Tuesday, October 31, 2006

campaigners for change

I know that this is not a popular point of view, but I think student politics is a good thing. Having vowed before going to university not to have anything to do with it, I found the experience of campaigning in elections, going on and organising demonstrations and occupations, taking part in debates about policy, representing other students and all the rest of it to be enjoyable at the time, and a chance to meet people who are some of my closest friends.

There were, of course, examples of the things which people give as examples of why student politics is bad - petty disputes which weren't worth having, things which I got worked up about and fell out with people over for no good reason, hours spent discussing policies which would never matter. But better to make those mistakes and learn from them then rather than when it mattered more.

Anyway, the point of this was going to be that in the student union elections each year, one task was to come up with a campaign name which sounded both suitably radical and anodyne. One year the campaign name chosen was 'Campaigners for Change'. Imagine my delight, then, to discover Jon Cruddas' website, with the slogan across the top - 'Campaigning for Change'.

Small victories

Nadine Dorries' 10-minute bill on reducing the time limit for termination of pregnancies and introducing a 'cooling off period' to make it more difficult to get an abortion just got defeated by about 80 votes.

Later on, MPs get the chance to set up a commission to look into the Iraq war and its aftermath, and according to the schedule, that is followed by Paul Burstow talking about the recognition of Cheam by the Post Office.

Recommended Reading

Afarfetchedresolution asks:

"Tell me the books that inspired you. Those political tomes, biographies, pamphlets or other, in history, theory, philosophy or policy that you find yourself automatically paraphrasing whenever someone asks a difficult question. The one that gives you the metaphors and similes you use in everyday life. The one that you think about when you're wondering if it's all worth it. Or the one that makes you angry.I don't want an obscure academic debate about some turgid theoretical text on a sub-set of postmodernist verbiage. I want real tub-thumpers and appeals from the heart. But they also have to actually say something concrete about the real world."

I can think of plenty of suggestions. But I just want to mention one - The Rise of the Meritocracy, by Michael Young.

I got round to reading this relatively recently - it is out of print but available for the princely sum of 4p plus P&P from Amazon. It explains the development of the 'meritocracy', the success of attempts to promote equality of opportunity and to identify the people who are most intelligent and capable, and make sure that society is organised so that it is merit, rather than age or birth or any other factor, which determines whether people succeed or fail.

It refers to the decline of the importance of the House of Commons, the replacement of hereditary peers by people appointed for their talents to the House of Lords, the introduction of a National Identity Card scheme, the acceptance of growing inequality based on merit between an elite and the rest and other policies of the last few years.

Young's ideas have been influential - from Peter Mandelson talking about how New Labour is 'intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich' to Hazel Blears speaking about how one of the goals of the government is to promote meritocracy. Except that the Rise of the Meritocracy was written nearly half a century ago, and its point was that a meritocracy would be a disaster, creating an elite out of touch with the majority of people and yet believing that their privileges are a result of their own efforts and merit.

Now I would have thought that a book which introduced a term which government ministers regularly use to describe the kind of society that they want to see and which delivers a critique of New Labour which is very similar to that of, say, Jon Cruddas would be one which got referred to and discussed, and which would be worth reprinting. It's not very long and it is well written, which makes it all the more mystifying that it is out of print.

Ele-fant testing

When I grow up, I want job of being ele-fant tester:

"An 8ft mirror was put in the elephant enclosure at the Bronx zoo in New York and a watch kept on its three inhabitants. The first question was if they greeted their reflection as if meeting another individual - they did not make this mistake, and used the mirror to inspect themselves, for example, moving their trunks to look at the inside of their mouths.

Inspecting the mirror and trying to look behind it - as did the Bronx elephants - is another indicator of self-awareness. One of the three also passed the "mark" test when painted in a place it would normally be unable to see. It touched the paint mark on its head after looking in the mirror.

Diana Reiss of Columbia University in New York said that the research helped explain the society in which elephants lived: "Humans, great apes, dolphins and elephants, well known for their superior intelligence and complex social systems, are thought to possess the highest forms of empathy and altruism in the animal kingdom.""

Monday, October 30, 2006

Good Old Boy #15

From The Guardian, Jacques Barrot, the European Commissioner for Transport:

"Late for the meeting, he grabbed hold of the briefing document which had been prepared by officials in DG Transport - the civil servants who work for a commissioner but usually in a completely different part of Brussels. Jabbing his papers with a red pencil, Mr Barrot slowly read out paragraphs word-for-word for the first time to himself and to his audience.

When he did not understand something, he would furiously underline a paragraph and yell out that the DG was to blame. Sitting at a glass table in his grand office which is decorated with what must be one of the world's most impressive train sets - models of Europe's fastest trains on tiny rail tracks - he would then bury his head back on the document to read out the statistics.

Mr Barrot said that Irish roads were not that good, though in "northeast Ireland" the roads are much better. When it was pointed out that "northeast Ireland" is better known as Northern Ireland and lies in the United Kingdom, which historically has better roads than the Republic of Ireland, he appeared not be familiar with the partition of Ireland."


It is nice, sometimes, to be reminded about what Tories really think the difference between their party and Labour is. From politicalbetting:

"Ugh, another ghastly socialist.

Either of these two men is a political gift for David Cameron. Both will frankly look like oiks compared with DC’s smooth, polished approach.

I know it’s old fashioned to say so, but I really do think that David Cameron has the breeding - and that’s important for someone who’s to be our leader.

Just like Macmillan, Thatcher or even Blair, Cameron knows how to carry himself and is a class act in every sense.

Brown (and this McDonnell character) are much more akin to ghastly failures like Callaghan, Wilson or Major.

I’m confident that, when presented with this contrast, the Great British Public will do the right thing.
I know it’s an unfashionable view, but I really do think much of this is down to education (and I don’t mean just up to the age of 21). Brown has grown up with trade unionists and what’s laughingly referred to as the ‘Labour Culture’. David Cameron has grown up with the countries leaders and captains of industry. And in both cases it shows. The contrast could not be more clear."

Friday, October 27, 2006

Safe, legal and on demand

Next Tuesday Nadine Davies, a Tory MP will be bringing forward a bill to reduce the time limit within which abortion is legal, from 24 to 21 weeks. If you haven’t read it, Zoe Williams’ response is excellent.

Personally, I find this a very simple issue. It is absolutely none of my business whether or not someone chooses to have an abortion, it is none of Nadine Davies’ business either and the only person whose opinion should matter on whether or not to terminate a pregnancy should be the woman who is pregnant and anyone who she chooses to consult.

The tactics of the people who organise the campaign to ban abortion are based on experience elsewhere – picking issues where they are likely to be able to attract support from people who wouldn’t support a full ban, organising to lobby decision-makers and chipping away in different ways at the right to choose to have an abortion. Since every foetus develops at a different rate, an arbitrary time limit which tries to identify ‘viable’ foetuses in law is, in medical terms, nonsense. And a time limit should be, surely, just as irrelevant for pro-life people who think that a time limit sanctions murdering babies as it is for people who support abortion on demand. Nor will a reduction from 24 to 21 weeks alter significantly the number of abortions, as fewer than 2% of abortions are late term abortions.

I think it would be a healthy development if the debate about abortion shifted away from being mainly a matter of legislation and lobbying MPs. A theoretical right to have an abortion up to 24 weeks is little help for women if the local NHS has policies which are intimidating and obstructive, especially for women who cannot afford to go private. Genuine concern about reducing the number of late term abortions does not involve changing the law (which would achieve little or nothing in practice), but instead involves making it easier to terminate a pregnancy within 12 weeks. Reducing the 1,000 or so pregnancies terminated each year because the child would be at risk of having disabilities is best done by improving help and support for disabled children and their families and challenging prejudices against disabled people, not by passing laws restricting access to abortion.

Shifting the debate in this way would help split the anti-abortion activists, a tiny minority, from the millions of people who believe that human life begins at conception, for reasons of religious faith or other, but who don’t currently seek to impose that view on anyone else, or decide who to vote for on this issue. Whatever the temptations of trying to make support for the right to choose an abortion a requirement for Labour representatives, or denouncing people who are pro-life on religious grounds as misogynists, all that would be achieved would be to swell the ranks of the anti-abortion activists. People can think what they want on this as long as they don’t try to impose their views on others, and identifying and addressing the specific issues which the anti-abortion people are trying to exploit is a better way to win people over then telling them that they are bigots.

Fit for purpose

I was looking for my passport a couple of weeks ago, in preparation for a trip to Germany, and made the unwelcome discovery that I had lost it. I was not looking forward to applying for a replacement because I don’t like filling in forms at the best of times and I dimly remembered the pictures of people queuing for ages at offices and it all taking ages. Given that the passport service is run by a government department which is currently not fit for purpose, I didn’t imagine that things would be any better now than they were then.

I went to look on the website, which had lots of information about different kinds of forms which I didn’t want, and a phone number which you could call to make an appointment if you need to renew your passport quickly. I called up, got an appointment for two days later, filled in the two page form, got the photo signed, handed it all over and got my new passport less than a week later.

I don’t know if I was just lucky, but this does seem to be a public service which used to be rubbish and has now been sorted out, and I find rather encouraging.

Parish council chicken

One of the main ideas for giving people more of a say about their area is to give more powers to parish councils to set local bylaws, enforced with on the spot fines. While there is some merit in this, the following story may explain my concerns about it.

A couple of years ago, a friend moved to a new area, and being a civic minded sort of person, started to attend the local residents association. This meeting was attended by a number of older residents, and the two local councillors, both Liberal Democrats.

Now Liberal Democrats, as you will know, are used to saying different things to different people, depending on what they think that they want to hear. So my friend decided to conduct an experiment. He tried to discover whether there was any proposal, generally supported by local people, which a Liberal Democrat councillor would publicly oppose. Anyone who might be interested in conducting this experiment elsewhere should be aware that the technical name for this game is ‘residents association chicken’, because the aim is to see whether the councillors will chicken out or stick up for what they actually believe in.

For example, there was a local building which had a large metal fence and gate, and a few of the local teenagers used to spend their evenings kicking things against the gate, climbing it and generally disturbing the peace and quiet of the people who lived nearby. The solution which my friend suggested was to electrify the gate – “that would stop them making trouble and keep them away”. All the local residents, weighing up the advantage of a peaceful night’s sleep against the potential disadvantage of electrocuting children, were enthusiastically in favour of this. And the councillors, representing the party of civil liberties? “I agree with what you’re trying to do there, but I’m not sure that is the best way to go about it”, was about the strongest criticism that either was willing to make.

As a general rule, any restriction on the liberty of others, no matter how onerous, which was perceived as being of benefit to the local area, no matter how small the benefit, gained enthusiastic and unanimous support.

Now, consider if this organisation had the power to decide to levy on the spot fines of up to £100. The safeguard in the White Paper is that local councillors would be expected to use their role as community leaders to prevent this having negative consequences, but in a country with thousands of Liberal Democrat councillors, this is not a safeguard which I think can be relied on.

Although there is one other safeguard. The fines could only be levied by a police officer or community warden, and as anyone who regularly attends a residents association or parish council meeting would be able to tell you, you never see a policeman except when they decide to persecute people who are driving just a little bit over the speed limit.

Good Old Boy #14

The Parti Socialiste in France is the only political party that I am aware of which is openly run as a GoodOldBoy-ocracy, where all power rests in the hands of a few Good Old Boys who take it in turns to have a go at being Prime Minister and run unsuccessfully for the Presidency and where the main arguments against Sego Royal being the party’s candidate for President are that she is too much of a Blairite and that it is a ridiculous idea to have a woman as the candidate because who would look after her children.

Many thanks to the Virtual Stoa for passing on Laurent Fabius’ rallying cry to a public meeting a few days ago in his bid to secure the nomination:

“In a few months we will have a new President of the Republic. There is a one in two chance it will be a Socialist. And an important chance that it will be me.”

Thursday, October 26, 2006


"Unemployed people convicted of crimes should receive tougher sentences than those with full-time jobs or caring responsibilities, a leading Tory MP will say today.

They will call for an overhaul of community sentencing to enable courts to mete out tougher punishments for the jobless on the grounds that they have more time on their hands."

Awful and shocking, isn't it? A sign of how the Tories just love to kick people when they are down.

Except that it isn't a Tory MP saying this. It's a Labour MP, John Denham, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee. You can read the rest here.

Out of Touch

The Guardian reports that the BBC's audience research reveals that many license fee payers feel that the BBC is out of touch with their priorities.

"They were concerned about political correctness, "stranger danger", the "death of childhood", lack of respect in society, law and order, local poverty, debt and poor maternity care.
But respondents also felt comfortable saying they did not care about Aids or Africa - highlighting a gap between local and global concerns."

The response to this from BBC managers is apparently to ask: "Should we, the BBC, be a pressure valve for that opinion? Should we help break the constraints of the PC police?"

It's not quite clear where such thinking would lead. It could mean spending license fee payers money on putting Richard Littlejohn on the telly more often, or on including more homophobic or racist comments in programmes to challenge political correctness, or Daily Express style investigations into abuses of the asylum system.

Obviously, I think it would be a shame if the BBC decided to proceed in this way. But beyond having to contribute to Richard Littlejohn's vast income through the license fee, to see this research as a clash between the liberal, politically correct BBC against a more conservative, Daily Mail reading 'moral majority' is at least in part to miss the point. "Political correctness" means very different things to different people, but it is certainly not the PC police which mean that local poverty, debt and poor maternity care are issues being ignored.

There is the chance for the BBC to try out some really positive ways of involving people more widely in setting its priorities. It would be a shame if instead it saw the problem merely as one of challenging 'political correctness'.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Save the planet, reduce poverty, what's not to like?

Keeping older people’s homes warm during the winter can be a matter of life and death – there are roughly 21,000 deaths caused by the cold weather in England each year. But as well as helping to keep people comfortable and healthy, there can be other benefits.

A couple of years ago, Liverpool Council were checking the homes of elderly council tenants to make sure that their homes were properly insulated. While they were doing the visits, they decided to check that the people they were visiting were getting the benefits to which they were entitled.

By doing these checks, they managed to increase the income of the people by an average of £50 per week. To prove that this was not just a one off, similar results were found when this was repeated in St Helens.

The media is always on about people claiming benefits which they are not entitled to. In reality, people are suffering and in some cases dying from excessive cold because they are not getting the money which they are entitled to, which would pay for them to be able to heat their homes.

Different local authorities have different ways of promoting energy efficiency – the most energy efficient borough is Knowsley, where the council officers have right from the start involved people living in fuel poverty in deciding about what kind of work to prioritise and how to let people know about what is happening. Learning about how to combine social justice with a dramatic reduction in energy use will be increasingly important, and this sort of thing highlights some of the possibilities.

Moving beyond oppositionalism

The following, from a supporter of John McDonnell, is what I think but put better than I would be able to, so as per standard policy I have stolen it to post here:

"What the Labour Left needs to do is establish a proper dialogue with others in the party about its future direction post-Blair, including many of those who have hitherto supported New Labour.

Recriminations and denunciations, or the rehashing of arguments of 20 years ago or even the last ten do not help this process. We won most of those arguments anyway. There are probably few people now in the party who would confidently defend the invasion of Iraq, our conduct in Afghanistan, the cuts in lone parent benefit, the introduction of upfront tuition fees or the sticking to Tory spending plans for two years.

We need to admit that there has been progress made in the past ten years but say it is time to be bolder and take things further and to stop following the failed Tory policies of the past in relation to public service reform.

We need to move beyond oppositionalism and have a constructive discussion that focuses on two questions:

1. What should the priority objectives of a Labour government be over the next 5-10 years? It ought to be possible to achieve substantial consensus within the party on aims relating to creating a more equal society, no doubt excluding such ultra-Blairites as Byers and Milburn.

2. What policies will we need to achieve these objectives? The Left should at least try and win the argument in principle on what policies are required, even if others wish to move towards them less rapidly."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tory ideas for reducing poverty

I found a website called Poverty Debate, which seemed to be a general discussion website about different ways of tackling poverty, except that about half way down the page, there is a massive picture of Iain Duncan Smith, "facing the intrigued media, following an impromtu finge event at the Bournemouth Pavilion" [that's what it says].

In fact, it turns out to be a Tory website, where Tories talk about the problems of the underclass. It is a mixture of reasonably carefully selected articles from newspapers about how bad the government is, contributions from voluntary sector organisations about how the way to tackle poverty is by giving more money to voluntary sector organisations, and lengthy contributions about subjects such as marriage (Good!) and drugs (Bad!)

As I had secretly hoped, they have a section for people to send in their own contributions. This is a wideranging section which covers the need for strengthening married families; forming a national task force to eradicating litter; how the tax system discriminates against single men who use the least services; how single parents lack the ability to develop the skills of compassion, education or social integration; the way that the benefits system rewards the undeserving and the lazy; and the need to amend the law to allow assault against young people if they are interfering with your car.

They also have a separate section on 'economic dependency', including a contribution from someone who wants to limit access to social housing to people with two or fewer children because at the moment "we are incouraging more people from the lower class / underclass to have more children. Why are we incouraging this? Surely we should be wanting people from the middle upper classes to have more children. We are just going to end upgrowing uneducated, lazy people population."

Apparently, this is the process by which the Tories are going to come up with their next manifesto, which is the most encouraging news I have had for a while.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Wisdom of the Crowds #3

A poll for CNN suggested that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton would have a 51%-44% lead over Sen. John McCain in a presidential election, but that Sen. John McCain would have a 48%-47% lead over Sen. Hillary Clinton. Apparently this is backed up by other polling which suggests that more people would vote for Hillary if she uses her maiden name.

I have reflected on this, and I think I need to spend less time reading opinion polls. Out of curiosity, though, I would like to meet the people whose voting intention depends on which form of Clinton's name they are prompted with - do they think it is two different people or something?

This is what democracy looks like

An interesting article about the American midterm elections in a couple of weeks in Barron's Online. They predict that the Republicans will keep control of both the House and Senate, using a predicative system which has proved more accurate in recent elections than opinion polling. They predict that the successful candidate in each race will be the one who has raised most money:

"Look at House races back to 1972 and you'll find the candidate with the most money has won about 93% of the time. And that's closer to 98% in more recent years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics...

Our method isn't quite as accurate in Senate races: The cash advantage has spelled victory about 89% of the time since 1996. The reason appears to be that with more money spent on Senate races, you need a multi-million-dollar advantage to really dominate in advertising, and that's hard to come by."

Read the whole thing here.

This method of predicting American elections was more successful than the pundits in both 2002 and 2004. An electoral system where the better funded candidate wins 98% of the time is not one I like to spend too much time thinking about. Let's hope the Democrats can beat the odds this time.

Was Clare Short right?

Reading the vitriolic responses to Clare Short's decision to resign from the Labour Party, I was thinking back to 2003, and her decision not to resign when Robin Cook and other ministers did before the war on Iraq.

The reason that she gave for not resigning was that "we have got to look after the people of Iraq, and drive forward the Palestinian peace process, and ensure there was no humanitarian crisis - and then I thought this is walking away and it is cowardly". When it became clear that the promises about reconstruction were not being kept, she resigned.

Three years on, it is clear that there is nothing which any British politician could have done, even had they wanted to, to prevent the Americans invading Iraq. Contrary to predictions at the time that fighting against Saddam would turn into another Stalingrad, the real disaster came after the overthrow of Saddam, with the repeated blunders in the aftermath of the war which have caused half a million casualties and left Iraq in a state of civil war.

Given the preoccupations of the Bush administration, it is entirely possible that the disasters of the last three years were inevitable. I still certainly think it was right to campaign to try to stop the war, and wish that more ministers and Labour MPs had followed Robin Cook's lead.

But if more attention had been focused on preparing for the aftermath of the war, finding out that the Americans hadn't planned for what would happen after Saddam fell and doing something to change that, anticipating the challenges which a nascent Iraqi democracy would face, it is at least possible that the situation now would be a lot better. And if that is the case, then for all that Clare Short's behaviour before the war seemed like an incomprehensible and ridiculous betrayal, and most of what she's done since has been little better, then at that one moment she was right to see the importance of what would come after the war, and it is to all of our regret that she was not able to influence what followed the fall of Saddam.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

"What we need is a kind of female John Prescott"

Assuming that only MPs can stand for the deputy leadership, I think I would like Lynne Jones to be the next Deputy Leader. I usually agree with the way she votes, and the people in her constituency who probably know her best seem to like her, based on the branch meeting that I went to speak at a couple of years ago (there were about twenty people present, which is more than go to many constituency Labour Party meetings).

The only flaws with this plan are that, to the best of my knowledge, Lynne Jones has no interest in being Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and even if she were to, she probably wouldn't get on the ballot.

Talking to a friend who is supporting Gordon Brown to be leader, he said that the ideal deputy leader would be a 'kind of female John Prescott', by which I assumed he meant a working-class trade unionist able to appeal to 'Old Labour' supporters rather than any of the more troubling images which that idea conjures up.

The fact that Harriet Harman's argument that the next deputy leader should be a woman is transparently self-serving does not, of itself, make it a bad argument. It is a sorry reflection on the state of the Labour Party that all of the main contenders for leader, and all but one for Deputy, are men. The evidence of the past nine years, including some of the work that Harriet Harman has done as Solicitor General as well as the work of many of the female MPs elected since 1997 is that the Labour Party benefits both electorally and in policy terms from identifying and promoting able women.

The quality which I will want above all else in a Deputy Leader is the ability to spot when the government is planning to do something reactionary, unnecessary and unpopular, and stop it from happening. This strikes me as especially important if the leader is Gordon Brown, who is used to working with a small team of people who are absolutely loyal to him.

With most of the leadership contenders, their ability to do this is unknown. But not in Harriet Harman's case. When Gordon Brown decided to stick to Tory plans to cut lone parent benefit, a pernicious and totally unnecessary decision which particularly affected women and children. And Harriet Harman was the minister who implemented the policy.

Eight years on, she could point out correctly that lone parents are much better off than before Labour came to power, but that the decision to stick to Tory cuts was one which was wrong, which she regrets having supported, and that if faced with a similar situation in future she would stick up for the interests of working-class women and their families.

But she won't.

So instead, I'll probably vote for Jon Cruddas or Hilary Benn.

Who remembers the Armenians?

For many years, the truth about the genocide of the Armenians in 1915 has been actively suppressed in Turkey, and ignored in most other countries. This has started to change in recent weeks, with the collapse of Orhan Pamuk's trial and the attempt by the French Socialist Party to make it a crime to deny that the genocide happened.

This, it strikes me, is a flaw in the argument that laws against Holocaust Denial act to suppress debate or historical investigation. Historical research can be undermined when historians put forward ideas based on distortions of the evidence, aiming not to uncover historical truths but to advance a particular political cause. One of the best examples of this is the historical writings of David Irving, now jailed and proved to have lied about the Holocaust. Yet had it not been for the fact that David Irving chose to take legal action against Deborah Lipstadt, research which finally destroyed his arguments would not have happened, and he would be free to continue to peddle his lies.

The scholarship on Nazi Germany has not been undermined by the laws in Germany and Austria which criminalise Holocaust Denial. Indeed, more is known about the Holocaust than about any other genocide in history. When 'revisionist' historians gather in Iran at the invitation of Ahmedinejad for a conference about Zionist lies about the so-called Holocaust, or histories of twentieth century Turkey are written which do not mention the Armenians, the intent is not to discover more about the past, but is political. Where possible, the aim is to suppress knowledge of past genocides, and where that is impossible, their first step is by sowing doubt about what actually happened - exactly as Irving and others have tried to do.

Remembering past genocides may not prevent genocide from ever happening again. But it is a powerful weapon to resist the advance of the far right, ensuring that people know what happens if they are able to seize power, and for that reason laws which criminalise lying about genocide are hated by fascists.

Historical knowledge and political debate are interlinked. When there are determined movements which aim to undermine historical truth to further their aims, it can be necessary to ban the telling of lies about those events. The evidence suggests that this acts as a stimulus to genuine historical research, and hopefully this will be the case with research into the Ottoman genocide of 1915-17, the ignorance of which prompted Nazi leaders in the 1930's to ask "Who remembers the Armenians?"

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Wisdom of the Crowds #2

I love the Guardian because on a fairly regular basis I'll read something by one of the columnists and think, 'yes, that is exactly what I thought'. For example, from Charlie Brooker's Screen Burn:

"If you're looking for proof that there's a large number of knee-jerk racists lurking among the Great British Public, surely the outcome of last week's X Factor (Sat, 5.45pm, ITV) vote is it.Maybe you didn't see it because, like many a caring, sharing Guardian reader, you prefer the unbearably cruel early audition shows in which one no-hoper after another gets a big bum wiped all over their dreams. The tacky live studio finals, which are essentially more about celebration than denigration, leave you cold. And who can blame you? Most of the acts are mediocre at best, and some of them are downright rubbish.

Louis Walsh's selection is especially poor. He's already lost The Unconventionals, a sort of doo-wop amateur dramatic society known round these parts as A Cappella Irritant Squad, who last week delivered a performance of Dancing In The Street, which sounded like six clumsy cover versions playing at once. The audience couldn't wait to ignore them.

And they were his most likable act. The rest are saddled with absolutely unforgivable band names; names so shitbone awful, you hate them before they've even opened their mouths. There's a flavourless quartet called 4Sure (4Fucksake would be more appropriate), and an ethereally skinny boy band called Eton Road (which sounds like a euphemism for an illegal underage sex act to me - as in "the police arrived just as he was taking one of the prefects up the Eton Road"). But worst of all, there's The MacDonald Brothers.

And this brings me to my point. The MacDonald Brothers are a pair of characterless twins, whose startlingly dreadful performance somehow managed to veer from cheesy to flat to eerie to nauseating and all the way back to cheesy again before finally settling on outright rubbish. There's something indefinably creepy about them - they're the kind of act a child killer might listen to in his car. And yet somehow, they were spared elimination by the viewers at home.

Meanwhile, a 26-year-old called Dionne, whose voice is so good it could advertise heaven, was left at the bottom of the pile alongside The Unconventionals. Why? Well, it can't be her singing. Perhaps it's the gap between her front teeth, but I doubt it. That's sort of endearing.

No, the only reason I can think of is that she's black, and there's still a sizable section of the audience that's either threatened or dissuaded by that. There's no way a rational person could choose the MacDonald Brothers over her. It's like choosing a kick in the balls instead of a cuddle. The programme's not at fault here. The viewers are.

Anyway, what I'm getting round to is this: if you watch The X Factor, it's time to stop doing so in a detached, ironic, I'm-above-this-shit kind of way. It's time to muck in and get voting. Yes it is. Stop arguing. So what if it's a rip off? You want the MacDonald Brothers to win? You sicken me. Vote Dionne."

Rural post offices

I know nothing about living in rural areas - I've always lived in towns and when I went to Tolpuddle for the trade union do a couple of years ago I was astonished to find that there wasn't a newsagent or cashpoint in the whole village.

As a result, I am quite sympathetic to the people campaigning against rural post office closures, based on no more than a prejudice in favour of anyone lobbying against a reduction in public services, and the thought that living in a village without a post office must be even more miserable than living in a village with one. However, I read Tim's thoughts on this issue, essentially that getting rid of rural post offices is a good idea, and I wondered whether anyone who was knowledgable about this issue could tell me whether he is roughly right or not. Here's his argument:

"A full network of rural sub post offices (and for that matter suburban ones) are an expensive form of subsidy from all taxpayers and postal service users to those who live in areas with low density housing - that is, people in rich areas with large houses.

Working people are paying for people in suburban and rural areas to have short queues at their underused post offices. East Anglia is hardly a citadel of the revolutionary working classes and of course rich people will squeal when their traditional privileges are taken from them and they stop getting a subsidy from working people. Just look at the fuss being kicked up recently over the revelation that more hospitals in rich areas (Tory & Lib Dem seats) are being considered for closure than hospitals in poorer (Labour) areas.

The ludicrous number of post offices in this country is a result of the era when telegraphs were the main means of rapid communication - the diversity of benefit and banking functions they took on came only later when their network was the obvious way for the government, after the 1906 government and even more so after the Attlee government's creation of the current welfare state system, to go about providing state services in the community.

. 8.5 million out of a total of 10.5 million pensioners now get their State
Pensions paid into a bank account.
. 98 per cent of people making new State Pension claims have chosen to have
it paid directly into their bank, building society or Post Office account.
. An increasing number of people are choosing to renew their tax disc
online. Over 3 million people have renewed their tax disc online so far this
year compared to 860,000 in 2005.

There is a problem for elderly people (and the 2 million and the 2% above are probably disproportionately working class), and that is a problem as the briefing recognizes, but I don't think it should be beyond us to come up with better ways of getting money to old people than rural post offices. Actually it'd be interesting to know where that 2% and where those 2 million
live - I suspect most of them live in big cities. As the government says:

"With its £2 billion investment programme, the Labour Government has demonstrated its commitment to the Post Office. We recognise that there must be continued funding for post offices which play an important social and economic role but can never become commercially viable."

A bit of state intervention in the banking sector to ensure everyone does have a bank account, perhaps a telephone bank account, might be a better idea than worrying too much about closing post offices.

However much I might disagree with EU proposals to liberalize the postal market or Lib Dem nonsense on the subject, I think it's difficult as a socialist to disagree with the basic thrust of what the government is doing to reduce the rural post office network."

Friday, October 20, 2006

Eugene Debs

“I don't want you to follow me or anyone else. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, somebody else would lead you out.”

Chris at the Virtual Stoa reminds me that yesterday was the 80th anniversary of Eugene Debs' death.

Debs was one of the generation of working-class trade unionists and socialists like Keir Hardie whose hope in the imminence of the ending of capitalism and the establishment of a socialist society were shattered by the First World War. He was imprisoned for treason after making an anti-war speech in 1918 while the United States was at war with Germany. As prisoner number 9653, he received nearly 1 million votes for the Presidency in 1920.

Each generation of socialists build on the work of those who have come before, and Debs' speeches and the causes he spent his life working for are as relevant today as they were a century ago. When he was on trial for treason, he opened his defence by saying to the judge:

"Your Honor,years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

(Personally, I like to image David Blunkett or John Reid quoting that last bit)

As with any leftie at any time, Debs spent a lot of his life dealing with splits between different left-wing organisations. This piece of advice, given in 1912, is still well worth learning today:

"We shall accomplish vastly more in bending our energies getting together than we shall in columns of discussion as to how it is to be done. Let us get rid of our differences by engaging in the actual fight of the workers...In the heat of actual conflict the differences we are so prone to magnify melt away and disappear."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Rulebook

A good way to judge a politician is by what his opponents say about him. Ken Livingstone has done well by this test for many years - whether it was being attacked for the 'loony' idea that gay people should be treated equally back in the 1980's, or more recently criticised for promoting 'class warfare' by people who live in Chelsea and drive big cars during the debate on expanding the congestion charge zone.

Luke Akehurst believes that it was the wrong decision to readmit Ken to the Labour Party. The news that Ken has won his case in the High Court leads Luke to return to this theme with possibly the feeblest criticism of any senior Labour politician that I can remember (though, to be fair, it does no more than to echo the criticism that Save the Labour Party made of Hazel Blears becoming Chair of the Labour Party):

"If [Ken] was a councillor (and if he was his comments would have received less publicity and hence damaged the Party less) they would be likely to have resulted in a Labour Party disciplinary investigation. That may have cleared him but at least it would have looked into the matter.

But, as with his rulebook-bending readmission to the Labour Party without serving the 5 year membership ban for standing against a Labour candidate, there is one Rulebook for Ken and another for the rest of us who hold public office, and indeed the wider membership.

Ken may have won the election to be Mayor of London. Twice. He may have won the court case in the High Court. He may be the most popular Labour politician in London. But, comrades, all is not lost. For there is still the Rulebook, and the Labour Party internal disciplinary investigation." [I may have made the last bit up]

Against postcode lotteries and for localised decision-making and warm ice cream

Everyone* knows that it would be a Good Thing if access to services, particularly in the NHS, did not depend on whereabouts in the country you live.

Everyone** knows that it would be a Good Thing if instead of the government trying to run everything centrally, decisions were taken at a much more local level.

The problem is that when you try to combine these two principles, you end up with a warm ice cream.

Any devolution of power from the centre necessarily involves the creation of "postcode lotteries". An attempt to proceed in the manner of Lib Dem conference or a Compass pamphlet, through assertion that localism is Good and postcode lotteries are Bad, without any idea about priorities, or how to resolve conflicts between these principles, is no help when it comes to the actual business of governing.

For all that they are accused of not having any policies, the Tories have made it clear that if they win power then they will redirect funding for the NHS from the poorer areas of Britain to the richer ones, and have been spinning this as an attack on funding decisions being taken politically at the moment. This will, of course, widen still further the gap in life expectancies and health between rich and poor.

There are some things which locally run services do well. In particular, they provide the opportunity to try out new, innovative ideas, whether provided by the public, voluntary or private sector. But the number of people who want high quality public services is much higher than the number of people who care whether the decisions are taken locally or nationally. It isn't politically fashionable to say so, but to reduce inequality and be on the side of the majority about public services, we need a strong and growing central state, redistributing funding from wealthy areas to poor, rolling out good ideas and providing constantly improving services.

"Merry Christmas"

Farepak Hampers have, since 1969, provided food hampers and presents at Christmas time to people who made monthly payments.

Last Friday, Farepak Hampers went into administration. The information on their website is that no hampers or gifts will be delivered, and that people will not get their money back, except possibly for a small dividend, and not for some months at the earliest. They were aware of the financial difficulties, but did nothing to warn the people who were continuing to pay in each month.

It sounds like something from a Charles Dickens story, but it is happening now in 2006. This year, thousands of people who have been paying in what they can afford each month to make sure that their families can have a proper Christmas dinner and presents are going to be left with nothing, ending up worse off than if they hadn't planned ahead and saved money for this.

It would be great publicity, and wouldn't cost much by the standards of these things, if a supermarket or catering company would step in and provide hampers for this Christmas for the families affected. And in the longer term, something should be done to change the fact that it is the people with most to lose who are least likely to be compensated when something like this happens.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Good Old Boy #12

If I were a millionaire businessman, this is the sort of thing I would like to do:

"A US casino mogul has pulled out of a deal to sell his Picasso painting for a record $139m (£74m) after accidentally elbowing a hole in the middle.

Las Vegas magnate Steve Wynn was showing Le Reve (The Dream) to guests at his office in Las Vegas last month.

Mr Wynn, who has retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease affecting peripheral vision, tore a coin-sized hole.

He will now keep the painting, which he bought in 1997 for $48.4m, and repair it, his spokeswoman said.

'Terrible noise'

Mr Wynn raised his hand then "at that moment, his elbow crashed backward right through the canvas. There was a terrible noise".

"Smack in the middle... was a black hole the size of a silver dollar. 'Look what I've done' he said.

'Thank goodness it was me.'"

Positive Campaigning - Help End Child Poverty

Most people remember various campaigns designed to shock people and emphasise how awful some of the problems in Britain and the world today are. While these campaigns can help to grab attention, they always run the risk that people will think that a problem is so severe and impossible to solve that there is no real point in doing anything about it, and the only suggestion for ways of helping is by donating money.

Here's a different kind of campaign.

Yesterday saw the launch of a month of action about child poverty. Today more than 3 million children are growing up in poverty, in one of the richest countries in the world. We know that this is not inevitable, because the number has been falling since 1997, because of action by the Labour Party.

Next year, the government will set spending priorities for the next few years. If they choose to spend an extra £4 billion, less than 1% of public spending, on extra help for families and people on low incomes, then every year thousands more children and their families will be lifted out of poverty, and we will get back on target to end child poverty by 2020.

This may be the first and last time for a generation that we have the chance to end child poverty. It isn't inevitable that the government will find the money. They could instead put it towards abolishing inheritance tax, as the Tories have suggested, or towards any of the other priorities which would do more for people who are already well-off. One thing that you can be sure of is that the better off will be doing all they can to make sure that the government spends money in accordance with their priorities - their success in doing this is one of the reasons why they are rich and millions of people live in poverty.

Children in poverty and their families need all the allies they can get. If you want to be part of this, then contact your MP, get your council to pass a resolution, talk to your neighbours and friends, and do anything else you can think of to help make sure that reducing and ending child poverty is the government's top priority. The more people that care about this and get involved, the more likely our government is to end child poverty.

"Do you people not talk to each other?"

Recently in Leeds there was a meeting about tackling child poverty, which a lot of local people turned up to, including both people living in poverty and professionals who worked with people in poverty.

At the start of the meeting, a couple with a young child came to the front of the room. They had been trying to get out of poverty, and explained that they would be naming the people who they had contacted, and asked them to stand up. They explained that first, they had gone to their doctor, then to their social worker, then to the local Sure Start, then to Jobcentre Plus and then...and then...and then...by the time they had finished, twenty nine people were standing up.

"We went to talk to all these different people, and they all explained why they couldn't sort out our problems. So we've just got one question.

Do you people not talk to each other?"


The different services set up to help people out of poverty should work in such a way that together to tackle the problems which people face. But too often, what happens is that people end up telling the same story over and over again to different professionals. This, not "choice", is what reform of public services needs to sort out.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Provisional BBC #2

I'm going to stop linking every time Provisional BBC (provisionalbbc.blogspot.com) has a new post, but you should definitely go and read this:

Panorama reveal "bung culture" in politics

The government was thrown into chaos last night when the BBC programme Panorama revealed Labour made illegal approaches to Shaun Woodward before he signed for them in 1999. According to Panorama, Labour arranged secret meetings with turncoat Woodward before making official enquiries about his availability.

Tony Blair said he would not comment as he had not seen the footage due to a vote in the Commons. Tory leader David Cameron called for an independent inquiry, saying that if the accusations were true, Labour should be "banned from politics". Menzies Campbell, leader of the Liberal Democrats, would only say that this was further evidence of the need for proportional representation in the UK...

[Go on, go and read the rest!]

Mums For Justice

I'm not one of the 4 million regular readers of 'Take a Break' magazine, the UK's number one true-life mag, but I do think that their 'Mum's Army' and 'Mums For Justice' campaigns are interesting.

Mums for Justice is a campaign launched recently following the changes to the CSA, which wants the government to make sure that men:

*Pay child support in full every month and on time.
*Don't get away with lying about their earnings and pretending to be unemployed to wriggle out of paying up.
*Stick to visiting arrangements organised either by family courts or with their ex-partners.

Mums' Army has been running for longer, and has 280 campaigners and 15,000 supporters. It wants 'to push the problem of anti-social behaviour higher up the political agenda and keep it there, because whatever the government says, it is a problem which is getting worse'. They want anti-social behaviour to be tackled in seven areas:

More and better policing, with officers on the beat and local police stations who know their patch, answer the phone, react swiftly, and sympathise with the victim, not the culprit.

The balance of the law needs to come down in favour of the victim and not the yob. There is too much fuss about the yob’s human rights. What about the human rights of people to live in peace without the fear of intimidation?

To encourage a culture of learning amongst the young. For the balance of the law to be in favour of the teachers, not the yobs. Youngsters have to be taught discipline and respect for others.

To give support to parents who are trying to teach their children discipline and respect for others. Experienced parents can mentor and advise less experienced parents.

To re-establish traditional values in which young people are brought up to respect the vulnerable, the old and the disabled, rather than to treat them as easy victims. They should value the reciprocal support networks which create a successful neighbourhood or other community and should be shown the benefits of involvement.

We have a responsibility to young people. Boredom is often the cause of antisocial behaviour. More opportunities and facilities need to be created in order to stop young people from misbehaving.

To discourage commercial elements which encourage youngsters to bully and disrespect others - such as violent films, computer games, song lyrics, websites, and irresponsible television programmes. Then to be enforced with regulation and severe penalties for vendors who breech them.

Even if the idea behind all of this was to sell more magazines, it means that an effective way to boost sales is by running political campaigns, even though many of the potential readers don't vote and have never voted.

We need to think about why it is that people who want the government to change its policy on anti-social behaviour or child support think it is more effective to buy Take a Break magazine, join their campaign and stand for election as a Mums' Army candidate then to join the Labour Party, campaign with others in the local branch and stand for election as a Labour candidate.

In many areas it is almost inconceivable that joining the Labour Party and getting involved in your local branch would make any difference to the local area or to government policy, despite the fact that there are clearly a lot of people who this would appeal to. We might not be able to offer up to £1000 to people who send in their stories about anti-social behaviour, or advice on National Wedding Dress Day, but involving local people in making decisions about how to improve their local area and changing government policy should be our responsibility.

Take a Break magazine, Mums' Army campaign - http://www.takeabreakmagazine.co.uk/Default.aspx?Page=3


Although I bought the Observer yesterday, I didn't actually hear about the apparent split in the cabinet about whether or not to allow bigots to continue to discriminate in providing services until I read about it from other bloggers (I only read Nick Cohen, Andrew Rawnsley and Armando Iannucci in the news bit before throwing it in the recycling bin and reading the Sport section).

My reflex action on hearing this is to become cross and outraged that a Labour government could even consider the idea of watering down a commitment to equality. I can, however, remember plenty of previous examples of stories in the Observer about outrageous betrayals planned by the government which somehow never get reported anywhere else and don't end up happening - this seems to be their standard way of filling the front page on the all too common occasions when there isn't really any news to report. If the story turns out to have any basis in reality, that would be different, but there's no particular reason to think it will.*

*I submitted the above as part of my NVQ Level 2 in being a New Labour spin doctor.

"If we can't beat this lot, we've got no business being in politics at all"

Thanks to the Daily for the story of how two ministers has resigned from the New Moderate government, which has been in power for less than a fortnight, with a third being under pressure after not paying his license fee because he doesn't like SVT's programmes.

I have a question, though. The New Moderates are obviously a bunch of complete buffoons. So how did they manage in the recent elections to beat the most electorally successful Social Democratic Party in the world?

Good Old Boy #11

From John:

"A year long probe into the identify of a man who kept saying 'baa' during a planning meeting over rural issues has come at a cost of £10,000. Havering Council has denied that the report into the incident extended to 300 pages. One of the suspects said, 'This has been an expensive example of the worst kind of council bureaucracy'"

Sunday, October 15, 2006

"I'm not voting because I don't know how"

One of the polling stations in my old ward is the local primary school. Usually this is closed for polling day. However, at the recent by-election the headteacher decided to keep the school open, which was undoubtedly one of the reasons why we won by such a significant margin.

Our candidate got a terrific reception outside the school gates, with lots of parents telling us that they had voted Labour as they came out after dropping their kids off and then popping next door to the polling station. There were a few who despite the blizzard of leaflets in the run up hadn't realised that there was an election on, who found it a convenient time to be reminded.

There were a few who were more reluctant. It turned out that in many cases the reason for this was that, while they support Labour, they hadn't planned to vote because they had never been to vote, didn't know how and were embarrassed at the idea of having to go and ask, or of doing it wrong. Happily, because there were a lot of people about, most of them had friends who were going along to vote who went with them and showed them what to do.

There are lessons to be learned from this. Firstly, in any election, we should do our best to try to make sure that where schools are polling stations, that they remain open. This is a simple way of boosting turnout - for many parents the only convenient time to go and vote is just after dropping their kids off, and if the school is shut, they won't have a chance to go and vote.

Secondly, it shouldn't be assumed that everyone knows about how to vote, and there must be ways of making sure that people have the confidence to go and vote and don't feel intimidated. Different things will work best for different people - whether it is going along with a friend or having a leaflet which just explains about how it all works to take along, but we shouldn't assume that everyone who says that they support us when we canvass but never votes is lying - it might be that they want to support us but don't know how.


I just had a look at the Reclaim Labour website (reclaimlabour.blogspot.com) which has the aim of taking the Labour Party back for the Left from the New Labour careerists.

The list of policy criticisms - privatisation of public services, Iraq and the American alliance, top-up fees, workers' rights, Trident and civil liberties - are familiar and ones where I broadly agree with Reclaim Labour.

What I don't think is helpful is criticising people who support New Labour as 'careerists'. I've wanted Tony Blair to resign as leader since 1998 and campaigned against a whole range of New Labour policies, but even I can see that there are a whole range of reasons why people support Tony Blair and New Labour which have nothing to do with advancing their careers. There are millions of people who voted for a New Labour government in 2005, and thousands who were actively campaigning for its success, and realistically if there is to be a left wing Labour government, we will need to win over the vast majority of those people.

There are always a few people who are involved in politics for what they can get out of it, though I wouldn't worry because they are currently flocking to 'Project Cameron'. But to be honest, the main thing which determines whether people are on the left or the right of the Labour Party was identified by John O'Farrell, who found himself on the soft left because the soft left people were fun to spend time with, unlike the humourless hard lefties or the pompous right-wing councillors. In some places the local party is dominated by friendly lefties who go out of their way to welcome and involve new people, in others the local activists who do a lot of work in the local community and get new people involved are all staunch loyalists. In either case, the discussions and arguments that people hear when they are first getting involved in politics tend to stick with them, and the way to get more supporters is by being welcoming to new people, not by slagging off people who disagree on particular policies.

Since it is mostly a matter of accident and local culture about whether people end up on the 'left' or the 'right' of the Party, it is deeply counterproductive to make personalised attacks which assume the worst about people's motivations. Calling off the search for 'traitors' or 'careerists', and putting that time to persuading people to support our aims and our ideas for how to achieve those, is the key to getting a left wing Labour government.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Most Exciting League in the World?

For the neutral, it is hard to disagree that football in England is amongst the most exciting in the world. Attendences which compare favourably with Italy or Brazil, a different winner of the league every season, the pre-season favourites regularly defeated by teams with smaller budgets, the guarantee that the excitement continues right up until the last game of the season, a high level of skill and excitement (more than 40 goals in the ten games played today), the team managed by Roy Keane getting beat 4-1...

Not the Premiership, of course, but the Championship. The players in the Premiership might be better, but the extent to which success and money are related spoils most of the games and makes it much less exciting to follow.

It's interesting to see the difference between football organised around the needs of generating profit for Rupert Murdoch and associates, and the football organised at least to some extent around the fans, such as the Bundesliga with its terraces and low ticket prices (and higher attendences than any other league in the world), the Spanish clubs owned by their fans, FC United and AFC Wimbledon, clubs owned and run by Supporters' Trusts.

Football suffers when run according to the principles of maximising profit (as anyone who watched Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium in the last 3-4 years will know). It's just a thought, but I reckon that fans who have seen how their club has been spoiled by being run by rich businessmen, or flourished since the supporters got involved, might agree that the same principle is true when it comes to their children's school or their local hospital.

comedy Lib Dems

Over on Antonia's blog, Lib Dem organiser Neil Fawcett has been explaining that there is nothing wrong with the Lib Dems using this cartoon - http://www.antoniabance.org.uk/2006/10/07/asbo-babies - because "This cartoon may be ‘gratuitously stereotyping working class people’ but that is because it is highlighting comments by Blair that do just that". Tony Blair, of course, didn't call for asbos for babies and specifically ruled that out, but never mind, it's not like the issues of social exclusion or prejudice towards young working class women matter when compared to the opportunity to score a cheap and unamusing political point, is it?

So for those following closely, the Lib Dems have no problem with using images which might be considered to stereotype people, providing they are relevant to the point being made. Meanwhile, over on http://oxfordliberal.blogspot.com/2006/10/people-trafficking-and-prostitution.html, Lib Dem blogger of the year Stephen Tall is (quite rightly) complaining that to accompany a story on people trafficking, the Guardian uses "that most hackneyed of photo stand-bys, the alluringly provocative stockinged-leg of a prostitute".

Rather than working as a fundraiser for St Anne's College (which has already got plenty of money, so could probably spare him), perhaps Stephen could consider a career as the new Lib Dem cartoonist?

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Wisdom of the Crowds

The Labour leadership predictor has a list of which MPs are backing each of the leadership contenders, as suggested by the 'Wisdom of the Crowds'.

Amongst John McDonnell's backers is, apparently, John Spellar.

I don't think whoever predicted that has read Hammer of the Left

Leaflet Labour vs Pamphlet Labour

A friend who is a member of the electrician's union, though not an electrician, told me a while ago that the real divide in Labour is not between Left and Right or Old and New, but between Leaflet Labour and Pamphlet Labour.

Leaflet Labour think the point of being an activist is to campaign in elections and deliver leaflets. Time spent trying to shape party policy or sitting in GC meetings debating motions is time which could and should be spent out canvassing.

Pamphlet Labour think the point of being an activist is to help shape the policy of the Labour Party and come up with innovative new ideas for transforming society, disseminated in the form of pamphlets. Of course, campaigning is important, but unfortunately they are busy this weekend at Compass conference, and anyway elections are decided by how popular the government is.

I'm sure you can think of examples of each type from your own experience or local party. Members of the electrician's union sometimes say that Leaflet Labour is the 'moderate' side of the party and Pamphlet Labour are the 'Trots', but I've read Progress Online and seen lefties out campaigning and I know this ain't so.

Personally, I am more Leaflet Labour (though anyone who writes a blog about Labour can't entirely avoid being Pamphlet Labour) but I would like to propose a Third Way.

The good thing about Leaflet Labour is that it identifies that Labour activists shouldn't just spend time talking to each other, and that having the correct policies don't matter unless Labour representatives get elected to be able to carry them out. The problem is that if local people aren't involved in developing the policies, the leaflets just saying what the central campaign team in the Regional Office have decided should be the key messages, rather than reflecting the main issues locally.

At the moment, the Labour Party is a hybrid, with local CLPs being encouraged more and more to be Leaflet Labour and local people who want to have a say in policy being sidelined (often, it has to be said, because their ideas are stupid), while a select few lobbyists, researchers and special advisers provide the Pamphlets to inform national policy making.

Lord Adonis, to take but one example, would be a perfectly competent leafleter, and probably ok at canvassing with a bit of support. This would be a much better use of his time then writing pamphlets about education policy. On the other hand, Labour activists who do a lot of campaigning and who are local councillors, school governors, work at schools, are parents with children at schools, and keep in touch with other parents, teachers and so on have masses of experience from their campaigning which would usefully inform education policy, help develop policies which would win us more support and encourage other people to get involved in the Labour Party.

It's a kind of Third Way between Leaflet and Pamphlet Labour, and I humbly submit it as part of the debate about Renewal.

Provisional BBC

I like this, and hope it is updated regularly. An excerpt:

"The Liberal Democrats must improve or risk the imposition of private management, according to a standards watchdog.The party fell foul of the watchdog after consistently coming third in general elections since its establishment in 1988. It was criticized for failing to provide best value to its voters - unlike the Labour and Conservative parties, which ran governments and had policies.

Under new government legislation, private management could be imposed on the party unless it raises its game fast. In extreme cases, parties could be closed down to leave political space for new, better parties to emerge.

Party leader Menzies Campbell questioned the report, claiming it misunderstood the motives of Liberal Democrat voters. “I think the Liberal Democrats provide excellent value for our voters,” he said. “Our voters don’t want policies or action, they want to sit on the sidelines and bitch about the government”..."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

John Harris

I read John Harris' book, "So Now Who Do We Vote For?" when it came out, and I found it very useful. In the constituency I was helping in, there were thousands of people who were thinking exactly the same sorts of things as him, and despite the best efforts of the national party to ensure that absolutely none of them voted for us last time, we were able to persuade just enough to stick with us to return a Labour MP.

It's good that he is rejoining and writing a 'dog whistle' article in the Guardian aimed at the people who didn't vote Labour in 2005 but who are now wavering, to encourage them to support us and join up.

Many of the same people who didn't want to readmit Ken Livingstone to the Labour Party (because, obviously, following the procedures of the Rule Book is more important than, say, having a Labour Mayor of London rather than Steve Norris) are now suggesting that Harris should somehow be denied membership.

At the next election, we will need to get the people who supported Labour while we were in opposition, but who have been getting disillusioned since 1994 or 1997, to vote for us rather than voting for the equivalent of Ralph Nader, or we will lose just like Al Gore did. This is a small but welcome step towards achieving this goal.


"Iraq is an unequivocal humanitarian emergency. Civilians are being harmed by our presence in Iraq, not helped. That should force us to pause and ask what we are doing and why. There is no shame in saying that we have got the policy wrong. Moreover, we have a legal obligation under the Geneva conventions to do all we can to protect civilian populations. These findings show not only that are we not adhering to this legal obligation, but also that we are progressively subverting it year on year...We need a new set of principles to govern our diplomacy and military strategy - principles that are based on the idea of human security and not national security, health and wellbeing and not economic self-interest and territorial ambition" - Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet.

Even if you don't believe the figure of 655,000 deaths since 2003 in Iraq, the above is surely correct.

I don't agree with John McDonnell that if Gordon Brown and Jack Straw and any others who had misgivings about the war had resigned, then the war might have been prevented - there is no evidence that anything which British ministers had done would have stopped the Bush administraton, but if Gordon Brown had resigned, the government which he would now be leading would be far better placed to help try and bring about this new set of principles for human security, health and wellbeing, and the fact he didn't resign says nothing good about his judgement.

There's very little that I can add to what others have said, and been saying for years, about Iraq and British foreign policy. But just one thing which isn't often mentioned. As well as the urgent need to help, rather than harm, civilians in Iraq and victims of war around the world, I hope that when this conflict is over that the British government doesn't neglect our soldiers. Part of prioritising health and well-being is for the government to be planning now for how to support soldiers after they leave the armed forces. One of the classic examples of Thatcherism at its worst was people who had served their country in the Falklands, in Ireland or in the Gulf were left sleeping in the streets or suffering from physical and mental illnesses, with the government doing nothing to help them. Help shouldn't wait for pressure from the tabloids as we've seen on the issue of pay - the people who should be punished for the decision to invade Iraq are the politicians, not people in Iraq and not the British or American soldiers.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Justified and unjustified criticisms

As a proper leftie, what I secretly love more than anything else is sectarian arguments between people who are notionally on the same side. I am therefore enjoying the entertaining spat between Luke Akehurst and Kerron Cross following Kerron's attack on Kitty Ussher as a 'Tony Blair supporting, greasy poll climbing politician', which Luke says 'really says more about how sad he is than it does about Kitty'.

For what it's worth, I agree with Luke on the general principle that men chasing Parliamentary seats attacking women MPs is, at best, an odd attitude for a socialist, and the fact that Kerron chose to bring up All Women Shortlists as part of his criticism, for no good reason that I could see, reinforces this point. There are, after all, plenty of other New Labour MPs whose previous job experience involves working as a lobbyist and as a special adviser.

That said, apart from stupid articles in the Guardian (which many Labour MPs make a hobby of), including a amusing pair of articles, one just before the local elections about how no one in Burnley had stopped supporting Labour because of anything that Prescott, Hewitt or Clarke had done, and one a month later about how bad the new Tory/Lib Dem council which had taken over from Labour as a result of the elections was, the only experience I've had of Kitty Ussher as a politician and campaigner tends to reinforce Kerron's criticisms.

About three years ago, I went up to help for a couple of days in Burnley campaigning in a council by-election where Labour were trying to hold a ward against a strong challenge from the fascists. As part of her campaign to win the selection, Kitty Ussher was playing a major role in running this by-election campaign.

The strategy, if that's not too strong a word for it, was to try to appeal to voters who might be tempted to vote for the fascists. This is not of itself intrinsiscally a bad strategy, but the tactic chosen of replacing the Labour Rose with the Union Jack on the leaflets, and of all the photos only featuring white people (I don't know where this was intentional or not) was a total disaster. In the pub after one day's leafleting and canvassing, a man with a shaven head and tattoos had a go at me because he'd seen our leaflets and couldn't understand why we seemed to be pandering to racism rather than taking the fascists on for their racism (I told him I agreed and that if he wanted to change it he should join Labour and make these points - he took a membership form). This was not atypical - the racists were not impressed with our campaign when they had the option of proper fascists to vote for, and the anti-racist majority of people were quite rightly put off by our campaign.

Come the election itself, Labour finished third, with the Lib Dems (who had picked up the majority of the anti-fascist vote thanks to our campaign) beating the fascists by eleven votes.

I don't for a moment think that Kitty Ussher or anyone else was deliberately pandering to racism, and I understand the importance of trying out different tactics of campaigning to beat the fascists, but it is the only election campaign where I wish that I hadn't helped Labour, both because of the nature of the campaign and because doing so nearly helped let a fascist get elected. I'm therefore a bit surprised that it proved to be the springboard to her selection as MP, and while I'm sure that the lessons learned from that campaign have been learned to make future campaigns against the fascists more effective, I just think that in this particular case Kerron might have a point.

Good Old Boy #10

Just been reading the Let's Talk blog on social exclusion, which would be depressing (55% think social exclusion is inevitable) except for the fact that the majority of contributors have obviously never ever voted Labour.

But amidst the CAPITALISED RANTS BY PEOPLE WHO ARE FURIOUS ABOUT HOW MUCH TAX THEY HAVE TO PAY AND IT ALL GETS SPENT ON IMAGRINTS AND SCROUNGERS, there is the occasional contribution by a proper Good Old Boy, like 'Eil' from Newcastle upon Tyne, who about a month ago wrote:

"What is the point of having a debat on social exclusion when members of this Labour Government are disgracefully disrespecting and excluding the members of the country who voted for Tony Blair to be the ELECTED Prime Minister. I am furious at the manner in which Browns and cronnies are disrespecting our elected leader. Shame on each of you. The party should be focusing on the real issues facing this country not following the media driven agenda. It is like watching a ruddy awful soap on T.V. Your behaving like the pathetic Tory party. Good God do you THINK THIS DEBARCLE WILL WIN ANY VOTES? If Blair is toppled I for one will never vote Labour again. BLAIR'S Government has done more than any other to help the plight of the poor in the country. It is a pity the M.P,s who plot his downfall have such treacherous hearts. They should be thinking of how happy the Tory party is right now Christmas has come early and what fate awaits the poor under their next government."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Am I the only one who thinks it is rather appropriate, given the course of his political career, for David Blunkett's new book to be serialised half in the Daily Mail and half in the Guardian?

I had a train journey to Nodnol and back yesterday, so read both newspapers (it took me longer than it should have done to realise that the extract from Blunkett's book was the same in both papers - I suspect I may be the only person who will have known that, given that the number of people who read both the Guardian and Daily Mail must be in low single figures).

It turned out to be an error to read the Guardian, because the Good Old Boy sitting next to me saw the fact that I was reading a story with a picture of Jack "at least he wasn't as bad as David Blunkett" Straw as an invitation to discuss with me the question of the niqab.

The vital importance of cultural tolerance and the strengths of diversity and multiculturalism, not to mention the rights of women to wear what they wanted, were amongst the points that he didn't make. I was only rescued from the enticing prospect of a three hour discussion on the dangers of the Islamic takeover of Britain by the good fortune of the ticket inspector discovering that his ticket was not valid.

If not now, when?

The lesson learned, particularly by the Brownites, from the Make Poverty History campaign appears to be that before the government can do anything significantly progressive, the public need to be mobilised to think it is important and support it.

They've certainly got a point. After all, who can forget the massive grassroots campaign to change public opinion and force the government to set up Sure Start? Or introduce a minimum wage? Or tax credits? Or commit to ending child poverty in a generation?

Hmm. Far from being examples of the public demanding action, in each of these cases the government just got on and led, at a time when none were political priorities as defined by opinion polls or any other measure of public opinion. The idea behind Sure Start came from the New Democrats, the minimum wage from the trade unions, tax credits from Gordon Brown and his team and ending child poverty by 2020 from Tony Blair. These are now all part of the politicial consensus and cited by ministers and activists whenever they are trying to persuade people to look beyond Iraq or NHS cuts or whatever to remember why it is good and important to have a Labour government.

For all the good that these policies have done, there are still millions of people in Britain today living in poverty, and levels of inequality has barely changed since the days of John Major. The new government policies are based around another reorganisation of public services, based on the idea that people live in poverty because of individual bad choices that they make. When asked, ministers say that they have to try to justify these policies in terms of savings to the taxpayer and sanctions for the 'undeserving', because the public won't support the moral case for reducing poverty or inequality.

Just imagine if instead of this, the government announced an intention to close the gap between rich and poor and devoted all of its powers to eliminating poverty as quickly as possible, even if it meant that next year company directors only got an average pay rise twice the national average, rather than nine times as they did this year. Just for a start, it would unite the Labour Party like no other issue - more or less everyone who spends time helping Labour is instinctively on the side of the underdog and wants a fairer and more equal society, whatever their views about the leadership, the need for an independent nuclear deterrent, whether British troops should be in Iraq, the viability of the Alternative Economic Strategy or anything else.

It is traditional in these sorts of arguments to claim that such a change of policy would be overwhelmingly popular. My own view is that rule one of political strategy is that anyone who writes a diary about politics on the internet should by definition be disregarded when they claim to know what the public would think about any particular policy proposal. But if ever a campaign to reduce and eliminate poverty were to be successful, it would surely be at a time when Labour was in government, when the opposition was weak and during a time of economic prosperity. It's not going to get any easier to make the case for closing the gap and ending poverty, whatever ministers may hope. So the question is not so much 'do opinion polls show that reducing poverty in Britain is currently identified by a majority of people as a priority?', and instead 'how we can use all the resources of government, the party and our allies to take the lead, win the argument and make it a priority?' Or, put another way, if not now, when?

Good Old Boy #9

From the Daily Mirror letters page:

"David Cameron says that his priorities can be summed up in three letters, NHS. Well I've got three more for him. O.A.P.

Reg Page, Oldham"

Friday, October 06, 2006

"I'm not prejudiced, Some of my best friends are Muslims. I just hate it when they don't flaunt it"

Years of mockery have made even the dimmest bigot realise that denying that they are prejudiced by saying "some of my best friends are [members of whichever group the prejudice has been expressed about]" does not strengthen their case. Back in the day, a regular target of such lines used to be gay people 'flaunting' their sexuality, now it is Muslims for doing the opposite.

In a way, I rather regret the passing of the 'some of my best friends...' disclaimer. A lot could be done for tolerance and good relations in this country if everyone who wrote about what a bad thing Islam is had some vague notion what they were talking about based on personal friendship with people who are Muslims, rather than just from watching the telly or reading articles by other people with equally little idea on the internet.

On the subject of the veil, I liked Bob Piper's comment that it is a bit odd for anyone who spends time blogging to get excited by the problems caused by the inability to communicate face to face, and I thought Tom Watson has it about right when he says that, "For a lot of people, visiting their MP is quite a nervy experience. I always try and re-assure them that I'm not an ogre. Passing judgement, no matter how diplomatically, on their state of dress would run counter to what I was trying to achieve."

The issue that Jack Straw, someone who in fairness to him has worked closely with Muslims for decades, claimed to be raising is that of separation. Prejudices, whether about faith, gender or sexuality, get broken down when people from different backgrounds and cultures have the chance to play and learn together at school, work together, socialise together and so on. The reaction to his comments shows that there are a lot of people who feel more negatively towards Muslims when they see or hear about women wearing the niqab. Trying to decide whose 'fault' it is that people feel like that is largely unproductive, but working out how to change this situation is important.

My friend and former colleague on the council, Sabir-Hussain Mirza, worked with some friends and neighbours in late 2001 to set up an Anglo-Asian Association in Oxford. This group puts on successful events in east Oxford involving people of all different faiths and none (the last one I was at had well over one hundred people from a wide variety of backgrounds), and holds a range of different kinds of meetings including women-only groups and meetings. Every Saturday in the centre of Oxford, the Oxford Islam and Muslim Awareness Project, a group of young Muslim professionals who came together in the wake of the London bombings, have a stall to talk to people about Islam and collect for good causes like the victims of the earthquake - www.oxfordimap.org if you want to find out more.

There are grassroots projects like this all over the country, and they do more to reduce prejudice than any number of attempts by cabinet ministers to 'have a debate' by picking subjects which just polarise opinion and let the loons spend more time on the telly poisoning people's minds.


Thanks to Antonia for pointing out that www.electoral-vote.com is back online ahead of the American midterm elections.

For those who don't know, this website is updated daily with latest polls from each of the states and offers well-written analysis that explains in utterly convincing logic how this time the Democrats are going to be successful. It is like a kind of political soap opera and both compulsive reading and heartening.

And then the actual elections happen and the Republicans win. Which is disheartening.

Good Old Boy #8

"Mr O' Leary, the foul-mouthed 45-year-old Irishman who has piloted Ryanair since taking over from his former boss Tony Ryan in 1994, once dressed up as a cardinal to announce the launch of a route from Dublin to Rome, declaring: "Habemus lowest fares". He has also on occasions appeared as St Patrick, a French chambermaid and a Roman centurion.

He describes an airliner as a "bus with wings" but acquired a taxi licence and equipped a Mercedes with a meter so that his chauffeur could get around Dublin quicker by using bus lanes."

N.B. Being a Good Old Boy is not a sign of approval. In particular, the way Ryanair treat their workers ("we don't need those rip-off trade unions, we've got our staff councils") is some of the worst even in these days of 'flexible' working. But getting a taxi licence and meter for the Mercedes to be able to use the bus lanes is definitely Good Old Boy behaviour.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Spring conference cancelled

The decision to cancel Labour Spring conference is, whatever the official line about encouraging more podcasting or whatever, obviously because of Labour's financial situation. Putting on a conference is expensive and we are strapped for cash.

It is, therefore, an entirely sensible decision. Spring conference is quite fun for a few Labour Party members, particularly if, like Reading Labour Group, a group of people go up together. It serves no actual useful purpose, however. This is real basic language of priorities/religion of socialism stuff. Instead of having a conference, we can spend the money on campaigning in, and therefore increasing our chances of winning, elections.

It's not really that hard a choice - a few full time organisers in key marginal seats come the next elections, or a showcase for Tony Blair to do another farewell speech.

How to get selected #1 / Tory humour

Paul Foster was the Tory agent in Gillingham in 2005, and a man who knows about how to get selected if you are a Tory. He was on the BBC SE Politics Show, being interviewed about the 'A-List' and what prospective candidates ought to do to boost their chances of being selected:

The interviewer asked: "Should I put a tie on or wear a suit? Would you prefer that as a Chairman? What are you looking for?"

Foster replied: "Well, first off, you know, could you chop off a leg and be disabled.. secondly, could you declare the fact that you are gay, and if there is a chance have a word with Michael Jackson and change your colour, and then you would be fine."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

All Women Shortlists

Mark McDonald, over at LabourHome, is having a whinge about all women shortlists:

"I also wonder whether Sedgefield and Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath would have been AWS under the current system!"

This isn't quite as good an argument as he might think it is.

If they had been, i.e. if Labour had operated all women shortlists back in the 1980's, then by now roughly half of the Parliamentary Labour Party would be women, and would have been since at least 1997, hence no need for all women shortlists and all the benefits which even people who don't support all women shortlists claim to agree would flow from having a set of representatives which look more like the general population. I also have a sneaking suspicion that if Gordon Brown and Oxford East-reject Tony Blair hadn't been selected in those particular seats, they'd have found somewhere else.

Cameron's speech

Tim F sent me a rewrite of Cameron's last speech. It is absolutely brilliant:

"It's a huge honour to be standing before you as leader of the Conservative Party. And frankly I'm surprised I'm still here. It's been a time of great change. I'm already on my second leader of the Liberal Democrats. Before long I'll be on to my second Labour Prime Minister. Soon I'll be the longest-serving leader of a major British political party.

I wanted this job for a very simple reason. I love this country. I have great ambitions for our future. I wanted this job for two very simple reasons. I love this country. I have great ambitions for our future. And I want the Party I love…Three simple reasons! I'll come in again. Amongst my reasons for wanting this job are such diverse elements as… I love this country. I have great ambitions for our future. And I want the Party I love… …to serve the rich……in helping them realize their interests. We need to change in order to have that chance. You cannot change the past without altering the present in ways you could never imagine. You knew that.

And that's why you voted for change. I believe we can all be proud of what we've achieved these past ten months.People looking at us with fresh loathing. 25,000 new members - and in the same period of time, only 50,000 died! And in our first electoral test, in the local elections, we did about the same as four years ago. Let's hear it for our fantastic local councillors who got lucky. Tony Blair says it's all style and no substance. Well that's what wins elections.

In the whole of the last year, there is only one Tory thing that the Labour Party has achieved for our country. Their education reforms. Right now, across the country, comprehensive schools are being undermined by a return to selection. The only reason - the only reason - that's happening is because the Conservative Party did the clever thing and took the legislation through the House of Commons. I'm proud of that - proud of us, for putting party politics before automatic antagonism.

Another sign of our changing fortunes is the motley bunch of mediocres who have come to join us at our conference this year. And I'd like to pay a special tribute to one in particular. He's a man who knows more than George W Bush about leadership. He's endured hardship that's unimaginable to prosperous, ageing Tory delegates. And he's fought battles for global capitalism. Who knows the length of a piece of string? But John, I for one would be proud to see you - a Republican and a great friend to the Tory party - as leader of America.

I'd also like to pay tribute to my colleagues who have spoken already today. A year ago, David Davis and I were rivals. Today I'm the leader and he's not. He has given me the most fantastic support over these past ten months. Blah, blah, blah. He has not only helped bring this Party together… …he has helped take our Party in the right direction, and I want to thank him for all he's done. And I'm proud to work with another man who is a failed politician, a broken man, and discredited Conservative. A man who would be a Foreign Secretary that was bald: William Hague. Then there's Francis. I know Francis likes to pretend that everything is doom and gloom. He's always talking about the mountain we have to climb. He's so gloomy, he makes Gordon Brown look like a ray of sunshine. But Francis, you're only there to help me appeal to the extreme wing of the party.

Of course Francis has long told us to avoid the point-scoring and name-calling that can give politics such a bad name.He's right. That's why my public relations strategy has been based on provoking barneys with senior Tory figures.

So we have a great responsibility. To set out a clear, united and credible alternative. With some elections, you just know the result before a single vote has been cast. We were never going to win in 1997. People saw through us. I remember it well. I fought Stafford. And Stafford fought back. Labour were never going to win in 1983 when Thatcher had just won a war against a country in the middle of economic collapse. Other elections are wide open. And the next election will be one of those.
But we will not win, nor deserve to win.

On Wednesday, the last day of our conference, I want to talk in detail about the important issues we face as a nation - and what our response will be. But today, on this first day of our conference, I'd like to pontificate for a little longer. I want to explain how we will arrive at the next election knowing exactly what we want to do, without telling anyone what it is. My argument is based on very little.

Getting ready for the responsibility of government is like building a house together. Think of it in three stages. First you wait until the government is unpopular. Then you sit back and ignore the temptation to come up with policy. And then, finally, you cross your fingers.


These last ten months, we have been waiting until the government is unpopular. Our Party's history tells us the ground on which political success is built. It is the centre ground. Not the bog of political compromise. Not the ideological wilderness, out on the fringes of debate. Not the snowy plains of Iceland. Not the sandy dunes of Australia. But the solid ground where people are. The centre ground is where you find the concerns, the hopes and the dreams of most people and families and cats and dogs in the center. In 1979, they wanted a government to end unemployment and curb inflation. Margaret Thatcher took advantage of this to cut NHS funding and help her friends in business. And this Party can forever take pride in her magnificent achievements. Today, people want different things. Things we cannot provide. Safer streets. Schools that teach. A better quality of life. Better treatment for carers. That's what people are talking about today. But for too long, we were having a different conversation. A big conversation. Instead of talking about the things that most people care about, we talked about what we cared about most. While parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life - we were banging on about Europe. As they worried about standards in thousands of secondary schools, we obsessed about a handful more grammar schools. As rising expectations demanded a better NHS for everyone, we put our faith in opt-outs for a few. While people wanted, more than anything, stability and low mortgage rates, the first thing we talked about was tax cuts. For years, this country wanted - desperately needed – socialism. Well, they can't have it.


But waiting until the government is unpopular is just the first stage. Now we must sit back and avoid telling people what we would do in power. A strong government needs strong foundations. And I want us to lay those foundations this week. That's not about individual policies. It is about pontificating wildly so people think I have charisma. A Britain where we do not ask what government can do. We ask what can we stop it doing. A Britain where we stop bothering to take action to stop crime. And start realising that we are fucked.

Shirking responsibility - that is the essence of liberal Conservatism. That is the idea I want us to explain this week. That is what we stand for. That is what we're fighting for. That is the Britain we want to build. Take fighting crime. It is not just a state responsibility. It is the responsibility of maurading vigilantes, too. Let's not pretend that all we need is tough talk and tough laws to bring safety to our streets. Of course the state must play its part. That's why we're developing a programme of radical police reform. That's why we want to pay our mates in business ludicrous sums of money to build more prisons and underfund the ones we've got, so we can reduce taxes. And that's why we'll invest in drugs, to feed my habit. But that is not the end of the nightmare. It is just the start. We need parents to beat their children. We need to bring back the cane. We need to stand up for British values and shout down minorities. We need to make sure crime doesn't affect middle-class areas. We've got to stop selling alcohol to children. We need the music industry to understand that profiting from violent and homophobic words and images may be in their interests, but they should issue corporate responsibility plans pretending they disapprove.

But more than this, we need people, families, communities, businesses to step up to the plate and understand that it's not just about perpetuating the bad things… …it's about actively stopping the good things. Not waiting for the state to do it all, but shirking responsibility, making a difference, saying loudly and proudly: this is my country, this is my community: I will sit down and do nothing.
That is shirking responsibility.
That is our idea.

So I want us to be the champions of a new spirit of shirking responsibility in this land.A new spirit of shirking responsibility that will succeed for Britain where Labour's outdated state responsibility has failed.


Think of any issue - not just crime - and then think of Labour's response. This Government's way of doing things - the old way of doing things - is so familiar, and so depressing. Ministers hold a summit. They announce an eye-catching initiative. A five-year plan. Gordon Brown generously finds the money for it. The money gets a headline, but no-one knows what to do with it. So they create a unit in the Cabinet Office. A task force is set up. Regional co-ordinators are appointed. Gordon Brown sets them targets - after all, it is his money. Pilot schemes are launched. The pilot schemes are rolled out across the country. They are evaluated. Then revised, re-organised and re-launched. And then finally, once the reality dawns that the only people to benefit are working class people…the media whip up an outcry. These last nine years have been the story of a Government which instinctively believes, whatever it says, that it has responsibilities. We believe in shirking responsibility.

So let us define this week the kind of Britain we want to see. And let us show how our idea - shirking responsibility……not Labour's idea - state responsibility……is the right response to the challenges Britain faces.

We know that in the age of globalisation, in the face of fast-moving economic change, people want their government to provide security. We know that the end of the traditional 9 to 9 job can make life tough for families, and people look to their government for answers. And we know that in the race against time to tackle climate change and protect the environment, people expect their government to show leadership.

On all these challenges, Labour's first response is to regulate business, hoping to offer protection. It may sound attractive. But there are unintended consequences. Well-intentioned regulation can stop business from exploiting workers. Less able to squeeze money out of them to line their own pockets. It can undermine the bank accounts of our businessmen, so it's harder for them to invest in yachts. So our response, based on our philosophy of shirking responsibility, is to say to business:

Yes you should look after your workers, yes you should look after your community, yes you should look after our environment.

But you don't have to.

Next week our MEPs will try to win middle-class votes by strengthening proposals to make companies replace dangerous chemicals with safe ones. But where Labour try to protect workers, we will make sure we don't. We will ask: Are we making it easier to exploit people? Easier to discriminate on the basis of race, gender and age? Is the gap between the poor and rich increasing? Will the CBI like it? If only we had a government that was asking these questions today. We want companies to create their own solutions to social and environmental challenges, because those are the solutions least likely to cost them anything. So in a Conservative Britain, shirking responsibility will provide the best long-term answer to economic insecurity, well-being in the workplace, and environmental care. It is the same approach when you look at the other great challenges we face.

We know that in an age of amazing technological advance, instant information exchange, and empowered consumers who don't have the deference of previous generations… …people expect more from our health service and our schools. And government has to combat that.

Labour's response is the culture of democratic control, aimed at raising standards in our public services. They mean well. But the unintended consequence is to drive up standards. So our response, based on our philosophy of shirking responsibility, is to say to our nurses, doctors, teachers: Yes you should meet higher standards, yes you should give your patients and your pupils more. But we're not going to give you the money to do it. So in a Conservative Britain, shirking responsibility will provide the answer to rising expectations in the NHS and schools.

And just as people will no longer accept second best in public services, we know that in their communities they are fed up with squalor and poverty and crime……and they look to their leaders to sort things out. Labour's response has been a massive expansion of central government into local communities. The centralised Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, the Pathfinder programme, prescriptive top-down schemes for regeneration. You can see why Labour have done it. But the unintended consequence is to put more money into the most deprived communities. …the media whip up an outcry. These last nine years have been the story of a Government which instinctively believes, whatever it says, that it has responsibilities. We believe in shirking responsibility.

So let us define this week the kind of Britain we want to see. And let us show how our idea - shirking responsibility……not Labour's idea - state responsibility……is the right response to the challenges Britain faces. We know that in the age of globalisation, in the face of fast-moving economic change, people want their government to provide security. We know that the end of the traditional 9 to 9 job can make life tough for families, and people look to their government for answers. And we know that in the race against time to tackle climate change and protect the environment, people expect their government to show leadership. On all these challenges, Labour's first response is to regulate business, hoping to offer protection. It may sound attractive. But there are unintended consequences. Well-intentioned regulation can stop business from exploiting workers. Less able to squeeze money out of them to line their own pockets. It can undermine the bank accounts of our businessmen, so it's harder for them to invest in yachts. So our response, based on our philosophy of shirking responsibility, is to say to business:

Yes you should look after your workers, yes you should look after your community, yes you should look after our environment.

But you don't have to.

Next week our MEPs will try to win middle-class votes by strengthening proposals to make companies replace dangerous chemicals with safe ones. But where Labour try to protect workers, we will make sure we don't. We will ask: Are we making it easier to exploit people? Easier to discriminate on the basis of race, gender and age? Is the gap between the poor and rich increasing? Will the CBI like it? If only we had a government that was asking these questions today. We want companies to create their own solutions to social and environmental challenges, because those are the solutions least likely to cost them anything. So in a Conservative Britain, shirking responsibility will provide the best long-term answer to economic insecurity, well-being in the workplace, and environmental care. It is the same approach when you look at the other great challenges we face.

We know that in an age of amazing technological advance, instant information exchange, and empowered consumers who don't have the deference of previous generations… …people expect more from our health service and our schools. And government has to combat that.

Labour's response is the culture of democratic control, aimed at raising standards in our public services. They mean well. But the unintended consequence is to drive up standards. So our response, based on our philosophy of shirking responsibility, is to say to our nurses, doctors, teachers: Yes you should meet higher standards, yes you should give your patients and your pupils more. But we're not going to give you the money to do it. So in a Conservative Britain, shirking responsibility will provide the answer to rising expectations in the NHS and schools.

And just as people will no longer accept second best in public services, we know that in their communities they are fed up with squalor and poverty and crime……and they look to their leaders to sort things out. Labour's response has been a massive expansion of central government into local communities. The centralised Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, the Pathfinder programme, prescriptive top-down schemes for regeneration. You can see why Labour have done it. But the unintended consequence is to put more money into the most deprived communities.

Our response, based on our philosophy of shirking responsibility, is to not give a shit. So we will hand power and control to business, who are our friends. They will pay us back when we're old and out of power. So in a Conservative Britain, shirking responsibility will provide the answer to improving the quality of life for the few and not the many.

And then perhaps the greatest challenge of all. The challenge of bringing up children in a world that often seems fraught with risk and danger. There is nothing that matters more to me than the safety and happiness of my family. Of course it's right that government should be on parents' side. But Labour take it way too far.

A national database to avoid more Victoria Climbies. Making childcare accessible to working class people and not just the wealthy. Offering parenting classes where they're needed. Labour's intentions may be good. But the unintended consequence is to create better educated, healthier children with higher expectations who will demand the wages they deserve. They may have abandoned Clause 4 and the nationalisation of industry. But they still want better conditions for the worst off.

The state can never be perfect - so it shouldn't do anything. Real change will take years of patient hard work, and we will test every policy by asking: does it shirk responsibility? We need to understand that no change is worth any number of government initiatives. Who has done more to improve school food, Jamie Oliver, or the Department of Education? Put another way, we need more of brainless daytime TV programmes, less real action to meet real needs. So in a Conservative Britain, shirking responsibility will provide the best answer to the risks and dangers of the modern world.

Shirking responsibility.

Shirking responsibility.

Shirking responsibility.

Shirking responsibility.

These are the four pillars of our social responsibility.

That is the Britain we want to build.

A Britain with more homeless. More middle-class family-friendly. More in the hands of unelected middle-class people who have time to piss around with resources that could be spent where they are needed. Less belief in politicians' ability to do anything at all. But more optimistic about what we can achieve if we cross our fingers.

We want power.


This week, in our debates, we will refuse to say anything of substance. Saying nothing must come first. How superficial, how insubstantial it would be, for us to actually propose solutions to pressing problems. Policy without principle is like a porcupine without pork.

A upine.

That is what our Policy Review is all about: upine

If we do this, we can help achieve so much for this country. In a few years' time, Britain could wake up to a bright new morning. We have everything to be optimistic about. You could not design a country with better natural advantages than we have. We speak the language of the world, because we enslaved most of it. We have links of history and culture with every continent on earth, because we invaded them and stole their natural resources. We have institutions - our legal system, our armed forces, the BBC, our great universities. Our artists, writers and musicians. We are. In this young century, these old advantages give us the edge we need.


What a prospect for a Tory Party - to get power back. So let us stick to the plan. Let us build - carefully, thoughtfully and patiently, a new house together. Preparing the ground as we move to the centre, meeting the priorities of the modern world. Sitting back and doing nothing with our idea - shirking responsibility. And crossing our fingers, hoping to win back power. The hopes of the nation are in our hands. People's hopes. Your hopes. My hopes. His hopes. Her hopes. That man over there with the funny hat and the silly moustache's hopes.

In eight days' time I will be forty years old. I have so much to look forward to. My young family. They have so much to look forward to. If you want to know what I'm all about, I can explain it in one word. That word is optimism. I am optimistic about human nature. That's because I have been handed everything in life on a plate.

Labour are pessimists. They think that without their guidance, people will act in their interests. That's why they want to regulate and control. So let us show clearly which side we are on. Let optimism beat pessimism. Let sunshine win the day. Let fluffy animals dance round a beautiful rainbow. Oh wait, this is a flashback.

And let everyone know that the Conservative Party is ready.
Ready to serve (the wealthy).
Ready to fight.
Ready to lose.