Let us be realistic; A Tory-led government would become extremely unpopular very quickly. In fact it would have one of the distinctions of being already unpopular even before it takes office. Clegg would, without doubt, suffer by association from this and with the combined exodus of progressives to a Labour Party headed by one of the Milibands, and with people who leave in revulsion at the unnecessarily swinging cuts, their vote would be the gift that Labour has always wanted. Assuming that no proportional representation system has been agreed with the Tories, we would be looking at a landslide for Mr Miliband or Mr Miliband whenever the next election took place.

It is clear that Clegg feels he would be in trouble if he went into coalition with Labour and might lose any referendum on electoral reform (although I am not convinced any referendum would be necessary), because of “public” revulsion (as one paper put it); a euphemism for “Tory media media outrage” at him being seen to prop up a labour prime minister who is unpopular. Obviously his stated demand that Brown goes would be fairly easily met by the Labour Party but having Harriet Harman as caretaker PM for a few months until a new leader can be re-elected would also not go down well.

So I would like to propose a solution which might trump all this threatened media backlash; arrange a referendum in late September or early October and install Nick Clegg as Prime Minister until that time. This would enable Labour to sort itself out with a new leader and give the Lib Dems the best platform from which to argue the case for electoral reform in that referendum. The media would find it much harder to attack a Lib-Lab pact headed by a Lib Dem than by a Labour Prime Minister. A public agreement for the Premiership to be handed back to Labour for the rest of the parliament after the referendum would ensure that Labour get their turn in the time needed to set up the new voting system. Once that has happened, the Lib Dems would probably no longer find it in their interests to continue in a coalition government and an election would be inevitable.

A progressive coalition (which don’t forget would have to include some of the smaller parties such as the Nationalists, Northern Irish parties and the Green MP) would actually represent more than 60% of the electorate, and could be repeatedly justified in such terms. I cannot see any other way that proportional representation can be achieved, other than by such a large coalition.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The Tories don't have policies, they have excuses...

The Tories main excuse is the excuse to reduce public spending. The economic problems caused by their friends the bankers have given them the perfect excuse to slash and burn the public sector. An excuse to reduce spending on the NHS and increase waiting times once more, an excuse to cut the pay of hospital staff, an excuse to put up prescription charges.

Their excuse to give more money to rich middle-class parents is that they want those parents to set up their own "free schools". This is an excuse the Tories have taken from Sweden, where they introduced free schools. This was so successful that they are now closing them all down because of the damage they do, taking resources away from everyone else and increasing inequality in education.

The excuse they will use to cut money to the poorest people is that they need "incentives to work". I always thought the best way to motivate someone to do a job was to pay them a living wage. At the same time the excuse that they will use to justify tax cuts for the richest 3000 people is that they need incentives to work...

But their biggest excuse is the reform of the voting system, and by this I do not mean proportional representation, I mean their new "super-first-past-the-post" system. Reducing the number of MPs to 500 constituencies will get bigger and parliament will become even more unrepresentative. The new system will make it much more difficult not to elect a Tory government, a system in which probably 250 of these constituencies are Tory safe seats with half a dozen LibDems and the rest split between Labour and the minor parties. An inbuilt Tory majority for ever. The excuse will be to reform parliament, an excuse he will use to make it almost impossible to elect anyone else. Proportional non-representation.

Whatever happens this excuse for a party should not be put in the position where it can use these excuses to pander to its own dysfunctional prejudices. We need a government which acts based on what is best for the country, not one which is there simply as an excuse to make the rich and powerful richer and more powerful based on excuses rather than coherent policies.