Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cameron confusion on houses

According to Johann Hari:

A few days ago, the Lader of the Opposition was asked how many homes he owns. “I own a house in North Kensington and… in the constituency in Oxfordshire and that is, as far as I know, all I have,” he said. He then started to get confused, said he might own four homes after all, and pleaded: “Do not make me sound like a prat for not knowing how many houses I’ve got.”

Are there any other sources for this?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Advice for "Labour's next generation"

There have been a few articles from Labour activists who have ambitions of becoming MPs, about how they would act differently if they were MPs. There's nothing particularly wrong with what they are saying, and some of them are people who I know, like and respect. But the idea that this is 'Labour's next generation' makes me profoundly uneasy.

For a start, I agree with Hopi when he writes that:

"when “Labour’s next generation” put themselves forwards as voices of their community, I’d like to hear more about what the community really wants and less about the views of the next generation."

But more than that, one big problem with the current Parliamentary Labour Party, and particularly the ministers, is that they are part of a separate political class, and hardly any of them have ever had a 'proper job'. So what of the Next Generation? One of their number, Will Straw, responded to this criticism by writing that:

"It is a fallacy to suggest that the only people intent on parliamentary careers are from the so-called "political class." To pick a few examples of up and coming politicians, Sadiq Khan MP, David Lammy MP, and Chuka Umunna (Labour PPC for Streatham) were all lawyers while Rachel Reeves (PPC Leeds West) worked for the Bank of England, and Stella Creasy (PPC Walthamstow) worked for a social enterprise."

Five examples, three lawyers, a banker and someone who worked for a think tank, all but one of whom worked in London. And these are the ones that apparently aren't from the "political class". Will is a bright guy, but this is a pretty feeble rebuttal. (To be fair, there are a few better examples of his point).

My advice, for what it's worth, to anyone who is currently on the career path of student politics->parliamentary researcher->think tank/NGO/equivalent and who is planning the next step of trying to become an MP on their way to the top is sort of Maoist.

They'll do a much better job for the Labour Party and be much more effective if they spend the next few years doing a job which doesn't involve living in London and mixing with the current and future elite. Quit the job at Progress or wherever, stop hanging out just with people who watch Prime Ministers' Questions every week and listen to the Today Programme and get a proper job somewhere outside of London.

It's well and good making pledges not to thieve from the public purse if elected, but if Labour's Next Generation of MPs suffers from the same narrow social mix, Group Think and limited experience of the world outside of London as the current one, it will be doomed to repeat many of the same mistakes.

David Miliband and Ed Balls are very bright and in many ways very effective. But they would be much better politicians and have more experience (and be less toe-curlingly awfully at communicating) if Miliband had spent a couple of years managing a Tesco's in South Shields or Balls working as a housing officer in West Yorkshire.

If that doesn't persuade the Next Generation, perhaps an appeal to self interest will. By doing this, they will get an advantage over those of their rivals who chose to stay members of the political class for their whole careers. After all, the reason why Alan Johnson is being touted as Labour's next leader is because he used to be a postman.

Or slightly further afield, they might like to consider the example of an ambitious young man chose to take a couple of years after university working out in the provinces with people who will never be part of the elite before going back to rejoin the political class. After all, he turned that experience into a major part of his successful campaign to become President of the United States of America.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

International round up

With things going so appalling badly for Labour here in Britain, here's a top ten of successful centre-left parties, to cheer us up a bit. Some are in government and coping with the economic crisis while making their countries fairer and more equal, while others are in opposition and poised to win back power. In a sign of the vitality of social democratic and socialist ideas, these examples are drawn from countries on six different continents with a population of more than 1.5 billion people:

1. India (Congress, Manmohan Singh)
. Where better to start than with the world's largest democracy. India's ruling Congress-led coalition was re-elected today for a second term. Congress politicians described the surge in nationwide support as a vote for the party's pro-poor measures. Analysts also thought the vote for Congress was also a vote for clean politics, with a leader who has a strong reputation as an uncorrupt politician, in a political arena tarnished by serious corruption scandals.

2. Iceland (Social Democratic Alliance, Johanna Sigurðardóttir). The elections in April saw the election of the Social Democrats and Left-Green Alliance, after voters kicked out the Independence Party whose right-wing economic policies had caused a massive banking crisis.

3. South Africa (African National Congress, Jacob Zuma). Despite some disillusionment with the African National Congress and their new leader Jacob Zuma, the ANC won more than 64% for the fourth election in a row in recent elections.

4. Australia (Labour, Kevin Rudd). Elected in 2007, Rudd's Labour Party has maintained its popularity despite the economic crisis, with 47% support in recent opinion polls.

5. Uruguay (Progressive Encounter - Broad Front, Tabare Vazquez). In 2004, Uruguay elected a leftist President for the first time ever. With election coming up later this year, they look on course to hold power, with 45% support, 10% clear of the right-wing opposition.

6. USA (Democratic, Barack Obama). Obama is viewed favourably by more than two-thirds of Americans, and the Democrats remain much more popular than the Republicans.

7. Portugal (Socialist, Jose Socrates). With elections coming up this year, the governing Socialist Party has a big lead over its main rivals.

8. Czech Republic (Social Democratic, Jiří Paroubek). Centre-left parties are doing extremely badly in most of Eastern Europe, most notably in Hungary where the governing Social Democrats are more than 50% (!) behind their main challengers. But in the Czech Republic, the Social Democrats have a small lead ahead of elections in October.

9. Norway (Jens Stoltenberg, Labour). The Labour government in Norway has a lead over its rivals, and has actually gained in popularity over the past few months.

10. Bolivia (Evo Morales). Morales has been pushing through radical change on behalf of the disadvantaged majority in Bolivia. His popularity has been increasing in recent months, up to 53% in recent polls.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Do unto others

Awful, just awful.

I think that Britain would be a better place, and the government more successful and popular, if over the past few years, Labour MPs had treated the poor as they've been treating themselves, and treated themselves as they've been treating the poor.

"Even before the onset of the UK's deepest recession in a generation, official figures showed that only the better-off families were spared from a squeeze on living standards that saw median income virtually unchanged and fresh cuts in real pay for those on the lowest salaries.

Since Tony Blair's third election victory, the poorest 10% of households have seen weekly incomes fall by £9 a week to £147 once inflation is accounted for, while those in the richest 10% of homes have enjoyed a £45 a week increase to £1,033.

The data shows that the second poorest 10% of households has also had to make do with less since 2005. Overall, the poorest 20% saw real income fall by 2.6% in the three years to 2007-08, while those in the top fifth of the income distribution enjoyed a rise of 3.3%. As a result, income inequality at the end of Labour's 11th year in power was higher than at any time during Margaret Thatcher's premiership."

Hairshirt time

Kerry McCarthy has an excellent piece about MPs' expenses, as does Paul from the Bickerstaffe Record.

A lot of MPs have been completely taking the piss with their expense claims, and they should, at the very least, not be MPs after the next election. There are others who haven't done anything wrong, and don't deserve the same punishment.

The reporting from the Daily Telegraph (and others) has deliberately aimed to mix up the two categories in order to score political points. Essentially any expenses claim can be reported in a way which makes it sound really bad, particularly if included in a list with some of the more outrageous examples. So, for example, Friday's headlines were about Gordon Brown's gardener, clearly implying that there was something dodgy going on, and buried in Sunday's editorial there was a weasel phrase about "There has never been any suggestion of any impropriety on the part of the Prime Minister or his brother." I think more concentration on the truly grotesque expenses, rather than trying to spread the blame between guilty and innocent alike, would have been more ethical.

Hopefully most Labour MPs would agree with Kerry when she writes that, "As I've said, the rules have changed and further change is needed. I don't have the solution. I don't think anyone does at this stage. But if we have to wear hairshirts for a while, or from now onwards, then so be it. Frankly, we - collectively speaking - deserve it."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Best Insult Competition

Competition time. On the internet there are currently many criticisms of the Labour Party. Many of these are justified, or at least internally consistent.

But there are others which are hyperbolic, stupid or just simply baffling. There will be a small prize for whoever can find the most over the top and/or incomprehensible insult aimed either at the Labour Party in general or any member of the Labour Party specifically. Here's a few possible categories, to get you started:

The comparison: anonymous commentators all over the internet follow the BNP in comparing Zimbabwe to Britain. Many write that we are governed by ZaNu-Labour, while other, more sober minded analysts like one of politicalbetting's guest editors think that while Britain is not yet like Zimbabwe, there is no dispute about the direction of travel. And did you know that having been a Labour supporter in the past is like being a victim of domestic violence?

The niche policy criticism: apparently Labour managed to make "absolutely everyone under thirty who likes a drink or two feel just a little bit like a stain on society" (maybe because of the smoking ban?!)

The historical analogy: Historian David Starkey says that Gordon Brown is the worst prime minister for 1,100 years (as anyone who remembers John Major will know, he is wrong by at least 1,088 years) and that, erm, our education system should learn from the Tudors because back then children learned facts rather than just looking things up on the internet.

The personal insult: Any insults will have to be very, very good indeed to beat the explanation by the anonymous libertarian about why he calls "Harriet Harperson" a 'lying whore'.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Lessons from history: Tories and the economy

A historical fact which occurred to me earlier today:

Over the past half century, every time a Conservative government has come to power, it has introduced disastrous economic policies which have plunged the economy into far greater crisis and made their government desperately unpopular.

The last time that a newly elected Conservative government managed even minimal competence was when they were led by Winston Churchill in 1951. The last time they managed this feat with a leader who had no previous experience of being Prime Minister was in the 1920s.

Of course, history is not always a good guide to how a party will govern. But since the current Conservative economic policy is 'ask us after the election', their candidates for parliament are mostly unembarrassed Thatcherites, and many of their highly regarded thinkers spent the past few years urging that Britain should be more like Ireland or Iceland, the signs are that they aren't likely to break their 58 year run of messing things up if they do win the election.

Which makes it all the more important that if Labour is defeated, we work out quickly how we need to change and what the lessons of the past twelve years are, in time to fix the problems that the Tories will cause.