You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Conservatives’ tag.

Conference is over, Labour have a new leader, and it turns out you can’t rely on the weather in Wales. The question, however, is what have we actually learned this week? I say we: I didn’t go to conference. This was in part because I thought on balance finishing my never-ending PhD seemed a greater priority, but also because I knew that whichever Miliband won, the story would be the same. Broadly speaking, those who supported the winner are happy and those who supported the loser aren’t*; an exercise in academic psychology it ain’t. But I also thought that whoever won, there would be the same call to unite behind the leader, to think that the mere process of producing a leader would be a panacea, and that all we have to do now is say the right things and wait for the Coalition to spontaneously self-combust before sweeping into Number 10 with all the smoothness of Roger Moore in a dinner jacket.

The thing is, I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think that the Lib Dems can be easily detached from the Coalition or that the spending cuts in and of themselves will lead to a double digit Labour majority in 2015. In short, the Lib Dems are more invested in this than we give them credit; not only is it patronising to assume that Lib Dem voters are actually just deluded Labour voters or that the Lib Dems are some repository for Old Labour values, it ignores the fundamental ideological point that Liberalism can and does exist distinct from either Social Democracy or Conservatism. The idea that the Lib Dems will simply disappear at the next election is fanciful; besides, the Coalition’s strategy is precisely so masochistic now in order to allow time for pre-election tax cuts later. The strategic and tactical problem for Labour in all of this is that whilst the cuts are taking place we’ll probably enjoy pretty healthy poll leads, and in this context there’ll be an understandable urge to go for a safety-first approach rather than question why we had our worst general election result for generations (and no, I don’t think it was Iraq, tuition fees or electoral reform).

For my part, I think we’ve underestimated (or worse, wilfully ignored) the concerns of many of the voters we need to be winning over. Whilst it’s now fashionable to talk about building more social housing, there’s not been a whisper on increasing the rate of private home-ownership; this in spite of the fact that most people want to own where they live (and importantly, want their children to be able to do the same). Whilst we mouth concern about the economic impact of immigration, there’s no appreciation that a large part of people’s concern focuses on identity, specifically a sense of identity-crisis amongst the white working class following the demise of heavy industry. And whilst we talk about patriotic duty, many of our activists still sneer at houses draped in the England flag betraying a real cultural dislocation between the party and those we aim to represent.

To sum up, I’m no more or less enthused than I was at the beginning of the week; I never planned on watching the Ryder Cup and I didn’t vote for Ed M. Nevertheless, I hope the coming weeks and months allow for an open and honest exchange of ideas about what the Labour Party is and who it hopes to represent; at the moment, I’m not sure it knows the answer to either of those questions…
____

*As a declaration of interest, I voted 1. AB, 2 DM.

Advertisements

David Cameron is planning to restrict Trade Unions ability to donate money to the Labour Party by compelling them to ask members annually whether they want their money to go into the political fund, and thereby (where that union is affiliated) potentially be donated to the Labour Party. Conservative Home is predictably salivating with glee that this could well bankrupt the Labour Party. That aside, what possible objections could any principled person have to asking union members whether they want their union to give money to the Labour Party? Well I have several.

Firstly, unions are campaigning organisations that work for the greater benefit of their members. Some unions (but certainly not all) feel that this campaigning role can be enhanced by giving money to the Labour Party- certainly a Labour government has benefited their members at work directly let alone the myriad improvements to the NHS, schools, and policing that makes life outside of work that much more tolerable. Anyway, I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that people become members of a union because they feel that on balance it will make them better off. If the fact that their union donates money to the Labour Party becomes so intolerable for them, they have two options; leave (and join a union that doesn’t give money to the party) or, given that the trades unions are democratic bodies, stand for election on a platform of disaffiliating from the Labour Party. To say then, as the Tories seem to imply, that the political fund is used against the will of many union members is simply disingenuous.

More broadly, politicians of the right have a penchant for direct democracy when it’s on issues they feel that they can get a knee-jerk response on (Lisbon, capital punishment, etc) but we should see this for the reactionary politics it is. We elect MPs in order to delegate certain responsibilities and allow that person to become better informed on topics than we could become. The whole point of representative democracy is that we pay people to read the green papers, the draft bills, the think tank reports so we don’t have to. Likewise, a Labour government might well be unpopular with certain union members at certain times, leading them to question why it is their subs are funding the party, but union members elect representatives at all levels who have more time to be reflective over the Labour affiliation. To restate an earlier point if they still don’t like it they can either stand in elections themselves, vote for someone who will change the status quo, or join a union that is not affiliated.

The original 10 year consultation period was nothing more than an attempt to reduce the amount of money given to the Labour Party by cashing in on periodic discontentment; reducing it to a year has exactly the intent. How many of those who opt-out opt back in? In the same way that non-unionised employees benefit from the concessions, rights, and improved conditions won and paid for by those in their workplace who are union members, allowing union members to opt out of the political fund has the same effect. It promotes the free-rider. What if I think that Sandra in head office is spending too much time on the phone and not enough time on union business? Can I have an annual ballot on Sandra’s contract? I’ve just purchased something from one of Lord Ashcroft’s firms- can I stipulate on the receipt that he doesn’t use any of the profits to bank-roll the Tories? Or, despite the availability of free schools and hospitals, I make the choice of going private- can I have some of my tax back (hang on a minute, that one actually used to be Tory policy- remind me, who wrote the 2005 manifesto?)?

With this policy then, as with other Tory initiatives from reducing the number of MPs (populist, and benefits the Tories) to equalising constituency sizes,* the Tories are dressing naked opportunism that will gerrymander the political system in their favour, as principled politics. Trades Unions are democratic bodies that campaign for the rights and conditions of their members. Those same members are free to use and participate in that democracy at any time. Failing that, it doesn’t take very long to cancel a direct debit…

____

* as an aside, the Electoral Commission already does this. That Labour constituencies have less voters is less because of some vast left-wing conspiracy, but merely because (a) it takes time to redraw boundaries and (b) the broader demographic shift is away from urban (Labour) areas to rural (Tory) areas. However much compensation there is at any given election (and the Tories will make gains based on the new constituency boundaries in place for this year before any change in voting patterns comes into play), this will always be slightly behind the curve of the reality on the ground.

The Times today leads on the fact that the Civil Service are preparing ‘doomsday cuts’ of up to 20% in public spending in order to get government finances back in order after the next election. Prime Minister’s Questions of course has focussed on little else in recent weeks but the increasingly desperate struggle on both sides to open up clear blue water between investment or cuts on the Labour side, or parsimony versus profligacy on the opposition benches.

Whatever your position on the political spectrum, the size of the budget deficit is truly worrying. This year alone, public spending will constitute 48% of GDP yet only 38% of GDP will be raised in tax receipts. That gap, an eye-watering 10% of GDP, has to be met by borrowing, something that is contingent on people wanting to continue lending money to us. The signs here are looking less than favourable.

In the first instance let me be clear that I think that the counter-cyclical spending is necessary; the aggressive actions of the Government have undoubtedly lessened the impact of the contraction. To paraphrase the Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman, ‘public debt bad, economic depression worse.’ So, in this instance, the Tories incessant bleating about the size of the national debt misses the point*. However, politics cannot exist independent of economics, nor can economics ignore politics; confidence in the political system reinforces confidence in markets and vice versa. In short, it’s the deficit stupid. In setting up a false argument, and seeking clear ground between ourselves and the Conservatives we are not only abandoning the centre-ground; we risk playing fast and loose with Britain’s solvency.

And I don’t make this claim lightly. The first duty of any government is to be an effective steward of the nation’s finances. Labour must start to face up to the facts now that we are going to have to pare back spending; pet projects will have to be put to sleep, the credits cards will have to put cut up, and we will have to face an era of living within our means.

Whilst all this is happening, let’s not talk about another bankers ramp, or treat commiting ever larger slabs of money to public spending as a test of virility. And let’s not go for easy or politically palatable targets; Trident for example is actually surprisingly good value for money constituting only 3% of the defence procurement budget. Besides, defence spending only makes up 5% of public spending so talk of defence cuts all you like but even spending nothing on defence would still leave a massive hole in public finances.

We need to grit our teeth and look at the three biggest areas of spending; welfare, health and education. These are areas of great achievement for the government but we shouldn’t be blinded into thinking that things couldn’t be run more economically or that every penny spent has achieved value for money. And in the coming age of austerity, value for money is what will count.

In short, the till is nearly empty; let’s face up to cuts now rather than offer a false prospectus of ever-increasing spending. The public don’t buy it and neither should we.

______

*Besides, much of the debt was accrued taking stakes in banks that will eventually be resold, hopefully at a net profit to the taxpayer.

So, Maggie is apparently unhappy with how the PM is handling the economy. Strip away the fact that her government legislated to ban Christmas and made it compulsory to jab puppies with knitting needles. Ignore, for a minute, the fact that the big-bang loadsa money ethos of the 80s which created a culture of invincibility in the City and destroyed our manufacturing base got us in the mess we’re in and is hampering our ability to get out of it. No, let’s not dwell on the apartheid-supporting, democracy-emasculating, section-28isms, which, when we look back are kind of endearing. I mean, she never really meant any harm did she?!

Let us instead take a little closer look at one of the underlying arguments that the Lady (and many other Tories) is making. That argument is this: the Tories are the economically competent ones who have always come in to clear up the mess of a Labour government. To see if this is true, or indeed a pile of horse-shit, let’s work through post-war governments of both stripes (with tongue slightly in cheek) and hopefully try and dismantle some of the mythology around Thatcher that she somehow was Britain’s saviour.

OK.

1945-1951: Labour. Despite the fact the country had nearly bankrupted itself defeating the Thousand-Year Reich, the government managed to create the NHS, a universal welfare state, and nationalise pretty much whatever wasn’t bolted down (and a lot of things that were). Yes, there was a devaluation, but this was more than anything brought on by the ridiculously over-ambitious crash rearmament programme that preceded the Korean war. In implementing Beveridge, it aimed for a total employment figure that, whilst well meant, 30 years hence would prove massively inflationary.

1951-1964: Tory. Some good stuff might have happened but I’m not propagandising for the other side. Suez wasn’t so good, causing a run on the pound so epic that Britain was forced into a humiliating climbdown. Later, under Macmillan, the whole Treasury Team (Chancellor and Ministers) resigned because the Tories handling of the economy was, to put in bluntly, piss-poor.

1964-1970: Labour. England win the World Cup, liberalisation of laws concerning homosexuality, divorce and abortion, and the OU is founded/new universities are built offering access to higher education for hundreds of thousands of people. Another devaluation, arguably reflecting the UKs deteriorating industrial performance since the mid-50s onwards (when much of European industry was able to start competing again after being flattened in the war) and the unwillingness of governments of either party to take on vested interests and modernise. In short, not spectacularly competent on the economy, but no worse than the preceding Tory shambles.

1970-1974: Tory (well some of them would like to disown Heath but he was one of yours guys. Sorry!) Anyway, Rolls Royce nationalised, percentage of the economy controlled by the state highest ever recorded. 3 day week. Miners strike. Other bad things.

1974-1979: Labour. Industrial unrest continues. Inflation takes hold (see 1945-1951), unions don’t help. ‘Winter of Discontent.’ BUT by 1976, an ideological shift (if not shared by all Labour members as a whole) had taken place. Callaghan addresses the Labour conference and rejects throwing money at things. Healey goes to IMF and shows signs that he gets it too. In short, much of the heavy lifting for Thatcher is already going on. But boy did she put her own stamp on it…

1979-1997: Tory. That woman (followed by some grey bloke). Rather than saying, yes, Britain suffers from some serious structural problems (outdated industry, over-mighty unions) that with work, patience and courage can be turned around, she unleashes an economic blitzkrieg which, when dealing with the ossified Morrisonian public corporation dinosaurs only means one thing. Unemployment. Massive, intergenerational unemployment. Crime rockets. Homelessness soars. Riots in Toxteth, Notting Hill and Trafalgar Square. Wearing of red braces and stripey shirts made compulsory within the square mile, as are phones the size of hot-hatches. Sunshine privatised and metered back to the poor… Then Major comes along and does something. No-one remembers what exactly it is he does (except for muffing it up royally on Black Wednesday and losing an MP in bizarre circumstances). Also, the Hamiltons. Don’t forget them.

1997-?: Labour. A new Jerusalem. Death and illness are abolished. Poverty and suffering outlawed. Commentators complain when budget surpluses and proceeds from wavelength auctions are used to pay off national debt. “Surely a bit of debt doesn’t matter?” they say…

So, to wind up an overly long piece, what I’m saying is that post-war economic management by governments of both colours was pretty ropey. But, and this is a big but:

1. Labour governments still managed to do some pretty awesome things whilst we were going to hell in a handcart.

2. Callaghan (and Healey) are the ones who deserve the credit for bringing us to our senses. As Oliver Kamm puts it, “[Callaghan’s] greatest single achievement was to destroy Socialism as a serious proposition in British politics. The principal turning point… in the past 60 years was not 1979, when Mrs Thatcher took office, but 1976” (see 1975-1979 for the reason why).

So, unsurprisingly it appears that Lady T is talking rubbish.

“We’re going to cut public spending in order to enact a tax-cut that will cut private spending. That’s exactly what we need when aggregate demand is collapsing.”

Genius.

Some people say that if you can’t beat them, join them. I say that’s rubbish: if you can’t beat them, cheat.

Before I get charged with opportunism, I’ve always been an advocate of voting reform- some kind of AV system would probably do the job best- but the problem with voting reform is that the minute a party gets a majority, the minute voting reform is ditched.

So, given that experience of the last 30 years probably demonstrates that thumping majorities don’t do the parties that have them any good, perhaps it’s time to bring voting reform back onto the agenda?

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…

Apparently, our campaign team is following the Conservative candidate around wearing Eton top hat and tails. He didn’t go to Eton, but then, why should the truth matter when it comes to making a particularly crass, ineffective, and divisive point about class? Surely they realise that this is going to backfire?

Morevoer, as Dominic Lawson in today’s Independent, has pointed out, our attack on inherited wealth and status “jars almost comically with Labour’s decision to field as its candidate Tamsin Dunwoody, the daughter of the late MP for Crewe and Nantwich, Gwyneth Dunwoody – who was herself the daughter of the former general secretary of the Labour Party, Morgan Phillips.”

Surely someone realises that these attacks don’t work? Cameron went to Eton, and he’s ahead in the polls. Boris went to Eton, and he bloody well won. Sometimes, I despair…

“Save the poor, vote Tory” has the ring of “Save the whale, vote Harpoonist” about it.

-Tim Hames, The Times, 12 May 2008

It’s great to see that my colleague in the Oxford Labour Party, Cllr Joe McManners, got a motion passed last year to ensure that all City Council employees are paid at least £7 per hour, effective from April. Getting measures like this passed is particularly critical in cities like Oxford where the cost of living is so high. Hopefully, now that Labour has regained the reins of power at Oxford Town Hall, the extraordinary purchasing power and influence of the council can be brought to bear on all employers across the city to give workers a fair hourly rate.

It’s by taking a lead on issues like this that Labour can differentiate itself from rest: it’s in local government that parties show their true colours, as Polly Toynbee identified a few weeks ago. Whereas Labour councils invest in services, the Tories are reducing youth provision, cutting funding to libraries and school transport, and giving less support to voluntary organisations. So, aside from the obvious political benefits of having a strong base in local government, it is (unsurprisingly) crystal clear that people and families on low incomes benefit from having a local Labour council. We just need to get out there and start selling that message.