Thursday, May 31, 2007

'Ethical' flying

Flying, if you are a Green Party activist like, say, Dr David Wall, is usually a bad thing. But there can be occasions when it is a good thing. For example, if you fly to Palestine and then support boycotting Israeli universities, that is a good thing:

"Very proud of Caroline Lucas MEP showing such courage in supporting Palestine, I guess her visits to Palestine (one good excuse for flying!) where she has seen the damage done by Israeli occupation and aftermath have given her a lot of food for thought."

How does this work - is it sort of like planting trees to offset carbon emissions but with passing motions instead of planting trees? The science behind that seems kind of shaky to me.

As, indeed, does the idea that an academic boycott will do anything to help people in Palestine or Israel. Imagine if all the effort which had gone into this malign piece of posturing had instead been spent on doing something useful which might help the Palestinians and Israelis who are working for peace and understanding.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Deputy Leadership

For interest, is there anyone who has decided to support any of the Deputy Leadership candidates based on receiving one of their e-mails or Facebook messages? I find the spam e-mails actively annoying, and I think there might be lessons here for future e-campaigning [it is not really clever and down with the kidz to send lots of stupid e-mails or messages to voters, and it doesn't make them more likely to vote for you].

Grumbling aside, I intend to vote to support candidates who are attempting to appeal to lefties by saying New Labour woz wrong about stuff and they woz wrong to vote for it. I know I should be complaining about how they are all careerists and will just betray and disappoint me if elected (with special bile and vitriol for those who are making arguments closest to what I believe), but I can't be bothered with that, and I actively want people who are trying to make their career in the Labour Party to believe that the best way to do so is to say leftie stuff. There is extra credit for people who have been saying leftie stuff for longer as opposed to those who have just started in the past couple of weeks. I don't think, for instance, it is admirable and consistent to still be supporting the war on Iraq - I think it is stupid and lacking in judgement.

Part of the dilemma is that the people who I think are best at appealing to the wider public (Alan Johnson and Hilary Benn), are also those who seem least interested in campaigning or in pandering to my leftie prejudices. I've talked a bit to people who are former Labour supporters whose support we will want to win back next time, and they don't seem very interested in the deputy leadership election except when I say Hazel Blears might win when they look frightened and start asking about who might have the best chance of preventing this from happening.

So my order for voting (at this moment, and subject to change according to whim) is:

Cruddas 1
Harman 2
Benn 3
Johnson 4
Hain 5
Blears 6

[Probably Peter Hain should go above Benn & Johnson according to the above criteria, but I don't really understand the voting system and I want to vote tactically to try to stop Hazel Blears. Also, I don't actually want Peter Hain to be Deputy Leader because that would obviously be a terrible idea.]

Prat of the day

This guy is the Principal Male Speaker of the Green Party of England and Wales:

"The ordinary Labour Party member, concerned, opposed to Blair, wanting peace...ultimately you have each taken a gun and shot a child in Iraq. Are you going to stop the killing?"

That's a really good way to build alliances between anti-war people - accuse people who aren't in your small political party but agree with you on this issue of murdering children. Ho hum.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Buy to let tax ha ha

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at the news that up to 80,000 buy to let investors face a massive tax bill from the Inland Revenue, which might mean they have to sell some of their properties.

The Times' leader describes buy to let as a 'useful social investment', good for both landlords and tenants and therefore society as a whole. This is undeniably a widely held view amongst landlords, but it rests on the idea that it is good for society that there is a growing number of people who own several houses, and a growing number who own none. I struggle to see why it is better for people who can't afford to buy to contribute towards their landlord's mortgage, rather than being able to rent (at lower cost) from a council or housing association. Buying up several properties purely as an investment opportunity is a kind of anti-social behaviour, like its more obnoxious cousin 'buy to leave'.

One modest suggestion. How's about taking this opportunity to increase the amount of social housing by using the tax money to buy up any properties that buy to let investors have to sell?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Good Old Boy #30

From Kerron's report of hustings at the Christian Socialist Movement:

Alan Johnson - got off to a rather difficult start. Candidates were told they would not be asked about their own personal faith (or lack of it) as they were applying for a secular role and the audience would rather here about their views for the future - but Alan Johnson chose to open up his speech by telling everyone he has no faith and didn't agree with Christians.

Are children born Lib Dem?

Neil Woollcott is a teacher and a Liberal Democrat. He writes:

"Over the past week I have been to a two courses about running successful schools councils. These have both been run by School Councils UK. Our school have had a school council for a number of years and to be perfectly honest it hasn't been running as successfully as it could.

Today's course was on climate change and using pupil voice through the school council to bring around change in school. The discussions led by the children the ideas they came up with and the passion they spoke with made me wonder whether children are naturally Lib Dem."

This is at once a wonderful and terrifying idea. No wonder children are bored at school with what they get taught. The national curriculum should be changed to do more to capture the interest of this generation of young Liberal Democrats:

"Today, children, we are going to learn about how to draw bar charts."

"Now, Charlie, I've told you before about saying one thing to your teacher and the opposite to your parents because you think it is what they want to hear. It's important that you learn how to do this properly or you won't be allowed to go canvassing on the school trip".

"This week's homework is to look at different written constitutions and do a presentation about your favourite one."

"Sam, your essay sets out a clear argument with a consistent set of principles backing it up. I'm afraid this simply isn't an acceptable way to carry on."

Other ideas, please, in the comments.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Margaret Hodge's nice new friends

Margaret Hodge has made some new friends after sharing her thoughts about social housing:

"I agree with all comments. And I'd go further - NO social housing for unmarried mothers who are on benefits. Extra points for families with children. When are the parents of pregnant girls going to have to take the same financial responsibility that I have to sending my sons to university? This ineffective goverment have turned the responsibilities upside down in this country".- Frank J, Carlisle

"Why the hell should it spark a "race row". What about when the White British/English are punished in favor of immigrants? That should spark a "race Row"! Too mush positive discrimination - it's still discrimination, and why should the indigenous population always come last?"- Kim, Hampshire UK

"Councils here say there are no houses available, but we see no end of them boarded up all over the place. The only time they are opened up and made habitable is if the applicant is an immigrant. If you're British forget it."- Mickey V, Manchester UK

"I do not agree with Labour on many issues, however, this is one I do. Our people should come first. The one big problem with housing is the amount of single mothers who have taken council housing in the last 10 years and people coming to this country taking priority. This is wrong, something has to be done, many families do not have a chance to buy a home and do not get council accomodation either. Young British Families, should come first."- Elizabeth Newman, United Kingdom

"The BBC swung into full denial mode this morning on the Today programme. They invited the risible Keith Vaz on. No question of bringing on anyone who could be described as a indigenous Briton, of course."- Rupert, Sidmouth

Spin and Nurse-Family Partnerships

Nurse-family partnerships are a good idea which will help some parents be able to look after their kids better. The evidence from America where they have been tried out suggests that they do make a difference (though basic services for families in the USA are worse than in the UK, so results are likely to be less dramatic). This intuitively makes sense – many new parents who didn’t get much love and care from their parents can benefit from having a nurse visiting regularly and offering advice and support from 16 weeks into a pregnancy. It’s not a policy which will change the world on its own, but it is another building block towards a fairer society and trying to make sure that life is a little bit easier for families.

What I didn’t understand was the spin that had been put on reporting it - 'Unborn targeted in crackdown on criminality'. This doesn’t make much sense. The link between nurse-family partnerships and crime rates are likely to be at best tenuous, and having a nurse call round weekly to provide advice and support (with no special powers of sanction or punishment) is an odd sort of ‘crackdown on crime’. Why was it being reported this way?

And then I got to the Prime Minister’s quote, 'Some of these families actually cause wider social harms. The community in which they live suffers the consequences'. This policy was to be presented, not just as a way of helping families, but as a crackdown on bad parents and their criminal children.

He did this before, with the same policy, and the effect of this was to put parents off from taking part in this, and similar schemes run by charities. Hearing on the news that anyone who takes part in this is a bad parent and that the government thinks that your children will grow up to be criminals, parents took the obvious decision and stopped taking part.

It was a deliberate piece of spin for a cheap headline, it will do nothing to reduce fear of crime or make people think that the government is reducing anti-social behaviour, and it makes it less likely that the policy will succeed and less likely that the people who do benefit will think that the government is on their side. Of course tackling anti-social behaviour and crime is important, but there is no conceivable way that this policy can possibly make a meaningful difference to levels of crime and anti-social behaviour now or in the near future. Addressing crime and anti-social behaviour is important, but there is a difference between policies which will have a meaningful and visible impact on anti-social behaviour in the short term (like summer holiday activities for young people where there is nothing fun for them to do), and this sort of long term social policy.

The leftie/liberal media don't get a lot of credit out of this - the Guardian wouldn't have given prominence to this story if it hadn't had an angle about crime just as the Observer gave prominence to the housing story on Sunday because it was about immigration. But we have got to stop being scared to justify policies which promote social justice purely and simply on the good that they will do. Nurse-family partnerships should be a good story about something that the government is doing to help close the gap and support people when they need it most, not as an ineffectual crackdown on the undeserving poor.

Monday, May 21, 2007


The winner of this week’s ‘worst article in the Observer’ prize is Margaret Hodge. If you haven’t seen it, she calls for a ‘rebalancing’ of allocations for social housing to prioritise long term British residents over those in most need, which she says will lead to better tolerance and integration.

I suppose it is too much to ask for Hodge to have reflected on the last time that she had a bit of a public think about this subject, which helped the fascists get a few more councillors than they otherwise might have done. The problem is not that housing is allocated on the basis of need, but that there aren’t enough houses to allocate. (As an interesting thought experiment – would Margaret Hodge have been given a column if instead of writing about the allocations system she had been arguing for building hundreds of thousands of new council houses?)

If there is a waiting list of 5,000 (plus others who aren’t even able to get on the waiting list), and 100 properties to allocate each year, then fiddling with the allocations to try to discriminate against people who look a bit foreign (which is Hodge’s main suggestion, no kidding, to promote tolerance) will do nothing to reduce resentment. 98% of the people on the waiting list will still be stuck on the waiting list, and will assume that the council is lying when it says that the allocations policy has changed. Meanwhile, families in the most desperate circumstances will be trapped for even longer with no help of help. If, on the other hand, there are 5,000 on the waiting list and 5,000 or more properties available, then allocations policies stop being of interest except for racists.

Hodge suggests restricting access to social housing for economic migrants. Most economic migrants, of course, are young, single men and therefore don’t qualify for social housing anyway (I don’t know whether Hodge doesn’t know this or doesn’t think it worth mentioning). Economic migrants who are allocated social housing are those with children, living in massively overcrowded accommodation (if you have two children and you live in a two bedroom house, it is unlikely to be regarded as overcrowding sufficient to be a priority), and usually with significant health problems as well. The idea of preventing families in this situation from access to social housing will excite the worst sort of private landlord, but won’t do much for reducing poverty or ill health.

The column ends with a weird and plaintive bit about how immigrants ought to learn English and ought to go along to residents’ association meetings more. Hodge doesn’t find space to explain why she supports cutting access to English lessons for asylum-seekers and supports the promotion of faith schools, and it is deeply objectionable, even by the standards of the piece, for someone who is, astonishingly, still a government minister (though hopefully the next reshuffle will see to that) to write as if she is powerless to do anything about any of these issues and it is all the responsibility of the immigrants.

There is only one solution to the housing crisis, and that is to build a lot more homes where people want to live. The 100,000 eco-homes are a good start, but only a drop in the ocean of what is needed. It’s a big step, and might mean eventually ‘concreting over’ as much as 14% of the South East of England, up from a bit over 10% now. For people who don’t want to do this and aren’t able to grasp what is not really a very difficult area of policy, the idea that the solutions lie in the way that housing is allocated seems to have considerable appeal. It is like a racist version of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Some quick thoughts about the leadership fiasco:

*It would have been better for the Labour Party, irrespective of what people think of John McDonnell, to have had a leadership contest. It would have helped with the membership drive, it would have helped to get the different ideas that Brown and McDonnell have debated and challenged in public, and it would have meant that we had more time to show people who are interested but not obsessed with politics that we can have a comradely debate about the future. Some of McDonnell's ideas were not so good, some were great but probably unaffordable, and some are immensely popular and achievable and should be part of Brown's policy agenda.

*John McDonnell's campaign team ran a sharp and effective campaign over the past year - it didn't quite get him on the ballot paper, but a year ago it would have been utterly improbable that he'd have got so close - the strategy of campaigning at the grassroots was the correct one and also a very positive one. They are people well worth listening to when it comes to future campaigns.

*Leaving aside who ended up nominating who and why, Jon Cruddas is obviously and publicly the most left-wing of the candidates for the deputy leadership. If in future McDonnell supporters want to argue that there is a strong support in the grassroots for leftie candidates and therefore we wuz robbed, then spending the next few weeks sulking at Cruddas or backing a less left-wing candidate out of spite is silly. If the deputy leadership contest ends up something like Blears 1st, Johnson 2nd, Benn 3rd, and Cruddas 6th with a pathetic vote, then the lesson will be that New Labour has won and lefties in the party are a tiny and irrelevant minority. If Cruddas wins or gets close, then it sends the message out to the PLP and more generally that Labour ought to listen more to the unions and shift a bit leftwards. This is important both for the future direction of the party, and for the next set of elections, whether they are in 2 years' time or many more. Most of the left-wing MPs who nominated McDonnell are old and likely to retire soon, so any future challenger from the left needs to start making friends and allies now, not lashing out at the 'careerists' or 'anti-democratic traitors' or whatever.

*There is no law against running a good campaign, and no point complaining when your opponents within the party do it. Gordon Brown has run an extremely good campaign, and we need to work over the next couple of years to make sure that we can do to David Cameron what Brown did to his rivals within the party.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Good Old Boy #29

Sir Digby Jones, former head of the CBI and currently a skillz envoy for the government, is cross about the BBC.

His specific criticisms are that many people on the BBC speak with regional accents which he finds difficult to understand, that their rugby commentary is biased in favour of the Welsh, and that the starting point of all the reporting on business is 'the implication that you’re a moneygrabbing, over-remunerated, exploiting forcer of children up chimneys'.

Some of these criticisms are quite easy to deal with, even by the low standards of the usual anti-BBC attacks. I think I have been watching the same programmes as Sir Digby (of itself quite a disturbing thought). It is true that many people on the BBC have regional accents, though in fairness this is also true of many British people, though possibly not the ones who Sir Digby knows. Eddie Butler was indeed quite pro-Welsh in the Six Nations coverage, though Austin Healey was more pro-English. And Wales were playing better and did beat England, which may have influenced the tone of the commentary.

But the one which baffled me is his idea that the BBC is biased against businesses. To check this out, I went for the first time ever to the business section of the BBC News website. Many of the stories are quite boring (the most popular one when I looked was about people training to become home inspectors), but I couldn't find any about money-grubbing and exploiting businessmen, which considering how many money-grubbing exploitative businessmen there are out there is really a bit of an omission.

Sir Digby's example of this bias was Alan Sugar telling people that they were fired in 'The Apprentice'. Apparently any boss which did that these days would last five minutes. Which must be bad news for bosses at Burton's Foods, say, which has just sacked more than 600 people on the Wirral. (The report is from the BBC, which I suppose is just another example of their anti-business bias).

To recap:

BBC - not biased.

Provisional BBC - biased (but hilarious).

Sir Digby Jones - good old boy, but bit of a wally.

Making Sir Digby Jones government skills envoy - confusing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A good night in Coventry

Interesting piece from Shiraz Socialist about the local elections in Coventry, where Labour took seats off both the Tories and the Dave Nellist Socialist Party. I'd be interested if anyone has any more info about this:

"Labour leaflets throughout the campaign banged home traditional themes about saving the NHS, fighting “Tory cuts”, positioning themselves as the party of added investment in schools, public services, as fighters against racism, all of those traditional issues that are music to the left’s ears.

Now, of course the left will say (with justification) that this is rank hypocrisy, these people support a government that has instituted all of the cuts and stealth privatisations of recent years, it’s easy to pose left when you’re in opposition, etcetera. However my point isn’t about how genuine this was. The point is that it worked. Labour gained four seats in Coventry last Thursday, their vote held up throughout the city, and they are now more buoyant than they have been for years...

It was a significant rise in Labour support (not only in that ward, but city wide) made the difference. And this after one of the most left-wing Labour campaigns I’ve seen in a decade."

Revolutionary tribunals

I have found a wonderful website called 'Southpawpunch'. The latest article, 'McDon't vote for him', is about why socialists should not vote for John McDonnell because his policy platform is too right wing - a state pension of only £114/week, a minimum wage of a mere £7.50/hour and no mention of renationalisation without compensation! But the best bit is where the author confesses to his own past political misdemeanors:

"I recall, on leaving the Labour Party in 1986, being painfully aware that I was doing this four years too late (after the Bishop’s Stortford agreement). I (still) fear that I will have a hard time justifying those extra four years to a future revolutionary tribunal enquiring about my political history."

Surely after the revolution the tribunals will have better things to do? No? Oh.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Contested election

How exciting - a contested election.

I think this is good news. I have enjoyed as much as anyone the positive press coverage of the last weekend, and particularly the new eco towns proposal. I reckon that in an uncontested election, though, the press would quite quickly have got bored of seven weeks of 'Gordon Brown tours the country on his own'.

Providing everyone plays nice and doesn't use the opportunity to turn the election into a 1980's re-enactment society, I think the next few weeks could be lots of fun and help to galvanise the Labour Party and get new people involved.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

How not to do rebuttal

My new resolution is to be nice to Lib Dems. In the spirit of this, I pass on some campaigning advice from Liberal Neil, about how to respond to Tory attacks. He has got five top tips:

1 Think before you rebut. Continuing to promote your agreed campaign messages will nearly always be a better use of time and effort than rebutting the opposition.

2 If you are going to do a rebuttal, don't make it obvious that it is a rebuttal. Just state your case on the issue clearly and more effectively.

3 Don't repeat their message for them. So often our rebuttal starts by repeating their attack. THAT'S WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO DO! Don't do it!

4 Pick on one thing they've lied about and attack it hard. It is far easier to convince on one simple fact that in lots of detail.

5 Make your rebuttal shorter and simpler than their attack. Otherwise you won't win the argument.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Election results

I do admire the Labour supporters who have been suggesting that last week's election results weren't so bad. But the best comment I saw was this, from Crawley:

"Yes the vote did not collapse completely as predicted, and with so many seats being close, turnouts so low and so many parties involved the effect of small movements can be magnified and result in a disproportionate loss of seats, but that is not the end of the story. In that context maintaining our vote is akin to the last-minute goal a team scores when it is six-nil down - a consolation goal.

When we lost a few seats in 2004 and had our majority reduced it could have been an anomaly or the start of a trend. I think we chose to put the blinkers on and treat it as a fluke. When we lost a few more seats and lost the majority by the drawing of lots it should have been obvious that it was not a fluke, but I am not so sure we really took it seriously enough."

Looking at the headline figures of gains and losses per council is in many ways misleading, and if you look at local results in marginal constituencies, a pattern emerges which is common to areas where we lost and where we held steady or even made a couple of gains. The wards we won were characterised by a low turnout, and relatively small majorities - it is rare that we were getting more than about 60% of the vote. Meanwhile, in the strong Tory wards, turnout was much higher, and they were getting a huge proportion of the vote - 70% or even more. In Pangbourne ward, part of Reading West - a seat they need to get an overall majority, they got 742 votes, and Labour got 48. Therefore, even where we won as many wards as the Tories, they still got a huge lead in the overall vote.

There is no direct link between a midterm election and the next general election - in 2005 we held several constituencies last time in places like Watford and Swindon where our number of councillors had declined massively between 2001 and 2005. But there is cumulative electoral effect from a collapse in our councillor base. As Skuds says, the results aren't a fluke and are part of a trend which has an increasing impact for the longer it goes on.

This is not a panic message. There are councillors and activists all across their country who won't recognise this analysis, because they've been keeping in touch with voters, doing casework, building up the voter ID, and getting consistently good results this year as in previous years (just as there are people who have been doing all of these things but lost this year due to circumstances beyond their control). But it is desperately patchy, and we simply don't have enough people doing the necessary things in the right places to win an overall majority at the next election.

There are many things that can be done to rectify this. Just for a starter, new members will be able to vote in the leadership election right up until ballot papers are issued. From all the canvassing that's been going on, we know of thousands of people who support Labour. I can't think of a better time to write to them and ask them whether they want to join up and help us choose the next Prime Minister.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Good Luck

To all Labour candidates tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Johann Hari on multiculturalism

I've just read an extremely odd attack on multiculturalism by Johann Hari. Apparently, anyone who supports rights for women cannot believe in multiculturalism.

To be fair, he defines multiculturalism as the belief that 'a society should be divided into separate cultures with different norms according to ethnic origin', and that 'it assumes that immigrants have one homogenous culture which they should all follow - and it allows the most reactionary and revolting men in their midst to define what that culture is'. Defined in that way, multiculturalism is indeed incompatible with women's rights.

He cites some legal cases from Germany where men who were guilty of domestic violence received very light or no sentences at all, because it was seen as part of their culture. I know nothing of the German legal system, but in multicultural Britain the law doesn't work like that, and no supporter of multiculturalism suggests that it should.

Hari's definition owes less to multiculturalism and its promotion of cultural diversity and respect for others from different backgrounds in a society while maintaining and extending legal and social rights for all, and more to its opposite - a monoculture in which reactionary and powerful men decide the cultural norms which all are required to follow.

Attacking multiculturalism, whether directly or by distorting its meaning, doesn't help to extend women's rights, or to reduce racism and discrimination. People should not be able to use multiculturalism as a defence of prejudice or to excuse a crime, but that is very different from trying to undermine the whole idea of it.