Tuesday, March 27, 2007

IFS: Poverty rose in 2005-6

The Institute of Fiscal Studies reports that poverty in Britain rose for the first time in nearly a decade in 2005/6. This was the first year that benefit and tax credit rises for some of the groups most at risk of poverty rose slower than average incomes. Some of the key points:

*Government targets are to reduce child poverty by 200,000 a year, but despite the fact that extra spending since 1999 has been aimed specifically at hitting this target, levels of child poverty rose by 200,000 last year.

*The number of working age adults without children who are living in relative poverty is at its highest level since records began in 1961.

*But levels of pensioner poverty have continued to decline. It is only very recently that pensioners have been less likely than the general population to live in poverty, but this trend is continuing.

Interestingly, in the last couple of years the government shifted their approach to tackling poverty. Believing that their reforms had tackled the structural causes of poverty for the vast majority, they have been working up strategies to try to alter the behaviour of people who are in deep and persistent poverty (under Hilary Armstrong), and who are in receipt of incapacity benefit (under John Hutton).

What the IFS report shows is that this approach, personally supported very strongly by the Prime Minister, is based on faulty logic. Targeted spending increases aimed at 'deserving' children and pensioners can reduce poverty amongst those groups, but has not caused a structural change, so that as soon as the spending falls, levels of poverty rise again. Meanwhile, people who aren't seen as 'deserving' are at an increasing risk of poverty.

The response in the DWP to the slowdown in public spending has been to push for the introduction of the private sector into the 'multi billion pound market of welfare benefit delivery'. At the last election, this was a manifesto commitment - of the Conservative Party. Even its proponents don't make the case that it would lead to lower levels of poverty, and it seems to have managed to avoid the 'child poverty proofing' which all new policies are meant to go through.

Overall levels of poverty are still much lower than they were ten years ago. But this has been caused by rising levels of employment and direct cash transfers to particular groups at risk of poverty. Since public spending will not be growing as quickly in the next five years as in the past five, existing policies are likely to see further increases in levels of poverty. But the Blairite reflex response that this is an example of state failure and shows the need for more private sector involvement in delivering services isn't right either.

A political consensus has been built that child poverty should be ended and that it is job of government to make this happen. What's needed now is a broadening of this goal to encompass all kinds of poverty. Many working age adults living in poverty are going to be the parents of the future, and measures which reduce poverty amongst these people will also reduce poverty amongst families. Poverty is caused by low levels of benefit and low wages, and this is what needs addressing.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Trap

I thought the first two parts of the telly series 'The Trap' by Adam Curtis were quite good. Tonight's episode, though, appeared to have been put together by Chris Morris sending up the whole genre of documentary and hence was very very silly, with much too much of the random bits of newsreel and music (though playing scary music when Dick Cheney is speaking is a practice which should be adopted more widely).

Most of it was a helter skelter race through the last fifty years of history, which spent ten minutes explaining what propaganda was, but missed out the Vietnam War and Chairman Mao entirely (an unfortunate omission given that the programme was largely about the evolution of American foreign policy on the one hand and the failure of utopian Commie projects on the other).

In this as in previous episodes, there was a version of Great Man theory going on, in which particular people were fingered as the originators of the bad ideas that cause today's problems - this week, Isaiah Berlin. A lot of time was wasted on attempting to demonstrate how the main events of the last fifty years were caused by the corruption of the idea of negative liberty, an extremely ambitious argument which was very clearly lacking in explanatory force. This time could have been better spent on developing the critique of subjects which Curtis actually seemed to have more of a grip on, which is basically the limitations of Blairite managerialism, foreign policy and neo-conservatism. It all ended with a bit of an anti-climax, with the narrator speaking of the need to rediscover the idea and value of revolutionary change and more expansive notions of human freedom, but purely as a theoretical point, with no suggestion that there are any people in the world today striving to achieve exactly this.

In its scattergun choice of targets, it was quite like a mirror image of something by Nick Cohen, who uses a similar technique of extrapolating from the thoughts or writings of particular individuals to sweeping denunciations of anyone and everyone who doesn't agree with him. Both Adam Curtis and Nick Cohen produce entertaining polemics, but neither seem to believe that there is currently any political alternative capable of addressing the problems that they identify. At least Curtis didn't end, as Nick Cohen does bathetically in 'What's Left?', with the notion that if there is hope, it lies in the Euston Manifesto.

Redistribution and inequality

Any leftie thinking about whether or not they can bring themselves to vote Labour should have a look at the graph on the left.

We should all be heartened to see how Gordon Brown has used the tax and benefit system over the past ten years to try to redistribute wealth from the highest earners to the lowest.

It does also show how hard it is to reduce inequality. Despite using the powers of the state to reduce the income of the rich by 6% and boost the incomes of the least well off by 12%, levels of inequality in the UK have barely changed over the past decade.

Inequality has such a corrosive effect on our society, particularly as a cause of poor health, that it must be a priority to do much more to reduce it substantially, but that doesn't mean it would have been better for people on low incomes if Gordon Brown had spent the last ten years doing an impression of Norman Lamont and causing recessions rather than steady levels of growth. Combining rising living standards with greater equality could and should be the most exciting challenge for a Labour government over the next ten years, building on what we have learned over the past decade.

One increasingly popular response to these challenges has been to talk about the need to consider 'well-being' as an alternative or complementary measure to economic growth. But without the priority placed by Gordon Brown on ensuring steady economic growth over the past ten years, the living standards of the least well-off would be much lower. High levels of inequality do mean that rising living standards don't always make people happier, but there could hardly be something more typically Tory than to change policies to stop living standards rise for people on low incomes to try to appease the anxious middle classes. When the Green Party calls for an end to economic growth and then in the next sentence complain about health service cuts, it's not hard to see why David Cameron is interested in stealing their clothes.

There is no way that the graph above would look as progressive if our aim had been to maximise the 'Gross Well Being Index' at the expense of economic growth, and the idea that David Cameron and his chums might have responsibility over the next ten years for the challenge of maintaining steady economic growth while protecting the natural environment and reducing inequality is an extremely frightening one - it's not hard to realise who has most to lose, or how much there is to lose.

Stigmatising toffs

The Observer has an excellent new column this week (sadly not online) in which four pundits are given a question, and each has to try to come up with the stupidest answer. The question is 'What's wrong with having 'toffs at the top', with reference to Peter Hitchens' forthcoming documentary about David Cameron.

Mary Warnock, a philosopher, kicks off with 'If we could go back to meritocracy, then whether or not there were toffs on the front benches would be a matter of luck'. Donald Macleod, a churchman, fails to understand the aim of the column by commenting that they are 'temperamentally averse to all redistribution of wealth', which is a reasonably sensible point, though we are talking about the leadership of the Conservative Party, so being averse to redistribution of wealth is arguably well within the job description. Anastasia de Waal, who works for a right-wing think tank, gets back on track with the argument that 'only private schools seem to be able to turn out today's top politicians'. But this week's clear winner is cancer specialist Karol Sikora:

"This unprovoked attack is stigmatising a group of people [Old Etonians] out of spite and probably jealousy. Imagine if it were about sexual orientation - readers would be aghast."

It reminds me of Douglas Hurd's lament, when it was felt that having gone to Eton damaged his chances of becoming leader, that he thought he was 'running for the leadership of the Tory Party, not some demented Marxist sect'.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


I think it would be a useful piece of work to update the debate about deterrence and think about which of the assumptions from the Cold War still hold true.

In particular, is the assumption that two hostile powers are less likely to go to war if they both have nuclear weapons a universal truth, or was it specific to the confrontation between the USA and their allies and the USSR and their allies.

This matters because if mutually assured destruction does prevent wars from taking place, then the Iranians are quite right to be trying to acquire nuclear weapons and the region will be safer once they have done so, whereas if war is more likely, as well as being more devastating, when there are more countries with nuclear weapons, then the case for action to prevent them from acquiring nukes is much stronger.

My understanding of the debate at the moment, though, is that people who think that mutually assured destruction does prevent wars think that there needs to be a pre-emptive war or at least missile strike to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons, whereas the people who think that nuclear weapons make wars more, not less, likely think that a pre-emptive war is a worse option than allowing the Iranians to get a nuclear deterrent.

Refighting the last war is all too common, and has never proved a good idea in the past, and the costs of getting this one wrong - either by fighting a pre-emptive war which causes massive misery and suffering and cannot be won, or allowing nuclear weapons to fall into the hands of regimes which are prepared to fight a nuclear war - could hardly be higher.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Better ways to keep in touch

Quick quiz. In which national newspaper today could you have read the following:

"The one bit of the budget forecast that appears to be indisputable is the buoyant rate of economic growth"


"The IFS said families are paying an average of £5,600 more in tax in real terms than when Labour came to power...However the growth in the economy meant they were also £11,700 better off - meaning the average household is £6,100 in credit"

and in its main editorial, entitled 'Chancellor Brown plays a trump card':

"All credit to Mr Brown who, unlike some of his colleagues, hasn't forgotten the principles for which Labour once stood. [We] are not overly fond of taxation, but this is one tax we heartily endorse"

Not the Daily Mirror. Not the Guardian. Not the Sun. It's...

The Daily Mail.

(The tax in question, in case you were wondering, is gambling duty on betting websites).

One of my many unsound views is that any Labour activist writing newsletters should read the Daily Mail to see how they cover stories. Usually, Labour newsletters are either glossy ones with as few words as possible, or extremely wordy, attempting to imitate either the Sun or the Guardian (usually badly in either case).

The idea with the glossy newsletter is that people should absorb the key content of it between picking it up and throwing it in the bin six seconds later. There is some merit in this, but the problem is that it means that the newsletter isn't very interesting for people who do take the time to read it, with soundbites and slogans which appear like spin. People will read it quickly and then bin it. This is still better than the newsletters which make no attempt to engage the reader and have long and boring articles about things which interest some activists but not voters, such as details of routine council meetings. These in turn are better than not producing and delivering newsletters at all. But I digress.

The Daily Mail has a completely different approach. Compared to the Sun on which New Labour bases its way of writing leaflets, its stories are much longer and more detailed. This makes it appear more trustworthy than the way the Sun presents stories, which means more people believe it and repeat the line that it sets out.

When I was a councillor, the Daily Mail was the most widely read newspaper in my ward (my local papershop sold one copy of the Guardian each day, increasing to two by 2006 because of popular demand). I modelled my newsletters on the layout of the Daily Mail, with headlines about issues people cared about (though the stories were about positive local things rather than negative national stories), and then a proper explanation of what we'd been doing and what we were trying to do (50-100 words for a short story, 150-250 for a main story), with a couple of pictures per page but mainly text, and a 'useful phone numbers' column which we encouraged people to hang on to and keep by their phone. These were a mixture of 4 sided and 2 sided. The result was that while most people binned the newsletter without reading it (as with all newsletters), a significant number of people, particularly older people, actually sat down to read through it, and valued it as a source of unbiased information about what was happening in their area, and quite a few kept it by their phones for weeks or months (our production of newsletters was not as regular as it perhaps could have been).

It won't work for every area, but when campaigning in Middle England or in one of those supermarginals, I think we should learn the lessons of the success of the Daily Mail, and use them for good, rather than evil. I find a lot of the effort in writing newsletters is in the editing stories down to meet the word limit, and in the design, and it is also cheaper to produce newsletters which are more text based than ones which only look good if they are done in colour and are glossy.


When I woke up this morning, I had a headache and didn't feel very well, self inflicted after a night drinking Guinness. But I don't think I felt as bad as the Labour campaign team in Sutton North in Ashfield, part of Nottinghamshire County Council.

In 2005, the result was Labour 2105, Tory 1118, Lib Dem 654, Ind 598, Green 223.

Yesterday there was a by-election. The result:

Labour 435
Tory 222
Lib Dem 1979

Labour vote share went from 45% to 16%, Lib Dem vote from 14% to 73%, for a swing from Labour to Lib Dem of 44%.

I know we're generally not all that popular at the moment, but that is an absolutely appalling result. Anyone have any details?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Good Old Boy #26

Good Old Boy of today is (obviously) Gordon Brown.

It is, it goes without saying, a disgusting betrayal to have a Labour chancellor, a Labour chancellor, taking pride in announcing tax cuts. As every fule know, Labour chancellors should, at this stage in the electoral cycle, be announcing massive and painful public spending cuts to appease the bankers.

It's worth remembering that for all the political benefits of announcing tax cuts, the budget would be regressive and leave lower earners worse off if the only significant changes to people's incomes were the ones on income tax. In fact, most people on low incomes will be better off overall, because of the increase in child benefit, working tax credit and pensioner allowances. There is a danger that this get forgotten about in the excitement of debating whether someone earning £40,000 per year is a few quid better or worse off as the Tories try furiously to spin the line that the Budget is not as it seems, or answering inaccurate claims that the Budget is regressive for most people on low incomes (the people who lose out, once again, are unemployed single people of working age - families and pensioners are better off). The tax cut might have happened under the Tories, the rest of it wouldn't have.

The most significant thing coming out of this budget is not that I will receive a small tax cut, or that hopefully Labour will get a short term political boost, but that within three years, there will be 200,000 children and their families who are currently living in poverty who will be significantly better off. I'd have liked the budget more if it had been more than 200,000, but that'll only happen if we can get the anti-poverty measures given their due, and if by this time next year, a majority of people would rather that we increased the amount of wealth redistributed than that they got a tax cut. It's a tall order, but the situation is more promising than for many years.

Monday, March 19, 2007

It's grim up South Liverpool

Last Thursday the street where I live got new blue wheelie bins for recycling newspapers and other such things. As I missed out on getting a recycling box, for reasons to tedious to recount, I'd been storing newspapers (Guardian and Daily Mirror on Saturday, Observer and News of the World on Sunday) up for months rather than throw them away, and happily transferred them all into the wheelie bin.

Today was collection day (which happens once a fortnight) and I spent literally hours agonising over whether to put out the bin the night before (advantage: I don't have to get up so early to put the bin out, disadvantage: it might blow over and scatter newspaper down the street because of the high winds), or this morning.

Anyway, the point of this is that I think those little plastic bag inserts in newspapers which they put the Guide and the magazine bit in are a Bad Thing and ought to be banned. This is an insight which came to me after going through seven months' worth of newspaper to remove them, and then realising that as the bin also took plastic for recycling, there wasn't any need to do so.


A 'damning' report on the NHS reveals that of £19bn extra put into hospital and community health services since 2003:

£6.6bn has gone on pay
£2.2bn on the rising cost of drugs, and implementing recommendations by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence treatment advisors
£1.6bn on hiring more doctors to comply with new EU employment laws on number of hours worked
£1.1bn on new buildings and equipment
£1bn on medical equipment and £600m on negligence lawsuits

leaving 'just' £5.9bn for direct improvements such as reduced waiting lists, much greater use of day surgery, larger numbers of doctors, nurses and consultants, and elderly patients spending far less time in hospital.

I don't understand why new buildings and equipment, more doctors and new drugs apparently don't count as direct improvements. Negilgence lawsuits are one of the hazards of every health service, but it is not a cost which can be avoided. I'm in favour of better pay for people who work in the NHS (in 1997 the starting salary for a nurse was £12,000, now it is £18,000), and personally I'd much rather the people responsible for caring for me if I get ill don't have to work excessively long hours or take on other jobs or have to worry about whether they'll be able to feed their kids.

Apparently the report is concerned that productivity has fallen, measured by in-patient admissions per nurse or consultant. This strikes me as a deeply stupid target. By 1997, two decades of starving the NHS of funds meant that, amongst other things, nurses' pay was too low, and many doctors were having to work much too long hours. Yet according to this target, addressing either of these problems is bad because it causes a fall in productivity.

The NHS has been in 'crisis' ever since it was founded, and it faces many genuine challenges today - an ageing population, rising expectations, how to get public involvement, how to reduce health inequalities, as well as some self-inflicted - such as pointlessly trying to turn it into a commissioning service. But the idea that the extra money has just been wasted and hasn't led to improvements is pernicious nonsense.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

People's Peers

I've not been following discussions about the House of Lords reform, because constitutional reform is something I think is quite boring, and the discussion often leads into discussions of voting systems, which is even more boring.

One observation, though. Whether the upper house is elected or appointed, I think that we in the Labour Party should make sure that our representatives are not just professional politicians drawn from the political elite - this goes back to the reason why the Labour Party was set up and would also be quite popular. Labour candidates for Westminster are drawn from an increasingly narrow range of jobs - lawyers, lobbyists, full-time politicians, and the 'talking professions' such as teachers and lecturers. There are plenty of good people working in these areas who have made and would make excellent MPs, but it's hard to dispute that these professions are over-represented. Given the different role of the upper house, particularly if starting with a blank slate, getting people from different backgrounds from those who are currently MPs and likely to be selected as Labour MPs in the foreseeable future would be of considerable benefit.

So my suggestion is that people should be banned from being future Labour appointees or selected as candidates for election for the upper house if they have worked, within (say) the last ten years:

For an MP; as an MEP; as an MP; as a lawyer; as a lobbyist or researcher for a public affairs company or charity; as an employee of the Labour Party; as a lecturer; in any other job earning more than £50,000 per year.

This list is based partly on the breakdown of MPs' occupations before entering parliament here, and partly on my own prejudices. It would still leave a potential pool of tens of millions of possible candidates, and wouldn't stop any of the above who are banned from becoming Labour councillors or MPs. But I think that the reason why the Labour Party was set up is as relevant today as it was over one hundred years ago, and some positive action to help achieve this goal does seem needed.

Good Old Boy #25

Paul Flynn has been a Good Old Boy for many years. Via Tom Watson, here he is, talking about youth involvement in politics:

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Towards the end of her speech, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) was unwise enough to mention a constituent of mine, whom she quoted as an exemplar of a politician in Wales, the young man whom all others should follow. She thought he was elected, but he is a nominated member of council. I think it is my duty to inform the House a little more about this person. I would not mention him normally. I know that his inspiration in politics is the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), so there is a certain poverty of ambition there.

As the young man has been cited as typifying the brave new world that the Conservatives are offering, we should know a little more about him. He has been kind enough to inform us about himself on the splendid MySpace website. He is remarkably frank. He gives a potted history of his life. He states:

“I’ve evolved from a little whining pussy to a thrill seeking wreckhead to a Conservative who still loves the wreckups.”

On 16 June 2006 he was asked whether he had taken drugs that month. He said yes. The next question was:

“Have you stolen anything this month?”

and he said yes. Asked why he wanted to go into politics, he said that he wanted it for the power, the flash suits and the money.
—David T.C. Davies rose—

Paul Flynn: I am delighted to give way to this young man’s hero.

David T.C. Davies: I have never seen the website and I do not really know the gentleman myself. I presume that there could be something ironic in what he says: if he is after power, money and flash suits, he will not want to follow me on to the Back Benches, as he will not see much of any of those from where I am sitting.

Paul Flynn: It is painful for me to recall my own experience when I was first elected. The first school I visited was Bassaleg school in my constituency. I was discussing politics in the sixth form and I recall one particularly difficult person—he might have something in common with the young man I have mentioned—who was a bit of a troublemaker in the class. I advised him, in my generous way of helping young people, that the best thing to do in life was to take up politics. That young member is in his place opposite as the hon. Member for Monmouth, so I regard that as the worst political mistake of my life. In order to convey a somewhat brighter picture of Newport. I shall mention three other young people in my constituency—Richard Whittaker, Adam Brustad and James Sadler, who will be performing in the Meze Lounge tonight a newly written song called “Land of my Mothers”, which is part of their political agenda. They have wriiten song called, “Lebanon is Burning” and another one based on “Animal Farm”. Those are three splendid idealistic young men, marvellous examples of their generation, who believe in things other than what this gentleman I have quoted believes in—drugs, theft, wreck-ups, smart suits and making money. There is an optimistic side, and if people want an exemplar of what young people can achieve, they would be better off in the Meze Lounge in Newport tonight, listening to the first performance of “Land of my Mothers”.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


This description of a society in which the aim is to maximise well-being rather than GNP is, I think, the worst article I have read this year. To give a flavour:

"The year is 2020. Despite the best efforts of Cameron's Conservatives and the oppositionist Left New Labour is still in office. It has achieved this by cleverly adapting its policies to the well-being agenda that dramatically captured the public's imagination in the later years of the first decade...by showing how only they could deliver on what needed to be done New Labour has reigned supreme."

"Amidst the hoardings that remain are posters proclaiming that "happiness is not having what you want but wanting what you have", "enough is enough!" and "meet needs not greed"."

"In the workplace (where the guiding principle is there's a place for work but work must be put in its place)"

and finishing up with

"the ethos of "being warm" replaces the ethos of "being cool".

Today's challenge, for which there will be a small and entirely fictitious prize, is to find and post in the comments section a link to any articles which you think are even worse, advocating something which could in other circumstances be quite a good idea (so an article by some Tory arguing the usual sort of right-wing drivel doesn't count). Extra points if the comments section is even worse than the article, as in

"One such nightmare is the escalation of expectations alluded to in my last two posts. Enough is never enough. I had an experience of this yesterday when I gave a pound to a young street beggar, only to be asked for another one to make up the price of a neat, little MP3 player that he had his eye on. Remember when it used to be "Price of a cuppa tea. guv?"".

Aren't there better things to spend time talking about?

As a general rule, I think Labour politicians should spend the bulk of their time talking publicly about things which unite them, and which people are interested in, and as little time as possible talking about things which they disagree about, and which relatively few people are interested in, and where those that are interested have fixed views which aren't going to be changed.

The renewal of Trident is a simple issue, and there's been plenty of debate about it over the last few months, for any who want to take part. Some swing voters think that if the government renews it, then they are making the world a more dangerous place, behaving in a morally reprehensible way and wasting tens of billions, other swing voters think that if the government doesn't renew Trident then it is playing fast and loose with our national security. There's a difference between holding an opinion which most MPs disagree with (which I suspect is my, unilateralist, position), and having issues decided on without proper debate and scrutiny. There are many issues like that, this isn't one of them, and it is more than a little corrosive when people start claiming that an issue wasn't properly discussed when in fact it was and most MPs happened to disagree with them.

Why devote more time to a full public debate about Trident (whatever that may mean), when we could be talking about how to reduce poverty in Britain and the wider world, how to make sure young people are less likely to cause and be victims of anti-social behaviour, how to make sure everyone has somewhere decent to live, how the government at all levels can involve people more in the decisions it makes, or any number of other issues which would genuinely benefit from a wider public debate and which we don't spend enough time talking about and debating.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Good Old Boy #24

The 'End of Direct Taxation' blog has been kind enough to name this amongst the websites that he is friendly with, listing me amongst "Websites [that] have some argument or other over Government Policy. Some are of the opinion that too much money, Taxpayers money, is wasted, misused or just plain Stolen."

The aim of the End of Direct Taxation blog is to 'advocate removing the Power to levy Direct Taxation, from the Palace of Westminster'. I'm not sure I agree with that, but I reckon the author is most definitely a good old boy.

Election fever #2

Pickles e-mailed me and a few mutual friends a few days ago inviting me to join the facebook group 'Hilary Benn for Deputy'. The first reply, from a member who hasn't been following the twists and turns of the Deputy Leadership race as avidly as some, was as follows:

"Dear Pickles,

Who's Hilary Benn and what does she want to be deputy of?

All the best,


Hearing You Loud and Clear

One good way of campaigning is to write back to everyone who has filled in a survey, to let them know what the main results are. This shows that you have read their answers and taken them on board, and that you are listening and in touch. The only small downside is that a few of the people that you send it to will have sent in completely different answers, and whinge about it.

I filled in Jon Cruddas' survey, a little while back, and got an e-mail entitled 'Hearing you loud and clear' back the other day. It explained that my opinions were already influencing Jon's campaign, that overwhelmingly people who responded felt local party activism was on the decline, and that there needed to be a full-time Deputy Leader.

Only thing is, my answers were that party activism had increased in my area (both where I used to live and where I live now), and that I didn't care about whether the Deputy Leader was also Deputy Prime Minister.

That said, I still like that his campaign have done the survey and followed it up, and Cruddas' campaign so far has been leagues ahead of the other deputy leader candidates, which have been surprisingly feeble and uninterested in appealing to activists.

I think that Hilary Benn, Alan Johnson and Jon Cruddas are all competent and have extremely similar political views, and any of them would be perfectly reasonable deputy leaders. I'll planning to vote for Cruddas because he has pitched his campaign as the leftie candidate who has sensible things to say about organising the Labour Party better, and the other candidates haven't. Even if he doesn't win (and the fact that the only people who have heard of him are people who write about politics on the internet means that he probably won't), he's probably done enough to be appointed Party Chair, which offers the same opportunity to be the voice of the grassroots and build up membership activism. And if he can get local members out canvassing all year round right across the country, all the better.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Get Behind Cameron

This is pure genius:

"subVERSE is launching a GET BEHIND CAMERON campaign to support the Tories bid to capture the hearts and minds of the young and forge a new politics for the future.
Following the Conservatives leader’s recent inspirational visits to Jerusalem and Whythenshawe, we’ve decided to continue to prompt an active ‘yoof’ response to Cameron’s crusades.
We will pay £50 (or a four pack of ‘get pissed quick’ Diamond White cider, your choice!!) to any young person who can provide us with photographic evidence that they have GOTTEN BEHIND CAMERON.

Like David himself, it’s really rather easy:
1. Find out where David is next planning a press call. Tory head office should be able to help you with this. Their number is 0207 222 9000.
2. Ask your mates, parents, or a responsible adult to take you along to the call.
3. Find a moment when you can get behind David and create an image ('gun tootin', cocaine snorting, a simple shafting or an idea of your choice.).
4. Ask your mates, parents or guardian to take a picture.
5. Send it us at
getbehindcameron@subVERSE.org.uk, along with a postal address. (Please ensure that you have permission from your parents, if you’re under 18, and be aware we may use your image to further promote GET BEHIND CAMERON.)
6. We’ll pay you £50."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Election fever

Tomorrow there is a by-election in Speke-Garston in Liverpool. Going round last Saturday, this was obviously a cause of great excitement locally. Walking round Speke (only a couple of roads), I saw:

1 Labour poster
1 UKIP poster

and in Garston I saw:

5 Lib Dem posters (3 on the house of one of their councillors, 2 on the house of one of their activists)
2 'No canvassers' signs
4 'No political junk mail signs'

The 'no political junk mail signs' are actually from the Green Party, who are encouraged by the fact that people are putting up their posters. Whether the people who put those kind of posters up are the same who will be delighted to hear from Green Party campaigners on election day remains to be seen.

I even found a Tory leaflet, which had a picture of Michael Howard with their candidate, and where the top pledge was that if elected, their candidate promised that they wouldn't resign and cause a by-election. But its nice of them to make the effort.

Here's hoping for a nice day tomorrow, and the successful election of Cllr Colin Strickland.


Labour 1984
Lib Dem 1218
BNP 281
Green 68
Tory 54

Monday, March 05, 2007

Welfare to work

Jim Murphy discusses the review, just published, of the government's welfare to work policies, here.

The review itself was conducted by a businessman, Sir David Freud, and its main recommendation is that, erm, businesses should be given contracts to get people off benefit and into work. He couldn't find any evidence that the private sector was better at doing this than the public sector, but thought it was worth a go nonetheless. You can read the report in its full 144 page glory here.

Ministers are happy enough with getting alternative providers involved, but are more preoccupied with conditionality - that is to say the extra responsibilities that should be put on people who are not working to find jobs, in exchange for the extra rights of getting support. As Jim says "we all need to be committed to doing our bit."

I'm all for everyone doing their bit, but it's worth being aware of who isn't pulling their weight. If, instead of listening to advisers from the 'business community', the government listened to people who are in and out of low paid work, then they would know what the barriers to work actually are - wages which are too low for people to be better off in real terms in work, no training or opportunities to progress once in work, no option to work flexibly to fit in with caring or other needs, discrimination by employers against people with a history of mental health problems and a lack of affordable childcare. Whether or not support to get a job comes from the public, private or voluntary sector is not a big deal, providing it is tailored to people's needs.

If employers, public, private and voluntary sector, paid people enough that they weren't in poverty even when working full or part-time, offered them training and support in work, let them work flexible hours, didn't discriminate against potential employees and if they or the government provided a lot more free or heavily subsidised childcare, then many people who are currently in receipt of benefits would be able to work, and the government would not have to spend billions on subsidising low wages and now in providing training and support for people in work for up to three years.

Rising levels of employment over the past ten years have been as a result of structural changes to the labour market, and yet this lazy right-wing idea that unemployment is caused by people behaving unreasonably continues to dominate the debate. At the moment, unemployed people are seen as the problem and businesses as providing the ideas for the solution, the truth is almost exactly the opposite way round.


One thing which I am interested in when it comes to the debate about public sector pay increases is what the pay increase will be for workers who are providing public services, but who are employed by the private or voluntary sector - e.g. services which local authorities or PCTs have outsourced a service, or where a charity receives a grant to deliver a service which would in past times have been seen as the responsibility of the public sector.

This would be of interest particularly because one of the big changes over the past five years has been the increase in the number of people doing public sector jobs but employed in the private or voluntary sector. My guess is that these pay increases will be lower than for the public sector, but that is not based on any data, and if, as I suspect, no one is collecting this information, then they ought to be.


This I like very much:

"I am Sir Fitzgerald, 72nd in line to the throne and personal friend of the Davester - Britain's Prime Minister in-waiting, and not before time...

...But Fitzy thought, what they need, what they all need is to know the real Davester. The fun-loving, easy-going socialite I met at Eton. We got in some scrapes together, by Jove! So I've rooted out my old diaries and over the coming weeks I'll be sharing them here. Here's the first excerpt.

Oct 27th, 1980

Fun and games with the crew. Toast. Johnson lost, as usual. Takes him half an hour just to work out the buttons on his pantaloons. He's a frighful cissy too. Wouldn't play ball. Left to the Davester to mop up. Life and soul of the party. Said he could tell whose was whose from the flavour. Had us all going.

Heated discussion about when new money is new money. Oliver says living memory. Davester disagreed. If you know where it came from, it's new money. Developed into an Anglo-Saxon/Norman thing. Johnson says Anglo-Saxon descent makes you more British. Davester says the Normans were more dignified."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

You may not be ready for this, but your kids are going to love it

Seven years ago, following increasing levels of public concern, Tony Blair went on the telly and pledged that spending on health would rise to the European average. This pledge helped to set the terms of the debate about levels of government spending and public services, and along with the strong economy ensured that Labour won the 2001 and 2005 elections.

In recent weeks, there has been increasing concern about children's well-being, with debate being sparked by the Unicef report and the shootings in South East London. The Tories have used the opportunity to make vague but fluffy sounding pronouncements about children, and pushing their right-wing agenda by suggesting tax breaks for married couples.

So here's my suggestion. The Prime Minister should go on the telly, and announce that the government would be increasing spending on children to the average of the countries where children's well being is highest. The extra money would go on things like an increase in child benefit, free school meals for all children, increasing subsidies for childcare, funds for more activities for young people during school holidays and in the evenings and free bus travel for under 16's across the country.

Each of these have been shown to be popular policies where they have been tried, and put together they would make a real impact on priorities including health, anti-social behaviour, child poverty, helping parents into work, and would open up opportunities for all children which are currently only available to those with wealthy parents. As with all of the most popular parts of the welfare state, the extra spending would benefit the vast majority of families, but would benefit families in poverty most of all. It would also motivate Labour activists, and open up clear red water between Labour and the Tories.

But best of all from the Prime Minister's point of view, it would help to secure his legacy, and would annoy Gordon Brown just as much as the pledge about health spending did.