Monday, March 30, 2009

Putting People First

I didn't go on the Put People First demo on Saturday, but have been reading the reports from people who did go and am now puzzled.

The demo was organised by a "coalition of development charities, trade unions, faith groups, environmentalists and other organisations, formed in response to call for a fair, sustainable route out of recession". It called on our leaders to adopt 12 policy changes around democratic governance of the economy; decent jobs and public services for all; ending global poverty and inequality and building a green economy.

The first thing that is puzzling me is why, if there are 12 quite technical policy changes that your organisation believes ought to be adopted, it would seem like a good idea to organise a demonstration around them. There are much more effective ways of using the time and resources which must have gone into organising this demo to achieve this kind of aim. And any demo with twelve policy priorities under four separate headings will end up, as this one did, without any clear message whatsoever and people turning up to promote lots of different and unrelated causes.

The explanation which makes most sense to me is that the organisers felt that what they needed was to show and/or build their ability to get lots of people out on the streets to support their other campaigning and lobbying efforts, as a sort of campaigning prop. So the policy platform was drawn up with the aim of getting as many groups as possible to be able to sign up to it - with the aim that in turn those organisations could draw on their shared publicity resources and supporter lists to be able to get lots of people to march in support of their aims. If that's the case, 35,000 people marching falls short of the benchmark needed to really impress the media and others in positions of power, especially when you consider that between them the organisers have publicity budgets of millions of pounds and millions of e-mail addresses to contact supporters.

So the final explanation I can think of is that this wasn't intended as a one-off event, but instead is the start of building a new alliance which will gather strength and support over time. But I don't think this kind of top-down, big-charity-led campaign is the sort which lends itself to building up grassroots support, and starting off a campaign with a demonstration in London isn't a good way to build it up.

I fully support all the aims, and I look forward to being proved wrong over the weeks and months ahead, but I don't think the tactics of the Put People First campaign are at all right.

Form Filling Challenge

I feel really sorry for Jacqui Smith and her husband, and indeed for all MPs at this time of year. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the situation with MPs' expenses seems to work like this: Members of Parliament fill in long and complicated forms, and then a panel of journalists choose a few of them and publicly humiliate them on the grounds that they filled in their forms incorrectly in a sufficiently entertaining way. For these purposes, the rules about what is judged to be the correct way to fill in the form change randomly all the time.

If the aim is to produce entertaining stories of dubious expense claims for the amusement of the people, I would suggest opening up 'Form Filling Challenge' to other groups of professionals such as company directors and, indeed, journalists.

The only thing which limits my sympathy is that politicians do actually have the power to do something about Form Filling Challenge. They have managed to set the current system up in such a way that their entire job and working environment is totally incomprehensible for most people. So when Form Filling Challenge takes place, people don't think 'be fair, all they did was fill in a form wrong - we've all done it' but instead think 'that's really funny/how dare they'. Changing the expenses system is certainly needed. But more than that, politicians ought to be thinking about how they can show people what being an MP is really like so that when the fake hysteria gets stirred up, people empathise with them rather than laughing or shouting.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Labour wins in Headington Hill and Northway

Congratulations to Councillor Roy Darke, who has just been elected as Maureen Christian's successor in Headington Hill and Northway in Oxford.

This was a particularly excellent result as Labour were just 37 votes ahead of the Tories last time the ward was contested in 2008.

Roy won by 548 votes to 443 for the Tories, with the Lib Dems (who actually won this ward in 2006) trailing in third place with 378 votes (and the Greens getting 62).

He won because he is a fantastic candidate - decent, down to earth, rooted in the local community and incredibly hard-working - with an excellent campaign team supporting him. Roy will be a great councillor, and a worthy successor to Maureen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Organising good, activism bad

There's a great article by Al Giordano about the difference between activism and organising:

"Activism is the practice of preaching to the choir, rallying the already converted, and trying to convince other "activists" to do your work for you. Activists like to make declaratory "statements," hold "meetings," invite other activists (usually fairly hegemonic of the same socio-economic demographics as them), engage in group "process," make "decisions," veto (or attempt to do so) others from taking initiative outside of the groupthink that too often happens in activist projects, declare "party lines," enforce them, and claim that one is part of a "movement" even when there is no evidence that one really is. This dominant tendency in "activism" becomes a circular, self-reinforcing, self-marginalizing, chest-thumping, bureaucratic and anally-retentive activity and a big waste of time with little impact on the issues or policies it seeks to change or defend."

"In contrast, Organising is based on attainable and quantifiable goals (be they small, as in, "put a stop sign in the neighborhood," or be they large, as occurred last year: elect an underdog as president of the United States). Here's a simple yardstick by which to measure: If it doesn't involve knocking on doors, making phone calls or otherwise proactively communicating with people demographically different than you, it's not organizing. If it doesn't involve face-to-face building of relationships, teams, chains of command, and, day-by-day, clear goals to measure its progress and effectiveness, it's not organizing. If it happens only on the Internet, that's not organizing either."

"As for when Organizing for America's priorities differ from mine or other organizers, it's pretty obvious what we'll do: We'll organize independently. Here's an example: One of Obama's campaign positions was not to rule out nuclear power...I don't worry myself about it. Why? Because I know from experience how to organize to stop a nuke from being built or fired up. I even know how to organize to shut an existing one down. These are things I've done in this life: by organizing, going door to door, reaching out and calling people who are apolitical or apathetic and even those that start out disagreeing to win them over, and then by organizing an authentic movement (one that we organized in an era before there was an Internet) at the grassroots, local, level. We did it under the presidencies of Carter and Reagan, and if need be we'll do it under Obama. It doesn't matter if the federal government is with us or not. It doesn't matter if Obama is with us or not: the people will be with us against nukes in their backyards, and we'll win again. So why would I scream hysterically over a piece of legislation when I and others like me are holding the real veto pen in our own pockets?"

If there is a Tory government after the next election, then all of us who are Labour activists will need to get organising from day one, starting with short term, small goals to win local improvements and resist harmful government policies and building up to winning the following election. For some of us, that will involve doing more of what we're doing at the moment, for some others it will be about relearning old skills, and for others still it will mean learning something completely new. All are welcome, and although it will be daunting and difficult, it will end up being well worth the effort.

What is troubling is that there seem to be a lot of the Great and the Good in the Labour Party who seem to want to respond to possible election defeat as activists, rather than organisers. I've discussed before the activist strategy which Neal Lawson and John Harris from centre-left group Compass are calling for.

Now from the other wing of the Labour party, there is this terrible rubbish from Luke Akehurst, which actually argues that the top priority after the election will be for activists to focus on fighting the good fight against lefties in the Labour Party to ensure that the correct GC delegates get elected and that right-thinking people control the internal committees or whatever.

Playing at re-enacting internal struggles in the Labour Party during the 1980s may well be a niche hobby that some enjoy. But it would be hard to imagine a better example of a "circular, self-reinforcing, self-marginalizing, chest-thumping, bureaucratic and anally-retentive activity and a big waste of time with little impact on the issues or policies it seeks to change or defend."

Rather than spending time on making sure that such and such a motion is defeated by six votes to five at a branch meeting, skip the meeting and spend the time working together with local people who aren't yet members of the Labour Party.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Credit where it is due

Amelia Gentleman has an excellent article in the Guardian telling the story of 'Louise Spencer', who is a 24 year old woman in Bristol who is bringing up two children.

Now it wasn't all that long ago that I was 24 years old. Unlike Louise, I'd got qualifications (both academic and in childcare), several years of experience of working and/or volunteering looking after children with disabilities, a job, a loving and supportive family, a great group of friends, and countless other advantages which would have made raising a family easier.

And I know that back then there is absolutely no possible way that I could have brought up a five year old and a three year old (who has learning difficulties) on my own on the amount that Louise gets for her and her kids to live on. Nuh-uh.

There are no particular policy insights to be drawn from this - there is, after all, an extensive list of things which I couldn't do when I was 24. It's more just to give credit where credit is due to mums like Louise, and wonder whether anyone else who read the article felt the same about all this as I do - basically, I couldn't cope if I'd been in that situation so I don't see why anyone else should have to.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

So who will George Monbiot vote for now?

George Monbiot always seemed to me like a man with an excellent sense of humour, a self-depricating wit and thick skin, without a pompous bone in his body and tolerant to a fault of those who disagree with him.

It is therefore deeply saddening and in no way hilarious to see all the toys leave the Monbiot pram in his response to Sian Berry's excellent and very entertaining blogpost about the pro-nuclear power Greens. Monbiot is so angry about being called 'over 45 with the haircut of a WW2 fighter pilot and the experience to know better' that he is not going to vote for the Green Party in the future.

It finishes, "Pretty good for one short blog: sexism, ageism, a demand for self-censorship, discrimination on the grounds of appearance and sheer blithering absurdity. So who the heck do I vote for now?" But to get the full benefit you really do have to read the full thing.

Disappointingly, Sian appears to have heeded Matt 'spoilsport' Sellwood's call to Please Stop Fighting Won't Someone Think of the Children Green Party. I think this is nothing short of censorship, no one with such a god given talent for winding up George Monbiot should feel pressured into falling silent.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tom Harris doing something funny for money

Tom Harris, profiled in the Sunday Times:

“Families live their whole lives on benefits and that is wrong, morally wrong,” he says. “We should be making these value judgments. This is a problem damaging the whole country and hobbling our economic system. I remember scoffing when John Major said we should understand a bit less and condemn a bit more, but he was right.”

I have changed my mind about Tom Harris and my current theory is that he is actually carrying out this unprovoked attack on his own reputation for charity as part of Comic Relief's "Do something funny for money".

He started off by trying to pass off decades old generic right-wing dogma about "welfare dependency" as his new and brave idea, and got a Mail on Sunday column on the back of that. Weeks later, he still hasn't come up with a single policy proposal for tackling the problem of teenage pregnancy, but instead is quoting John Major approvingly in the Sunday Times and taking swipes at the 'poverty industry'.

I hope all this is for charity, anyway. It's pretty tragic if he actually believes that John Major was right and that the key to reducing teenage pregnancy is to 'understand a bit less'.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Libertarian history and theology

via Devil's Kitchen, 'bella gerens' offers up a bit of Libertarian history and theology (preceeded by a lengthy bit about how good 'Atlas Shrugged' by Ayn Rand is)

History first:

"The human race has spent the last three thousand years fighting its way out of the filth and misery into which it was born to reach a state of being in which literally anything is possible. We had the minds to do it three thousand years ago; what we didn’t have, until the last couple of centuries, was the leisure to think."

Now by libertarian theory, this account can't possibly be right. The last couple of centuries saw the growth of the state, which as we know, caused people to become enslaved and the talented and hard-working to be discouraged from striving because the products of their efforts were stolen and given to the idle and stupid. And yet 'bella gerens' says that this period was also that during which the human race 'reached a state of being in which literally anything is possible' and people for the first time had 'the leisure to think'. It's almost as if the growth of the state didn't have all the Diabolickal consequences that Libertarians ascribe to it.

That is as nothing, however, compared to the Libertarian theology which follows:

"I could embark here upon an exegesis of how I interpret Christian philosophy, but I’m not going to, because it’s not necessary. Even Christ, whose understanding of economics was pretty meagre, never demanded sacrifice without the promise of reward. The right acts and charity he advocated are, in one way, their own reward, because performing them makes us feel good. But he also promised the reward of paradise which, if you believe in such a thing, is a pretty good incentive, no?"

I love the critique of Jesus' understanding of economics and can only guess at the discussions on Team Libertarian which must have developed it.

"As a Christian and a Libertarian I am troubled. I have searched the gospels, and nowhere does it mention that deregulated free markets bring freedom by allocating resources efficiently or that cutting taxes generates more revenue as explained by the Laffer Curve".

"Ah, that is because Jesus Christ had a pretty meagre understanding of economics, unlike Frederich von Hayek, Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan."

Nonetheless, the mind boggles at the idea of Jesus Christ as a Randian Objectivist. I think the best response to this is to suggest that 'bella gerens' might like to spend a bit less time reading 'Atlas Shrugged' and a bit more with the New Testament.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Heresy at Compass

Neal Lawson and John Harris have a very bad article in the New Statesman called 'No Turning Back'. The political strategy behind it appears to be that Labour should team up with the Liberal Democrats and leftie lobby groups (and draw comfort and inspiration from such diverse sources as the "Red Tories" and the Countryside Alliance) in order to change society in profound and yet not very comprehensible ways.

As Paul says, this approach is about constructing "the 21st century sanctuary that is the centre-left think tank world and the accompanying blogosphere, a place where the chattering socialist classes can all feel safe and comfortable while the storm of dangereous, savage, rightwing policy implementation rages outside." I also agree with Hopi's point that at the moment our priority "needs to be what we’re doing to help people who need a helping hand, not how we’re going to punish those who deserve a slap."

To accompany this lengthy article, Neal and John have come up with ten policy ideas (here, pdf) which make up a 'manifesto for change'. Four of these ten policies are about introducing new taxes, at least two are meaningless jargon ('radical localism' and 'General Well-Being Index'), and they are written in the assumption that the reader will know what things like 'remutualising the banks' means.

This 'manifesto' in other words, is part of the strategy aimed at people who are already highly politically engaged. This makes sense as a strategy for Compass to grow its membership amongst leftie activists, but it is not a way of 'making change happen', however admirable many of these policies are.

Harris and Lawson refer to the Obama campaign and also the Attlee government. But it is striking how different their approach is from either of these examples. The policies which Attlee and Obama campaigned on, prioritised and introduced or are planning to introduce grew out of the experiences of ordinary people - the problems they faced, their hopes and their fears.

Compare and contrast, for example, 'middle class tax cut' vs 'a maximum wage' or 'National Health Service' vs 'General Well Being Index'.

The language is different, but more than that, the criteria for selecting policy ideas for inclusion in the 'manifesto for change' doesn't appear to have any relation to the issues that people are interested in. There's a brief, and quite ambivalent, mention of jobs, but nothing about care for children or older people, youth services or housing, let alone any issues which might be even slightly out of the Compass comfort zone such as crime.

Any manifesto does, of course, have to choose which issues to prioritise, but that's an even more compelling reason not to put, say, the 35 hour working week in the top ten things that you tell people that you want to achieve.

To 'make change happen', then you have to start by talking about what people are interested in, not what your lobbyist friends or the latest pamphlet thinks they ought to be interested in. The problem that us lefties have got at the moment really isn't that we don't talk to the Liberal Democrats or single issue pressure groups enough.

Or to put it another way, Nye Bevan once said that 'the language of priorities is the religion of socialism'. And by that measure, Neal Lawson and John Harris are heretics.

Sian Berry vs George Monbiot

Sian Berry, Green candidate for Mayor of London last year, has a very entertaining blogpost called 'Suffragettes vs the fighter pilot tendency' :

On the one hand, Sian writes, there are an increasing number of young women activists:

"Nowadays though, if there's even the slightest hint of cleverness or media-savvy about a campaign, you can bet your life that one of a growing band of courageous, intelligent young woman is behind it. If it's not Tamsin Omond getting 2,000 suffragettes to mob parliament, then it's Ariane Sherine raising a saturation-level media budget for the Atheist Bus campaign with nothing more than a great idea and the guts to put it out there. And this week Leila Deen succeeded where George Osborne failed and out-spinned Mandelson with an inspired act of flan flinging."

And on the other, some of the leaders of the green movement such as George Monbiot and Mark Lynas are letting Team Green down:

"Meanwhile, though, the alpha males of the green movement are letting the side down badly and handing the nuclear industry great lumps of PR gold by ‘embracing' nuclear power with varying degrees of headline-grabbing enthusiasm.

Like the young women mentioned above, these chaps have a few physical and biographical characteristics in common, largely a tendency to be over 45 with the haircut of a WW2 fighter pilot and the experience to know better than play so crudely into the hands of an industry on the make.


"This kind of thing boils my blood for two main reasons. One is that I was a metallurgy student and, as such, have been inside several nuclear power stations, here and abroad, without needing either smelling salts or an exorcism. My opposition to nuclear is based on the fact that - like letting a big supermarket drive your town's regeneration programme - it is such a distraction when there are so many other, less technically challenging, more job-heavy, cheaper, easier, quicker, etc etc projects out that would balance energy needs with production and cut carbon at the same time. It is emphatically not because I think it is inherently dangerous or filled with dark cunning and evil.

The second is that, combined with their deep voices and 1940s haircuts, this rhetoric from the alpha males frames the issue in a ‘practical expert versus excitable hysteric' narrative that is very hard to counteract if you are following one of them in a debate and are young and female. No matter how much science you can quote, you're never going to get people to think you are making sense in that context if you look like an MMR-shy mum."

And she finishes with some criticism for Chris Goodall, the pro-nuclear Green candidate in Oxford West and Abingdon:

"in politics you're not just lobbying your MP, you're trying to get them sacked and offering yourself as a better alternative to replace them. Instead of accepting these ‘facts on the ground' and actively promoting your acceptance - and the choice you have made from a stacked deck - you should be putting a hell of a lot more effort into challenging such a blinkered view of energy policy.

With the election due in a year or less, any Green candidate who so meekly allows the rules of the game to be set by their opponent is clearly not up to the job - and I bet there are a lot of talented, intelligent young women in Oxford who could do it much better."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Reporting demonstrations

For years I've been going on demonstrations in support of a variety of causes, from anti-war demos to aslyum rights, anti-fees to child poverty. Some of these demonstrations had hundreds of thousands of people, some, more modest, maybe a few thousand, and some numbered in the hundreds.

And with a very few exceptions, the media ignored each and every one.

So although I disagree totally with the protests in Luton against the soldiers by about 20 extremist idiots, I like that the national media has obviously changed their reporting policies and decided that any demonstration, no matter how small, is worthy of pages of news coverage.

Because it couldn't possibly be that the media routinely ignore protests which have some kind of mass support, but give what amount to millions of pounds worth of free advertising to a handful of extremists, could it? After all, that would be incredibly stupid, deceitful and damaging.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Duncan's Economic Blog

Duncan has been an occasional guest columnist here (he wrote the rare posts which were well argued and informed by facts, such as this one and this one). He is now blogging at Duncan's Economic Blog, and you should all go and read what he has to say.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Not Even Wrong

Another day, another terrible article by Dan McCurry on LabourList. It starts off, "A billion dollars has been spent by the west on overseas development aid; mostly it has been squandered." A contestable point, you might have thought, but is it accompanied by an argument or even a link to support the claim? Of course not.

There's a bit about how leftie opposition to Margaret Thatcher is "political allegiance rather than analytical thought", and how one of Thatcher's great achievements was that "The policy of encouraging property ownership caused families to take on such large mortgages that the mother in the family had to go out to work in order to make the payments. The financial independence of women in our modern day traces back to that policy." As an argument, the best that can be said for this is that it is not even wrong.

And from there the article gets increasingly cringe-worthy.

McCurry writes on a whole range of subjects, from women's rights and international development to housing policy, sex trafficking, criminal justice policy, Israel/Palestine, racism and the BNP. Sadly, none of these are subjects that he knows anything about. Why does Derek Draper keep on publishing his articles?

Collective action, the libertarian way

Hellooo, libertarian readers.

I must say, although their arguments aren't much cop, I am impressed with Team Libertarian. For a bunch of so-called individualists, there does seem to be a real sense of community where they back each other up, and they have formidable message discipline and ability to stay on message in support of even the most hopeless of arguments.

If a leftie, for example, had written anything as moronic as 'the State has not only taken Nazi ownership of our children, but has also intellectually cast them adrift at the same time, and it’s all probably deliberate' then other leftie bloggers would have probably responded, 'fair enough, that was a really stupid thing to write'. In contrast, Devil's Kitchen stuck to the line admirably:

"If the state decides that children must be educated about said lifestyle [homosexuality] in defiance of their parents' wishes, then the state is effectively taking ownership of the child. The Nazis did a similar thing, so it isn't that hysterical a comparison."

As a socialist, I cannot but admire this kind of collective action and solidarity.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Make poverty less enticing

Jon Swift has an excellent parody of right-wing attitudes to poor people. It concludes:

"If we stopped making it so enjoyable to be poor, maybe we would have fewer lazy, greedy people who are just dying to live in poverty and leech off of the rest of us. Indeed, the reason for our economic decline may be that so many people want the benefits of being poor that they are dragging the economy down with them. We need to stop this rush to be poor before it is too late. So the First Lady should stop visiting soup kitchens and serving them gourmet food, which just encourages them. Only by making poverty less enticing can we hope to to save our economy."

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Adventures with Libertarians

The UK Libertarian Party have a test on their website where you can find out how liberal you are.

I took it and discovered that I was 40% liberal and 60% illiberal. It said: "Thank you for taking our test. But we think you may be more interested in an illiberal, statist party like the Labour Party or Conservative Party. If you wish to advertise your illiberal values, please find your blog badge below."

It's a brave political strategy for a fledgling party - "thank you for expressing an interest in our party, however you might be more interested in these other political parties."

But I was not deterred and decided that I was going to build on the 40% that I had in common with the Libertarian Party. So I thought I'd pick an issue where I knew we would agree, and find out what leading Libertarians had written about it.

I'd just seen the article in the Guardian about the police carrying out surveillance and building a database of protesters. A good example of how George Orwell Was Right, ZaNu Labour, Police/Surveillance State etc. Being a police surveillance and database officer might even be an example of a Public Sector Non-Job.

So first I went to And Samizdata had nothing about the police database of dissidents. But it did have an article called 'Swearing at Vernon Bogdanor' :

"Progress occurs when free people do things. It just happens Boggy. It is retarded when retards like you try and gerrymander it. In 1900 the fastest growing economy on the planet was Russia's. Look at the plight of the place now? There is nothing "progressive" about being progressive."

Quite. I bet Tsar Nicholas II would have got more than 40% on the Libertarian Party's test.

Then I went to 'Devil's Kitchen'. And 'Devil's Kitchen' had nothing about the police database of dissidents. But he did have an article called 'Harridan Harperson is a lying whore', which is very witty because 'Harriet' sounds like 'Harridan', 'Harman' sounds like 'Harperson', and she doesn't want women to lose their jobs, which is like being a 'lying whore'. He is also very angry about the idea that Sir Fred Goodwin might not get his full pension.

Then I went to 'Old Holborn'. And 'Old Holborn' had nothing about the police database of dissidents. But he was very angry that Glasgow Council were going to pay their workers at least £7/hour because "the thought that any Jockanese Labour Council worker is WORTH £7 an hour is simply stunning. Zimbabwe here we cunting well come." That's another good point because the problem with Robert Mugabe is that he pays the Harare rubbish collectors a living wage.

Devil's Kitchen also covered this story, and he thought that the council was increasing wages for low paid workers so that people in Glasgow who are unemployed and on benefits will vote Labour, because unlike the wealth creators they won't have to pay more council tax. This sort of analysis is why Devil's Kitchen is one of the top political strategists for the UK Libertarian Party.

Then I went to 'Bishop Hill'. And 'Bishop Hill' had nothing about the police database of dissidents. But he did have an article about how we should privatise all the schools so that some schools could bring back section 28 and not teach children about homosexuality. This would create a market in different methods of teaching sex education, which is an 'impeccably liberal' idea.

Finally I went to the 'Libertarian Alliance'. And even the Libertarian Alliance had nothing about the police database of dissidents. But they did have a whole series by a man called 'David Davis' (not that one) about how GCSE exams were really easy and not as hard as when he did O-Levels. And a post called 'Excellent Piece by Tom Harris MP'.

(As an aside, one thing which is quite difficult about reading these Libertarian blogs is that they assume that everyone is already familiar with really quite obscure details of their arguments. For example, 'David Davis' writes several times that "The State has not only taken Nazi ownership of our children, but has also intellectually cast them adrift at the same time, and it’s all probably deliberate", and it is assumed that the reader will already know that the State has taken Nazi ownership of our children and how it has done so. Any guesses?)

So I didn't manage to bond with the Libertarians over the police database of dissident protesters. But I did learn about the merits of Tsarist Russia; that the government shouldn't help women who are losing their jobs; that it's wrong to pay people £7/hour or more if they live in Glasgow and work for the council; about how privatisation can create a market in whether our children get indoctrinated by the gays and about the Nazi ownership of our children by the state.

Not to mention that next time someone asks me for my opinion on a really, really stupid idea, I now know that a polite way to reply is to say that it sounds 'impeccably liberal'.

But something still puzzled me. Why would a group of people who want another way forward for the country, who are extremely ANGRY and who fantasise about stringing up our elected leaders from lamp posts not be worried about the existence of a database which the state can use to monitor dissenters?

And then I thought about it from another perspective, and all became clear. Pity the poor Police Surveillance Officer, monitoring this drivel and having to decide what kind of security risk they might be. I suspect they would conclude two things:

1. Their policy aims seem to revolve exclusively around giving more to those who already have a lot of money and power, so probably not one to worry about too much.

2. And anyway, as credible and organised threats to the existing order go, they make the Socialist Workers Party look like the Bolsheviks.

International comrade round up

There's been lots written in the past year about what Labour can learn from Barack Obama. But Obama is not the only popular and successful centre-left politician out there in the world beyond the UK. I thought it might be interesting for Labour activists to find out more about the experience of centre-left parties which are either:

a) in government, and managing to maintain their popularity
b) in opposition, but ahead in the opinion polls (particularly those which lost power recently but managed to regroup quickly)
c) doing really badly - to learn what we shouldn't do

With the help of the Angus Reid Global Monitor, here's some examples of each. I know essentially nothing about the internal politics of any of these countries, so would welcome advice about where to find out more about what they are doing well (or not so well) in responding to the global economic crisis:

In Government, Doing Well

Australia (Kevin Rudd, Labor Party)
Elected in 2007, currently on 47% in the opinion polls.

Uruguay (Tabare Vasquez, Progressive Encounter - Broad Front)
Elected for first time ever in 2004, currently on 42% in the opinion polls, 6% ahead of the main opposition. Elections later this year.

Portugal (Jose Socrates, Socialist Party)
Elected in 2005, currently on 38%, 10% ahead of the main opposition. Elections later this year.

Norway (Jens Stoltenberg, Labour Party)
Elected in 2005, currently on 33%, 4% ahead of main opposition. In coalition with the Socialist Left and Agrarians.

Spain (Jose Zapatero, Socialist Workers Party)
Re-elected in 2008. Currently on 41%, 2.5% ahead of main opposition.

In opposition, Doing Well

Sweden (Mona Sahlin, Social Democrats)
Lost power in 2006. The Left Alliance is on 50%, 4% ahead of the Centre-Right governing coalition. Elections in 2010.

Ireland (Eamon Gilmore, Labour)
Never been one of the two major parties. Currently on 22%, just 1% behind governing party Fianna Fail. Up 8% since last November.

Greece (George Papandreou, PASOK)
Lost power in 2004 after eight years in power. Currently on 38%, 3% ahead of governing centre-right party.

Doing even worse than us

Germany (Franz Muentefering, SPD)
Currently in coalition with Christian Democrats. Down to 23% in recent opinion polls. Elections in September.

Hungary (Ferenc Gyurcsany, Socialist Party)
Elected in 2006. Got into trouble when caught on tape admitting that they lied to win the last elections. Lost a third of their support since last year. Currently on 21%, 43% behind the main opposition.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Unspeakably vile

Someone called Mark Taylor, who claims to work for Taylor Housing, wrote the following on Tom Harris' blog this evening:

"I am a major landlord to many of these people you are talking about and people who have criticised you for your comments should get out into the real world and actually look for themselves at what is going on. Having many properties in run down areas I have often heard mothers encouraging their young daughters to get pregnant so that they will be entitled to a state paid for property of their own - mainly because the mother herself is expecting another child and will need the room! The woman who states that these young mothers eventually go on to further education and jobs is nothing but a naive idiot. Sadly, a new class has emerged in society - an ‘under class’. These are unintelligent and selfish parasites living off the rest of society. Personally, I think they should all be rounded up and placed in camps, away from decent society to send out a clear message that to behave as they do is socially unnaceptable. They should also be told that any children that they have that they cannot support themselves will be taken from them for adoption. That alone would immediately cause a decline in teenage pregnancies."

There's always the chance that this is an impostor. But if this is an accurate reflection of Mr Taylor's views, it is utterly vile. People who express views like this are the scum of the earth. It makes me sick to think that any young mum should have to have someone like this as their landlord, even before you realise that he's being paid by the taxpayer to do so.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

On being found out

Someone called 'Wrinkled Weasel' has nearly guessed my secret identity:

He wrote in the comments on Tom Harris' blog, "BTW in five years of watching the political blogs I have not come across a commenter called “Don Paskini”. Strangely, he gets a mention on Bickerstaffe, who is now banning comments he does not like. He wouldn’t be one of those party attack dogs who hide behind ad hoc identities, so beloved of the Derek Draper school of rebuttal would he?"

'Wrinkled Weasel' is quite right to be suspicious of those who write on the internet under a pseudonym. But he should have taken his insight to its logical conclusion. Many people on the internet believe that Derek Draper commands an army of anonymous party attack dogs, or 'Dollybots', whose job it is to monitor political websites on the internet and attack those who dissent from the party line.

But a moment's thought would reveal that this is absurd. The Labour Party doesn't have any money, and could not possibly afford to hire a load of people whose sole job is to write comments on the internet, under the direction of Derek Draper.

In fact, all those different pro-Labour comments on various political websites from people with 'ad hoc identities' are not the work of a team of paid staff. Nor are they written by ordinary people who just happen to support the government.

Instead, they are the work of one, very busy, man.


For, at last, I must reveal the truth.

I am Derek Draper.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ignorant bully vs teenage parents

One of the many sad and pathetic things about Tom Harris MP slagging off teenage parents on his blog is that he obviously believes he is being brave by making these arguments.

Harris is a Member of Parliament earning more than 60 grand a year, his argument repeats comments which Tony Blair made a decade ago and in content and tone it regurgitates the prejudices found in most national newspapers on a daily basis. So you can see why, with allies so few in number and powerless in influence, he congratulates himself for having the courage to take on the powerful lobby group that is 16 year old girls who have children.

Having devoted a previous blog post to hurling insults at a woman with learning disabilities whose two year old son had recently been murdered, he turned his attention to teenage parents. His argument, such as it is, is that there is 'an army of teenage mothers living off the state', that this is a 'national catastrophe' and that it is 'morally wrong' for teenage girls to have children. It's not that he's got any ideas about policy changes that he'd like to see, although he is going to have a coffee with Frank Field, which I guess is nice. Instead he argues that the priority is to get away from the idea that right and wrong are meaningless and make it clear that teenage girls having children is immoral. It's an article with, by my count, two anecdotes and no facts.

He finishes by writing that, "it’s time to stop worrying about how people’s feelings might be hurt if we question the choices they’ve made. Because very often, those choices are wrong. And it’s about time we said so."

Fine by me.

I think Harris is assuming that people who disagree with him are uncomfortable with the idea of morality, of right and wrong. Some people might be, I'm not.

It is morally wrong for a Labour MP to write this kind of garbage. I don't know and I don't care if it is a genuine reflection of deeply held views or if it is a way for him to suck up to the right-wing creeps who leave comments on his blog, but it is revolting.

There are several words for powerful, middle-aged men who choose to pick on teenage girls, but the one which best sums up Tom Harris is bully. You will never, ever read him use this kind of language about anyone who has any kind of power or influence, it's always those who can't answer back who he chooses to pick on.

Tom has been an MP for years, and he represents hundreds of teenage mums in Glasgow South. But it sounds like he's never tried to get to know them, find out what the government could do to help them, or anything like that. Again, that's morally wrong.

And perhaps most depressing of all, there's the total lack of any kind of intellectual curiosity, or any sense that he might be interested in the research and evidence on this subject. Five minutes with Google would reveal that Tony Blair was talking about teenage pregnancies being 'a shameful record' ten years ago, that most teenage parents stay at home rather than getting a council flat and that most have little or no knowledge about the benefits that they'll be entitled to when they get pregnant.

He doesn't seem to know that a majority of lone parents work, that 60% of young women felt more positive about education after they became pregnant than before or that 79% said that motherhood had increased their determination to get a good job. He could have found all this, and much more, out if instead of writing his uninformed article, he had typed into his browser and read the articles on their website. He does, after all, get given tens of thousands of pounds to hire researchers who could help him find this sort of stuff out.

Tom Harris chooses to bully those who are weaker than him; chooses not to find out about how he could help his constituents; and chooses to remain ignorant about important issues like this one and so many others. Those choices are wrong, and it is indeed time that we said so.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Compare the meerkat

This is pure genius:

UPDATE: ok, so apparently this is months old and everyone else already knew about it. Go me...

Proper Labour

Here's two examples of Proper Labour:


"THERE were tears and angry scenes at the town hall last night as Labour wrested control of the budget from the ruling Lib Dems.
In an unprecedented night of drama, Labour forced through their motion for free school meals for primary school children and a £100 rebate for pensioners – as well as a 2.5 per cent rise in council tax."


"In April 2009, we will fulfill our promise to ensure that every staff member in the council is paid a Living Wage of at least £7 per hour, becoming, as far as I know, the first council to achieve Living Wage status. Oxford is an expensive city; the least we can do is make a start at guaranteeing a fair wage reflecting the cost of living here. We’ve done this through writing this into our leisure provider’s contract and making it part of our single status negotiations with the support of our staff trade unions."

Free school meals and a living wage are two great examples of real help in difficult times. These are the sort of common sense, fair and socially just policies that our government nationally should be putting forwards.