You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2008.

Hugh Orde, head of the PSNI, has some interesting things to say in today’s Guardian. I certainly think he’s brave bringing up the notion of negotiating with Islamic terrorists in the current climate and would tend to agree that some kind of negotiations must take place at some point in the future: the comparison with Northern Ireland has been used before, though that does not make it less valid.

That said, whilst it is undoubtedly the case that in the long-term there are only political solutions not military ones, I don’t think that now is the time to think about talking. The IRA only became interested in talking when it became apparent that the war was unwinnable: there is no reason to believe that al-Qaida will be any different. With that in mind, the strategy should be to continue to make life difficult for al-Qaida terrorists, financiers, and sympathisers through a broad range of measures to harass and grind down the ability of al-Qaida operatives to function. Only when the resolve of civilised nations is seen to be unbreakable will it be time to talk.

I mentioned a few weeks ago how I felt that the mood in Italy had changed since the election of Berlusconi: now Amnesty has issued a report that documents a surge of violence against Roma gypsies whilst news reports of attacks on North African Muslims, and immigrant workers are becoming increasingly frequent. Whilst it would be easy to blame the governing coalition which has former fascist parties amongst its members for the growing atmosphere of hate, the left has hardly helped: former mayor of Rome and candidate for Prime Minister Walter Veltroni stated that he thought 75% of crime in Rome was caused by the Roma.

Which leads us to the UK. There is undoubtedly a massive amount of seething anger amongst white working class communities: you only have to go out on the stump to get an appreciation of the size of the problem. The challenge for the left is dealing with this resentment and anger in a way that doesn’t simply pander to racists (it is my conviction that the great majority of these people are not racist, they’re just fed-up with what the perceive as ‘being ignored’).

How in our words and deeds can we address their concerns? I’m not sure I have an easy answer. Integration is certainly a big part of any solution: how this can be achieved under the umbrella of a multi-cultural agenda that promotes segregation though, I’m not entirely sure.

There’s lots of talk about the next election, some insightful, some less so: I’m reluctant to add more than I’ve said thus far, but I hope that we fight the next election on more than how awful the Tories were last time around. Undoubtedly they were awful but people have short memories of old people dying on trolleys in hospital corridors, negative equity, repossessions, and the rest of it- we desperately need to outline a vision for where we want Britain to be in 10-20 years time. In 1997, the message was simple: we’ll look after the economy, not raise income tax, put the public services on a stable footing, and face the future as a modern, tolerant country. The question is that now we’ve demonstrated we’re not a party of swivel-eyed ideologues where do we go next?

Really good piece over at Progress on the lessons from Crewe and Nantwich. Essentially, the argument is that by going on class we appear anti-aspirational and this is what is turning both working and middle class voters off from us. I think there’s a lot to this. Having recently re-read Philip Gould’s Unfinished Revolution, I think it’s an important point to remember in that attacking modest wealth and middle class lifestyles we don’t just turn off the middle classes: we also turn off all of those Labour voting working class people who aspire to having a bit more material comfort.

Even in 1997, people had a fear- they were genuinely afraid- of what a Labour government would do to their standard of living. The New Labour coalition worked because it binned the politics of envy. We threw away the stale politics of trying to overthrow a system that people could live with (and worked) and replace it with one that didn’t. We became comfortable with people wanting to better themselves: we forget that at our peril.

For what it’s worth, my suspicion is that at the next General Election the Tories will have a slick campaign but will fundamentally have not changed in terms of policy (rather like Labour in 1987). This will be because the parliamentary party and the wider party are essentially reactionary and not signed up to Cameron’s ‘progressive’ agenda. It’s incumbent on us therefore to get a positive message out there (rather than this ridiculous toff nonsense), focus on getting the economy back on track, and start highlighting the gulf between a Labour Britain and a Tory one.

Amongst all the talk of overthrowing Gordon Brown the Tories have said that if Labour ‘forces another unelected Prime Minister’ on the country they’ll try and force an election. I’m not a constitutional expert, but two points stand out here:

1. Prime Ministers don’t have to be elected- they only need to be able to command a majority in the House of Commons

2. Related to 1, as long as any Labour Leader commands a majority in the Commons, how can the Tories win a vote of no confidence?

Now whilst it can be argued that the person of Prime Minister is integral to the identity of government (therefore favouring a poll every time that a new Prime Minister kisses hands) this argument is often made by the same people who decry the presidential nature of the premiership. In short, the critics can’t have it both ways.

Whether the public would wear another change of leader without a poll entirely depends on the circumstances: indeed, there were (Tory) people who said Gordon Brown shouldn’t hold a poll last autumn precisely because he would have won and this would have been a manipulation of the public sentiment. To sum up, there is no constitutional reason why there should be an election if the leadership changes: indeed, the only people who’ll be calling for one will be those who think they can win…

The title is supposed to be a play on the infamous video ‘One Night in Paris’ but I don’t think the allusion works. Anyway, Thursday night I was lucky enough to enjoy the hospitality of McKinsey at Le Cafe du Jardin in Covent Garden. The food was really good (deep fried-crab followed by a huge steak with sticky toffee pudding to cap it all off) and the barman, Jermaine, makes one of the best vodka martinis in London. Unfortunately over-indulgence on my part resulted in my leaving a good number of my possessions behind which necessitated another trip into town today to pick them up. The upside was that returning provided the perfect excuse to catch up with friends this evening in the American Bar at the Grosvenor Victoria, a hidden gem I’d not stumbled across before. Anyway, the friends I met up with are all think-tank staff of some sort and the consensus arising from our conversation was a general sense of disillusionment which I’ve already commented on. This seems to reflect a febrile national mood and I can’t help thinking that the country is crying out for a big political idea to transform the landscape (and mood) and get us out of the current collective despair. What is certain is that the competing claims to competence from the different parties are becoming increasingly dull.

It might just be me, but politics at the moment seems so chroncially boring I just want to switch off completely. Whether it’s the self-feeding, media-induced sense that there is crisis in the heart of government or the constant predictions of how big the Tories’ majority will be, I’ve lost interest in the next general election two years before its probable date. So, OK, things have gone wrong in the last six months but mistakes get made by governments of all colours- it just happens that we’ve had a particularly concentrated period of them that’s not been helped by the media acting as a feral pack and deliberately trying to destabilise things further. Looking abroad as well, there’s nothing to get cheered about: the European project still seems to have stalled and needs to get a new sense of momentum, the centre-left is in retreat across the EU, and McCain is going to win in November regardless of who gets the Democrat nomination (besides, both Democrat candidates are so lousy I’m not sure that’d be such a bad thing). Anyway, I hope to rejoin the fight soon but quite frankly, at the moment, I just don’t care…

“Great fortunes (and with them great unearned incomes) can only be ended, without provoking an avalanche of capital spending, by means of a sudden blow. Is such a blow compatible with progress within a framework of consent? It is not an easy question to answer…”

Roy Jenkins wrestles with a fundamental contradiction in Democratic Socialism: consent is paramount to the democrat whilst the same requirement makes the achievement of socialism by democratic means impossible.

Today the MoD stepped closer to signing a deal with BAe to build two new aircraft carriers for the Navy, to be delivered in 2014 and 2016 respectively. With the usual caveat that defence projects always seem to over-run in terms of both cost and delivery date, I nevertheless applaud the government for showing the resolve and commitment in investing in and modernising the capabilities of the armed forces over the past 11 years. Beside the obvious increase in options that the new platforms will give to commanders in the field, a floating airfield is a massive asset in assisting in humanitarian crises.

Some people question the need for a robust defence stance given that we live in a world where direct military threats against the UK or its dependencies have evaporated. To that I make two points: firstly, things change. To dig up a Franklin line, “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” Secondly, the diminution of threats from state actors has corresponded with a rise in the threats from non-state actors: the phenomenon of asymmetric warfare. Although Iraq has coloured many peoples perceptions on the use of force, the fact remans that force can be a legitimate extension of policy. Given that the need to act preemptively in failed states is unlikely to go away, the capability as represented by two 65000 tonne aircraft carriers is a welcome addition to the weapons locker.

This is a work in progress: want to get away from the dull look employed previously so bear with me over the next few days as I indulge in an orgy of style over substance…